Conquering the Volcano
Today’s trip took me right back to my first season snowboarding. Nothing, except learning to drive a car, has ever felt that hard. Getting your balance, learning to turn, managing your speed, who’d have thought the saying “it’s like riding a bike” was so wrong. Turns out riding a bike isn’t as easy as its cracked up to be, especially not hurtling down an active volcano from 4500m on gravel roads.
The day started well. The continuing jetlag, which had us awake from 3.30am, actually worked out well so that getting to our meeting point on the other side of town for 7am didn’t actually seem so bad. There we met up with two other rippers (Lucas and Sarah) and our guide Fernando. We were planning on seeing the magnificent active volcano, Cotopaxi (5895m), which is reminiscent of Mount Fuji with its perfect upright cone and snow covered top. Not just seeing it though, we were planning on mountain biking down it. I never knew I was such a woos though.
After a two hour truck ride, we arrived at our destination and were blasted by massive winds and freezing conditions. I’d forgotten how cold it can get at altitude, and was slightly grateful for the bowel stirring fear which warmed me up as we headed down the mountain. With my fingers firmly latched onto the brakes I trailed Lee and the others as they sped down the sandy potholed road, only catching up at photo ops. But there were millions of those and I soon started to relax and occasionally loosen my frozen grip on the brakes. The scenery was magnificent and despite passing through freezing clouds we were able to see for miles in all directions and take in the amazing sights of the Cotopaxi National Park.
After a couple of hours of downhill we made our way along the flattish (still slightly downhill thankfully – I didn’t sign up for pedalling) plains towards some of the Inca ruins and our much needed lunch break.
It was here that we got to see some of the wildlife, with wild horses and cows grazing at about 3800m above sea level just under the shadow of Cotopaxi. We were also rewarded with the parting of the clouds and our first glimpses of the entire Cotopaxi crater.
After our brief break with an awesome lunch and a geological explanation from Fernando on how lassa form (melting of the snow caps during a volcano and a massive river of water and lava which moves at huge speeds – that there is your only educational part of the blog – you’re welcome), we hoped back in the truck (it follows you the whole way in case of emergency) and retraced our steps back to Lake Limpiopungo. This was probably the crappiest part of the day as no-one mentioned we were going to have to go uphill at times. Sarah opted to do this part in the back of the truck and I wish I had joined her. Two stints of pushing my bike uphill (at altitude – which I might mention was a lot harder than just walking up to base camp) and the fat wobbling corrugations on the road truly sucked, but didn’t distract from the amazing day. I even rode most of the second half without touching the brakes (including the downhill bits) – that’s what you call progress. And it made the trays of mojitos that night the perfect reward.