My toughest bike ride, yet.


The route: Roladnillo (my home), to Toro (1-hour bike ride north), then return and pass through La Union. In La Union, there is a dirt road that leads up into the mountains (the Andes west range). That route is tough! Going from La Union up into the mountains, the road leads into an area called "La Despensa". It is a very, very long uphill slog, and my bike gears just can't be pedaled up that incline. In fact, it is 8.61 kilometers of steady incline. The average gradient is 9.4%, with the max incline apparently 25.6%. I think I walked more than I rode. Then, the road basically ends at a fence.

The road is mostly dirt/sand/rocks with some bedrock sections, and many ruts caused by rainwater rushing down the road. Some of those ruts are more than a foot deep and equally as wide at the top. One section, in particular, was all ruts for the full width of the road. On my way up I had run out of water. I saw a farmhouse off the side and down a slope, and a man working out front, spreading coffee beans out on tarps so they could dry in the sun. I got his attention and asked if I could get some water, and he said, come on in. The lady of the house first gave me lemonade, then refilled it, then filled my water bottle, I drank most of it, and she refilled it. I offered to pay but she wouldn't take any money. I talked with them for a few minutes then got on with my uphill ride.

Eventually, I came to what appeared to be the end of the road. There was a barbed-wire fence gate across the road. On the other side, it was obvious nobody used the road; it was all grass with a faint single-track trail through it. More pasture than road. Looking across the landscape, I could see another road. The gate wasn't locked so I opened it and went through. There's an old farmhouse there but no people, no dogs, nothing. I got through the pasture road, made it through or past the many mud holes, and to the other side and another barbed-wire fence gate. I went through that one and onto the road that I had seen from the other side. I had two choices - going to the right towards several other farmhouses, or going left which went to I didn't know. I looked at my cellphone map and saw that Google maps has nothing for the roads in that area, so it was useless. I saw an old man up above me at a water tank, so I waved to him and got his attention. He told me to follow the road to the left; it would eventually take me down to Roldanillo. As I was getting on my bike, he asked me if I had any water, I checked my water bottle and it was almost empty. He offered me a bottle of a common sodapop available here. I accepted it and offered him money for it but he refused.

I took the route to the left, which continued uphill. I found a road that the OpenStreetMaps shows as a dirt road, so I went that way. I stopped at the last house, still near the top, and asked a man who was working on his house, if that road continued. He said, no, not anymore. Now it's just a footpath, and quite rough at that. He asked me if I need water, I checked my water bottle, and yes, I did, so he invited me in and refilled bottle and gave me a banana. I offered to pay and he refused the money. I rode back up to the road I had been on and continued uphill some more. Eventually, I got to another Y in the road, but from what I could see it appeared to be leading to a farm. I looked at the map on my phone and again, Google maps was useless, it didn't show this road. I was thinking about following the other part of the Y when a guy on a motorcycle came by. I stopped him and asked about the road, and he said to go down the way I first thought about, it continues all the down and soon connects to the main paved road from Roldanillo to El Dovio, over the Montanuelo pass. The other side of the Y would have taken me even further uphill and connect me to the top of the Montanuelo pass. I didn't want to go uphill, anymore.

So, I went down and it was quite nice, even had a long section that had be paved with concrete. And sure enough, soon it connected to the main road over the mountains. I was cruising down the paved road, passed a moto, passed a car, then got stuck behind a pickup truck. He was blocking my view of the road and I hit two "repaired" potholes. The repairs were not very well done. The pickup driver waved me around him, but my front wheel hit one of those "repaired" potholes, then a second. I didn't see them because the truck blocked my view. My front tire went flat, less than 5 kilometers from town. I fixed it and got going again. I never get flats out on the dirt roads, only on paved roads.

The ride was incredibly hard, but the views were amazing. From the top I could see all the way across the valley to the Andes central range and the small city of Armenia. I could see Roldanillo, Zarzal, La Victoria, and several other smaller pueblos. The weather turned out to be perfect, if not even a little too warm. Riding these dirt roads in the Andes is an amazing experience, especially on a road bike with road tires only 23mm wide. I love it!