I learned that the physical act of riding my bicycle was only the beginning. It was hard, yes, but I was preparing for that. I knew I’d be slow and tired and then beyond tired…physically.
What I didn’t realize was how exhausted I would become mentally. And emotionally. Spending all day then all night camping with the same 2 people can really start to dig in. We got at each others throats, and usually not because they actually did anything bad or wrong. Usually it was each of us dealing with our own bodies pain and exhaustion and our patience was just worn out.
I became good at apologizing. And accepting apologies. We all learned how to talk through what we were going through in an open, supportive way. We learned we were %100 on a Character Building Tour. And I learned and grew SO much I can hardly believe it was only 3 months.
I learned how to get over my pride. Sometimes…
I didn’t know Spanish and was afraid of messing up…I was not a serious biker before this and was embarrassed at my lack of strength and know-how…I didn’t like being told I have qualities that are less than acceptable, and then having to apologize for acting out…but all of those things were overcome and worked through. I learned to laugh it off.
I learned that I still suck at packing. We all waaaay over packed.
I learned that I can do way more than I think I can.
And most importantly I learned that the occasional impromptu dance party can make the worst of days infinitely beautiful again.
I’d say that 90% of the people I told I was going to Colombia, or that I went to Colombia responded with some version of “But it’s so dangerous!”.
(the other 10% were other bicyclists who were like – “Woah! Have fun and good luck with the Andes”)
I have met many people, including other Colombians who have had dangerous experiences in Colombia. But I want to be very clear that this is a country of beauty, and I don’t just mean the nature (which is surreal, by the way). What I’m referring to now are the people. Just as with any other place I’ve traveled, its the people I’ve met and the friends I made that create my favorite experiences.
For example, the couple the flagged me down on the side of the road and offered me coffee. We chatted about how beautiful the country is and how much we all loved Colombia- how inspiring to meet someone so passionate about his country!
Or the guy who saw me struggling up our first mountain and drove back to bring me a gatorade saying ‘mucho respecto’ and driving away before I could properly thank him. I stood stunned, almost cried, and then promptly chugged half the bottle.
Or the guy in a small mountain town who saw us ride in and offered to buy us a drink and snack from a bakery- which of course we said yes and got our favorite cookies- just because he was so impressed with what we were doing.
And the girl who stopped me to practice her English, introduced me to her whole family, and offered delicious coffee without pausing to hesitate.
And the man who saw us late at night with our bikes eating dinner, asked if we needed someplace to stay, then led us to his house and let 6 of us camp outside and stay up celebration our first night of tour with his whole family just inside.
And the guy who drove a potato truck and gave us a ride further up the mountain (to be fair Casey and Sam did help him load some of the potato bags- I was too far behind and arrived just intake to load our bikes. bummer).
And one of my favorite times was getting stopped by a pick up truck
on a rocky mountain road. He asked if I wanted a ride (apparently I just looked like a wreck)and I said yes please. I soon learned the driver was the mayor of the town we had just left. The MAYOR. We picked up Sam and Casey and learned that the car behind were other city leaders as well and they were all headed to the same meeting in the next town. We got out to
snap this photo, and then they bought us all coca-colas and some chorizo and we never saw them again!
And of course, there were our couch surfing hosts from Bogota. They were gracious, and friendly, and welcoming, and fantastic cooks and made us feel like family immediately.
And of course, there were plenty of people who wanted pictures with us. Young girls would shyly ask to take a picture with me, groups of people would gather around to welcome us and get photographic proof 3 gringos on bikes passed through their town. It was silly and weird and kind of awkward but beautiful and special all the same.
Colombia has some dangerous places, of course. But it is so, so much more than that- it’s caribbean coast line, it’s the tranquil, endless Andes, it’s massive cities and tiny villages, it’s people who are rich with gratitude, passion, curiosity and kindness.
I’ve been sitting here all day trying to think of what I can say to sum up my trip as it comes to an end. I still have a million more posts to write about our adventures; time just flew by. And yet here I am without words. All of the places and people and views and moments are flashing through my mind on a continuous reel forcing me to relive my time in Colombia.
It feels like a dream.
I can’t believe it happened.
I can’t believe the two people who I spent nearly every minute of everyday together for three months are got on planes the other day and I don’t know when I’ll see them again.
