Four friends and I had been planning months ago a travel on bicycle to Los Nevados National Natural Park (through the Cordillera Central of the Colombian Andes), and the past weekend we had the change to achieve that big and demanding goal.
That adventure started last Friday night when three of them, Pabla (Pablo Gomez), Kike (Carlos Morales) and Zorry (Juan Diego Montoya) picked me up in my home city located in the green heart of Colombia (Armenia), It was late and I spent all the afternoon waiting for them, as we both know most of friend are always delayed, so. When they arrived, I thought that my bike wouldn’t fit Pabla´s car due to the rack was full capacity, so I had to get my small rack out of home to try to fit it on the rear door car, and that way try to stick my bike; it was a difficult task but after 45 minutes we did it.
We had to travel to Manizales (Capital of Caldas department), and we had to buy the food for our stay in the highs of the Colombian Andes, so before continuing our trip, we stopped in a mini market close to my home, we bought spaghettis, tuna, bread, cookies, rice, Panela, salt, sugar, butter, beans, vegetables canes, coffee, etc,. You know cyclist food!
On Friday night Colombian football national team was debuting in the Copa America Centenario in the States against USA football team, we were angry, so we stopped in the road between Armenia and Pereira to get dinner, and we had the chance to watch the inauguration of the Copa América. We left the restaurant and got into the car to continue our trip while we listened to the match on radio, it was an emotional memory because my friend Kike said, “it’s been a while since I listened a match on radio”, that made me remember my grandfather listening to matches of his favorite football team when we was into his car. So, heading to Manizales, We had to enter to Pereira first to pick a sleeping and a mat for Kike, we had luck because normally Pereira has a chaotic traffic, but due to it was too late, we avoid the rush hour and got into the city very easy. After have picked the camping stuffs we left Pereira and took the road to “Manila”, we passed through big bridges and “Viaductos” on that comfortable via, it´s hardly believe how there are in this world people with the capacity to build the unimaginable.
We arrived to Manizales at 11:15 p.m and our tiresome buddy Pablotas (his name is Pablo Londoño, neither my cousin nor brother and I am not kidding hahaha) was waiting for us, - he is capable to call you 1000 times in one minute-, We got the bikes out of the racks and went directly to the hostel located in front of the buses terminal because we had to wake up very early the next day to give our backpacks to a man who works in the Nevados area colleting milk of the farms, and in his truck he would carry our bags.
Pablotas and I were the responsible to give him the package. So, the alarm rang at 4:05 a.m, not too much hours of resting. We had to go to Villamaría (small town very close to Manizales), specifically to a place called Tourin (Hell’s entrance), we waited for the milk´s man to pass him the heavy backpacks (23 kilos per each one), he was on time at 5 a.m, and we agreed the place where he would leave our camping gear. We had to pay almost 35USD$ (global) for it, due to the long way to get the Nevados area, and I think it was cheap because we asked in the area to some drivers, and some of them can charge between 50/75 USD$.
We got back to the hostel to try to sleep at least two hours before start our ride to the "Colombian Himalayas". At 6:30 a.m Pabla, Kike and Zorry woke us up to get ready, so we took a shower, set the bikes, and ate a strong breakfast. It was a nice Saturday morning; the shining sun set a beautiful day to ride our mountain-bikes. To avoid a short but hard climb between Manizales & Villamaría we traveled on the cable way (it costs 0.5USD$), it´s the typical moment in which you think “the calm before the storm”.
Leaving Villamaría, we had to get to Tourin, the point in which Pablotas and I left the package in the sunrise, so we started pedaling uphill to get into the marathon mood, to heat our legs, and get our beats per minute a little bit high. Strava app was started (to track our adventure), and the Hell Gate was opened for us. An uphill terrain gave us the welcome to the adventure of a lifetime. We left at 8:30 a.m at an altitude of 1850 m.a.s.l.
It was a smooth uphill, and all we went together as a mini peloton. The first 10 kilometers uphill were described as a second category climb, and our body was getting use to an altitude of 2450 m.a.s.l. On that part of the road it’s very common to see tomato plantations, and dairy farms.
The next 10 K’s were marked by downhill sections, flat terrain, it was like a roller coaster, and it was also funny because Khyke and Pabla were recording on their GoPro cameras, and everyone tried to show off their skills while we went DHI. So to wrap this part up, we went from 2450 m.a.s.l to 1850 m.a.s.l, and the real climb had not started.
Then, we all met on a bridge located over Claro river, from which you can see the remains (landslide, rocks, mud, and debris flow) of the Armero tragedy, which was one of the major consequences of the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz stratovolcano in Tolima, Colombia, on November 13, 1985. We were overwhelmed, at least for me, I don’t know what my bike mates thought, but you can´t imagine the damage that the entire melted glacier caused on that region, it keeps in our mind.
Well, on the river we had a small chat about the next step, Pabla and Pablotas gave us a threat about the big upcoming climb. The idea was to climb to La Telaraña (it´s a farm and a reference point) to take a small rest and eat cyclist food (Bocadillo, peanuts, gels, and natural caffeine).
Note: If you think of Telarañas (spider web), someone as a human being could think how difficult it would be for a spider to climb it, don´t you think? So, it was not too far of the reality, the climb to get La Telaraña was a brutal one for a mountain-biker! It left us empty tank, and the legs began to hurt at 2500 m.a.s.l. We stopped on the feed zone (La Telaraña summit) to eat energy and to talk about how the things were going to that point, all we were tired faces but with the aim and the desire to achieve the big goal proposed.
