The first 750km down

It’s taken a lot longer that expected. Our previous riding experience back in Canada had us doing 60-80 kilometers a day without much problem. But this isn’t Canada, this is the Colombian Andes, and in the Colombian Andes we regularly eclipse 3,000m only to drop back down under 2,000m, every single day.

By day 14 of our 600km route, we were gassed. We found ourselves in the town of Soatá, isolated by dirt roads and mountains in every direction.

The night we arrived we found the surrounding mountain forests on fire. The fire looked to be right in the path of our exit. We would have to evaluate the situation in the morning.

The mountainside, our exit, on fire.

We checked with the municipality the next morning and they said the road should be fine. Desperately wanting to get to San Gil, a larger town with more amenities and our final destination, we tried to cycle up the 15% grade to leave town but found ourselves struggling. We decided to turn back. We were low on money and the day before the ATM in town wasn’t working. We head back and I tried my cards without success. I go into the bank and try to withdraw cash from the teller but I’m told that isn’t possible.

We don’t have enough for another hotel room, but we do have plenty of food and can filter water as we were planning on camping that night. I remember we have some American dollars with us so I head back to the bank and wait for an hour. With the ATM out, everyone is withdrawing from the two tellers. When I get up front I show the $50 US bill, but the they won’t take it.

Back at the central square, where Olivia has been waiting with our bikes, we hatch a plan to get on a bus to the next town that will have a working ATM. We go and talk with the drivers. The buses are small regional buses that have to navigate down the windy dirt roads connecting small communities. We have enough cash to get to the next town but there’s no room for our bikes.

By this time it’s early afternoon. We have no way to get out other than cycling, but leaving now wouldn’t be a great idea with only a few hours of daylight left. We will have to find a spot to set up our tent.

I go back to the ATM and check one more time. Somehow it’s working and I withdraw enough for a hotel for the night and to keep us moving for a couple weeks.

The next morning, resigned to the fact the only way out is on our bikes, we hit the road. We’re in a lot better spirits than the day before. After the initial grind to get out of the town, the gravel road settles into a 7% gradient which we can both cycle in our lowest gear. It’s a bit painstaking, but we make progress.

On the way up we see the Bomberos, the fire department tasked with putting the fire out.

Staging area for the firefighters.

Swaths of forest burned.

That night we camp at the base of a 10km descent after biking uphill all day on the road to Onzaga.

Quiet camping spot by the road.

It takes another three days for us to make the remaining 100 kilometers to San Gil but we make it. So far in Colombia we have had 24 days of biking, 750km, and over 14,000 metres of elevation gained. We feel pretty accomplished.

5 thoughts on “The first 750km down

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  1. Surprises are always part of the journey! Keeping food on board is the key. Well done, and thanks for the vicarious post. Cheers

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  2. What was the expedition up and out like? Sending Livy big bday wishes with love, love and more. Aunty Janet 🙂

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