Tuesday, July 27, 2010

CSN Stores Contest Winner

Congratulations to Melanie! She’s the winner of the gift certificate to CSN Stores!

Melanie gave me permission to share her favorite bike ride memory with all of you, which I’m pretty excited about, because it’s so cool! (Note: The story had nothing to do with Melanie winning the contest - the winner’s name was drawn out of a hat.)

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest and thanks again to CSN Stores.

Melanie’s ride in Ecuador

I have had many fun and interesting bike rides in my life so far, but by far the most memorable was in Ecuador, South America. Our group scheduled a ride with a local mountain bike excursion company located outside of Otavalo. We got outfitted with bikes, helmets and gloves as well as orange vests at the rim of the mountains surrounding Guinea Pig Lake (volcanic lake Cuicocha). We began our mostly downhill ride by making our way down the long, dusty, stony driveway which eventually fed out onto blacktop, which we eventually exited to take the dirt roads through the country.

The area is very sparsely populated here and mainly agricultural. We passed the tiny homes that are the norm for poor farming families to inhabit as well as pigs, chickens, cows and the friendly locals who never failed to either wave or offer salutations, asking where we came from and where we were going. Along the way we were privy to the beauty of the Andes: steep mountains with minimal trees, sheer, equally steep drop-offs into ravines and valleys with nothing but a tiny wire cattle fence to keep a wayward cyclist on the path. The elevation is such that it seems you are one with the clouds. The dirt and dust was fast and non-technical and I was having a blast keeping up with our guide, and he was surprised that each time he stopped for the riders to regroup I was right there with him! It made me feel good when he complimented my riding ability (which really isn’t THAT great when compared to my usual riding companions!).

Eventually we found ourselves in a small town (I forget the name!) where we took a small break from the sun and some of the riders chose to put their bikes on the following ‘sag wagon’ and call it a day. Not me, I was here to ride! On the way out of town toward the next town, we were again on blacktop. Not quality blacktop, mind you; this is, after all, a third world country! A few long exhilarating downhills through the mountains and over tiny rickety bridges added to the fun, I was loving every thrill! Unfortunately, at the next little break at the next little town, the thrill proved too much for yet a few other riders from our group and they joined the others in the Jeep. Our group was down to 3 women and the male ride guide.

Heading out of town again on relatively flat, fairly smooth blacktop, I was proud of us 3 women, showing up the boys! Sadly, after working up a long, gradual uphill, my other 2 female riding companions threw in the towel. That left me and the guide. I said, “Let’s go!” He tried to encourage me to ride in front of him and lead, but I declined, not having any good idea where we were going. We began to make our way to the outskirts of Otavalo, a fairly good-sized (and beautiful) city known for its open-air markets and craftsmen. At a 7 point intersection, he instructed me to stay close. I obeyed, not wanting to die, staying not much more than a foot off his rear wheel.

The majority of drivers in Ecuador are, well, a bit frightening. Traffic laws are either rarely enforced or very lax, and it is not uncommon for people to drive through red lights and stop signs as if they don’t exist. Sidewalks are often considered acceptable driving areas. Cars are often in poor condition with bald tires and vehicles commonly are packed full of as many passengers as possible. Yes, there are good drivers, but I witnessed more accidents and frightening incidents and dangerous situations than typically seen where I live stateside.

So there we were, practically back wheel to front wheel, navigating the close, tight, old streets of Otavalo, dodging cars, buses, pedestrians and the like. Traffic was backed up and we made it to the finishing point before our sag wagon! What an adrenaline rush, speeding down mountains, taking in the gorgeous countryside and gambling death in the streets of the city! I loved EVERY minute of it and was so proud and happy that I stuck it out to the very end.

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