Stretching for 8,900 kilometres, the Andes form the world’s longest mountain chain, its spine emerging from the warm waters of the Caribbean on the coasts of Colombia and Venezuela and disappearing back beneath the icy, wind-whipped waves of the South Atlantic off the south-east corner of Argentine Tierra del Fuego.

Six centuries ago, the Incas constructed what was an extraordinary and totally unprecedented road network. The Qhapaq Ñan (Quechua for Royal Roads), better known as the Inca Trail, was 40,000 kilometres long. With the Inca capital in the Peruvian city of Cusco as its hub, it extended as far north as Pasto in Colombia and southwards to Santiago in Chile and Mendoza in Argentina. In 2014, the Qhapaq Ñan received UNESCO World Heritage Status, making it the biggest site on the organisation’s protected list.

In late 2023/early 2024, I plan to follow the Qhapaq Ñan for 9,000 kilometres from north to south, riding off-road for the most part and on the trail itself where conditions make this possible. It’s an escapade that will fulfill two ambitions: firstly, to continue the southward bike trek I made in 1991-92 from San Francisco to Caracas and that ended at the foot of the Andes when my finances had dwindled; secondly, and more importantly, to fend off the sense that physical challenges of this type belong to my past rather than my future as I enter my sixth decade. I’m determined to believe that you should never lose your sense for adventure; that rather than being a hindrance, advancing years should be the impetus for physical challenges.

Unlike my last bikepacking epic in the early 90s when I was young enough to cope with my lack of preparation in terms of kit and, above all, fitness, age has equipped me with the knowledge that any long-distance ride is going to be a challenge, especially one spent at oxygen-thin altitudes well above 2,000 metres and with its highest point a mere 105 metres below 5,000 metres. It’s the equivalent of riding the Tour de France three times in a row, but with barely any of the low-level riding that the greatest of bike races involves.

I’m relishing this prospect, though, because it will take me to places and put me in situations that I can’t properly imagine or plan for, that will stimulate, excite and, I’m sure, even terrify me, resulting in an unforgettable experience, as well as a remarkable insight into this magical but often very misrepresented continent.

I will, of course, be recording my preparations for this Andean trip, as well as the ride itself. You’ll be able to follow my progress on the usual social media channels (see below) and in regular blogs. I also plan to encourage other prospective adventurers to join me on the Qhapaq Ñan, so keep an eye out for updates in my regular newsletter (sign up here) if you fancy chasing your own bike touring dreams on one of the world’s greatest road networks.