Going to Colombia!

The next adventure has been booked.

Colombia, this December. I’ll be seeing the sights with my other (not better or worse) half, but a generous vacation schedule around the holidays (thanks, boss!) means I have some extra time to play with. After waffling back and forth for a couple weeks, I’ve decided to go out a week early, solely for the purpose of riding my bike in one of the top cycling destinations in the world.

Why did I waffle? That’s a question any sane person would ask. Why not go early to ride for a week in hill climbing paradise?

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Wrong Colo(u)mbia.

Well, I’ll be going alone. Mom loves hills but not travel, my few friends who ride are busy, and setting up a tour with a company down there is not the most affordable thing in the world. So that leaves…nobody besides myself.

Colombia is safer than in the past (don’t try to tell my dad that), but still intimidating for a gringo like me. I took Spanish in high school, but that was a long time ago. Strava heatmaps provide a good idea of well-traveled routes, but you never actually know until you’re out there. Alto de Letras, one of the world’s longest climbs, is close to Bogota, but still a confusing bus ride and overnight stay away.

So I had lots of reasons to make the leap, and lots of reasons to play it safe and just go down there with my lady companion. Ultimately I weighed the fear of the unknown against the beauty of the unknown, and beauty eked out a victory. By a small margin.

A rough itinerary: arrive in Bogota, get to my hotel, then sleep/eat/ride for a week. Besides Letras, I want to do some of the big climbs within riding distance of Bogota, and maybe check out Ciclovia. Instead of laboring on the trainer in the dead of winter in Pennsylvania, I’ll be sweating my way up 15% pitches in the sunshine. Two different forms of suffering, I guess.

I still wish I was going with some other people, for the company and the added security of navigating a new place with some people at your side. It’s hard to overestimate what the presence of others does to alleviate our apprehension. Maybe I’ll find someone between now and then who wants to join (DM me on Instagram if interested! Just kidding. But not really.)

The reality is that I probably won’t, and in a few months I’ll be boarding a plane (hopefully Delta isn’t as bad as internet memes make it out to be) and arriving on foreign soil with my bike stuffed into an expensive flight case, and I will feel scared and alone. And as I wait for an Uber, hoping it isn’t an axe murderer, I’ll likely wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. It would have been so much easier not to do this, I’ll tell myself.

But a few days later, breathing clean air atop an Andean peak after laboring against the incline and my own insecurities, hopefully I’ll think differently.

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Feelin’ Super Pro

First, watch this video. Unfortunately the free version of WordPress doesn’t allow video uploads.

https://www.relive.cc/view/1103893645

Seems like creating a video like this would be complicated, right?

Wrong.

You just go to Relive.cc and connect your Strava account. Yes, they are probably selling your workout data to the Russians, but in exchange you get cool 3D flyover videos of your adventures, delivered directly to your inbox minutes later. If you’ve ever wanted to see your rides look like a stage on the Tour de France telecast, this is the app for you. It will make you feel more pro than one of those stickers with your name and country’s flag on your top tube. More pro than shaved legs and $4,000 carbon wheels.

Besides giving all of us Strava folks something else to analyze for far too long after our workouts, and adding more motivation to do so-called “epic” adventures, this could be a great way for race promoters to display their courses online so racers can get intimidated or overconfident before registering.

This isn’t a paid endorsement. I just really like it. Maybe the fascination will wear off (I’ve only done two rides since discovering it).

But can we all take a moment to reflect on how insane technology is these days? Something like this, hell, something like Strava or a Garmin Edge or the Internet alone, was inconceivable less than 30 years ago. Think about that. Blows my mind.

Film Review: Therebouts 3

Therebouts 3

Release Date: January 19, 2017

Director: Gregg Bleakney

Streaming on Vimeo

This is the third installment of the Therebouts series, which follows pro cyclists Lachlan and Gus Morton on their cycling adventures. The first film traced a journey through the Australian outback as they rediscovered their love for cycling after years of competitive racing had taken its toll on their relationship to the sport. In the second film, the brothers (with friends Taylor Phinney and Cam Wurf) rode across the Rockies from Boulder to Moab. In this film, which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, they head to the cycling-mad, oft-misunderstood nation of Colombia. I enjoyed the first two movies, and was looking forward to this one. Earlier this week–with plans for my own Colombia trip in the works-I finally sat down to watch it. Here are some impressions, observations, and takeaways.

So. Much. Climbing.

Literally all of the climbing. The mountains there look beautiful and terrifying. It’s no wonder that Nairo Quintana and a host of other World Tour climbers have emerged from there–the mountains are endless. Nothing is flat. Gus and Lachlan, who choose to not be informed about their route until the morning of, are repeatedly bewildered by the sheer amount of elevation gain they encounter. Gregg Bleakney, an American expat who directed the film and planned their routes, seems to get a sadomasochistic pleasure from watching the boys suffer up steep grades on gravel roads behind careening trucks and swerving cars. In the most brutal and hilarious moment in the film, he describes to Gus and Lachlan Alto de Letras, the longest climb in the world. Then he informs them that they will be doing Old Letras, an even longer climb, the last 20 miles of which is on rutted dirt roads. They laugh and shake their heads in complete bewilderment. In a beautifully shot sequence, they complete the ride the following day, with no shortage of rain-spattered difficulty along the way. The scene functions as the emotional climax of the film: it is where the themes that run throughout Therebouts–exploration of self and world, hard riding, seeking out and overcoming challenges, finding joy in ridiculous efforts, brotherly love–are most clearly distilled.

