Travels with my bicycle

(Please note pictures can now all be viewed full screen just by clicking on them)

Given that I’ve started getting messages asking whether I’m ok, thought I’d better do my first post from being on the road.

An easy way to get started is with some stats for the first 8 days:

  • Number of days cycled – 6
  • Number of kilometres cycled – 253
  • Total metres climbed – 7887
  • Total metres descended – 7788
  • Max altitude reached – 2883 metres
  • Number of meals given to me by random strangers – 4 (one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner, plus a bunch of bananas). And that’s not counting the numerous places I’ve stopped and had my water bottles refilled.
  • Numbers of offers of accomodation – 2
  • Number of friendly encounters on the road – countless

It’s been an incredible start, and everything I had hoped for (and something I hadn’t but more about that later). I set off last Sunday from Medellin, saying goodbye to my friend Omar, and hitting the road.

It was great to leave Medellin on a Sunday, as the main motorway South is closed for a long section every Sunday for cyclists. I shared the road with many many cyclists, most of them wondering what the crazy foreigner was up to with all that luggage..

Being Sunday, there were loads of cyclists on other roads too, and I began to get used to calls of encouragement from them and motorcyclists as I trudged up the hills. It wasn’t long before I was in a different world entirely.

The roads that I’ve been taking this week have mostly been tracks, which, whilst offering glorious cycling without cars, can sometimes be a tad challenging, particularly when going uphill.

Having tried and failed to get decent maps in Medellin, navigation has been by using a combination of Google Maps and an app called Maps.me. It’s worked fairly well most of time, although in South America Google hasn’t yet configured maps to show which routes are passable by bike, and the gradient indications are often hopelessly wrong. Streetview certainly helps in avoiding the roads that will have lots of traffic.

Within a few days I was in the most incredible countryside. Again, I was expecting Colombia to be beautiful, but had no idea it was going to be this spectacular.

I looked and looked, but she was nowhere to be seen.

Of course there has to be a down side to such views, and that’s having to cycle up them to get there! The downside I’ve mentioned is that, whilst I can get up the climbs, I’ve found my gearing is not optimal for me. When matched with the quantity of luggage I’m carrying (25kgs) on a bike weighing 17 kgs (a £1000 race bike generally weighs less than 10 kgs), I can only manage ascents that sometimes average 10% over several kilometres in short stints of a few hundred metres at a time.

I had previously test ridden with luggage, but underestimated just what a constant climb of 25kms can do to you!  A quick look through cyclist’s posts on the internet showed that my gearing was way higher than most other tourers on my kind of bike. Thankfully the good people at Thorn Cycles were fantastic in their service and there is a new front chainring waiting for me when I reach the next town tomorrow. That should make things an awful lot easier. Apart from that (which was my fault entirely) the bike hasn’t missed a beat. It’s been incredible and I love riding it.

I’ve also been stopped on more than one occasion by other cyclists wanting to know about it, and sometimes even giving it a go themselves. Again, big credit to my Spanish school for getting me to the stage where I can have these conversations (and where I can speak to DHL in Colombia in Spanish about import duties for cycle parts!).

The people of Colombia have also lived up to their reputation. I’ve been welcomed into people’s houses and given food, been offered contacts to stay with around the country, and generally been embarrassed by the generosity I’ve been shown.

I’ve not taken anyone up on the accomodation offers as I’ve been staying in little hotels in small towns that I’ve pre-booked the night before. Some of the towns are beautiful old colonial towns, nestled in the hills. Each one has a main square, usually teeming with life, and sometimes with magnificent churches (the two below are in towns with populations of under 15 000). The towns are built into or on top of hills, so the streets can also be terrifyingly steep! As I left the town of Jardin they were holding a children’s cycle race. I had to smile at the kids who still had a lot of growing room on their jazzy racing bikes.

The hotels also occasionally have a distinctly religious feel to them.

It’s well and truly cowboy country out here. It’s common to come across them in the towns, or riding on the roads. Old Jeeps are the alternative to horses.

When I’m on tarmac roads, the encounters are friendly too. Motorcyclists and car drivers will often beep their horns in encouragement, or simply give you a thumbs up. And the older buses, whilst they may make you gag with their fumes as they climb the hill, do bring a smile to my face, reminding me very much of South Asian ‘jangly trucks’.

