Challenges, rewards - it's all there for the cyclist. It's a long one, but I've been busy!
03.08.2012 - 09.08.2012 20 °C
Friday 3rd August
Cycling begins! This is what I came for. The equator is 27 km north of Quito and we rode there and back because the rest of our journey is SOUTH, to the end of South America. Today was considered an easy ride, being ‘only’ 54 km and 500m of climbing. It might have been easy for distance, but the Quito traffic is a nightmare. The road was two lanes of traffic each way with a two-way bus lane down the middle. We rode as a group in the bus lane - illegal, but safe. A policeman on a motorbike road alongside and asked what we were doing and we told him where we were riding to. He then gave us an escort with lights flashing. Before we knew it he’d called up a couple of his mates and we had three of them. One would go ahead and stop traffic, so we didn’t even have to stop for red lights! It was hilarious and probably broke their monotony of a boring Friday morning in Quito. Later on the two lane road it was good because it gave us a whole lane to ourselves. Our goal today was Mitad del Mundo. The middle of the world, also known as the Equator. There is a monument and of course, a dotted line. I was able to go from the northern hemisphere to the south and back again 60 times in one minute. I heard more than one person in the group surprised that their compass worked fine. (It’s on the poles that they don’t work so well.) We wandered the various museums, shops and other displays that they have there. The highlight was an insect house that contained walls of pinned things, but they had some Ecuadorian Hercules beetles alive on display. I’ve seen some big bugs in my time, but these critters were 10cm long, half of which was a horn-like protrusion from the front of their head. We then had a group photo in front of the monument. This was followed by a speech from the director of the monument, who then proceeded to pump up a bike tube until it burst. This was our official start of Bike Dreams Andes Trail 2012. Our cycle back into Quito was without an escort. This is the only time we will return to the same hotel. From now on it’s south, south and south until South America is no more.
Dinner for me tonight was a return trip to the Colombian restaurant for a repeat of what I had before. On Tuesday night the restaurant contained me and a couple and the waiter was twiddling his thumbs. Tonight it was full and he was running. It seems to have hit the spot with ex-pat Colombians living in Quito and needing a food fix. It worked for me too.
Saturday 4th August
We leave Quito for good today and I don’t mind leaving. Whilst I had a fun time in Quito, it was mainly because it was all new to me, and I made friends at the school. On reflection, there’s not a lot to hold your interest and that would explain why it’s not a tourist destination. I kept asking locals what they do in their spare time and no one could really come up with anything. There are no tree-free parks for ball games, kites or throwing a Frisbee.
8 am will be our usual departure, but with it being the first time we loaded up the two trucks and also there were extra bags such as camping gear that won’t be loaded daily, unless we’re camping, we didn’t leave until 9am. Today we rode south from Quito along the PanAm Hwy to the town of Latacunga 98 km and 1313m of climbing. These are our two trucks.
Today was one of those days when you find out you had more in you than you realised. It was a really tough day with a happy ending. (Not that! That’s not until December 20th!) It wasn’t the ride so much as that I was sick and hadn’t eaten. I didn’t sleep well last night as I felt nauseous, then didn’t eat much breakfast. I was riding along feeling like I wanted to be sick. Bad start. Then things took a bad turn, literally and the exhilarating 70 kph steep descent had a group of us back down at Quito level, having just lost the several hundred metres we’d climbed up to get out of the city. Rather than retrace, we took an alternative route that reconnected with the PanAm Highway. This was maybe not a wise choice as it was chock full of pedestrians and busses stopping to pick them up or drop them off. Even on Saturday, it seemed to be a major road out to town. The busses and trucks all pump out clouds of black exhaust that’s so thick you could cut it with a knife. Rather than the centre of the road, it points to the footpath, or right onto every cyclist they pass. This can’t have helped me fell less sick. Wilbert warned us today would be less bike dreams and more bike nightmares as we were on main roads. I was feeling worse as the morning wore on. The last 25km to lunch was relentless uphill and all I wanted to do was curl up and die! I would stop needing to be sick, but not want to be because I wanted to keep my fluids up. The thought of little kids feeling a lot worse while having chemo treatment for cancer made me pull my head in. Some of them really are dying and it is through research of organisations like the Kid’s Cancer Project that cures might be found. If you have been meaning to donate, but just haven’t got around to it, please go to my link at http://www.everydayhero.com.au/malcolm_roberts
Having done the detour, I no longer knew the distance to the lunch truck, so it was hard to motivate to an unknown target. That changed when I saw the lunch truck several kilometres ahead at the top of a massive climb. Having made it, all I could stomach was a cup of tea, but it felt good. I decided to push on with the remaining 44km, the first 10 of which were continuing UP the same mountain we were on. No sooner had I got back on the bike and I felt sick again, but I was determined to ride out today. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it rained near the top of the hill. There were frequent signs by the side of the road which literally read ‘Volcanic Hazard Area’. I can see volcanoes in the distance, why do you need to tell me? Which way should I run if I hear a distant rumble?
I'm not explaining this photo.
