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Out of the bubble......... One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.-- Henry Miller

Alto de la Linea or "A right of Passage?"

COLOMBIA | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [1578]

my collage for the truth!

my collage for the truth!

 

The bar of what is "too hard" or maybe even unacceptable  is getting raised each time I make it through something I didn't expect or - at least- I thought I can just tuck it away and move on -beyond the experience - and get stronger. After all isn't there the saying: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger?
What is not taken into account here is the trauma - the mental and physical memory of the experience. Is it just a state of mind? Attitude? Can I change it while it's happening? Am I being dramatic? A drama queen?
To be perfectly honest IN the situation I actually know I am going to survive this and I am already watching with a distance. Even "writing" about it at the very time it is happening as if I am not part of it. Or is it just the "out of body" experience when one can't take it anymore? Though, I have to say and admit I haven't really encountered extreme physical harm in any shape or from (SO GRATEFUL!!!). So far the choices I have made and the pain and discomfort I have endured are on my own account. I KNEW it would be difficult I KNOW and I am doing it anyways.....
Here is the story:
The valley of the Rio Magdalena ( this time at Girardot) was crossed again. Tropical - not even too humid, but nice and warm and flat with fruits available on the side of the road. Riding along, we knew we had to cross another ridge starting by Ibague to get to Cali our next destination. We had crossed this ridge before (by Medellin). A big road (so it shows on the map) - can't be too hard, the trucks are going the same route.
After slow, very slow climbing (the type that makes you feel like you have lead in your tires or you think you are just lame and ate too much or too low tire pressure - something like that....) James's cylco computer indicated a 1-3% climb - not visible but feel-able in the way described above. But, wow, so beautiful! All those flowers, birds (yes, parrots - mostly parakeets, high, high mountains in the back ground and -hold on- a bike path with quite of few cyclists (mostly road bikers - not tourers - but, never the less...that is just a very good sign)
We spend the night in a truck parking lot, which was empty while we set up camp. The nice lady in the store right before we stopped for the night looked at us as if we were ghosts when we told her where we wanted to go that night or possibly tomorrow. Cajamarca would be a place to go she gestured, but it was still about 20km into the mountains. She gave us plenty of water, we bought juices and more juices and just kept drinking - the sun was merciless and the stream of trucks seemingly unending. We understood, that these trucks are a constant part of life when you live on the side of the road. They are ALWAYS there - night and day summer like winter. The woman looked sad, concerned - a mixture of both, but we are used to looks like that.....we smiled tried to ensure her that we have gone already through a lot and we will make this work too.
After this refreshing break and right around some corner of more climbing we found a restaurant and a place to camp as mentioned above. The truck parking lot filled up during the night. It's just plain amazing how people put up with all those different kinds of noises, but mostly the toxins those trucks produce every minute/second of the day.
We were exhausted enough to sleep quite well in spite of it all in between trucks farting, grunting, spewing, whistling, lighting, thundering, grinding - I wish I could describe ALL those other noises in words as well. It would be a list as long as a whole page. Still, we slept good enough in our sweet tent with the dream catcher dangling above us.
Breakfast was not much, since we misunderstood our host and got none, so, we left and had a few bananas on the side of the road. Fair enough!
The little, sweet mountain town of Cajamarca  seemed promising and so it was. We had an early lunch at a place in the sun by the plaza. We talked again to a local which direction we were going - he gestured that it would be better to go down the direction we came instead of the direction we were pointing. We haven't seen many cyclists anymore, but weren't too concerned. We ate the perfect amount of food, comfortable in our bellies and were eager to go. Couldn't be too far now....
The sun was still hot, but the altitude allowed a cooler breeze which was very comforting - climbing and wrestling for space on the road with the trucks, puffing black smoke at us high and low when they finally pass. They were crawling a different crawl than us, but crawling none the less.
A new road seems to be in construction - we could identify the tunnels and bridges bypassing the major ups and downs and hoped we would hop onto a time machine a few years ahead and use this highway instead of this little winding, very steep and narrow road we were on. Our legs were getting tired the constant climbing getting old.....
