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COLOMBIA: MY FIRST 70 KILOMETERS AS A TOURING CYCLIST.

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COLOMBIA: MY FIRST 70 KILOMETERS AS A TOURING CYCLIST.

Hey buddies, how are you doing? I am Mauro, from the coffee region in Colombia.

As I told you in my last post on Warm Showers (https://www.warmshowers.org/node/130716 external link), I had my first hosting experience with a couple from New Zealand, Baden and Shelley Campbell, now they are in Perú, riding their bikes on the cost region, very close to their final destination, I think so! (You can follow their adventure on http://www.howareyouwhereareyou.com/ external link).

It has been more than two months since Baden and Shelley left my grandfather's house in Sevilla, and I have been feeling excited about what can happen with my next touring cycling experience. I have heard lots of stories of people that actually are riding in Colombia, most of them are going from the north to the south of the country, and it´s interesting to know that probably many of them are planning to go through the coffee region… “My home”. One of the most interesting ones is about a woman called Andréa Maria, she´s from Bucaramanga, Santander; Andrea is a kind of activist, a woman who defends the rights to have a free mobility in the cities, as in her city, La Ciudad Bonita (Bucaramanga, where I got my BS degree), her ideal it's not only to have a bike to practice a sport but to have paths, routes on the city over which you can go through without any problem and risk. I don´t know too much about her project, but I have read their story and plan in her web page http://www.mujeresbicibles.com/ (external link); thanks to a friend of mine, Sergio, who lives in Bucaramanga, I had a connection with Andrea, and I am hoping to have the chance to meet her during her staying in Quindío or in the Coffee Capital of Colombia, the place where I grew up.

Entering in matter, in what I want to express in this funny blog, the day before my adventure I was in Caicedonia, a small town between Sevilla and Armenia because I was visiting a good friend that had been living in Wellington, New Zealand a year ago, and she was spending her vacations with her family there; she told me lots of nice and interesting things about NZ, now I can imagine why Shelley and Baden feel so proud of their country; with beautiful mountains, trails, and landscapes NZ built a perfect and attractive way of tourism for adventurous cyclist, hikers and dare-devil people; I spent all the morning listening to her explorations there, and ate a delicious lunch made by Paola´s mother. In the early afternoon I left Caicedonia to get my hometown, Sevilla. When I was heading there, I only was thinking how difficult my ride would be, because I would face a strong charge of kilometers without any specific training, but my desire for accomplishing the big goal and to get my bike back to Armenia was a nice and solid motivation; afterwards, I arrived to my town, I took my bike directly with my good friend and mechanic Julito, to make my bike some settings, he cleaned the cassette, oiled the chain, and pumped air into my 26’’ Maxxis Ranchero tires, but… wait a moment mate, I needed something special, a rear rack, “Parrilla” (in Colombian) to put my backpack of 12 kilos on. It was strange sensation to see my bike with a rear rack, because it´s a MTB, but I felt so emotional.

It was Monday, and the day started at 4:50 a.m. I wanted to get ready before sunrise, I just remember that it was the coldest morning I have ever felt since the El Niño phenomenon arrived to Colombia since last year, so I woke up and went directly to the kitchen to make a cup of Colombian coffee, I would need caffeine going through my veins to start the cyclist rhythm in my heart beat. I got dressed while my aunt Gloria made me a delicious breakfast, “arepa”, eggs Chocolate, bread and more coffee. What a quantity of calories, don´t you think!?

Wait a moment Mauro, Why did you decide to get back to Armenia on your bike?
Why should I have spent money on a bus ticket, if I have my bike? It is better to save money, to get health and fit, and reduce CO2 emissions to contribute in reducing the global warming. I know that is a small effort, maybe doing that kind of things you help the earth to take a small breathe, and make the difference. *Plus, you'll set a positive example for others.

Let´s continue!
I had planned to leave Sevilla at 6 o’clock, but my plan was delayed while I was setting my backpack with all my stuffs on the rack, I had to ask for help to my aunt because I didn´t know how to tighten it (remember my cycle touring friend that I am an amateur in this). After have done it correctly, I left my grandfather´s house at 6:30 a.m. with four Gros Michel bananas, and a camel back with two liters and a liter bottle, both filled with a valued liquid called water. So, I STARTED Strava and whit a “Bye bye tía Gloria”, my trip had started.

To get out of the Coffee Capital (via Armenia), I had to climb 1.6 Km up (average grade 8%), in my personal opinion that was very difficult without any previous warming up, I only can remember that my heart beats per minute weren´t lower than 160, It was tough to get into the riding mood, highlighting that it was a very cold morning. I saw some people exercising while I was going uphill, but most of them old people; I thought “why don’t young people like to exercise?” I got into a strange feeling; sometimes I am worried about the future that young people are building for their lives, and indirectly for ours. Carangal summit, and the downhill had started, what a COLD! Freeze body! During 11:08 minutes in 8 kilometers I felt like in the North Pole.

