USA 3: Colorado

‘Colorful [sic] Colorado’ read the sign as we entered our fourth state. Something of a tautology to Hispanophones like ourselves. But the hue certainly had changed since we hung a left from Highway 191 and climbed past the La Sal mountains towards the (more) mighty San Juans, a cool 4,000m of ascent and three days’ riding from Moab. It was out with the oranges, reds and yellows, and in with green and snow-white. The only ever-presents were the royal blue of the late Springtime sky – though now increasingly peppered with itinerant dark clouds – and the light gray of the asphalt underneath our tyres.

We spent a month in Colorado, winding our way through the state from its Western border with Utah to Wyoming in the North, in such a manner as to make our route map look like it had been drawn by a monkey engaging in an experiment to see if it could use a pen. But there was method to our madness, as we managed to select and pack in some of the (reputedly) most scenic riding in the state, thanks to a lot of help from our friend Chase in Aspen, who we’d first bumped into on the road in Utah, and to many of the other people we met along the way.

But what we’ll remember most about our time here is the incredible generosity we encountered along the way. So the rest of this post doesn’t turn into a long essay I may write about our individual encounters in a brief, matter-of-fact way below; but to Joel & Jess, Mike & Jana, Bill & Sue, Bart & Vanessa, Tony & Sally, Larry & Becky, Chase, Boe & Brenda, Megan, Chris & Mary, Karin, Sue & Lou and Wyndham, it was your kindness and openheartedness that enabled us to have the truly awesome time that we did in Colorado. The length of that roll-call says something about just how common it was for people to open up their homes (and pantries) to us – often by approaching us on the road and insisting we come stay – and we are eternally grateful for it.

1. Western Colorado and the San Juan Skyway (Days 30-37)

First up on our list of convoluted routes was the ‘San Juan Skyway’, a famous 250 mile circuit through the San Juan mountains, of which we rode about 90 percent – meaning that our four days of riding the loop landed us only 40 miles further Northeast than we began.

To reach the start, at the ski resort town of Telluride, we took the almost deserted road from Utah through the verdant Paradox valley. In Norwood we encountered our first taste of Coloradan hospitality, as we were accosted outside the town’s general store by not one but two couples, who began to compete for who would host us that evening! The mention of our own private hot tub and dinner won the contest, and ensured we shortly found ourselves in the beautiful home of locals Joel and Jess. And after an evening discussing our trip and their kayaking adventures, we ended up making plans to stay in their friends’ condo in Telluride for the next two nights, where they also both happened to work. Amazing.

After a couple of days relaxing and walking around the stunning snow-capped mountains surrounding Telluride we headed South an up, over the 3,100m Lizard Head pass. With the rain falling in droves we didn’t stay long at the top before beginning the long descent through the increasingly desolate landscape all the way to the town of Mancos on the edge of the arid reservation lands on the New Mexico border. While en route to Telluride we had randomly been approached by Bill and Sue, a lovely couple from Mancos who had offered us to stay with them. And so after this long day in the saddle we turned up to their beautiful rural home to find dinner waiting (the first of four meals they would prepare for us!) and the keys to their car, enabling us the following day to visit nearby Mesa Verde National Park – home to stunning remains of various Indian civilisations that once called the region home.

And our luck wasn’t to end there On leaving Mancos we turned East along the valley floor to the outdoors mecca of Durango, arriving just in time for the town’s annual river festival, where competitors from across the country and the globe were competing in all manner of petrifying-sounding watersports like ‘river surfing’ and ‘white water rodeo’. Two of those competitors were Mike and Jana, who in their prime had been world-class competitors in wild water rafting and canoe slalom, respectively. For some reason Mike took an interest in us – we must have been quite conspicuous pushing our fully-loaded touring bikes through the crowd – and a few beers later we were taking up yet another invitation to spend the night in a bed! The garage of Mike and Jana’s huge townhouse looked more like an elite sports store, with dozens of bikes, skis, canoes and other such gear, and in the morning we were lucky enough to meet their daughter Katja, who’s just finished competing in the World Mountain Bike Championships. An inspiring family.

Finally the road took us North, battling increasingly adverse weather, past the mining-cum-tourist towns of Silverton, famous for its narrow-gauge railway, and Ouray. And via some spectacular roads, culminating in the thrilling Red Mountain pass – the highest point on the Skyway – where the world seemed to open up in front of and below us as the road wound its way through a huge canyon and out past the last of the mountains. Our final night of this leg was spent in the garden of Wyndham in Ridgeway, another Warmshowers veteran who was hosting for the first time in his new home.

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State number four, here we come!


On the long, quiet road to Telluride


We enjoyed a leisurely morning in Joel and Jess’s house in Norwood. It felt very surreal having our own private hot tub overlooking the San Juan mountains!

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Hiking in Telluride: being mid-season it felt like we had the town and its surrounding mountains almost to ourselves


There was still a lot of snowpack, as Colorado had witnessed record snowfall the previous winter. But that couldn’t deter us from taking a walk up to the Bear Creek Falls on the edge of town


Back on the road, we climbed high up to the Lizard Head pass at the start of the San Juan Skyway


After dropping out of the mountains, we visited Mesa Verde National Park. The park is famous for its stunningly-preserved cliff dwellings in which the ‘Ancestral Pueblo’ people lived, for reasons still unknown


Nearby Durango was heaving for the White Water festival, where we met Mike and Jana

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After Durango, the climbing began again in earnest. This was the road leading to the Molass pass to south of Silverton, the first of a succession of steep climbs through the heart of the mountains


Turning away from the traffic and onto the wonderful Lime Creek dirt road, we stumbled across this lake, which looked like a nice place to stop for a rest


And a rest soon turned into a night’s sleep, as we found a picture-perfect spot to pitch up


I ran/hiked up to nearby Potato Lake for a better view of the mountains


Descending the Lime Creek road the following morning


We spent a couple of hours drinking coffee in Silverton, famous for both mining and the single-gauge railway that leads back to Durango. It must be a beautiful journey – though certainly not cheap


Looking out from near Red Mountain Pass, the highest point on the road. Those grey clouds had just finished unloading a large volley of hailstones on our heads


The 1,000+ meter descent from Red Mountain down to Ridgeway passed through some dramatic scenery and was an unforgettable end to the San Juan Skyway

2. The West Elk Loop and the central Rockies (Days 38 – 44)

From Ridgway we’d decided to head towards the world-famous ski resort at Aspen, to the North East. With our original plan of taking the most direct route – Eastwards via the ‘Alpine Loop’ – scuppered by the lingering snow and ice,we would have to head North toward the city of Montrose and then decide what to do. Option 1 was to head East to the town of Gunnison, where Mike from Durango’s half-brother might be able to host us, then North via the ski resort of Crested Butte and the gravel road over the Kebler Pass. Option 2 was to head North via the winding road along the rim of Gunnison Gorge and the Black Canyon (another National Park), then East past the trendy town of Paonia.

We decided to take Option 3 – i.e. all of the above. It turned out that each route formed one half of the combined ‘West Elk Loop Scenic Byway’, which we thus took almost in its entirety, meaning again three long days of riding resulting in little forward progress. Charlie didn’t sound best pleased when I told her the plan! But it did turn out to be possibly our favourite of Colorado’s many ‘Scenic Byways’, with some unbelievably quiet roads, lots of snow-capped mountains, plenty of deep blue lakes – including the huge Curecanti reservoir and National Recreation Area – and endless green countryside.

Highlights of this stretch were many: the moonscape scenery between Montrose and Delta, found by chance as we sought out an alternative to the busy highway between the two cities; the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, one of America’s quietest, whose peaceful campground, scenic drive and numerous trails overlook a breathtakingly vertiginous canyon; the spectacular Highway 92 that climbs for what seems like an eternity out of the Crawford State Park before winding its way down along the rim of the mighty Gunnison Gorge; the colourful Kebler Pass, one of the only high-altitude gravel roads in the state that is maintained – i.e. not still under 3 feet of snow in early June; the long descent from the McClure pass that twists and turns its way alongside the Crystal River towards Carbondale; and finally the equally long, green, traffic-free Rio Grande rail-trail that took us the final 30 miles into Aspen.

Other highlights were, once more, the wonderful folk who relieved us of the pain having to pitch our tent. Just two sets this time: in Gunnison we spent the night in the new home of Boe – Mike from Durango’s half-brother – and his wife Brenda, who were also huge lovers of the outdoors and planning a rafting trip down the Colorado river, that of bucket-list fame, later in the year. And in picturesque Crested Butte we were hosted by Tony and Sally from Warmshowers, in their huge mansion overlooking Mount Crested Butte. They also cooked us the most wonderful food and took us on a drive into the mountains, a night on the town and a lovely late morning hike, and – best of all – lent us their inflatable canoes to go paddling on the scarily fast-flowing Slate river!

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We found a very cool dirt road leading from Ridgeway towards Hotchkiss, enabling us to skip the busy Highway 50. Thanks to Google Maps for that one!


The Black Canyon of the Gunnison: not one for the acrophobes


After leaving the Black Canyon we rejoined the ‘West Elk Loop’, named after the mountain sub-range that dominated the horizon


The ride alongside Gunnison Gorge and down to the Curecanti reservoir was unforgettable


Looking down towards the Gunnison River from Highway 92


After a long descent we reached the huge Curecanti reservoir, which like Lake Powell in Utah stretches for miles back through a flooded canyon


We were never sure what to expect when turning up to a Warmshowers host’s home. But Tony and Sally’s Crested Butte pad easily won the award for the most beautiful place we stayed!


