We got up early in Alausi and arrived at the bus stop just barely in time to catch the 9 am to our next town, Riobamba. A few hours (more very windy roads) later we arrived and immediately headed for a coffee shop to hang out for a while before our AirBnB check in time.
Once settled we dropped our bags and ventured into town, and found yet another market to try yet another town’s take on roasted pork. Unsurprisingly it was fantastic, though we all did decide that our favorite was from our first stop on Pork Road in Cuenca. Its hard to describe how tasty the pork has been in Ecuador but from the crispy, fried chicharrones style bits to the chunks of roast pork, it’s been the best I’ve ever had. Before heading home for the evening we found a great taco place for dinner (we would return a second time later during our stay) and an even better gelato place for dessert (we stopped here on all three nights of our stay).
In the morning we found a local tour company and signed up for a trip to mountain bike down the side of a volcano, Chimborazo, the next day. Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador, and according to Wikipedia is the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s center since it’s is located along the planet’s equatorial bulge. It doesn’t top Mount Everest as the highest mountain on earth though, because elevation is measured from sea level. While we wouldn’t trekking all the way to the summit, the expedition we signed up for would bring us to base camp.
We spent some time listening to the guide’s pitch and decided we couldn’t pass up this experience. He fitted us for helmets, bikes, knee pads, and elbow pads, and advised us on which types of snacks to bring for our trip. As if hiking up and biking down a volcano wasn’t challenging enough, doing it at high altitude brings it to another level. After finishing up with the guide, we promptly headed to the store to acquire said snacks, including salty plantain chips and a block of unrefined brown cane sugar called panela, and then settled in to hydrate and prep for tomorrow.
The next morning our guide for the day picked us up early and we rode in the back of a truck up to our starting point. Chimborazo is part of the Andes mountains and though the photos are incredible they just don’t do it justice. Our first leg of the journey was a short hike from the parking area to Refugio Whymper, which was at an elevation of 5000 meters, the highest any of us had been. Though the hike was less than a mile long, it was straight up hill and the elevation really affected us. We took plenty of panela and chocolate breaks and it took us a full hour to get to the refuge. Visibility was pretty bad all day, so we only got fleeting glimpses of the peak through the clouds, but we were happy to have made it regardless.
After taking a second to catch our breath, we hiked back down to the parking area to gear up for our mountain biking adventure. While we had all ridden a mountain bike previously none of us had actually mountain biked, which became evident early into our journey.
Overall the course was around 25 miles long with about 90% of it downhill and two “short” uphill sections about halfway through. Though this sounded good in conversation while sitting in the guide’s office, all the downhill wasn’t quite as smooth as we had anticipated. The first section of trail was made up of giant rocks and what felt like fine, volcanic gravel. It was slippery, and steep enough that if you weren’t riding the breaks the entire time you were going too fast.
After our early growing pains we began to steady and get a feel for the bikes and the trail. Early in the journey we saw lots of vicuñas, an animal similar in appearance to a llama or alpaca but a but more like a common deer. We were able to snap a photo of a group in one area but they were typically pretty skittish.
And now, a guest section from one of our fellow travelers, Chris!
Hi everyone this is Chris from the paragraph mentioned above and for those who don’t know me I am a l deceptively athletic baldy (much like Michael). The thing they don’t tell you about mountain biking down the highest mountain/volcano in Ecuador is that you should pretty much be on the back brake 100% of the time or things can go poorly.
As we started down the most difficult section/our first section of the mountain I started to have trouble controlling my speed. Everyone was at the bottom of the section watching me come flying down the path approaching a decent 4 or 5 foot drop. I knew things were going awry when I hit the brake and attempted to turn down the path but my bike headed straight at the rocks and the drop.
At this point my peak athletic performance kicked in and I knew to survive this drop with minimal injury I would have to channel the condor from Condor Point in Alausí (See “Say ‘Sí’to Alausí” for that big beautiful bird). As I flew through the air, I front flipped like I was in the X-games and perfectly landed right on my elbow pads with my bike on top of me. The looks of horror on my loved ones faces were soon turned to joy and laughter as I popped right up without a scratch on me. That was the first of several wipeouts on that day.
As a group we had a total of 5.5 tumbles on the mountain. I may or may not have accounted for 5 of those falls but I still sit here typing this to tell the tale. One of Mike’s favorite quotes is from an old Dwayne Wade NBA TV commercial and it’s, “fall 6 times get up 7”. I lived by that motto that day and I’m happy to say we conquered Chimborazo. Much like Bill Murray in space jam I will be retiring from mountain biking as a champion being undefeated and untied. Thank you all for your time reading this. Good night!
To try to follow that passage would just be foolish on my part, so I’ll pass it off to Emily to summarize the rest of our journey down the mountain. Unfortunately we don’t have a ton of photos since we were mostly focused on surviving.
After Chris recovered from his first few tumbles, and I (Emily) recovered from briefly feeling like I was going to pass out from the altitude, we got back on our bikes ready to tackle the rest of the road down. After a few more hours we all felt steadier on our bikes and more confident in our abilities. The first big uphill however, was like a slap in the face. It was slow going, and after catching our breath we elected to ride in the back of the truck up the second hill while eating the sandwiches we packed for lunch.
Towards the end of the trip we eventually made it onto paved roads, which felt like a luxury compared to where we started. The only thing slowing us down at this point was the occasional dog who chased after us (our guide warned us about this in the office the previous day, and his advice was to either out-pedal the dog, or hop off the bike and use it as a shield). Fortunately all the dogs that chased us were all bark and no bite, and we successfully made it to the end with no major injuries. Success!
PS: Let us know if you enjoyed hearing from our guest blogger, Chris.