Advice for a newb's Peruvian bike tour
June 27, 2016 10:42 AM   Subscribe

First bike tour in Peru; looking for advice on health, happiness, and safety - in terms of packing for a long cycling tour, and being in Peru generally.

I've only ever done day trips before (~90k), in reasonably stable weather, and never in Fancy Bike Gear.

As we get up in the mountains, temperatures will swing from just above freezing to high 20s (celsius). I'm a Toronto boy, so the cold doesn't worry me, but preparing for the change in temp does... I'm not sure how to best do that, gear-wise, especially without dropping a tonne of cash, overloading my panniers, or trying companions' patience with multiple wardrobe changes. What should I be looking for in terms of affordable, efficient gear? (Especially as someone who hates owning things with only one purpose unless necessary.) And, like... how many days can I wear a single bike jersey before the odour gets... prohibitive? :)

General advice from experienced bicycle travellers, or just travellers in Peru specifically, would be appreciated, too. What mistakes did you make the first time around that you never will again? What little things make the experience easier or more enjoyable? Etc., etc.
posted by Mike Smith to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total)
The usual go-to for handling small temperature changes without a full clothing change would be arm warmers or leg warmers - and as a bonus they're small and easy to carry. An extra jersey would be helpful - when I did a longer bike trip I think I have a couple so that they were easier to clean without having to stand around naked. But you can wear a bike jersey for a few days depending on much you're sweating. Once you see the salt crystals forming it's time for a wash.
posted by GuyZero at 10:59 AM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

If the weather permits it, consider merino wool jerseys instead of "tech fabric" ones; they're AMAZING at not-stinking.
posted by uberchet at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Give yourself time to acclimate. You don't say where you are going, but if you are in the Andean mountains and you've never been in the mountains at that altitude, arrive a few days earlier if you can. Altitude sickness is one of those things that affect a lot of athletes who ignore that advice - they're in great shape, but that means nothing if you don't allow your body to get used to high elevation. Diamoxx is commonly prescribed by Western doctors, but I'm not a fan of the side effects. You can try drinking a lot of the maté tea which is everywhere. Tastes like old sweat socks, but it works. Hydrate well to help stave off headaches, and avoid smoking and drinking at first.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:02 PM on June 27, 2016

- OK, I'm glad it seems normal to wear individual jerseys for a while because... damn the things are pricey. Are plain old t-shirts or henleys just a bad idea?

- HeyAllie
, could you say more about the Diamoxx side effexts? I have a prescription for it, but I tend to be really sensitive to just about all medications.
posted by Mike Smith at 1:36 PM on June 27, 2016

Cotton anything will get wet and stay wet when you sweat and it will harbour a lot more funk-causing bacteria. You can't really wear cotton on long bike tours.
posted by GuyZero at 1:49 PM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Certainly some folks ride in normal shirts, but jerseys are cut a given way, and have certain features (most notably the rear pockets) that make them preferable for cycling by a wide margin, at least for most people.
posted by uberchet at 2:11 PM on June 27, 2016

There are a lot of quick-dry tech fabric options that are much better at wicking sweat and not holding onto residual moisture that will make you cold at night -- even so, you will find you are far colder in something that you sweated in during the day, so take a change of clothes for the evening instead of planning on just throwing on an extra layer over your sweaty stuff. You can wear your day clothes for several days, and the evening ones as well.

When I would hike at altitude with the natives, they would bring bags of fresh or dried coca leaves to chew, which are great for altitude sickness and increasing your oxygen intake (it's a bronchial dilator). It not like doing cocaine or anything, it's really quite a mild effect, and it's legal there. You can also make tea out of the leaves to get the same effect.

If you're camping on this tour, a Hennesey Hammock is the best thing ever. You can string it over wet ground, rocks, and you don't have to carry an extra sleeping pad. It sets up in under a minute. A little self-inflating thermarest will make it warmer, but if you have a decent sleeping bag you'll probably be ok.

A general traveling note : sew hidden pockets into your pack for passports, credit cards, and so on. I also faux-trash my gear. I use watered-down black and brown acrylic paint to make it look old and crappy, and sew patches over all the logos. Makes it much less appealing to steal.

If you want to be the only person in your group that doesn't have some kind of cash-flow crisis, split your trip money between two accounts at separate banks and have an ATM card for each, kept in separate places on your person or in your gear. I have a MC one and a Visa one (one from Chase, one from a credit union) so I can use any ATM, no matter what. And this way, if one of your cards gets lost or stolen or eaten by a machine, you don't have to borrow money from other people or deal with having it wired to you or waiting for a replacement card (really hard if you're on the move a lot!)

Have fun, and don't forget to start taking iron supplements a week before you hit altitude to build up your hemoglobin levels :)
posted by ananci at 2:13 PM on June 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

> Are plain old t-shirts or henleys just a bad idea?

