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April 23rd, 2012 | Colombia

The Ride to Cali… Sometimes the Road is King…!!

We were up early, and wanted to get on the road as quickly as possible…

Our plans were somewhat thwarted by the deep slumber of our hosts…!! Fabio and I got the bikes out into the street, and we loaded all our gear and were ready to ride, but still the house and the rooms upstairs were silent… Eventually, Tom went upstairs to wake Dario, to tell him we were going…!!

We had the bikes outside and ready by 7.00am... Tom's bike had to exit via the front door of the house, which I found rather amusing...!! I had ridden through the front doors of hotels before, but never seen a bike actually taken through the front doors of a house, and parking in the living room...!!

He hurried downstairs, pulling on clothes as he sleepily greeted us and looked around to see if the house wasn’t on fire…!!

We rode out to a nearby filling station where we refueled, (giving Fabio a “told you I’d make it to Pasto” signal while the Big Fella gurgled happily as he drank deeply from the pump…!!)

Dario informed us that his parents were on their way and wanted to have a final cup of coffee with us before we took off… Although we wanted to be on our way, with what people said would be at least an 8 hour ride to Cali, we could hardly refuse…!! They had been such willing and friendly hosts, that we actually would have liked to get to know them better…

Breakfast with our hosts in Pasto.... Wonderful people who wanted us to stay longer... But the road to Cali was calling....!!

And so began one of the worst rides I have ever made on the Big Fella…!!

The road out of Pasto immediately began climbing up into the mountains surrounding the town… Having left later than we had hoped to, we started out riding quicker than usual, and that might have been the problem, but in hindsight, wasn’t really…

Those of you who ride bikes on a regular basis, will know that sometimes things just don’t “feel” right… Today was one of those for me…

After covering over 150 000 km on the Big Fella, I think it is safe to say that I intuitively know what my bike is doing under me… I know exactly where the power kicks in when I need it to; I feel every vibration and immediately analyse conditions when those vibrations change in any way…

I know for instance that after the few falls I have had, that the frame is slightly buckled, and the bike does not sit as upright as it did when it left the factory in Germany…!! I have to sit very slightly to the right to ride it in the vertical… My handlebars are also slightly twisted after hitting the wall in Ethiopia, but I have adapted my riding style to this…

Today it was just a combination of many things, all coming together at once, that quickly made me realise I was in for a difficult ride, and once my mind went in that direction, things fell apart rather quickly…

I am a firm believer that when riding a bike, (which is inherently more dangerous than riding a car), your mind needs to be in the right place, otherwise, you’re looking for trouble…!! There are just too many things that you need to be completely focused on, especially when you are trying to negotiate a difficult mountain pass at speeds that allow no room for error…!!

I found it trouble in spades on the road to Cali…

This dormant volcano stands brooding just outside Pasto....

Over 200 km of sheer "hell" lay ahead of me...!!

It began with us overshooting a few tight and dangerous curves, where I almost put the Big Fella down when I tried to correct a slide from the rear end… After that, things got worse… Fabio, a born racer, shot off into the distance, as usual, making riding look simpler than walking…

The Big Fella felt strangely sluggish under me, the acceleration a split second off where I needed it to be went I went through corners and straightened up…. I chose the wrong lines into bends, nearly losing control on entries as well as exits…

I found it hard to concentrate, and let Tom go past me, so I could try to pull myself together without the additional effort required to keep up with Fabio… They soon disappeared into the distance, around another series of twisting bends, that hugged the mountain on one side and plunged into deep crevasses on the other…

This was not a section of road that you wanted to make a mistake on…!! And I kept making them…!!

A mistake on this road could see the "no claim bonus" on your medical aid insurance, quickly become a thing of the past...!!

My mind started imagining all sorts of things…

The bike had become unbalanced somehow; the tyres were pumped too hard or had deflated and were too soft; the front shock was set too hard… The list went on and on, and it eventually felt as though I was on someone else’s bike…!!

