(WARNING, this is not your usual blog)
The mind is a powerful place.
If you can’t control it, your body is at the mercy of your fears with your future being driven by your worst anxieties.
Which is precisely why it is important to keep your thoughts in the present and not dashing off to the past or whizzing off to future possibilities.
With majority of our days being spent pedaling, I am aware, perhaps for the first time in my life, of the exact moments when my thoughts start to wander. I have a lot of time to think, so I can track my thoughts back to where they started and consider the reasons for their sauntering. It’s a confronting practice.
So I try to keep my thoughts in the present. But here in Colombia, it is hard not to notice the looming mountain ranges that grow bigger every day. It’s the start of the Andes, so I believe. And I have noticed it is increasingly difficult to keep a hold of my roving mind. My thoughts quickly fill with dread and those pesky demons creep in. The noise of my thoughts sound a bit like this;
“Those are HUGE mountains, Em” the demons tell me. “We know you have ridden some hard stuff before, but this is gonna be chaos girl! Are you sure you can do it? Aren’t your knees already aching? Seriously, look at those mountains? There is range after range after range! It’s endless! It will be like this all the way until you get to Chile you know. Do you really think you will be able to ride up to 4000m above sea level? We think you should catch a bus.”
As if riding wasn’t hard enough without having to deal with these pessimistic loiterers!
But I know that somehow, we will be able to do it. It’s true that some of the craziness we have already ridden has simply appeared without any advertisement. Those are probably the best times because the mind doesn’t have any expectations. You can trick it into thinking “well, this must be over soon” and you just keep pedaling through the unknown. But when there is a clear visual obstacle and plentiful promotion of the difficulties ahead, well, it’s just plain harder to manage. Those niggling doubts need constant surveillance and maintenance to keep them in check.
So clearly in order to cope, this section of riding has to be chopped into smaller bit sized pieces. The kind of size that I can section my thoughts into, only allowing them to wander within these strict borders I set.
So it’s like this. We are currently in Popayan-Colombia; 1,760 m (5,770 ft) above sea level. Our next major goal is to Quito-Ecuador 2,800m (9,350 feet) above seal level. It’s roughly 600km of climbs and descents. It’s the descents that piss you off the most as a cyclist on this kind of mission. We will climb up to 2000m several times in this section, and of course, then go down to under 1000m and have to climb all the way back up again. You tell yourself you do it for the views and cut your thoughts off right there.
On an average day with mostly flat terrain, we like to ride 70-80km (with average speeds between 25-35kmph). It gives us time to rest well and enjoy the riding, stopping to chat, eat ice-cream and not having to feel rushed in order to make camp before nightfall. Also, we usually don’t know where we will stay. So we like to arrive in a good location with an hour or so to suss out a safe place to spend the night (when I say ‘suss out’ I mean convince someone to let us camp for free on their property. This can take some time.)
But climbing steep mountains? Well, bring the km average down to 40-50km a day with speeds between 5-12kmph. And that reeeeeally depends on the gradient and the length of the climbs, the condition of the road and of course, the heat & wind.
So getting back to our next goal of Quito-Ecuador, 600km. If it was mostly flat, we could smash it in about 8 days. But flat it aint. We don’t know the exact gradients and altitudes, but we are planning on being realistic, and we reckon it could take us nearly 2 weeks. We HOPE to make it before September 4th….perhaps we are being overly cautious with time? Perhaps not cautious enough? Only time will tell.
We arrived in Colombia on 1st July and have ridden roughly 1200km in 7 weeks. Which is a long time for a short distance. We have enjoyed Colombia immensely and have adapted easily to the pace of life here. The classic Colombian saying “El tiempo es demasiado corto. Quédate!” (the time is too short, stay longer) has rung true with us and instead of our usual 2 nights maximum in 1 place, we have found ourselves falling in love fast and staying for weeks at a time in one spot. Colombians can come up with an incredible list of reasons to stay another night; ‘tomorrow is the festival, you can’t miss it’ (FYI there is ALWAYS a festival, everywhere), ‘you haven’t tried this special food yet’, ‘my friend is a cyclist and he is coming tomorrow, you have to stay to meet him’, ‘the best arepas are made here but they are not open until tomorrow, you have to stay another night’, ‘you must rest more, the hills are too much for you tomorrow’…..its hilarious and we are easily convinced. And it really IS always a better idea to stay another night.
It’s just been too wonderful, and the time has slipped away from us.
As much as we would love to stay with Family Ochoa in Popayan for another week, the road beckons. And without letting our minds wander too far ahead of us, here is a look at the TotallyTandem road ahead;
After making it to Quito, the upcoming goal is to make it to Cusco-Peru (approx 3000km from Quito) before the end of Oct so we can try to beat the rainy season for our hike to Machu Pichu. It looks as though that won’t be a problem, but to make it to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia (Salt Plains 1500km from Cusco) before the rainy season is another task. And we reeeeally want to ride the salt plains, so we have to get a move on.
So trying to stay present is getting much harder these days. The last few paragraphs involve around 5000km of tough cycling ahead…..Now, deep breath, try to remain in the present and turn those pedals, one crank at a time.
As always, some pictures from the road;
And my latest hobby is taking photos of people taking photos of us. Colombia has provided a bountiful booty of snaps, and this is not even half!