Chris wrote a few mass e-mails of our time spent traveling together. I though I´d include them as another perspective as well as giving ya'll some lengthy reading to gnaw on.
I Am sure my body and brain are still in shock from yesterdays ride. The words aren't quite coming to me yet, I'm not even trying to understand spanish right now. My number one goal today was to reach this city of Duitama and find ropa caliente- warm clothes. Until this `point, my tank top cotton shirt has been ample, and generally I was trying to keep it wet by soaking it in sinks and streams so it would keep me cool. The climate has most definitely changed for me. We entered the realm above the living yesterday where the sounds of cows and donkeys and motorcycles and salsa music was replaced with the dead still of rarefied mountain air. We entered a crisp fall climate. I started noticing the difficulty in breathing well before the mountain pass that would take me to 12,900 feet, under a an overcast sky, depriving me of the rays of the setting sun. I grew extremely hungry in my unusual fatigue, and stopped to eat a can of tuna hoping my oxygen deprived body would eat it and not my own muscle fiber- I thought of the stories of high elevation climbers and the effects of elevation on the body and mind. I really had no idea how high the climb would take me and grew a bit nervous, especially when my head started spinning a bit and the white fuzzies showed up. I pictured fluid seeping through the blood-brain barrier, and the arteriol walls into my lungs I knew, fundamentally, the best thing to do at elevation is to retreat in elevation, but I would have to summit first. I couldn't decide weather I was hot or cold as I exerted my self with increasing difficulty and decreasing velocity and experimented with my two layers- my thin bergelene shirt and my thin goretex jacket. Pedeling non-stop was no longer an option and I found my self unable to make my legs do much on steeper climbs and had no choice but to walk the bike closer to going down and away from the cold and closer to hot food. I kinda forgot what I was doing and had to keep`telling myself out loud to go forward, like I was my own horse. I pushed on and stumbled over the rough rocky road. In the highest town, before domesticated life stopped, where purple and pink blossoms indicated ripe potatoes, I found a group of ruddy cheeked Andean looking people clothed in wool hats and sweaters, sorting and washing potatoes- all I could do was stop and stare dumbly. I was losing my ability to think due to oxygen deprivation for certain. All I could think of was hot golden brown deep fried potatoes. I stopped and talked for a while with a young man on a horse, wearing a wool poncho that looked really warm. He told me the summit was near and that I would go down the rest of the way to Duitama. He also told me there was a tienda that sold arepas. My mind had already ascended the pass and was eating hot arepas in a warm store, maybe drinking a couple cold beers too. The fellow was right, it wasnt much further, under normal circumstances, but as I gasped for air and pedaled what I could and hiked mostly I found myself talking out loud a lot, just begging the road that wound around mountain tops to stop going up. I stopped a lot and stared and smiled at the shear mountain summits, the sparse but colorful mountain vegetation of sage, lupin, lilies, daisies, and hummocks of grass, clinging to the thin soil. I knew I should be cold but I wasn't anymore, wearing only my sweat soaked thermal shirt. I was in some kinda mountain zen state. Though the road twisted and disappeared in front of me I could see the power lines staring to go down- I knew I was close. I finally started feeling really cold and put my rain jacket on to hold in whatever heat I had left. The decent toward the store was about 6 kilometers and in that time my fingers, nose and toes were pretty numb, and I was feeling hypothermic and weak. When the store finally appeared around a bend on the still jagged boulder and gravel road, and I saw the orange glow of a fire inside, I smiled big. I asked for permission to enter the room where two women were baking bread on a curious wood-fire oven setup, the first of its kind Ive seen. The stone top had still white and flatish round loaves that looked like cheese wheels with a brown top and bottom- the first stage. On the sides were plump more round versions of the previous, stacked in twos and rotating rapidly on little round pedstals so as not to burn in the the direct heat of the flames. I really wasn't sure what was being made but I asked for one. They asked if I wanted it calient- did I ever! I first held the plump toasty bread wheel to warm my hands and then devoured it and to my surprise found fresh melty cheese inside- probably the single most enjoyable bread eating experience Ive ever had. I ate two more hot ones, drank a cold room-temperature beer to wash the bread down and bought two more to go for breakfast. The sun was gone now and I was shaking from cold as soon as I set foot outside- feeling fever coming on. The bright moon and white sand and smoother road allowed me to descend another 5km or so in hopes of finding warmer weather. At this point I hadnt seen Kurt in 8 hours, eye witnesses saw him miles ahead, but I thought maybe Id find his campspot. I didn't find kurt and couldn't lose any more heat to descending. I layed my tent out and slept right on top of it, with throbbing head and heart, sucking air, I waited for my sleeping bag to absorb yet more of my heat so it would loft and eventually make me warm. I was really dehydrated and out of water- the high-dry-cold mountain air may not steal your water through sweating but sucks it right out of your airways. Eventually I did warm up and sleep and the feverish feeling subsided. I awoke to the daylight and a light cold rain, and packed my belonging as fast as I could and descended as fast as I could, stopping to warm my hands in my pants and to drink stream water and eat my breakfast bread. By the time I reached town this morning it was only 9 am and within 30 minutes of lounging at a fruit stand eating bananas and mandarin oranges, up rolled Kurt. A tortoise and hair story.
