Having reached the Ecuadorian city of Santo Domingo by the end of my 23rd week in the saddle. This vibrant little city nestled in the western foothills of the Andes and only a few clicks south of the Equator would be my launchpad for yet another two wheeled Andean trek.
Week 24 starting with a gradual incline as I left the urban sprawl of Santo Domingo, heading directly east towards those towering giants in the ever nearing distance. By this stage of the expedition I had traversed both the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes but nothing could prepare me for the immense gradients posed by the Ecuadorian section of the range.
The mission; to reach the Ecuadorian capital Quito and cross the Equator before weeks end. I had set out a handful of natural markers on the expedition to be reached for psychological reasons. These markers would reaffirm my progress and help to section the trip into “bite” size pieces preventing me from being overawed by the enormity of the 20 000 km 50 week trek. My reward for crossing the equator, a stiff drink and a much needed shave.
Bisecting Quito, the equator was my third marker on the trip and a box I was aching to tick. A mere 150 km north east of Santa Domingo and a grueling two day climb that would snap my chain and leave me on the verge of getting off the bike and being forced to push my 50kg rig up inclines that felt like brick walls.
Cliff face on one side of the road and a sheer drop on the other I was left with virtually nowhere to camp. I was forced to pitch my tent on the shoulder of the road in a patch of mud, arriving in the Capital drenched and broken. I had just recently pushed my physical limits to the max notching up 1900 km’s in three weeks coming out of Lima towards Santo Domingo. Coupled with the 2 day trek in the mountains which included a 52 km nonstop incline and my body was on the verge of shutting down by the time I rolled into the Ecuadorian capital.
Arriving in every major city with a to do list as long as my arm generally including laundry, blog, finding spare parts and charging electrical equipment, Quito would be no different. I found a rundown old hotel in the Historic center of the city for $10 a night and systematically worked through my list before pushing north towards the Colombian border and the 7th country on the Americas leg of the expedition.
Now firmly in the grasp of the Andes once more I trekked north at high altitude battling the range in a south north trajectory through the border towns of Tulcan on the Ecuadorian side of the border and Ipiales on the Colombian. Crossing into Colombia at roughly 3000m above sea level on a Sunday, I found myself at the mercy of a day of rest, something rather foreign to me on this expedition. I would have to spend a night in a rough $5 motel in Ipiales waiting for the shops to open to source a local map on Monday morning before pushing north.
Colombia, a country I had been looking forward to entering would not disappoint as I rolled out of the border town of Ipiales in my final country in South America, instantly impressed by its natural beauty and friendly people.
Colombia like my home country of South Africa has been at the mercy of some fairly bad press over the years and earned itself a” reputation.” As I sit here high up in the Colombian Andes at the end of week 25 and the start to the Colombian chapter of the expedition, I have nothing but praise for this vibrant nation that has been fiercely challenging on a physical level but a real breath of fresh air.
Breaking the 10 000 km mark in the Americas coming down a 40 km descent in the Colombian Andes will be a moment I will not forget for a long time to come. Reaching the 10 000 km mark in South America takes my total to 41 000 carbon free km’s on a bike, of which 25 000 across 27 countries have been dedicated to the Global Wheeling initiative since October 2010. I am spending my days in awe of natural beauty flying down mountain passes at a million miles an hour or crying out from pain as I ascend huge 30, 40, and 50km climbs that I could only imagine existed had I not been in the Andes.
The 1.5 ton figure has now been reached and surpassed as the amount of pollution saved as a result of travelling by bicycle impresses me more every week. Boasting a new top speed of nearly 90 kmph, I trek north to the top of the continent in search of a way to Central America.