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More climbing?

The Youth Shall Inherit the Earth

The first film was introspective, about each brother renegotiating his relationship to the bike. In the second film, the narrative scope expanded to include friends and the connections between them, especially in adversity. It grows even wider in this film to look at a culture more broadly; with Gus and Lachlan more comfortable with their roles in the cycling world, they can look outward. This gaze settles on cycling culture in Colombia. One day, the brothers join a local youth team, where the kids attack relentlessly, trying to show up (or show off for) the gringo pros. The implication is that there are thousands more, all dreaming the same dream. Passerby take their photos with the brothers upon finding out they are pro cyclists, even if they can’t recognize or name them. There are murals of Quintana on the walls in small town squares. At the end of the film, the brothers reflect on Colombia as a still somewhat unheralded cycling hotbed whose influence in the sport is poised to explode.

Hipster Fashion

Again, Lachlan effortlessly (at least it seems that way–it probably isn’t) pulls of the cyclist-thrift store-hipster look. Bib shorts, t shirts, weird floral print hats, bright colors that don’t match but somehow look okay together, a pirate mustache. It’s not as extreme as in the other films, but the vibe is still there. I’ll admit, I like it.

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Lachlan contemplating his next thrift store purchase.

Arc

It’s hard for films about outdoor adventure not to all kind of follow the same arc, if you can even call it that. Arrival, exploration, interactions with locals, big challenge, maybe some despair, eventual triumph or acceptance of failure. Lessons learned, newfound reflections on life. This one largely does. It’s not groundbreaking, artistically speaking. But that’s okay. It’s a well-shot, crisply edited depiction of interesting people doing interesting things in an interesting landscape, and another chapter in the brothers’ attempt to balance their dual orientations towards cycling. That’s enough to make it worth watching.

Rating

My highly unscientific rating: 4.5/5 arepas

You Can Never Have Too Many Jerseys, Until You Do

There has to be a magic number for how many jerseys you can have. Not too few, so that there is no variety in your cycling wardrobe. Not too many, so that you can never actually get around to wearing them all. The number is probably much lower than any apparel company would want us to think.

With nine jerseys buried in my milk crate/cycling drawer, I’ve reached the upper limit, maybe even passed it. I find myself wearing a few jerseys most of the time (black Rapha Pro Team Aero and Twin Six Simpleton) and neglecting the others, reminding myself to wear them for variety’s sake and because I spent money on them. When I bought them, I had to have them. They looked so cool! I would wear them all the time! The problem with that logic is that, at most, I ride my bike seven times a week. Usually it’s more like five. So, do the math. I just don’t need that many. Nobody does.

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Too many jerseys isn’t the only thing wrong with this cyclist’s wardrobe.

Since getting the all black Rapha jersey, I’ve honestly wanted to wear it most days. It’s comfortable. It goes with different sock/sunglasses color combinations. It matches both my bikes. Why wear anything else?

Looking back, my earliest jersey purchases leaned towards flashier, more colorful graphic designs, with less concern about the fit. Prime example: a polka dot pattern King of the Mountains from Twin Six, which I soon realized I could never wear in the company of other cyclists. My more recent ones have been subtler. Plain colors, minimal design, with the tight 3/4 sleeve race fit I like best. I’m trending towards utility, and in doing so, that materialist/consumer/fashion geek mindset has receded. I can actually say, with a decent degree of honesty, that I don’t want any more jerseys. I’ve come face to face with the reality that I would never have occasion to wear them.

I think that this trend towards utility, towards simplicity, is good. With jerseys, with bikes (I like the industry’s embrace of do-it all road bikes designed for adventure rather than racing), with most things.

That’s not to say that my online window shopping, that impulse for more, different, better has evaporated. It might have diminished a bit, but I fear it has just shifted. Now I look at other cycling apparel instead. I find myself asking questions like: what is the magic number for socks, for bib shorts? And: do base layers actually work?

So far I’ve stopped myself from any unnecessary buys. There are things I actually need (i.e I don’t have one of them already). Warm gloves, a winter hat, maybe a vest. But the temptation is always there to get something just because it is different, because it looks cool. When it comes down to it, usefulness is often at the bottom of the list of our reasons for buying something. Tacked on there at the end like window dressing, a see-through justification.

So what are the solutions? Have your spouse hide your credit card, block Rapha on your internet browser, study Buddhist rituals of self-discipline. I don’t know. In all seriousness, the best bet is probably to try to be a bit more intentional when making a purchase.

But buying stuff just feels so damn good.