We joined them for a hike, on one of the few local trails that wasn’t covered in snow


Places like this can really make you question what you need in life


Yes, we were actually there!


Out on Tony and Sally’s amazing inflatable canoes


Tony and Sally outside their beautiful home


Following an afternoon of relaxing in Crested Butte’s Victorian center, we took the gravel road up towards the Kebler Pass


After a long descent, the climbing began again straight away, as we passed the Paonia Reservoir (the Americans do love a dam) and headed for the McClure Pass, over in the distance. No rest for the wicked!

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Looking East from the top of the McClure pass


The road to Carbondale was an unexpected highlight, with the long descent following the winding path of the wild Crystal River. With the Summer now in full swing and the winter snow melting fast, Colorado’s rivers were running seriously fast!

3. The Front Range: Aspen to Denver (Days 44-53)

Arriving in Aspen felt a like a homecoming of sorts, as we were due to meet up with not one but two acquaintances that we’d made on the road, back in Southern Utah. In a bizarre encounter in the middle of the desert, in the space of two minutes we bumped into Chase – who we’d first met a week before in the Grand Staircase Escalante, where he was camping out in his motorhome – and then Megan pulled over to ask us about our trip. Both lived in Aspen, hundreds of miles away to the West, and both invited us to stay.

On arriving we first headed for Megan’s apartment. Megan is a keen cyclist, skier, hiker and general outdoors enthusiast who had previously cycled to Canada on a similar route to ours, so was able to give us loads of helpful tips. She also lived in a killer apartment, in a complex that had its own pool and hot tub. Obviously. To be fair this is par for the course in Aspen, an oasis of uber-luxury that attracts the international jet-set each winter (and, increasingly, each summer: the town’s food and wine festival – at 2,000 dollars per ticket – was on that weekend) – if it wasn’t for Megan we’d have hastily made our way through town as its cheapest hostel would have set us back a staggering 250 bucks.

Before leaving town we brought ourselves back down to earth by visiting Chase in Snowmass Village, Aspen’s main ski resort. Chase gets by as a masseur and hotel coach driver, living in basic (by Aspen standards) affordable housing in order to make ends meet and chase (geddit) his dream of hitting the slopes. Only having a studio flat, after an impromptu barbecue he offered us a spot in his cool motorhome, with the only condition that we had to be out of there by 5am so he could drive to work! A blessing in disguise, as this gave us the chance to do some hiking before cycling up and over the incredible Independence Pass, a breathtaking 1,200 meter climb which marked our first crossing of the Continental Divide, an invisible line separating the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds, and a watershed moment in our trip.

Another wild camp followed, before we bombed it through a huge headwind to the town of Leadville the following morning, so we could arrive in time for the Pizza Hut buffet. Nice. As Charlie wasn’t feeling great, at one point I was carrying eight bags on my bike – but the 20 or so slices of pizza I ended up ingesting proved more than enough motivation to keep pedalling! They also ensured a bloody hard afternoon labouring over the Fremont Pass and down to Interstate 70, the motorway leading East to Denver. And we were ruing our decision when we arrived in Frisco, still full of pizza, to discover the town was having a huge barbecue festival.

We soon got over our woes when locals Sue and Lou, who had a son who had cycled cross-country, found us outside the local Walmart using the wifi to plan our evening’s camping spot, and offered us to stay with them just down the road. And by this point we were very good at saying “yes”! Not only that but the following morning Lou rode the scenic route out of town with us, leaving us at the foot of the 700 meter climb to the Loveland pass, which cyclists have to take as they aren’t allowed through the motorway tunnel. Despite the huge climb we managed to make 125km in the day to arrive, shattered and in need of a long break, in Golden, one of Denver’s outermost suburbs, in Karin’s house – another lovely Warmshowers host.

We didn’t do a whole lot in Denver except get drunk, see the city’s Pride celebrations, and watch a Rockies baseball game. This was partly because we were so knackered after a series of gruelling climbs, and partly because a new heat record was being set in the city, with temperatures rising to well over 100 degrees. We also moved on from Karin’s house to stay with Bart, who we’d met outside the Grand Canyon (see Arizona blog), and his partner Vanessa. Their big and tranquil house in the far reaches Denver’s outer suburbs proved the perfect base to do not-a-lot.


Chase took us on a hike above Snowmass Village


Beautiful Aspen is surrounded by these snow-capped mountains


After our 5am wake-up-call, there was time to hike the ‘Sunnyside trail’ before tackling Independence Pass. Though a big hike isn’t necessarily the best preparation for a big bike climb!


The road to the Independence Pass wound its way alongside the aptly-named Roaring Fork river


And high up into the mountains


A few hours into the ride, and we were almost done


A lot of snow greeted us at the top, a whopping 3,700 meters above sea level


The Continental Divide (aka the Great Divide) marked our first crossing of the Rockies


The sun was setting fast, but there was still time to enjoy the beautiful, steep, descent


Two mornings later now, and our previous night’s host Lou took us the scenic route out of Fricsco, via the Dillon Reservoir


Cyclists have to climb up and over the Loveland Pass as they aren’t allowed through the flat freeway tunnel. Meaning what could have taken us half an hour ended up taking four!

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We caught a Rockies Game in Denver. It turns out that baseball is very boring!


Better was the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, although our free iMax tickets courtesy of Bart and Vanessa unfortunately only got us into some kids’ film about engineering feats!

4. Northern Colorado: Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, Steamboat Springs and the Road to Wyoming (Days 54 – 62)

60 percent of our time in America down, and we still weren’t half way up the country. So we had to get moving!

According to our new route plan, Denver would represent our Easternmost stop on this continent, and we would now climb back up to the Rockies, crossing the continental divide, several more times as we followed the mountains’ winding trajectory towards the state of Montana. We first cycled to Boulder, the outdoor mecca now filled with hipsters and software engineers sipping expensive filter coffee and craft beer. But Boulder is also a quintessential university town, with its tranquil campus located at the very foot of the Western Slope, home to some of Colorado’s most famous hiking, biking and climbing. Not that we did any – our sedentary lifestyle over the past week was beginning to feel quite normal and we did little more than hit up the local Indian buffet restaurant and a Capital One bank that was curiously giving out free food and drinks all week.

We actually visited Boulder twice: once on a day trip with Bart (who worked in town) and again when leaving Golden. During the latter we stayed with Chris and Mary, again Warmshowers hosts, again incredibly generous with their enviable pantry and huge selection of maps and atlases to satisfy my inner cartography geek. But unfortunately it was just one night with them before we set off for the ‘Peak to Peak Highway’ (Americans love their fancy road names) via some very steep, very bad roads, and then North to Estes Park, gateway town for the Rocky Mountain National Park, which as the name suggests, is located in the heart of the mountains and contains some of America’s best mountain scenery.

We were very lucky to be hosted by Larry and Becky in Estes Park, as RMNP  has no walk-in sites reserved for those without cars, unlike many of America’s other national parks, and we otherwise would have struggled to spend much time there. The fact that Larry was the park’s head of planning also helped, and he was able to give us some excellent tips for a couple of days’ worth of hikes, and even drove us and our bikes to the head of the lesser-visited Thunder Lake Trail.

With good and unrestricted road access, and many trails still under a few feet of snow, RMNP was one of the most crowded national parks we visited. But even the (very) heavy traffic couldn’t spoil our much-anticipated ride over the Trail Ridge Road. After leaving Estes Park, a whopping 1,500 meters of climbing on the park’s main thoroughfare brought us to the summit – which at 3,713m above sea level makes it North America’s highest continuously-paved through road. Work that one out. Anyway it was a huge effort, helped by several motorists offering us Clif bars and water on the way up, and the views at the top were superlative.

We wild camped three of the remaining four nights in Colorado in the expansive Arapaho and Routt national forests as the mountains gradually got smaller and our average elevation lower. After passing quickly through the relatively dull towns of Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling – the latter only notable for the huge increase in the number of cyclists as this was on not one but two of the mega-popular ACA routes –  we did have time for one more treat: two days early, a birthday celebration for Charlie in Steamboat Springs. Not to ruin our record of not yet having stayed in a hotel in America, I booked us a campground and we had an excellent breakfast at the much-hyped Freshies, visited the town’s hot springs and even took an inner tube out on the river – which turned out to be pretty scary!

On 30 June – Charlotte’s actual birthday – we took a long and unexpected-dirt road through the ranch lands of the Routt National Forest. The land was now much more arid and less mountainous, a sure sign that our time in Colorado was drawing to a close, and that we were approaching the great dusty, windy desert of Southern Wyoming. A section of the trip we hadn’t exactly been looking forward to, but which turned out to be quite the adventure. And you can read all about it in my next post.


We stayed with Chris and Mary in Boulder, in their awesome family home of 20+ years


After leaving the Denver metropolitan area, home for the past week now, we found some quiet dirt roads on which to climb the 1,000+ meters from Boulder up to the ‘Peak to Peak Highway’


In Rocky Mountain National Park the rivers were in full flow


We hiked high above the snow line to Thunder Lake, thanks to Larry, who gave us a much-needed ride to the trailhead


With the tourists sticking to lower altitudes, we had this spectacular lake to ourselves


The only difficulty was finding somewhere to sit!