The trip was a whirlwind. Everything happened “about a week ago” and yet an eternity has passed. It’s a typical way for travelers to feel, I know that. But this trip was not just about seeing cool places. This trip was a game changer.
It changed forever the way I want to explore. It changed the way I view challenges. The way I handle things that seem scary. And most importantly, it changed the way I view myself.
I learned my worst habits are the words I use to describe myself and what I can and cannot do. I focus on the negative and create a vocabulary full of phrases like “I can’t” and “I’m not ____enough”. Strong enough. Fast enough. Smart enough. Good enough.
And I learned saying these things enough times is enough to piss off the people who do believe I am enough. This trip put me in a bad place mentally (at first) because I told myself repeatedly I couldn’t do it. Everyday I’d struggle and think, I should just quit. And all the while my travel companions were pissed that I was pissed. They were pissed because I was bringing down the mood, and mostly they were pissed because they believed I could do it.
And then there was the hill two weeks in that made me %100 sure that it was going to be my last day riding. And then immediately after that was the most beautiful, wonderful, perfect ride through one of my favorite parts of Colombia and suddenly everything changed. Suddenly I was fully enjoying myself and wanting more of what I had just experienced. I wasn’t totally cured, but it made a huge difference in my thought process for riding every day.
That’s something you don’t learn sitting at home on your tush or in a therapy session. This tour became my therapy; and every step of the way was something to be learned. I was learning about myself, about my friends, about Colombians, about biking about nature, about everything!
...all of that post was written a few days after arriving back in the states. It’s now almost a month later. I’m not sure what my point was there (as happens a lot with me), but take what you can from it. I watched a TedTalks on my flight and there was something he said that really stuck out to me: he said that confidence compounds. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything more true in my life. Surround yourself with the type of people you want to be like and learn from them. I did that this winter. And all I accomplished allows me to continue to compound my confidence, which I had little of beforehand.
Life is still happening and moving forward, though I wish I could be forever suspended in my Colombian Bike Tour. Now comes the fun part of figuring out how to put what I’ve learned into practice. Wish me luck!
If someone had asked me a year ago what I would be doing now- I think I’d have said something like “I don’t know, maybe moving to Portland?” or “I don’t know, maybe going to travel Australia?” or “umm, I don’t know…” **awkwardly changes subject**
What I wouldn’t have said was “Bicycle touring around Colombia with 2 people I just met a few months ago who, like me, have never done anything like this before”.
But hey, life is full of surprises! In less than 2 days I will be off to South America to explore Colombia, Ecuador and Peru by bike for 3 months. Things I’m feeling right now: excited, nervous, ready, unprepared, pumped up, freaking out, scared, and SO HAPPY.
Since I have the “I Want To Go Everywhere” version of wanderlust, South America was of course included in my To-Do List. But seeing it by bike? Not even on my radar. Not until my friend essentially told me that’s what we were going to do and I surprisingly agreed.
After 2 months of planning and researching and purchasing, I have my bike (a Surly Long Haul Trucker) all supped up with racks and panniers, loads of new gear including SheBeest cycle shorts (the best most comfortable shorts ever), and for the first time ever bike shoes with clip pedals. And yes, I did fall once while clipped in. And yes, it was near a busy intersection where plenty of people got to watch. #winning
It was difficult for me at first to fully commit to doing a bike tour. I am used to traveling by bus/train/plane and living out of a backpack ready to move and adventure at a moments notice. Adding a bike to the mix complicates things. What if I want to go on a trekking tour for example, where do I leave my bike? I don’t want to miss out on the experiences I am used to having…
…On the flip side, there is a whole new world opened up to me by traveling by bike. All of those little villages and towns my train zooms past are now available to explore at my leisure. All of the beautiful nature I miss by being in a plane? Now I will be right in the thick of it! And all of the locals I’ll get to meet by camping out in farms, or fire stations or having to ask for directions..they will surely add to my positive experience!
And that’s basically as far as my thought process has taken me. There’s only so much reading other people’s blogs and looking at maps can do until I am actually down there. The plan is to stop someplace after a while to find a farm or school or hostel to work in, partly as a cultural experience and partly as a rest for our bums.