We have crossed the first thousand mile mark and with 25,000 vertical feet of cycling uphill, and have arrived in Villa De Leyva (7000ft). I’m sat here drinking wine out of a box contemplating the next 25,000. There was a rather large pass from sea level to 8600ft that added a fair chunk to the climb, this followed a rolling ridge line with great views. So the total climb was around 11,000 feet of gain, followed by another drop to 5000ft then three thousand feet of climbing which landed us here at a nice cool 7k. Confusing but imagine two steps up, one down for every foot of elevation gain. It is the start of the Andes I guess and only gets bigger from here. We are a day or so cycle from Suesca, a nice little climbing village we visited a year ago and decided to come back by. The scenery up here is like the Lake District, my home mountains, but with slightly bigger hills.
Arriving in the town was a little of a downer, both in elevation and morale. Getting in late and tired a pack of dogs managed to rip a pannier off Karli’s bike as she was riding, it now has teeth holes pierced in the sides. The dogs aren’t all bad. Yesterday we adopted a stray dog that wanted petting and it followed us around the streets and shops as we became regular tourists for a few hours. Its quite shocking that between the two of us we can survive on about 30,000pesos a day (10dollar, or 7GBP) in most places in Colombia but soon as we join the regular tourist trail, that will buy breakfast at best. Maybe we have become complacent but it was quite funny watching ‘Gringos’ walking around with backpacks on their fronts wearing Panama hats and travel trousers. Backpacks are worn on the front to prevent pick pocketing/pack slashing in risky places. Its a wonder its done here where the locals are friendly and whole town warm and inviting, compared to back home in big cities that I would be worried about. We did find a local that wanted to show us around so dropped the panniers and trailer for the day, drank a beer then went for a ride to some small lagunas for sunset, followed by beer in the square til we were tired. (P.S we rode back in the dark with Karli at the front with one bike light, the local in the middle, no lights; and me at the back with a reversed headlight on red.)
Normally bike packing I would have a tarp sheet to sleep under, a pad to sleep on and a two season sleeping bag weighing in at 600g. Combine it with a titanium cup, a spork, a spirit-stove, a synthetic insulated jacket and spare pair of thick socks my gear would tip the scale at around 3-4kg (8lbs), plus a backpack and food. I hauled this nice light weight the length of the rockies climbing along the way and it was a blast, nice and light. This trip is a little different. The potential extremes alone covering temperatures from over 38c down to -30c (100f- -20f) requiring heavier duty sleeping bags. High winds requiring a stronger heavier tent. Cold weather mountaineering clothing combined with technical, double boots for extended duration in cold. Hauling a mix of Sport climbing and mountaineering equipment. This trip is going to push the limit of our gear. Its going to push the bikes, instead of aluminium or carbon, strong but malleable steel that can take the punishment of the extra weight. This all adds up to a spectacularly hideous weight I will not say. But anybody out there with climbing experience can guess what the weight is like. Right now this is a cold weather, high altitude expedition in a warm place. But the mountains grow around us like a waiting menace, the cold is coming. We opted for a two wheel trailer to take the brunt, it removes a lot of the strain of balancing a loaded bicycle. I suspect It will suffer a slow agonizing death over this trip, gravel road after pothole after speed bump (really popular in this part of the world). I don’t suspect much we have will survive the whole thing. So far its doing well for how roughly we have treated it.
I think the worst thing for wear will be us. Every day on the bikes our bodies get stronger, fat burns, the heart rate lowers, the reach becomes greater. But each time I look in the mirror I see an aging man staring back. Unrecognizable. Sunburned, weathered, beaten and wrinkled. I feel bad for a second, but then I look at my girlfriend and think, at least I’m not looking as bad as her. Life goes on.