After hiking some more trails, it was back to the bikes and the mighty Trail Ridge Road


There was tons of traffic, but the occasional few minutes did go by when it was just us and the mountains


The Rockies were out in all their glory as the road reached its summit


And here we are – on the highest paved pass in North America in which you don’t have to turn around and go back the way you came


On the other side of the pass, we were now on the road to the cycle tourist haven of Kremmling, where two major routes intersect

From Kremmling it was one final pass before Steamboat Springs, and Charlie’s surprise birthday! After a huge breakfast,


From Kremmling it was one final pass before Steamboat Springs, and Charlie’s surprise birthday! First up was a huge breakfast at Freshies, including this amazing complementary birthday cinnamon roll


We next took a relaxing float in our newly-purchased Walmart inner tubes (pictured) before hitting the town’s hot springs, where a nearby lightning strike meant we had to take an early non-bath


After a night on the tiles, we passed by the beautiful Steamboat Lake State Park


And before we knew it, we were in the expansive ranch lands of Southern Wyoming – state number five!


USA 2: Utah

Utah. Our third state in America; the prospect of missing it being the primary reason we didn’t want to follow the continental divide the whole way up America – by beginning, for example, in New Mexico. With over 60% of the state designated as public land, including five National Parks (ranking third only to California and Alaska), seven National Monuments, and six National Forests, Utah is one of America’s great outdoor playgrounds. Blessed with vast canyons, deserts, forest, mountain ranges and rich archaeological sites, this was one state to take our time over. And we did, spending three weeks weaving our way from Lake Powell to the Eastern border with Colorado.

And we didn’t see the half of it: Salt Lake City, Provo and the northern ski resorts will just have to wait til next time!

1. Southern Utah: Glen Canyon NRA, the Grand Staircase and Zion National Park (Days 9-13)

After our chilly dip in Lake Powell (see previous blog post) we were now following Highway 89, against the flow of RVs and speedboat-towing traffic heading back to the lake, that would take us almost the whole way to Zion National Park in Utah’s far Southwestern corner.

Soon we reached the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. At 1.8 million acres, GSE is America’s largest National Monument, and is also larger than all but two of the National Parks on mainland USA (Yellowstone and Death Valley). Protected under the Antiquities Act from mining, drilling and other such activities by Bill Clinton in the mid 1990s, the land is now under considerable threat from the Trump Administration, sitting as it does over a valuable natural resources. The region we were in (the Grand Staircase, named for the huge plateaus of rock rising above each other originating at the Grand Canyon) also provides access to some of the largest slot canyons in the state, as well as some spectacular hoodoos.

After cycling through the beautiful Grand Staircase and spending our seventh night in a row in the tent, we passed through the town of Kanab, setting of many Western movies that I haven’t seen, and turned North and then West towards Zion National Park. Another of the USA’s busiest national parks, Zion is centered around the huge Zion Canyon and home to some of America’s most famous day hikes, including ‘the Narrows’ (closed when we were there) and ‘Angel’s Landing’.

Being chased by a huge storm all day we raced through Zion Canyon from the park’s otherworldly Eastern entrance, stopping only at the mile-long Mount Carmel tunnel where cyclists farcically have to dismount and hitch. We arrived, soaking wet, in the town of Rockville, home of our second hosts in America, Robin and former-mayor-of-Rockville Tracy (plus their four awesome dogs). We were naturally a bit nervous entering their pristine home in our muddy gear, but within five minutes we were sitting by their fireplace, beer in hand, food in the oven, being told about how well they were going to treat their new British friends. I was pretty sure this is what heaven must be like!

And treat us they did: three beautiful home-cooked meals later (it would have been four had we not insisted on repaying the favour with a bland campfire-style curry – they presumably wished we hadn’t bothered), the Dutsons had also put us up for four nights in our very own Airstream in their huge landscaped garden and even driven us to the famously hard-to-reach start of the West Rim Trail, enabling us to hike one of Zion’s wildest and most beautiful routes. On leaving we made plans to see them again as soon as time allows.


We hopped off the bikes for a bit to see the stunning Toadstool Hoodoos in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument


Spectacular views over the Grand Staircase, named after the various plateaus that make up the landscape of the National Monument


Soon we reached the wild, rocky Eastern edge of Zion National Park, as the rain was beginning to fall


We had to hitch through the Mount Carmel tunnel on the back of a pickup truck, as the rangers wouldn’t let us cycle. The tunnel was built to provide tourist access to Zion Canyon from the East. And what a breathtaking view the tourists get as they emerge into the National Park proper


The following day was drier, and we returned to cycle the park’s wonderfully traffic-free ‘scenic drive’. All American National Parks seem to have one of these, though most are packed with cars and RVs

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Next up was the West Rim Trail, which we could only hike thanks to Tracy giving us an hour-long ride to the trailhead. The route begins high in the hills in the park’s North West, dropping down dramatically into Zion Canyon to the South. This was a view over the park from near the start


After a few miles along a plateau, the path began to drop quickly through various canyons…


…before climbing up again to the top of Angel’s Landing, a spectacular rocky outcrop rising out of the middle of Zion Canyon

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From the top, the views over the canyon were sensational


Back at ground level, we retired to our very own Airstream! We would miss this place dearly

2. Life Elevated: the Dixie National Forest, Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park (Days 14-17)

We were seriously considering abandoning plans to cycle all the way to Canada after our four days in Zion. The first two weeks of America had been so much better than we could have imagined, and we didn’t want to have to pick up the pace just to satisfy some US immigration laws. Genuinely considering offering Robin and Tracy some rent to stay in their caravan a few more weeks, we relented when realising we’d probably well outstayed our welcome (that and the fact that the town’s archaic property laws wouldn’t allow it). So on we went, reluctantly as always, towards Bryce Canyon and the center of Utah.

By this time we hadn’t ridden on a single dirt road, and I was dying to get away from the tarmac for a little while – there’s just something about riding the gravel/stones/sand on our Long Haul Truckers. The problem was, all the interesting-looking roads tended to be high in the mountains and still under numerous feet of snow after a particularly harsh winter. One road heading North out of the park had taken my eye, so much so that Tracy had literally tested the waters for us in his 4×4 after dropping us at the West Rim trailhead. He got stuck in the snow and had to turn back. So alas, we found ourselves weaving our way around the wide, busy Interstate 15 to the relative metropolis of Cedar City, before cutting up through the Dixie National Forest on the insanely steep but paved (and plowed) road to the Brian Head ski resort and Cedar Breaks National Monument, well above the snow line. From here we could finally drop down to the start of Highway 12, our intended artery through the center of the state.

Highway 12 is one of Western America’s most famous roads and home to a further two National Parks. The first of these was Bryce Canyon, which together with Zion and the Grand Canyon makes up a classic two week road trip in a Vegas hire car. Bryce’s main draw is its vast array of hoodoos, which are possible to take in from some breathtaking viewpoints on the rim of the canyon. We spent a day and a half hiking around this relatively compact park before deciding that the 10 dollar a night camping fee (even following an arbitrary 50% discount from a generous ranger who happened to be a keen cyclist) was too high for our newfound rock-bottom budget, and that time was ever-pressing. It unfortunately always seemed to be time to move on in the States.


The weather was back to its old scorching self as we left Zion National Park

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After a fairly dull stretch on the Interstate, we turned towards the ski resort of Brian Head, at the top of a 7 mile, 13% gradient climb

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The climb was brutal, taking us hours, but it was worth it when we passed the snow line. Brian Head was pretty quiet, being mid-season, but we did find a store serving up our new favourite beverage of ‘French Vanilla’ – a sickly hot drink purportedly based on coffee – to help us beat the cold


We pushed on ever higher to pass the technically-still-closed-for-the-Winter Cedar Breaks National Monument. There really are too many beautiful landscapes in Utah


Despite being mid-May, there was a lot of snow still up here from the past Winter. Which we put to good use!


The climb up was followed by a huge descent, all the way down to the desert-like Red Canyon at the gateway to the famous Highway 12, one of the few roads in America deemed to be deserving of ‘All-American’ status. Gotta love patriotism


A rare bike path took us into Bryce Canyon, National Park number 4


After spending our first half a day in Bryce cycling through heavy snowfall on the rather uninspiring ‘scenic drive’, the following morning we set about seeing as much of the canyon floor as possible by foot


The sun came out for a while, sweeping over the hoodoos in spectacular fashion


View from the Fairyland Loop trailhead


There must be hundreds of thousands of hoodoos in Bryce, caused by the ‘freeze-thaw cycle’, as every park ranger was very keen to point out


The higher we climbed, the better and more vast the views of Bryce’s army of hoodoos became. After a long day on the trails we eventually climbed out of the canyon to the aptly-named ‘Inspiration Point’

3. Central Utah: Highway 12, Capitol Reef and the road to Moab (Days 18-23)

Leaving Bryce we were hit by a large blizzard, and for the first time in the States we nearly checked into a Motel room for the night to let it pass. We would have done, in fact, had it not been for the generosity of Marianne, a New Yorker on holiday with her family who took pity on us as we were doing our best impressions of snowmen in the local gas station, huddled by the coffee machine. She didn’t have to invite us to spend the night in the spare room of their nearby Airbnb house twice!

The snow continued to fall for the next couple of days as we climbed back through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (Escalante region) towards the top of Boulder Mountain, before dropping down to our next National Park, the much lesser-known Capitol Reef, where it was finally warm enough to feel our hands again. We spent a day exploring the Waterpocket Fold, the Park’s main geological feature (the name refers to a large crease-like uprising of rocky cliffs that tower above the desert below), and the pouches of water found dotted around its arid surface. It was another awesome spectacle, and all the more enjoyable for the relative dearth of tourists as compared with Zion and Bryce Canyon.

After a night at the park’s beautiful main campground we began to work our way towards Moab, Utah’s outdoor adventure mecca. The arid, vast, canyon-filled land to the east of Capitol Reef is largely uninhabited, with just the small settlements of Hanksville and Green River standing between us and Moab, 150 miles and two days of riding away. It made for an incredibly peaceful ride, topped off with a magical night camped out under the stars near the Goblin Valley state park.