YES. Cotton gets soggy and stays soggy. It will chafe more and you will feel colder longer even when it's not particularly cold. I'm betting this trip isn't cheap, and you've saved for a while to afford it. Do yourself a favor and look around for some merino base layers (even if they're not bike jerseys). Put out a call to cycling friends to see if they have any hand-me-downs they'd be willing to donate or sell you cheap. I don't even do much (okay, any) biking but for hiking in hot and/or cold weather, having a merino shirt against my skin really improved my hiking life. (Merino gear is also thinner and lighter than most cotton stuff, so will weigh less and take up less room. Win!) If you really can't bite the bullet on wool, then yes to the tech stuff - it does get stinkier sooner, but your companions will also be stinky so whatever.
posted by rtha at 6:19 PM on June 27, 2016

I bike tour in plain old t-shirts, and so do other people I know. You're on a bike tour; stinkiness is expected!

Here's what you need to know about packing: If you overpack, you're going to shed stuff as you go. If you underpack, you'll acquire what you need as you go. Whether you overpack or underpack is a preference thing, but in my opinion it's probably not worth the trouble to get it precisely correct.
posted by aniola at 7:46 PM on June 27, 2016

What mistakes did you make the first time around that you never will again?

There was this one time near the beginning of my first bike tour when I didn't pack enough food. Never again.
posted by aniola at 7:48 PM on June 27, 2016

Here's a bike tour packing list that might give you some ideas.
posted by aniola at 7:50 PM on June 27, 2016

My own personal experience with Diamoxx - tingling of all my extremities, very uncomfortable, enough so that I stopped taking it and switched to the tea. YMMV.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:45 PM on June 27, 2016

Re: altitude sickness: the better shape you're in, the more likely you are to experience it. Budget at least 1 1/2 days of doing nothing if you fly into a high altitude place. Like lying in bed nothing. If you start at the lowlands and work your way up, you'll be fine. Coca leaves help a bit, drugs help a bit, but there's no magic bullet. Locals call it Soroche in PerĂș (Puna in Bolivia).
posted by signal at 6:07 AM on June 28, 2016

If you go to Titicaca, and you should, don't stay in Puno, on the Peruvian side, it's a shithole. Cross over to Copacabana, in Bolivia, and use it as a base for trips to the islands.
posted by signal at 6:43 AM on June 28, 2016

I've traveled in Peru by bicycle for around 6 months in the Andies and on the coast.

Where we were had few trees and in the Andies on long stretches between towns where we needed to camp, there were absolutely none. A hammock is not going to be great.

I wore polyester shirts and wool socks and sweater. I wore mostly poly tee shirts and a light woven poly button down. The button down was great. It was airy and light, lighter than a knit, and the collar and long sleeves kept the sun off. It was an odd choice but worked great. On the bottom half I wore nylon travel pants rolled up.

At any sort of altitude things dry amazingly fast so you can wash whenever there is enough water. You can rinse or wash yesterdays clothing and strap it to your bags and it will be dry in an hour.

The temperature swings were extreme. +100F blazing sun to sub freezing dangerous hail. I went with a layering approach with light wool sweater, a fleece vest and rain jacket. I had long cycling tights for the cold. I also bough a wool sweater and a wool poncho in Peru.

Your companion is likely to want to change when you want to change. Discuss this and plan this. Like stop every hour or so for a couple minutes to take in the view, eat something and arrange clothing. You can also, stop, take off your vest, stuff it in your bag and catch up with them.

Peru is filled with people and towns. Before the trip I though we would be in the middle of nowhere more often but we rarely were. We were set for camping but 95% of the time we stayed in towns.

Make sure you have enough water to get to the next town.

For altitude sickness, remember that you can try to flag down a truck and get a ride to somewhere lower.

Also, dogs are a problem. They are afraid of getting rocks thrown at them. Stopping with the bike between you and them and mimicking the motion of throwing works most of the time.
posted by bdc34 at 8:13 AM on June 28, 2016

Wool socks. And I'll second ananci on evening clothes (or pajamas).

Haven't had the opportunity to try wool shirts yet, but I would like to. I usually pack several synthetic button-downs plus a light raincoat/windbreaker and layer them. It's far more versatile than a heavy jacket. If the road is decent and your bike is stable, you can button/unbutton or even add/remove layers while riding. It has the added benefit of not screaming "cyclist" when you're off the bike. The collars start to look funny after the second or third layer, but they're cheap and reasonably compact.

I strongly recommend bar mitts (aka pogies). I made a lightweight set this winter and they are AWESOME. No more dexterity-killing thick gloves, and you have a waterproof covering halfway to your elbows. Mine are on flat(ish) bars and can be scrunched into the center if I don't need them; they seem a little less convenient on drop bars.
posted by sibilatorix at 6:38 PM on June 28, 2016

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