Thursday, November 15, 2007

La Ruta Stage Two - I Love Surprise Endings

With Stage One under my belt, I felt an enormous sense of relief. All of the La Ruta vets say that the other days are a cakewalk, compared with the first. This year, Stage Two was a new route altogether - but the consensus was that it should be easier than Stage One. Slightly less vertical, slightly less distance, and - more importantly - a lot less mud. Unfortunately, I was starting the day fatigued. Under normal circumstances, I would never ride this sore. But, having survived Stage One, I certainly wasn't going to back out now.

The route took us through a continuous series of little towns - in contrast to yesterday, which felt much more remote. We passed houses and shops and schools. As we rode past the schools, the girls would be on one side cheering enthusiatically. I had little girls with a scrap of paper and a pencil ask me for my autograph. Yes, I was going THAT slow - and, yes, I did stop and give them my autograph. On the other side of the road there were boys, 'practicing their english'. This mostly involved cursing, but also included marriage proposals and professions of love.

As I approached the last five kilometres, I remember thinking 'that's it? Phew, that wasn't so bad'. It was a long day, but lacked the Holy-Crap-I-Can't-Believe-They-Expect-Me-To-Ride-This factor that was so prevalent in Stage One. Then we took a right turn up a steep, wet, rocky, muddy hill. Ah, yes, this was more like it. Climbing it with fresh legs and with appropriate shoes would have been a challenge in and of itself. Throw in fatigue, bike shoes, and a 50lb mud magnet, and let's just say there were a few long faces.
Those that thought they were 'through the woods' at the top, were crushed to find that the opposite was true. We carried our bikes through warm thigh high mud (the consistency of applesauce) and then it was downhill through the jungle on what was, at times, barely wide enough to even call a 'path'. I tried riding parts of it, thinking that the worst that could happen was that I would fall into the thick vegetation on either side of me. I imagined that all of the poisonous snakes were already scared away by the vibrations created by the earlier riders. Then I realized that the path was actually on a steep ridge. A foot and a half to either side would result in a fall that would be unlikely to kill me, but might take hours to recover from, assuming I didn't encounter any challenges from the wildlife. So, I pushed my bike down much of the hill.

I crossed the finish line at about nine hours, with mud in my teeth and a smirk on my face. It was a longer and harder day than I'd anticipated, but I couldn't help but laugh at the muddy surprise at the end.

Never underestimate La Ruta.


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