Cycling in and around Medellin
Cycling is among Colombia’s most popular sports, second only to football (soccer), and you will find all sorts of riders out training or commuting on the roads both inside and outside of the cities.
Aside from the heavy traffic and air pollution, Medellin and its surrounding areas are incredibly conducive to cycling. Following Bogota’s lead, Medellin also hosts a Ciclovia every Sunday from 7am to 1pm, closing 42 kilometers of roads to motor vehicles so people can feel safe to bike, run, walk or skate freely. Some of these same roads host a smaller version of Ciclovia every Tuesday and Thursday night between 8 and 10pm. Additionally, there are over 100km of ciclorutas (separated bike paths) within the city. For the BMX riders, there are parks and pumptracks sprinkled throughout the city, including a pretty big one named after world champion Mariana Pajon, a native of Medellin. While there’s no velodrome (yet) in Medellin, there is a decent track where roadies can train, riding circles as fast as they want out of traffic.
If you’re comfortable riding with traffic, the autopista (highway) is one of the fastest ways to get around town, and it is not off limits to cyclists. While there are many bike routes throughout the city, they can be slow due to the numerous pedestrians who are not paying attention to their surroundings while strolling down the bike paths. Most road cyclists will end up riding out of the city on one of the highways and inevitably end up climbing switchbacks up one of the steep mountains on the outskirts of town. It is not uncommon to see pelotons of professional cycling teams training on these roads every week. Possibly the most popular spot to ride on the weekends is the road leading to the airport in Rio Negro. It’s basically straight up a mountain for 16 kilometers, but you can find hundreds of riders on both road and mountain bikes cycling up Avenida Las Palmas on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
The worst part about riding in Medellin is undoubtedly the pollution. Medellin is currently the 8th most polluted city in South America, and you can really feel it when you ride a bike. Most of the buses and trucks emit thick clouds of black smoke that encompass you and your bike as they accelerate away from you, and the numerous motos are not much better. Traffic can be very slow, and you really have to be careful when going around buses and taxis because the motos are usually speeding along in between the lanes of cars. I regret not having a GoPro to take video footage of one of my rides through traffic, because I think the video would be quite exciting.
On our first full day in Medellin, Dallas and I took a tour of the city with BiciTour Medellin. Carlos and Mateo were excellent guides, and I was lucky to be able to ride with both of them a few weeks later when I had finally acquired my own bike. The tour is a great way to learn about Medellin while seeing more of the city than you would be able to on foot. They will teach you about the city’s violent history, show you some of the graffiti, buy you salpicon, and take you to Pueblito Paisa, a model colonial village with one of the best views of the city.
Every Wednesday night SiClas organizes a ride called Sicleada that leaves from Carlos E. Restrepo park at 8pm. The route changes weekly and is never repeated. It varies from easy, flat rides within the city to fairly difficult rides that include climbing the surrounding mountains of Medellin. This ride draws over 1000 riders every single week and is a great way to meet people and make friends. The ride is usually more or less 20 kilometers, and very slow. Volunteers block cars from intruding on the ride from side streets, and the front of the group waits at the top of every hill for the rest of the group to catch up before moving on. There is always a break about halfway through, where some of the riders sell homemade sandwiches, cookies and juice. People are talking, laughing, whistling, playing music, and generally having a blast throughout the entire ride. If you ever find yourself in Medellin on a Wednesday night, you should rent a bike from SiClas and do it – this is an experienced not to be missed.
Another encouraging program in the city is EnCicla, a free bike share service. Drawbacks to this are that it can take a few days to get a card to use the program, since you have to apply with ID and a utility bill to prove you are a resident. The other down side is that the service is only available on weekdays from 5:30am until 7pm. There are some stations that are manned by a person and others that are automatic. Because it’s a free program and doesn’t generate any income, it’s expensive to operate. Maybe in the future it will be more like existing bike share systems in the US that are all automatic and available 24 hours a day, but this will probably require them to charge a small fee to rent the bikes.
