By bycicle through Colombia (1) – The Mosh Pit

Dorfplatz Kolumbien
Dorfplatz Kolumbien

Being on a long bike tour once. Had that idea in my mind for some time already. Touring has – besides long distance hiking and hitchhiking – a high status within my evaluating brain-half. First I had thought of crossing Mexico on the bike but cancelled it when Victor told me, that Colombia is THE BEST country for cycling. So I’ll do it here. For 75€ I got a good looking trash-bike, another 100€ I put into fixing and polishing, constructed some DIY bike bags and I was ready to ride. Basically.

First problem was the route. While dropping into fixing the bike I completely forgot to get a decent bike map and check out a passable path. There are several tools on the web to do that, bikemaps.com, openstreetmaps.org or other programs, especially for cycling tours. Especially figuring out steep ascents is useful for a good planning. I had tried to check that out. But I failed. Well, in the end I didn’t give a shit and just took of. I checked google maps on how to get out of Bogota, wrote down the first 6 Villages to pass, jumped on the bike and *puff *I had become a touring cyclist. What a feeling. Pure freedom. Not relying on anyones kindness. Just ready to go whereever I want. That was the first impression.

The catastrophic planning cost me my first day. Not only that I left without a map but also trying to purchase one on my way out of Bogota were both no good decisions. I managed to get that map somehow but at the same time I had completely lost my orientation. After approx. 30 min discussing at a police station I had an average of an idea and started leaving the city on the slip road. Dusk had approached as I finally left crossed the city boundary. Checking for a place to sleep. I found out quickly: On the bike you are pretty free in movement but you can’t just jump over a fence and sleep in someones backyard. More movement, less flexibility. In the evening it is more easy on foot. Still I found a spot on a small hill next to the road. Since I had no lock I had to find a spot where nobody would zapzerap my new randonneur.

Mein Fahrrad mit Gepäck und allem drum und dran.
The randonneur with bags and necessities attached

Ups and downs of a journey

It was a cold night. Still on 2000m altitude. What I knew: It was raining. Thick, dark clouds welcomed me in the morning. My second day of cycling. I didn’t know, that there was a steep ascent for the upcoming 3 kilometers. Starting the day with a pleassureful climb. I had no breakfast. I had no idea of the ascent either and had started cycling into the blue. I had to get off the bike and push at some places. Sporty cyclists were passing me. Without any luggage. I wished to be able to be that light. Never travelled with a packed bike. It is a very different experience. On the “mountain”top there was a small restaurant and I enjoyed some fried eggs – sunny side up – chocolate cake and coffee. Then downhill.

And downhill. And downhill. And further downhill. All in all 40 km! I`d never stop to go downhill. I was rolling towards the center of the globe. I wasn’t too happy about it, to be honest, since I could figure that any meter downhill would be another meter uphill somewhere. On the way from Bogota to Medellin you have to pass two mountain ranges. Down the one, up the other. The descent wasn’t really “back down from the mountain ridge”-tour but rather a “down in between – fun HAHA and now fuck yourself”-descent with an upfollowing “Marco Pantani-Memorial”-ascent.

Pieces of trash…

Going down I had my first troubles with the equipment. The start of a long series of problems. My pannier rack was groaning from carrying 20kg and got loose. It obviously had to check in at the next bike workshop. Also my rims got hot. Pretty hot!  But I had to brake. It led to several stops in between waiting for them to cool down. For the first time in my life I understood what disk brakes where for.

I found a bike workshop. For 2€ they fixed the rack, filled my tires with air and removed a bump from one wheel. I had those bumps in my wheel. You could call it deformities. It felt like cycling on eggs. My handlebar felt like a sedated jackhammer after the descent. The problems in the front wheels were fixed, the ones in the back had the same problem but could be ignored. Further down.

At some point the fun was over. The profile changed and where I was rolling smoothly down before became an abnormally steep ascent. Soon my batteries were empty and I had to start pushing the bike… for approx. 4 hours. Later I checked the road on Google Maps – the ascent was for about 20 km and conquered about 1000 meters in height. Pure hate and impossible to cross with this parody of a touring-bike. Maybe I was just a lazy rag and to weak. I had finally realized that I was in the middle of the mountains. And probably I wouldn’t manage to have the “great country for cycling”-Experience.

Following, another descent. It was just going up and down all the time. After 15km of splendid rolling it was getting dark and I had to check for the next sleeping place. I had spotted a nice meadow and asked some people if I could stay there. They didn’t know where the owner was but said it would be ok. The easy way. Neighbor decides what happens on your property. The last 3€ were spent for something sweet, orange juice and 2 liters of water and then I went to bed. When you go by bike, you get fucking hungry and need a lot of energy. Being on a budget at the same time is very stupid. I would need some time to find that out.

Terrorising Trucks

Zelt an der Straße. Vor dem Schlafen war ich noch gut drauf.
Tent next to the road. Before going to bed I was happy – still.

This night was probably my worst night. On my whole journey. My tent sat three meters next to the main transit road between Medellin and Bogota. Trucks were rolling 24/7 past me. The floor vibrating, the engine brakes roaring. Especially the older trucks manage to make as much noise as a starting airplane. Hold me awake the whole night. At some point I used toilet paper as earplugs but it helped only little. In general I am not so demanding when it comes to sleeping spots and noise levels. But there is a difference between sleeping besides an annoying Helene Fischer concert and sleeping directly inside the Mosh Pit.

Besides I made another discovery. Even after 10 hours of cycling I was anything but sleepy or tired. My whole body was glowing from the blood rushing between heart and muscles. The pump was working well. But I couldn’t relax a bit. I know that from at home when I was doing my every monday Pilates training. The same excitement. That can just be a good sign. Doing well body, hey?

Day 3 starts. I finish the final 5km of the descent and find myself within a sunny colonial town called Guaduas. Holiday was in the air, the sun was happily shining and the surroundings called for fresh pressed orange juice or cool beer. Rice and beef with coffee. I called it breakfast. My relaxing-me took the chance to have a 30 minute break before my ambitions and nervosity were able to convince everybody to continue. Just after another Coke. Sun was burning already that morning.

Kirche in Guadua.
Church in Guadua.

I had two options and consulted the local intelligence to make up for the missing map. Finally I decided for the road with fewer ascents. Still, at the city boundary, a short but hefty asshole-ascent was waiting for me. It was already 11am. Sun showed itself from its best side. I was sweating with maximum fluid loss and in between it was so hot that I was freezing. “Like sauna Stefan, like Sauna”, I tried to calm myself over the wonder about the bodily reaction. Really weird experience. It was so unbelievably hot. But it it was at least going downhill after that.

I was always careful going down because I couldn’t trust my bike. I knew it was shit from the first few meters I did with it. I was prepared for everything. Blowing tires, loosening of the rack with subsequent destruction of my rear spokes, breaking of the frame or just the classical accident with deadly head injuries. So I braked busily going down. I thought about checking the rims but it should be fine, yesterday they withstood a much longer descent. Well, another day another descent. At some point a bang and rear tire went farewell. To my surprise the bike kept stable on the rim and I managed to brake. No accident, still lucky, but tire broken. Here the tour came to a first stop. Although the day had started so promising. I was in the middle of nowhere with a blown tire, had a repairing kit but no air pump. So I went back to hitchhiking…

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