I Day 05 Intro & Stats
START – STOP: Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados (Nevado el Cisne Entrance) – Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados (Portosi Entrance)
DISTANCE: 17.5 mi.
ADDITIONAL SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
ELEVATION GAIN: 4419 ft.
RIDING TIME: 5:13:10
TIME AWAKE SPENT IN PURSUIT OF THE TRIP, ROUGHLY: 10:00:00
POINTS OF INTEREST / OBJECTIVES: Find and cross the legendary closed road. See the Nevado del Ruiz Glacier Santa Isabel. Dupe the Park Rangers. Spend all night riding/hiking/wading our way around to the south side of the park. Experience the Paramo.
CUE SHEET: KML DOWNLOAD
WEATHER: We are now at an altitude, between 13,000 and 14,000 feet, that demands layers any time we are not moving. You need a shell/layer at the ready because the beauty of the area means stopping to take pictures every five-ten minutes. When we reached Laguna Verde, the sun did come out for a moment to expose the glacier Santa Isabel—turns out the sun coming out doesn’t mean it’s going to get warmer.
Today was always going to be The Big Day. The wrestling with a volcano day. The subterfuge and clandestine operations day. The up for 36 hours day. We all knew it was coming, by all accounts it was already in the books, done deal. Then it wasn’t. The thing about volcanos is that they don’t care about your 36 hours, your plans, or your books. Volcanos, well they DGAF, and since by my count we didn’t have any virgins to throw down that throat filled with molten lava and weeping with brimstone, we had absolutely no cards to play. I mean, had we known, we may have gotten onto the World Wide Web before the trip and tried to find a couple of discount virgins, but then I think that presents a whole host of additional problems (logistical and ethical) that probably would have forestalled our getting to the volcano in the first place. Basically, dealing with volcanos is a catch-22. You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.
So it was that we found ourselves talking to Daniel Ruiz, Professional Climatologist and Colombian local. In between taking quick short breaths and gulping in the wondrous beauty of the Paramo, we spilled our guts and laid out the plan to take the legendary forbidden road around The Volcano. If I were to distill Daniel’s response down to four words, they would be: that’s a bad idea. Turns out The Volcano has been barfing ash on to this legendary road for the better part of three months and the most recent measurements show the road under three feet of ash. Ash, as you may well know, is bad for you. Bad for your lungs, bad for your pores, bad for your bicycle, bad for wayfinding (think about how hard it is to follow a trail buried under three feet of snow), and just an all-around bad idea. The thing is, this Daniel, scientist Daniel, came across as a really down dude. The illegal passage bit didn’t bother him at all, in fact he seemed supportive of the idea. We put our trust in his judgement, the alternative to which probably being a long, arduous and ultimately unsuccessful struggle in a volcanic nightmare resulting in lifelong respiratory complications. Best laid plans. RIP.
II A Chronological Breakdown of the Day's Events
- 6:00 am: I don’t know about the other guys, but I am already awake. Not because I want to be but because I am slightly afraid of the park ranger and might be suffering from Generator-Induced PTSD.
- 6:01 am: In the dream I woke up from, I had found myself in the pouring rain smashing a heavy backpack filled with books and stereo equipment into the hard cement ground à la Pete Townsend.
- 6:15 am: A chorus of alarms go off throughout the camp and we crawl out of our sleeping hovels to greet the dawn.
- 6:16 am: The sky is the color of orange sherbet.
- 7:00 am: By now we’re all packed up and started to cook breakfast. The oatmeal we bought in Manizales has ZERO flavor. We also didn’t purchase any aftermarket oatmeal flavoring, so were essentially consuming nutritional drywall spackle. Now I know why wars were fought over control of the spice trade.
- 7:10 am: The group has yet to show up, but our ranger insists on giving us the full “Welcome to the Park” speech. He goes over how many parks there are in Colombia (56), when Parque Los Nevados was established (1979), and how we should respect all the rules and regulations of the park and its docent. We cannot meet his eyes.
- 7:15 am: Our ranger makes it clear that we didn’t need to get up and pack away all of our gear by 7:00 am, only that we needed to have the motorcycle driveway space cleared, as this doubles as his presentation space/town hall/auditorium.
- 7:43 am: The long-awaited group shows up. They’re just Colombian tourists and the ranger breaks into the exact same speech he just gave us. This feels a lot like pomp and circumstance, and I don’t sense an appreciation amongst our team for the extra hours of daylight his ceremonial habits have bestowed upon us. I can tell by the look in the eyes of my associates that we’ve all become a bit more confident in the idea that we’re going to have to ditch this guy if our proposed route is to be successful.
