Jan 06

The Final Push

We got NO brakes.

On the 2 of January, exactly 1 year after crossing the US/Mexican Border, I loaded up Tony for the first time since his accident, said my goodbyes to the boys at Mamallena and set out on the easiest ride of the entire trip.  I was going 40 km to the city of David, and it was all downhill or flat.

As I came to the first corner, I applied my back brake (I had no front brake), and to my dismay we continued rolling with virtually no detectable deceleration.  Brakes can really come in handy at times.  I like brakes, and having recently been in an accident, I felt a little more strongly about their necessity than normal.  I hopped off the bike, and gave the rim a good scrub.  This was the rim that had been on my front wheel before, the same rim that Manny, that legend of a mechanic in Baja California, Mexico, had acquired for me second hand from a friend in Ensenada and charged me $3.50 for almost a year ago.  There was a bit of WD40 on it, a bit of crud, and the brake pads were new, so after cleaning it up I got back on the bike and rode off again.

As I came to the second corner, I applied my back brake, and to my dismay we continued rolling with virtually no detectable deceleration.  Dammit!  I hopped back off the bike and had a look at the brake set up again.  I tightened up the cable a bit after discovering that the cable adjustment on the lever was not working.  Then, having second thoughts, I tightened up the cable a lot figuring that if the brakes weren’t working, what did it matter if they rubbed a little bit?

Getting back on the bike, I tested out the brakes again.  Finally, I felt a slight tug of deceleration.  Nothing very reassuring mind you, but at least I had something.  I came up to the third corner and applied my brake and put my heel to the ground and we came to a slow and gradual stop.

I decided, with only 40 km of straight clear road to David, I could make it there with no brakes.  I would just have to take it very, very slowly.  I worked out that if I kept my speed under 20 kph and the road was more or less flat, I could stop in about 200m without the use of my heel, and so I cruised my way down the highway, and in the process wrote my first spanish song of the trip.  The title Hoy no tengo frenos, translates to “Today I have no brakes” and is to be sung to the tune of Yo no sé Mañana by Luis Enrique.  Here is the chorus as a taster.

Hoy no tengo frenos. Yo no tengo frenos.

No puedo frenar para nada.  Este es una mamada.

No podia arreglarlos aqui, entonces me voy por alli

para ver si puedo conseguirme unos nuevos

Hoy no tengo frenos.  Yo no tengo frenos.

Ojala no choque la bici…

Stuck in David.

David is a very unattractive place.  Located on the Pan-American highway in the far west of Panama, it´s the third largest city in Panama despite having only 150,000 in habitants, and it is the only decently sized urban centre west of Panama City.  It serves as a transport, banking, industry, agricultural, commercial, and ranching hub to all of Chiriqui Province and is located on the Pan-American Highway.  The city is laid out as a grid of streets, everyone drives, and it is hot and dusty.  But, some might argue, it is real Panama.

Most travelers spend just one night in David and they only tend to do that when they can’t catch the connecting bus they need.  I ended up spending a record four days there.

I got stuck for a variety of reasons – fixing up the bike, cute panamanian girl, getting ill – but I think a big part of it was that I just didn’t want to get on my bike and ride the 440km to Panama City on a famously hot section of the Pan-American Highway.  I just wasn’t looking forward to it.

The Final Push.

Today though.  I am finally leaving.  My back brakes are still shithouse (couldn’t find better brake pads in David), and though my front brakes now work, my disc is all bent up (couldn’t find a new disc in David) so I’ll be riding against them slightly the whole way.

In many ways this is the final big push of the trip.  It is definitely the last long leg of Stage 6.  Once in Panama City, I am a day’s ride from Portobelo, and from there, I am in Colombia.

There is absolutely nothing to see on this 440 km stretch of highway.  I will pass through a few small towns along the way, but for the most part it will be just highway.  As it is more or less flat it will probably take me 5 days to get there.  Five days of heat, boring highway, and camping in non-picturesque spots.

Well… I suppose if we´ve come this far…


A special shout-out goes out to my man Toto, the best mechanic in David with the best collection of random spare second hand parts.  He also gave me a Panamanian Cycling Jersey… So I guess now I’m sponsored!


My Panamanian cycling jersey, a gift from my mechanic Toto here in David

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