‘It’s too hard, I want to go home’. These were my thoughts at the end of day one. We had 8 days, 5000 vertical metres of ascent and 220km of cycling planned across the beautiful, but savage, Cordillera Quimsa Cruz in Bolivia.
It started to rain as soon as we started riding and it didn’t stop for the next 6 hours. It also didn’t help that we missed our turning and cycled up the wrong hill. A practice hill maybe? The rain turned into a brutal hail and snow blizzard, cutting off the blood supply to every part of my body! We were already soaked and freezing by the time we started the long and miserable descent to find a campsite. Great start!
How and why were we going to to do this for 8 days? Most people go to the beach or somewhere nice with a pool. And yet there I was, faced with the reality of living outside for a whole week without a proper wash or bed. I couldn’t stop thinking about how far away it all seemed. I was crying in the rain within two hours, certain I couldn’t do it.
I was probably being a bit dramatic. But with positivity running low, I needed to do some serious head work! Being in the wrong mindset makes things a million times harder for yourself and anyone unlucky enough to be around you. Plus I was still hoping to have a boyfriend at the end of the trip!
Fortunately I soon regained my sanity and was able to identify the problem – I was focusing too much on the end goal. It would be way more manageable to take each day and each problem as they arose.
Instead of worrying about whether I would make it to the end of the 8 days, I decided to focus on getting to the top of each pass instead. The top was the new goal. And as I slowly moved towards it, I realised it was like all goals – achieving them is a lot of hard work!
Actually, it felt quite similar to trying to make it as an illustrator. Getting to the top being the same as getting that dream commission. The self doubt that you’re not strong enough is the same self doubt that you’re not a good enough artist! Then you have a short burst of euphoria as you make it to the top and get the dream commission. You go downhill riding the sweet wave of success, only to find yourself back at the bottom, staring at the blank page! None of it is easy! But then I suppose anything worth doing isn’t going to be!
The rest of the ride predictably involved a lot of ups and downs. The route itself was beautiful, with the incredible and remote riding around the spectacular Illimani mountain being one of the highlights. For the first time I was feeling stronger and able to go for much longer periods without stopping. I’ve stopped falling off my bike now and it’s reassuring to know that you are capable of doing way more than you think you can. If you persevere through the pain and tears that is!
When reflecting on the journey and choosing a moment to illustrate, I decided on the desert canyon. That’s because it was a bit of a turning point for us. Not only was it the beginning of a huge 3500m ascent, it was also a moment of pure determination, where we decided to push on despite having quite a few challenges thrown our way.
That morning, we woke up to 5 cactus needles in Joe’s tyres and the realisation that we had lost our bike tool. This was not good. My breaks were starting to fail and we really needed to adjust them for the big descents ahead. We were also low on water, and weren’t 100% sure that the river on the map, 20km away, was going to exist. I think the huge dried up river next to us was making us feel a bit nervous! In these moments you realise how precious this resource is!
Quitting and going back was again on the cards, but we were determined to finish this bloody route – hence the power stance in the illustration! We managed to fix my brakes with pliers and continued forward to find water.
It was lucky that we did because the low soon turned to a high when we found the river and a new lush valley to ride through. We arrived at a village, gorged on crisps and coca-cola and camped on the edge of a hill with panoramic views of the mountains. It was great!
I’ll tell you what was also great – arriving back in La Paz, putting the bikes in the storage cupboard, and having the best beer and shower of my life!
The route we took is from the southern section on the Mama Coca Andes Traverse which you can find at https://bikepacking.com/routes/mama-coca/