428 km down: 13,213 km to go
I set off from the hotel at 6:30am thinking “122 kilometres with 65 kilometres off road, how bad could it be?”.
Well. It had rained constantly overnight and the dirt road was actually a dirt bath. The first 3 to 4 kilometres were ok, but then it was followed by a section where the mud was so thick and wet you could not ride and you could not push your bike either. Every time you tried, you got 10 meters and then had to spend 5 minutes pulling mud out of the front and back tyres and chain of the bike.
A couple of times along the track the locals helped us out and hosed down our bikes. There was about 3 kilometres where the only option was to carry your bike. My bike is 18 kilos, plus the panniers that kept trying to fall off at every opportunity, though they were also hooked around my bike chain and locked so I couldn’t actually lose them. I would get about 30 meters carrying the bike and have to stop then go another 30 meters and so on. Thankfully the temperature was kinder than previous days, it was only 26 degrees.
The locals all waved and smiled at us as we went past, and were probably thinking “Stupid foreigners, why the heck don’t they use the main road!”.
After a while there were bits you could ride but I still had to keep jumping off whenever it got to a muddy bit, sometimes 20 meters, sometimes 50, then we got to some stretches where you could ride 200 to 300 meters. I fell off a number of times and was caked in mud, mainly by thinking the mud was harder than it was and over balancing when my bike slipped. I soon learnt not to try and steer when this happened.
Ironic, I thought I bought my bike here for it to carry me, not the other way round! After a stretch of a few kilometres where it started to get better I was feeling hopeful, then I saw riders carrying their bikes over a 500 metre stretch that was a quagmire. Luckily after this it improved again.
We had to go 35 kilometres and then catch a canoe to the other side for 2000 pesos, which is about 1 New Zealand Dollar. When we got there, there were heaps of locals collected to watch the entertainment, and the local children were fundraising by washing our bikes for 2000 pesos each. They were most enthusiastic and you had to stop them from rushing off with the panniers still attached.
Then across on the canoe – which was more of a long boat – to the other side, about 50 meters. Once we got to the other side it was narrow, windy, muddy and at times steep. I decided to walk as I had fallen off enough for the day, and because of this I lost contact with the other two riders who I had come across in the canoe with.
Thankfully it started getting a bit easier and less narrow, however then I came to another river and another canoe, and this was not in my notes! I started to get that sick feeling that I was lost. I pointed down the river rather than across and the two ferryman shook their heads and pointed to the canoe. I was still dubious, so they decided for me by pulling my bike on board.
Sitting on the canoe I could feel my bottom lip start to tremble and then tears slide out of my eyes as I was really worried that I was going the wrong way. “Stop being a baby”, I told myself “I’m sure the locals know what they’re doing”.
Over the other side I biked about 5 kilometres feeling a bit worried, and then came to a house where the road curved. There was Christiano, the tour leader, who had to come to the first point that there was vehicle access, as he knew that we would be worried that there was a second canoe crossing. I was so pleased to see him I burst into tears and hugged him.
Off again, more dirt roads, another 35 kilometres to go, thankfully only had to get off on average every 500 metres. My cleats and clips were so clogged with mud that I could not clip them in, and it got very wearying trying to balance my shoes on top. I tried washing them a few times in puddles without much success.
I seemed to ride forever and just when I thought “Ok I have missed a turn”, I came to a more built up area (5 to 6 houses) and then thankfully hard tarmac and there was the lunch truck! I could not believe it was 3:50pm! 9 hours for 65 kilometres and still 55 to go.
I had a quick lunch, once again the local children washed the bike for 2000 pesos. My bike was clucking and clacking and I could not get into the biggest gear. I managed to get another 35 kilometres but it gets dark at 6ish, and I did not have my light or reflector as I had no reason to think it would be needed that morning.
After 35 kilometres I made the call that I wouldn’t get another 20 kilometres before it got dark. By this time I was on a main highway with lots of trucks, and motorbikes zooming along on the shoulder.
I decided to stop at the toll booth where it is well lit – and there are Policia – to wait for the truck to pick me up. I asked the policia man if I could sit there, he seemed agreeable although after I had been there for about 45 minutes in the dark he tried to ask me what I was up to – in Spanish. After no success there was a huddle of the policia and then about 10 minutes later another man arrived and sat down next to me and asked if I spoke English. I told him what was happening, he spoke to the Policia and all was fine. I was pleased I had bought my bug cream in my pannier, as I was there for another 30 minutes.
It was 8pm by the time we got to camp. A number of riders only got to lunch and one of the riders Asha had lost his rear derailer, and was up for ages repairing his bike.
It was a tired lot putting up tents in the dark (my headlight batteries ran out of course!), sorting our bikes and getting the mud off (2 showers for all the riders – but thankfully there were showers at all!).
Sue had broken 7 spokes on her bike and another rider and I had wrecked our riding shoes (both of us had old shoes). I have been wearing my new riding shoes as walking shoes on rest days to try and break them in so I don’t get my feet covered with blisters. The clips are inserted into the sole, and then you put a cover over the sole.
When I got onto the truck I had both panniers and my bike chain lock, but I haven’t seen my bike chain lock since. Last time I was on the truck I had got on with 2 water bottles now I only have one. I am carrying water in my panniers, and will buy a new chain and lock when I see a bike store.