Thursday, 14 August 2014

Macara, Eucador to Chulucanas, Peru

Today we rode from Ecuador into Peru and it would seem a whole new world, when it comes to the standard of living and so on. 

What I hadn't appreciated / understood last night was just how close we were to Peru, cause no sooner had we mounted our bikes this morning and we were lining up, at the customs office in Ecuador and then an hour or so later doing the same thing at the Peruvian office.

The ride from the hotel to the border crossing, wasn't even long enough to get anywhere near warmed up..... 

Probably a good thing in the end, given the amount of time we'd subsequently spend milling around waiting for our paperwork to be processed!

Me, waiting for my Peruvian stamp into my passport. 

Possibly the first time that a Camelbak water bag has been worn at the same time as a Lead Out Cycling jersey. 

Once everyone had been counted, signed in and so on, we were able to commence our day's ride. Being down at a reasonable altitude made a big difference and the fact that it was rolling hills rather than gigantic mountainous slopes to contend with I was able to set a reasonable pace and make some inroads towards our lunch stop, given that the sun had begun to come out and the weather to get a little warmish....

By the time I'd got about 25-30 kilometres under my belt, I was keen to stop, grab a coffee (or a coke) and to have a bit of a chat with my colleagues as opposed to riding on my own. As a result I eased off the pace, stopped for a bit near a cafe and sure enough a couple of my colleagues caught up. We all then wandered in, chose our nominated ice-creams and were just about to open them up, eager with anticipation only to realise we didn't have Peruvian Soles.

Being so close to the border, we tried to pay with USD but unfortunately were thwarted at the last hurdle, given that the shop keeper had seemingly never seen American money which also happens to be the currency used in Ecuador..... 

Strange and she could have charged us whatever she wanted, but so be it. Off we rode.

Another 10-15 kilometres on, by now with most of us of water the temperature having got so hot we stopped in the next little village, hoping that we might have a bit more luck. As we did so, a chap on a motor bike pulled up and informed us, that one of our colleagues had been stopped by the police. Concerned about what they may be asking, we had a ten minute pow-wow to discuss, how we wanted to tackle the situation. Fortunately just as we'd come to the conclusion that one or two of us would have to stay and mind the bikes, whilst a couple of others would jump into a taxi to investigate, Dave, came into view with a police escort.

It transpires that they wanted to know whether he was the last person on the road, from our group, because according to their head count, they'd lost a few of us, between the border crossing and their local station. Apparently they'd been counting us! After a long and detailed discussion / explanation, we were able to give them the information they required and we were allowed to cycle on. By this stage, any thoughts of replenishing our food / water supplies totally forgotten. We simply wanted to get a bit of distance from the local constabulary.

On we rode for another ten - fifteen kilometres, this time with a police presence tagging along behind! By this stage we were all out of water, it was something like 35 degree's and we'd been out on the road, since crossing the border, at least two an a half hours or so.

As a result a third attempt was made to purchase some coke / water to see us through to the lunch truck. Costing an arm and a leg a couple of bottles of coke were procured, as was a five litre container of water which we used to refill (partially at least) all of our Camelbaks)!

Feeling a little refreshed, we then rode on to the lunch stop, only to find that it was only some four or five kilometres from town. Being that it was 1:30 by now and we were all fed up with the constant police harassment, we all decided to call it quits and to jump on the truck!

Once loaded up we then headed for our hostal in Chulucanas, only being stopped by the police some further five or six times along the way. Along the way, we saw a couple of our colleagues also with a police motor cyclist following in pursuit.

Just some of the local constabulary who'd harrased / protected us during the course of the day.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Catacocha to Macara

Today's ride was very enjoyable, though I have to confess that I came within about 75 metres and a couple of minutes from calling it quits, with only about 30 kilometres to go before rolling into our hotel for the night in Macara.

I'd enjoyed the morning's ride downhill from Catacocha, and have to say I was a little impressed / frightened by the speeds that some people were achieving. Heck, I was past by the majority of the group and whilst I can't be sure, suspect that it is my Italian experience coming out to play. There is a long way to go before we arrive in Ushuaia and I want to make sure I do so in one piece.

At about the 25 kilometre mark, a cafe was located and in true Melbourne / Road Cyclist tradition, the decision was made by a couple of us to stop for a coffee. It's a bit decadent stopping that early in the ride I know, but finding anywhere reasonable to drink is a bit hit and miss and with the lunch truck parked only a further 25 kilometre's away, it was case of WHY NOT!