But the surroundings were stunning - mountains and rivers, lush, green like in a picture book of "Heidi", soothing the mind - nobody can be grumpy in a place like this.
Some roadside restaurant with some name like Paseo was our stop for 10 minutes...celebrating in a way, since it looked like we were about to pass the summit now. The woman at the counter made even bigger eyes than the woman before when we told her where we were going. She said it was another 15km up the mountain from where we were standing. No way! She must have misunderstood or we did - one of us did. The day was already way on it's way. We've been climbing all day? what? How high can this thing go? 
We climbed some more - the number of trucks seemed to increase. At the pay station much further up the mountain we were told that it's another four km, but it'll be very, very cold up there. We were at about 2600m at this point. Big black clouds accumulated - let's get this over with! Hurry! The construction worker woman about 4km later, it'll be another 5k. Another person 3km later on the side of the road yelled: 6km until the summit. Stop listening? Stop believing?
Well, my legs didn't want to pedal anymore and I had to gain the upper hand. The going got tougher. Construction - I saw the road way above me in the clouds winding it's way into the unknown.....what the hell? Isn't it heaven up there? Why do I feel like we are getting closer to hell?
Now the string of trucks BOTH WAYS had NO END. We were constantly enveloped in fumes - mostly diesel since we are dealing with TRUCKS! Did I mention that before? Breathing hard and harder - the altitude makes itself known. A stopped string of trucks in our direction, it starts raining, it's cold, a bunch of people selling homemade snack foods. "How far to the summit" - "only 2km". We pass the waiting trucks, get "green light" from the construction worker to keep going. We got the road to ourselves for a little while. New hot pavement was spread, our tires started sinking - I was afraid to put my foot down, the trucks were released and were occupying most of the rest of the road - where to go fast,  away from the hellish, hot, sinking pavement? I panicked and gave it "hell" pedaled as fast as I could into the "old road" wrestling with the trucks for space again.....I felt my strength leaving me - the fear took over and a big loud shot like a bang filled me out. I realized it was another truck on the side emptying it's contents and flapping it's back metal flap. Banging metal against metal...sounded like a shot gun - twice. That just "put me over" broke "the camel's back",  "the last straw". What ever you want to call it.
I pedaled - only to the side of the road to break down sobbing....I can't do this anymore.....This is too much for me! (in the back of my head and heart feeling still alive and capable to let the tears roll and the crisis unfold the way it needs to.) James was there, petting my face, my tears, holding my head, his arms around me....calming....sitting next to me as if we had all the time in the world. I cried like a baby!
The tears mixing with rain, salty rain..
The mountain was not done. We climbed endless into the clouds higher and higher, steeper yet. I gave up pedaling and pushed my heavy 60kg bike until my arms and back hurt and then got back pedaling until my legs hurt.......back to walking......and so on.... at some point I couldn't do neither and James parked his bike came back to push mine. The rain didn't stop, the trucks didn't stop, the cold got colder, the light got darker. We finally reached the top at 3150m. No sign, no celebration, no name,  anonymous. Down the other side still in the clouds with the trucks and the colder cold and darker light, my hands numb, the road seemed slippery, shiny and unfriendly. The trucks slowed us down, but the fumes made holes in my head, my vision in the semi dark. A small and more than funky "Hospidaje" on the side of the road was a welcome shelter. Food and a pretty good night sleep next to another parking lot full of motor running trucks filling the air with fumes and noise. The bathroom had a leaking toilette tank. The noise of water splashing........ there are people who install small running water wells in their houses, their gardens - supporting a soothing, calming, meditative environment. Just because it doesn't look like that, or feel like that. Splashing water from an old broken, funky toilette bowl - why not close my eyes and make that splashing water meditative? Make that water come out of a spring, running over some beautiful, natural rock, gurgling it's way down a stream?  I can, yes, I can!........................I did!
The next day was foggy, the downhill fast with achy hands and a stiff mind and body.
Armenia, the next town in the valley to Cali, to rest, not far away, but there was a small climb in between me and that hostel and the memory of the last day did me in. I don't like climbing anymore? How about my bike? Do I like the way we travel? Do I really want to go on?
Two road cyclists slowed down enough to talk to us, wedged between trucks they smiled saying: You just climbed and descended the most difficult and dangerous ridge in all of Colombia.

 

 

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