11/10 to 12/6/2016 – Uncle Mike is an adventurous force to be reckoned with. He has an endless collection of wild stories from his wanderlust filled life. And now, at 70-years young, this fellow spends a majority of his time cycling through foreign countries immersing himself in local culture and customs. Early in the summer of 2016, Grete received communication from her Uncle Mike that he’d like to meet up with us for a bicycle tour. He said he’d meet us anywhere in the world. And so commenced the ball a-rollin’ on another international bike trip.
We worked our list down of possible places to travel and arrived at Ecuador, a country that Uncle Mike had lived in years ago, but hadn’t returned to. His young family was enjoying a year off of school and work, traveling the world, when he was last in Ecuador, and they lived there for roughly 6 months. Ecuador seemed prime for Grete and I as it had large mountains, spoke Spanish (not that we are even half decent…), and wasn’t too expensive to travel to.
We showed up in early November with the plan to follow Uncle Mike’s lead and learn as much as we could from him while he rode with us. He had been in the country for a couple weeks by the time we arrived and had an idea of places he’d like to travel to next. We headed south from Quito and explored our way down the Andean Highlands, wandering through farm fields between tremendous volcanoes. For the next couple of weeks, we enjoyed every moment with Uncle Mike. He is the zen-master of bicycle touring. We learned life-lessons while adventuring with him along the backroads of Ecuador. Mike rode with us to Baños, tuned up his bicycle, then gave it away to a family that could really use it. He hopped on a bus to Quito the next morning and sent us off for a final couple of weeks of touring.
After Baños, we pedaled further south. We found great back-roads that rolled through small agricultural towns with smiling faces always ready to greet us. We hiked a bit, both on trails and with our bike (to change up the movement – as Uncle Mike taught), and experienced bicycling above 14,000′. Eventually, we had to turn back to the north to ensure we caught our flight back to the United States. We made great time and arrived back in Quito earlier than expected, so we wandered down to Mindo through a cloud forest and mighty deluge of rain. After a day of rest we had the itch to move again, and opted for a bus to return to Quito… The bus ride was cheap and quick, but damaged our spirits for the remaining couple of days (as well as the shifting on our bike). Lesson learned – bicycle tours are for bicycling but buses can haul tandems if something goes wrong!
Anywho, the trip was authentic and awe-inspiring. We quickly learned, then had reiterated to us daily, that you’re either going up or down at all times while cycling in Ecuador. The challenge only sweetened the experience. Ecuador also offered a deeper look into a culture foreign to our own. Practicing a bit of Spanish beforehand, combined with watching Uncle Mike interact, allowed us to connect much more with the people of Ecuador. This connection added tremendous depth to the trip.
Ecuador is a bicycle tourists’ dream come true because of its rapidly developing infrastructure, friendly drivers, excellent camping, cheap food, clean hostels, incredible terrain, and wonderful people.