La Ruta de los Conquistadores


To see the pictures, click here.

In November 2001 I rode and completed La Ruta de los Conquistadores with 4 of my friends (Fred, Matt, Nam and Stefan). My wife Michelle came to the race with me as a "companion" and we saw each other a few times each day at some of the rest stops.

La Ruta is a mountain bike race that crosses Costa Rica from Punta Leone to Limon, about 250 miles, in 3 days. It is said to be the most difficult mountain bike race on the planet. I can't confirm this because La Ruta is the only mountain bike race I've ever done. But having just finished it two days ago, I have no doubt that it's true.

Every year the route is slightly different. This year, over the three days, we did 75 miles, 60 miles, and 90 miles, with well over 20,000' of climbing. These mileage figures are conservatively low and approximate, because my computer stopped working whenever it got completely submerged in water or crammed with sticky mud, and it also did not count the many miles of "hike-a-bike". Even so, the miles do not tell the story. The first day's 75 miles was the most difficult ride I have ever done in my life. It makes the 200 miles of the Davis Double Century seem like an easy warmup ride. What follows is a more or less chronological account of the ride.


I started training for La Ruta in August. I'm really a "roadie" rider, so I started on my road bike. Throughout August, I did long rides with lots of climbing; by the end of August my weekend "ride" was 50-100 miles with 4,000 to 7,000' of climbing. In September and October I switched to mountain biking. I had weak technical mountain biking skills so I started to learn as much as I could. By early November my friends and I were doing weekend dirt rides 5-7 hours long, about 60 miles with 7,000' of climbing (around Mt. Tam and Mt. Diablo). During the week my standard "ride" (2 or 3 times during the week) was about 35 miles with 3,000' of climbing. Just before the race, I went to my favorite dirt trail hill, which climbs 1,500' in 2.5 miles, and went up, then down, then back up, then back down, 4 or 5 times. I felt like I was in better shape than I had ever been and that I was as physically ready for La Ruta as I could get. My technical trail skills were still pretty weak, but I felt that I could compensate for this with all the training I had done, and with determination and sheer will to finish the race. My main concern about the race was not that I would have to stop, but rather that my limited technical skills would make me go too slow and get picked up by the "sag crew" when the time limits ran out.

Little did I know how misplaced were my concerns. La Ruta has miles of technical sections, some where even the pros have to walk. But La Ruta is not about technical skills. It is all about determination. Each day's time limits were sufficiently long that anybody with the physical strength and stamina, and the psychological determination, to continue trudging along, will make it to the finish line before the clock stops.

PRE-RIDE: NOV 14 & 15

My wife Michelle and I flew down to Costa Rica on Nov 14. I packed my bike in a Trico travel box that I rented from the Bicycle Outfitter in Los Altos. Karla and other members of the La Ruta staff already had our flight info and were waiting for us at the airport. They gave every person a folder of race information. This included a detailed topo map of the race showing all three days, start and finish, and all rest stops. It also included an itinerary for every day, with contact info for important La Ruta staff, general tourist info on Costa Rica, and a black "La Ruta" T-Shirt. They had vans ready and took the 10 or 15 riders who happened to show up at this time, to their hotels. We arrived at the hotel in the evening.

I assembled my bike and found that the travel box did its job -- the bike had survived the trip with no damage. Incidentally, I did discover that the pedal wrench of my Alien multitool is effectively worthless. First, it does not have the leverage to remove pedals; second, the pedal wrench itself is made of soft metal and will bend or break before it removes the pedal (yes, I know the left side pedal has a left handed thread). Otherwise, I had no problems with the Alien -- everything else worked great, it is only the pedal wrench that sucks.

