Sometimes you just have to say "yes" and call up a couple of your favourite people and ask them to join you on an adventure.
This time, "yes" was committing to race Vuelta al Cotopaxi, a two day, 130km long, high altitude XC race in Ecuador, and inviting my favourite Swede, Jenny Liljegren and Canadian (part-time Argentine) photographer John Wellburn, aka: Carrot Top. Racing around the volcano Cotopaxi at 12,000+ feet was never a goal of mine, but finishing something similar to it had a place on my bucket list for quite some time. I knew it was something that I was 'bad' at and made me very uncomfortable and I wanted to tackle it. Waking up and doing something that tests you and throws you outside your comfort zone is something I live for. It's hard to believe a race or an event can be life changing but over my career (and life in general) I've encountered a number of stepping stones, some of which I recognized, some of which I didn't until much later, but in the end they have given me momentum and confidence moving forward. This race was just that for Jenny and myself. We may have been dead last, but we persevered in pouring rain and sleet after 13+ combined hours on the bike and we won. - Katie Holden
Katie's loyal custom made cardboard box that has been kept alive for countless journeys by at least a dozen different kinds of tape.
Jenny however, wasn't so lucky, and somewhere on the list of connections from Stockholm to Florida and on to Ecuador, her bike decided to take its own route.
Our home for the week, Papagayo Hostel, not a bad view to wake up to.
Only in Ecuador do you see a one year old playing in the railroad tracks and a pig backpack. I've heard of CamelBak but pig bak?
Our host, Eran, of Gulliver's Expeditions www.gulliver.com.ec
. Eran took it upon himself to be Katie and Jenny's personal trainer for the week we had before the race. His mission was to get them acclimatized and comfortable carrying their bikes at altitude.
Off to the mountain we go.
The start of the climb was at a bullfighting ring, dried bull heads mark the territory...
The pedalling/bike pushing begins! There's never a lack of beautiful scenery trailside in Ecuador
Katie feeling the altitude burn.
Up onto the shoulders go the bikes. Apparently a section of the race the girls are competing in around the volcano Cotopaxi, is a high altitude bike portage. Eran wanted them to know what they were getting into.
Hike and hike and push and hike a little more.
Once at the top, after the lungs catch up, the view is worth every painful step, not to mention the ride down that awaits.
Little muddy out there.
We decided it was time for a well deserved break from the training to check out some of the sights. Market day it is!.
Jenny just about went away with a new travelling companion.
They might look cute but guinea pigs in Ecuador are a staple food. "Best guinea pigs in town, right here."
Katie making new friends, as she does everywhere she goes.
Nothing like a good market bargain session. Katie getting decked out in some Ecuador duds.
Gulliver's hooked us up with one of the tours they offer, a donkey-back mission into the extinct volcanic crater lake, Quilotoa. Riding a donkey is not as easy as it looks...
Back to the training regimen, race day was coming. It was time to hike up to 5500m on Cotopaxi and ride the bikes down, more acclimatization.
Needless to say,15000 feet on the side of a volcano can be a little chilly.
Somewhere on the ride down the volcano the girls decided to stop and make a new friend. He wasn't to sure if he liked mountain bikers or not though.
Pretty incredible place to race.
End of day one. The girls had the ride of their lives, 72 kms of climbing at altitudes of over 13000 feet. The air is so thin it takes five tries to get one full breath. They encountered every weather imaginable and chalked this one up as one of the hardest days they've ever had in the saddle.
Above photos are courtesy of Roberto Espinoso, kick ass Ecuadorian photographer. He had a moto for the race and got in deep!, Thanks Robert.http://www.robertoespinosaf.com/
Race day in the bag, and legs numb from pedalling, we decided to explore a little bit in Quito. We found out there is a tram that is set up for bikers, not only that, there is a whole mountain overlooking the city, covered in trails.
It got a little rainy on the way up.
But by the time we got up above the city, the conditions were prime.
Pretty awesome backdrop.
Our last day in Quito we met up with Daniel Espinoso, the main organizer for the "Vuelta de Cotopaxi" bike race, owner of Cikla bike shop, fellow ripper and all round great guy. He showed us some of the local gems. www.cikla.net
That's a wrap - until next time ladies!
Photos/captions: John Wellburn