- 8:05 am: We’re riding, or rather pushing, wheezing, and generally struggling.
- 8:37 am: The climb up to the Paramo includes a lot of pushing, wheezing, and struggling.
- 10:15 am: We reach a plateau of sorts, at the very least a spot where the road levels off. Benedict once again finds himself in the bush leaving his mark. The dude’s situation has not improved overnight and although his condition doesn’t appear to have gotten worse, I can’t imagine riding/pushing through a second day—now closing in on 14,000 feet of elevation—of diarrhea-induced hallucinations. He doesn’t complain though, just accepts his lot, makes jokes, and looks good for the camera. #leos
- 10:55 am: We run into Daniel Ruiz, he’s part of the crew featured in the photo from Day 04 with the caption explaining that he will save us a bunch of heartache, etc… Turns out he’s a Climatologist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University in the city of New York. He lets us know that he’s got some water and that he and his crew will be driving around the park that day should we need anything.
- 11:32 am: We’ve taken some really nice photos and agree that should we run into Daniel again, we would ask him what he thinks about our taking the legendary closed road. The consensus is that he seems like a pretty down dude and that even if he disapproved, he’s not a squealer.
- 11:47 am: Climatologist Daniel’s crew is stopped taking photographs as we pull up alongside their vehicles. Moment of truth: we spill the beans about our plans. “Yeah, I’ve heard of people doing that trip. The road has been closed for a while and it used to be fine, but the mountain has spilled a meter of new ash on the area in the last two months.”
- 11:47 am: Daniel Wakefield Pasley (DWP) indicates with his hands a distance of a little less than a foot, “One meter doesn’t sound so bad.”
- 11:48 am: Cole Maness holds his hand at hip level with his palm facing the ground, “Daniel, this is about a meter. As in more than three feet.”
- 11:48 am: DWP, 'OHHHHHHHHH.'11At this altitude, with the kind of sleep we had the previous night, it’s a wonder we even remembered we were on a bike ride—let alone some foreign measure of distance.
- 11:49 am: Climatologist Daniel, “Yeah I really, really, really wouldn’t recommend you guys try it.”
- 12:00 pm: Patrick Newell, “Isn’t ash, like ash in general, but volcanic ash in particular, supposed to be really bad for your lungs and body and future?”
- 12:00 pm: Climatologist Daniel, “It’s soooo bad for you. Guys, you should ride down this road and then hike up to Laguna Verde then head back south and ride out to Portosi, from there you can loop back down to Manizales. It would be a good trip.”
- 12:01 pm: DWP & Kyle, “Hey we’ve done stupid things before, are you sure that we shouldn’t take this legendary forbidden road?”
- 12:01 pm: Climatologist Daniel, “Yeah, I am sure, it would be really stupid. Just don’t. I like you guys. You know Mt. Vesuvius? I don’t want that to be you guys. Trust me, the lake is really cool, you can see the glacier. It’s great.”
- 12:05 pm: We decide to take Climatologist Daniel’s advice. Hiking our bikes through fresh ash up to our waists at 15,000 feet is too stupid, even for us.
- 12:35 pm: Having found the trailhead for the hike up to Laguna Verde we decide now is the right time to make lunch. A few of us change clothing, we mostly just hang out. Benedict admits that he’s not feeling well—duh—and that he’s going to just nap here while we all go on the hike.
- 1:34 pm: The hike up to Laguna Verde and back is supposed to take three hours. It’s a four-mile round trip. Yes it is more difficult to hike at this elevation, but the 25 minutes it takes us to reach the lookout point is confirmation that, in fact, we aren’t the most out-of-shape of adventurers. Whoever established this hike and its allotted time probably was/were.
- 1:59 pm: We see the glacier, we see the lake. Cole stands on the railing of the lookout tower, Erik finds the remains of a rabbit that must have been eaten by a condor. Kyle tries to filter water but there is too much sediment and his filter gets clogged. Bottom line, it is really really really really really beautiful here.
- 2:15 pm: We’re back at the trailhead just in time to run into the ranger, who immediately scolds us for illegally being in this part of the park. It probably didn’t help that when he rolled up Benedict had no pants on. Or maybe it did help? He tells us that we need to head to Portosi and that we cannot under any circumstances go any further north. We don’t look him in the eyes, this time out of shame rather than deceit.
