The term ‘come down’ is associated with an intense feeling of elation and the sudden loss of it. That’s how it was for us cycling away from the Tozers. It was a rough fall. The glorious weeks we spent together basking in their magnificent company while lapping up the luxury and relaxation of time off the bike, ended abruptly and with a precipitous thump. And of course, the day we left Pochomil was all steady climbing under intense sun with humidity that grew thicker as we climbed up an unexpected mountain. It wasn’t long until I fell apart.
Emotion has always come easy to me, and while I give the women of my family a hard time for crying at the slightest of incidents, I have found myself accessing this part of my DNA that would surprise even them.
Packing up all of our gear, that had easily spread itself into every corner of our chalet, was dreary. Saying goodbye to Tom & Chris was heart wrenching. Loading the bike and pedaling back to our life of cycle touring was simply confronting.
My mind roams under many startling influences as we ride. The more we ride, the better I am at controlling the directions of my thoughts. But after so much time relaxing, I forgot about the importance of guarding my chain of thoughts and before I knew what was happening, the demons had settled in for 1st course.
It was a hard day. The chain broke twice (thankfully The Tozers had dragged a new one across 4 countries for us) and Bren was able to replace it, but my lack of inspiration was out of his league to repair. The sun sucked up my every bit of resolve, and I had to sit on the side of the road with my head in my hands on more than several occasions. The honey-moon was well and truly over and reality was massive.
But the one thing I have learned since starting this trip is this; no matter what the circumstance, you will always find the strength to carry–on because there is, simply, no other choice.
We cycled 60kms that day and spent the night camped in the dusty car park of the Bomberos in Diriamba. I think we were asleep before 7pm.
As the days went on and the kilometers sped by, we got back into the swing of things and our fitness, both mental and physical, reappeared with vigor. So much so that we completely omitted to celebrate our 11,000th km! Can you believe that! The numbers just rolled over on the odometer and we didn’t even notice.
We rediscovered our touring selves on the Nicaraguan Island of Ometepe, and loaded Falkor onto the Ferry for a few days cycling around Lake Nicaragua and Volcano Concepcion. It was pretty spectacular. Easy, free beach camping and short days on the bike, albeit mostly uphill and into head-winds. Of course. But we reconnected with our purpose and settled back into the mission. Along with our natural state of stink, sigh. It had been nice to smell clean for a little while at least.
We spent our last night in Nicaragua at the infamous Bomberos of Rivas, and were saluted by a steady honking from the ‘Toña” beer truck just before we crossed the border. A fitting goodbye.
Everyone told us the roads would be better in Costa Rica. They said the temperatures would be cooler and that it would be mostly flat and down hill riding. We know better than to listen to any of this obvious garbage from people who have never ridden further than the corner shop on a BMX, but still, I was disturbed to find myself dripping with sweat and cycling up yet more hills.
Not 10km after riding over the border into Costa, our back tire blew out. The side-wall of our Schwalbe Mondial tire just exploded. We have not had great luck with endurance from Schwalbe tires on our tandem Pino. This marked what was to become the craziest series of flat tire events so far. Without going into the incredibly boring details of each event, I will summarise by saying we had 9 punctures in 6 days (8 rear, 1 front) and had the rear tire off a total of 11 times in that period. A happy boy this did not Brendon make. And needless to say, we found ourselves in dire need for spare tires & tubes. Wonderful timing to need such things in one of the most expensive countries of the journey. Luckily though, our route has been timely, taking us through some bigger towns with decent bike stores and while the quality tires that we need for touring are not easy to find, at least we have been able to keep going. And each time there has been an incident that we haven’t been able to solve ourselves, someone has magically appeared to help us out. You gotta love that.
It’s not that I expect this entire journey to be flat and downhill. I TotallyUnderstand the need for balance in this crazy cycling game, but uphill riding requires a lot of focus. And that is always easier to provide at the start of the day. These tricky hills have a way of appearing in late afternoon.
We spent a lovely few days cycling/changing tires on the rolling hills around Lake Arenal and meeting some excellent folk.
As we rode around the lake a strange noise kept haunting us, sounding as if we were regularly riding over bits of metal. Paranoid that we would get another puncture, or had broken another spoke, we kept stopping but discovered no tire intrusions or spoke failures. These regular ghost episodes kept eluding us until Bren saw a spoke leap up at his foot as we rounded a corner. The cylinder where we keep all of our spare spokes had come undone and our preciously stashed spares had been depositing themselves one by one along the road some 30km behind us. Dread.
Making a beeline (3 days late due to hills and flats) to La Fortuna to stay with our host, Esteban, we took a well-earned day off having cycled 10 days straight since Pochomil.
Esteban shared some advice on potential routes we could take, and we decided finally to stick with the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and avoid the apparently more rainy Caribbean Coastal side. We could have headed straight down the PanAmerican Hwy to the coast, but instead decided on a 4-day detour through the centre of the country and some of the steepest mountain terrain we have yet encountered. Why do that, you ask. Good question.
We thought we would take a look at Volcano Poas, 2700meter high, inside one of the countries treasured national parks. Keen to take a break from the hectic road works and extreme heat of the PanAmerican Hwy, we expected the roads on this route would be quieter with less traffic. Well, that was wrong. The roads were simply narrower with little to no shoulder to ride on, and some of the scariest drivers we have had the terror of sharing the roads with. On several occasions, motorists actually went out of their way to endanger us, with a truck even braking in front of us and then down-gearing to deliberately cover us in exhaust fumes. Red Neck much? Chalk that up to a bad day, which was swiftly liberated by a wonderful local family who deposited us at their incredible farm, and provided us with undercover camping, electricity and a bathroom. Balance is rich on the road.