So all in all, I’m having an absolute blast. Things are looking good for my travels, particularly once I’ve got my new front chainring!

Best wishes to all, and thanks for joining me on the ride.

Stuart

36 thoughts on “Travels with my bicycle

    1. Hi Deb, yes, it’s really is amazing here. And I know I can’t even do it justice with pictures and words. Hope all well with you – as ever, you must be a bit on the busy side?! Lots of love, Stuart

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    1. Hi Matt. Good to know you’re on board, and yes, enjoying myself doesn’t even begin to capture it. Some experiences are simply difficult to believe they’re happening. Hope all good your end, and you’re managing to get some time with Sonia through the summer. Warmest wishes, Stuart
      PS – When you next speak with Ian, please give him my best wishes, and reassure him I’m happy with my decision 😉

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  1. Stuart!! Wow it looks incredible there, and everywhere you have posted about!!! Thank you so much for sharing, your posts are a joy to read and are inspiring me to get back on my bicycle!! It is really nice to follow along, perhaps my next destination shall be Colombia!! xx

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    1. Hi Meggan, great to hear from my favourite house-guest! You would absolutely love it here – not sure I can imagine a more perfect place for cycle touring. I haven’t yet looked for any cycle-stays, as the hotels are so reasonable, but sure it will come. I remember our conversation about karma, and it’s certainly smiling upon me at the moment – the people here are amazingly friendly. Great to know you’re travelling with me, and look forward to hearing where your next tour takes you! Lots of love and a cycling hug, Stuart x

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    1. Hello lovely. Thank you; it all feels pretty amazing too. I’m still pinching myself to be honest. I’ll do my best to keep it interesting, and sure you’ll tell me if I start slipping 😉 Great to hear about what you two have been up to the other day. Please give my love to David and your father too. Lots of love, Stuart X

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    1. Hi Fi. Yes, it is incredible here. So much to enjoy, and also reflect on about life (without getting too deep). Glad you’re on board, and that you’re enjoying. Hope all good your end too, Stuart x

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    1. Hi Stevie, good to hear from you! ‘Fun’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. Sometimes I actually find myself laughing out loud whilst on the bike. Or maybe I’m going a bit mad? 😉 Great to know you’re reading over there. Love to you and Lorraine, Stuart

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  2. Hey Stuart,
    got the chance to join your blog by Petra,
    everything sounds impressing and really exciting, and I really like your photographs!
    Keep on having a great time!!!!
    Greetings from hot Hannover
    Anke (met you at Petras birthday if you remember)

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    1. Hi Anke, klar erinnere ich mich! Good to know you’re enjoying, and I shall do my best to keep it interesting. I’ve heard about the extreme temperatures – sounds like a quick dip in the Maschsee might be a good option? Please give my love to the city of my birth! Hope to see you again in the future sometime, Stuart

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  3. Hey Stuart, as always awesome photos which make the viewer feel like they’re there – wish I was!

    So what gearing setting up have you got? Surprised to see a single cog on the front chainring, but surely you’ve got at least a 36 for the large cog on the rear!!

    Anyway great to hear all well and that you’re enjoying the start of your adventure out on the open road. Looking forward to the next instalments!

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    1. Hi Bruce. Well all you need to do is to buy a ticket 😉 I’ll be doing a page (as opposed to a blog entry) about the bike, but as you ask…..

      The gearing is a system of an internal ‘gearbox’ in the rear hub. Sort of like a Sturmey Archer on steroids. It gives you 14 gears in total, over a wide range. Many touring cyclists take it because they’re famously reliable (touch wood) and less likely to get damaged than derailleur systems. That’s why it has single cogs front and back. This also gives an advantage in reducing chain wear. The downside is that if it does break, then you have to wait whilst a new hub gets sent out to you from Germany. They’re legendary for assisting cyclists in these situations however.

      So the setup I did have was the Rohloff with 17 on the back and 45 on the front. I’ve now changed the 45 to a 36 on the front, which loses me some of the big gears, but gives me a few additional ones for the hills. I’ve got it changed today (again, with awesome friendliness and help on tap from a random Colombian cycle shop) and look forward to the first laden tests tomorrow. Reckon it’s going to make things an awful lot easier though.

