Category Archives: Bike Touring

Packing

I’m packing my things this morning.  Last weekend, my housemate and landlord informed me that she needed to live alone, and that I was welcome to take the time to find a place I would be happy living in.  I’m grateful for having had this place to land, and feel confident that I can find something that works just as well, if not better, for my needs.  I swear Craigslist has mystical powers in that regard.

Packing in a way feels good.  My heart opens to adventure, my life feels smaller and more compact again, and I have the opportunity to strip away the unnecessary.  I don’t know yet where I will land, my criteria includes cool people and good energy, which doesn’t seem hard to find in this town.

The south hills are full of really awful McMansions, but I can't argue with the view...

I got fired up yesterday, clear skies and a new freehub on my bike reminded me that I didn’t ride 1,000km across Colombia last year because I dislike spending time in the saddle.  Maybe I don’t really own skinny tires any more (I sold my old roadbike for cash to travel with), but that doesn’t mean I can’t get out and race the touring bike I have.  My legs were fresh and excited to spin.  Cycling is an adventure from the moment you leave your house until the moment you get back- and has all of my favorite elements: being outside, hard physical effort, and seeing the world on a human powered level.  I rode Pattee Canyon until I hit snow, then bombed down to find the next steepest climb over the South Hills, and then again despite a headwind- dug deep for a third climb on the next road west.

Roads around town are NOT yet all clear.

It felt good to get out and spin, but the frigid wind was a reminder that it is only very early spring here, and I’ve got lots of work to do to find the best places to ride.  And I really miss my titanium road bike.  We’ll see what the summer brings.

Goals

(major typo now fixed)
I didn’t want to see another museum or walk around another church. Instead I spent the last few hours of my time in Quito in a huge park near the center of the city. This is where the locals hang out. On a beautiful Sunday, hundreds of people- families, couples, singles, friends, lovers, dogs, young, old, everyone- playing vibrantly, perusing craft vendors, eating street food. And no gringos. The scene was idyllic, and exactly how I’d like to remember this place. This is humanity. This is community. This is what we want, and what we need.

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(Family, community, outdoor, fun. Glad I didn’t go to the museum)
Sunday morning I had gotten an email from my brother regarding my upcoming plans and he had some important questions, including “do you have a plan B and C for accomplishing your goal?”. My brother has been one of my strongest supporters during this period of unemployment, and if I walk away with nothing else from this time, a stronger relationship with him will have made all of it (7 months and ~$10,000 spent) worth it. Lately, he’s been more privy than most to my plans and his questions about them have been amongst the most useful.
I’ve spent a lot of my time here thinking about my goals. When I met my friend on the plane in August, one of the most enjoyable parts of the conversation was about our goals, both big and small. I shared a few immediate and practical goals for the next year.
-Get a WFR certification.
-Volunteer for a habitat restoration group.
-Learn to play the harmonica.
-Get on a 5.11 trad climb.
Good goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely), and I’m really excited about the ones above, as I believe they are achievable and realistic this year. Sometimes though, it’s useful to have broader goals, and in response to the question from my brother, it was only appropriate to outline the big goal I’m aiming for next. If I put it on a resume- I want to participate in a locally oriented business that affects local resource consumption towards a more sustainable level.
There are several ways this might happen, and I’m not quite ready to talk openly about them, but biking around gave the time to really hone in on that goal, and once I knew what I was aiming for, and in light of the fact that I wasn’t working towards some of the other goals on my list right now, it only seemed obvious that my bike tour had accomplished it’s mission. I’m sharing my goals here because I hope that all of you can support me in pursuing them, and hold me accountable when I do things that don’t work towards them. Thank you in advance, and for enjoying my last post from South America.

