Our intended 3 days with Sofi turned into a week and our hopes of making quick progress through Ecuador went out the window. We left feeling weak and drained but decided a training ride to 3700m would be a perfect way to get us back to full fitness.
Leaving Quito was no easy feat, it took us all day and in our weak state had us questioning if we were ready to be back on the roads again. Our Spirits were lifted however when we met four Venezuelans, they had left Quito at 4am! They were also heading to Laguna Quiltoa but were hoping to make it in one day. Knowing it was at least another 120km away we wished them luck and carried on at our dwindling pace. That is until we overtook them on one of the longer climbs of the day. We never did see them again; we hope they made it though!!! We did see our first bike-packers, they are kind of like cycle tourers but with no panniers and a super light weight set up, they even had a dog that carried its own backpack. It was like being back at school again and not being part of the cool crowd. It’s easy to see the draw of this style of riding but for the next 15km climb all I could do was wonder how they fit all the necessary kit for long term trip.
We finally arrived at Laguna Quiltoa not after a roadside fix of Jess’ bike. After 11 500km her gear cable decided that it was one climb too many and gave up on us. A bodge it fix had jess riding with two gears, luckily we managed to make it her two easiest gears so that she had a chance on the ever increasing gradients. Even this wasn’t enough though as the last 2km went to an ungodly gradient and a horrible head wind that had hideous similarities to Patagonia.
A quick down hill and we started our second climb, realising we were never going to make it over both in the remaining hours of daylight we set up the tent and prepared for a frigid night at altitude.
Over night the wind had intensified and as we rode the many switchbacks it seemed we never managed to benefit from a tail wind. We were struggling and moral was at a low. The combination of wind and uphill forced us to an intensity where everything grated on us; there was no room for thinking about anything else but the horrific climb and the devilish headwind we were battling with. The smallest things began to grate on me; a car playing it’s music loud caused on outburst of profanities, my jacket hood catching on my helmet had me nearly throwing it on the side of the road. We were both battling internally as well as externally and everything was out to stop us climbing this vertical wall of hell. Its funny how a combination of elements can cause such a crash in our mental state. I can honestly say I did not enjoy this part of our trip, it had me more than ready to throw it all in, all over a silly little climb (well, not so little). As far back as I can remember this is up there with one of my toughest days on the bike. It’s times like these though, when we are struggling and probably at our lowest, that make us appreciate the rest of the trip. If it weren’t for these tough days then the awesome days wouldn’t be quite as good.
Upon making it back to the main road we had a tough decision to make. With the last few days taking slightly longer than expected and the week in Quito we were well and truly behind schedule if we wanted any chance of riding and camping on the Salt flats of Bolivia before the rainy season kicked in then we were going to have to take a bus. That being said we didn’t feel like we had given Ecuador a fair chance on the bikes. In the end we gave in, we would bus to Loja and then ride the next 3 or 4 days to Peru, from here we would have made up some of the time we had lost while still getting some extra miles in. We also still needed a bike shop to fix Jess’ bike, the only one we had found didn’t stock cables long enough. Loja, we hoped could solve that problem.
After having to wait around for a day we were finally on our way, the only problem was we arrived in Loja at 4am in the rain. With no other option as we couldn’t find anywhere to stay we settled down for an uncomfortable few hours in the bus station before we could make our way to the bike shop.
By midday we were eventually on the road making progress in the right direction albeit a little sleep deprived. Whether it was due to the lack of sleep or just not thinking on our ride to the border I managed to drop my front wheel into a grate while trying to check a hostel price consequently bending my disc brake. Seems that no matter what we try, getting out of Ecuador quickly just isn’t an option. Worst part was the hostel was crazy expensive, even more so when you add the cost of a new disc!!
We made our way to the first bike shop in Vilcabamba we could find to be told they didn’t have the parts and I was going to have to go back to Loja, ideal. With that we found a cheap hotel and the next day I was on a bus back to the bike shop that had fixed Jess’ bike in order to get parts I needed. Back on the bus and with the bike fixed we were ready to leave. However on the bus my stomach began to grumble, sweat started to pour and a strong urge to find a bathroom materialised. We were not leaving Vilcabamba today.
The next day I was feeling better and we left the hotel and began the first climb, 6km and just as we crested the hill and I flicked my gears into the big ring to make the most of the downhill we had yet another problem, my gear cable decided that after all the fun we had with Jess’ cable it wanted some of the same. Queue us turning around and heading back to the bike shop. By lunch my cables had been changed and once again we were ready to ride but with us loosing so much time we took a local bus to our expected evenings destination. From here we pushed on and made it to within a days ride of the border, all that was left was the steepest climb yet. Pushing was a challenge and we saw our speed crash to barely moving, Ecuador really wasn’t letting us go without a fight. As we finally rolled into the border town we were 1 week behind schedule but with all the problems we had encountered and the roads we had ridden we were happy with that.
It feels a shame to have missed a huge chunk out of Ecuador but we are excited to ride some of the famous Peruvian dirt roads. Fingers crossed we won’t need any more buses and that the rainy season holds of until December for us!
Danny and Jessica living the nomadic dream.