Joking Stoic gods, angel of Colombia, lessons

Dear friends and family,

I woke up nervous and a little anxious to be starting on the uphill portion of my back way to San Gil.

Since I had booked a hotel only about 8 miles away and not wanting to get there before customers from the night before had checked out, I took my time in the morning, drinking coffee, writing and even had a lovely oatmeal breakfast at my hotel. I was reading in Stoicism about the author (William Irvine) discussing a situation where the stoic gods were trying to test him, to see if they could get him angry at circumstances beyond his control. He was proud of himself for not succumbing. 

I had my plans pretty well thought out for this day and the next, so as I was reading, took note, mentally filed it away and prepared myself and bike for the short ride.

Leaving at 0800 seemed right, I could take a very leisurely ride up the hill to my hotel and still be out of the hot sun later in the day.

With the road blocked for construction and traffic held back for awhile and trying to take the hills really slowly to save my legs for the big ride the next day, I arrived at the tiny town looking for my hotel. Google maps took me off the main road onto side streets where there wasn’t really a road, just paths that a dirt bike or bicycle could go on but not a car. Seemed odd, since you might want to take your car to a hotel.

I asked a couple of women walking down the street if they knew where the hotel was. They wrinkled their foreheads and said that they had no idea. Then I asked a restaurant owner who was setting up for the day. I even showed her the google map with the hotel name. Again nada. Live here and not know where the only hotel was?

As I walked up and down the three side streets of the town, no sign of a hotel. The first two women decided to accompany me. I thought maybe they were wondering what this gringo was after, since there was no hotel here. Finally, we passed a house with two men on the porch. One of them came out and told me that he was a cyclist as well and even had me come in to show me his racing bike inside the bedroom to prove it.

He assured me that no, there was not a hotel in this town. The closest hotels were in Giron, where I just came from or ride the long and hot ride up to Zapatoca for the next one. He even called the hotel listed on the Google map to make sure that they were not anywhere near here, but on the other side of Bogota.

He also made sure I knew that the ride to Zapatoca was long, high, winding and hot this time of day.

My plan had been to stay here, then get up really early and only have 28 miles to go, but with an early start could get most of it in before the heat of the day and I’d be fresh after this short eight mile ride the day before.

Now I was faced with a decision. It was almost eleven AM after the slow ride up here and the time spent looking for the misplaced hotel. The heat of the day was upon me and I would have a 28 mile ride ahead of me in the heat. Going back to Giron seemed like a dumb idea, since I would then have to repeat the 8 miles of climbing to get back here, using up any early morning coolness. 

Those stoic “gods” weren’t going to get the best of me. I laughed at the changed circumstances.

So, I bought four Gatorades, packed them on my panniers and went on my way. The next ten miles were mostly flat or rolling and my confidence was high until I came to the top of the canyon and the fast glide down the steep road. Steep is the right word. Hardly any traffic, but the trucks that did go down stayed in a really low gear afraid that they would get rolling and not be able to stop. 

I was challenged to enjoy the ride down, as I could now see the river, the bridge across it, but mostly the switchbacked road up the other side. I was trying to find places that weren’t too steep, thinking that I could ride those and if I had to, walk the steeper portions. From this distance it looked really long, but feasible. 

Right after the bridge there was a tiny restaurant where the trucks pulled over and stopped for a drink. It looked like beer they were drinking, but I didn’t really want to confirm that so didn’t look at the empty bottles left on the table. I got myself some cold drinks, opened my panniers to get energy bars and gel ready, since this was to be tomorrow’s ride. 

Once the trucks left, so did I. The first mile went pretty well, cranking it out in my lowest gear. Then it got steeper, with no less steep portion in sight. I reveled in the distance below me to the river, and looking up, could see that I was gaining altitude rapidly even with my combination of walking and riding. 

The heat and the tiredness suddenly took their toll and my pace, even walking, got really slow. Now it was about two PM and I was calculating that at this pace I would be unlikely to make the town by daylight. At least it would be cooler with the altitude gain and the lack of sun. 

I was prepared for this, if I had to do it. I carry a sleeping bag liner with me and could use the bag that carries the bike as a bivy bag to crawl into, if necessary. I had water and food to sustain me. Necessary started to seem real.

I was mentally kicking myself for not offering money to any trucker stopping at the restaurant for a lift up the mountain. Now that I was on the steep slope, hitchhiking seemed impossible, too steep for someone to stop. 

Just then, a big farm truck, like you would haul cows in, slowed way down as he was passing me. I heard the spanish words for “help”” top” and “bicyclist” over the roar of the truck noise in first gear. I gave him a thumbs up and said “Si” quite loudly, and was perplexed that he would stop in the middle of the road on such an incline. He got out, came around the back and we proceeded to load the packed bike into the back with the bags of dried corn. We hurried, as I was sure the truck would start rolling backwards. He motioned for me to sit in the cab and closed my door for me, explaining not to lean against it as it didn’t really lock. I reached for the seat belt and found a broken piece of material. He explained that he stopped because he himself was a bicyclist before he got too fat.

