Pennsylvania Bike Tour: One week, 600 miles

I’m taking vacation next week and doing a week-long bike tour through Pennsylvania.  600 miles in 7 days.  We’re starting from Philly, riding out to the Appalachian mountains, and then looping back to end in New York City.  We’ll be following the BicyclePA Routes (S, G, and V) most of the time, camping along the way, and staying a night in State College, PA, the home of Penn State University — the 2009 #1 party school.  Lemme see ya handz pahty peepl!

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Video: Bogota’s Bike Friendly

I don’t really agree with bicycle touring for a cause.  It seems lame.  It should be for fun and adventure.  This guy did a Ride For Climate.  I guess to raise awareness, or something.

Anyway, this video is pretty cool because it highlights Bogota, Colombia as a city on the leading edge of bicycle-friendly urban planning.

Trust Test in Bucaramanga

Henri and I arrived to Bucaramanga, but he had to drop off his delivery. It would be bad if his company found out that he had picked up a hitchhiker. So Henri pulled up to a corner, unloaded my bicycle from the back, and told me he’d be back in a few minutes. Tranquilo. I’ll sit tight right here.

Weird Colombian Fruit: Tentacle-skin on the inside with larvae-like seeds that you eat.

Henri left me on the corner, and as he pulled away I got a sinking feeling. I barely knew this guy, and he’s got everything I own besides my bike – clothes, tent, money, and passport! Maybe this is his trick. Pick up a hitchhiker, establish a little trust, and then drop them off and never return. I figured I would have to pawn my bicycle to get some cash, or else try to find some charitable person that would take me in while I waited on a new debit card to be sent to me. Waiting for Henri’s return felt like a long time. But he came back!!

Having a lot of trust in people is something I learned from my backpacking trip in Eastern Europe, and it was working out for me on the bike tour too, but this time around I put myself in an extremely vulnerable situation. I’m glad it worked out because it would have validated a lot of people’s thoughts about Colombia (and Latin America), and acted as a warning to never do a bike trip. Henri was a good guy, and I shouldn’t have doubted that, but I should have at least gotten my wallet and passport.

Aguachica to San Alberto, Hitchhiked to Bucaramanga (Colombia)

Stats: 49.28 miles, 14.4 avg, 33.9 max, 3:25 hours

The mountains began after I passed through San Alberto. After biking 40 miles through intense heat, I was struggling up the hot incline. I wanted to quit, but I felt I had to get to Bucaramanga, about another 40 miles away. I stopped to rest in some shade, and I put my thumb out to a passing truck. It didn’t stop. Destiny, I guess. I had heard that hitchhiking was difficult in Colombia. So, I got back on the bike. 100 yards later, I passed a stopped box truck. The driver taking a pee, and as I passed he said something to me. I asked if he was going to Bucaramanga. He told me to get in. Flow like water.

Henri was really friendly. He joked around and asked me lots of questions, and I did my best to understand and answer them. After a few minutes of getting to know me, Henri told me that he could give me another ride the next day as he’d be driving his delivery truck further towards Bogota, and that I would be welcome to stay at his house in Bucaramanga with his family.

Henri was reckless on the road. He didn’t have any patience as he’d overtake cars around blind curves. He risked both our lives frequently. At one point, there was a huge line of semi-trucks struggling up a bend in the mountain. Henri boldly went for it. I braced myself up against the back of the seat as we spent 15-20 seconds in the oncoming lane. His intuition worked.

San Roque to Aguachica (Colombia)

Stats: 78.09 miles, 13.3 avg, 5:50 hours

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I wanted to get a camera mount for my handlebar so I can record some video. I walked around to find a hardware store that would have a 1/4” bolt. When I passed one, a guy yelled out, “What do you need?” in English.

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Joao was a Brazilian tattoo artist. He spoke good English which helped me a lot to explain my complicated needs of this camera mount. He took a big interest in helping me and had lots of ideas how we could do it. I didn’t like a lot of the ideas he had, like just super-gluing the end of the bolt to the handlebar mount, but I let him run with his idea of shaving down the head of the bolt so it could wedge into the slot of the handlebar mount.

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Joao found the right size bolt and the right length, went over to a garage, and then he used a grinder to shave down two sides of the bolt head. Then he wedged it in, and it seemed pretty good. But we also added a zip tie to give the plastic of the handlebar mount extra strength, and a nut so that I could tighten it up to the camera when it was pointed in the right position.

I bought Joao a drink for his effort. He said he should patent the design.

Aracataca to San Roque (Colombia)

Stats: 104.73 miles, 15.5 avg, 6:45 hours

Since I had stayed an extra day in Aracataca, I wanted to get as far as I could to get back on schedule to make it to Bogota on time to meet Jessica when she arrived. I left Tim at 7:30 am, stopped at a panaderia to get some bread for breakfast, and then got on the road.

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Northern Colombia is mostly flat but the heat was intense. It was at least in the high 90s and I was feeling like I was going to explode under my helmet. When my body temperature became unbearable, I would hurry to a spot in the shade, and throw off my helmet and sunglasses with urgency.

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After going over 100 miles, I was happy to stop in San Roque. It was a tiny town close to the intersection of two roads. I got hotel for 7000 pesos ($3.50) which included a private bathroom and a fan.

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I walked around the town looking for some jugos naturales – I lived for these things. Every chance I got, I stopped for one. But San Roque was barren. People stared at me as I walked by. I’m sure they were wondering how this lone gringo got here, and why he was staying. I asked around about the jugos, and I was directed to an empty table outside someone’s house. An older guy came out and I asked if he served jugos naturales. He said he did. I told him I wanted a mora, which is like a blackberry juice. He scurried off to a nearby store to get the supplies, and I waited. This was typical of Latin American small business – really casual. Not keeping supplies in stock, and not having any change when you paid with a pretty small bill, like $10.

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Webcam shot in my residencia in San Roque