Section 1, Part 3: Undiscovered Country


Day 8: Medellin to Pipinita 91 k

We joined with the Siclas group again for the convoy out of the city. We had to ride in a group on the highway during morning rush hour traffic. I continue to be amazed that Colombian drivers are beyond aggressive, but everyone seems to be patient. I have not witnessed road rage like in the US.

We started a 10k climb as soon as the convoy ended 20 k out of the city. Once out of the city the exhaust smog lifted and we could breath again! The scenery reminded me of Colorado with rolling mountains, conifer trees, and crystal blue skies. I felt strong grinding up this climb of about 800 meters/2600 feet elevation gain. One of the women in the tour was ahead of me a few meters and a silver haired man was walking down the mountain exclaiming something about all these pretty women biking today, when I passed him he giggled and offered me a high five. So much enthusiasm and support from the locals!! I am constantly having people from trucks, cars, and motorcycles yell encouragement as they pass me cycling (I’m pretty sure its because I am a woman, but that’s besides the point).

I noticed along the climb a lot of artisan furniture makers. Beautiful hand crafted chairs and tables. IMG_2177I am still pondering ways to ship a chair back to Ohio. We also passed raw wood mills that smelled amazing and had massive wood planks with the bark that most locals turn into tables.

At the top of the mountain Bruce was waiting at a small restaurant with fresh Jugo Naranja, orange juice.  It has become our favorite treat. We relaxed for a few minutes with our tour buddies before heading down the fast 30k decent. We witnessed some amazing views while speeding down the mountain.

The lower elevation was very hot and humid. We had descended to about 500 m of elevation and road along a river again for the least 40k. As we entered our destination town of Pipinta it was bustling with shops and restaurants, and a water park! Bruce and I stopped for a juice before the last 10k of the days ride.

As we approached our camp for the night, we were pleasantly surprised that we had private rooms reserved and the hotel had a restaurant, bar, and a POOL with a view!

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View from the hotel pool

When the day is hot and humid all I think about is dipping in a pool after I am finished. When camp has a pool, its the best day ever.

 

Since this was a shorter day, most everyone was into the camp before 2 pm. A dip in the pool, a cerveza, and a nap in the shade was the afternoon itinerary. Thanks to the Mirado del Pipinta for a beautiful and relaxing stay.

 

Day 9: Pipinta to Manizales 118k

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The sunrise view from our room

We awoke to a beautiful sunset. The restaurant made us breakfast, but that put us on the road at 7 am rather than our usual 6:30, and we had one of our toughest days ahead of us.  We were to ride on the highway for most of the day. It was busy with large semis, motorcycles, and cars. The temperature was very hot and humid, and construction was everywhere. We were stopped about every 5k because half the road was closed to repair mud slides. The heat, sun, and vehicle exhaust was wearing me down too early in the day. The SAG truck and medic were worried about me and asked several times if I wanted a ride to camp. Finally after 85 k I decided to catch a ride, I was showing early signs of heat exhaustion. Bruce managed to grind all the way to camp. Once in the truck and we headed up to camp, the road was a steep and curving labyrinth of highways. I would have had so much anxiety navigating through the roads. Manizales is a large city in the mountains, about 5,300 m high.

 

Our camp was a Eco lodge and the tour leaders had booked the main house for us.

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Our new buddy, Mono

Which meant showers, toilets, and beds. No need for tents! A sweet dog named Mono became obsessed with Bruce and wanted to cuddle.  He would not leave us alone. I asked if we could have a tour mascot. Sadly, the answer was no. I will continue this fight with every sweet pupper I meet.

 

 

Day 10: Manizales to Mariqueza, 115 k

Another tough day of climbing, but at least we had cooler temperatures. The days climb was for 28k/17mi gaining 1600m/5200ft, topping out at 3830m/12,500ft, then a super long descent into camp. We we told that there was a fantastic coffee shop at the top and that was my dangled carrot of the day.

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A juxtaposition of rural and industrial life

I took my time grinding up the mountain, taking lots of breaks to drink water, and take in the views. Several local roadies passed me along the way, they were all at least their 60’s, tiny, and using almost straight block cassettes. Must be nice having these mountains in their back yard for training. They spoke English and road with me for a while asking many questions about my journey.

 

As I closed in on the summit, I could tell my altitude was increasing. I was more short of breath and the air was becoming cold. Once I reached the intended coffee shop, Bruce was waiting with a cup of coffee for me.

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Fog along the ascent made for a mystical climb

I enjoyed a quick coffee and then we bundled up for the long ride down to 500m. We defended down curvy switchbacks on smooth tarmac for about 5km before we had to climb again! This was not in the elevation profile for the day’s ride! In fact there were several more inclines.

 

We rode through more farming communities. A family of 4 goats ran across the road together making a break for it, when they saw me they ran back across the street deciding that the grass is in fact not greener on the other side.

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A portion of the climb

Several kilometers later a cow and her calf did the same thing. I am always caught off guard by a cow, goat, pig, etc. eating grass along the road, but tied to a post or tree. Some families are so poor they cannot afford a pasture but purchase one livestock to attend to in their small living area.