We hadn´t reached the 30 kilometer, and we had not more water, so the plan was to stop in the next farm and refill our camelbacks and bottles with the precious liquid; in that moment Pablotas got out his backpack a magical powder (neither cocaine nor a Colombian coffee), it was a basic kit (sport nutrition) to recover the tired muscles, we mixed it with water and drank it immediately, that helped us a lot to recover easily, but the weather started to get bad and that affected our performance on the bikes, so we had to put our waterproof jackets on to keep the body warm.
My Friends and I continued our ride to get more kilometers, and gain altitude, when it started to rain; we were fucked up, what else more? Well, the advantage was we had waterproof jackets and the idea to wear rubber gloves (which we use to wash dinner dishes here in Colombia) to avoid congelation in our hands, the idea was a perfect, we were grateful with Pabla and Zorry who bought them before leaving Manizales.
From there onwards the hungry attacked, and we had to find a point to have lunch; Pabla and Pablotas who had done the same trip months ago gave us the advice to pedal the next difficult climb after a dairy farm, and what a climb! We struggled to get it, but we had a super reward… lunch! Tuna, bread, with Bocadillo, and Pringles potatoes chips. That stop was the opportunity to rest a little bit more, but we had to continue. Further up we were attacked by strong waves of wind, they were our travel companion to get the 2800 m.a.s.l. It was really difficult. Strong wind streams may even stop you at that high altitude.
It supposed that if you get lunch you should feel stronger, but I don´t not what happened to me, I felt tired, and I didn’t find a good rhythm on my bike, I tried to follow Pabla and Khike’s pace but it was too difficult. I remember Kike doing a mini interview in which he asked me – “C’mon man, you can! How are you feeling?” – I answered – “It’s really difficult to breathe and to pedal at this altitude, but we have to keep going!” -.
I saw my partners and they seemed to be fine on their bikes, I just remember we stopped on a wide corner just after have climbed a Repecho (short but hard climb), and I decided that it was a good idea to eat an energetic gel due to my condition, and it ran pretty well in my body, it was a smart decision and I felt stronger, even I set the Plato Dos to get a major advance on the road, my friends were impressed, they even asked to me – “are you doped man?”– The good energy had come back!
After we reached 3000 m.a.s.l., the environment was each minute colder, but we were pedaling in a great mood. We had tracked the 30K, the goal was closer each foot pedal. Pablotas and Pabla who knew the region said – “we are very close to the final destination” -, expressions that give you more power. They even did a bet, Pablotas betted to Pabla the entrance to the Natural Park if the next farm was Potosí (the final destination), and Pabla won, so our destiny was farther than we thought; there was still a long way to get there. We were demoralized, but we all had to continue the frenetic route, and resist to the end.
A small pickup truck passed us just after we had passed the false destiny, so we asked the driver – “Where is Pososí?”- The man who was driving pointed with his left hand in front of us, and says – “Over there, it´s close, you're almost there”- but in front of us there was a big mountain, so I guess everyone thought - “shut up legs and continue pedaling”-.
Minutes, maybe hours passed after the last reference point, and the potato plantations started to appear by the road, we saw hardworking people doing their best at that altitude; it was really awesome. It was worth it to have seen it.
We were very close, we knew that we had to achieve 3850 m.a.s.l., and the Polar watch of Zorry gave us hope while we advanced. At that point, you as a mountainbiker could think – “what am I doing? Why my mom let me come? Is this worthy?”-.
You enter into a mind-blowing state, you are tired but you feel strong, you don’t even feel your legs, the unique thing you hear it’s your breath, and the heart beating sound, it seems like the time has stopped, and your sensation is like hovering above the paradise, you feel an indescribable inner peace, it´s a connection between the cyclist and his bike, that’s my peace definition, and just when you least think, the diamond takes shape, the arrive to Potosí was hundred meters far from us, we pedaled stronger than ever, we did it, we took our bodies and bikes to the limit at 3530 m.a.s.l.
We beat our personal best and felt like if we would have won a high-climb stage in the Tour d’ France. We all gather and built a big hug. To describe what you feel in that moment is something difficult, but with a simple smile and a “give me five buddy” and a “well done expression” YOU´RE THE KING OF THE WORLD.
We entered to the farm, Hacienda el Bosque, which is a small school, called Escuela Nueva in the region; it was the place in which our backpacks and the camping gear were left. We went to the main house and talked with the farmer, a humble woman who received us with a nice smile, she gave us the indications about where our backpacks were dropped off; on the farm were also foreign mountaineers eating something before leaving the area.
Our plan was to camp in the area near to Escuela Nueva, but the "Pablos" said that would be better to go to the last farm before the entrance to Los Nevados National Natural Park, because of the facility to walk to the Nevado Santa Isabel, he meant it was closer, and thus we would avoid go the next day on bike almost 7 K’s, and then go by walking to the Nevado and Otún Lake. But we had a problem, our backpacks were very heavy, and how could we took them to there? Do you remember the pickup truck driver? He was our salvation; we agreed a price with him to take our backpacks to Campo Alegre farm, which was located at 3850 m.a.s.l. So, my friend a new personal best of altitude was established the same day even though the tiredness. We got the real final destiny after 7 hours 17 minutes and 28 seconds and 47 kilometers on June 24th 2016.
Maybe in the next post I will describe how we got back to Manizales, but that time everyone carrying their own 23 kilos backpack on their back (no words).
Thanks for reading, and don´t ask me why we like riding bicycles, try it and you’ll know.
Mauro & MTB Team Expedition.