- 3:13 pm: After a stretch of pretty exciting descending the crew regroups. Where we are headed, Google Maps has no answers. Yes, we can see the road, but our phones/GPSes cannot, so in a sense we are going blind and there is a chance we will be forced to backtrack any progress we make.
- 3:45 pm: There is a split in the road. A sign at the apex of the split says Hacienda Portosi but there is only a small graffiti arrow, which appears to have been done in Sharpie, to give any sense of direction. The graffiti arrow points towards the road that goes up. None of us want to go up, we want to go down, we want Domino’s, at the very least we’d take a morning hammer fugue over an all-night generator drone band.
- 3:46 pm: Despite our wishes the vibe, our gut, tells us to go up.
- 3:59 pm: Having climbed for 15 minutes, we come to a shoulder where the road comes around a corner to expose a vast plain. We see nothing. Despair.
- 4:04 pm: Andy, the myth, The Pusher, that fabulous man, decides to go ahead. If he finds Portosi he will report back.
- 4:11 pm: Andy is barely visible as he rounds the last bend in sight. The rest of us shrug our shoulders and pedal after him. #pals
- 4:23 pm: The clouds have come in and they hug the hillside, keeping visibility very low. Our vision is limited to about 300 yards in any direction.
- 4:36 pm: I can speak for the rest of the group when I say that we’re feeling pretty low at this point. Like lost-and-without-water-low. We continue to move forward because we’re basically lemmings at this point. Thanks Andy, thanks.
- 4:38 pm: Andy reemerges, “I’ve found it, I’ve found Portosi, it is just another quarter-mile down the road.”
- 4:40 pm: Andy wasn’t lying. Portosi is made up of another ranger station and a run-down finca with words painted in blood red on the wall, advertising that it is a hostel. The ranger station looks so SO much nicer than the hostel but no one is home and the hostel is, well, a hostel.
- 4:51 pm: The owner of the hostel doesn’t give us a sense she is happy we are there. We let her know that we won’t be having any dinner and that we’ll just stay in her manger. I believe Moses would have supported this decision as the rooms in this little rundown murder den looked like recently-abandoned political prisoner interrogation chambers.
- 5:15 pm: We’ve set up camp and started to cook dinner. There is one other traveler staying in the manger. His name is Sebastian Facchinetti. He’s an Argentinian and he’s been traveling around South America on foot for the last three years. He’s a pretty down dude and we just shoot the shit for a while.
- 5:32 pm: Speaking of shooting the shit, reports just back from the bathrooms indicate that one of our party—Benedict? wink wink—has unleashed holy hell in the general vicinity of one of the toilets. To be clear, the bathrooms had the appearance of latrines you’d find in movies about third world prisons or the French Foreign Legion. Definitely not Dwell material. But no one in their right mind would argue that we added to their appeal.
- 6:03 pm: Most of us have finished making dinner and at this point we’re just hanging around as Patrick and Benedict cook a big pot of goulash.
- 6:39 pm: The goulash is still cooking.
- 7:01 pm: The goulash is done. Do they eat it? Yes. Does it look good? Nah.
- 7:15 pm: We’re all in bed. Lights out. Dusted.
III Words & Phrases to Know
MENTIRA: lie. ‘Hey gang, repeat after me: if a ranger asks us what we’re doing up here, what do we do? Mentira!’
CENIZA: ash. ‘I wouldn’t go that way, the volcano’s been belching smoke for the past couple of months and there’s three feet of fresh ceniza on that legendary closed road you were planning on riding.’
CONFUSO: confused. ‘But on the map this road isn’t supposed to be here, and that other road there, that one is definitely not supposed to be here. I am very confuso at the moment.’
PARAMO: a Neotropical high mountain biome with a vegetation composed mainly of giant rosette plants, shrubs and grasses. It’s basically a Dr. Seuss landscape and one of the must-see regions of our trip.
No One Should Ever See a Sunrise Enduring a ranger lecture at 7:00 am.
V Scaling a Volcano
The Moment That Changed Our Entire Direction Literally.
Hiking to Laguna Verde Hiking is biking without the bike.
VIII We've Reached Our High Point
In essence the water which comes out of these bottles is charged with the totem emblazoned on the vessel; we see an undead mule, symbol of everlasting endurance, resilience, and will. This is surrounded by a wreath of flowers arranged in pan-spectrum of colors to symbolize birth, sensitivity, and acceptance.