To Conquer the Earth Itself

It seems you are often told in life that the most important part of accomplishing your goals is the journey it takes to get there. I can now definitively assure you that it is indeed character-building to bike from sea-level to nearly 14,000 ft in three days. Yes, you read that correctly! Three straight days of grueling, uphill movement at a snail’s pace to reach Cajas National Park near Cuenca, Ecuador.

For now, though, let us start at the beginning. The Troll Boys rode out of Guayaquil early on the morning of September 11th, skirting the busy highways out of the city by passing through the nature reserve on nearby Isla Santay, accessible on both sides via large bridges suitable for pedestrians or bikers.

Passing through many towns in the flat-lands on their journey to the mountains, the Troll Boys made sure to stock up well on food and water, and found their first opportunities to wallow a little before beginning their arduous climb the next day.

Perhaps there are those among you who are familiar with the agony of trudging up a steep mountain in exhausting 25-minute increments while carrying nearly 85 lbs of weight, all the while knowing that tomorrow will be exactly the same. Jon tried to warn Cody and I, as he had experience biking in the mountains on his previous trip from Mexico to Argentina with our good friends Kai Ashland and Ben Harney. But nothing really prepares you like experience itself.

Bike touring tip #2: Never be ashamed to walk your bike if necessary.

It was simply impossible for our leg muscles to pedal endlessly up the mountain, and it soon became clear that any forward movement was important. For the most part, we split our exercise into segments of 25 minutes that we called God’s own ratio for it’s ability to test the limits of our mental and physical endurance. These segments consisted of 13 minutes of biking, then 5 minutes of walking, followed by a final 7 minutes of biking before a well-earned break.

Our first night of camping brought us to a small village centered around a newly-built school, where the locals generously shared their freshly ground coffee and beautiful views over our early climb and the lights of Guayaquil far in the distance.

Our second day of climbing at nearly 4 miles an hour brought us to a beautiful panaroma at lunchtime, where we got an important energy boost with Gatorades and seco de pollo (chicken and rice). In the evening, we chatted to a curious farmer who allowed us to camp on his land, not far away from his equally inquisitive cows.

On the third and final day of the upward slog, we finally reached Cajas National Park, a frigid park with breathtaking lakes, free of the ubiquitous trash found lower on the mountain. This was a night of celebration as we ate delicious trout and played hide-and-seek with two delightful four-year-old girls at the cabin next to our campsite. Our spirits were high at 4002 meters of altitude, a little over 13,000 feet.

In the morning, we accomplished the few hundred feet in half an hour, and we went whizzing downhill to Cuenca in an hour and a half. We surely felt like we earned that downhill, but it was strange that each day of climbing up a mountain only translated to 30 minutes of flying back down.

Bike touring tip #3: Test your brakes before heading downhill. Also, expect to be cold while traveling quickly down a mountain.

The Troll Boys rolled safely into Cuenca and celebrated their heroic feats with a hot shower and a cold beer, looking forward to the rest days in warm and comfortable beds to come!


Before signing off, I want to leave you a poem I wrote about our experience thus far.


To Conquer the Earth Itself

By Ryson Stuart

Where the cool mountain wind gently rustles the wild grasses and soothes my struggling spirit,

I sit for an eternal moment and behold the wise and craggy visages of the rocky giants who gaze back unflinchingly,

Unmoved by either my plea for mercy or the stirrings of civilization that adorn their slopes like a pearly necklace.

Above, I see a distant bird floating high on thermal winds, and I set my determination to conquer myself and the earth itself,

That my spirit, too, may soar.


Hola, familia y amigos! Welcome to the beginning of a three-month bike adventure through Ecuador and Colombia with Cody, Jon, and Ryson, often called the Troll Boys (both for the inevitable pungent odor we will produce, and for the bikes we are riding, Surly Trolls).


Our journey starts in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the largest city in Ecuador with a population of 3.5 million, and the primary trading port along the Pacific Ocean. After arriving at the airport at midnight, we stayed up through the night to build our bikes in an obscure corner so as to avoid the inconvenience and potential danger of finding a hostel late at night.

Bike touring tip #1: Safety comes first! Never make dangerous or rash decisions for the excitement of adventure, as nothing will end your adventure more quickly.

The next morning saw a desperate search for a place to nap, and after resting up, our first ventures into town for food and sight-seeing. Our research into places to go brought us to the Malecón 2000, a new boardwalk overlooking the bay area as well as offering views of the lighthouse on Santa Ana hill, which legend says is the site of Guayaquil’s founding.

In the evening, we finished recuperating and planned the first stretch of our journey, a grueling climb from sea-level through the mountains to reach Cajas National Park and Cuenca. Anxious to begin the following morning, the Troll Boys ride!

Following the Wallow

Three young men set out on a journey across Ecuador and Colombia, always in search of the next paradise where they can wallow in adventure (and hot springs) to their heart’s content.


Meet Cody Wagner, 24, graduate of the University of Iowa and esteemed industrial engineer. Cody is the brains of the group, solving mechanical problems on a daily basis, and utilizing his lifetime of experience with camping to smooth the rigors of biking through wild terrain.

Next is Jonathan Williams, 25, graduate of Luther College, and instructor at NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). Jon has extensive training in outdoor recreation, bringing invaluable experience and knowledge from both his career and his previous six-month bike trip. Jon is also trained in emergency response care, rounding out his responsibilites as medic and bike technician.

Last is Ryson Stuart, 24, also a graduate of Luther College, and aspiring writer. As media specialist for the trip, Ryson hopes to keep family and friends informed (and hopefully entertained) as Jon and Cody carry all his stuff across South America. Ryson also brings his meager knowledge of how to string sentences together in Spanish to serve as primary translator for the group.

These three young adventurers set out on September 9th for their flight from Chicago to the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. After checking and double-checking their gear and packing their bikes in large cardboard boxes, the boys are off and ready to go!