After have gone downhill, a long and a flat terrain was next, and I realized of something special, the pace I was riding was very comfortable carrying an extra weight of 12 kilos approx., the bike was really stable and my pedaling rhythm was stronger than other opportunities in my previous trainings as a mountain-biker, the reason? Well, I think that the gravity helps touring cyclist when are riding with an extra charge! And I could affirm hours later at home, after have charged the information on that segment in Strava app, I noticed that I broke a best personal for more than three minutes. What a surprise!

The road continued to Caicedonia, and my FT4 Polar watch was showing me 40 minutes after have started it in Sevilla, I was feeling in such a good mood, so I kept pedalling with a strong cadence on a new road that connects Barragan and Caicedonia (via Armenia). After have passed by Barragan I had eaten two bananas and I had drunk almost a liter of water.

Nice landscapes cover the area in the border of Quindio and Valle department; pastures, coffee farms make a beautiful and peaceful place to ride your bike. When I was very close to the next village Rio Verde, two road cyclists overtook me riding with a brutal pace, I think that more than 45 kilometers per hour, It was incredible, they both showed me a “thumbs up” signal and followed with their route. That part of the route between Caicedonia and Armenia has the special effect that lot of cyclists ride on it, that morning I ran into many of them. It´s always nice when you don´t even know someone, and that person smiled you and cheer you to keep going, it´s an universal language that only people that love bikes can understand.

The road just after Rio Verde is a smooth climb up, but when you are riding with extra kilos, it can turn into a mind-blower situation; I never saw to the front on that part of the route due to the tiredness, so, I nailed my sight on the pavement and tried to concentrate myself in not to feel pain on my legs, as thinking shut up legs! 15 minutes passed and I started to feeling really tired, my body asked me for something sweeter than a simple banana, so I kept pedalling to reach Barcelona (Quindío) town, and try to find a small market to buy an energetic beverage, but it wasn´t possible because of I was passing on a highway, and sometimes it´s difficult to get something on that part of the road. I thought “well man, we had to keep going to get “La Y”, and maybe in that Gas Station I can find cyclist food”. The following six kilometers to get “La Y” were eternal, no water, no bananas; a hungry cyclist is a grumpy cyclist! “-Fuck you man and try to keep calm”, I thought… 25 minutes later and “Oh my goodness” I had got “La Y”, maybe my paradise, maybe the heaven, so I took my helmet and gloves off, and went directly to the minimarket to get a soda and a dessert made of chocolate, to reload my body of calories and energy. I rested more than an hour quarter, and received a call from a good friend, David, who is studying his master degree in Brazil, that was very nice because he made me feel so emotional while I listened to his stories about the Rio Carnival, maybe he made me feel really pretty good to continue my road to Armenia. I chatted with some relatives to give them my location, too.

“La Y” is a main point due to it´s the connection between the middle of Colombia and its capital Bogotá. I had two options to get Armenia, the first one: turn left to get the south entrance of Armenia, and the second one: turn right to get the north entrance of Armenia, but I would have to go to Calarcá town first. I was confused, because the first one maybe it´s the easiest, but the more dangerous, because the it´s a tight route, and that can be risky with the traffic; and the second one, I think is harder, but it´s the safest even though to have to ride on a road full of trucks that are trying to get La Linea pass (the road that connect Quindío and Tolima department, and a legendary mountain port for the most experienced cyclist that compete in the “Vuelta a Colombia” on bicycle. I climbed the Linea pass only once, with my mountain-bike team, in that opportunity to get the summit was epic, for more than two hours we fight with strong wind streams and the most extreme weather conditions).

I decided to go through the second one, and I supposed that it was the best choice. It was a quiet ride on that new road, and the most important is I had the chance to rest per a couple of minutes in two parts, because I had to stop while the workers were paving the new sections. I think that there were almost 7 kilometers between “La Y” and Calarcá. It went well, after have eaten something. I want to highlight that it was a perfect day to ride a bike; it was sort of like a sunny day, not too cold, not too hot. After have passed the Mariposario and Calarcá coliseum I had to enter to Calarcá to get Chagualá road the via that connects Calarcá and north portion of Armenia. Calarcá is a nice town, warm and kind people fill it with an attractive atmosphere. Just after I have got into the Chagualá road I started to feeling my body really tired and cramps started attacking my body, especially my legs, oh man what a pain I felt. I was worried because I didn´t have any food, only water, and the hardest part was yet to come, the final fucking climb up. If you are a cyclist, when you´re getting tired on the saddle, the most common is to stand up and dancing on the pedals, but I was empty of energy, and the cramps in my legs were getting stronger, so I decided to stop for a last time before the climb, I did some stretching exercises focusing on my legs, drank some water and continued on my bike to face the brutal final fight with that mini mountain of 2 kilometers, I often said I have hated to be a cyclist, that day I did it while trying to get the summit, it was really tough to pedal that part, but well my friend, sometimes to get an oasis you have to pass the driest desert.

To wrap up, I got my home after 70 kilometers and 3:36:01 hours of moving time (https://www.strava.com/activities/484250964/segments/11620812914 external link), and the greatest reward is that I felt so proud of myself.

So my friend: STOP SAYING “I WHISH” START SAYING “I WILL”.

Cycling friends, I wish you all the best in the adventures on your bike. Keep pushing the boundaries of the possible so that eventually the impossible becomes reality. Thumbs up .

Warm regards,
Mauro.