Ecuadorian news flash.

I haven’t had the chance to update the blog recently. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been riding…

Between living the good life on the farm in Palugo, the dirt road obsession continues. For the most part, I’ve been absorbed exploring Ecuador’s high altitude tundra – the misty, shape shifting and ethereal páramo. I was fortunate enough to spent my birthday in Cotopaxi National Park, one of my all time favourite spots in Ecuador, on a family bike tour. Then, I headed off for a few days tackling a back route between Otovalo and Ibarra, via the peaceful páramo of Piñan – a ride that boasts a 3000m, dirt and cobbled descent! And most recently, I headed into the high altitude El Ángel Ecological Reserve, home to a legion of curious-looking frailejón.

TEMBR: Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Ride 

Sage and Nancy have now returned to the States. I’ll be staying on in Ecuador for a couple more weeks to help set up a website based on our recent Trans Ecuador bike ride. Broadly speaking, the idea of the project is to create a backcountry route that runs the length of the country’s volcanic corridor, avoiding the dreaded Panamerican Highway and other busy paved stretches, to link small communities and places of interest via dirt and cobbled roads. Aside from the ride itself, the aim of the route is to encourage bicycle travel in Ecuador both locally and internationally, and promote low impact, responsible tourism in remote areas of the country.

It won’t be the ride the Dammer’s and I did; rather, a more accessible (and slightly less gruelling) dirt road alternative. In an ideal world, this backbone will provide a means along which to interweave more technical singletrack alternatives. As it stands right now, it’s non-profit project, so if there’s a designer who’d like to donate some time creating a logo…

Pictures and Words

On the writing front, my feature on fatpacking in the Bolivian Altiplano is due out in the next Bicycle Times. Cycle, published by the CTC, is running a photo story on our mega-family bike ride. And I’ve submitted a story to Cranked on bikepacking in Peru, due out this spring – incidentally, if you’d like a discounted subscription, there’s Kickstarter project for the magazine, details of which you can find here. Lastly, I’m also attempting to gather a collection of images and stories that could provide the basis for a roving talk of some kind, or (if anyone will have me) a photo exhibition.

Reviews

Aside from blog posts, there’s a tonne of stuff I’d like to catch up on, reviews wise. This includes thoughts on long distance touring on the Surly Krampus (compared to the Pugs), touring tubeless, my 6 Moon Designs Deschutes tarp, the Salsa Anything Cage HD, the Jones 710 Bend Bar, and a long term review of the Chariot trailer – along with musings on child-friendly options for more singletrack-minded rides. If you managed to wade through all the links, and there’s anything else you’ve seen me use that might be of interest, let me know. Occasionally, I jot down thoughts and progress reports on the While Out Riding Facebook page.

And then, it’s back to Europe. My current plan is to fly to the UK out of Bogota, which is substantially cheaper than exiting Ecuador. But I may be lured back via the US if I can find a cheap flight, to pursue a couple of projects there. Otherwise, if anyone knows of any cool bike culture happenings in Colombia that I can write about for the Worldwide Cycling Atlas, please let me know!

I’ll round this post off with a few images from the last few weeks. Nowadays, most of them are posted in image collections to my Tumblr, until I get a proper chance to catch up on the blog.

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Sage in his new poncho, in the Plaza de Ponchos, Otovallo.

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As in much of South America, Muralism is alive and well in Ecuador.

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Ponchos + Murals.

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What else? In Otovalo, I caught up with compadre Mike again, seen here on Ecuador’s Inca ‘Trail’.

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And there’s food… Cheap eats abound in Ecuador. A breakfast like this, complete with meat and onion empanada, coffee, scrambled eggs and a fresh glass of guanabana juice, will set you back $2.50.

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Or you could indulge in the Almuezo. A set lunch of trout, a bowl of hearty soup, and the obligatory juice chaser costs about the same, and is omnipresent around the country.

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Birthday adventure in Cotopaxi National Park.

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Do dirt roads get much better than this?

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Whether Cotopaxi graces you with her presence or not (see banner at the top of the page), there’s nowhere quite like high altitude plateaux, and its carpet of flora.