We knew the next day was gonna be tough and I awoke with the same sense of dread that had accompanied me to sleep. Bren planned it as a 30km day, and knew it would be constant climbing from San Miguel to Vara Blanca, so we got an early start. The 1st 10km weren’t too bad, and I allowed myself to think we might actually smash it. Ha! It took us 7 hours to cover 1600m of vertical gain in 25km, with over 5km of that pushing the beast up some seriously long and steep sections. It’s a strange juxtaposition to hate the journey climbing to 2000m while enjoying some incredible views and scenery.
I know it seems that with every blog I give the impression of how ‘this last bit was THE hardest bit we have done so far’, but I am not making it up. You would think we would choose routes to avoid all of this, but really, would you enjoy reading the blog as much if we did?
The day ended in the location planned and I collapsed exhausted, dripping wet with rain, sweat and tears. Better than blood though right? A quick hot chocolate to lift the spirits (AND the place we stopped sold blocks Cadbury’s chocolate! Cease exhaustion immediately!), we camped on the football pitch beside the café and slept like the dead.
The next day we left the bike at the bottom of the National Park and hitch-hiked to Volcano Poas. We took an easy trek to see the crater and lagoon, both of which were totally hidden in clouds and mist. Good thing we didn’t ride the additional 15km up there. But we were still somehow glad that we made the detour, despite the fact that we weren’t able to view any part of this apparently spectacular Volcano that we had gone to ridiculous lengths to visit.
And for once when we were told the route was ‘all downhill’ to the town of Alajuela, it was true. 20km of steep winding down-hill. What a perfect time for the brakes to fail. The quality of the road was so ferocious, that Bren had to use the brakes the entire time. Of course, the brake fluid in our disc brakes TotallyOverheated leaving us no choice but to ride short 5km sessions, then stop to let the fluid cool and wait for our braking power to return.
“So what’s the back-up plan if they fail while we are riding babe?” I asked.
“Unclip from your pedals and put your foot on the wheel.” Emergency braking system -Check.
The rainy season has indeed caught up with us. This change in seasons means muggy weather climaxing until it gets so hot, that the sky has no choice but to explode into huge rain drops. It makes for tricky camping and even stinkier cycling. But it’s a fun challenge predicting what the weather will bring and has provided another avenue for problem solving.
The pace of life in Costa Rica is noticeably different. Being the only Latin American country without an army, they live by the phrase ‘Pura Vida’ literally translating as ‘Pure Life’. It has made for some great introductions and we have been enjoying some seriously chilled personalities of the ‘Ticos’ and their warm hospitality. We are used to having to ask/beg for a place to camp the night, whereas in Costa Rica, people are more likely to volunteer you hospitality before you even start to hinting.
Unless of course, you are in the town of Liberia. Or Alajuela. After receiving our first rejection of the journey from the Bomberos in Liberia, we headed to the Red Cross where I had to ignore their rejection and shamelessly beg them to let us stay there. Some people might call me stubborn, some persistent to a fault, but this was a matter of sheer desperation. After 3 flats in one day, we simply weren’t prepared to ride further.
And the town of Alajuela dolled out so many rejections (the bomberos, red cross, a super market, 2 police stations and 2 servos) we ended up staying in a brothel. Well, that’s not entirely true because a brothel is a place where you can exchange money in order to motivate a stranger to have sex with you. And while the strangers weren’t provided as part of the package at this classy joint, it was clear that this was where the major part of the transaction occurred. Needless to say, it was cheap (even though we booked a 12hour slot) and surprisingly clean. And while our room was smaller than our apartment in Tokyo, it had more mirrors than a disco ball. We slung up our tent to dry, did a load of washing, scrubbed 3 days of the sweat and dirt off and left that flop-house cleaner than when we arrived. And I don’t think many people can say that of their experiences in such places.
So now where are we? Well, we are pleased to report that we have replaced the missing spare spokes, got new tubes, adjusted and replaced the brake pads and are taking a few days rest on the Pacific Coast at Playa Hermosa. Since arriving on the coast, we have ridden approx 25km in 3 days, pottering from beach to beach and just enjoying time relaxing. Never a better time to update the blog!
From here, we have roughly 500km to the border of Panama, and we expect to spend 9 days riding straight through to Panama City, where we will organize our boat transport to Colombia.
The 10th of July marks our 12 month anniversary of our TotallyTandem journey. Can you believe that! A year of touring on our tandem bicycle! What a lot of reasons to celebrate eh! We predict we will be in Colombia – our 12th country – and will be close to our 14,000th km! As a part of this momentous occasion, we want to thank you all for supporting us on this journey. The comments on the blog and Facebook really pep us up and provide for some good thinking while we are riding. We are so grateful to everyone who supported us through Pozible in the initial stages of the trip, because it is with your collaboration that we have made it so far. We have so much love for you all.
A big fat MUCHAS GRACIAS to everyone who has contributed to our World Bicycle Relief page. It is incredible to think of what you have all achieved in 12 months by supporting this charity. So far with your donations, we have been able to supply 68 bicycles to students & workers in rural Africa. That is some serious life changing stuff people!
To commemorate our 12th months on the road, we want to encourage those of you who have been meaning to make a donation to get involved.
So we are launching a campaign to Donate $12 now to celebrate 12 TotallyTandem months on the road!
1 bike costs $134. If 12 people make this donation, we will be able to provide one whole new bike with $10 left over to add to a mechanics tool kit. You wanna be a part of that dontcha!
We are over 1/2 way there and half way through our journey.
With your help, we can reach our fundraising goals and transform the lives of so many with the power of the humble bicycle.
Some more random pics for you to enjoy from the last few weeks;