Coffee consumed, we then headed toward the lunch stop which was a lovely sight by the side of the river. It's the first time we've been at an altitude were it's been possible to do so....

After that there was to be about a ten kilometre ride, that was fairly flat, before the day's nemesis appeared on the horizon. a 450 metre climb over a distance of just 7.5 kilometres. In other words, it was bloody steep!

Whilst I attacked the first little bit with gusto for getting to the top, my enthusiasm waned as time and the never ending climb went on. I had been riding with a couple of colleagues, Julia and Max for much of the day and they'd somewhat inspired me to keep going at a few points on the climb. Not knowing where I stood in terms of reaching the summit and having lost sight of them a few minutes earlier, I stopped for a breather on one corner, almost wishing the lunch truck / sag wagon would come post so that I could hitch a lift.

Water consumed, I then continued my battle with the mountain, only to hear / see the truck coming up behind me and both Julia & Max standing waiting for me one corner on from where I had actually decided to grab a bit of refreshment. Having descended 1000 metres during the day the weather had got noticeably warmer (hot in fact)!

Seeing the situation unfold and feeling in a bit of a bind as to whether to retire for the day or not, I pushed it into another gear and raced up to my colleagues to find out how much further there was to go before the top was reached. Seventy five metres came the call. 

Decision made! I'd cycle on!

I didn't want to be kicking myself for having bailed when it was in fact possible to continue on! What's more I didn't want to "thank" Julia and Max who'd both stuck with me all day by leaving them in that fashion......

Shortly after the summit was reached, a local little bar came into sight, with cry's of - Come join us emanating from several other member's of the Bike Dreams expedition. A soft drink consumed we then cycled on, until I managed to snap my chain at the chain breaker link!

Obviously I was just putting too much force through my bike gears..... 

Fortunately all the bits and pieces were located and we were able to put it altogether again for the final ten to fifteen kilometres into town. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Loja to Catacocha

With the rain coming down this morning in Loja and not feeling the best, I didn't get much sleep last night to top things all off, I decided after looking at the route map and profile to only ride the second half of the journey! I mean I knew, that I'd still end up with at least one long grueling climb, I'd just reduce the amount of metre's climbed!

As a result I popped the bike on the top of the truck, settled in for the hour long journey to the lunch stop along with several other colleagues who had decided to do the same thing and tried to calm the unsettled stomach, which were probably as a result of nerves as opposed to anything I'd eaten.

At this point I've got to say, once we reached our designated lunch stop, set up for those ambitious / brave / strong enough to start from our hotel in Loja, the bike's were taken of the truck so that the adventure could begin!

A married couple from Albury / Wodonga set off first and I followed suit shortly thereafter. As they are both stronger climbers than I am, I waited till they were out of sight before I set off! I didn't want the daunting prospect of catching or being dropped, playing on my mind and just wanted the road, to myself as it were.....

The first ten kilometres or so, took an hour or more to complete which just gives you an idea as to the gradient, the nature of the winds toward the top and so forth. It's just such bloody hard work without any opportunity to get a bit of relief.... Onwards and upwards they say!

What is most interesting though and I suspect it's a result of the altitude, but at times it was drizzling with rain and yet a kilometre or two down the road, it was warm and dry. 

The other aspect to it all is that and without wanting to harp on it, whilst the stats probably don't look all that great, it's amazing how much harder it seems to be doing at altitude, Well I'm hoping it is that as opposed to because I'm on a Mountain Bike with 26" wheels, as opposed to my usual cycling stead - the roadie!

On a final and very positive note, I've got to say the Bike Dream's crew have done really well in finding us the hotel we are in tonight. Whilst it's a rather smallish town, the amenities in the hotel are probably some of the best we've been in to date. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Ona to Loja

Knowing that today was to be the Queen Stage for Ecuador and after taking a quick look at the route profile I decided that whilst I'd head out with the intention of trying to get all the way through from Ona to Loja that I would in all probability want to retire at around the 50 - 60 KM mark.

Seriously they don't believe in gentle gradients around here & when that's combined with a bit of altitude, things become hard work quickly!

Whilst the first five to ten kilometres were not too bad, I did have to revert to playing a bit of music through my headphones at this point, something that I would never do at home, but I needed a bit of something to distract me from the climb. A ten or fifteen kilometre climb with an 8% gradient first thing after breakfast and before you have virtually had time to leave your front door, really ain't a great deal of fun! 