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A huge blizzard outside Bryce Canyon reminded us that despite the sandy desert around us, we were almost 2,500 meters above sea level


Luckily we were taken in by Marianne, Ira and family from New York, who happened to have a spare double room in the airbnb mansion they were renting for the week! And as you can see, the following morning brought some better weather

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Charlie put an unused pack of brownie mix to good use before we left!


Back on Highway 12, we continued through the Northern portion of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument


We camped on the Hole-in-the-Rock Road, established in the mid 19th century by Mormons seeking to colonise Southeastern Utah. Further down towards Glen Canyon in the distance the road is lined with huge slot canyons, but further exploration would be left for another time


More expansive views from Highway 12 above the town of Escalante


We began a huge climb that would eventually take us close to the summit of Boulder Mountain, at 2,900 meters up. It was our biggest day of climbing since Medellin, but on roads like this, who’s complaining?


More snow fell in the mountains later that day, and the camera stayed firmly in pocket. But the blue skies were out again to welcome us to National Park number 4 – Capitol Reef


We really fell in love with Utah. It’s amazing that in probably the State’s fifth most popular national park, you can still find scenery like this

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The scenic drive was, as usual, jaw-dropping


We explored the narrows of a couple of slot canyons, taking the rare opportunity to ride the bikes off-tarmac in a national park


It was incredibly arid, especially for May, with the real heat of the summer still to come. Dotted around are hidden pockets of water, or ‘tanks’ that provide life to the hardy animals that call this region home


Leaving Capitol Reef, we took the desolate Highway 24 past Goblin Valley State Park and towards Moab, our final town in Utah

4. Moab and the Canyonlands (Days 23-30)

The canyonlands and their main population centre of Moab take a while to get your head around. Moab right now is arguably the mountain biking capital of the world, home to the infamous slickrock course as well as many others. It’s also full of people looking to climb, abseil, canyoneer, hike, raft, kayak, fish, quad-bike, recreationally drive and much more besides. And there’s also downhill/backcountry skiing, snowboarding, nordic skiing, snowshoeing and all the other winter activities in the La Sal mountains right on the doorstep. Spend only a few minutes in town and you’ll likely see recreational vehicles (RVs) towing 4x4s, 4x4s towing RVs, and even the double-trailer system of an RV towing a 4×4 towing a big boat. This made Highway 191 into town a bloody nightmare to cycle on, but it was quite a spectacle.

Moab is also home to two more of America’s great national parks: Arches, which houses the world’s largest collection of natural rock arches – and the vast Canyonlands, through which the mighty Green and Colorado rivers have carved over millennia a labyrinth of canyons and rock formations that would take many lifetimes to explore.

And finally it’s home to Charlie, Liz and Sam, wonderfully generous hosts (we met Charlie through Warmshowers) who kindly put us up for five nights as we explored the whole place. Charlie had one of the smallest houses we’ve ever seen but was still kind enough to allow our oversized three man tent to take up his whole yard, and he even lent us his car for the day to explore Canyonlands!

After visiting the two parks from street level – first Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district (using Charlie’s car), home to one of the world’s great panoramas at the surreal Grand View Point – and second Arches (by bike) – in which unfortunately the main area of the park was closed for road works, meaning the rest of the park was hugely congested – we decided to see the region a little closer-up – by cycling Canyonlands’ infamous White Rim Trail.

Definitely our Utah highlight, and possibly the best two days of cycling we did in the trip, the White Rim Trail is actually a 100-mile dirt road, blasted out of the canyons by uranium prospectors in the early part of the 20th century, typically ridden by supported mountain bikers, motorcyclists and 4×4 drivers. We were neither, riding as we did unsupported in only two days (most cyclists take 3-5). The decision to ride it in two days was dictated in part by the lack of available permits at short-notice, but also by the fact that we had to carry all of our own food and water as there is none available on the trail, at all. Though we wouldn’t have been able to do even this were it not for Charlie giving us a ride to the National Park entrance, some 30 miles from Moab. Both days were long and arduous (some serious saddle sore!), but we knew we were incredibly lucky to have been able to do this stunning ride at all.


View down to the White Rim Trail, hundreds of meters below the paved roads in Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district. We would be biking down there a few days later


Charlie surveys the scene from the Island in the Sky


Grand View Point was an almost biblical place, with views stretching over 100 miles and making us feel like we’d reached the edge of the Earth


Beautiful and aptly-named Delicate Arch was our highlight of Arches National Park – most of the other big natural arches were inaccessible due to major roadworks


Unfortunately we weren’t quite the only ones there to enjoy it


After a bit of a rest and another pizza buffet it was time to tackle the White Rim Trail, which begins on the banks of the glorious Green River


A remote sign indicates that we’ve entered the National Park


For a while we traced the serene Green River, as it flows towards its confluence with the Colorado, at the infamous and sudden white waters of Cataract Canyon


We passed by remote campgrounds, containing nothing more than a pit toilet and a sign. Typically between two and four groups per night are permitted to stay at each site


This is the view from near the top of Murphy Hogback, one of the notorious uber-steep climbs along the route. The White Rim Trail was, along with the Lagunas Route in Bolivia, the hardest stretch of cycling we did this trip


But like the Lagunas Route, it was well worth it


We were up bright and early on day 2, eager to get home alive and in time for a bottomless fountain drink at McDonalds!


We presently reached the traditional start/end of the road, and the ludicrous Shafer switchbacks – rising up 400 metres in only three miles. No wonder most cyclists come down this way


Rather than finish there, we carried on down the Potash road, which leads all the way to Moab


Alongside the mighty Colorado River, which we would next see again at its source in the Rocky Mountains in a months’ time


More than two months after leaving the USA, and five months after entering, I’ve finally gotten around to writing about our time in this great country. Not that I’ve forgotten much – I can still recall very minor details about each of our 90 visa-free days – which tells you something about how much we enjoyed our time there. Anyway, without further ado, here’s how it all began…

On 29 April, after almost exactly a year on the road, we boarded Interjet flight 2931 from Bogota to Mexico City, from where we would connect to Tijuana and then cross over to San Diego, on our convoluted journey from Colombia to the United States. It didn’t have to be this way: most cyclists crossing between the continents come to/from Panama via boat, cycling the 3,000 mile distance through seven or so countries in central America. But unfortunately, tempting though that was, reality was calling: I had now four months or so before I had to return to work, and that wouldn’t get us all the way to the Canada – even if it weren’t mid-Winter when we would have arrived there – so we really couldn’t do it all.

The baking hot and wet Central American summer didn’t sound too appealing compared to the much milder and drier weather in America, and the prospect of speaking English to people on a daily basis also sounded appealing. There was also the possibility to use Warmshowers a lot more, and to freely camp pretty much wherever we liked, assuming we would stick West of the Rocky Mountains. But whatever the reasons, they were excellent ones, as America was without doubt our favourite country of the trip (yeah, I said that in nearly every blog post, but I can now finally say it with the benefit of hindsight!).

I did try to keep my write-up brief, but so much happened in these 90 days that I wanted to write down and remember, that it became quite long. So I’ve split it up by State. From the sunny beaches of Southern California to the northerly reaches of Montana, you can click on the images below to read about our awesome American adventure.



1. California and Arizona (Days 1 – 9)

2. Utah (Days 9 – 30)

3. Colorado (Days 30 – 62)

4. Wyoming (Days 62 – 77) (coming soon)

5. Idaho and Montana (Days 77 – 90) (coming soon)

USA 1: California and Arizona

Between booking our flight to San Diego back in Medellin and arriving in the Golden State, we’d abandoned our plans to begin our cycling here. Much as the Mojave Desert looked appealing in a slightly masochistic way, the 90 day timeframe our ESTA afforded us was looking tight, and it was the natural region to skip – with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees and a huge distance to cover between the coast and the Grand Canyon, our first must-see destination. And so after much deliberation we settled on hiring a car to drive from San Diego to Flagstaff, AZ, from where we would begin pedaling – hopefully, all the way to Canada.

Here’s my account of what we did in our first two states, California and Arizona:

1. San Diego (USA days 1-3)

After taking much longer than planned to navigate our way through the obstacle course that is US customs (my name is now on some blacklist for trying to import an apple core), and to rebuild our bikes in the scorching heat of a Southern Californian May mid-afternoon, we we rode west as fast as we could alongside the Mexican border to meet Keith and Heather, acquaintances of Charlotte’s from a previous bike tour in these parts, and who had kindly offered to host us for our first two nights here – a fashionable two hours late.

Keith, an avid bike enthusiast who had, to our shame, logged almost as many miles on his bike computer as we had in the past year – despite us being on a full-time bike tour – immediately set about showing us the sights of San Diego on two wheels. It began promisingly, with a visit to the beautiful if slightly melancholy Border Field State Park, furthest southwestern point of mainland USA, juxtaposing the seemingly-endless golden sands of Imperial Beach with a giant border fence stretching out into the ocean, keeping the Mexicans at bay. However our priorities soon curiously changed and a few minutes later we found ourselves making an abrupt about turn and heading to the local hotel bar to join Heather for a few pints of happy-hour IPA. I got the feeling this isn’t an unusual way for Keith to spend the weekend.

We spent the next day and a half mostly sightseeing and being spoiled rotten by Heather and Keith, making full use of their incredible pantry. And we completely fell in love with San Diego with its beautiful beaches, bays, green spaces and eternal sunshine. We could have passed a lot more time here, but with time ticking on our visas, before we knew it we were jumping in our rental car and waving goodbye.