Incidentally, you might be wondering what kind of bike you need to ride La Ruta. You need a reasonably decent bike that is in perfect running condition, but you do not need a multi thousand dollar machine. I rode a Mongoose SX 6.7 which I bought for $425 new last year. It has cheap Shimano "A" components, standard (non sealed) bearings, and weighs 31 lbs. Before the ride, I repacked all the bearings (both wheels, headset, bottom bracket) with marine grade lithium grease -- the stuff people use to lube propellor shafts for marine outboard engines used in salt water.

The only major problem this bike had is that the front suspension locked up on day 1 so for the entire ride I had a hard front and soft tail (why? it turned out that the indescribable Costa Rican mud got through the seals and filled up the fork tubes). I saw many other people who broke chains, broke derailleurs, broke wheels, etc., so even though the lack of front suspension had my hands and arms in utter agony by the end of the race, I felt that my relatively cheap bike did a damn good job getting me through the race. By the end of the race, the cables were so full of grit it wouldn't shift gears and the brakes required He-Man grip to operate, but the bike never failed to move forward when I pushed on the pedals.

You will go through at least 2 complete sets of normal brake pads. Get cartridge pads and make sure you can swap them by the side of the road, standing in ankle deep mud in a rainstorm. If you have disc brakes, you might make it through the entire race with one set of pads if they are brand new on day 1. No matter what kind of bike you ride in La Ruta, it will need a complete strip down to the frame and rebuild / repack when you return.

Next morning, Nov 15, we got up early, packed our fully assembled bikes into a large truck provided by the La Ruta staff, packed our bags into a large tour bus, and headed to Punta Leone. This was the beginning of the adventure. Every night we stayed in a different place, thus were packing and moving our bags every morning and night. However, we kept our bikes assembled the entire time, even during transport. After a few hours scenic drive on the "highways" of Costa Rica, including a rest stop at a small roadside market, we arrived in Punta Leone. We stayed at a large resort, right on the beach, about 3 miles off the main coastal road. Here we unpacked our bikes from the trucks, signed in for La Ruta, checked into the hotel, ate lunch, and attended the pre-race meeting with Roman at 3pm. There were about 275 riders participating this year.

After the pre-race meeting, my friends and I took off on our bikes to the beach. We rode our bikes over this hill and discovered an incredibly beautiful secluded beach, just before sunset. We went swimming for a short while, watched the sunset, then rode back to our rooms to catch some Zs for race day 1. I was so excited about the race, I could not sleep. I just lay in bed and stared at the ceiling mostly all night, maybe got 3 hours of sleep. Little did I know that the lack of sleep would pale in comparison to the grueling exhaustion of what the next day would bring.


We got up at 3am, packed our bags, ate breakfast, signed in and started the race at 5am sharp. Day 1 started with 20-30 minutes of easy road riding out of the resort and North along the coastal highway. We then turned onto a dirt road and started climbing. The climb varied in grade from steep to ultra-steep and went on for about 90 minutes. Every once in a while I would look over my shoulder where the jungle foilage was less dense, to see an incredible vista of the western coast and beaches of Costa Rica. I then reached Check Point 1 (PC 1).

Immediately after PC1 I experienced the famous jungle mud. This was the most incredibly sticky red clay gooey thick dense deep wet mud that I have ever seen in my life. It was hard to walk in, forget about riding, and it filled up the wheels and brakes so sticky and thick that the wheels of the bike would not even turn. The mud was so dense and sticky that it was impossible to use my fingers to push it out from between the wheels and the brakes & frame of the bike. The entire bike was just a hanger for giant blobs of this gooey red mud. In several places the mud "trail" rises in nearly vertical walls so you have to climb them with your feet slipping out from under you, sliding your bike along because the wheels won't turn. And even when you get to rare flat sections that would theoretically be rideable, the mud has impregnated the chain so badly that every pedal revolution results in instant chain-suck. It is futile to attempt to fix the chain suck by lubricating the chain, because it will be totally submerged every few minutes in water or mud that will wash off even the most "waterproof" lubrication. There are several streams you must cross, some of which are knee to waist deep. But forget about washing your bike in them, because the mud is so sticky and gooey it will not wash off even if you completely submerge the bike.