The cycling community in Medellin is expansive, and there is something for every type of rider. Groups on Facebook, Meetup, and Couchsurfing exist for mountain bikers, road cyclists, and casual riders who just want to socialize. The people are friendly, and it’s very easy to make friends and find people with whom to ride. I did have a bit of trouble finding a good road bike, and it’s not easy to find a good, inexpensive second-hand bike. Most shops sell new bikes for the same price that they would cost in the US. They do come with an ownership card that includes the serial number in case your bike ever gets stolen, which is a system I think should be adopted everywhere. If you know where to look for used bikes, they can be very cheap (30,000-100,000 pesos). But depending on what kind of riding you plan on doing, I’m not sure how reliable these bikes are.
Now that I’ve written enough material for three blog posts (and I could go on), I should conclude by saying that cycling around here is really great, no matter what kind of biking you’re into. There are obvious concerns with exercising in such heavy air pollution, but I think my positive experiences and the excellent views have outweighed the risks.
Growing the sport of cyclocross in Rhode Island
After seeing them in action, I truly think that Ed Raff is a genius for creating this cycling team (either that or he got very lucky). This is a great way to get kids to be active and involved in a team sport that can also double as a mode of transportation and a lifestyle. After most players of team sports like football, rugby or lacrosse have retired due to injury or ‘old’ age, cyclists can maintain their sport for a lifetime. Bicycling has been predominantly a poor person’s mode of transportation but a rich person’s sport, and it’s about time that changes.
New Job for Nomadic Cyclists
Dallas and I have persevered through the worst of winter in New England, while apparently the rest of the country has had the warmest winter on record. It’s probably the worst timing for us to be leaving, when we should be reaping the reward of spring and summer after having suffered through such misery for the past 3-4 months. Summertime is really the only reason to ever live in Rhode Island. I’m sad that I won’t get to experience it to it’s fullest in the Ocean State, but we have a pretty good reason for leaving now.
We applied as a team for a job with PeopleForBikes, a non-profit based in Boulder, Colorado, whose mission is to increase cycling (and cycling infrastructure) in the US five-fold by 2025. This is a seasonal job, and the ultimate opportunity for Dallas and I to play an active role in bicycle advocacy while remaining nomadic and (hopefully) still cycling every day. The job is sponsored by Volkswagen, so we will be getting a brand new car to travel around the country to various events, setting up our tent and giving out prizes to people who sign on to our movement. We are very excited to be starting this new chapter of our lives, but at the same time very sad to be leaving Providence so suddenly. We will be back.
Dallas and I are going to be the East Coast Crew – they are still looking for the ideal candidates for a West Coast Crew, so if you’re ready to drop everything and travel around the western half of the US for the next 6 months, you can apply here! Part of our job involves blogging and posting to instagram – so if you’d like to follow us on our PeopleForBikes journey, the blogs will be posted here, and you can follow PeopleForBikes on instagram (and if you don’t already, follow nomadiccycling on instagram too!). And, after reading all of this, if you haven’t already joined the movement, you can sign up here!
Day 11 – Eureka to Weott, CA
Getting started this morning was a struggle. Dallas and I didn’t roll out until almost 11am, then stopped less than a mile down the road at the grocery store for another 20-30 minutes before we really hit the road. I think the long days and miles without much rest in between has been wearing on us, and it has been tough to motivate ourselves out and onto our bikes for another long ride. Personally, I have been dealing with some knee pain and saddle sores, while Dallas has struggled with an ingrown toenail and mental challenges. Miles have been going by painstakingly slowly lately.
Fortunately, it was another beautiful day, and it’s hard not to be happy out in the sunshine. The traffic and hills were not too bad today, and after lunch we got to experience riding down the Avenue of Giants, through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We stopped about halfway through our ride in the quaint town of Rio Dell, where we had amazing Mexican food at Tonetta’s. The Avenue of the Giants took us off the highway and into the forest, where it grew darker and cooler under the super tall redwood trees.