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Sage is introduced to tarp life.

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And sleeping in abandoned houses.

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Long Range Krampus. How does it compare to my Pugs?

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Researching the Trans Ecuador. Despite the picture above, most of it will be on dirt roads…

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Like this.

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And this.

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And this.

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A fan of the Paris Roubaix? You’ll love Ecuador.

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There’s no shortage of stunningly rugged high country…

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Just can’t get enough of the páramo.

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It may lack the drama of snow capped Andean ranges… but there’s a subtlety that gets under the skin.

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Meanwhile, over in El Angel Ecological Nature Reserve, the aliens have landed.

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Planet Frailejon, intrinsic to Ecuador’s water supply and well being.

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A barely used, dirt road runs through the centre of the reserve, to within just a handful of kilometres of the Colombian border. A perfect start to the Trans Ecuador…

22 thoughts on “Ecuadorian news flash.

  1. Jeff NY LON

    Hi Cass
    you are truly a wealthy man in terms of a beautiful life you are the definition of
    a free spirit . So many of us have excuses why we do not do what we really want to do .
    Then comes the realization our life is closer to the end than the beginning and our excuses caused this . I like to think that you get many people to see light and get out of convention and just do it . I wish you well with safe travel .

    Jeff NY LON

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Cheers for the kind words, Jeff. It’s easy to do, putting off stuff. But when I actually do it, and I’m back in the moment, just where I want to be, I always have the same realisation. This is why I do this. What was I waiting for?!

      Reply
  2. Grace Johnson

    Cass if you are truly interested in exhibiting your images – try contacting bike show organizers. These shows often have extra wall space that isn’t being used so they might be interested in having your pictures hang there. Paul has exhibited his photos in a couple of Dutch bike shows in the past. He enjoyed it plus he also received a lot of positive feedback.

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks Grace, that’s a great idea. Going through and making a selection to actually create decent prints seems like a daunting task… Maybe I’ll just stick to blogging (-:

      Reply
  3. Michele Mamede

    Hello, Cass! I found your website a while ago and you posts about Ecuador helped me make my mind about my next vacation. In exactly two months, my boyfriend and I will fly there for a bike trip in Cotopaxi. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Hi Michelle,

      Great to hear. I love Cotopaxi! Hopefully by then, we might even have the Tran-Ecuador website up with some route ideas.

      All the best,

      Cass

      Reply
  4. Mateo ponce

    Hello Cass,

    I am friend of the Dammer family, last sunday we were talking about the amazing bikepacking that you did. Next month I some friend are coming bikepacking from Costa Rica and I am going to join them in the Ecuadorian border with Colombia and the idea is to travel without touching any paved road from north of Ecuador to the Pacific coast. The first part is about the same route that you pedaled from El Angel to Piñañ and then to Irubi. From there we continue east throught the valle de Intag and continue lowlands until we reach the pacific coast, the Matal beach.

    Can you give some pointers for the first section, from El Angel to Piñan please? Talking to the Dammer brother they suggested from El Angel reach Convalecencia village and then Buenos Aires, Chinchivi and Piñañ.

    Wich parte did you start at El angel?

    I will appreciatte any suggestions.

    Thank you

    Mateo

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Hey Mateo,

      I couldn’t find a dirt road descent to La Convalesencia from La Libertad, without either having to hike, or looping out to Mira (a lot of which is now paved) – and for the Trans Ecuadorian route, I wanted to keep to dirt, rather than hike a bikes as we did with the Dammers. If you do find a way though, from there you could ride on an unpaved road to La Loma and Santa Lucia, then pick up the old railway line to the Buenas Aires turnoff.

      But instead, I researched, but didn’t have time to ride, this alternative.
      El Tulcan – Reserva El Angel – La Libertad – El Salado – Moran – El Laurel (this might involve a small hike past La Cortada) – Maldonaldo – El Chical – Buenas Aires turnoff.

      If you go this way, be sure to stop at El Angel and do the hike to the lake. It’s short, but gives you amazing views of the Frailejon.