On I slogged however, the pace getting ever slower until I reached the summit. It was at this point or shortly before hand that I noticed that a colleague - Carmen - who I had ridden with the day before, was some distance behind, but slowly but surely getting ever closer. As a result and particularly given that I had enjoyed her the company the day before I decided to wait. Heck, it is far more enjoyable riding with a buddy, as opposed to riding on your own and yet only a matter of a couple of hundred metres or a few minutes ahead of someone else!

We subsequently enjoyed the descent, taking care not to allow the speed to get ahead of us. I know that one of my compatriots who I rode with on the La Bella Italia last year - Annabel - would have been particularly pleased with my approach......

Once we hit the bottom however, the road quickly turned upward for what both Carmen and I knew would be a fair ole while! What we did not anticipate however is how exposed it was to the wind and as a result how cold it could / would be. Heck, whilst normally I would be one for ditching winter clothing for long hard climbs up hill, the temperature was such that was not a particularly feasible idea, particularly given the speeds at which we were riding.

By the time we achieved the first five kilometres of the climb, I think we had both decided to call it quits at lunch time, sooner if we were in the fortuitous position or not, as to be deemed as to being "too late" and hence thrown into the lunch truck come sag wagon!

Ultimately this was to occur and I have to say it was an enormous relief. 

I mean we had fun, talking, telling each other our respective life story and simply taking the mickey out of the situation, but our legs (well mine at least) were about to fall off I was in that much pain and hence being able to board the lunch truck was a brilliant reprieve! 

As a means of celebrating our camaraderie once we got to our hotel, we did a bit of supermarket shopping - trying to get a few food supplies that have a bit more protein than what we are currently eating / getting, but also in an attempt to see if we can avoid the gastro bug that is working its way though the peleton. Not to sure what is causing it, but I reckon at least half of my colleagues have been ill at some point or another during the course of the last week. Serious enough that it has wiped them out from riding for at least 24 hours or so.

Once we had attended to that and a few other domestic chores (they do not stop even when you are away on holiday) we then, along with a couple of other people, went out to dinner at a decent restaurant where I was able to score a nice bit of salmon. Score!!!!

Route map & profile to be inserted when I can use my own computer!!!!!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Cuenca to Ona

The route out of Cuenca, looked horrendous and to be on a road that was going to be full of heavy tucks and long distance buses pumping out their billowing black smoke and as a result I opted to take the easy option and to simply ride from the summit of today's route, which was also to be the spot the lunch truck was due to set up.

Whilst I'm glad I did, as the drive out wasn't particularly enjoyable and I can only imagine what it would have been like on a bike, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I did so. Not because of what any of my colleagues might have thought, but rather the father / daughter combination that we drove past as they made their way up to the summit, in the rain, on their bikes! I'd be surprised if she was ten and yet she just seemed to take the day's ride in her stride. Seriously, I think I've just spotted the next Marianne Vos, should she stick to enjoying going for a bike ride with her dad. My only regret, I didn't get  photo of her in action........

At any rate, once we got to the lunch spot, I donned my wet weather gear, it having been raining lightly for pretty much the last hour or so, and then headed off down the road with my Italian friend - Carmen - before we had the opportunity to change our minds......

It wasn't long before the rain eased and we were able to enjoy the roll into Ona. 

As Carmen is somewhat new to cycling the mountains or over substantial distances, I suspect, I was able to provide a few tips along the way, as well as insisting we stop regularly to take a million and one photos, to fully make the most of the leisurely route......

Just some of the scenery en-route!


Friday, 8 August 2014

A Rest Day - Cuenca

Today, I've spent the day pretty much too myself, which I suspect is probably not a bad thing as it's given me a bit of time to put people / things into perspective.

Tomorrow is a new beginning and hence my plan going forward is to try and encourage a few of the slower riders (such as myself) to work as a team and to also take the time to enjoy the some mid-ride stops whether it be between the start and the lunch van or the lunch van and the finish! IE: Make time for a coke / coffee stop, to take a bit of a breather and to do more than just worry about the odometer...... 

Smell the roses as it were! Not that I think we've passed too many!

So what exactly did I do with myself today:

Well essentially I took a bit of a wander through the old part of town and also had my bike repaired, not that it's been suffering from over use!

Carmen and Lucho (our mechanic) replace the rear brake rotor on my bike and so hopefully from now on I won't have a rubbing brake... 

There goes my excuses for being so slow up the hills!

Just one of the many impressive buildings in the old town and no it's not a photo I took the last time I was in Europe! 

