It had been 10 years since our tour of Cuba trip and we had planed to return this year. After checking flight times, ticket prices and the extra fee for bikes we decided against Cuba and agreed on Colombia, the homeland of Andres, Julio and Juan Diego. Julio’s dad Delio also decided to join us.
We booked our flights on Avianca airlines. They have nice planes, good service and bikes fly free. Most airlines these days charge as much as $150 each way for bikes so this was one of the deciding factors on where to go. Avianca also seems to be very timely with their flights. In fact we were enjoying a Pupusa in San Salvador thinking we had some time before our connecting flight when we heard them calling Delio over the P.A. system. We quickly made our way to the terminal to find everyone was already boarded and they quickly got us on the plane.
We arrived safely in Medellin to find all of our luggage and bikes had made it safely as well! Andres’ Cousin, Aunt Rosa and his Friend Miguel were there waiting for us. We headed over to Miguel’s Ranch for dinner and to spend the night. The Ranch was close to the airport so that was nice to not have to drive very far.
11/18 Day one of riding Miguel’s Ranch to Medellin
Ride Stats: 42 miles 3159′ Elevation Gain
We woke up unpacked and assembled our bikes and got ready for the ride. We had a nice breakfast and then a tour of the Ranch. What an awesome place it is!
Miguel had found a guide for us named Nester. An ex pro racer who had traveled all over the world racing. Andres had discussed the rides we wanted to do with him and Nestor planned the rest. Nester showed up as planned at 9:00 am. After introductions and some chit chat we loaded our things in his van and began the ride.
Juan Diego and Nester outside of the Ranch
Today would be our easiest ride of the trip. Julio said lets take it easy as he started to hammer away into the first climb! I guess he was excited and could not help himself!
Not long into the ride it began to rain. The rain would become a regular part of our days. Living in Southern California we don’t have to ride in the rain very often. We were prepared with rain coats I just wished I had brought some clear glasses! I got mud in my eyes on several occasion.
At the plaza of the first town we rode through
We stopped at an old warehouse building that had been converted to a small indoor mall with lots of shops and restaurant. It was a nice place to get out of the rain for a bit and have a hot beverage.
Did I mention the Colombians had matching outfits almost every day!
Coming into Medellin there is a long downhill. It was raining steadily and there was a lot of traffic. Some kids went zipping by us with no helmets on BMX bikes. They were weaving through traffic. It was a little scary to watch. We were told later by Julio’s cousin that this is a regular thing for the local kids. They grab on to trucks and get towed up the hill and then blast down as fast as they can!
11/19 Medellin to Rio Negro
Ride Stats: 91 Miles 6627′ Elevation Gain
Nester sprays some type of heat rub to loosen up the knees
We started in Medellin with a long climb. The road was busy for the first 5 miles and then it started to lighten up. Andres and Julio were charging up ahead and Juan and I hung together trying to keep a good pace for the duration. The cars and buildings became less and less the further we rode from Medellin. The country side was beautiful to see. It was so green and tropical just how I had imagined it would be. We saw street signs warning of Anteaters, Boa, Mountain Bikes and Cattle crossing but all we saw was Cattle!
First time seeing a Mountain Bike crossing sign
We had ridden 32 miles when the sky opened up and it began to rain! Nester pulled ahead and we stopped to put on rain jackets.
For the next hour or so we rode in the heaviest rain I ever remember seeing much less riding in! The entire time there was about an inch of rain covering the surface of the road. Our brakes did not work very well with all the water on them and with the thought of sliding out the downhill sections were challenging.
We came across a small restaurant and pulled in for some hot drinks and snacks while the rain continued to pour from the sky.
We sat there for around 45 minutes and it started to lighten up so we decided to get rolling again.
The rain would start and stop in various area. At times it would be pouring and then we would hit the crest of a mountain and drop down the other side and it would be dry.
The end of the ride was in a small town called Rio Negro When we ended the ride at a restaurant for a late lunch. The food and service were great and we all left stuffed!
Yes, its one of those biking trips we gain weight on!
Then Nester took us down to the river for a dip in the cool water. It was a little muddy getting in so after swimming around a while Andres spotted some steps 100 yards down river and we decided to float down to them and take them up to the road.
We then had around a two hour drive to the town we would stay in that night. The motel was decent except there was no hot water. Andres said this part of the country is generally very hot so usually a cold shower is good.
11/20 Mariquita to Alto De Letras
Ride Stats: 38.4 Miles 8970′ Elevation Gain. The rest of the crew had 50 miles with over 12000′ of climbing!
We were up shortly after 5:00 am packed our gear and rode our bikes down the street for breakfast. We wanted to beat the heat and traffic.
This ride starts close to sea level and goes up to 12000′. It is rumored to be the toughest ride in the world. After today we believe it to be true! The ride started with 1/2 mile flat section and then it became very steep and pretty much stayed that way for the next 50 miles. There were a few very short downhill sections to allow short breaks.
The weather felt hot and humid and the grade was steep! It was too steep to get In a good warm up. We met a few other riders and chatted with them a bit before they turned around to head down. The elevation gain was adding up quickly but the mileage was barely ticking away. Julio and Andres were still together up front and Juan and I were together for a while.
