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Lost Nevados Day 02: Grindin' Letras

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All you do is climb. And that’s what we did. One pedal stroke after another.

Day 02 Objectives & Points of Interest

  1. Visit the town of Letras.
  2. Make it to Manizales, which has a Domino’s Pizza which is marvelous.
  3. Control the bowel gnomes.
  4. If it’s clear, get a nice view of the Volcano.
  5. Enjoy the climb, if that’s your thing.

Brass tacks, the climb to Letras is a grind. Starting in Mariquita at 1,588’ and climbing to Letras at 12,085’ in a mere 50-ish miles means all you do is climb. And that’s what we did. One pedal stroke after another. Were our bikes loaded down with gear? You bet. Was it hot and humid? It was like riding in a Roman Bath. Was the road frequented by B-movie Mad Max semi-trucks hauling scrap metal? Indeed, at times it seemed like this was the road’s only purpose. Was it wonderful? Yes, yes it was.

In the moment, as in during the period of two days in which we scaled Letras, I was not happy about it for all of the above reasons, plus the scuba gnome feeling in my stomach and a diesel fume exhaust party in my lungs. Suffice it to say I complained. “This road sucks,” “I would never tell anyone to ride it,” “UGH… UGH UGH UGH UGH UUUUUUUUGH.” And I really thought I was going to stick to my guns on this one, I was going to warn you off of Letras, tell you to ride elsewhere.

“But I can’t. I can’t because now that I’ve had time to process my experience, now that I am going back over these photos, and thinking about the ride, I realize that it was all so very worth it.”

Let’s start with the road. The 50 is a main thoroughfare that connects Bogotá to Manizales. We’re talking commercial traffic here, trucks loaded with Horses, Televisions, Cars, and yes Scrap Metal make the commute up and over the mountain between these two cities. But it’s not just semi-trucks as I may have lead you to believe. The road sees its fair share of fully-loaded, bumper-scraping economy cars, motorcycles with three passengers plus a dog, some pretty rad off-road rigs and from time to time companero on horseback. With all this back and forth and mixing of personalities the road has evolved into its own ecosystem. There is a hierarchy of goods and services: agriculture takes up the lower altitudes, restaurants and hotels populate the middle ground and near the top you find the wrecking yards and repair shops. Supply and demand in action—what a wonder to observe.

If you’re from the States you might be thinking, “All that traffic? All those trucks? Sounds like a total bummer!” And you’d be right to think that, because in the States people are dicks. Even on a quiet country road, some dipshit in a lifted truck will feel the need to roll coal on you as he/she/zee passes by or some jerk off in a Subaru will buzz you because he/she/zee is too busy turning up the volume on the new Lumineers track, lost in the music. In large part it’s because of this type of interaction that we’ve become highway reactionaries. We seek out gravel roads, two tracks, and our beloved single track. This isn’t an argument for riding on highways per se, rather it’s a notice that highways and the drivers that use them in Colombia do not behave in the same way as our countrymen. Not once were we coal rolled, not once were we buzzed. Instead of animosity we got support. Nearly everyone that passed by us honked their horns, shouted encouragement, or thrust a hearty thumbs-up into the air. We were given room to ride and if it wasn’t safe to pass the drivers didn’t seem to mind waiting. Yes this was a highway, yes there was traffic, but it didn’t matter, at least it wasn’t another challenge to be dealt with. Can you imagine? Do you dare to dream? What if your ride was filled with encouragement and respect from everyone you encountered, would it change how your picked your routes?

Then there are the humans, the animals, the buildings, and the landscapes that swallow you up in their unrelenting magnitude. The visual experience of riding up Letras might as well be from Terrence Malick’s B-roll archive. It is stunning, sweeping, rich and surprising. Purebred beagles, banana convenience stores, swarms of kids on BMX bikes; one moment you’re watching your friend skitch off the side of a scrapyard on wheels the next you’re cooling off in the overspray of a cascading waterfall that plummets right into the side of the road before disappearing underneath you. There are horses with their companeros, the tawdry glitter of the roadside bars, walls of coffee plants below walls of pine trees, then nothing at all as the road drops off; then your eyes adjust and you can see skeins of deep green ridges dropping from the top of the cordillera into the valley below, stretching into the distance beyond your sight.

It is precisely because you are moving at four to five miles an hour that you get to take this all in. You get to see the man scold his dog or the woman hide behind her magazine as you ride by. You have time to watch the horse whinny and kick or to converse with the school kids as they cackle, “Americanos? De donde son? Pinches!!!”. So I say yes, yes to all of it. My only advice if you’re going to climb Letras: go slow.