We arrived to a gorgeous sunny day – perfect weather for a cycle around San Diego’s leafy outer suburbs


First stop was the beautiful sandy beach at the Border Field State Park – the furthest southwest point of mainland USA


Here, ‘the wall’ is very much a reality. On the other side was the much livelier Playa de Tijuana beach – in Mexico


On Day 2 we drove with Keith to the Cabrillo National Monument, the beautiful, rugged site of the first European footfall on the West Coast of America.


The Park affords wonderful views over Coronado and San Diego, and well into Mexico


We also visited Balboa Park, Coronado, Silver Strand Beach, the Downtown waterfront and many other awesome sights, and I could easily have put up a whole photo album of this great city. But I didn’t. This is now us about to board a ferry across the bay to the Airport’s rental car center


Just time for one last group photo…


…and then we were off, bikes stashed in the back seats, cruising towards Arizona!

2. The cycling begins: Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon (Days 3-5)

It’s a cool 500 miles from San Diego to Flagstaff, where we were dropping off the car, so we split the journey into two days, during which time we partook in three important American traditions, in each case not for the last time: (i) buying a 99 cent bottomless Dr Pepper from McDonalds; (ii) getting over-excited and buying way more than planned in Wal-Mart; (iii) car camping! The first two of these are somewhat self-explanatory; the third is as we discovered something of a way of life for many Americans, especially west of the Rockies, with its huge swathes of public land in the form of National Forests, National Recreation Areas, National Monuments and BLM Land. We would end up spending many a night camping on public land (though usually sans car).

The following morning, after climbing out of the huge desert basin of South West Arizona, we drove up through the beautiful red rock landscapes around Sedona, and had reached the edge of the great Colorado Plateau at Flagstaff by late morning. We dropped the car keys off, loaded the bikes up with the week’s worth of food we’d bought in Phoenix, and struggled our way out of town and up to the high Conocino National Forest on remote Highway 180. While the climbing and heavy bikes were a challenge for our rusty legs, we were pleasantly surprised by the scenery along the way – beautiful alpine forests and meadows giving way later in the day to the arid desert to the south of the Grand Canyon. That evening, while seeking out a camp spot in the Kaibab National Forest we bumped into Bart, a Polish-American bike enthusiast from Golden, CO. Bart was car camping with his Dad and, after taking an interest in our trip and our Surly bikes, offered to host us if we ever made it out to that part of the world (more on that in a future blog).


Car camping in the beautiful Prescott National Forest. The rule seems to be nothing more than find a turning off a paved road, then a turning off that road, then park your car, pitch a tent if you like, and hit the hay!


Late morning at Flagstaff Airport, 3 May 2017. Let the cycling begin (again)!


We hadn’t expected to see snow-capped mountains just a half-day’s cycle from the Grand Canyon.


Passing a second night in a row in the tent, for the first time in almost three months!

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The following morning, bright and early, we reached the first of the dozen-or-so National Parks that stood between us and Canada – the Grand Canyon!

3. The Grand Canyon (Days 5-7)

This one needs very little introduction. Day 2 on the bikes and we’d already reached the Grand Canyon, one of the world’s great natural wonders, and one of the highlights of our whole trip. Gradually carved by the great Colorado River over the past 5 million or so years, no words, nor photos for that matter, can truly do justice to the scale of the place. Over 250 miles long, 15 miles wide and a mile deep, the canyon seems to stretch to eternity, especially so as from the dizzy heights of the South Rim, the complex, multi-tiered shape of the canyon means it’s usually not possible to see the Colorado River at the valley floor.

Three days here really wasn’t enough. After pitching our tent in one of the excellent, six-dollar-a-night hiker-biker sites in the park’s main campground, we spent the first walking 10 miles along the spectacular edge of the canyon’s south rim; the second dropping down an incredible 1,400 meters to the Colorado river, briefly dipping our toes in the cool water and then tackling the stifling climb back to the South Rim – walking over 15 miles in 90+ degree heat; and the third in a lot of pain! Thankfully the park’s general store had an awesome beer selection to help us see out our first American rest day.

While the park had its fair share of crowds – five million visit each year – we were surprised to discover that by walking just a few minutes from the main viewpoints and shuttle bus stops – especially when descending into the canyon – we had the trails and magical scenery largely to ourselves.


The Grand Canyon

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It’s impossible to do views like this justice, even with my trusty GoPro


Spot Tom


I’m normally in bed at 5:30am. But sometimes you just have to make exceptions. Here’s Charlie at the beginning of the surreally beautiful South Kaibab trail


One of the many sets of steep swithcbacks leading deeper into the canyon


The sun eventually rose, bringing out the complex colours of the canyon


It’s tempting to think, when on a 15 mile hike down into a mile-deep canyon and back out again, that you’re in quite good physical shape. Then you get overtaken by four people running to the bottom, then up to the opposite rim, then back to the bottom, and back to the start – all in a single day! That’s a double marathon, with two vertical miles of climbing. Unbelievable.


We were enjoying the descent at a rather more relaxed pace


By 8am we’d reached the bottom of the canyon, and the raging Colorado River, which originates hundreds of miles away in the Rocky Mountains


We connected to the Bright Angel Trail by walking along the bottom of the canyon, passing several beaches where rafters and kayakers who are lucky enough to obtain a permit to raft the river can camp, on what must be some of the most memorable nights of their lives


It was a long and arduous trek back up as the mercury hit 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35C). Apparently that qualifies as a mild day in these parts, where temperatures can soar well into to the forties.

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Once we’d finally emerged again on the South Rim, 11 hours after setting out, it was time to set about sampling some of the General Store’s vast (and very cheap) craft beer selection


On the way out of the National Park the following day we were still stopping every few minutes to catch our final views of the canyon

4. The rest of Arizona: the Navajo Reservation and Glen Canyon NRA (Days 8-9)

After reluctantly leaving the Grand Canyon, we faced the one stretch of riding we’d been dreading from the get-go: the hundred or so miles of Navajo Nation Reservation land that lay between the National Park and Lake Powell, the huge man-made reservoir that floods Glen Canyon in the eponymous Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA), further up the Colorado River on the Utah border.

Not that we have anything against the Navajo – in fact, it would have been remiss of us to visit this region without exploring and learning about the cultures of the various Native American tribes who inhabited these lands for many centuries before the Europeans arrived – it’s just that wild camping was illegal, and the hotels were very expensive! So we tackled the problem the only way we knew how: by waking up at 5am and pedaling as hard as we could. Cue the longest day of the trip so far: 115 miles and 15 hours later, we were pitching our tent on a sandy hillside above Lake Powell, back on public land once more, and spending our last night in Arizona under the stars.  And following a leisurely dip in the reservoir’s icy waters the following morning, we were just a few short miles from the Utah border.


Another early morning as we dropped out of the Grand Canyon National Park amidst spectacular canyonland scenery


No time for photos the next day as we rode hard to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The canyon was flooded in the 1960s by the creation of the Glen Canyon Dam, which in turn formed Lake Powell, currently the largest reservior in the United States by volume. After being shrouded in darkness when we arrived, this desert oasis was revealed in all its glory the following morning


Although Lake Powell remains highly controversial, it is undoubtedly a spectacular, iconic place


The Wahweep beach – site of an impromptu breakfast. For a moment it felt like we could have been in the Caribbean, Mediterranean or South Pacific – that is, until we took a dip and discovered the water, originating from snowmelt in the high Rockies, was icy cold!


Just few miles later we reached the end of the first leg of our American journey, as we entered the vast desert of Southern Utah. Til next time!


The Home Straight: Making for Cartagena

After having spent so much of our time in South America riding the smaller back roads – that have enabled us to enjoy all this continent has to offer up close, at our own pace, and usually with only the noise of our canine friends for company – it was a shame to end it with 600km of riding on highways. But no matter how hard we looked at the map, we couldn’t see any alternative. The Andean foothills had by now given way to a huge expanse of flatlands surrounding the great Magdalena river – that we had first encountered way back at its source in San Agustin – and while Colombia’s highlands are full of winding dirt roads connecting the small towns villages that dot the hillsides, down here it’s mostly just long, wide paved roads leading to the cities on the coast.

Still, spurred on by the prospect of reaching the finish line – and of seeing two UNESCO world heritage sites in a week – we churned out the remaining distance in just six days, stopping for an afternoon at the first of those sites, the stunning colonial port town of Mompox. And on Easter Sunday, 16 April 2017, exactly 11 months after we boarded the plane to Rio, we pedalled into the second, Cartagena’s even more stunning old city, and rolled the bikes out onto the sand at the shore of the Caribbean Sea. It was a beautiful and fitting way to end this great journey.

Of course there were mixed emotions about reaching the finish line. I immediately felt very proud to have completed such a long and challenging trip – nothing like anything I’d ever done before – and equally grateful for all the memories that I’ll be taking away from it. It was also a relief to be putting the bikes down for a while to get some rest after riding almost 1000 miles in the three weeks since we left Medellin, and more than 7,000 miles since the trip began. It was also a huge relief to know that I wouldn’t have to eat Colombian food for too much longer. But mostly I was actually quite sad that the road ended here for us – in South America at least – as it’s without doubt been the most fulfilling year of my life and just the most incredible experience to which my saccharine blog writing really can’t begin to do justice.

But hey, roll on the USA!


Riding out of Sabana de Torres with 600km of this ahead of us wasn’t so inspiring!