I arrived in Latacunga and followed the directions to the hotel. I arrived completely spent only to have the owner tell me that they had a different hotel for us as that one had a wedding tonight and they would be very noisy. He showed me a hand-drawn map that I had to memorise and then ride another 2 km to the new hotel. Another moving goalpost! Instead of the planned 98km/1313m climbing, I’d done 110km and probably 1600m. I was cactus and just need to go to bed and get well. Good news at last! This hotel was no overflow fleabag. It was so new it hadn’t even opened or had the name put up. They opened it early for us and were unwrapping plastic off things everywhere you looked. The beds were new and so comfortable, but that was not my happy ending. There was a bath. Not just that, but there was hot water. I soaked away my trials of the day and then promptly went to bed. I still couldn’t eat and I had a fever. I was in bed for 12 hours and think I slept fitfully for a total of 8.
Sunday 5th August Latacunga to Riobamba – 97 km/1744 climbing
I feel a lot better today and the fever has gone. I had some breakfast, which helps too. We left town in a group, but we very soon spread out like Vegemite. They give us a very thorough map each day with turn points on it, but in the back of my mind all day was Wilbert’s warning not to make the mistake some people did last time (2010) and go downhill to a wrong town and have to come back up. Because we hadn’t left from the correct hotel, I wasn’t quite sure of some distances. Lunch was at the 54 km point after 900m of climbing. I didn’t take any wrong turns today.
The scenery is spectacular. Verdant valleys backed by snow-capped mountains. WOW! The 6310 peak of Mt Chimborazo dominated the afternoon landscape. It is not only Ecuador’s highest mountain, but is the point furthest from the centre of the Earth. Mt Everest is higher above sea level, but because there is a bulge at the equator and that’s where we are, Mt Chimborazo gets the crown, just. Little bit of science trivia for you.
Although I’m feeling better than yesterday, I’m still not feeling well and decided to let my body recover so I put the bike and myself on the truck for last 43 km after lunch. It was the right choice as I got my appetite back and demolished a bowl or two of hot soup on my arrival in Riobamba. I’m sure that after a good night’s sleep, I’ll be fine for the full ride tomorrow. It’s Sunday, so many places are closed, but right next door to the hotel was a Chifa restaurant - Chinese. 8 of us had a shared table there and, yes, there was a Chinese guy cooking. The food was better than my local Chinese at home. It cost us $40 for 8 of us food and drinks.
The group? I should tell you all a bit about us.
Bike Dreams is a Dutch company run by Rob and Wilbert, who are both long-distance bike fanatics. They have turned their passion into their business and they are living the dream. This is obvious with everything they do. It is so lovely to be a part of such an organisation as their passion extends to the crew. Rob pioneered this route solo in 2007, prior to BD offering the ‘Andes Trail’ in 2008, 2010 and now 2012. It’s such a huge logistical undertaking and commitment of their time that it’s no wonder they have only done it every second year. The crew are the same, and from what I hear, they’ve learnt lots from the first two times and are nailing it this time.
There are 28 cyclists and I think 22 of us are going all the way to Ushuaia. There are 7 women, so the ratio is exactly 3:1. There are two couples, and a brother and sister team. As you would expect, participants come from all over the world, but Holland (of course) and Australia are most represented. My room-mate is the solitary kiwi and true to stereotype, he’s a sheep farmer! Ages range from 29 to 62. Most are older than me as many have had to wait until their children are old enough, or be semi-retired themselves, to do a trip as long as this. There are as many different bike brands as people and also a wide variety of fitness levels and reasons for being here. Plodders and experience people like me, and cycling machines who go full pelt and want to win the race. Did I say it was a RACE? It is! It will be great getting to know everyone over the next 4 months.
Monday 6th August
Today was finally Bike Dreams! What a beautiful day. We rode from Riobamba to Guamote. It was my kind of riding day on all counts - only 52km and 800m of climbing. Both towns are at 3000m so it’s not as easy as it sounds as all our riding is at about 3000m. The scenery today was just beautiful, with Mt Chimborazo again not shrouded by cloud, initially loomed in front of us before being beside us for awhile and then eventually being behind us. It was nice to look behind every now and then and see it. I passed fertile fields being tended by hard-working Ecuadorians and off in the distance were glaciated volcanoes. As we get further south from Quito, the traffic has diminished and the road has gone from 4 lanes to two, but is still new tar and beautifully smooth with a nice hard shoulder for us. Magic!
I had truck go past me with a sheep on the roof. Random! Can you imagine if the truck had to stop suddenly having not seen one of us? The sheep would keep going. I can see the headline now, ‘Cyclist hit by flying sheep!’
One of the interesting things I noticed was eucalyptus trees everywhere. I first saw them in Quito, but as we get more rural, they are ubiquitous. They give the locals much-needed poles and timber for building and firewood. The mountains are not otherwise forested and environmental issues here don’t seem to be a big thing. Seeing the gum trees everywhere kind of made me feel at home and I wondered if the world’s love of planting our eucalypts is one of the reasons that Aussies are so well travelled. Our trees are everywhere and we even get to smell familiar smoke.