He may not have seen me for several hours but I kept tabs on him. I would fall into my own pace and end up on ahead. When I hadn't seen him for a while I would stop and wait. Usually from some vantage point that I could see him a few switch backs down or coming over a distant rise. It was the chill and the cooling sweat that got me going soon as I saw that he was making progress. Though it was summit fever that had me blow right past that rural pandaria. I was feeling good and cranking out a good rhythm despite the thin oxygen and dropping temperature. I made the last saddle and stopped to wait. I walked around, jumped up and down and sang songs. I read, I shivered. 2+7* said he stopped at that last tienda (It did look warm and inviting). I couldn't wait anymore. That place was a good ways back. He is a big boy, his bike was working and he had options. It wasn´t gonna rain frozen chiwawas. I descended a few thousand feet and set up camp right on a big switch back. I didn´t figure he could pass without me hearing him rattle by. But he did.
*Word manglers note: If I though he was in any trouble what so ever, I would have gone back. In my 2+7 assessment was also: His gear- more than I carried for the entire Tour Divide. The temperature- well above freezing. Traffic and houses- fairly consistent. Chance of storm- pretty much none. Time of day- late afternoon with hours of light left.
And bit further down the road:
Finding the perfect campsite at the end of a long day requires a bit of perfect timing and luck. The desired site will offer refuge from noise and the beating morning sun. It will offer a water source for cooking evening and morning meals, and some form of bathing which I enjoy before I retire to my solo man cave for my daily reflection, reading writing and rest. Hopefully the rest subsides to a continuous sleep until either my urge for the morning roast or bowel movement move me first. The search begins when the star that lights our world shows signs of retiring for the day (at least in this part of the rock i reside). Strange as it may seem, the sun has been setting at about 6:30. Being this close to the equator, I had no real idea of what season it would be upon arrival and what weather patterns to anticipate let alone the time of the sunset. I knew we would be upon a cusp of the inverted patterns of the Southern Hemisphere relative to the North, of my known existence. It turns out there are really two predominant seasons (estaciones del ano), invierno and verano (winter and summer), and logically if it is summer up home I knew that if I continued south enough it would be winter, and since I’ve lived in Florida for the past two winters I was looking forward to some snow and briskness. What I didn’t realize was that here in the center of the country, still a few degrees north of the equatorial boundary, winter is beginning. At lower elevations this means rainy season, at high elevations as I found out as I watched some misty precipitation trying really hard to be sleet, that it would mean people dressed like they were going to a football game, that is if they wore wool ponchos to football games. Farm animals are also endowed in winter coats. Even the Pigs had long pink wooly coats.
After suffering through the hot and now having cold thrust on me, my body and wardrobe had to go through changes. I still shaking a phlemy cough. I had to remember how to layer clothing again, and find a perfect combination for physical exertion- for going uphill vs going downhill. I bought a nice microfleece hoodie and a beautiful hand knit sheep wool hat (gorro de lana oveja) and some cheap rubberized work gloves. On the climb up to Lago Tota, I stripped layers off down to my cotton tank top and remained as such in the rising morning sun, as a numerous local cycle group passed me in pairs and lone ascenders. After a couple thousand feet of continous ascending (my body adapting but not yet fully adapted to the diet air), despite my high respiration rate I was starting to cough up the cold air that I tried so hard to oxygenate my blood with and had to add a layer. By the time we reached the summit at lago Tota, and lounged around at the cyclist café I was wearing everything I had and still downing hot water and honey to keep warm. We had the opportunity to converse with one of the cyclist for a long while who spoke good English and joined him and a small group for a partial circumnavigation of the lake. It certainly felt like a crisp late fall bike ride around a mountain lake where little local Andean farm people in ponchos and felt hats, harvested their pink purple and white blossoming potato crops and onion cropsThere was also a fair compliment of peas growing up their strings and sticks. I couldn’t help but think of a hot onion and tater soup with cheesy bread floating on top. Fury cows and horses and mules and pigs and wooly puffy sheep lazily grazed or just stood in still motion in response to the windy cold- their shag and manes playing in the gusts. With an optimal clothing selection I comfortably lazily rode and gazed around the emerald waters below, picturing the trout slowly scanning its cold oxygen rich depths, and picturing me dragging a worm in front of their faces. In reality most of the trout industry is farm raised in little floating pens. I didn’t see anyone fishing in dugout canoes like in the Magdalena River valley.