The riding was long, hot and hard – not the classic cycle touring we were used to


After around 200km we turned off the motorway onto the much quieter road to Mompox. Quiet enough to herd cows on, apparently


The biggest climbs on the route were bridges over the Cesar and Magdalena rivers. This is the Magdalena before the crumbling colonial port town of El Banco


The following day we reached the rather less crumbling colonial port town of Mompox – a UNESCO world heritage site, and fully deserved


The architecture in Mompox was stunning


As was its setting, on the banks of the sleepy Magdalena river


It was Semana Santa (holy week) and the town was full of tourists. So much so that all the hotels were full or charging astronomical prices. But there was a lot going on in town. This was an art competition on one of the plazas


Our room for the night – after trying and failing to find a room in about 10 places, somehow we asked in one hotel and they offered us a room – probably the biggest we’ve stayed in this year – as long as we didn’t mind sharing a bathroom with the staff. The only catch: we had to leave before 8am the following morning as town was full for the main Easter parade


So we prematurely left Mompox and made our way for the speedboat to Magangue, bikes safely stowed on top!


We were getting close. This was our final dirt road on the continent


And our final stretch of motorway


And before we knew it, we were rolling into Cartagena late on Easter Saturday


With surprisingly no hotels in the final 30km before Cartagena, we had to hastily find a room in the outskirts before dark. Turns out a room without AC above a Chinese restaurant might not have been the best choice – Cartagena is hot!!


On Easter Sunday we rode the rest of the way to the old city and out onto the beach. This was the end of the road!


We did it!!!!


Cue my most ‘liked’ Facebook photo upload


A short ride around the city followed, before the bikes went away for a little while and we got ready for some quality beach time!

Into the Heartland: A ride through Antioquia, Santander and Boyaca provinces

Fully rested and in rude health after our month in Medellin, our journey took us through three of Colombia’s most historic and picturesque provinces, Antioquia, Santander and Boyaca. This region – which would represent our final stretch of highlands before the Andes abruptly give way to the northern flatlands and ultimately the Caribbean – was the first in Colombia to be colonised by the Spanish, and the array of beautifully preserved colonial towns set amidst patchwork fields, winding rivers and deep valleys drew more than a passing resemblance to the old motherland.

And it was here that we truly discovered why Colombia is the favourite country of almost every tourist, cyclist or otherwise, we’ve met on this trip. The warmth of the welcomes and the generosity and hospitality we experienced during these two weeks were beyond what we would ever have envisaged, to the extent that we would become minor celebrities in small towns and villages with dozens of locals crowding around us, welcoming us, asking about our trip, practicing their English, and often offering us food and route advice. Thank goodness for all those Spanish lessons in Medellin!

This was cycle touring at its best, and a wonderful way to say goodbye to the Andean highlands that have been our home for most of the last year. And so despite the loss of my cycling jersey, my phone’s death-by-swallow-dive-into-lake, and Charlie’s near-death-by-runaway-pickup-truck-wheel, it will go down as one of my favourite stretches of our whole trip.

Some route notes for those who care: in order to see as much as possible of the region we took a long and meandering route, first climbing high into the hills above Medellin to the beautiful weekend Paisa getaway of Guatape before dropping way down to the Magdalena river at the historic port of Puerto Berrio. From here we turned South East and began one of the largest climbs of the trip back up to the highlands near the heritage town of Villa de Leyva, before turning north to San Gil, Colombia’s outdoors capital. Finally we continued north through yet more unspoiled colonial villages and the awesome Chicamocha canyon towards the unassuming town of Sabana de Torres, at the beginning of the highway to the Caribbean Sea.

You can view a map and elevation profile of our route in this region at and


Waving goodbye to Medellin near the top of the long, steep climb out of the city


Over the top of the climb, we joined some quieter dirt roads heading towards Guatape, favoured weekend destination of Medellin-ites


Near the end of the day, the obligatory thunderstorm hit


But luckily we stumbled on this innocuous-looking building that had a small cafe at the side. When we asked how much a coffee cost, the ‘boss’, Walter, told us it was whatever we wanted to contribute. Turns out this was a sort of commune where a dozen or so Colombian folk (and one German girl) live. Fast forward twelve hours and they’d given us a mattress for the night, two tasty meals and taught us how to Salsa dance!


And all I had to do was play a few requests!


The ride into Guatape the next morning was predictably very pretty

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As was the town itself, filled with colourful houses adorned with frescoes


The main attraction here is the surreal Piedra de Penol, a huge rock standing high above the town, with over 700 steps carved into its side


We climbed to the top for spectacular views. The water is all part of one huge artificial reservoir, built in the 1960s. The view would probably have been a little different back then!




We naturally had to get a ‘nautical bicycle’ (aka pedalo) out


Along with a couple of cans of our Colombian beer of choice, Club Roja


And following our night in the commune, a nice room was in order. This was the view from our semi-private balcony!


After Guatape we headed North and away from the motorway traffic, onto some incredibly quiet roads


Which wound their way through the hilly landscape


Giving some breathtaking views over to the North East, where we were slowly heading


We dropped down to a beautiful river at the bottom of a valley


And had a dip in the late afternoon sun. (Dogs are always photobombing in Colombia, no matter where you are!)


We found this delightful little campsite truly in the middle of nowhere to pitch our tent for the night. It even had some natural thermal pools!


We next climbed high up past the colonial towns of Santo Domingo…


…and San Roque, where we received very warm welcomes and had slightly less warm cups of watery tinto in the town plazas…


Before re-joining the tarmac and beginning a huge descent which would take us all the way to the Rio Magdalena, around 100 meters above sea-level (we were above 2,000 meters back in Guatape)


The ride was mostly on the (mercifully quiet) highway. We stopped for the night in the small and slightly sketchy town of San Jose del Nus, where we were offered to spend the night in the garden of Nelson and his nine-strong family, all living in two rooms of a building a little out-of-town. We spent the evening with them eating arepas, talking about our trip and helping the kids with their English homework!


The ride down to the Magdalena river was very hot and quite dull. On the other side, now in Santander Province, we began another of our epic climbs back up to around 2,500 meters above sea level, done in just over one day. It was misty up there!


And the dogs were on the prowl…

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On the way up we stopped in the towns of Cimitarra (for lunch) and Landazuri (for the night). In both places we were inundated by locals asking about our trip and offering us food and advice. Unfortunately the only photo I took was of the amazing Raspao I bought for 30 pence on Landazuri’s plaza! It’s shaved ice soaked with fruity syrups and covered in condensed milk, and tastes incredible


The next morning, the top of the latest greatest climb was rather innocuous


We put our bags down in Barbosa and jumped on a bus to the nearby ‘patrimonial’ town of Villa de Leyva, one of Colombia’s most famous colonial towns


The spectacular town plaza is the largest in Colombia, and is thought to be the largest cobble-stoned plaza in South America. It would be a nightmare to cycle across!


Back on the bikes following that briefest of day trips we passed through more colonial towns, this one the much less-well-known gem of Oiba


And here the practically unheard-of Confines


This might be the laziest and most quaint plaza in the whole of South America


Stuck record alert as we joined another amazing dirt road / path over the hills to the town of Charala


The weather by now had taken a distinct turn for the better, and it was bloody hot going, but the views more than made up for that


This is what cycle touring heaven looks like (well, without the barbed wire fence)


Unfortunately the main reason we took that dirt road was to visit the Juan Curi waterfalls, which were closed for their pre-Easter maintenance. So we went on, to another awesome time-warped colonial town, Barichara


This one was simply spectacular, and also eerily quiet


We could have been in Andalucia


I’m running out of captions…


Oh and the views out over the surrounding valleys weren’t half bad either


We took the ‘camino real’ trek on an ancient path to the hamlet of Guane


Which was also rather attractive


Next up it was rather different, as we visited the kitsch Chicamocha National Park. The park is most notable for its sublime location above the Chicamocha valley, but there wasn’t so much to do. This amazing piece is a purpose-built monument to the ‘revolutionary spirit of the people of Santander’


I didn’t realise the Grim Reaper was from Santander


This fellow looked pretty ominous too. Behind him is part of the incredible Chicamocha canyon


This is the view from the mirador

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But this one was the best view of all – over the new multi-million dollar water park, set on a ridge overlooking the canyon. Amazing!


The water park was FUN


Lazy river selfie. This is the life!


There were even waterslides!


Finally we took the surreal, 30-minute-long cable car over the canyon


For the best view of all


After the fun and games of Chicamocha, we visited the Pescaderito natural swimming pools complex near the town of San Gil


It was amazing, though there was a bit of a dampener on the day when I knocked my phone into the water. Unfortunately my amazing five-meter-deep dive to successfully retrieve it was too little, too late


Sans-phone, we carried on, back towards the Chicamocha canyon (this time on bikes)


And we descended the dizzying, switchback-ing road to the valley floor


After a day or so on the motorway we turned onto more quiet back-roads. With Charlie now in full charge of navigation (after the death of my phone), some interesting decisions were made…


Back on a proper road, and navigation wasn’t the issue here – in the background is the wheel of a pickup truck that literally flew towards Charlie as she cycled about 50 meters behind me, hitting her bike and clipping off her front wheel for four. Very scary stuff!


We were glad to get off the highways one final time, as this was now our last dirt road of the continent!


And it was a bit of a stunner


I’ll miss getting stuck in the mud!


You join me at the end of a long bus journey from Manizales to Medellin, Colombia’s second city, capital of the Antioquia region, and the place we chose to call home for a month while taking a long-overdue break after nine months in the saddle.

It was an obvious choice: Medellin is a city with a fascinating very-recent history – it was only 22 years ago that the cocaine kingpin and one of the world’s richest men, Pablo Escobar, was killed  in a shootout in the center of the city – and an equally fascinating present, with recent attempts to improve integration and spur the city’s development, including a huge shiny-new mass transit system, earning it the title of ‘the world’s most innovative city’. The city is also famous for its food – in particular the gut-busting Bandeja Paisa, with an ingredients list that would make man versus food proud – and its all-hours partying, centered around Parque Lleras in the upmarket Poblado neighbourhood.

