Monday, November 27, 2017

Colombia day 18: getting into hot water via buckets of cold water

Today's ride went up. And up. And up.

Getting out of Manizales was exciting, as they don't do shallow inclines in the slightest. We plummetted down to the main road to Letras, the famous high pass to the west of the city as featured regularly in Veluta Colombia and known as The Longest Climb In The World. That's with regards to the Eastern side, which we'll have the joy of descending tomorrow. But first we had to summit it. 

We decided not to crawl up the main road but instead take a secondary road, that passes by some thermal spring areas on the edge of the volcano range we were hiking on 2 days ago.
We were encouraged at first to see a group of 8 road cyclists heading up past us: suggests paved roads! An hour later we passed them again coming back down. They'd reached the end of paved roads no doubt. Indeed at 13km mark the road gave way to gravel, which we'd be on for the remaining 12km to our destination for the day. The maths is pretty simple from here: 12km across and 1200m vertical assent, so a 10% average grade. Fortunately it didn't fluctuate too much, a few flatter bits and a few ramps in the 13-15% area but otherwise very constant.

By 15km the mist had turned to light rain, and another km it got heavier. Only the second time we'd needed to don rain jackets this tour, which is not bad for 18 days in rainy season! At 20km / 3000m elevation, there was a short flatter bit where water was really starting to pool up in giant muddy puddles, then it went steeply up again. As I shifted back into lowest gear there was a BANG and the pedals went limp under us. Broken chain. Fortunately we'd packed spares for such an eventuality so was only a few minutes job to pull out the mangled link and put in a quick link to replace it.
As we crept upwards we could feel the air getting thinner and breathing more difficult. The temperature also dropped to 7C, along with the heavy rain we were starting to get pretty cold if we stopped. Keep moving to keep warm! Thankfully the rain never turned torrential - not enough to form rivers in the ripio - so it was quite manageable even with occasional patches of slippery muddy sections.

At last the Termales Ruiz hotel and hot springs came into view! A glad sight. Just as we were checking in, a large group of French pensioners rolled in. The same group we saw at the coffee farm doing a tour yesterday afternoon! We're clearly still on the gringo trail then, despite our adventurous routing choices of the day. We'll try the springs and sleep here today, then head over the top of the pass tomorrow at about 4000m! The highest point of our tour, and all down hill from here to Bogotá (except we dipn below its height and will need to reclimb 4500m back up to it...)

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