Thursday, April 14, 2011

El Desafio Custcatleco

Has anyone read Born to Run? It's a great book about running, and I can't help but lump it together with Michael Pollan books because they all share the same theme: we make our lives too complex. It even reminds me of an old George Carlin bit:
Life is not that complicated. You get up, you go to work, eat three meals, you take one good shit and you go back to bed. What’s the fucking mystery?
 I'll use that as a segue into what I have found to be an awesome part about El Salvador. There is a rather large group of people dedicated to some form of competitive fitness, but at the end of the day, they don't overcomplicate it. Two weeks ago, I the Desafio Cuscatleco. It's a mountain bike race that is spread over two days, totaling around 80 or 90 miles and 10,000' of climbing. It was epic.

The race started in Salanitas (a.k.a Decameron), which is on the coast. We rode on the road for about 7 miles before reaching the start of the race. As I've mentioned before, mountain biking in El Salvador is mostly on dirt roads - there's not a ton of singletrack - so we took off down the trail and for the next four and half hours, I pedaled, mostly uphill.  The ride consisted of a vertical rise of 1500 meters with a few, albeit small, downhill sections. We finished at a hotel close to the small town of Apaneca. The hotel offered sports massages for $15 for 30 minutes, so I had my first massage. It was nice. After two high-carb meals, we turned in at 9 to wake up for the next day.
The start at Decameron
The 2nd day had the potential to be easier, simply because we were going from Apaneca down to the ruins at San Andres.  So, downhill, right? Eh, not really. The race started with an extended downhill that was complicated by the high amounts of dust that everyone was kicking up. I had to just focus on the rider in front of me and hope that he knew where the hell he was going. After going downhill for a fair bit, we hit bottom, around 1,000m above sea level. We then started the long, muscle-pounding climb to around 1800m. I have an older Garmin GPS that works alright, but sometimes the distances it gives aren't quite right, but the altitude measure seemed similar to what I would expect, so I focused on watching the elevation, knowing that I would be done when we hit 1800m. This turned out to be a bad idea, because the trail reached around 1700m 3 times before falling away to a dowhill followed by another climb. Yeesh! We finally reached the top and started the long downhill, essentially from the Santa Ana volcano to Lago Coatepeque. It was  beautiful downhill, and my brakes were smoking by the time I reached the bottom. The brakes weren't the only thing that were hot, though. As we dropped in elevation, the temperature climbed, reaching about 90 degrees. I then had to climb out of the crater before starting the long, hot bike to San Andres. It was pretty riding through the pueblitos and fincas along the way, but the last 15 miles was brutal -- flat, monotonous crushed gravel road.

It was a great experience. The organization of the race was just about perfect. There was enough organization where they were keeping track of everyone, so they could look for you if you got lost, but there wasn't so much that you were obsessing over whether your sensor was working, or that kind of stuff.
The view from the epic downhill


  1. That race looks AWESOME, and I must say I'm jealous.

    Take care,
    (A fellow foreign service blogger, currently in western Afghanistan --

  2. Yea -- I meant to put a link to it before... the ride and the official site (slow to load)

  3. btw -- you can linkify your url by doing something like: <a href="">my site</a> (to get my site)