We decided to head toward my current location of Miraflores, a relaxed but lively picturesque vacation mountain town, just out of reach of the hubbub of the Urban centers of Bogota and Tunja. With two hours of sunlight left we were in campsite procurement mode but still had plenty of brisk riding left. A climb out of the lake cauldron and into the land of mystical mountain majesty brought us into a sheer rocky valley that played with clouds like toys, first thrusting them up, splitting them in half, and capturing pieces to spin into cotton candy between their summits. Climbing ever higher we eventually arrived within a cloud and cycled up rugged rock in an alpine wonderland of condensation encrusted flowers and mossy boulders and stunted trees. Jagged pyramidal shaped peaks took turns showing their summits as the clouds split and swirled in this ethereal world of massive noiseless forces. The summit relinquished a descent to top all previous descents in steepness and rockiness. With brakes nearly fully engaged we made our controlled skidding thumping way in the diminishing foggy light down this stream bed that passes for an Andean Mountain road. Kurt scoped a pasture immediately near an unoccupied home. At that moment, to our astonishment, a public transportation bus scaled up this eroded roadway- a ride on this bus wouldn’t be magical or mysterious but more like being a kernel in a popcorn machine or a ping pong ball in a select 5 number lottery. we set up tents in the few flat unshatupon pieces of property. The resident cows here would have to be the most athletically fit in Colombia to locate decent grass in this precipitous switchback slope that serves as pastureland. The river valley was clearly audible below us but totally obscured in fog, but it could have been another hour thumping in twilight down to it and by then dark would make camping procurement even more difficult, so we settled for relatively clear drainage ditch water to do the cooking. The thing with a campsite like this is that it becomes very difficult to pack up and leave when you awake to cloud severing summits high up in Gods country, and the sun warms your cold nose in the incipient hours of the day and dark Colombian coffee sipping and reading literature and reveling in existence take precedent. Cycling just seems like a way to find the next meal or campspot sometimes, and what for when you have a perfectly good one. Of course we are technically trespassing when we take up temporary residence and really, you can only drink so much coffee and read so much and revel so much until the urge to move on takes the saddle and rides to the next tienda filled town.
It was sometime during the morning decent that became less steep but no less rocky, that I investigated the rattle coming from behind me on my bike. I certainly pushed the luggage rack beyond its useful limits and fractured the outer aluminum tubing that is luckily still supported by internal steel rods and my added cord lashing. The rack is still there and serving its purpose bu the rattling is also still there but at least I know the noise now. It was the unfamiliar clicking yesterday afternoon that miffed my limited bike mechanic knowledge (anyone’s knowledge is limited in comparison to Kurt) and ended in a self destruction of my rear gear cluster (the cogs in the back that make my wheel go round). I walked a couple miles to Miraflores. As of now I have broken one rear axle, bent one badly, destroyed the bearings in my rear hub, replaced my bent rear wheel with one of more durable construction to solve the bearing and axle issues all in one, scrapped two pairs of pedals (I now rock translucent purple plastic platforms) , torn and repaired my severely sun damaged Sunlite brand cordura (waterproof drybag material) saddle bags, seriously damaged my top of the line Explorer rear rack which will be decommissioned in Bogota if it makes it, and now, even to the astonishment of the seasoned bike touring Kurt, exploded my gears. Luckily my bike is extremely standard and all repuestos (parts) are easily and cheaply repaired. Turns out all the weaknesses in my rig that Kurt forsaw have met there doom in the realm of mountain gnar. I will strip what’s left of the bike and leave its carcass here, returning home with nothing more than some carryon- easy come easy go.
Yea, Chris was ill prepared, improperly equipped and tended to fling himself and his things in all directions. He is a large presence, queefs a cloud of debauchery and whimsical aspiration and grinds a peculiar metaphysical cud. Also happens to love coffee as much as I do (almost). All that said, Chris is also an intelligent, patient and thoughtful person. I know he´ll be jumping into all sorts of adventurous things through out his life. He is a great dude and I will miss him.
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