A Chronological Breakdown of the Day’s Events


  1. 9:15am: The #lostnevados expeditionary force is more or less awake and assembled in front of our truckstop hotel.
  2. 9:17am: While ordering breakfast Daniel is accosted by a soft-spoken man who meekly whispers what we take to be veiled overtures of love.
  3. 9:18am: Visibly flattered, it was obvious this dude did not fit Daniel’s tastes. He politely bowed out of their conversation by escaping back to his room in which a much-coveted toilet seat was installed on his toilet.
  4. 9:45am: The pack heads out. The road is essentially a wall that climbs through and out of Padua.
  5. 9:51am: It occurs to Daniel that he didn’t remember packing his passport. After a cursory check of some of his bags he becomes convinced that it’s either (a) back at the hotel and most likely in the clutches of the soft-spoken Colombian man or (b) in the trunk of the sickness escape pod (the taxi he took to Padua yesterday).
  6. 9:51am: Patrick asks, “Daniel did you check your bags?”
  7. 9:51am: Daniel, “They’re not in there, I’m telling you, either that soft-spoken lothario or that mountain cabbie has it.”
  8. 9:52am: Kyle agrees to accompany Daniel back to our hotel/truck stop.
  9. 9:54am: After a frantic search—turning over mattresses, accosting housekeeping, broken-Spanishing through conversations with the staff and restaurant guests—we determine the passport is not here.
  10. 9:56am: Kyle checks the frame bag while Daniel continues to search the premises. He is not very surprised when he finds the passport. But he is very relieved.
  11. 9:57am: Not as relieved as Daniel. They hug. They smile. Then they start to ride again. That’s what friends are for.
  12. 10:36am: The mountain fog is heavy. I understand why this is considered a cloud forest.
  13. 10:48am: Daniel claims to be able to identify the types of vehicles from their sound, and that this is an essential survival skill because it allows you to adjust for just how far off the road you need to be in order to avoid vehicle/bike confrontation. He made it through the day unscathed. I guess you could say that the proof is in the pudding.
  14. 11:36am: We ride by a series of coffee plantations. These are our first Colombian Coffee Plantations. Hi Stumptown! Hi coffee! Hi great feelings!!!
  15. 12:05pm: Pine trees!?
  16. 12:36pm: Turns out yesterday wasn’t a fluke as we experience another series of purebred Beagle sightings.
  17. 1:05pm: Still climbing.
  18. 1:45pm: We hit Delgaditas. Kyle hits the seatless bathroom hard. The group enjoys a round of Beans/Rice/Plantains/Potatoes and some Coca-Colas. Are we feeling good? No one can say. We’re pretty sure ahead of us, shrouded in a blanket of clouds, lays del Ruiz. But we’re not sure, does it even matter? Who can say?
  19. 2:33pm: The group hits a nifty batch of switchbacks.
  20. 2:45pm: Cole passes the entire pack while holding onto a slowly-lumbering tractor trailer. The group experiences strong currents of pride and envy.
  21. 3:11pm: Hey look, a waterfall!
  22. 3:12pm: Fuck that waterfall.
  23. 3:13pm: When is this going to end?
  24. 3:33pm: The group has come to a halt near what at first glance appears to be the summit. The sun is out and spirits are high. Hell we even enjoy some chocolate.
  25. 3:45pm: After our break the road turns downhill and a few of us (Kyle and Cole) stop to put on our wind jackets.
  26. 3:48pm: NOPE. That little downhill was just a trick. The road still has some climb left in her.
  27. 4:36pm: Here’s what I know. I know that as I rolled up to Letras, the last man up the climb, I saw a group of riders take off down the hill. “Fuck those guys,” I thought. I was no more than 200 yards from the little painted line that runs across the road in the center of the little town of Letras. I stopped and hung my head on my handlebars and sighed. After a few moments I lifted my head and saw Cole standing in the road. Turns out only half of the group took off. I am not going to name names, you know who you are. But thanks for hanging around, Cole and Daniel and Patrick.
  28. 4:42pm: This downhill is AMAZING!!!!
  29. 5:17pm: This downhill is STILL AMAZING!!!
  30. 5:57pm: Still downhilling, still amazing.
  31. 6:10pm: We arrive in Manizales and find lodgings in the Hotel Boreal. I can’t claim that the owners of Hotel Boreal are nicer than the owners of Hotel Casona del Patio. They’re each beautiful in their own wonderful way. If you’re in Manizales. Hit up the Hotel Boreal. And then stay in Manizales for a while. It is so rad!
  32. 7:45pm: Daniel, Cole, Erik and Kyle hit up Domino’s. Patrick, Benedict, and Andy hit up some off-brand but fancy pizza joint. For the rest of the night the Domino’s crew is chided for our poor choice.
  33. 8:15pm: We have a TV. We don’t use it.
  34. 8:16pm: Heavy gram action, some emails, checking the news, telling jokes, doing farts.
  35. 10:01pm-ish: Sleepy time.

