December 14, 2011
The ride started out great, it felt like my kind of bicycle touring, nice smooth roads, easy cycling and gentle hills. I stopped at a small little place to get a snack and asked for confirmation to Ecuador. They kept pointing the direction I'm going and saying "Pasto". I pointed behind me and said "Pasto". The man kept saying "Putomayo" and then "Amazonas", I pulled out my pathetic map and he pointed to Putomayo on the map and then Amazonas. He thought I was headed that direction after about 10 minutes I finally realized I was not in Pasto and still in the state of Putomayo. I briefly thought maybe I should head back the other way and cycle south into the northern Amazon and stay in the Amazon jungle area until I got near Peru, but then I quickly decided no I'll stick to my current route. It appears that yesterday the driver had dropped me off in a small town just past San Francisco called Sibindoy, which by the way that tiny little town is on the map but Pasto is not. I thought Pasto looked pretty small when I arrived there.
I continued on toward Pasto, now with the intent of getting just south of Pasto. Forty miles is an easy ride for one day and I can have a relatively short cycling day get to bed early for an early rise tomorrow morning. My plan to be in Ecuador tomorrow if I got an early start in the morning.
The road soon turned from a gentle upward slope to a steep upward slope. When I got past a town called Santiago the road got very steep. I kept cycling upward and kept seeing "false summits", the top would look like it is just around the next corner only to find top kept eluding me. I pushed and pushed upward knowing the top is going to be here soon. My speed was painfully slow and I started to realize that if the top does not get here soon I will not be getting past Pasto.
My legs were feeling it and I began to wonder how the weight really mattered, even in the granny gear I was pushing hard up this mountain. From Sibondoy I had gone down a bit to about 6900 feet and now was climbing straight up the toughest road yet. When I got to 9175 feet it was just past 12 noon and I spotted a tiny little roadside restaurant, I needed to eat and needed a rest. I sat down in a chair and thought I could easily fall asleep right now. I was so exhausted but knew that the top could not be much farther.
It was at this point the road changed from asphalt to this muddy sand mixture. I tried to cycle through it but my bicycle kept sinking and it was impossible to pedal. I was forced to push the bicycle and this was more strenuous than cycling. I pushed until my arms ached and then leaned on my handlebars with my elbows to keep pushing further. After about a mile or two, I have no idea how far, the mushy part turned into a harder packed dirt road that I could cycle on.
When I cycled to 10,000 feet I was really getting discouraged, everything ached, I couldn't hardly breathe and maybe it was lack of oxygen to the brain causing me to feel tired. My muscles did not seem to want to work as well. I kept forcing myself onward and upward and when my altimeter read 10,500 feet I thought "shit this isn't Everest, there's gotta be an end to it!" I kept pushing and occasionally saying some words that I normally don't say. It was getting more difficult for me to breathe, my heart was pounding really hard that I thought it might jump out of chest, my heart rate was very high, my legs ached, my arms ached, my back ached, my lungs ached, everything ached. The road was crap and I was on this eternal uphill road with no end, how much worse can this get! Then the heavy downpour started.... (insert words of choice here ) I really began to question my choice of places to cycle through. I was thinking that I should have stuck with my choice to backpack through southeast Asia and then go visit the French Polynesian Islands. Or cycle around Australia ... why am I here!
After another hour of this, the rain subsided and then at 10,750 feet I reached the pass! I was ecstatic, Pasto has got to be downhill from here. I have gone 20 of the 40 miles so I am halfway now.
It was a 1500 foot drop down to a large lake with a small village beside it. I found a little restaurant and needing some sort of "fix" to perk me up I got a coca-cola and a sweet pastry. Nothing like sugar and caffeine to get a boost! I sat there and just relaxed for a bit. Every part of my body ached, the tips of my fingers were numb from being cold. I was very cold from the rain and I just sat there with my legs extended out in front of me as I leaned back in the chair thinking about what I just went through. That was the most challenging climb I have ever had to do, not only the long 20 mile non stop uphill, but the conditions of the road and the cold rain.
When I felt rested enough I got on my bicycle to finish the last bit of ride to Pasto, it was 3pm and it would be possible to still get past Pasto today.
As I cycled out of the village I was going uphill again. I looked at the hills and the road thinking it cannot be as high as the last climb I just did. The road had asphalt in the town but it soon turned back into a dirt road that was wet and mushy in places from the rain. I kept pushing on and on waiting for the pass to appear. After about another hour of the relentless push my whole body was so exhausted and my legs felt very weak. I had pushed my muscles to fatigue and they were not wanting to do anymore. My legs got so tired and felt so weak I did not think I could push the pedals anymore, I was exhausted from the previous climb and pushed myself to the limit of what these muscles can do. I kept telling my legs to push down and it was a huge mental effort to force my legs to keep pushing on the pedals, they were done but I wasn't.
I told myself that this was it, I absolutely can not do anymore. In my mind I wondered if I might have ALS and I am just progressively getting weaker! I thought about a saying a friend told me when it came to strenuous exercise, "make it or break it". So I thought this will either break me or make me stronger so I pushed and I knew my face no longer had the joy in it. I was in lots of pain and so tired, all I wanted was to be home with a nice warm bath, a nice bed with a soft pillow. That to me was worth any amount of money. I was secretly wishing someone would come along, rob me and take my bicycle then this whole thing will be over. I began to question my ability to even do this ride.
The uphill climb lasted two and a half hours until I reached 10,760 feet! From the top I could see a town in the distance, it was all downhill now. I was able to just sit on the bicycle and coast downhill all the way into town for the last 10 miles or so. My mental focus was not as good and I was beyond exhausted. The only thing that perked me up was the adrenaline rush of going downhill at a very fast pace, on the downhill the road turned into new asphalt and it was easy to go fast and corner fast. I was keeping pretty good pace with a motorcycle because of all the curves. It wasn't until a section of a straight-away that he was able to accelerate and lose me.
I reached Pasto which is a very big city, I have not seen so much traffic and busyness since Bogota, as I rode in it looked big and ugly to me. Too much noise, too much traffic and it just felt dirty. If I were to do this again I definitely would not take this route through Colombia, instead I would take the coastal route. But if I had not taken the route I did take, I would not have met the wonderful people along the way and made these new friends.
I found a hotel and checked in, it was already getting pretty dark at 6:30 and I had been on the road ten and a half hours. It took my last bit of energy to climb the stairs up to my room, I rinsed off in the shower with no hot water which made my already cold body even more cold, I crawled into bed shaking from being cold waiting for the blankets to warm me up and by 7pm I was falling asleep.
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