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Feb 26

The End.

P1040953After getting stuck in Cali for nearly two weeks, I woke up one morning and knew that it was time to get back on the road.  Tony and I had a job to finish; The last 400 km to Medellin.  So I got out of bed, got a cup of coffee, took a shower, and ever so slowly got Tony ready to go for his final week on the road.

Our final week on the road was a focused mission to just get there.  Almost all our meals were eaten in roadside comedores as we were in no mood for more granola or porridge made with dried milk, pasta and sauce, or even, for that matter, setting up the camp stove.  Neither could we be asked to camp or be sociable with hosts, so we stayed in either hostels or random roadside hospedajes all six nights.  In short, anything we could do to make our journey to Medellin a bit more comfortable, a bit less strenuous, we did.  We are done, we told ourselves, and it’s not as if we are going to blow our trip budget at this point.  

Busy mind

Santa barbara

Santa barbara

As I cruised along the shoulder of the Colombian highway for the first time in many, many months, my mind was full of thoughts again and busy churning away.  Whilst I pedaled along I reflected on the journey behind me and contemplated the life awaiting me post-trip in Australia.  It had been a year and a half since I had left Australia – which is a lot of journey to mull over – and post-trip for the first time in my life I would be going “backwards” – which is to say instead of settling in a new country or new city I would be going straight back to Melbourne and back to a lifestyle very similar to the one I had left behind.  Same job, same friends, same hobbies, but what will have changed?  How much have I personally changed in the last 13,000km? How will that personal change and growth translate when put back into trenches of “normal life”?  How will I cope with the post-trip its-like-it-never-happened phenomenon?

One of my free breakfasts.

One of my free breakfasts.

Despite the fact the my mind was focusing on the past and the future, Colombia wasn’t about to let me forget the present.  That week I was constantly joined by guys on motorcycles or bicycles who wanted to know about my trip, asking me if I needed anything, if they could help in any way.  More days than not, I’d hit the road only to have to stop an hour or so later to accept a free breakfast or free lunch in somebody’s restaurant or house.    Time and time again my withdrawn introspection would be challenged and eventually domineered by the extremely effusive and casual charm that Colombia is famous for.  Back in September I wrote that Mexico has the most wonderful people of all the countries I have ever visited; word of that claim must have gotten out because it seemed like Colombia was making a determined effort to earn the title for themselves.

Do you like Colombia?

P1040939120 km south of Medellin I stayed the night in a little highway town called Las Felisas.  It was after dark and I had already eaten dinner and wandered the length of the little town but there was still some time to kill before going to sleep.  So I strolled back to the little roadside restaurant where I had eaten and sat myself down next the the chain smoking lady who ran the place to have a chat.  We talked about the town, the 24 hour traffic, the water situation, how often I call my mother etc…  eventually though, we started chatting about Colombia.

“Do you like Colombia?” She asked me.

“Yes” I replied, “I love Colombia. In fact of the eleven countries I’ve visited, Mexico and Colombia are the stand-out favourites.  It’s because of the people.”

“Colombians are nice people?”

“Yes, definitely, but the people have been incredibly nice to me the whole trip, in almost every single country, so it’s something else….”  I paused to think.  What was the difference?  I looked back up at the lady and realized that the answer was right there in front of me.

“It’s this”  I said finally, indicating the table that she and I sat at.  “We are sitting here chatting almost like neighbors.  That’s what I love about Colombia.  Here – and in Mexico – I have been treated like a person first and a foreigner second.  In most other countries it’s been the reverse.  They’ve been incredibly generous and kind, but they haven’t… accepted me in the same way that the people here do.  I feel like if I lived here I would be “normal” after a short while.  I’d have colombian friends, a colombian girlfriend, and be able to get a normal job.  I could live in real Colombia and not some strange ex-pat side world.  That’s what I love about this place.”

“Interesting…” She lit another cigarette.  “I’m happy to hear that.  I need a coffee, you want a coffee?”

One last hill.

There is one thought though, one mental image, that has been popping into my head more now than ever.  It’s an image of me – on a bicycle – riding up a long, unrelenting hill in a hot sun with a big grin on my face.  I’m grinning in this fantasy because I’m in Colombia with Medellin is just a couple of days ride away.  It’s an image of me on my victory lap.”

I wrote that back in November whilst riding through El Salvador, and the day before arriving in Medellin, that mental image became a reality.  It was the final serious hill to climb and it was a biggie; in less than 35 km we would gain 1500m of elevation.  We started our ascent into the Andes in the heat of the day and for the next 5 hours would steadily climb higher and higher.  It’s the last hill, I kept telling myself, the very last one.  I was excited to be so close to Medellin, less than 60 km away, but I had to reign in this excitement and maintain the tortoise pace of 6 kph that would get me to the top.  As the sun dropped low on the horizon, we had made it far further than I had thought we would, but there was no way we were going to make it to Medellin that night, so we pulled up and stayed in a small town just 5 km from the top of the mountains and only 30 km from Medellin.  Our last day on the road would be a short one.

Traffic entering Medellin.

Traffic entering Medellin.

Arriving in Medellin.

The next day was a day on the road just like any other, except that this day, the 454th day since starting our little adventure, was the last.  I woke early, and for the last time pulled on the clothes that I’d been sweating in for five days, strapped on the shoes that if whiffed directly could kill a horse, loaded Tony up and set off.  I was eager to complete the final 30 km, finish up the adventure, and starting looking ahead to the next chapter of my life.

I took my time, partly because there was no rush, but mainly because my mind was filled with paranoid images of flying off the edge of a cliff or being smashed head-on by a bus.  This close to the end I did not want to end up in a bloody puddle on the side of the road, so I took the winding descent down to Medellin like a granny.  Eventually, we rolled into Medellin – sano y salvo – and directed ourselves to the house of an old friend of mine, the official finish line of the Tour de Zack y Tony.

When we arrived at the end of our 13,300+ km, 15 month, 10 country, 4 time zone, San Francisco to South America trip, there was no cheering crowd, no tape to break through, no fanfare, and no television crews.  Instead, I arrived alone to a quiet residential street and rolled up to the kerb in front of Juan Camilo’s building.  I sat there for a moment – foot on the kerb – and looked around the green and sunny street for any passerby who might bear witness to this great moment of my life.  My searching was met by silence, and so for the very last time, I dismounted.

And that was that.

 

—–

The Tour de Zack y Tony has officially ended, we made it!  That said, keep an eye on this blog a bit longer as there will be at least a few more posts to come relating the aftermath of our adventure of a lifetime.

For more photos of this stage go here

For the Stage 7 summary page, go here (coming soonish)

 

1 comment

  1. Jeroen van Montfort

    Still amazing to read you finished your trip! Really respect!
    The onlything I have to do is read the part of the blog before we met in mexico :)
    Well take care and thanks for the great stories!

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