Hanging behind Tom, as we make our way over another big viaduct, that joins one range of mountains to the next...

Try as I might, I could not find the confidence that I usually rode with, and after the umpteenth time of running too wide out of a sharp corner, I gave up trying to dominate this mountain road with its dangerous curves and steep drop-offs, and decided that today, I would let the road be “king”…

I sensed that if I pushed too hard, with my mind out of “whack”, I was more than likely to end my journey here in the mountains of southern Colombia…

Fabio and Tom were waiting for me near the top of a steep pass, and when I came up to them, they signaled to ask if I was OK… I shook my head and indicated that I was not…

They hung back behind me for a while, and I tried again to get my head and the bike dialed in to the ride, but I guess I tried too hard, because not too long afterward, I nearly came off again, this time seeing a patch of gravel on a sharp corner, too late to avoid it, and felt the front end skip away to my left, the Big Fella almost throwing me out of the saddle as we struggled to correct the slide…

I shook my head after nearly colliding with the barrier on the far side of the road, and indicated for my friends to pass me… Today was just not my day…

Up onto the plateau that indicated we had completed the first section of the climb to Popayan... The scenery was spectacular, but I had other things on my mind... Like staying alive...!!

I rode the next section at maybe 75% of the speed I would usually have, trying to find my confidence and balance again, but it was no use… I made just as many errors of judgement as before…

Not satisfied that it had bested me, the road to Popayan continued to bully me, all the way to Rosas, where we stopped for lunch…

I got off the Big Fella and stared at him for a long time, exasperated at the terrible ride we had just made…

“What the heck’s wrong with us today, my friend…!! We’re riding like it was our first time together…!!”

For once, I received no reply from my usually garrulous companion… This in itself confirmed that we were not on the same page…!!

Fabio and Tom were also at a loss for words at the poor performance I was putting in… Usually I was up there with Fabio, giving it gas and riding as well as my abilities would allow me, and sometimes a little more than that…!!

“Yesterday you ride so well in the mountains…!! What isa wrong today…??” asked Fabio…

“I was reading Ted Simon’s book last night,” Tom said, “and he says this stretch from Pasto to Popayan, is the most dangerous road in Colombia…!!”

“Ah, well that makes me feel a lot better…!!” I replied sarcastically… I was not in the best of moods, which Tom would later describe to Patricia as “grumpy”…!!

We stopped to check out the stuff that was drying in the sun next to a small village... It seemed to be a yeast of some kind, judging by the sweet, but pungent smell...!!

The place where we had stopped was a renowned hotspot for the F.A.R.C. rebels, who although were a spent force, still maintained a few areas where the government was not particularly popular…!!

“Do not stop in Rosas…!!” we had been told, “It is dangerous…!!”

As usual, the only dangerous thing was the possibility of eating something that would later disagree with your stomach…!! We had a great meal, and chatted to the locals, before heading on towards Popayan…

The road surface had been quite bumpy in places up to then, large cracks that had been repaired, leaving ridges that stood proud of the rest of the surface, making for uneven grip…

In some places, the road was under repair, and we had to tip-toe through diversions where single, narrow strips of dirt or mud, joined the better parts of the road together…

These little obstructions did little to improve my lack of rhythm, and my muttering continued unabated…!!

"Don't look now Pedro, but there's a bloody big bike right behind us, and the rider is wearing a face like thunder...!! Let him pass us when the excavator is through with opening the road...!!"

Tom picks his away across a flooded section of the road...

After the terrible ride I had made to this point, things improved, and we were able to tear after Fabio and ride point again for long sections of the highway....

