Words by Rosara Joseph @rosarajoseph
Somewhat reluctantly, we took the left turn off of the main road. It was 100℉, 60% humidity, and the sun beat down on our sweaty backs. The road sign read: “Jericó, 25 kilometers [15 miles]”. What it didn’t say was that each of those 25 kilometers was uphill, climbing 5000 feet into the towering hills clad with jungle and clouds. We were already six hours deep, having mounted our trusty steeds during the morning rush hour in Medellín and pedaled our way up and down the steep countryside of Antioquia, Colombia. There was no doubt: this final climb was going to be a real bastard.
In late August, my boyfriend, Evan Powell, and I travelled from our homes in Squamish, B.C. to Medellín, Colombia. Yes, that’s the city which was once the stronghold of Pablo Escobar and his crew, but that was last century. The city and its proud inhabitants have moved on and, understandably, would prefer to focus on what’s happening now. The objective of our short trip was to use our bikes to explore the city and surrounding countryside and to meet some of the people who lived there. We were not so focussed on the riding as much as the whole experience. As anyone who has travelled with a bike can attest, bikes are a wonderful way to truly experience a new place and its people. When you travel by bike you are really immersed in the environment, you move more slowly and deliberately, and it often sparks friendly curiosity and an instant connection that does not happen when traveling by other means.
Fresh off the plane from Canada, we met with a local mountain biker named Felipe. He took us high into the hills above Medellín and proudly showed us the local trails that he and his buddies have been working on for years. They followed the old trading routes worn into the jungle by packhorses and mules. By bike they were a treacherous good time, slipping and sliding through slimy rock gardens and slick hardpack clay. But much better than the riding was the opportunity to talk with Felipe and learn a little about his life in Medellín. We bonded over our shared wanderlust, love of nature, and joy we find in bike riding.
The day after our urban bike adventure, we packed all our gear into backpacks and saddlebags and loaded our bikes ready for a 100 kilometer (60 mile) road ride to Jericó, a hilltop town in the coffee growing countryside of Antioquia. Top tip: long travel trail bikes and Vigilante tires are not the ideal cycle-touring setup - well duh, I hear you say! But no matter: it is still a bike and will still open up an exciting world of new sights, smells, sounds, and experiences. I will forever remember the day spent riding through small, colorful towns, hillside coffee plantations, and deep, steamy hot valleys. Stopping for ice cold Coca Cola at roadside stalls; devouring a gourmet three-course lunch in an open air restaurant; buying bananas from the old man in his hole in the wall fruit store; dodging falling avocados as we flew down endless descents; grinding up sweaty climbs - these are the kinds of experiences that leave a lasting impression.
My time in Colombia was short but so full of color, warmth, and incredible people. I am a newbie when it comes to cycle-touring and bikepacking, but this trip reminded me again that, whatever bike you’re riding and whatever form of cycling you’re doing, it is such a special way to make real connections and enjoy genuine experiences.