I’m safely in Pasto, but getting here wasn’t what I expected. From every description I had good reason to expect the worst- but my imagination simply fell short of what exactly the second worst highway in South America actually looked like. At the moment my calves feel like jello, I’m having trouble walking, and strangely my forearms can’t hold things very well either. At the moment, I can honestly say i hope i never have to do anything like that again.
(So it begins in Mocoa)
Skip backwards to Friday morning:
I had been working for 3 hours and 30 minutes. In the first hour, I climbed 12km of paved road and 2km of dirt road. In the next 2 and 1/2 hours I had covered 12 more kilometers of nightmarish softball sized rocks and broken one pannier in the middle of a pouring rainstorm. Would my rims survive? The other panniers is looking desperate and bent out of shape, I wonder how long it will last (the other was lashed onto the rack with some accessory cord)? My right leg was worked from walking my bike up the portions I couldn’t pedal up in my smallest gear. I was resting in front of a small catholic memorial for one of the 400 people killed on this road so far and the driver looked at me intently. I had already had 3 other offers, he looked at me through the rain and said something that I obviously interpreted as “come on, you’re nuts!”. It was 1030am and I was already giving up, but mostly because I wasn’t sure I would have a bike left to ride if I continued.
(Still under my own power getting into the cloud forest)
Thus I met Jesus (“Hay-zoos”, for those not familiar with the Spanish pronunciation of the Christian name). We proceeded to rocket up the rough road in his high clearance truck with my bike in the back, he clearly had plenty of practice driving the difficult road. I got over my alarm when he stopped at a creek and proceeded to fill the radiator and cool the engine with water, but about 4km later (6km after picking me up) he stopped with a puzzled look in his eyes. We got out and looked at the front of the truck, both wheels pointed in towards the Mazda symbol on the radiator grill. Jesus’ driving had broken the steering linkage to the left front wheel. No bueno. It was 1115am.
(As we say, este muy bonita)
Some people might not feel the same sense of duty, but when the guy who just picked up your tired, soaked, and broken butt up on the side of the road is suddenly in the rough, I don’t bail. And so things got a bit more adventurous. We tried fixing the linkage a few different ways but ultimately at 1pm Jesus hitched a ride back to Mocoa with the broken part, got it welded and caught a bus back to the truck. As bad as the road is, it is the only link between the Magdalena valley and the Panamerican highway, so it sees an incredible amount and variety of traffic. Jesus got back around 4pm, we installed the part, and got moving around 415pm.
It still took us until 630pm to get to Sibundoy, where Jesus lived and I could get a hostel. Jesus had given me a ride approximately 50km, and I am certain I could not have made Sibundoy last night- I would have been better off trail-running there. I just can’t describe how long and consistently terrible the road was, I honestly cannot conceptualize riding a bicycle all the way up it. I took the ride because I needed it and I knew it.
(Higher and higher, thanks to a mostly functional truck)
Sibundoy was a nice town and Jesus had dropped me at a decent, cheap hotel. I was still worked from the morning’s efforts, I had taken my normal full on attitude and given it my hardest for more than 3 straight hours. I ran Chicago marathon in less time than that. My hardest crossfit workouts have never been that long. Despite the lift from Jesus, the physical toll of such a difficult, steep road on a heavy bike had destroyed me in less than a morning. I ate a big meal and slept immediately (at 830pm).
This morning I woke up without an alarm at 530am and got moving. I thought today would be easier, and had no intention of getting a ride. I pedaled out of town around 7 in brilliantly cool, cloudy weather and started climbing again. I had information that I would climb from Sibundoy but hadn’t really pieced together just how much. It’s 65km from Sibundoy to Pasto, and I had thought it would be mostly downhill. I was wrong, and the error had a costly effect on my mental state. Maybe I was still mad about getting a ride, or just though that because I had gotten a ride that it would make today easy. I was wrong.
Leaving town crossed about 5km of gorgeous flat farmland on excellent pavement, then I started climbing. The paved road continued climbing for 20km of the steepest grades I have seen in highway construction. My legs were gassed almost immediately, but I was determined to get to Pasto under my own power. The paved road ended in some short flats and I got excited I might head downhill. Instead the road turned to wet mud and headed up for another 10km of hard climbing. I walked, I swore, I stopped to rest a lot, but I was determined to get the day done on my own power.
(Climbing out of the valley this morning)
The climbing did eventually end 35km from Sibundoy, but the dirt road continued down and controlling the bike without skidding out took a lot of effort and control. Shortly after starting down I noticed the balance of the bike change and saw that I had further broken the pannier from the previous day. The full story is that my rear left pannier has been trouble since day 2 of the entire trip- one of the top clips snapped while carting my stuff across Bogota. I replaced the clip with a piece of cord. That worked until Friday, when the other clipped snapped in the middle of a rainstorm. I had lashed used the portion of the clip that remained attached to the bag to lash both points into the rack but now one of the points I had used to lash had just completely ripped off the bag (I doubt the waterproof integrity of said pannier now as well). The last system I’ve got now is semi functional but I can see the wear pattern developing already. Moral of the story- just buy Ortleib panniers only, SunLite clearly isn’t ready for the big time.
I descended another 5km and finally got back to pavement for a bit. 20km outside Pasto I started one more climb. The description I had said 2km of gentle climbing. The reality was another 6km of full on Colombian road grades. I was livid, and it took everything I had left. Fortunately the last 15km into town was all downhill and I rolled in just after noon. I could barely make it across town to find the hostel. Getting the bike up the stairs was the last straw but I’m glad I did.
Im staying at a lovely place in the center of town (The Koala Inn) and was still able to enjoy my last real Colombian city. I found real coffee, a yummy lunch, and as a true treat, a gorgeous slice of carrot cake.
I spent some time this afternoon looking for a new pannier (to no avail despite plentiful bike shops), and just got back from a dinner full of street food. In Bogota I was overwhelmed by the city, but getting here (Pasto is not small), I enjoy the bustle. I enjoy making do with my Spanglish. I enjoy wondering at the marketplace, dashing between cars in the street, and making small talk with the older lady sitting with me in the plaza. Maybe I’m really starting to get into this, or maybe I’m just thrilled to be here.
Thanks for following, if all goes
according to plan the next update should be from Ecuador!