Hills and recovery, another bike packer, alarmed

Dear friends and family,

I’ve been in Colombia now for over a month. My Spanish is adequate to find directions, order meals, secure a room and even tell people where I come from and where I’m going.

When I’m around people here I’m really “on” in that I stick out like a sore thumb: white skin, big guy, on a packed bike. Probably age is a factor they notice too. People want to meet me, often, they tell me, the first American they have met. Often I hear that they want to either study or work in the US. When I ask them why, the answer so far has always been “money”.  I tried to tell a few teenage boys the other night that not everyone in the USA is rich, that is only on television. I do know that we in the States do have tremendous opportunities that are not available to most of the people I meet, so don’t want to deny that.

Being what I think is mostly an introvert, these interactions take energy from me, and I find I need time to recharge. If I’m also exhausted from riding in the heat, there is more recharging needed. Today, after yesterday’s  six and a half hours in the heat, combining riding up steep hills and then pushing the loaded bike when the legs quit peddling, I’m taking one of those days off. I was proud of my efforts yesterday and when I arrived I was sure I’d be ready to go again the next day ( which will include four big hills and 4400 feet of climbing often steep grades). Once I relaxed in my room, post cold shower, first my hamstrings started cramping up, followed by toes, stomach, calves, and fingers. I’m in this little town of 12,000 people, feels like a wide spot in the road. Does it have what I need ( or want) to recover ?

Tiny but comfortable room

Air conditioning that works

Private bathroom


Feels safe

I’m also noticing that on long riding days my caloric intake is way behind my level of burn, so a day of three big meals will restock my fuel levels as well. I try to eat before and during riding, but with the exertion and heat (did I mention it’s really hot?), I can’t seem to keep up. In an earlier Colombia blog I mentioned that i fattened up before this trip. Well, all of those reserves are gone now, so there’s less weight to carry uphill, but less fuel reserves. 

Last winter, riding across the southern US, my choices of food were Mexican with red sauce or green sauce. Here it’s plate of the day, including soup, with chicken or beef. Most of it has been good, but I look forward to alternatives in Bucuramanga, my next stop, a city of 1.5 million people, so I expect many choices.

My mission today: eat as much as I can, hydrate well, and relax. Maybe even explore El Playon, this little town, which translates to “ the playground”.  And practice Spanish and write this blog.

I mentioned meeting another bike packer. In the hotel two days ago, after I was returning from lunch he had just arrived and was unpacking his bike in the lobby, to be stored next to mine. I tried getting upstairs with it, but with the sharp turn and steep stairs it didn’t fit. I locked it and set the alarm.

Hugo explained that he was traveling north and heard from the front desk that I was traveling south. We arranged to have dinner together after he cleaned up from his ride that day that would equal double what I do in a day. He said the last hour was hard, but not too hard. He was coming down from the springlike weather of the mountains to the heat of the plains.

Finally, another bike packer to talk with. Hugo is French, from Brittany, and working on his PhD in Bogota, so based there. He plans to take his two week break and ride to Santa Marta or maybe even Palomino where I rode earlier, so was very interested in hearing about the roads, places to stay, etc. I, on the other hand wasn’t sure whether to continue to pursue my route south towards the Ecuador or head into the Andes up the steep climbs and be cooler. It took Hugo about five minutes to convince me to try the mountains: cool ( that in itself sounds wonderful), great little towns to explore, and fabulous scenery.

Hugo is 26, speaks fluent French, Spanish and English ( maybe more), is a longtime cyclist, and very fit. I guess that’s why he can do easily double the distances I can do in a day.

We both made plans to leave at 0545, first light.

We met in the lobby with our bike panniers. The clerk was sleeping on the couch so we whispered a “Buenos Dias” to her to let her ease into her morning as she checked us out of the hotel.

Because of the skinny and steep stairs, we both had left our bikes in the reception area. I remembered that I had set the motion alarm on my bike so hit the disarm button. Quite a loud single screech echoed in the small lobby. This is a reminder that it was activated. At least it was quick. Then I stashed the alarm fob safely away and went to unlock the cable lock. By touching the bike the alarm went off at full volume, screeching around off the lobby walls while I hurriedly tried to pull it out of its safe pouch on the bike, and finally disarmed it for real. Probably was going off for a full thirty seconds. The sound is the same decibels as a car alarm. Loud!  I could only laugh at my stupidity, then apologize profusely to the poor woman who I had “alarmed” for lack of a better word.

I’ll bet she’ll be excited to see the next bike packer show up!

Sending love,


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8 thoughts on “Hills and recovery, another bike packer, alarmed”

  1. I highly recommend heading up to El Cocuy and the neighbouring park there. The town and people were one of my fave places when traveling in SA. Have a good one Charlie! Enjoying the read!

  2. I decided to try and find you on Google Maps—think I have the right town, on route 45A? Amazing detail of the little town, and map overview to get a sense of the remoteness of backcountry Columbia. Wow! For those of us interested in maps, maybe mention the road, town (of course) and name of hotel. It adds interest to exploring along with you 🙂 Great tales as always. Cringing at the alarm episode.

  3. Charlie, Had to laugh out loud at the bike alarm. I remember that thing well bumping it a few times outside those c stores. Must have been awesome to meet another bike traveler. Helps with the motivation. Guessing that getting water has not been an issue?
    Stay safe my friend!

  4. Good reads, Charley. Much vicarious enjoyment and especially love the pics. What a lovely world we live in, even in places without our American system.

    Thank you so much and vaya con Dios!


  5. Charley-
    All those bike rides and tours we’ve done over the years have paid off 😉. Fun to see you expanding the cycling territory – and finding comrades along the way! Love that you’re in the mountains 🏔.

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