Inca Avalanche Race Is One Epic Race

The problem with flying into Cusco, Peru, with a planeload of disassembled mountain bikes is that you then have to commandeer the modest airport’s parking lot to bang those bikes back together. The chore is probably a good thing, though, to help us acclimate to the 11,000-foot altitude—and to the challenge ahead. I’m one of 16 seasoned North American riders who have traveled to this region of the Andes in southeastern Peru to log six days of rigorous descents as we explore an ancient trail system in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, with a side trip to Machu Picchu tacked on for good measure.

With all wheels and handlebars matched to corresponding frames and the bikes secured atop three vans, we shuttle through the colonial city’s twisty streets and farther up into surrounding green mountains to stage our first descent. We unload and, despite our stoke, try to pace ourselves as we pedal to an even higher starting point. Huffing on the thin air, we’re surprised to encounter a group of colorfully attired Quechuans, direct descendants of the Inca, singing and dancing along the otherwise lonely pass. They weave through our ranks, smiling and clasping our hands, then drift past. As welcoming receptions go, it’s pretty unbeatable.

Mountain bikers line up on grass with person in traditional colorful Peruvian garb watches
Chris Wellhausen

Our inaugural downhill , a llama-blazed, 9.3-mile trail known as La Maxima, is locally infamous. It starts as a track of Andean red dirt bordered by tall, yellow grass. The path is steep and fast before transitioning into rugged rock gardens and scrabbly switches that require constant vigilance to keep from washing out. After about two hours of technical maneuvering, nearing the bottom and fatigued from the long flight and the ride, I unceremoniously tumble off my seat. I slide feetfirst over loose, jagged rock that scorches my backside, praying I don’t become a speed bump for the bikes barreling down behind me. Disaster narrowly averted, I grunt off my scrapes and finish the descent. Laughing over celebratory cervezas, we assess that this “shakeout ride” was already the equivalent of several typical rides back home—and we’re set to tackle 16 more such descents in the days to come. I make a point of clinking longnecks with my friend Dillon Lemarr, manager of a riding team for bike brand Commencal, and pro freeride mountain biker Aaron Chase. This whole traveling, spoke-spinning circus has been envisioned by Chase after seven previous trips to ride the Sacred Valley. He’s dubbed it “The Inca Flow.” And right now, I’m wondering if I’ll survive it intact.

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