Friday, December 4, 2009

Medellin, Colombia to Doradal, Colombia: Intensity and Natural Beauty All Around

Miles Per Day: Day 1=31; Day 2=27; Day 3=24.

Total So Far: 82

Inspiration: the crisp mountain air of the Andes; strange, beautiful flowers along the route; the smiles of the people I meet along the way (people here are super friendly);

Sprits: elated; exhausted; content; amazed.

Things Seen on the Road: a talking parrot in the middle of the road; tons of trucks; tons of poverty; school children running alongside my bike as school was letting out.

Favorite Quotes: Colombian soldier with an automatic weapon walking up to me at an abandoned bridge: “So, you are riding on this road all by yourself, huh?” [translation]

So far, this trip is turning out to be tougher, more intense and more interesting than anything I ever did back in the States. It was probably not a good idea to start riding into the Andes with just a few weeks of training under my belt. The elevation has also been a factor. By the time I hit the Rockies back in Colorado I had increased my elevation tolerance pretty gradually. I can't tell you how weird it feels to go from 0 to 4,500 before climbing to 8,500 feet on a fully loaded bike in just a few days.

But, hey, what an adventure this is turning out to be. I'm not sure all the photos and videos in the world would be able to capture all the “realness” and beauty I am seeing from my saddle.

It's a beautiful time to be alive.

Let's just say that I should have known better.

Apparently, there are two ways to leave Medellin towards the small town of Rio Negro, my first destination on this trip. I could have traveled over the Andes via Las Palmas OR I could have reached Rio Negro via the mountaintop town of Santa Elena. One would mean a tough but workable 2,800 foot climb into the Andes while the other involves an absolutely insane 4,000 foot climb over just 12 miles full of 14 to 16 grade inclines. Guess which I chose.

Beyond the sheer intensity of that climb, despite not having had the time for adequate training and conditioning, and even though the altitude quickly became a problem, the one thing that really destroyed me that day was the NOT KNOWING. Unlike my Bike Across America trip, I didn't have a good sense of how much further I had before reaching the top of the climb. The map I am using is pretty useless in that respect and the internet is hit or miss when it comes to planning this trip. You have NO idea how frustrating it is to reach what you think is the very top of this monster climb, only to realize that there is another mountain range worth of pain to go. I definitely need to invest in a GPS device for my next trip.

Heading from Rio Negro to Doradal the shittiness of my local map became evident. You see, I had decided not to buy the local topographical maps (not all that helpful for bike riding, in my opinion) and instead invested in a more general road map with an elevation graph in the back. Looking at this graph the morning of the second day I thought I had it made. The graph showed a clear 6,000 foot drop between Rio Negro and my next destination, Doradal. Heading out that day I was feeling pretty good. Until I hit the first of three monster climbs. Seems like the graph failed to show intervening elevation climbs between random towns along the route. Half-way through the second climb I gave up. The sun was horrendous and I had NO idea how many more climbs I had left before reaching Doradal. When I found a roadside motel I decided to stay for the night.

Map frustration aside, the evening of my second day on the road was just awesome! I had stopped at a roadside motel that consisted of a primitive restaurant on the first floor and a super mall room on the second floor with what I guess was considered a shower in the back. There was NOTHING around for miles. That evening, the owner, an elderly lady in her 60's, cooked me TWO separate dinners of rice, beans and steak while the family and I watched Colombian soap operas until 10:00pm.

As I headed upstairs, I did my best to avoid stepping on hundreds (thousands?) of insects of all different shapes and sizes. Attracted by the only lights around for miles, these insects filled the floors, ceiling and all the walls along the hallway right outside my room. Not thinking much, I turned the lights on inside my shack/room to do the basics: organize my stuff for the next day, brush my teeth, and get ready for bed. Ten minutes later I noticed them...dozens and then hundreds of insects crawling into cracks along the walls, all of them attracted by the lights inside my room. I quickly shut off the lights and turned on my portable headlight. Let's just say that I fell asleep that night with tons of creepy crawlies walking all over me...




-PP said...

This sounds like a great adventure! Although I'm sure it'd would have been nice for it to not be so tough from the get go, I bet the fact that you made it through those hills is bringing you great satisfaction.

Reading this post is also a great push for myself to get in the saddle more often. I'm planning on touring Europe and I haven't been riding as often as I told myself I would in order to prepare. Looking forward to reading more about your trip.

Helene said...

What type of camera do you use?

Jill M. said...


I couldn't help but notice the metaphor in your post. The feelings you described about "not knowing" what is ahead and how you are trying to brainstorm for better tools (e.g. GPS) for knowing what is ahead so you can plan for it. The Voluntary Simplicity you have described includes choosing a path that will leave you without certain tools to do so.

So many times in life, we choose challenges and see them as having an end point, like the top of one of the climbs you described. Yet, little do we know that there are many more challenges ahead - because there are no tools to forecast what is coming ahead in life.

You brainstorming for tools like GPS, and analyzing the tool you chose (the map that omitted the elevation changes between towns), is like choosing the path of Voluntary Simplicity as a tool to better manage the challenges of life. Just like the best tool cannot forecast every challenge that will arise on your bike trips, VS cannot prepare you for the specifics of the challenges life has to offer- but by investing your energy in preparing yourself for each journey, you are well-situated to make wise decisions and get the most of out the activities you choose!


Linda said...

Absolutely breathtaking! I'm a bit envious, actually. Some of the scenery looks like paradise on earth.

But the insects - I would've died of disgust. Literally.

Jack said...


Europe would be amazing. Also looking into it. You can always train on the road, so long as you don't start at the foot of the Alps or something.


It's a canon. Don't have it in front of me right now so can't give you the model number, but bought it like a year ago. It's pretty sweet.


That's very evocative. Glad you got that out of the post. I guess that's why I am soo drawn to bike touring...surving on the road involves dealing with the bare essentials in life, even as you choose the path that makes the most sense to you. Using the right equipment of course.

Jack said...


Lucky for me they don't really affect me much.