The Avenue also took us through a small town called Redcrest, where we made one last stop for hydration and a bathroom break. The lady working at the shop where I bought some lemonade asked in a hoarse voice if I thought it would be a good idea for people who use bicycles for transportation to be required to have registration and insurance. I’m curious to know what other people think of this, but I like that bicycling is accessible to people of all ages and income levels, and I’m afraid requiring registration and insurance would only be an obstacle to discourage cycling. I do think that it’s a good idea to teach cycling to kids in schools like they do in other countries, such as the Netherlands and Denmark. Maybe having them pass a course in school so they can earn a license to ride will make cycling more popular as a transportation method. As for insurance, I all insurance is generally a rip-off.
We continued through the forest until Burlington Campground, after having gone just about 50 miles. Dallas and I had just enough time to pitch our tent before needing our headlamps to see. Now, under these giant trees, it is really quite dark. Our campsite is pretty close to the road, but hopefully traffic will be light enough for us to get a good sleep. I think we’re both so tired that it probably wouldn’t matter anyway.
Day 10 – Rest in Arcata, Ride to Eureka
After such a long day of riding, Dallas and I slept in at his cousin’s house and enjoyed a relaxing home-cooked breakfast while playing with Mike and Toni’s son, Felix. Mike brought us on a walk through the Redwood Park and Arcata Community Forest, and then we went out for lunch and ice-cream in town. It was a much needed day of rest, since our limbs were still aching when we finally did hop onto our bikes again. It was after 5pm when we left Arcata, so we didn’t make it too far today. We’re spending the night in Eureka and hoping to cover more distance tomorrow.
Day 9 – Crescent City to Arcata, CA
Dallas and I started our morning off by breaking our bags before even getting onto the road. Dallas broke the zipper on one of his panniers, and I forgot to tie down the straps for my Seal Line backpack, so one strap got caught in my rear wheel and wrapped around the hub several times before being wrenched off of the bag with a loud snap. This was going to be a very long day.
We were planning to get to Arcata to stay with Dallas’s cousin, Mike, and his family. Arcata is 80 miles from Crescent City, and the bike directions provided by google maps showed that we would encounter three major hills along the way. The first hill began not even 2 miles after our departure, and rose to 1200 feet over the next 3 miles. As we approached what looked like the top of the hill, we saw another cyclist mounting her bike and getting ready to descend. We eventually caught up, and it was then that we learned there were three summits to this hill. A bit past the bottom of the hill, after stopping for a snack, we caught up with two other cyclists from Amsterdam. The woman we had passed on the hill was riding with another man to raise money for cancer research, and all three pairs of us ended up coming together on the same road at one point.
After talking with them for a bit, we took off first since we were trying to make it another 65 miles. The next major hill came after a town called Klamath and only climbed to about 800 feet. The descent on this hill was my favorite part of the ride, since we were riding down a winding road amongst enormous redwoods. We stopped several times just to appreciate these trees and read some of the information signs at various trailheads.
By the time we had reached the next town (Orick) it was already 2pm, and we were still less than halfway to Arcata. We ate burgers and milkshakes at the Palm Cafe and inspected the map on our phones. We decided to stay on highway 101 a bit longer and take a more coastal road instead of take a detour to the east suggested by google bike directions. This meant we would be on a higher speed road for a few extra miles, but we ended up avoiding the last monster hill we had seen on the elevation chart. It still wasn’t an easy ride.
In between all of the giant hills were more hills, too small to register as anything on the elevation chart, but definitely registered as tough hills in my legs. The coastal roads we took were scenic, with beautiful views (we got to see elk by a lagoon and seals by the ocean), but they were narrow, winding, and not flat. My legs would have been happy to quit riding after lunch. We made one last snack stop in Trinidad before tackling the last 20 miles to Arcata. Dallas is a wonderful cycling partner, and has been very encouraging and supportive for all the times I have doubted my ability to carry on. I’m very lucky to have him here with me.
