Clean, well-rested, solid breakfast and a bright but cool morning, we pedaled uphill out of Pamplona. The traffic was lighter, the roadways cleaner, the faces more eager to greet us — but something was missing. We had 70K more to pedal before summiting the last high pass over 10,000 feet. After an hour of climbing, I figured it out. My heart wasn’t into it.
On every bicycle trip, there comes a point when I wish to god I could just make it stop. Usually I rant and rage internally and most likely take that anger out on Mr Extreme who seems never to tire of the effort and the sweat of the adventure. There was a climb in Turkey with a headwind that nearly blew us over — I stormed and stomped on the side of the road in angry defeat until we found an old gravel pit to camp in and continue in the morning. There was the day in Macedonia when the rough, rocky road had kicked my bicycle out from under me for the last time and I declared I wasn’t going to take it any more … but I kept going. And there was the time in Laos when the monotony of climbing rolling hills day after day after day wore me down and ripped into my spirit, but we continued on together after I had a good cry on the side of the road.
All those times and many more, I fought the urge to just pack it in, hail the next passing vehicle and say ” See ya later.” That desire to take the easy road isn’t all that easy though. Thumbing a ride also meant going it alone with my limited language abilities and negotiating my way to a safe place, finding a hotel, getting myself some food, and figuring out how to let Willie know where to find me when he eventually arrived in town a day later. The prospect of doing just that quite likely kept me from ever actually flagging down a vehicle … until now.
Mr Extreme is often talking adventure, and at that moment the grind of pedaling up the mountain wasn’t an adventure — it wasn’t facing a fear but battling the nemesis of mental collapse. If an adventure requires facing a fear, then heading off on my own was by far the riskier option for me. Perhaps the decision was made easier for me when it came as quiet acceptance that “this is not where I want to be right now” as opposed to the blame and guilt felt with previous challenges. Not only did I not want to do the climb, but I didn’t want to ruin the day for Willie by my petty suffering. So that was it. I decided to take the bus and meet him in Bucaramanga. With his support, we flagged the first mini-bus, put my bike in the back, grabbed a quick kiss and waved goodbye as the bus left Willie on the side of the road.
Fear is all about the anticipation of the unknown, and the adventure begins with that first leap of faith. Once enroute aboard the gleaming white mini-bus with the action movie playing, I had time to relax into my new state of alone-ness. We stopped for a lunch stop and the driver with an easy smile helped me get my lunch and joined me at my table. His young friends, brother and sister, going to the universities in Cucuta and Pamplona joined us and soon I was telling all about our bike trip through Colombia and Venezuela. Even with my minimal language skills, I was being understood! Sitting at the outdoor cafe, the air was cold and we all shivered while eating our soup. The looked on amazed as I revealed wearing 5 layers of clothes and still wanted a cup of cafe con leche to warm me up. They laughed when I told them I called my husband Señor Extremo and me Señoritra Moderada. He would never take the bus — they would never imagine bicycling over Alto de Berlin.
The road was spectacular and pangs of “missing something” would strike when I saw the vista of mountain tops poking above the clouds. The top opened up to a vast “paramo” or open plateau of stark and striking beauty. Winding down the mountain on the other side was a different challenge. Fortunately I carry motion-sickness pills for such an event, but I soon discovered that other travelers did not. A sharp cry for a “bolsita” from a woman in the back proved that the bus company supplied sturdy plastic bags with the company logo for such emergencies. Two other young women deftly applied makeup for the fiercely winding last 45 minutes of the journey while I kept my vision, laser-locked, on the road ahead.
Arriving in the city of a half million people, the driver left me off just blocks from a hotel listed in my travel guide. I found it easily and took a room with a fan and hot shower. I wandered the street market, found an internet cafe to email Willie the name and directions to the hotel, and sat down to a lasagna dinner all by myself. So much for adventure — it all went smoothly as I fell asleep after watching Queer Eye, Top Design and the end of Brokeback Mountain on the television. The easy road really was easy.
A crack of lightening and roar of thunder woke me from solid sleep just after midnight. If it’s storming here, what’s it doing at the top of the mountain where Willie is no doubt camped alone? Is he shivering in the cold and wet? I had gone to bed hoping he was having some kind of adventure and now I was afraid for him. The descent would be much colder than the climb.br /br /Noon the next day a call on the phone from the receptionist informed me my husband had arrived. I raced down the stairs to throw my arms around him and he stepped back. Still wearing several layers of clothes and an ear-warmer in 80 degree weather. His teeth chattered when he said don’t kiss me I’ve got the flu. We carried his bags upstairs, put him in the shower, wrapped him in blankets and sleeping bag and put him to sleep. Only Mr Extreme could have found the will to finish the last 20-plus kilometers of the climb and then suffer the 50k coasting downhill while shivering in his boots.
Not the adventure he imagined … and it never is. Not quite the same danger I imagined either. Willie’s temp spiked and the sheets were soaked with sweat. After telling me this started the moment he pitched his tent the afternoon the day before, we suspected malaria.
Hours later, the fever reduced but still present, the chills and sweat continued. A quick internet search while he slept convinced me to seek help immediately. The concierge at the upscale hotel I had to go to find an internet cafe open on Sunday evening told me to take him to the Clinic and he called us a taxi. Did I have a credit card he asked as I departed? I nodded and he said good, they’ll take care of you then.
I don’t know what we expected, but when the taxi dropped us off across town at the all-night clinic, one glance inside the room overflowing with human suffering told us we’d still be waiting to get help in the morning. The 24-hour pharmacy was just across the street and going straight for treatment seemed the better option than waiting for diagnosis. A packet of pills later, we grabbed the next taxi back to the hotel where I wrapped Willie in blankets again and put him to bed.
A fretful night passed. Would the fever go down? How long should we wait for improvement? How do I find a doctor if he needs one? The project manager in me, opened the books, made notes, developed a plan for morning. Willie had his own plan though. He smiled when he woke, shook off the last of the chills and took a hot shower. A couple more hours and his temp was down to normal. He sits beside me now — right were he belongs.