Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route- Tulcan to Cuenca
Written by Evan
We arrived into Tulcan, Ecuador and had an easy ride to a hotel in downtown, where we enjoyed our first Ecuadorian market. We missed having markets through Colombia, as food is generally just bought at grocery stores.
The next day started with a cold rain, but we started out onto the first day of the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (Route), a route created by the Ecuadorian Dammer brothers, and Cass Gilbert – complete with endless climbing and descending through the high Ecuadorian Andes.
After a couple days of riding, we arrived at the first major climb of the route – a 10,000′ ascent from roughly 3,000′ to 13,000′. We split the climb into two days, and camped on a down sloping farm field in between.
The climb was an introduction to the major ecological zones of Ecuador, from the hot, humid, tropical low lying mountains, to the above treeline Paramo of the high Ecuadorian Andes.
I woke up feeling quite off after our first day of climbing, and continued to struggle on day two. By our third day, I was completely sick, but pushed through until Otavalo, where a warm comfortable hostel greeted us for the next week while I recovered from a flu like sickness.
Leaving Otavalo, we began a 4,000′ climb up a cobbled road to Lagos de Mojanda for our last night in the northern hemisphere. Some fast descending brought us into a very sandy and dry region, and finally to a highway that we took into Pifo, with some incredibly steep paved climbs. We spent a quick day in Quito walking around and doing some errands.
From Quito, we were back on the TEMBR route, starting some of our first significant hike a bike deep into remote private property and ranches. This section began some of the most scenic of the route – culminating in riding through Cotopaxi National Park.
After the hike-a-bike sections, we had an initially good descent, which turned to cobbles. The worst was yet to come though, as we started a very slow series of small canyon and river crossings that were extremely thick with vegetation, and steep! The bulk of the day, and for hours the next day, were spent hiking, passing and hauling bikes up and down, and schwaking through this crazy terrain.
After hours of riding, we were finally getting close to Cotopaxi, which brought us to really fun farm track roads. The landscape changed once again to high open alpine terrain, and the riding was sublime. We camped in the park, and continued through the following day with huge views of the volcano. The icing on the cake was a smooth single and double track descent out of the park through pine forests – leading us to a beautiful lodge to stay at for a day off.
Leaving Cotopaxi, we headed towards Laguna de Quilotoa through small mountain villages, on a mix of road surfaces – paved, dirt, and cobbles. Incredible scenery, huge ascents and descents, and endless curious locals brought us to Quilotoa and through to the high roads around Chimborazo – and an extremely cold and wet descent to Riobamba. Once again, I woke up feeling sick on our last day of riding, but knew that I needed to push through the day to get to a warm place to stay. A big day greeted us, again with thousands of feet of mixed terrain climbing to 14,400′ – not great for my hurting throat and low energy.
After a big day of riding, we arrived at a hostel in Riobamba, where we took the next 5 days off while I recovered in bed from a nasty cold – not sure if it was lingering from my sickness in Otavalo, or an unlucky unrelated illness.
When we finally left Riobamba, the weather was particularly nasty – very wet, windy, and cold, with endless black skies. I was still not feeling 100%, and with the bad weather, we opted to speed up our ride to Cuenca and stay on the highway. Three days of extremely wet weather with big climbs and miserable descents, brought us to Cuenca – very happy we stuck to the highway as extended higher altitude backcountry riding would have been beyond brutal!
After spending a few days enjoying Cuenca with Zach and Kristin, we are excited to get back on the bikes with Ellen! Although it is unlikely, we are hoping for some drier weather ahead (as we are in the heart of the rainy season)!