A view of the modern half of the city, with a hint of the airstrip in the very background!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Ingapirca to Cuenca

Today like quite a number of other riders, I opted for the truck. Whilst my excuse is that I suffered severe cramp for most of the night, I think I managed two or three hours sleep in total, a number of my colleagues seem to have been struck down by some form of stomach bug.

I suspect I suffered last night, as a result of a rookie mistake - Not drinking sufficient water during the ride, the day before. Whilst I had a bidon with me and a half full Camelbak for the first half of the ride (I was empty by the time I got there) and had made the situation even worse than it needed be, by not taking some loose change, small denomination notes! I only had a USD $20 which could just about by half a milkbar not that I passed many! 

The wearing of bike helmets in the truck is not mandatory and I don't think this is quite what Rob or Wilbert would have envisaged occurring so early in the trip!

As a result I've made the mental note to myself to (A) Make 100% sure all my water containers are full and (B) That I've got some loose change for whatever situation may arise!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Chunchi to Ingapirca

As I write today's entry I've got to tell you, "I'm not happy Jan"! Sorry to any of my international readers, I've used an old Australian television slogan to diminish the profanity which may otherwise ensue as a result of my rooming / sleeping conditions tonight following what has been arguably one of the hardest days I've ever spent in the saddle of a bike.

Essentially today today's route which took us from Chunchi to Ingapirca involved some 2000 metres of climbing over the relatively shortish distance of 70 kilometres or thereabouts.

Whilst the map profile seemed to suggest the gradients wouldn't be too excessive, in reality there were some pretty serious climbs involved. Both in terms of the gradient, length and to top it all off the winds..... There was one point were I got really, really close to getting off and walking, the headwind being so strong that I had a hard time staying out of the gutter.

Whilst the scenery at times was breath taking, I've got to admit I didn't have a lot of breath to take given that I was gasping for air at times owing to some of the gradients. I think the last ten kilometres or so were the worst though. A few aggressive dogs, narrower roads and a climb that just never seemed to stop. Fortunately however I had an ally in Dave and we both slogged away at the last little bit together!

Once in town, a visit to the ancient Inca ruins, was called upon! At this point I should confess I would have stuck around and listened to the whole guided tour, but only being in my lycra gear once the wind struck up I made for a rather hasty exit!

Getting back to where I began, because there were insufficient beds in the original hostal that we'd been booked to stay, a number of us were transferred into some alternate accommodation and whilst some of my colleagues seemed to find themselves in reasonable (though hardly brilliant surroundings) I found myself in something more akin to a stable. 

The bathroom window was just a gap in the wall, the wall between the bathroom and the bedroom wouldn't shut (shoddy workmanship) and as a consequence I suspect I'm in for a rough night in terms of getting any sleep! Personally, I think I'd prefer it if we were camping, but whinging about it isn't going to change anything, so I'm just going to shut up now and go to bed!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Latacunga to Riobamba

Still feeling a little shit following yesterday's ride (my knee was sore from riding with an improper cadence) along with a bit of breathlessness, a headache and a somewhat elevated heart rate I suspect from the altitude, I decided despite looks of disapproval from several of my colleagues to jump on the bus, from Latacunga to Riobamba. It's a little disheartening, to have spent 50% of the trip on the truck to date and certainly not the way I envisaged things to work out, but hey - Shit happens!

On the positive side though it did mean that I got to visit a local food market, the aromas of which were just terrific! Some of the fruit and vegetables on sale were things I'd never seen (or for that matter even heard about)!

As a result despite feeling a little disheartened / hollow at not riding, even part of the way, I really can't grumble because it enabled me to visit the market, and to experience another element of what life is like in South America! 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Quito - The journey begins!

Today was another tough day on the road!

Whilst the altitude was probably at least partly the cause, it wasn't helped by the fact that my rear derailleur wasn't working and hence I was unable to speed down hills which you can't do at any rate when you've got I knobbly tyres as I do). It also limited my ability to maintain a decent pace on the flat! Of course to top it all off, there was a constant & very strong head wind.

Some of the views along the way however were brilliant.

A view of Quito looking back from one of the first proper climbs of the tour. 

By the time I got to the halfway (and lunch) point I decided to call it quits and to take the truck to the hotel in Latacunga. It's not something that I wanted to do necessarily, but I figure it's a long trip, it's a holiday and there's no point punishing my body by pushing it to extremes.

Some of the kids who temporarily stopped playing volleyball when we offered up some watermelon.

The view of Cotopaxi (an active volcano) with a snowline at around 5000 metres!