After what seemed to be endless trudging through the muddy jungle under these conditions, I arrived at PC2. This was at about 9:15am -- just over 4 hours into the ride. Here, I grabbed a long stick and spent some time poking enough mud off the bike so that the wheels would turn. Next, the trail conditions improved and were mostly rideable. There were very few flat sections; the trail was constantly either climbing or falling. I got to dread the downhill sections for two reasons. First, because what goes down must come up, and second, because my front fork suspension had locked rigid, transmitting every bump in the rough road through to my hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. For the next couple of hours I rode over the hills through several small "2 donkey, 5 chicken" towns passing a few friendly smiling locals, crossing a couple of streams and climbing a couple of big hills, until I arrived at PC3.

Note: At PC2, I made a huge mistake that almost caused me to fail to finish the race. I ate a lot of fruit and filled my camelback with pure Gatorade (instead of water). Normally, I drink only water when riding but I figured that with the high humidity and sweating I needed the electrolytes -- BIG MISTAKE! As the hours wore on and the sun came out to melt Gringoes like myself, I had to drink heavily and started feeling nauseous from too much sugar. My tongue, hands and feet went numb, my body started twitching and shaking like a diabetic and my vision started to blur, I started gagging, nearly passed out and had to pull over and start walking. When I walked to the top of a big hill I started riding slowly again and when I finally made it to PC3 I felt about as bad as I have ever felt in my life. From this point forward to the end of the race, I avoided sugar. I drank only pure water, ate peanut butter or tuna sandwiches at the rest stops, and ate Clif bars only when desperately hungry in between stops. This worked extremely well -- no matter how tire and sore I felt, the nausea and near blackouts never recurred.

At PC3 I rejuvenated myself and continued. From here it was mostly bumpy rocky dirt and gravel roads over rolling hills, through a few more small towns. Then I arrived at a long paved climb, about 2 hours of climbing varying between the lowest 3 gears on the bike. Incredible views! Near the top of this climb was PC4.

I arrived at PC4 about 30 minutes before it closed. They said that if I kept up a steady pace I had just enough time to make it to PC5 and then the finish. As it started raining, I took off and continued down a steep bumpy rocky wet slippery slope of loose gravel. The next several miles included a long technical single track. I lost a lot of time due to my limited skills riding on this kind of terrain. I just kept it slow, steady and proceeded cautiously to avoid crashing. Somewhere along this route, I encountered an incredibly steep "road" of solid concrete that appeared to go straight up (later, I learned that it was a 30% grade). Despite being concrete, it was totally unrideable. At this point Fred and I were together and we trudged our bikes up the grade. It seemed to go on for miles, though thinking back it must have been a few hundred yards long. When we got to the top we turned left and continued along the trail. Eventually, after crossing a couple of streams and pushing our bikes up a couple more steep unrideable hills of wet rocky gravel, we reached PC5.

We reached PC5 at about 3:50pm, about 11 hours into the ride and just ten minutes before it closed. Due to the heavy clouds and rain, it was already getting dark. Stefan and Matt were way up ahead, and Fred and Nam showed up a minute or two after I got there. We took off from PC5 in a hurry to reach the finish before it closed. The trail turned into a long climb through slippery mud which went on for what seemed interminable miles. By this time my hands were completely bruised and numb from riding over the bumpy roads all day with a rigid front suspension. Fred and Nam passed me and I continued trudging along alone. Finally, the muddy climb ended and I reached a paved road with houses. The locals were shouting and waving me on as I rode along and reached the finish. I will always remember but will never be able to describe the feeling I got when I saw the banner reading "Meta". I came in just a few minutes behind Fred and Nam -- all of us finished this grueling day.