On the road today, I again passed Raresh, the crazy Romanian cyclist. I first met him two days ago on the long slog on my killer day and we rode together for awhile. I call him crazy because he has panniers and everything with him and is cycling alone from Mexico to Argentina. We have support trucks and company. I have mostly been riding alone. Not out with the front pack, but not with the tail-enders. I don’t mind my own head-space and it’s a nice change from the intensity of the group at each end of the day. I haven’t used my Walkman as it’s really nice to greet local people you pass on the way. One of the lovely things about cycling is that you are going at a nice slow speed so this is possible, as is stopping to take a photo of anything that takes your fancy. I photographed some cactus and their flowers today. For a cactophile like myself, South America is great and Bolivia is a world cacti hot-spot.
As I said, today was Bike Dreams. I’m very grateful for my fiancé Erin who has supported me in pursuing my dream of cycling the length of the Andes, even though it means us being apart for 5 months. You are the fulfilment of so many of my dreams and I’m looking forward to our wedding next year. I love you and miss you.
Everything today was lovely. The weather too was beautiful. We got to start an hour late and still got into the little pueblo/village of Guamote not long after lunch. The ride downhill into town was exhilarating (I got a new fast PB of 78kph) and I filmed it on my head-mounted GoPro. I’ll film some stuff, but won’t be able to edit and share it until I get back. You will have to put up with the few still photos I put up here. What a quaint little village Guamote is with cobbled streets and people wearing such brightly coloured blankets they’d give an Indian a run for their money.
I got a haircut this afternoon. I couldn’t resist getting a cut at the Elvis Presley Peluqueria (hairdresser). The front windows and interior walls were covered with photos of not just Elvis, but all sorts of pop and teen idols. After explaining what I wanted, after cutting the back and sides short, she still wanted to style the top and was flipping through a folder of pictures including Justin Beiber and pointing. NO! I don’t want a Beiber, I just want it nice and short. Gracias.
Tuesday 7th August - Guamote to Chunchi - 85km/1350m climbing.
We didn’t have eggs for breakfast today, but judging by the sound of all the roosters crowing since the small hours of the morning there probably isn’t a chicken in town, just roosters!
I had a really good day today, another dream day out on the bike in the Andes mountains. Some challenging climbs, but also some exhilarating fast downhill rides in excess of 70kph! I’m feeling really good, both with not being sick anymore and with my fitness level. I’m not the first to finish, but never expected to be, but I’m having fun and doing it at my own pace.
I’ve seen so many dead animals by the side of the road, mostly dogs. Don’t people miss their pets? Based on the black and white animal I saw today, there’s a family somewhere mourning the loss of their skunk. I know skunks are supposed to stink, but this one was something else!
The town of Chunchi is tiny and it didn’t take too long to explore it after settling into my hotel room. It overlooks the fruit and vegie market. I hope they don’t start too early tomorrow!
I did like the airplants growing from the powerlines in town. Not seen that before.
Wednesday 8th August – Chunchi to Ingapirca - 71km/1979m climbing.
Last night we slept at 2300m, which was 700m lower than the night before. No wonder the ride wasn’t too hard, but when you borrow from one day you have to pay it back. Today we had to climb back up to 3000m. Excluding my sick day, today was my toughest day. The climbing was just relentless, with not many downhills and even when there were, there was a killer headwind that meant you still had to pedal. The wind was so strong at times that riding was impossible and walking the bike was the safer option. We’re staying next to the Inca ruins called Ingapirca, Ecuador’s best preserved Inca site. The Incas liked build stuff up high, so the last 12kms from the town were exhausting uphill. I was stuffed, but wanted to beat the lunch truck in. I saw it across the valley and doubled my efforts despite my tiredness and just beat it in! 6 hours on the bike today! I am cactus.
Turns out the group filled the main accommodation place and 4 of us are actually 1km up the hill. Carrying my bags is not what I needed at the end of today! The view I have of Ingapirca is great. A late afternoon wander around the site was called for and the light was good. The Incas were amazing architects. You could see my room from there which was cool.
We had a shared a delicious dinner tonight that Kirstin, our cook prepared for us as this town is too small to have anything suitable. I’m eating so much! 4 meals a day and snacks such as fruit and muesli bars.
Today was really tough with all that climbing and strong headwinds, so I’m going to crash in bed early, ready to ride again tomorrow, our 7th day in a row.
Thursday 9th August –Ingapirca to Cuenca 78km/1052m climbing.
Lovely day on the bike. If today were a stand-alone day, it would have been a doddle. Being the 7th day in a row, it was a bit harder. I felt fine until I got on the bike and then my legs were like, ‘You want me to do what again?’ The first part of the day was climbing up to the Canar mountain pass at 3540m. A 20km fast ride downhill followed, all the way to the lunch stop! The undulating afternoon made the climb up to Cuenca unnoticeable. I am so looking forward to our rest day tomorrow. 7 days without rest makes one weak.