      This is almost all dirt, or hardpack gravel, until the last small section of pavement down on the main road. But be warned, it’s up and down, as you drop from close to 4000m to 1000m on the Salinas – San Lorenzo highway, then climb straight back up to the Pinan paramo at 4000m! With plenty of ups and downs in between. Be warned – there’s lots of bitey flies!

      You could then climb up to Pinan (cobbled and dirt) from the Buenas Aires turnoff. We did this in reverse, but came from Cotocachi, following the water channel that runs along it, which links up with the Pinan-Hospital road (recently resurfaced, but still dirt). With the Dammers, with rode some great singletrack out of Pinan to Intag, which sounds like what you want to do. But you’re best talking to them for route notes, as they know the area really well. Expect some pushing!

      When are you off? Maybe I can join you (-:

      Reply
      1. Mateo Ponce

        Hello Cass,

        yes you are right!! the alternate route could be El Tulcan – Reserva El Angel – La Libertad – El Salado – Moran – El Laurel – Maldonaldo – El Chical – Buenas Aires -Chinchivi – Piñañ. I will check that seccion by the end of this month, but the entire journey starts ends of april. you are more that welcome to join us.

        best

        Reply
  5. Ben

    Hi Cass,
    It’s always inspiring to get an update on your blog about your doings, musings, and general lifestyle. Like others, I always feel a mixture of jealousy and awe at the life you have created for yourself. Keep up with the blog. It really does inspire and motivate many of us newbies to continue pursuing the allure of bikepacking.

    Do you know when the musings on Pugs vs. Krampus will be ready? As a Krampus rider myself, I’d be interested to know your personal preference and which bike is best suited for which kind of terrain. Just curious.

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks Ben!
      I’ll endeavour to get something together shortly. I’ll actually be reunited with the Pugs in a few weeks… and I have to say, I’m really looking forward to it (as much as I love the Krampus!).

      Reply
  6. Paul

    Great pictures. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the Krampus. Also, hopefully you will be able to tour a bit on 27.5×3″ tires (maybe bring back the Ogre?) and hear your thoughts on that set up. 27.5+ makes more sense in my head for touring on dirt. Love my Pugs, but don’t like the thought of miles on pavement on 4″ tires. 29+ is nice, but do you really need 31″ tires? 27.5+ seems to be a good middle ground. Hoping to try it out on my own bike, as soon as the tires are available.

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      I agree – B+ seems like an awesome middle ground. I’m not sure they’ll fit in an Ogre, with a decently wide rim at least, which would seem to be the most sensible way of running them. And unfortunately, I no longer have my Ogre )-: But it’s definitely something I’d really like to explore.

      The advantage of full fat for overseas touring is being able to run 26in downhill tyres, if you really had. They’re everywhere. At least with B+ you could replace a wheel with a 29er, in an emergency. 29ers aren’t yet available all over South America, but it’s growing, and you can track them down in the bigger cities. Ecuador has a fair few 650Bs too.

      Obviously in the US/Europe, tyre availability isn’t a big issue. But it’s definitely something I think about here.

      A frame that could run full fat, 29 and 650B+ would be awesome!

      Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Watch this space!

      I think it’s going to be good. A hard ride for sure, but one that will reveal a side to Ecuador that’s lost on the frenzy of its main roads.

      Reply
  7. José Pereira

    Hello Cass,

    Any idea when will the route be available?
    I’m planning a South America trip for next year. I was trying to do a route from Quito to Lima, but that’s going to be hard with my month/month and an half window.
    Your Trans Ecuator seems like the perfect alternative.

    Thanks for your amazing blog, please keep us inspired.

    Best regards,
    José Pereira

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Trans Ecuador stage 1 – Tulcan to Otavalo | Nick's Bike Tour

  9. Colleen

    Hi Cass,

    I’m trying to get the GPX for the Trans Ecuador route but not sure if my requests are going through on the eltaraumara blogspot site (which is absolutely incredible, by the way; Nice work on that to all of you). If you’re able to, could you email it to me? Thanks for the information and inspiration.

    -Colleen

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Bikepacking Ecuador – Baños to Cuenca via Chimborazo and TEMBR – Brian's Routes

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