Three Words & Phrases to Know


  1. PERDIDO: lost, as in, ‘Shit dudes, shit shit shit shit, I think my passport is perdido.’
  2. INTERMINABLE: endless. Here’s the thing, if you build a road to heaven, the path there is interminable. Either you’re atheist and therefore a road to heaven is such an absurd idea that if you attempt to ride it you’ll never get anywhere, or you’re a believer in which case you’ll climb the road your entire life and it’s only through death that you will, hopefully, make it to heaven.
  3. LETRAS: the road to heaven (please see ‘interminable’).

Good Morning Padua!

Thanks for giving up on that whole rain thing.
Fruit for your labors.
In Colombia they don't worry as much about your room key as they do about your room's TV remote. Simple and genius.
It was at about this point that we were hit with the great passport scare of 2016.
Patrick Newell doing his best, "I told you so" pose.
At this point in the ride we could tell how far vehicles were ahead or behind us by the pitch and volume of the horns/barks.
"In Hollywood it would be a 100,000 dollar day to get this light."—DWP
Squad Goals. Day 02.
We may have stopped in here on our way back to Bogotá. And we may have picked up a lucky artisanal talisman. And we may have a contest at some point where we may give said artisanal item away. We may.
Beautiful Colombian Climbing Roads, Fig. 2,203
Beautiful Colombian Climbing Roads, Fig. 3,721
Scuba Gnomes need heroes too!
Rest stops. Who can control when and where they strike?

Luncheon at Delgaditas

“The soup will never come. Just let it go man.”
Hey Andy, how do you feel about stopping here for lunch?
To be clear, this is not a beagle.
There were clouds covering the mountain tops behind the restaurant. But we're pretty sure this artist's depiction is accurate.

Continuing That Climb

RAD! You can't deny it. That is RAD.
"Lots of green, lots of hill, and all of the corners have crosses because people have died there." ~ KVH
God put Benedict on this earth to do one thing, and that's to look good for the camera. Bravo Bene, Bravo.
Speaking of looking good for the camera. Andy and Benedict have been friends since middle school. And it's obvious. They both have inestimable amounts of charisma, to such a degree that cameras have been known to lock up when trying to photograph both of them at once. It's a known issue.
Sometimes life is just hard.

The Famous Letras False Summit

Turns out we weren’t done climbing. BUMMER.

Finally, Letras; the Descent Into Manizales

We made it, guys. So this is heaven huh? At least it’s the best bobsled in Colombia.
That dude's kit is ON POINT. Cole, remind me we need to get these jackets.
Hey Pal.
Maybe this is heaven after all.
Full Nuke.
"There are signs everywhere, you just have to know where to look." ~ Tom Hanks, probably everyday.

Overnight in Manizales

Yeah, we ate Domino’s—and it was great!
:) (*) [[[[[[[;~()> :^0 3 = %7(')
Okay, so overall we loved the Hotel Boreal. The only drawback is that the bathrooms in Andy, Patrick, Erik, and Benedict's shared room are setup more like closets that open directly into the sleeping area. As I mentioned before, Andy, Patrick, and Benedict all thought they were sooo smart going to the fancy off-brand Pizza place. Well it turns out that Benedict may have become lactose intolerant directly after eating this heavily-cheesed pizza. Our source can't confirm or deny the specific time that this image of Andy was taken, but it is likely to have occurred just after the first wave of intolerance hit their shared room/bunker. I believe the term is "shell shocked."
Double Front Duck Cotton Cutoffs

Natural fibers are better for containing jungle rot.

Beeswax Coconut Oil Lavender Coating

This coating not only waterproofs the shorts, but enhances the jungle rot forcefield by impregnating the fabric with an anti-microbial fragrant serenade. Never washes off!

Masculine Running Sandals

With a big enough platform pedal, they're plenty stiff without being stiff. Good for getting off the bike, which happens a lot at 15,000ft. Also: no jungle rot, no sock tan lines, and Jesus.

Rivendell MUSA Wool Undies

Another anti-microbial barrier. NO JUNGLE ROT! Try wearing the same chamois for three months. DEEP ROT. This brand has no seams and is the most durable I've found.

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