Before trying something new, there’s always a mix of fear and excitement. If I'm being honest, Mountain Biking in Colombia might have erred a little more on the side of fear for me though.
After my first-day mountain biking in Colombia, climbing 4 kilometres uphill and succeeding, I was on a high. All the fears of not being fit enough, not being able to keep up, hating hills … In just a few short hours on the first day of cycling, I tossed those fears off a cliff and peddled on! This time though, downhill.
I had a pretty emotional reaction at the top of our first big ascent but then almost everything was downhill from there ... in the best of ways! I had already learned the importance of low gear, taking it slow and moving inch by inch, but downhill was a whole other skill set.
Biking uphill vs downhill
Biking uphill is all about your lungs, your thighs and core strength to keep you steady at a slow pace. Biking downhill is all about controlling your speed, your shoulders and core to stabilize you and your hands for gripping the brakes tight. Make sure you don’t pull that front brake too hard though, or you’ll go head over heels! Don’t worry … I didn’t do that!
Over the next four days, we cycled a variety of terrain at various altitudes from 6460 feet above sea level in Neira to 11446 feet at Termales del Ruiz all the way down to Manizales at 7217 feet on our last day. Each day was different and exciting in a new way. There were some tough uphill climbs each day, including a few that I just couldn’t do by bike, so I had to hop off and pant my way up, but the bulk of the last four days of riding was downhill.
There were all kinds of new challenges from the breathlessness of high altitude, pouring rain, crossing rivers, charging through puddles, a short single track with a raging river nearby and steep, slippery downhills in mud and on stone. As scary as it all sounds, it was all manageable for a novice, not-in-great-shape-rider, with a little bit of willpower!
Los Nevados Natural Park
On our last day, after a morning adventure by vehicle to explore Los Nevados natural park with its four different high-Andes eco-systems, we returned to the hotel and prepared for our last ride. This one would be 16 kilometres downhill … and I do really mean downhill.
Throughout the trip one of our cycling guides rode at the front of the group to lead the way and the other guide rode at the back to make sure no one was left behind. Then we had one or two support vehicles, depending on the day and if they needed to transport only our bikes, or if the luggage needed to come along as well. Most of the time the bikers were able to go much faster than the trucks over the bumpy dirt roads, but at any time if you were tired, cold or just done with the adventure, you could wait a couple of minutes and a support vehicle would be there for you. A couple of people opted out of the damp, downhill last ride and hopped in the support vehicle for a warmer, but equally bumpy trip down the mountain. I considered it but decided to at least start out on the ride and if I got too cold I could hop in the truck.
Despite the mist, the speed, the lack of sun and it being only two degrees out, after I started down the mountain, I never once thought about hopping in the truck. I don’t remember a flat spot or even a slight incline the entire time. The roads were rough, slippery and super twisty. Being a bit on the cautious side, my hands and wrists were pretty worn out from the past couple of days of downhill cycling, holding on and squeezing the brakes. I had to stop a few times because I was losing strength in my hands to pull the brakes tight enough to slow down or stop if I needed to. The last thing you want is to come to a tree in the road and not have the strength in your hands to brake!
On this last day, I was at the back of the pack the entire time and still enjoyed every second. Despite trying my best to let myself go faster, every time I hit a rock or pothole and wobbled (which was often), I’d choose to be slow(er) rather than take a tumble. I was never alone as one of our guides rode behind me or alongside me when there was room and I was regularly reminded that you don’t need to be the fastest, strongest or at the front to have fun.
We covered nearly 16 kilometres downhill in just under one hour, going from 11446 feet to 7217 feet.
My shoulders, neck and hands all ached from steering and braking on a steep downhill ride.
I was wet and muddy from my toes to my teeth (literally), but I smiled the entire way down that last mountain.
When I chose to do a mountain biking tour in Colombia, I jumped in with both feet and then panicked because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. When all was said and done, not only did I do it, I loved it! I’d go back again tomorrow and do it all over again if I could.
Some days I was the slowest. There were times I couldn’t make it up the hills at altitude and thought my lungs might explode.
I laughed. I cried. I sweat, a lot! I got really dirty.
It wasn’t a race. It wasn’t a competition. There was no one to beat except my own expectations.
If you’d like to try something new on your travels be it mountain biking or regular cycling, hiking, paragliding or travelling solo for the first time but aren’t sure if you can do it or not, stop worrying about it. Jump in with both feet, panic after and then go realize your own strength. You can do hard things. You just have to have the right mindset.
Let me know in the comments what fears and adventures you've conquered on your travels, or what's next!
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