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(At the top of the Basilica de Voto, and a last look at Quito)

Flow

It was 2pm and the jungle was getting steamy. I had already ridden about 100km and climbed a gigantic pass over the Cordillera Occidental mountains, and my legs were worked. After topping the pass, I had entered the jungle and it had rained steadily for 60km. I got to the town of San Juan Villalobos sopping wet, but feeling relatively good after the long downhill. I hadn’t been certain when the day started as to whether or not I would push on to Mocoa (making the day over 165km or 102 miles). I had lunch and checked the weather, and then decided to push for it.

As I climbed the hills outside of town however, something was wrong. I reviewed the factors at hand in my head- I knew there were no hotels on my remaining route, my legs were distinctly worked, it was hot and getting hotter, I didn’t have a full load of water, and I was in likely one of the most dangerous areas of my entire trip. I had decided to push ahead based solely on the fact that it was 2pm and I didn’t feel like I should be done for the day. None of the facts about the situation were good, nothing about the plan was solid and yet I was pushing my bike down the road thinking I would “just do it.”. Then I did something unusual, I turned around and went back to stay in the town.

I learned a few things that day- when nothing about the plan looks good, it’s time to change the plan. Sometimes you just simply know what you need to do. Not with dread, not with anxiety, but sometimes just with an imperative momentum. Many times in my life I have set goals and achieved them. I’ve pushed on, finished things out, done what had to be done. I’m very good at making plans and accomplishing them. In my 27th year, I look forward to learning how to be more flexible. Often we make plans on a conscious level, yet our unconscious mind, perhaps called our soul, also has a path that we must follow.

I woke up yesterday morning and realized that my unconscious path does not continue south. I don’t have the energy, the motivation, the purpose. More importantly, I don’t believe it is what I most want to do, which is why the first three elements are missing. I don’t even particularly feel motivated to explore Quito, a place I have never been before. I’ve had an incredible time here, but my soul requires application, and deep down, I feel that it is time. There are many, many factors that logically contribute to this course of action and that I explain logically and carefully. When I consider them, they all seem ancillary to the underlying momentum that I simply feel.

The feeling I’m talking about is reinforced by a number of more logical facts- pieces of the plan per se, that simply don’t look good. Continuing to travel would undermine my financial ability to pursue other opportunities that are rapidly approaching. The logistical elements of bicycle touring have limited both the cultural experience I’ve had here, and the wilderness experience I’ve had (you can’t ever leave your bike, but you also can’t effectively leave the road). To continue traveling south solo, I need to invest in developing (studying) my spoken Spanish. I could continue to list reasons, but the most important one is that I simply no longer feel like this is the right thing to be doing, and I don’t need any more of a reason than that.

I am excited to execute many of the ideas, act on many of the feelings, and move the direction that I seen open before me over the course of the past 7 months. The details are not complete, but the momentum is clear. The adventure continues despite the change in direction. I have no regrets, I feel no real conflict, but rather a sense of excitement about taking advantage of the flexibility that I have, and the opportunities that are now available to me. More plans will be shared as they become clear. Love to you all.

Go with it.
Flow with it.


“It’s called feeling,
and it leads to KNOWING.
and after that, there is less searching.”
(Andrew Given)

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The Good Parts

I haven’t been avoiding this post, but recently I’ve gotten a number of very supportive and encouraging emails and it occurs to me that I haven’t shared enough of the small but awesome things that have happened so far on this trip. Happily, this is quite a long post. Surprisingly I’m feeling stellar after a long day in the saddle tackling northern Ecuador. Today had some of everything, and I honestly wasn’t sure I’d make the destination I had targeted, but I did and having exited Colombia it is an appropriate time to share some of the awesome stuff that happened while I’ve been on the road:

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(Southern Colombia is beautiful…)
-Bicycling is a regular part of rural life here (unlike in the USA) and I’ve seen workers of all sorts making their living getting around long rural distances by bicycle. Like the guy who had to take a full sized machete to work, so he stuck it in the back of his pants and got in the saddle (not the guy who chased me off his land).
-I mentioned Barry and Carol Smith (the retired aussie overlanders that rehydrated me in the desert). We ran into each other at random 400km later in the streets of downtown Pasto, and again on the highway to Ipiales. So fun that they decided not to buy a McMansion and play golf. They are getting out and after it, something to aspire to when I’m old.
-In the desert I met a guy named Jose, a Bogotan bike tourist, and despite the fact he spoke no English (and my spanish was worse then than it is now…), we stopped for a 20 minute conversation. He was riding a nice looking Giant-brand road bike with all his kit in a worn leather backpack and was just coming home from almost 6,000km.
-I mentioned my friend Perly who hosted me in Neiva. We stayed up late sharing favorite music and movies on YouTube, but one of the most insightful moments of the trip was when Perly recommended we watch “the Story of Stuff”. If you haven’t seen it, click the link- if you have, think about watching it with someone who lives in a place who’s resources have already been extracted as described in the video.
-Sitting with the crippled guys in the gigante square eating chips and talking. I mentioned them earlier, but it is still one of my favorite spots and favorite moments so far.

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(The helmet mirror is totally the hit)
-In the same town as the crippled guys, I rolled in for lunch feeling hot and worked. The restaurant owner made me feel like a celebrity and wanted all the details of my trip. I couldn’t have felt more welcome.
-Although I don’t recommend the experience I am now accustomed to the reason roosters get the traditional rap for waking up the farm. In San Agustin, there were 3 or 4 that made sure everyone was up well in time for work. It’s one of those things that is so annoying it is hilarious, to wake up to the sound of many, many roosters.
-Later that day in San Agustin, I went to my first true South American market experience. I bargained, I people-watched, and drank many cups of Tinto (the local coffee of choice) with the locals.
-I went out to the archeological park in San Agustin to see the many ancient statues there. On my way in a 50-something woman asked if I wanted to buy a guided tour in English. Usually I skip these things, but she dropped her price and my gut said “take it.”. Seven hours later my new friend Miriam and I were discussing organic farming, community awareness, and animals rights. I’m awfully glad she didn’t back down when I blew her off in the first place. It made my day and completely changed my experience of San Agustin.

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(Miriam, at the headwaters of the Rio Magdelena)
-I woke up yesterday morning and started riding out of Pasto only to be greeted with a steep 10km climb straight out of the city, also known as a smack in the face. Fortunately, approximately half the male population of Pasto was out doing the same ride so I had lots of company. I gutted it out and got to the top of the pass. Predictably there were several spots for breakfast and Luis was particularly impressed with my effort on such a heavy bike (he tried to pick it up out of curiousity). He immediately ordered breakfast for the two of us and in broken bits of both languages we forged a friendship. He is in his 60s but used to be a local champion rider. He was stoked on my trip, and insisted on buying my breakfast. It kicked the day off right. Also interesting to note that Pasto was the first place I’ve seen a prominent fitness culture here- lots of people out running, cycling, and playing field sports. I found it strange not to see this sooner.

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(Breakfast with Luis, the older guys always know what’s up)
-Later in the same day I was rolling into Ipiales, a gritty border town I had been warned to watch my back in. Just outside the city I saw a gathering of what I learned was the Ipiales Cycling Club. They cheered me as I passed by- I needed to find a decent hotel and suddenly I knew just who to ask. I turned around and rode back to them, and no sooner did I put my foot down than they crowded around with questions, handed me a beer, and started posing for photographs. I walked away with both a hotel recommendation and a Ipiales Cycling Club wind jacket (that doesn’t fit, but that I am supposed to carry all the way to patagonia…).

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(Amazing lunch for $2.50 in Ipiales, which I really think is quite a fine place)
-and today, when I thought my legs were beat, I got to cross an international border on a bicycle, cycle through some of the most beautiful country yet, and take lots of breaks so I could get to where I needed to be, however unlikely it seemed at first.

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(Ready for another stellar day, this morning)

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(Clean roads and big skies on my first day in Ecuador)
So yeah, in case you were wondering, I think I’m finding my groove in this thing. I’m psyched for tomorrow, and all the next best pieces.

