02 October 2012


The clouds were thick around my campsite when I awoke. The tent and sleeping bag were wet and I packed them carefully and then the panniers and pushed the loaded bike back out onto the road. I began ascending again through the clouds with little visibility. I expected another day of cool, wet, difficult climbing in the clouds.

Then suddenly the clouds broke. The sky was bright blue and the sun hot and I was looking up at green mountains. Below the cloud cover stretched across the valley. It was like a lake of cotton candy and it seemed as if you could walk out upon it.

I climbed higher and there was a small restaurant on the roadside serving breakfast and lunch and I pulled in. The lady there had many questions for me and she explained I was 3 hours by car from Suscal. It was all steep climbing, she said, but then it flattened out to Zhud. I bought water and juice and got back onto the road. I realized I was going to need the whole day to make it.

I climbed and climbed in the heat of the sun, sweat dripping off me. A truck selling fruits and vegetables passed and I flagged it down and bought 12 oranges for a dollar. The grade was steep and it was tough climbing. I took regular breaks and would time them by the time it took me to eat the orange. I stopped at roadside stand and had a lunch of seco de pollo and coffee and rested for an hour.

There was more very steep climbing and now the country was changing from green to brown and it was becoming cool. Then there were clouds rolling down from the higher mountains and the sun was gone. I felt gassed and pulled over to take a break. As I ate an orange I looked back down the road and saw a sign showing the distance to El Troncal, the pueblo I had ridden up from. I sat there and made some calculations between El Troncal and its distance from Conchacay and  then from Conchacay to Suscal. At first I didn’t believe it. It really was 20 km more. I would be climbing up into those higher clouds today.

It was getting cold and it was also after 3pm. The clouds would mean nightfall came earlier. I didn’t see how I could make it to Suscal in time. I got back on the bike and started looking for places to camp along the road. There wasn’t anything. Just a road winding higher and higher into the mountains. A steep rock cut on one side and a drop off to the valley far below on the other.

I stopped where a cement channel had been constructed to direct rain runoff from the high mountains. Below it was a small ledge hidden from the road. There was just enough of a spot to put the tent down. I’d have to be careful I didn’t step out the wrong side of the tent and fall into the valley far below. What a bad idea this was though. What if it rained? The tent and gear would be soaked from the runoff. If there was a big storm higher in the mountains I could be washed over the ledge.

I was considering this problem when a pickup truck stopped.

“You are going to Suscal?” said an older man.

“Yes.” I had no idea how he knew, though Suscal was the only town in the direction I was going.

“I will take you. Put the bicycle in back.”

He wasn’t an indigenous and seemed honest enough and wasn’t poor. I lifted the bike into the wagon of the truck and got in the cab. His accent was heavy and I didn’t understand all of what he said. I didn’t even understand his name. We talked about my cycling and he asked me if I was riding alone. I lied and said my friends were waiting for me at the hotel in Suscal. I wanted to be careful. He sold washing machines for a living and had lived all his life in Suscal.

We drove higher up into the clouds. It was much colder now. Walking along the road were the short dark indigenous people with their bowler hats and purple and pink handmade clothes. I looked for places to camp and saw nothing. There was no way I could have made it. It was too far and too high and too late in the day and I was too tired. A hotel room sure beat sleeping in a rain ditch on the edge of a cliff.

The old man stopped at his house and we unloaded my bike from the back and I thanked him. Clouds were descending on the town from the higher mountains. The hotel was a few blocks from the avenida principal just off a small plaza. I took a room for $8 a night and the girl turned on the water for me to take a shower. After I spread out my tent and sleeping bag in the room to dry and went out looking for something to eat.

The clouds were now thick upon the town and visibility was less than a block. I wandered through the streets looking for a shop or a restaurant but everything was closed. An indigenous man said everything closed at 5pm. I assumed it was because of the clouds and darkness. There was a panaderia open and a young man named Rolando sold me some pan de queso. He somehow knew I had ridden into town on a bike and made me promise I would come back and talk with him the next day. I returned to my room and made some coffee and ate the bread and some peanuts. I felt very tired. Then I was asleep.


Dustin Bradford said...

Incredible vistas, punishing heights.

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