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.