Something is amiss? Amongst beauty

Dear friends and family,

After Salento I rode first up and then down to the next little tourist town: Filandia. It was lovely as it had the same feel as Salento but with only a portion of the tourists and almost none from out of country. I enjoyed a couple of days wondering around town and sampling the good restaurants. I met one man who grew up in Colombia, worked a career in Toronto, then returned to buy a restaurant/coffee shop/microbrewery in Filandia. Had a cool vibe to it, so I spent the afternoon sipping a beer and writing there. While there I met a retired couple, again born in Colombia, worked union jobs in New York City, then returned home to retire. Made me think how much most Colombians that I met love their country. I heard a song on the radio this morning about loving Colombia. I wonder if that sort of thing has an effect?

Now I was off to the nontouristic part of the country for a few days, back down to 3000 foot elevation where it’s hot and sugar is grown. It is called the Cauca River Valley. This river provides irrigation to hundreds of miles of farming land. I wanted to see it and also approach the mountains from a different angle than the freeway heading north. Was lovely riding here. With training at altitude I felt like I could fly here while lower.

I followed this up with nice long and steady rides, feeling strong as I descended more than climbed, but still had plenty of strong ascents. Working class towns, no tourists, cheap prices, friendly people, all a good fit for me.

Then when I got to Viterbo the serious planning started. It would be three days of climbing. Day one of three thousand feet, day two of only two thousand, but over a shorter, steeper range, and day three, the final ride and climb of my entire trip. Cap it off by 40 miles of rough dirt road, climbing to ten thousand feet, with 4700 feet of climbing. What an entrance I would make into Jardin, after those successes. 

Small (subconscious)voice saying “Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”

Conscious guy back “I’ve been riding here for months now, and I’m really feeling strong”

Small voice “Altitude, heat, 25% grade!”

Conscious “I passed a biker yesterday while riding and he had no packs”

Meanwhile, deep within the “gut brain” defined as The enteric nervous system that regulates our gut is often called the body’s “second brain.” Although it can’t compose poetry or solve equations, this extensive network uses the same chemicals and cells as the brain to help us digest and to alert the brain when something is amiss.

Gut control (GC) to worker bees (WB) “hey kids, better get ready, someone’s not listening to subtle messages”

WB back “what should we do to get his attention?” “ we could give him a belly ache for a couple of hours”

GC “this guy, he doesn’t listen well, we better give him something serious”

WB “Ok, boss, how about a seven out of ten gut check?” “That’s pretty serious”

GC“if we don’t give him the whole treatment, he won’t get it”

WB “that’s a pretty serious ask. It is going to be painful, uncomfortable and worrisome”

GC “ he could actually kill himself by what he’s planning, so we have to do our job”

WB “We get it, hoping he’s sitting down, preferably on porcelain”

And they did and I was. All night. It was painful, uncomfortable and worrisome. A fellow bike packer I met virtually got a serious case of gastritis about a month ago and spent three nights in the hospital. I don’t even know if there is a hospital in this town. 

Two days, later, after realizing that the aftermath of my case of turista left me too weak to even pedal a few miles, I made arrangements to have a truck and driver ferry me over the pass. It seemed expensive at the time, but cheaper options would take more energy out of me than I had by taking  several bus rides and taxis to get there.

This morning my driver, with his brand new Dodge Ram 4WD pickup, was ready at the appointed time. It took only about ten miles into the drive, while still on paved road,  that I realized the folly of my thinking. On my best day, I would be struggling to make these hills so far: steep, hot, hard. 

Once we turned onto the dirt road (trail?) over the pass, it dawned on me, that no, it wasn’t bad fish, too much sugar or tap water being used for food, or maybe all of those, but the resistance of my gut brain having other thoughts. Hence the above story. 

There was nothing up here but forest and dirt. Yes, a few cars and motorcycles, but no place to find shelter, no food available. I realized that there was zero chance that I could have made it. Hard for me to wrap my head around. I was feeling strong. I am feeling fit. I read a blog about other bikepackers that did this same trip (they were three quarters of their way around the world by bike and they were, ahem, 25 years old). Something to face head on. Hard reality. Do you get the idea that the folly of my thinking really hit me?

Who could have thought that a bad case of traveler’s diarrhea could be the best thing to happen?

“Ok, I get it. Now, enjoy the journey” said Conscious guy, loud enough for small voice, GC and WB to hear.

“ I’ve learned a lesson”, I ended with as I thought I heard a snicker from deep within.

What an amazing ride. Only a few quick views as the trees were so dense around us. Great driver, going slow enough to protect his new truck’s springs and shocks. It was all uphill for twenty miles of really rough road then all downhill into the valley where Jardin is perched.

I wasn’t sure how many days  to book my room for as I checked in, so I told them I’d let them know later. When I hauled my bike in bag to my upstairs room, opened the balcony door onto the town square and was treated to a horse giving a dance to tourists sitting outside, made me start to count the days available to stay here before my flight out of Medellin, a city of over two million. Hmmm.

Sending love,


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9 thoughts on “Something is amiss? Amongst beauty”

  1. Sorry you had such a serious gut check, but good you had it.
    Where’s the picture of the horse?
    I guess biking up big mountains on narrow, dirt roads with a pack is not wise.
    Is Medellin your flight home?

  2. Hi Charley, I have loved your trip and your postings. You have certainly chosen massively difficult adventures and have both accomplished them and have so wonderfully engaged in the cultures. Huge admiration for you and gratitude for including us to vicariously experience your two recent bike marathons. Dick Lynn

  3. Dear Carlos –

    What a wonderful, giggle producing tale of “Trusting your Gut”! Glad you ended up in a pickup truck rather than the hospital. Your blog is a romping reflection of an “older” guy’s experience in a world filled with humans and media that worship youth. Your authentic writing and exploration of the Colombian culture and landscape by bike – are an inspiration to us other “older” humans.



  4. Carlos, me alegra que te sientas mejor!

    Looking at the terrain you call a “road” on this trip, I am curious what type of bike you are rocking? If you were going to do this again, would you take the same bike?

    1. Jeff,
      I think of you every Sunday when the weekenders blow by me on their climbs.
      My bike choice was good. I’m riding a 12 year old Trek Stache stock mountain bike, hard tail, front suspension, 29 inch wheels.
      We ( bike shop) added a dynamo hub on front wheel, 2.5 inch tires with liners that use tubes. Three flats on trip- all on back- all defective tubes. No punctures.
      Lights wired in, hub charges battery hidden in stem for constant charge. We changed pedals to no clips, but super wide to grip with hiking shoes. I have to bail out quickly and often. My good rear view mirror has saved my life on multiple occasions- a necessity here!
      Carrying the bag with me to be able to fit in a bus or taxi I would consider a “ should” here. It adds 5 pounds, but gives options- like yesterday.
      So summary of why it worked:
      Strong steel frame
      Fat tires for crummy roads or trails
      No need to unclip pedals to bail out
      Low gearing for mountains
      Good load carrying capacity and balance.
      So, knowing what I know now, I’d take the exact same setup. I’m either lucky in my choice or my research paid off.
      Even if I really sacrificed couldn’t drop more than 5 pounds of stuff to carry. Weight not counting bike is 30 pounds.

  5. I have had my best lessons in what-seems-like-bad-news-is-actually-a-blessing-in-disguise while bikepacking. It’s recognizing it that keeps us humble+grateful, no?

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