At the finish, we took cold outdoor showers (with no towels), "washed" our bikes with a high pressure power washer, packed our bikes into the truck, ate dinner, dressed, hopped in the bus with our bags and headed for San Jose. We checked into the hotel, got our bags, unpacked, ate another dinner, and crashed for an attempted 8 hours of sleep. I was too tired to sleep and my entire body was trembling, so I just laid in bed all night staring at the ceiling. I think I slept about 4 hours.


We got up at 4am, packed our bags, dressed in fresh clothes with wet soggy shoes, ate breakfast, hopped into the bus and took a ride to the Hotel Don Fadrique where the day 2 race would start. My legs were more stiff and sore than they had ever been in my life. My crotch area was red, sore and bruised. My entire left ring finger was completely numb, probably from some kind of weird nerve damage from all the bumps transmitted through the front suspension of the bike, which as I mentioned above had died and stiffened with mechanical rigormortis. I was not sure that I would be able to finish this day, but I was determined to keep going, no matter how slow, until I ran out of time.

At the other hotel, all the bikes had been unpacked and laid in neat rows up and down the street. I found my bike 15 minutes before the 6:00am start and discovered that the rear wheel had a broken spoke and that all the cables were beginning to rust in their housings impairing operation of the brakes or derailleurs. Because of the broken spoke the bike was unrideable, and the spare spokes I had brought were in the bike box at the first hotel. By some rare and amazing coincidence of fate, Matt had a spare spoke which just happened to be the right length, and the broken spoke was on the left side of the wheel (I didn't bring a sprocket puller), so I was able to install the new spoke and true the wheel before the race started.

We rode through the town as the police held up traffic, even on major highway on/off ramps. Everybody seemed to be out along the streets cheering us along. At a place that I think was called Tres Rios, we turned left off the main road and started a paved climb. The paved climb had sections that were steeper than any paved road I have ever ridden, at least 20% grade, probably more. I was in the lowest gear at 2.5 mph, leaning forward yet still popping little wheelies with every pedal stroke. Dark clouds came in and it started to rain. The paved climb turned to mud, some rideable some not. Eventually, we reached PC1 after walking to the top of a muddy hill too steep to ride.

Here the trail turned to a hard rocky "road" -- I use the word "road" loosely because I've ridden on riverbeds that were smoother. It went what seemed to be either straight up, or straight down so steep I was hanging behind the seat with the brakes on, sliding on the wet slippery road through a few turns. The road went on like this, through a couple of villages, over a couple of small bridges and across a couple of streams, for so long that I felt like my entire body was going to shake apart with every bump. Eventually, it reached a paved section and started to climb. At this point I reached PC2.

This was the "big climb" that everybody had been talking about. I climbed constantly in the lowest 3 gears for nearly 3 hours. During the last hour it got progressively colder, more windy and rained harder. By the time I was near the top, it was downright freezing with the wind chill. Finally, I reached PC3 at the top of the climb, near the summit of the Irazu volcano at around 10,000' above sea level.

Next was the descent. My brakes, which had brand new pads at the beginning of day 1, were almost gone with only a couple millimeters of pad left. And the brake cables were so rusted and stuffed with grit that it took all the strength in my hands just to move the levers. Also, the conditions were so wet that I was getting really bad chain suck and had to stop every 15 minutes or so to lube the chain. The descent was a slippery trail of thick mud with big loose rocks that dropped so steeply that my bike tried to "endo" on every bump. After about 15 minutes I came to a deep gorge that was blocked by a few guys with a big tractor on one side, a pickup truck on the other side. They were trying to slide a tree that had been cut in half longitudinally, across the gorge to provide a "bridge". I waited as other riders came up behind me, and after about 15 minutes they had the bridge in place. I was the first to cross and continue down the mud / rock trail. However, due to my limited technical skills and utter lack of brakes, I was quickly passed by nearly everybody as I plodded along at 5-10 mph just trying to avoid crashing. The trail was mostly downhill interspersed with a few extremely steep uphill sections. Along one section, I was passed by a local man in a yellow rainjacket, riding a horse at a slow walking pace. At another point, I was greeted by three or four local guys standing together along the road in front of a house, all wearing sidearms yet smiling and waving me on. I smiled back. After a couple hours of I made it to PC 4.

