Vuelta de Cotopaxi

The number of people riding north to south through the Americas by bicycle seems large. The number of people bikepacking through the Americas as we are is small. Not many people choose dirt roads, two tracks and single tracks. When we have the opportunity to ride with other like-minded cyclists for a couple days, we seize it.

Dean and Dang arrive at the farm Sunday. Monday they take the bus to Tumbaco to ship items ahead, south so they don’t have to carry them. We ride our bikes to Pifo to source stove fuel. If the pintura doesn’t have it, the ferreteria will, it’s just a matter of finding the right one. After five tries we get lucky. At the grocery in Pifo Tyndall finds Ecuadorian peanut butter, a whole pint for $1.85. It’s a steal, and comes in the usual, suspect, unlabeled container. It’s fine.

It’s Tuesday and we all pack up and ride out, bouncing down the cobbled farm road in a line. We meet the milk truck at the bottom and pull over to let him pass before crossing out onto the highway.

The highway riding is short lived and then we are climbing up towards Pintag.

Mid morning salchipapas give us a boost. Fresh bread is bought and stashed away for later.

While at the farm, Tyndall acquired loads of GPS tracks. We’re following what’s been named The Family Route. Dean has what we call The Horse Trail on his GPS. The Family Route is meant for towing kids in two wheeled trailers, we’re told. Easy peasy. And it is, until we go off on a grassy lane, down a ditch, and through bottomless pits of mud. Perhaps The Family Route is meant for the dry season? Perhaps the families here are made of tougher stuff than we are?

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We climb and climb and climb and then find an abandoned house to camp at for the night.

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Parts of Cotopaxi peek from behind the clouds. We supplement our dinner with dehydrated veggies from the farm.

The road continues up. We dodge mud puddles and cow paddies. A jeep passes, full of fishermen out for the day with a guide. The fishing is great he says. Tell your friends. There’s big trout to be had in Ecuador.

We pedal on, picking our way through a boulder field and up to 13,500 feet. I stop often, taking photos and wishing for more oxygen. The Chia seeds from breakfast are waging a battle in my intestines. I thought these things were supposed to be good for me. All the open space makes me giddy.

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The road continues down, but we’re directed up to the top of a knoll and across a grassy slope, towards Tambo.

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There’s a hacienda there and we set up our tents behind an old earthen wall, protected from the wind. Business is slow as this section of the park is technically closed due to volcanic activity. Five dogs patrol the premises, joined by a herd of alpacas in the morning.

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Cotopaxi is out, and then it’s not as clouds are whipped up the valley. We join the clouds in their journey, but at a slower pace. It’s like riding on a golf course, but with a few more obstacles. We should have brought some clubs, and found a caddy.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

I wish for a horse, but none appear. Onward.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

From the top, we look down and see our road. We part ways, Dean and Dang continuing south to Latacunga while we start looping back north to Malaló.

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The road funnels us down into a ditch. I lack the energy to get out. Instead, we stretch our remaining food and make camp for the night. A big pot of tea goes a long way.

Hot breakfast in Malaló replenishes calories lost. The road seems lonely now, but we ride fast, climbing up one more time on the park road. It’s wide and gravel and almost boring until we dip off onto a double track. We keep heading north, reconnecting with our tracks from two days ago.

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Back at the farm, I say hello to our new neighbors and reacquaint myself with the outdoor shower.

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