We watched the sun dip into the Pacific Ocean before cycling away from the coast on a bike path that grew darker by the minute. When we finally reached Arcata, I felt energized knowing that we were almost to our destination. The last few miles uphill to Mike and Toni’s house in the dark were no longer painful. Mike greeted us and helped us unload our bikes. He had dinner ready, which was salmon caught from the Klamath River, chantrelle mushrooms he harvested locally, and baked winter squash. Not only is Dallas an excellent partner, but he has amazing and supportive family! It has been wonderful getting to meet some of them.
Day 3 – Monmouth to Corvallis, OR
Dallas and I didn’t make it very far today, in spite of our early start. We were on the road by 8am! Neither of us slept very well in the tent the night before. As I was trying to fall asleep, I kept hearing what sounded like fireworks going off sporadically in the distance, with no discernible rhythm. This sound went on for hours. Then, I must have actually slept a little bit because I remember both of us being woken up by the sound of howling in the distance. Maybe coyotes? We were awoken a second time by the howling a bit later, only this time it was MUCH closer. Like, right outside of our tent. Dallas asked me if I had my pepper spray near me. Terrified, we lay there hoping it would go away. That night I dreamt that I had to use my pepper spray – on a hitchhiker.
We were packed up and on the road before daylight really filled the sky. We finally met back up with the scenic bikeway about 7.5 miles into the ride. Here, there was a convenient cafe that offered breakfast sandwiches, quiche, and coffee. I figured we would stop briefly to refuel and then be on our way to Eugene, but once settled in, we ended up staying for about 2 hours! (Dallas’s excuse was that his coffee was still too hot to drink). Here is where our luck seemed to have run out. The weather forecast for the day included lots of rain and possible thunderstorms. We were both tired, and we didnt want to end up stranded somewhere in the middle of farmland, 20 miles from the nearest cover when the storm hit. Since we didn’t sleep well on the ground the night before, we decided to splurge on a cabin rental at the nearest KOA campground. This was just an 8-9 mile bike ride from where we were, and we would be safe from the rain.
Upon arriving at the KOA, we unloaded our bikes and made ourselves home in the cabin. First order of business was showers, then laundry. Food options at the KOA were rather limited, so we ordered a pizza. Then we went for a walk on their “Nature Trail” – a short loop around various trees and blackberry bushes. Back in the cabin, we will rest our legs for the remainder of the evening. It barely sprinkled while we spent our day lounging around the campground, but Dallas assured me that just 30 miles south of us it was probably stormy and miserable. Let’s hope so anyway.
New (used) bikes for our next adventure
Back in Portland, Dallas and I spent a few days recovering from our travels from Alaska. We needed to get moving though, before the weather turned cold and rainy. It was apparently already too late to miss the rain, so after 2 rest days, we started to get serious about our next move. Dallas purchased an almost new Kona Honkytonk from our friend Alyssa, and I found an excellent deal on a GT Wheels 4 Life Peace tour bike on Craigslist. The former owner of my new steed had just finished riding across the US with it – you can see her blog here: www.missionusa2013.blogspot.com
On Friday, Dallas caught up with family in Oregon City while I ran with our friend Kelly in Forest Park. I spent that weekend testing my bike out on some of John Benenate’s team rides. It’s heavy compared to everyone’s road bikes, but it will definitely get me out of Portland. After spending Saturday and Sunday cycling in the rain, Dallas joined me for Tuesday and Wednesday evening group runs organized by other Skora ambassadors. There’s definitely enough resources to stay active all week in Portland.
My plan was to wait for a few sunny days in a row (which could be weeks here), and get as far south as possible before the rain hits again. We got lucky on Thursday afternoon when the sun came out (and we got to see our friend Kristina, from Sockeye, who had just arrived in Portland the night before).
Hoping to leave Friday, we hurried to get everything we needed together for another long bike tour. Halfway through the day, we decided we wouldn’t be ready and would leave on Saturday instead. Saturday morning came, and we still had a few last minute things to pack and adjust. By Saturday afternoon, we were still not quite ready. Hopefully we haven’t wasted our only two sunny days in Portland. We definitely plan on biking out Sunday morning!
