Heaven & Hell: an Epic Day in Honduras
Stage 15 on the Ruta Maya is Epic, 2650 meters up and 2850 down over 116 km with a 30 km off road gauntlet in the middle. It’s also the last of a 4 day stretch featuring more than 9000 meters total climbing between Valle de Angeles and Copan Ruinas.
I chose the seemingly wise decision of starting at lunch just before the toughest dirt climbs, which I calculated would total about 1000 meters up, with the aim of arriving at our Copan rest day well exercised but not exhausted. Setting out I felt great, legs were strong, and I handled the several 18% up pitches with relative ease. After 9 km at a Y intersection the main road went left and given most of the flagging tape was affixed to a sign pointing to San Agustin, 13 km distance, that direction appeared the logical one.
After another hour of steep ascents and descents through spectacular scenery I arrived in the plaza of this attractive small rural town confident that I only had 5 km of off-road left and would arrive at Copan by 12:30 PM …only to find … no flagging tape. I phoned Cristiano our tour leader who consulted google maps and solemnly advised I had missed a key turn and had no choice but to backtrack. There had been a tuk tuk cruising the streets but it was now nowhere to be found. No matter, I bought an “Amp” (tasty drink akin to Red Bull light), and proceeded to retrace the 13 km back over hill and dale. After 5 more km I arrived at another T intersection where the flag tape indicated “go right, oh cycling adventurer”. But unbeknownst to me … and 3 other riders as it turned out … here the local kids had decided to move the tape from one side of the road to the other… Descending the steep muddy track I then came to another remote intersection where there was, of course, no orange tape in sight. Just then a farmer was let out of a vehicle and I told him “pienso que estoy perdido, cual es la direccion hasta la Pan Americana?” (I think I’m lost, which way to the Pan American highway?) He assured me that if I turned left and went passed his house that I would reach the pavement in 5 or 6 km.
While I was down to 1/3 of a bottle of fluid, the adrenaline was flowing, and I set off per his recommendation on a rocky trail that went straight up, then straight down, and then straight up, all at a 25%+ gradient. Fortunately after 45 minutes or so I came to a junction and glancing right, lo and behold there it was … the elusive flagging tape! A few steep skidding descents later I finlly reached the tarmac. 3 minutes later, after I hadn’t seen anyone from our group for 7 hours, Cristiano appeared in his runabout with another lost soul, Marek, my roommate and buddy. While I had been worried, Cris was going thru a bit of hell, with 4 missing riders. He exclaimed “Brian I have never been happier to see you” and after passing each of us a cold Gatorade and a Snickers bar, Marek and I set off on the final 30 km into Copan, arriving at our hotel just before 5 PM, where we gulped down some ice cold Salva Vida cervezas.
All told I had climbed 1800 meters and descended 2200 over 52 kms of dirt, hardly the original plan, but still a rewarding journey that I will never forget or in hindsight, regret. In the end it had been just another extraordinary day on tour with TDA Global Cycling.