      Hope all well over there too,

      Stuart

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    1. Hi Rach, good to know that you’re enjoying. Suspect your father reminiscing a little too? I remember being quite in awe of him way back when, knowing that he cycled into London every day! Hope all well with all the B clan too, and send you all lots of love, Stuart x

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    1. Cheers Simon, glad you’re enjoying!

      Yep, got it all sorted today and look forward to the roadtest tomorrow. Once again, I’ve been blown away by the friendliness of people here. Not sure that the average bike shop in London would welcome you in to use their workshop and then refuse payment? I was happy to do myself, but wanted the back-up in case I encountered problems in shortening the chain. I ended up being there for a few hours, just chewing the cud and tinkering with a few things.

      As for the cowboys, they’re pretty special. Tomorrow I get deep into coffee-country, so looking forward to that.

      Look after yourself over there, and love to Denise too,

      Stuart

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  4. big hug stu
    the photos are amazing and I cant wait to see your leg of Peru having been many years ago.. you really are an inspiration x

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    1. Hi Denise, and thanks for the hug! Not sure about whether I should be an inspiration to anyone, but very glad that you’re enjoying. I’m intrigued about Peru, as it’s the only country I’ve seen consistent reports about security issues, so not sure yet how I’m going to traverse there. I’ll do as I’m doing in Colombia, and make sure I chat with plenty of people ‘on the ground’. Lots of love to you both, Stuart x

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    1. Und ein Klingelchen zurueck an euch! Schade, dass es doch ein bissl kompliziert wäre, mit dem VW hier zu reisen. Ich bin mir sicher, ihr würdet das Land genau so mögen wie ich! Liebe Grüße an euch und Berlin, S x

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  5. Glad to be joining you on your ride. You still have that special touch with the photos. It’s nice to have an insight into South America and Columbia that isn’t tainted by the media.
    Keep safe and keep bogging.

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    1. Hi Dave. And it’s good to have you along! Glad you’re enjoying the photos – it’s an incredibly picturesque country; quite remarkable in so many ways. Other countries are certainly going to have a hard act to follow after my start here. Stay safe, particularly out on those seas, Stuart

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    1. Hello lovelies!! Great to hear from you, and to hear that you’re following the adventure. I’m taking care, no worries, and also seem to have a whole army of Colombians intent on looking after me at the moment too! Hope all well your end, and that you’re not too swamped at work. Big X to you both.

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  6. Beautiful pictures, so nice to see land unspoilt by us pesky humans.
    Question from the boy. Why do the men or horses have blankets on their shoulders?
    You must have legs of steel to climb those hills .
    Love reading your updates. Stay safe. Xxx

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    1. Thanks Karen. It is an incredible place; I’ve never seen landscapes with so many different shades of green! Good question there Charles. I don’t know, but would assume that the towel used to be practical rather than get clothing soiled, but now is symbolic. They are certainly widely worn. I’ll see if I can get a defintive answer before I move on to Ecuador! x

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  7. Hola amigo. Joe (and Peter) from Boston. Enjoying your blog mucho. Espero leer y ver mas fotos y tus comentarios son interesantes. Es una aventura maravillosa. Abrazos…Joe

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    1. Hi guys, great to hear from you! Es la verdad – una aventura incréible, y no puedo creer mi suerte! 😉 Hope that life is good with you two, and look forward to another get together when I’m next in Boston. Hugs back to you both, Stuart

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  8. Stuart

    Amazing photographs. I have just been round Epping on the trails and somehow they do not compare to your trip.

    Glad you got some help sorting the bike, somehow not sure if that would happen in London.

    Take care and enjoy, look forward to your next blog and photographs.

    Very inspiring……….😊 🚴

    Love

    Lorraine and Emma
    Xxx

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    1. Hi Lorraine! Glad you’re enjoying the pics. Epping might not be quite as spectacular, but it’s still great fun on two wheels there! Yes, the bike shop were great, another one of the many experiences here that just leave you staggered at how lovely the people are. Sending you both lots of love and hugs, S x

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