Getting here wasn’t easy. My plane landed in Atlanta shortly after the power went out. I was on one of the planes stuck on the runway that you probably saw on CNN. I spent the night in the airport like hundreds of other people, which you probably also saw on CNN (or Fox News, if you’re like my grandma). But eventually I arrived in Bogota, sleep-deprived and ragged. Yesterday I went for an eight-mile jog around the city to get a feel for the place and acclimate to the elevation–the city sits over 7,000 feet above sea level. My lungs seemed to do okay with that (thanks for raising me in Colorado, mom and dad!); the exhaust from the jampacked highways was the tougher part.
Today I met up with Julian, a cyclist and filmmaker who was a kind of local fixer in both the Aaron Gulley Bicycling article “Colombia Rising” and Therebouts III, which catalogued the exploits of the Morton brothers. Both pieces stoked my desire to ride here, so I’m happy to be able to have the same local guide. Also, he’s letting me rent his bike, and speaks good English. Win-win-win.
This morning I took an Uber to his apartment, wandered around the block looking for the right building, asking where to go in mangled Spanish (apartamento? Julian?). I was turned away by multiple security guards and was starting to panic when I finally found him. He welcomed me in, I apologized, we got the bike set up, and headed out into the morning rush hour traffic. Fortunately, there are wide sidewalks with designated lanes for cyclists, which kept us off the roads. But the amount of pedestrians, debris, and unsloped curbs that require bunny-hopping made for slow, stressful riding.
Eventually we arrived at the base of Alto de Patois, where we met up with Julian’s friend and began climbing. It’s the most popular climb around here (over 11,000 recorded attempts on Strava), and as we wound our way up the mountain we passed dozens of other cyclists, most of them riding mountain bikes and wearing Movistar or Orica jerseys like their professional heroes Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves. In the States, it’s considered lame to wear pro team jerseys, and lots of cyclists look down on people without pricey bikes or gear. Sometimes it seems like cycling is more about the gear, about looking cool (if that’s possible with shaved legs and lyrca). Here, people just ride bikes because they love riding bikes. It was refreshing to see that. And for what it’s worth, I can think of quite a few American riders who wouldn’t tackle that climb, especially on a secondhand bike. But ordinary-looking Colombians were doing it.
After a short pause at the summit, we descended into a valley painted in all different shades of green. The road was jammed with cars and buses, and sections were under construction, so the going was slow. A few patches of gravel made me grateful for the 30 mm tires on my bike. A few miles later we turned onto what Julian called a “bonus” climb, which I will now call “a fucking steep climb with 20% switchbacks.” But it offered gorgeous panoramic views of the valley and nearby reservoir and homes stacked up against the mountains. I’m not complaining.
More descending, then climbing (there are literally no stretches of flat road here), into a village where we stopped at a cafe and sat in plastic chairs sipping a warm drink that is basically straight sugarcane juice. Unfortunately no arepas for the vegan. My local guides didn’t seem upset or offended. They just laughed and said that not much in Colombia is vegan. I was just happy to be riding with locals, having a more authentic experience than if I had tried to choose routes on my own and ridden alone.
We retraced our route back up and over Patois, descended with cars zooming by on our left and soldiers standing with their guns to our right. The city traffic was even more chaotic than when we had left two hours earlier, and I can’t say I enjoyed weaving our way back to Julian’s apartment. I’m just glad I didn’t hit anyone on the sidewalk.
Final stats from the ride: 28 miles. 3,500 feet of elevation gain. 2.5 hours in the saddle.
As crazy as it sounds, this was an “easy” warmup day. Tomorrow the route is 60 miles with 12,000 feet of climbing. I should never have converted the meters to feet, because I’m a bit intimidated. We’ll see how it goes.