 

Our destination town was bustling, but still small. Our camp was at a motel, Bruce and I opted for a room. The hotel did have a pool and I regrettably did not jump in, I need to buy some goggles and swim cap to swim a few cool down laps.

Day 11: Mariqueza to Viani 99k

We had a cool start the day. Small towns wake up early with the sun, fruit stands and shops were already open at 6:30 am when we left camp.

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cotton fields and mountains

The first 20k was fast and flat through cotton fields and garden shops. Mountains were in the distance, I was excited to see new scenery.

 

We continued through rice fields along a tree lined country road that was quiet. We reached the first incline and turned around a sharp corner and it was an instant vegetation change. It went from Ohio fields to Arizona desert in a matter of minutes. The new terrain was very hot and dry, I was very worried about heat exhaustion again, so I took the 30k climb very slow.

The first 10k seemed like flat road, but it was a low elevation gain so we were able to ride at a reasonable pace. However it did become much steeper and the area was desolate with few shops to refill on water or get a Coke. Bruce rode with me today, and was my saving grace for keeping me cool in the heat. We did manage to get to much cooler temps as the elevation gained.

Our camp for the night was at a municipal pool for the small village of Viani, bonus for yet another pool! The town had just filled the pool in the last couple of days and the water was frigid, basically a post ride ice bath. We camped in tents and I finally had a good nights sleep, thanks to a cool breeze, eye mask and ear plugs to block out the ambient sounds from kids, roosters, dogs, and a trombone player. Bruce barely slept at all.

Day 12: Viani to La Vega, 73k

Bruce and I both woke up exhausted and not wanting to get up. I was wondering when this feeling would find us again. Even though I slept great, I was exhausted. I guess when you have 4 days of intense riding and 2 more to go before a rest day your body is bound to rebel.

The day started with rollers then a 10k down hill. Bruce and I were both dreading the day’s climb of 18k and 1100m of gain. IMG_2199Bruce managed to find his inner beast and flew[Ed. struggled] up the mountain. As usual, I took my time. I made it abut half way and noticed a cute cafe with some bikes outside. It happened to be a fantastic coffee and juice stop.  The coffee was one of the best I have had in Colombia and it became jet fuel for the rest of the climb!

We had a fantastic downhill afterwards and I managed to meet up with Bruce again. IMG_2232As we got closer to La Vega the temps increased and the last 5k of the day drug on forever, mostly because the camp was actually 2k further than we were informed. The finca was beautiful, had beds available and showers, and another pool! I did not dip in because the air temp was already cool and the water was apparently very cold.

The finca was 3k from the nearest store, but we heard a house next door was selling ice cream. Bruce and I went to investigate and walked around looking for ice cream signs.

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Ice cream house, seems legit 

After searching, we found a flag that has become recognizable in shops for the Colombian ice cream company, Crema Heldao. We stood outside debating how to ask for ice cream from someone’s home. A guy was laying on his couch with the upstairs door open playing on his phone. Finally we yelled out and he looked outside, asked which ones we wanted, went in to his freezer and came back with the ice cream. This would never happen in the US. I love that that so many rual homes turn their front room or porch into a restaurant, bar, or just sell ice cream.

 

 

 

 

Day 13: La Vega to Bogata 75k

Today the group went rogue. The tour leader mapped out our route into Bogata that consisted solely of highway and long ascent. One of the riders is from Colombia and said the road that the finca was on took us up the mountain to the highway.

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Much nicer than a highway

The original route was about 31k of climbing on a busy highway. The rogue route was 12k on quiet dirt roads that ended up at about the 19k mark of the original route. I am so glad we chose the dirt road, it was serene and very little traffic.

 

When we made it to the highway it was only 11k to the summit. It became cold and windy, and I was becoming hangry. We planned on stopping at the first Coke stop 2k later, but it was closed. So we went to the next stop that was about 3k from the summit. I was amazed by how many local cyclists were on the same highway. IMG_2231We were passed by about 30 and at least that many were going down the opposite direction. When we finally stopped for a snack, it was a cycling Mecca. Hundreds of cyclists were stopped in this strip mall of bakeries. After our coffee and pastry, we continued to the top. More and more cyclists were heading the same direction. Then it started to rain, hard. I noticed SAG vans for cycling teams picking up those who did not want to ride in the rain, poseurs!

At the top was a fruit stand and dozens of cyclists waiting for the rain to stop. The ride from La Vega to the summit is called El Alto Vino, it is a part of the Tour de Colombia, and obviously a very popular ride for local cyclists.

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They really like Nairo Quintana here

It is only approximately 50k from Bogata. After the fact, I wish I would have ridden the highway the whole way so I could have the Strava segments.

 

We met up with our tour leaders about 20k from the hotel for a convoy into the city with a Bogata cycling group. At that point I was ready for a shower and a rest day or two.  We’d averaged over 2000m of climbing for 6 days.

 

 

 

 

Categories: bike touring, South American epic, travel

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