But with all that said, Medellin is mostly a big, polluted, concrete jungle in the classic South American style. And it must surely be the largest city in the world without a park. There were also heavy thunderstorms almost every day of the four weeks we were there – although perhaps we were lucky that we spent almost none of Colombia’s wettest month for more than six years on the bikes!

Anyway, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Mostly because for the first time in nine months we actually had friends! Well, for two days – when my buddy Gabriel and his mate Will popped by during their 10-day holiday in Colombia. We definitely did more in those two days than in the rest of the month combined, packing in a city walking tour, the obligatory Pablo Escobar tour, a visit to Comuna 13 – one of the city’s most violent neighbourhoods but recently transformed by none other than a huge set of escalators –  a game of Tejo, a ride on some of the city’s new cable cars, a Bandeja Paisa, and of course a night on the tiles of Parque Lleras, box of rum in hands.

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My buddies Gabe and Will joined us in Medellin for a couple of days. Exciting!


We first visited Comuna 13, a formerly (and probably still) very dangerous neighborhood high in the hills above Medellin, that has been transformed by a set of bright-orange escalators providing significantly improved access to the city center for the local residents


They were also very fun to ride down


Even more fun was riding on one of the bizarre new slides. Presumably they weren’t also built to improve access to the city, although that would be a great idea.


The view over the barrio and into Medellin was pretty special

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We managed to fit in a Bandeja Paisa lunch – that’s fried pork belly, chorizo, fried plantain, fried egg, beans, rice, beef, salad and an arepa. And you wonder why there are so many bellies in Colombia

Tejo Gabe

We burned off some of those calories over a late-night game of Tejo

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I even caused an explosion! (That’s a good thing)

Next up we caught some of the local street art

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Before taking a walking tour of the city. This is the Parque de las luces (park of lights) – a huge installation in the old town built on the site of a former giant homeless/drug addict hangout

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Gabe also managed to try out our bikes. #whathappenednext?

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But before we knew it they were gone, leaving us (well, Charlie) with just the gifts they kindly brought over for us!

After Gabe and Will’s flying visit we slowed things down more than a little, first moving into our exciting apartment – which had its very own pool of course! – before settling down to a bit of normality and routine: we both signed up for regular Spanish lessons, I joined the local gym to battle the exercise withdrawal symptoms, we cooked most nights in an actual kitchen and I worked on my new and exciting route map among other things ( – check it out!).

But truth be told, when the day finally came we were both ready to begin cycling again…oh no hang on, actually we decided to have a Breaking Bad marathon and leave the day after!

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Our Medellin apartment block, set above the city in the Industriales neighbourhood.

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It had its own pool!

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And a great little balcony that was perfect for the bikes

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On our first night we warmed the new flat in style…with a Domino’s!

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On a rare foray into the city, we checked out some of the great Fernando Botero sculptures that have been gifted to the city by the great artist

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They are sculpted deliberately disproportionally. Some leave little to the imagination!

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Me enjoying a classic Raspado (ice with fruit squash and a lot of condensed milk) on one of the main plazas

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We also went to the football, where Medellin thrashed Pasto, the very first city we visited in Colombia

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Alcohol is banned at the matches, but in all honesty I’d probably have had a tinto anyway!

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And then, just like that, a month had flown by and it was time to load up the bikes once again

Coffee braking: Two Slow(ish) Weeks in Colombia’s Zona Cafetera

If you’re an avid reader of my blog (yes, hello again, mum) you’ll know we’d both been ill – a lot – before arriving in Salento, in the far east of Colombia’s Zona Cafetera. And we were due to be meeting my friend Gabriel in Medellin, quite far away, in just two weeks’ time. A dilemma indeed. After going over all we wanted to do around Salento and working out how long it would all take (which mostly involved staring at elevation profiles and shaking our heads profusely), we decided that the hills had finally beaten us, and we’d have more fun by meandering through the coffee region before getting a bus from Manizales, the Zona’s second city, and not so far away.

Cue two of the most fun weeks we’ve had for ages. We first spent four days hiking in the beautiful and almost completely deserted Los Nevados National Park before setting off on the bikes and, averaging just 20 miles per day, we rode through yet more beautiful scenery, visiting charming colonial towns, family-owned coffee farms and even a coffee-themed theme park(!) as we made our way slowly north. The people down here were as warm as the weather and there was finally some half decent coffee to be had while whiling away the hours on the many pretty town plazas. It was like taking a holiday from a holiday. And that’s the best kind I’ll have you know!

Part 1: Los Nevados National Park

So our first stop after some convalescence in Salento was the Los Nevados (Volcanoes) national park, via the nearby Cocora Valley. Cocora is notable for its huge wax-palm trees (they reach 50 meters in height) and its equally huge numbers of wellington-boot clad backpackers, who come here at the behest of the Lonely Planet to do a two hour climb up to a rather curious hummingbird sanctuary-cum-cafe set deep in the jungle.

We naturally marched on straight past most of the backpackers, and helped most of the remaining few find their way back to the path as they’d got lost. And four more sweaty, muddy hours later we emerged from the jungle path/mudslide into the misty paramo (wetlands), high above the valleys below.


Wax palms silhouetted against the night sky at our Cocora campsite


We had an incredible view down the valley the following morning


And we promptly set off on the trek – a huge, 1,500 meter climb from the valley through the jungle and up into the paramo


It wasn’t a path so much as a giant mudslide, with the huge muddy gully presumably carved out over the years by the horses that ferry tourists up to the paramo


A long and sweaty climb later, we emerged to an overcast and completely desolate landscape, miles from any civilisation, except a handful of fincas (small family-run farms)

There were incredibly few tourists up here – mostly because the park is officially off-limits to those without a guide – and so we easily found a spot at the first finca (a small, family-run farm) to pitch our tent, in the shadow of the huge Tolima volcano.

From here we walked another day to a natural thermal spring in the heart of the park, before turning back the way we came and getting absolutely drenched on the way by the clouds that always seem to just appear out of nowhere at this altitude.


The following morning and it was all rather more clear, as the sun rose behind the Tolima volcano


We began our trek early, to try to beat the inevitable afternoon rains


There really was no-one around


Nevado de Tolima becomes obscured behind Encanto lake. Them clouds be a-coming


The whole paramo is filled with frailejon plants – the same ones we saw covering the El Angel reserve back in Ecuador’s northern highlands. Creepy.


It did rain – and the camera went away. But the next morning we emerged from our tent at the hot springs to the same blue skies


The hot springs made for a wonderful early-morning dip


That’s better!


We climbed to the nearby mirador (viewpoint) to catch this view to the east of the park


And this one to the north. On the left is the main volcano, Nevado del Ruiz. Although this picture was taken at around 6.45am, apparently we were up too late to see the top before it was covered by clouds. Next time, then


This is another photo in my long-running collection of Charlie pondering over water crossings. Just jump for goodness sake!

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This walk home certainly beats the one from Canary Wharf


Back at base following a huge rainstorm – those are our clothes drying on the barbed wire fence


The final morning, and it was time to begin the long walk down. And for good: we wouldn’t be this high up again for the rest of the trip. Sad times!

Part 2: The Zona Cafetera

We came back from Nevados feeling pretty broken after some pretty long days on foot, and it was at this point we decided to take it easy for a while rather than race to Medellin. We started in style, visiting the nearby Ocaso finca for one of their hugely-popular coffee tours, before making the short ride to Filandia, another colonial town, and spent two days drinking a lot of coffee on the beautiful town plaza and visiting another nearby finca, El Mirador.

From here we wound our way down on some incredibly scenic dirt roads to the next pretty colonial town, Montenegro, where we dumped our stuff in a hospedaje (that more resembled a prison – as we were trying to rein in our spending a bit) and jumped back on the bikes to Colombia’s National Coffee Park! This theme park had surprisingly little to do with coffee but it did have two rollercoasters and bumper boats – dodgems on water. Amazing.

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After the hike, we had to indulge in a typical Colombian lunch in Salento


Before cycling the short distance to colonial Filandia. We must have drunk about 10 coffees each on the town plaza…


…which was filled with the ubiquitous Willie’s Jeeps that transport coffee around the region…

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…as well as at the Mirador finca – whose incredible view over the Zona Cafetera lived up to its name

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Oh and to top it all off it was Valentines Day! 274 days on the road and the romance isn’t completely gone yet 😉


The ride out of Filandia was breathtaking

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We passed by dozens of small coffee plantations along the way

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And before we knew it, the rather larger National Coffee Park!


Very exciting.

The Zona Cafetera is full of fincas-turned-hotels, usually of the Costa del Sol villa type, with pools, bars, jacuzzis and as seemed obligatory, at least one billiards table and tejo court, to cater to Colombia’s two national sports (I swear, football comes a distant third). Anyway, we decided it would be rude not to stay in one, especially as it was so damn hot during the days, so the next day at around midday we decided to cheekily ask one if we could camp in their garden for a discounted price. Yes, we could! And did they also serve brandy by the glass? Yes, they did! And did I beat the owner of the finca at pool? You bet!

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We camped at the Casa Entrepalmas finca. They had horses. Which chased me!


It also had a lovely pool, which we had all to ourselves

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And another kind of pool, where I beat the owner in a nailbiter

After this it was back to a bit more normality as we did a long day to Chinchina, where another Warmshowers host, Hernando, awaited us. Hernando was lovely but his place – which we got to ourselves – turned out to be a shell of an apartment nestled in between about ten nightclubs. Knowing what this meant we decided to get really drunk on the local rum, and did actually get some sleep. Any cyclists out there – try not to stay there on a weekend!

