Once, after graduating from college, I went back and swam in the alumni meet, which pitted the current team members against graduates from years close and distant. As a collegiate swimmer, my specialty had been the distance events and so it only seemed logical to me to compete in one of those. "The 500 is short," I remember thinking, "I'll do that one." Never in my life have I ever been less trained or conditioned for an athletic endeavor.
Last weekend seven teachers from school took our mountain bikes and headed north to the small city of Tuluá, an hour from Cali. Here we began an 8 hour Travesía (bike tour) of the neighboring mountains visiting remote pueblos such as San Pedro and Buenos Aires.
Now, I ride my bike ever Sunday morning with, more or less, this same group, but its only once a week and never more than four hours, at the most. We stop every so often to make sure no one is lost and then push on some more. These Sunday rides are challenging, now doubt, but the end is always in sight.
This Travesía had no end. While the terrain wasn't horrible - I've ridden on trails with rocks the size of my head - it was still rough and bumpy much of the time and several streams or stream-beds were traversed. The grade of the climb was not impossible either, it just didn't ever let up; seemingly always inclining, an angle of 15° seemed might as well have been flat ground at times.
The entire event was amazingly well organized. A Jeep and motorcycle followed along with the approximately 100 or so bikers as we covered over 60km of mountain trails. The large man with the scruffy beard, greasy hair, baseball cap and red shirt, who we began secretly referring to as el gordo rojo took many pictures of all the participants and provided vocal support from his comfortable seat in the Jeep, much to our exhausted chagrin.
The scenery was outstanding. I'm not sure what our final altitude was but the ride down into the valley was stunning. Cloud-topped mountains displayed their full greenery of virtually untouched forest. Even on the lower slopes as we passed small family farms with fields of banana trees, the majesty of the hills was humbling. I kept saying to myself, "I was just up there!"
Rodrigo and me at the "end" of the course.
At the end of the course we were served lunch (and then had to bike another 7km back to the start) and given a medal of completion. This is possibly the biggest and nicest medal I've ever received for anything, let alone just finishing a bike race. I think maybe it's for gluing my butt to a bike seat for 8 hours; that's definitely worthy of a big fancy medal.
Today, two days later, my legs are a little sore and my lower back is still stiff. I take this as a sign to either bike more than once a week or find shorter Travesías!