Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Riding Sorata

I have been lugging a most expensive and inconvenient toy around South America, namely my bicicleta muy mal, for the last month and a half. Unfortunately the amount of time I have spent riding the damn thing has been minimal. After rave reviews from my friend Shane, a man with an epic side profile, I was extremely geared up to go riding in a little place called Sorata. I knew the company I wanted to go with, called Andean Epics, but I was a bit relaxed about organising a tour. Eventually I pulled finger and teed up three days of riding for Angus and I with Travis, the owner of the company.

Bikes on jeeps, heading to Hauyna-Potosi
Travis is an extremely good sort from Colorado who has been in Bolivia for ten odd years running a touring company. Apart from being a properly nice guy, Trav organises some epic races (think 2 day Super D’s with insane vert metre-age loss) around the region and seems to be the only person in the area really keen to try and develop a proper mountain bike scene in La Paz and Sorata. As well as this he has singlehandedly built an epic downhill track anda bunch of other tasty little sections around the Sorata area. So all in all he is the business when it comes to mtb in Bolivia and if you are ever over these ways you should ride with him (websites here and here, with better photos from Trav here). If not, maybe just build him a small shrine or something. Anyways, advertorial/man-crush moment over.

We had arranged to do three days riding, one around La Paz and then two at Sorata. We set off on a hot Tuesday afternoon to hit three runs in the substantial hillsides scattered around La Paz. The first was a bit of a warm-up and a chance for Angus to get used to his rented bike, a pimp-as Transition Blindside. This run was known as Baranquillas and started off as a gravel road running through an area of brickmakers, before heading into some narrow but not overly challenging singletrack which headed down a distinctly desert-feeling landscape. The grade was good and there wasn’t anything too techy so it was a good chance for Gus to get used to the bike.

After meeting our driver we then moved on to Ayma, or Avel Pueblo. This was probably my favourite trail of the day, a loose, rocky and in places tight run down a pretty severe ridge to the bottom of the valley. There were lots of big random sinkholes to avoid on the way down too. I found it interesting riding in such open terrain as all of my previous riding had been in very different settings. The downhill runs were also a lot longer than what I was used to, with this one taking about 40 minutes.

Gus is psyched.

We decided there was time for one more run, down Nunya Mayami. This run had lots of different sections, fast and flowwy at the top before moving into a rougher rockier section further down that was mighty fun. After that it turned into a steep bit of track with some big drops down the sides and lots of tight (too tight for the Niner) sweeping switchbacks. I found the bottom bit a real challenge but overall it was a good ride which ended just on dark.

Top of Ayma.

The next day we left at about 9 after a pancake breakfast. We spent a couple hours in the jeep heading to the west of Huayna-Potosi, an impressive 6088m mountain. Apart from stunning views of the face of the mountain, we also had some great terrain to play with for some freeride missions. With no tracks up there except for those made by llamas it is quite probable we were the first people to ever ride there which was pretty choice. Basically we were on big dune-like hills ripping down a bunch of ridges heading towards a lake. There were a lot of good steep loose and fast sections were you could really let rip for the good times.

The laandscape isn't half bad.

We moved onwards towards Sorata, stopping for lunch close to lake Titicaca and demolishing some tasty fish treats for lunch. The afternoon ride was called Loma Loma and involved some serious altitude loss, I forget the total but it was well over an hour to ride down. Mostly this run was sort of open farmland type stuff up higher but with some serious altitude and good terrain to play with to give us good fast flowwy downhill. There was potential to fal a properly lomg way in some sections too which kept it exciting. Also the views were truly spectacular; the area around Sorata is the biggest valley network I have ever seen. The scale of the place terrifies me. Anyway, further down it turned into a wide path scattered with loose rock which I managed to bean right through, causing me a pinch flat. Tube replaced, we continued onwards down the road to the bottom of the valley and a beautiful little river.

Travis thought we had time for one more run so we went to his personal playground, Iminapi. Travis built this track himself and it really rips. The track takes a pretty ruthless line down a hillside in a series of extremely steep and tight switchbacks. This isn’t really my preferred style of track and certainly not something my bike, with its longer than normal wheelbase, is ideally set up for and I have to admit I struggled hard with the trail. I was impressed by the line Travis had chosen though, and huge props to anyone who can go out and build a trail by themselves.

Gus drops in. Trooper.

We finished up at our hostel, called Altai Oasis. This place is possibly the most relaxed place in the world, run by a good sort hippy guy whose name I have forgotten. Every piece of wood used to build the place has gone through his hands. There were lots of animals kicking around too. It is the place to relax and they also do a fine burger in their restaurant.

The next day we got into the jeep and drove for over an hour to get up properly high, above 5000m. We started in a rocky section of trail which included a road gap that Trav (“I’m not that good in the air”) hit but Angus and I went around because we value or precious fragile bones. Then we hit the scree slopes, something I was initially terrified of because of the steepness of it and the fact that it’s a hill of razor sharp gravel. The big wheels pick up speed pretty quick and can be hard to stop. In the end we got amongst and all was well, it was a very different type of mountain biking. After that we hit a section of single track that I particularly enjoyed winding my way down as it had some great swooping uphill turns in it.

Trav and I admire the view.

We hit road for a bit and then, after a brief but steep hike-a-bike, we were onto a trail called Ch’u ch’u. It was more of a hill really as big sections had no trail, it was some more freeriding good times. The terrain is really what makes the place. I was riding well and having a mighty fine time as we hit a section of track which headed through some trees. It was great to be back in the bush and I felt like I was flying. We came out into some more open terrain and then hit a nice techy rocky section before slogging up the road for a while. Next we hit Trav’s DH track again and I did no better the second time. A lowlight was debeading my tire from the front wheel while cornering like a muppet.

Lunch was at Altai Oasis and then we were back up to the hike a bike section of Ch’u ch’u to repeat the run, but with an alternate ending which I preferred. There were some good tree roots, nice rocky sections and some bush around in places.

Big valleys.

It had been an epic few days of riding but we had to get back to La Paz to go canyoning. We said our goodbyes to Trav and hopped in the jeep with our driver, Carlos. This guy was pretty amazing, he’d been in the peace core for a few years and he was also a qualified lawyer but he preferred to drive and guide tours. All in all, he was a proper good sort. The drive back was pretty smooth and we were pretty pleased to get back to the hostel and knock back a couple of beers before hitting the hack.

 I’d thoroughly recommend a trip to Sorata with Trav to any of my mountain biking friends, the terrain is epic, the trails great and the guide top-notch. Get into it.

More photos here.

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