Monday, June 6, 2011

Mountain Kings

 "El Rey de las montañas" is what they call the most famous Colombian cyclist, Martin "Cochise" Rodriguez, who managed some incredible dominance of the Tour de France's mountain stages in the Sixties. Paisa cyclists have always had the edge in mountain stages, as cycling in Antioquia mandates the exploration (and consequent climbing) of its innumerable hills and peaks.

Elizabeth and I selected a route marked "easy" from a local cycling site, 95 km in total, but not the longest distance I've ever ridden. Basically, there are two ways to get to the Eastern plateau above Medellín, The Las Palmas Highway and the Medellín Bogota Highway. The former has a nefarious reputation for breaking wills as well as rupturing lungs as its 17 km climb twists and turns along one of the most beautiful views of the city. We opted for the MDE-BOG Hwy route due to its more gradual climb. Unfortunately, we opted to leave at midday, subjecting us to the harsh rays of the sun during our ascent.

Eliz and I had done hills in the area before, but nothing like this: 2 1/2 hours of solid climbing, with very few changes in the grade. Sweat was pouring out of us faster than we could ingest liquids. We saw some smarter cyclists who had made the ascent early in the morning enjoying the midday sun on their coast back down to Medellín. Every turn we took, I expected to see the summit, only to be dissapointed by another switchback, it was pretty miserable. At one point, after reaching a tunnel, we agreed that if we didn't reach the summit on the next turn, we would head back.

Sure enough we reached the top and had to pull over at a gas station to hydrate, as well as dry off some of our sweat that instantly chilled us as we started our descent onto the plateau (I stuffed a bunch of TP from the gas station into my jersey). We were rewarded with 20km of easy riding and beautiful sights from Guarne to Llanogrande, upon reaching the lake of La Fe, where we hit a significantly difficult uphill. After trying to unsuccessfully flag buses and trucks to take us up the last stretch, we came upon an antiques dealer with a truck willing to drop us off at the toll point, just half a km short of the great descent that is Las Palmas. (click for vid)

Las Palmas wasn't nearly as fun as it should have been, as it was already nighttime, it was cold and we were cautious heading down. We hit speeds I've never before reached on bike, that must have been at least 35-40 mph but I wasn't really able to properly enjoy it. My hands were cramping and losing circulation from the cold and braking, it was made clear that going up these hills was best early in the morning and going down was best enjoyed in the mid-day heat. We stopped for arepas and hot chocolate with cheese at the mirador, just to give ourselves a break.

Depsite our unpreparedness, I was really proud of what we accomplished, a ride harder than any either of us had ever attempted and experiencing what every real paisa cyclist has done: conquered las vuelta del Oriente.

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