As the Tour de France rages on in Europe, and Rigoberto Uran from Columbia won in Stage 9, Chambéry, after a fierce battle in three Hors-Category climbs, these two sweaty cyclists climbed up and out of the heat 7,723 ft in one grueling day of 45 miles to realize just why the Colombians are so damn good at climbing hills on bikes.
As Ville and I exited the plane on our layover in Bogota, Colombia, we were thrilled with the reprieve of chilled refreshing air at 8,675 ft. and excited to be greeted by smiling, friendly, fashionable Colombians and even t-shirts with bicycles on them in gift shops. Rumors must be true, we were already liking Colombia and were still in the airport. But we caught another plane to Cartagena on the northern coast of Colombia because we wanted to bike as much of north to south of the Americas as possible, and once we stepped out of the plane in Cartagena we were depressed when we were swallowed by the heat once again.
We tooled the bikes back together in the baggage claim of the airport, and after frantically patching 2 of my tires in the airport, trying to get to our hotel before dark, we made it to the gate of the place being rushed inside by the caretakers telling us we shouldn't be in the neighborhood after dark. That's promising. The next day we ventured to the Old Town area of Cartagena (having sailed here in 2010, we had seen some of the city then) and it was so unbelievably hot we had to hunker down in a coffee shop with A/C to cool down. We did wander the streets to see the various murals painted on buildings and in ally-ways and enjoy the endearing Colonial architecture before making it back to our "hood" to get out of the sun.
The next morning, we were back to an early 5 am start out of town, and my rear tire had another flat before we got started and another flat a mile down the road. Struggling to patch a tire as the sweat is pouring into your eyes and some street kid is trying to riffle through Ville's frame bag almost put us both over the edge. Luckily, after pulling out at least 8 metal shards from my rear tire, it held until we got to the outskirts of town and a bike shop to buy more tubes and for Ville to get a new chain. The ride for the next four days was sweltering, fairly flat riding (aside from opting for a hilly inland route because it was more scenic and beautiful) and had a total of 7 flat tires to patch, a new record! Beginning to think that Avianca Airlines also bent my rear rim, we put on my new rear tire and that seemed to do the trick. Goodbye old Schwalbe tire, thanks for the miles.
Luckily, Colombia is beautiful, the people are out-of-this-world friendly and the food is giant heaping cyclist portions of soup, followed by a giant main dish of rice, beans, eggs, fried banana, sometimes french fries and a slab of beef. I imagine being a vegetarian here would be a bit challenging, but there are worse places to be vegetarian or vegan for sure. And after riding into Sincelejo, we passed heaps of cyclists out for their weekend ride and stopped at a cafe for cyclists to eat our breakfast and enjoy fitting in for a change. The wide array of wildlife and animals we have passed so far has been crazy; a giant dead python and alligator on the road, a giant pig jumped out of the bushes and almost ran smack into us, bazillions of different kinds of spiders, armadillos, sloth signs (didn't get to see any they were moving too fast), Macaws, numerous bright colored birds, water buffalo down in the marsh area close to the coast and even an iridescent giant blue butterfly that stopped both of us in our tracks it was so psychedelic.
The roads so far have been a mixed bag, no bike lane to giant bike paths through towns, but since there is an array of cyclists, motorbikes, cars, box trucks and semis, they all seem to cohesively work together on the road and no one seems in too much of a hurry. We have had numerous motorcyclists pull up alongside us and chat about where we are going, and even the police have checked in on us to make sure we were doing o.k. There has been the ever hair raising passing of oncoming traffic here that makes me catch my breathe as we are hurtling down-hill at a car coming full speed at us in the oncoming lane to miss us by a foot or so and wave with a thumbs-up. Oh Colombians, you silly bunch.
By day five out of Cartagena, we met up with the giant Cauce River and followed it's meandering uphill flow along small houses and businesses that were strung out along the roadside and built up into the hilly, thick vegetation along the banks. We passed numerous waterfalls and pipes shooting water into the air and stopped a handful of times to cool off in the refreshing spray. As we watched a big wooden boat one morning eating breakfast carry 20-30 people across the river, one of the local dudes told us they were heading to work up the hill on the coca farms. Now we know where to score the good drugs. Ironically, Ville had thrown his back out that morning trying to carry his heavy bike down the stairs from the Hotel and was doped up on heavy painkillers, so when we saw the butterfly cross our path an hour later, he thought he was hallucinating. Good times.
On our sixth day south, we had the climb of all climbs, 7,723 feet of elevation gain in 45 miles. When we started out the day, we were both very optimistic that we would get through it no problem and hopefully by mid-afternoon. Oh how wrong we were. We started out at 5:30 a.m. and did not get to Yarumal, a mile after reaching the summit until 5:30 p.m. and in a downpour of cold rain. And the climb had numerous stretches of lowest gear stand-out-of-seat climbing sections where even the truckers gave us thumbs up and cheered. Not planning for it to be so brutal, we had not taken snacks (Snickers bars melted and were a no-go through all of Central America and so far Colombia) and we ate like champs at a restaurant in Yarumel and passed out before our heads hit the pillow all swaddled in blankets (we had actually left out hotel with air-con that morning and finished our day freezing under loads of wool blankets).
The next morning we slept in a bit to rest and had a rough day of oscillating hills, although extremely beautiful littered with farms and dairy cows, our legs were spent from the previous day and by the time we got to our Warmshowers host's house in Rio Grande only 46 miles for the day, we were both spent. Dr. Lenin and his friend Willie were amazing! Dr. Lenin's home sat on a hillside with all kinds of animals roaming the gardens and every flower you can imagine hanging from baskets or flowing from pots around the house. They insisted we stay many days to relax, but we were on a mission to get to Medellin (in hindsight we would have stayed longer if we hadn't planned and written a Warmshower host in Medellin who was expecting us). There was a small climb in the morning and then the descent-of-all-descents to reap the rewards of all our hard work. It was a wild ride down! (check out the video below)
After the rush of an insane downhill, flying by semis on the left and getting the occasional bug pelting, the road connected with a busy highway that led us first through Bello and then in through the giant metropolis of Medellin. The highway was hair-raising and we both were stressed to the max when the shoulder disappeared and the traffic was zooming inches from us at high speeds. We rode by a guy in a wheelchair on that same insane thoroughfare and when we stopped and he asked for a ride home, Ville had him grab onto the back of his bike and the guy directed traffic around them as we chugged up the hill. He stayed with us a while and then thanked Ville as he let go and headed up a side road home. (Check out the video below)
We made it close to our Warmshowers host's home and had an ice cream to celebrate getting to Medellin and await our host. Unfortunately we had mistakenly wrote the wrong date on our email and they expected us a week later, but welcomed us in and were the kindest family of fellow travelers. Manuel, the younger son, welcomed us in and even made us dinner before his older brother Daniel, mom Diana and father Pedro came home. You guys are amazing and thanks a million for your hospitality! After being so good at filtering water, we somehow managed to both get stomach sick, and I even have a rash to go along with it, but are making the best of fixing bikes and catching up on this blog while resting. With a quick recovery (fingers crossed), our next stop will be Cali in about 5 days or so and thanks so much everyone for following our journey, commenting, writing us, supporting us, loving us, and helping to make this wild bike adventure happen. Until next time, keep on keepin' on!
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K.G. & Ville
On a cruise ship, heading north up the west coast to Los Angeles.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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