YONDER JOURNAL: COLOMBIA

An active volcano, a crack squad of riders on AWOLs, and a plan hinged on having to sneak around guards—all this and more in the latest edition of Dead Reckoning from Yonder Journal.

With the winter beginning to saturate the Pacific Northwest, we were looking for any place not cold and not winter, and Colombia was at the top of our list. We were going to an alpine jungle paradise full of the fresh fruit, “A” level coffee, and miles upon miles of the road less traveled. We were going to Marquez’ land of Magical Realism, where we’d be cycling through centuries-old towns and long lost fincas, on serpentine roads crumbling back into nature, and seldom traveled cow paths lost to the mist of the cloud forest. We had a wonderful crew lined up. All we needed was a route.

COLOMBIA

DEAD RECKONING

Cycling is big in Colombia, and over the years, more than a few Colombians have moved up the ranks to challenge for podium positions at the highest of levels of bicycling competition. One thing a competitive cyclist needs is to be comfortable in the mountains. Whether you’re climbing or descending, being able to excel in steep terrain is an essential part of winning big bike races. So to get good at this part of the business, it helps to have mountains around to practice on, and let us tell you, Colombia is great at mountains. Like world-class. The country has three main ranges, called Cordilleras, that branch out from the Andes in the south and transect the entire country containing peaks nearly 16,000 feet high. In between the three cordilleras, the elevation drops nearly to sea level, and the mountains rise and fall like a set of waves rolling across the top of the South America into the Pacific.

We still had our problem with the route. After working with a friend of a friend who ran a local guide business, it became very clear that what most people want out of a bike trip in Colombia is far different than what we were looking to do. Turn’s out our rambling, self-supported, sleep on the side of the road, push/carry/drag your bike if need approach to cycling has yet to really catch on with tourists. We wanted to ride our AWOLs on unseen backroads through washed out ravines, we wanted jungle and Joan Wilder, we wanted angry mountains and backwoods campañeros.

Fortunately, we had assembled a crack squad to take part in this trip:

  • Cole Maness - aka @coelmaness, aka Calves, aka Stache, aka Tom Hardy.
  • Patrick Newell - aka @ultratradition, aka Coach, aka Slim, aka The Texan.
  • Erik Nohlin - aka @hellhommus, aka The Dark Princes, aka The Black Lord, aka The Swede.
  • Daniel Pasley - aka @yonderjournal, aka Blue Bear, aka The Shutter, aka Oso Azul.
  • Kyle von Hoetzendorff - aka @newantarctica, aka Sandals, aka the Hushin’ Prussian, aka vonvon.
  • Benedict Wheeler - aka Poppi, aka @ultraromance, aka Johnny, aka Bene, aka Cyber Shark Shark Shark, aka Boltar.

And one of the many perks of assembling a crack team is that you also get a crack collection of crack team contacts (other known perks include tanning, drinking coffee, riding bicycles, telling jokes, eating snacks, looking good in photos, etc). It’s a well known fact in the crack team world that crack team members keep extraordinary friends, some of whom will likely be crack level operators themselves. Turns out Benedict had one such friend who it just so happens has been living in Bogota for the past couple years. Andy Grabarek—aka @captai_agrab, aka Andy G, aka The Pusher, aka the Snow Man—happens to be a first rate ripp'ah and is one down adventure hound. After a couple calls, it quickly became obvious that we (a) had our fixer and (b) we had to Parque de los Nevados.

The parque centered around an active volcano named Nevado del Ruiz. As we began to look deeper into our volcano adventure, we stumbled on a few disparate stories of a couple other intrepid adventure bikers who had circumnavigated the slopes of the volcano by traversing a long closed mountain road high up on the volcano’s flank. All of our research pointed to a difficult passage, a little bit of law breaking, and an all time adventure. Sure, the volcano had seen some increased activity in the lead up to our trip, for the past couple months it had been belching dark plumes of ash into the sky on a daily basis, but we’ve made stupid decisions before. There was no other option, we were going to ride on a Volcano. What’s more, we could spend the first two days of riding climbing Letras. At 80 kilometers, it's famous for being the the longest sustained road climb in the world. Fully packed bikes riding at altitude? What better way to prepare for a couple days on a volcano.

In the end, our plan was to take a van from Bogota to Mariquita, where the Letras climb starts. From there, we’d ride over the mountains to Manizales, stock up on provisions, and pedal into the Parque de Los Nevados. At some point, we were going to sneak past a guard's hut in the middle of the night as we made our way around the volcano before descending back to Mariquita. On paper, it was great plan. Did it account for altitude, humidity, humility, food poisoning, semi-trucks, park rangers, shaolin temples, or three feet of ash? Head over to Yonder Journal to find out.