It was a tough day on the bike but the scenery was spectacular!
I think we were all feeling it! The climb was relentless. My upper back began to ache and I stopped to stretch a few times and Juan pulled away. The views were spectacular and as we gained altitude the weather got cooler and cooler. After a while I passed Juan and continued climbing alone. It was getting cooler and it began to rain about 30 miles in to the day.
The constant climbing was to much for my back and shoulders so I decided to bail out at 38 miles after 7 hours of riding. Just before I bailed out Juan and another rider we had chatted with at the restaurant caught up to me. The other riders wife was driving support for him. They would continue to the top together.
11/21 Manizales to Alto De Minas
Ride Stats: 100 Miles 9734′ Elevation Gain
Nester is also a good massuese
Julio and I had a rough nights sleep last night. There was a concert down the street from our hotel that let out around 1.00 am. Our room faced the street and the window was about as sound proof as a piece of paper. Concert goers passing by our hotel were very loud and this continued for over an hour. After that just the noise of vehicles kept me awake and I did not sleep for the rest of the night. The other guys were lucky enough to have their rooms facing the other side of the Hotel and did not hear the noise.
We had breakfast at the hotel, prepped our bikes and started the ride from the hotel.
The ride started with a long almost 30 mile descent out of the city. It then flattened out and we rode along the river for another 40 miles. We had a lot of Repichitos (Nester’s word for short climbs) in that 70 miles But it was relatively easy miles compared to the previous day’s ride. I made one wrong turn when Andres directed us to make a right turn. We stopped on a bridge to take photos and then I continued on.
I didn’t get the memo that we were just turning off to the bridge for a photo!
After a 1/2 mile of climbing up a country road I came to a junction so I waited. Finally Nester showed up to tell me I went the wrong way and to turn around. We stopped for lunch in the town of La Pintada after lunch we had a 28 mile climb to reach Alto De Minas! We stuck together for the first 10 miles or so then a piece of wire wrapped around Julio’s wheel. I kept riding at a slow pace. It took a while for them to catch up and when they did Juan was not with them. They quickly passed me and pulled away. Juan dropped out shortly after that due to back pain and I would see him in the van shortly after.
The weather was very hot and Nester poured cold water over my head several times along the route to cool me down. He also gave me bananas and other snacks. The support along this climb was much needed and appreciated by all of us.
With about 15 miles left to go my feet were killing me for some reason! I contemplated stopping and taking my shoes off a few times but just wiggled my toes and kept going. Then I saw the van and nester was holding out a cold Coca Cola for me so I stopped, took my shoes off and walked around while enjoying the Cola. They informed me Julio and Andres were just 5 minutes ahead. I felt like I was barely moving and thought they would be much further ahead so this helped lift my spirits. I strapped on my shoes and pushed on!
Another five miles in and it was so hot I found myself wishing it would rain. I could see the dark clouds ahead and heard thunder in the distance. A few more miles and I got my wish and it began to rain. It was very refreshing.
The road was getting very busy and the top of the climb seemed to never come! Just as I hit the 100 mile mark I saw the van and the guys cheered me on to the top!
11/22 Medellin Ciclovia to Barbosa
Ride stats: 60 miles 2858′ elevation gain
Today our guide Nester joined us for the ride. We rode from Andres’ Aunt Rosita’s house. We rode through some heavy Medellin traffic to the Ciclovia route. Once on the Ciclovia route it was nice to not have to worry about cars but we did have to worry about all the other riders, walkers and skaters. At least it was not as crowded as the Los Angeles Ciclavia. Maybe because they do this every Sunday!
A couple of other riders joined us and we began to chat. They said they mostly mountain bike and when we told them we did too the conversation turned to the great mountain biking Colombia has to offer and the beautiful places you can go. Phone numbers were exchanged and a future trip involving mountain biking and hiking to some of the more remote locations is a strong possibility!
Though today was less climbing then the other days the heat made it seem really tough. We were all wishing it would rain to cool us off but today would be the only day it did not rain during our ride. The rain came just as we finished the ride. Also the pace was a little faster then I liked for what was supposed to be our recovery day.
That night we went to Rosita’s for a delicious dinner and family gathering. It was also a birthday celebration for one of Andres’ Cousins who lives in Australia. A video was made of everyone singing happy birthday to send to him. It was a fun time and Julio and I felt very welcomed.
That evening we went to see Colombia Magia Salvaje
. This is a documentary showing the incredible scenery and wildlife of Colombia. Though we had ridden 350 miles around Colombia after watching this movie it felt like we had only scratched the surface.
Both Andres’ and Julio’s families were very welcoming and made me feel right at home. Though we had never met many of them knew me from the photos and videos Andres has shared of our many trips together.
11/23 Tourist stuff in Medellin
We rode the Metro to the Botanical Gardens. Went to a museum and rode a gondola car up to some hillside neighborhoods. We also visited a few malls looking for bike jerseys and some gifts for Andres and Julio’s kids. In the evening we headed back to Miguel’s Ranch to pack the bikes and get a couple hours of sleep before our 3:00 am wake up to catch an early flight home.
More photos click here