The hill climb was steep the entire way. I was at once relieved (no bivouac) but frighted of falling out of the truck on the steep road or the truck falling off the road over the cliff. Since this was not the main road it seemed that even though the majority was paved there were many rocky slips that took out the paved road and the solution was to drive as fast as possible over the dirt remaining before slipping sideways off. 

I found myself gripping my seat so as to not lean against the door. I was relieved for the ride, very thankful, but must admit, frightened on this truck ride. I gave in to fate and enjoyed the scenery which was magical. The Colombian version of the Grand Canyon.

It turned out that I was about halfway up the front of the mountain, but on the backside was another long uphill portion. Then the last five miles into town were flat or rolling. No way I would have made it during daylight. 

My angel (never got his name) stopped in the center of town, helped me unload, posed for a selfie and drove off.  I sat in the park and collected my thoughts. I was only two blocks from my hotel where I had a reservation for the following night. They had room for tonight and the next both, so I signed in and of course my Visa card was declined just to see if the gods had my attention. 

Reflections: I have found my limits, which was one of the goals for this trip. Would I have died? Not  likely, but would have been very uncomfortable. 

I realize now that even if I was fresh, this ride would have been very challenging. Yes, I would have probably made it by daylight, so would have been a long and hard day. I expected that, but wasn’t really prepared for the difficulty of it. 

Choices: I could have gone back to Giron and found a ride for the next day. I could have waited at the restaurant at the base until I could find a truck willing to haul me up. I am convinced that I have learned a serious lesson: You, Charley, are not anything like the youngsters on their racing bikes that are able to do this as a training climb with no panniers. What’s missing? “Young”ster, “racing bike” “no panniers”. 

And Google? What the fuck? Putting a hotel where there is none? Wonder what language the stoic gods and the google mappers spoke when they planned that one for me?

When I use the term “Stoic gods” I am imagining a part of my mind that I use to live life well and not be angry at what I cannot control. I don’t really think that there are stoic gods out there controlling things, or do I?

Sending love,


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11 thoughts on “Joking Stoic gods, angel of Colombia, lessons”

  1. Hopefully the store on the map was there. We once cycled to a town shown on a paper map along the Nepal/India border and all that was there was a burned out bus along the roadway.
    Stay safe bro…

  2. Sounds more difficult as you go. Maybe things improve from here on. So many nice people! I do love reading about your adventure. Makes me think about all these people living their lives in all these small towns and different cultures. At the moment we are stuck at home because of the 3 inches of snow on our driveway. Luckily we don’t need to go anywhere. Arya has a second snow day.
    Beautiful scenery, might be hard to enjoy when holding on for dear life!
    Love, Lynne

  3. Wow Charley- what a journey- internally and externally. So glad you’re finding angels on this ride too. A testament to the true goodness found out there.

  4. Kudos for the attempt, Charley! Such a gracious and giving culture.

    Ice cream and Gatorade isn’t such a bad diet…

    We are recovering from ~14” of snow… [In case you find such thoughts chilling…]

    Enjoy, and stay safe.

    Cheers, Bill

    PS: RE: Google Maps: Last I knew, proprietors are then ones that literally place their establishments on Google Maps- and Google vets nothing…. And from my experience, it seems many business owners cannot read a map and/or are working from a computer with no GNNS input. Even some in Wrangell are wrong… by miles…

  5. Dear Charley,
    I can’t tell you what a joy it is to read your stories of adventure! In many ways they remind me of my travels hitchhiking and hiking across Europe and Turkey to the border of Iraq and Syria in 1970-1971. Carrying my backpack was nothing compared to the physical rigors that you are experiencing, but the unexpected, the uncertainty of where I would lay my head each night -( would I find a hostel or a safe place to camp?)- and the joy of discovery come back to life in my mind with your words and photos. Beside my dream to see the world, my only guide was “Europe on $10 a Day” – and I had budgeted for $5! No EuroRail Pass (beyond my means), no cell phones, so many border crossings and currency exchanges- and not as much English spoken made for interesting challenges, especially for a 19 year old woman alone! It was far easier (and safer) to sail as crew across the Pacific two years later!!
    You are a strong, courageous, kind, grateful and gracious adventurer- and a fabulous ambassador for country.
    Stay safe!
    Holding you in love and light,

  6. Anyone who’s cycle toured and has used Google for routing or services has found it’s one of the least reliable apps out there. Waze seems to be the preferred app. No harm in getting a ride through the mountains when necessary, it’s just part of the adventure. Happy trails!

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