And last up before the big cities was one more night camping in a finca, this time the lovely Hacienda Venezia, where we got to use the pool and have unlimited coffee, which we gladly did, all afternoon.


The road out of the forgettable regional capital, Pereira, goes over one of the longest bridges I’ve ever seen


Soon we turned off that highway, and onto yet another glorious dirt road, winding its way around a valley


Colombia is full of these beautiful back roads, but it always feels great when you stumble on one of them


The views out towards Chinchina and Manizales were stunning


Unfortunately Hernando never sent us the photo he took with us so we’re now at the Hacienda Venezia, for another glorious camp spot


Where I mostly sat by the pool drinking coffee. Bliss!

And just like that we were on the final climb to the forgettable city of Manizales, from where a bus would take us to Medellin – where we would be seeing a friend for the first time in nine months, and also taking a long-overdue month off the bikes!


The dirt road leading out of Hacienda Venezia was one of the steepest and toughest of the trip. At the midway point we were given a well-deserved congratulations by what I think was the local mountain-biking club!


Neareing the end of the 900 meter climb – our last one for more than a month!


Two days later, and our disassembled bikes were somehow squeezed into the back of a minibus to Medellin unscathed

Taking on La Linea – from Desierto Tatacoa to Salento

After quite literally hitting rock-bottom in the Tatacoa desert, we were now on our way up. A lot. In the next week we would be climbing around 3,000 meters to the border of Quindio state via La Linea, one of Colombia’s most famous and steepest paved climbs – and the second biggest of our trip – before an equally breathtaking descent down the other side and into Colombia’s famous ‘Zona Cafetera’

If you’ve read my last blog (hello, mum) you won’t be surprised to hear that this wasn’t so good for our health. By now it was like a long, drawn out game of Russian (Colombian?) Roulette with one of us seemingly selected to be ill on each day. Fn: I know how annoying it is reading rambling reports of other peoples’ poor health on their cycling blogs (trust me, I must have read them all) but I really don’t have much time to edit this for content, so there.

1. Climbing to Ibague

After our recovery day under the air-con in Villavieja we continued reluctantly back to the highway, as there aren’t a whole lot of roads in this region. To get there, we took the dirt road out of town to the north, which was another amazing gravel road/path winding through the desert and out towards the more verdant countryside to the North with no traffic, and just a handful of small hamlets en route.

Unfortunately, just as I was reflecting on how great all this riding was, I looked behind and noticed that my £200 jacket (the most expensive item of clothing I owned by far) had fallen off the back of my bike and was now somewhere in the middle of desert. Cue a rush of blood to the head and a decision to turn back the way we’d come to look for it, while Charlie headed on to the next town to wait for me. I returned, four hours later, sans jacket, but having had quite the adventure, including taking a couple of canoes across the Magdalena river (to cut down on riding time).


The spectacular dirt road leading away from the desert


We had no-one else for company…


…except a lot of vultures, these ones scavenging over some carrion at the side of the road


We would be climbing those hills in the distance pretty soon though!


But first we had this crazy road to do. It wasn’t clear why such a quiet road would need a tunnel to be bored through a hill, but hey, it was pretty cool


Later on, this is me returning alone to try to find my missing jacket. I didn’t find it, but it was fun to sample the local public transport

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And here is the last known sighting of my expensive jacket – precariously hanging off the back of the bike. Not sure how the photographer didn’t pick up on that 😉

In her infinite wisdom Charlie had paid for another room with AC in my absence, and had also bumped into a German cyclist – Jonas – who was taking a similar route to us, but all the way to Alaska. I think it’s fair to say Jonas was travelling in a rather different style to us – I’m not sure he’d stayed in a single hotel in Colombia, preferring to ask people to camp in their gardens/petrol stations along the way. Anyway we decided to cycle together towards the city of Ibague, at which point we would be turning different ways. It was fun cycling with someone else for a while, and we were sad to see him go when we reached the town of Payande and looked for somewhere to sleep, and he carried on to the next friendly family’s garden.

It turns out we all made bad decisions. We later learned that Jonas had to cycle well into the dark after no such friendly families materialised, before sleeping at a highway gas station. We on the other hand were stuck in a town that turned out to have no room at the inn(s), so we rocked up to the local police station to ask for help. After about an hour of them helping us (in vain) to find somewhere, they asked us to hand over our passports and in return put us up in the superintendent’s bedroom for the night! And to top it off the lucky police chief had a huge outdoor terrace, where we slept out under the stars, before the short ride to the big city the following morning.


More dirt-road biking on the road towards Ibague


We met Jonas later that morning, and cycled with him towards Payande

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God knows how he doesn’t keep taking people out with that stick he carries on the back of his bike – or get taken out himself!


Where we slept in the local police station!

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A collector’s item in Colombia – a cycle lane that actually goes somewhere useful – in this case to Ibague, where we would rest and recover before the next big climb

2. La Linea

After two days of lying down and eating £1.50 pizza slices from the takeaway van outside our hotel, we were ready for one of our biggest challenges yet – a 2,000+ meter climb in just 50 kilometers over ‘La Linea’ – one of the continent’s biggest paved ascents, over which lay Colombia’s famous coffee region.

We set off early – at around 7am, far earlier than I can get up for work back at home –  to find that the road was beautiful, and fairly quiet but for some cyclists in full Tour de France getup trying to emulate their national hero Nairo Quintana. Then came the faint roaring of a lorry behind, followed by a convoy of trucks, cars and motorbikes all jostling to overtake, as even this, one of the busiest roads in Colombia, is only a single carriageway. This pattern continued most of the way to the top – that is, until at one point we squeezed past a lorry that had got stuck in the middle of the road and was blocking the traffic on both sides, and suddenly, the road was all ours!

The ride wasn’t actually that tough, probably owing to the eight months of strenuous, high-altitude climbing we had in our legs. But as you might have guessed, one of us (this time Charlie) suddenly had to stop with another bout of illness, luckily right outside one of the very few hospedajes on the road. Unluckily the place was horrible! But it did cost us a quid a night each so we weren’t complaining.


On the beginning of La Linea – and Colombia’s unofficial Tour de France team was out for the early-morning climb


The road was beautiful, but not photogenic, if you get my drift. At the premature end to day 1 we stopped outside this hospedaje-cum-billiards hall


This was our three quid (total) room for the night – looking a little more like a prison cell. The mattresses didn’t even fit on the floor, and god knows what that stain was.

Not to worry as we slowly did the remaining few hundred meters the next morning to reach the top around 24 hours after we set off. This felt like a pretty major achievement, at least in part due to the amount of cars that had been beeping their horns at us on the way up and shouting encouraging things at us – it was a bit like running a marathon at times. But there was little time to celebrate as some smart ass (ahem) had the idea to skip most of the descent and instead to turn off onto a country lane to take a more direct route to Salento, where our latest den of convalescence awaited us.

This ‘road’ was very tranquil and picturesque but as Charlie was still sick I found myself having to push her bike up some of the steeper bits. So we were both pretty happy when, just before dark, we turned into the La Serrana hostel and pitched our tent in their garden, overlooking the beautiful rolling hills that stretched out in every direction.


Looking back down the valley from near the top of La Linea. My ‘photos of green hills’ penny jar is getting very full


Thanks to a lorry getting stuck in the middle of one of the very tight switchbacks on this 8-10% gradient road, we had the road mostly to ourselves on the second morning


And after about eight hours’ riding over two days, we finally made the 2,200 meter climb to the top


We’d be going all the way down there somewhere


Or not. We/I checked the map again and decided to turn off the main road, on what was marked as a ‘track’, that took what looked like a more direct route to Salento, I believe Charlie was faking that smile


In parts it really didn’t resemble a road


But it sure was beautiful. After eight and a half months of this, we’ve learned that we can pretty much cycle on anything with our touring bikes. So we do!


Pushing Charlie’s bike up the final lot of hills meant I didn’t have a free camera hand. But together we made it to La Serrana hostel on the outskirts of Salento, and picked this beautiful spot for our tent, making it almost worth the 15 quid price tag


This is the view back towards La Linea – it sure isn’t flat around here!


On 13 January, 2017, we entered Colombia via its main southern border with Ecuador, filled with excitement and anticipation about what the country that so many other cyclists have said is their favourite in South America would have to offer. It would be more than four months before we left, having meandered our way across the Andes several times – chalking off 10,000km on the road in the process – and having tried to experience as much as we possibly could of what this incredible country had to offer.

From wonderful hospitality to the breathtaking and immensely diverse scenery, to the more literally breathtaking climbing, to the not-so-wonderful food and to the downright terrible coffee (who’d have thought?!), Colombia’s been a fascinating country to visit. And if I can bring myself to forgive its shocking culinary scene, it’s probably been my favourite country, too. A great way to end our epic journey through South America, I’m sure this won’t be the last time we visit.

Use the links below to read about the different sections of our ride in Colombia.

Part 1: The deep south: Las Lajas to San Agustin, via the ‘Trampoline of Death’

Part 2: (More) hills, hospitality and heatstroke: Riding the back roads from San Agustin to the Tatacoa Desert

Part 3: Taking on La Linea – from the Tatacoa Desert to Salento

Part 4: Coffee braking: Two Slow(ish) Weeks in Colombia’s Zona Cafetera

Part 5: Medellin

Part 6: Into the Heartland: A Ride Through Antioquia, Santander and Boyaca Provinces

Part 7: The Home Straight