The plan is to head south as far as Eugene together. Then, I may cut west to the coast and ride down the Pacific Coast Highway. Dallas is planning to continue towards Crater Lake (hopefully the National Park will be open again by the time he gets there) and south to visit his dad in Ashland before meeting up with me again in San Francisco. The goal is to get to San Francisco by October 19th. Keep checking back for more frequent updates along the way!
Training started on May 1st, and for the first week or so, all of us learned an incredible amount about Skagway, Coastal Temperate Rainforests, local flora and fauna, and glaciers, among other things. When we weren’t actively training to be bicycle tour guides, we were participating in other activities aimed at welcoming and orienting us for our first summer in Skagway. We went camping in Dyea, a town that began as a small summer fishing camp for the local Tlingits, boomed to about 20,000 people at the height of the gold rush, and then became a ghost town shortly after completion of construction of the railroad from Skagway to Dawson City. We hiked some of the Chilkoot Trail and rafted down the Taiya river with another tour company. We went on a bike ride through the Northwest sliver of British Columbia and into the Yukon Territory to Carcross. We were given an exam with 30 questions to answer in detail and return a week later. When possible, we ran and explored some of the nearby trails in an attempt to train for the upcoming Skagway Marathon. Most of the trails were still too icy or covered with snow. Dallas and I had very little time to relax, and practically no time to write or talk to friends and family back home.
Training has finally ceased, and all of us new guides have been slowly easing into the routine. Cruise ships are starting to dock regularly at one of the three docks. One amazing thing about this is that Skagway sits right at the end of the Lynn Canal, which is the deepest and longest fjord in North America. The mountains around here, which reach heights of 7000 feet, rise right up from the sea, and the 1800ft deep canal allows cruise ships to pull right up to the docks. In Newport, cruise ships would anchor in the middle of the bay and people would be shuttled to the shore on small boats called tenders. At the peak of tourism season, we will be getting 4-6 cruise ships in town daily, with fewer on the weekends. The town, which only has about 800 residents year-round and 2000 during the summer, increases 10-fold during the day while all the cruise ship tourists are walking about. While Dallas and I have mixed feelings about them, these cruise ships are vital to Skagway’s economy.
One great thing about living here is the amount of outdoor activities and available hiking trails just out our back door. The local backcountry outfitter’s store has a summer trail challenge, and I’m excited to hike or run all 12 of the trails on the list. The most challenging will be the historic Chilkoot Trail, which in its entirety is 33 miles long and climbs 3500 feet in elevation. It was once a Tlingit trading route, where natives would hike to trade their fish (Hooligan) oils with the Tagish natives of the interior for furs to stay warm and red cedar to build kayaks. When gold was found outside of Dawson City in 1896, people flocked to Dyea to hike this same trail. The trail ends at Lake Bennett, where people would then have to build a boat to float another 500 miles up the Yukon River to where the gold was found.
Another great thing about this region is the air quality. Lichens grow in abundance here, which is a true testament to the cleanliness of the air since they receive their nutrients from the air and are so sensitive to air pollution. Also, bicycling is a very common form of transportation, probably because the town is only 5 blocks wide and 22 blocks long. For a school that has only 60-70 people (k-12), there are more bike racks than the train station in Providence. This certainly helps the air quality. Today, while driving up to the summit for the start of one of our tours, we passed a group of high school students from White Horse, who were cycling back. They were in the midst of a 15 mile uphill stretch along the Klondike Highway that climbs to 3292ft in elevation from sea level. I was impressed (and a little jealous).
The only negative thing I can say about living in SE Alaska is that because we are so isolated, our food is expensive. Once a week, a barge comes in with all of the town’s supplies for the week. Groceries are not only expensive, but by the end of the week there is really not much to choose from. Dallas and I ordered some dry goods from Amazon, but produce and dairy are tough to come by without a high cost. Because of shipping costs, pretty much everything is pricier by at least 25 cents per pound. I’m looking forward to June and July, when we start getting more edible plants in the forest. Since learning about all of these berries, mushrooms, spruce tips and other edibles, my roommates and I plan to forage as much as possible in the upcoming months.