Day 4 San Marcos to Caucasia
Due to poor dirt road conditions after rain storms, we chartered a 30 ft rice boat to go down the river. The early morning was quiet and serene with fisherman on their canoes and the locals sitting along the river, sipping their Aguapanela.
The boat ride was about 3 hours long and the tour leaders packed us breakfast and coffee for the trip. At one point the boat driver had to maneuver around a very sharp and small gulley to get to the lake where our docking point was located. After barely squeezing through the section we landed in swamp area that took some creative pushing with a long stick to get us into the lake. For awhile we thought we might have to get out and push. I believe this is what they referred to as an “adventure”.
As we approached our docking city, the lake was lined with beautiful modern homes. I was blown away, especially since we have been riding through very poor villages the last few days. The city was Ayapel, once all the gear and bikes were loaded we were off. the town was still waking up, but had many shops and restaurants. The city itself still looked rather poor, despite the many luxury homes were in the vicinity.
Once out of the city we rode through more rolling country hills. Many times we thought we were on a back road in Ohio. As the day wore on, the heat and humidity came back with vengeance.
When Bruce and I arrived in our final town of Caucasia. The streets were lined with carts selling juice, so of course we stopped for one. I cannot describe how good the juice is in Colombia. The fruits are fresh and squeezed or juiced the same day. Better than even the juice we get at Northstar.
Our camp for the night was a truck stop with rooms and a restaurant. Bruce got us a room for the night, it was basically a prison cell with a private bath and air conditioner, better than the humidity…I guess.
The cycling group took turns buying beers, Bruce and I hung out in the restaurant under the fans and watched telenovelas on the TV with the locals. I can now understand why they are so popular, the drama, and its a great way to learn Spanish.
Day 5 Caucasia to Ventanas
Today was the first big climb of the tour. We started along the busy highway through rural rolling hills. After about 15k, we started to finally see mountains! The day was very hot and humid, so keeping up with hydrating was difficult. Once in the mountains, we were riding in the valley along the river. in the small villages a new industry was born: truck washing. Spring water from the mountains dripped down in small waterfalls and the locals would tap into the water with big funnels to power hoses. They made great sprinklers to cool off in while riding!
After lunch, Bruce and I decided to ride separate since the climb was going to be difficult. After riding 100k/62 miles in the heat and humidity, we were approaching a 35k/22 mile climb gaining 1800m/5900 ft. starting with a 5% grade, the last 10k/6 miles was a 7% grade. Basically a kick in the nuts.
Becky’s Climb: I started the climb at 11:50 am. I had early signs of heat exhaustion and was not looking forward to this climb. I made myself ride at least 10 minutes then take a break in the shade. There was a lot of traffic along the road and the switchbacks were steep and narrow. Some of the locals would sit on the turns directing traffic so trucks and cars would pass safely. However some people continued with their insane driving and would be passing semi trucks on curves when cars were coming the opposite direction.
I stopped at a market to get a coke and snacks and felt much better, plus the temperature was dropping. I made it to about 126k before I decided to walk with my bike. I found a fellow rider sitting along the road ready to be picked up by the sag truck. We sat patiently for a few minutes then decided to try and ride again, as soon as I got on my bike my legs cramped and I couldn’t move. My friend kept riding while I sat in someone’s front yard. Their dogs started barking at me and the man came out to see what was going on. I told him in broken Spanish that I was tired and asked if I could sit for a bit while waiting for the truck. His whole family came out to meet me; wife, daughter, granddaughters.
They invited me to sit on their porch and The man asked me what I was doing out there, I tried to explain that I was with a cycling group. They were all very sweet and welcoming. The granddaughters were showing off in front of me with their own bike riding skills. The SAG cyclist finally made it to me, the other riders were already picked up and the SAG truck was full, so we had to wait for them to be dropped of at camp to come back and get us. By then a storm had rolled through and it was so foggy and wasn’t even safe to ride. The sweet family gave me and the SAG cyclist coco con leche, a local drink of coconut milk and lime. It was so refreshing and delicious. I started shivering and had to put on my rain coat to warm up. The SAG truck finally arrived and we were off after many thanks to my temporary hosts. We had to pick up one more rider before we headed to camp, it was about 6 pm at this point, I had been tackling that climb for over 5 hours. Our camp for the night was a small truck stop and mechanic, as soon as I got out of the truck Bruce ushered me to our sleeping area. I was shocked when he lead me in the house and all the riders were setting up their sleeping mats on the floor, slumber party style. The family who owned the truck stop had invited us into their home since it was storming and allowed us to use their shower and laundry machines. I am blow away by the generosity of the people in Colombia.
Bruce’s Climb: I left lunch feeling great. It was a hot day, but we were starting to get used to that and soon we’d be climbing out of the heat. I later realized that climbing out of heat and humidity is a bit like stubbing your toe to make your headache go away, something still hurts. Once the climbing began, I realized it wasn’t going to be an easy 5% climb. The road kept undulating between 3% and 10%, which combined with the heat kept spiking my heart rate. After only ~300m of climbing I had to go into survival mode and take breaks every 100m of climbing. At coke stops I would chug an entire bottle of gatorade or water before continuing. After reaching an altitude of about 1000m the weather started to cool, just in time to start raining. The rain actually felt great, but it was causing fog and mudslides to occur on the road. Columbian road crews are apparently used to this and they had front end loaders ready and waiting. I experienced only minimal delays. After struggling up another couple hundred meters I was starting to bonk hard, so I stopped for a snack ate both packs of M&Ms that I’d been carrying as emergency food since Cartagena. Those got me through the last bit of the climb. The last 5k or so still took a long time due to fog.
At times visibility would drop to only about 20 feet and I would pull over and wait for it to clear because I couldn’t see anything. I’ve never been so happy to be done with a ride and get some hot soup in me. Thankfully, since it was raining the couple that ran the small store we stayed at let us all cram into their house to sleep on the floor. Accommodations were sparse, but very welcome.
Day 6 Ventanas to San Pedros
Another rough day, and on destroyed legs. The elevation profile for ride was 2 small climbs, one big climb, flat then down hill. It was not like that. We did have the 3 climbs, but there were so many rolling hills, and Colombian rollers bring a while new meaning to the term. The weather was much more agreeable, cooler weather, less humidity, and several scattered showers throughout the day. More beautiful lands. You could tell we were getting closer to a major city because the houses were becoming nicer. This was a breaking day: Mental and physical barriers were broken. We had to ride 107k/66miles. I did not think it would talk long, but we till did not get to camp until 4:30.
Since we were in the mountains, I noticed not as many stray dogs, but more guard dogs. I was chased by a few angry dogs. And when you are grinding up a hill it becomes scary. I did start to see more Pit bulls, Rottweilers, and German shepherds rather than the mutts of the low lands.
Day 7 San Pedros to Medellin
Easy day! A rolling 15k/12 miles out of San Pedros then a beautiful 12k/8 mile down hill with many switchbacks.There were fewer cars and motorcycles. Lots of cyclist going up the hill, some running. As we got closer to Medellin lots of people were walking their dogs.
When we got into the very tip of Medellin we stopped to form a convoy. A local bike advocacy group lead us through the city. On Sundays Medellin, will close down lanes of highways and busy roads for cyclist and runners.
It was chaos but great to see so many locals taking advantage of the space. Lots of vendors along the routes were selling fresh fruit and juices, we did not stop but I will tomorrow! We were finished early, around 9:30 am and have the rest of the day and all day tomorrow to explore, reorganize, and rest before we being our climb out of the valley into Bogata.