He outpaced me. At my approach, he did not bark or chase me, as is the practice of his species. He did not nip at my boots as the fanatical dogs do. Instead, he shot off like a rocket on his four legs, quickly outpacing me down the mountain road. He sprinted without tiring until he was a brown and white speck barely visible in the distance. I regretted that I could not give him the competition he so clearly relished. He was a canine alone among sheep and llamas.
We were riding at over 5000 meters in the Andes and I struggled to find a line, a clean path. The earthen road was in bad shape; endless seasons of freezing and thawing and raining had left it infinitely rutted and pockmarked. We saw only a few farmhouses at that altitude, and, while occasionally a farmer would glide past me on a little 125cc Chinese bike—possessing years of experience and perhaps not a little Andean magic, for they never struggled—we were essentially alone on that drenched and treeless landscape. We splashed through puddles of the melted sleet that had been pelting us for the last half-hour. I tried, with limited success, to ride the high path around the holes, not because I feared for the bike, but because my leather boots, two pairs of wool socks, and feet were already soaked—the water resistance in my boots was a long-distant memory. Each splash struck the hot cylinders, bursting into a cloud of briefly warming steam, and filling my boots with water anew. My hands, inside my ‘waterproof’ gloves were likewise soaked—there is a limit to every guarantee—and my hands would likely have been icicles if it weren’t for the heated grips radiating electrical energy. Though I clung to them, sensation had ceased at the final knuckle of all ten fingers, and the remaining inch of each appendage was just a small sandbag of pain.
Of the landscape, I recall little. Perhaps it was the heavy cloud cover and the rain and mist on my visor that obscures my memory, or perhaps it was the painful reminders present in all my extremities, that I, a warmblooded creature, must mind my body temperature above all else. I longed to be somewhere hot and dry. I fantasized about the searing desert winds in Nazca, still several days of riding away. We were in the mountains east of Cerro de Pasco and we were desperately trying to arrive in Huancayo by Thanksgiving, for no other reason than that we thought we would find good internet to call our families in the US and perhaps a supermarket that sold canned cranberry sauce. What we found instead was food poisoning. We spent the holiday and most of our time in Huancayo in close proximity to toilets.
From a condor’s perspective, an Andean road typically winds and doubles back on itself like an endless tapeworm, but there, where we navigated icy potholes east of Cerro de Pasco, it straightened out, as if a cord was pulled tight from the fog behind to the fog ahead. Out of the fog, a small brown and white figure rushed towards us, baring his fangs. The game was over. It was time for nature to reassert herself. Even the noblest specimen cannot outpace nature for long.