I did have the good sense to realise that most of my problems lay within my head, and stopped myself from blaming the bike, instead, mumbling the odd word of encouragement, and reminding him that we had “conquered” much harder roads than this one in the past…

I cast my eyes heavenward, and said, “I know YOU’RE busy, I’ve checked YOUR schedule…. But please get me to Cali in one piece…!!”…

Somebody was listening, because shortly after we cleared Popayan, the road opened onto a dual carriageway, wide enough to allow little mistakes to be corrected, and we made very good time over the last 130 km to Cali…

We ran into the late afternoon traffic, and spent a long time trying to find the hotel that Tom had discovered in his guide-book…

Eventually, after pulling over to ask directions for the fourth or fifth time, a young couple on a scooter, offered to guide us there…

We wound our way through the busy streets of the city, stuck in traffic jams that had us sweating profusely… Drivers that pulled up[ alongside us, asked the usual questions while we waited for lights to change, taking the edge off our impatience…

We were lucky to find a very friendly young couple to guide us to our hotel... Imagine if everybody was so helpful...!! The world would be a wonderful place, huh...??

Our digs in Cali... Not bad for a trio of scruffy looking bikers...!!

We discovered that the Pensione Stein, was also the Swiss ambassador to Colombia’s residence, and rode up the steep driveway and into the parking lot, where the ambassador himself came out to greet and welcome us…!!

I took one look at the place and decided that it was going to be too expensive to stay at…!!

Tom and Fabio went inside check on the rates and do a little negotiating… I began checking on hotels nearby, using a combination of Gi-Gi’s advice and the suggestions of the security guard…

Tom managed to secure a room that suited our budgets and I began the offloading process, rivers of sweat pouring off me as I did so…

I was glad that the ride was at an end, and still unsure why it had gone so badly for us…

The “Hotel” is a beautiful mansion, perched on a steep hill in the northern part of the city…

It is one of the better places I have stayed in while in South America, and the three of us shared a room to spread the costs…

The interior of the public areas is all wood paneling and paintings of European scenes… As I trudged to our room with armfuls of luggage, I noted that this establishment must be run with a “tight fist”… Everything was spotless and in its place… Very Swiss…!!

Fabio and I begin the unpacking process... It had been a long, hot day, filled with "botherations"...!!

The hotel is very popular with young couples who have come to Colombia to adopt children… There were four individual couples with very young Colombian children in tow, staying there when we checked in… They used the Pension Stein as a base while they settled all the red tape that is obviously involved with adoption, and spent their down time bonding with their children…

While Tom headed for the pool, Fabio and I fiddled about with our bikes, and I discovered something which had me saying, “Ah…. So that’s what’s been ailing us….!!”

It's the bloody Ohlins again...!! Show me to the nearest river, please...!!

Your next stop is in a garbage bin, my friend...!! No more money wasted on repairing you...!! You're just aren't up to the task...!! In the words of Donald Trump: "You're fired...!!"

The hose connecting the oil reservoir to the pre-load adjustment had broken off at some point, and had perhaps been dripping oil onto the tyre, which, as you can imagine, made cornering on a twisting mountain road, a little tricky…!!

Fabio felt that the actual shock and handling was not affected, and although I do not have the expertise to argue with him, my mind was grasping for any good reason to explain the poor handling I had experienced all day…!!

We then tested the tyre pressures and discovered that both front and back tyres were well under the pressures I usually rode them at…!!

In part, these two things explained why I had struggled today, but I also had to give “credit” to the fact that my mind had not been on the ride either, and that combined to make it a day to forget…!!

In ending this post, I must say that the scenery we rode through today was magnificent, and we all agreed that Colombia was a bikers paradise… It had everything to test both rider and machine, both tough mountain passes as well as smooth trouble-free highways…

Although we had been told that the roads were usually clogged with traffic and that you could not ride at the speeds that we had become used to further south, we had disproved this…!! When we needed to, we could still ride very quickly, covering between 80 and 100 km in any given hour if we had to…

While Fabio and Tom went off to dine out at a local restaurant, I stayed behind to try to catch up on all the posts I still needed to write… It was going to be a long night…!!

©GBWT 2012

1 comment to The Ride to Cali… Sometimes the Road is King…!!

  • Vince

    I can’t imagine an oily tire and badly preloaded shock being any fun what so ever on such a road… Glad you managed not only to survive, but also snap us some lekker photos of that stunning place. brmmm brmmm

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