Mocoa to Pasto

Unbelievable.
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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(Broken truck parts in the middle of nowhere)

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(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.

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(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.

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(Simply delicious)
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!

Solo, Part 1

(my apologies for the lack of photos, connectivity is tough, maybe more later)

This is my first really big solo trip, and while I´ve missed the companionship of traveling partners, recently I´ve had some experiences that highlight the advantages of traveling solo. Hopefully this post can provide a more detailed account of some recent events. In no particular order, a few points:

  • The language skills are all up to you- no leaning on friends, you have to say it, you have to hear it. NOLS likes to call it “experiential learning,” I tend to call it frustrating, embarassing, and often hilarious.
  • Getting chased off someone else´s land by a guy with a machete. When it´s just you, you are less threatening to the guy with the machete, and there is no one to argue with about the appropriate course of action- you just pack your things as fast as possible and leave. (Yes this happened, but really it´s not a big deal, he was probably just as scared as I was and was somewhat polite once I started to pack up my things and go. I still didn´t appreciate him waving a machete in my face…)
  • Pushing the bike. I´ve had some long days in the saddle and especially Thursday and Friday were really hot. I´ve managed to stay mostly not sunburnt but when it´s late and you have to keep going because you cannot camp on a military base, it´s nice not to have someone else to worry about pushing.

Of course having someone to talk to, someone to draft, someone to drink the water first, someone to boost your courage, or negotiate with the guy with the machete are all really nice things to have, I´m just not focusing on that right now. I´ve made good time from Bogota but have still enjoyed taking photos, taking siestas, and trying new food (cycling makes you eat on a very regular basis). Mileage for you touring nerds out there-
Wednesday: 137km, mostly downhill.
Thursday: 95km, all in the desert.
Friday: 35km, in the desert but mostly a rest day.
Saturday: 134km, including a 7km hillclimb, and lots of other hills.
Sunday: 90km, finishing with a 5km hill climb that might be one of the more awful physical things I´ve ever done (but I wanted that hill, and I got it without giving up!).

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(many, many hills…)
I mentioned the challenge of getting out and down from Bogota, but the scariest and perhaps hardest stratest was the last 50km in Aipe through the desert on Thursday. It was already scorching hot by 10am when I left the last town- I thought I was ready, but the desert is a very humbling place. Aipe is where I eventually found the ferry to take me across the river to the undeveloped, and more beautiful part of the Tatacoa Desert, but about 5km outside town I bonked hard for the second time that day, and was lucky to have Barry and Carol Smith at the roadside to watch me bonk. The desert had bested me twice that day and it was just a bit scary. I had a couchsurfing contact in the next big city, Neiva, (where I posted last), which made Friday a really nice day.

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(my leg of bug bites after two days in the desert)

Again thanks to Perly for showing me a less-coiffed, more authentic Colombian city and while there may not be “much to see”, I really enjoyed seeing how most people live and work. The road the past two days has been much hillier and the riding harder, though I´m grateful for the cooler temps and friendly locals (most of them cheer as I ride by). The topography has started to wear on me (and my bike) already. My freewheel is making a new scratchy clicking noise, and I´m having trouble managing an old left knee injury. That said, I´m taking today completely off to explore the ancient statues here and do a bit of bike maintenance.

My doubts are still rolling with me, but I´m pleased that they haven´t slowed me down. Moments of beauty seem to be more frequent as well, on Saturday I stopped in a beautiful town called Gigante and took my siesta in the square with three local cripples- I bought them ice cream, they share potato chips and we all laughed at the local boys chasing the local girls.

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(classy open air church in Gigante)

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(one legged man pretends to ride a bike)
The hardest part of Colombia will be crossing the Cordierra Central (the local bit of the Andes just to the west) and getting to Pasto. I may be able to post from Mocoa in the next day or two, but don´t be surprised if you don´t see new content until the end of the week- getting to Pasto is going to be an adventure.

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(many, many churches…)