Here, both front and rear brakes were down to metal on metal and I had to change the pads, yet I had only one pair of fresh pads. Normally, I would have put them on the front. Not only would this provide greater stopping power, but since the front brake cable is shorter, its grit and rust had less resistance so the lever moved more freely (compared to the rear lever which required all the strength in my hand to budge). But in this technical, muddy, loose and steep terrain, using the front brake even lightly would only cause the front wheel to slide or endo the bike. So I opted to install the pads on the rear. I then continued on my way.

For the next two hours, I fell off the bike a few times as the rear brake was insufficient to slow the bike down on the steep grades, or as the rear wheel locked spinning out the rear of the bike. Meanwhile, my hand was going completely numb as I was doing the equivalent of gripping a hand exerciser nearly constantly for two hours. It was so overcast, rainy and foggy that there wasn't much scenery. Eventually, in this way I reached PC 5.

Here, the trail switched to paved road for the last 8-10 miles of the ride. It stopped raining but the streets were still wet. It was all downhill, very smooth and fast (with no front brakes) to the finish line which was at a hotel. I finished around 3pm, two hours before the time limit, so I had a little more time to unwind, relax and fix my bike.

I met up with my friends, we power washed the bikes, checked into rooms, and showered. I bought a set of brake pads from the race organizers (suprisingly cheap, only $4) and installed them. I also removed, cleaned, oiled and reinstalled the cables as well as I could, so the brakes & derailleurs were marginally operational. We unpacked, changed clothes, ate two dinners and went to bed.

Our second dinner was at the hotel restaurant which had the slowest service I have ever seen in the 20 or so countries I have visited in my life. About 75 minutes after we ordered dinner, our first course arrived and it was not what we ordered. 30 minutes later, the correct food arrived -- but only part of it. Three of the dishes we ordered never showed up at all, though one of the three did show up on the bill. Eventually, we worked it all out, paid for what we ate, and went to sleep. Finally, I slept most of the night.


We got up at 4:30am for the 6:30am race start. The race would start at another location called CATIE on the outskirts of town about 5 miles away. Everyone said this was a "mostly downhill" day, with lots of pavement, great for roadies like myself. As the day wore on I slowly realized how wrong this was.

We packed our bags, put them on the bus, hopped on our bikes and rode across town to CATIE. This was the first time all the race participants would eat at the same hotel, which caused some bottlenecks in the organization. We waited about 30 minutes in a long line for breakfast, then I waited another 20 minutes to use the toilet. The race start was postponed 20 minutes to allow for these delays; it started at 6:50am.

We rode across town and started going up and down ultra steep hills of pavement with lots of huge potholes riding through some kind of forest / jungle park. This went on for an hour or so until we got to some really, really steep "paved" downhill sections. I use the word "paved" loosely because there were huge rocks periodically embedded in the pavement, and potholes big enough to suck down a front wheel, which at our high descent speeds would certainly cause serious bodily injury or death to an unsuspecting rider. This went through the jungle, crossed a couple of bridges, and became a mostly gravel rocky / muddy trail.

The trail would have been quite rideable had my front suspension been working. Yet with the rigid front forks over the past two days my hands had taken a brutal pounding and it was simply painful. This went on for an hour or two until we got to a little town full of very friendly and excited locals in the middle of nowhere.

Here, I encountered what for me was the most difficult and brutal hill climb I have ever done in my life. The trail was medium sized loose rocks and gravel and wet from recent rain. It started going up through the town as the people lined up on the streets and cheered us all along. The trail got steeper and steeper until many people were walking their bikes. As the support vehicles passed up the hill, they were in low gear with the engines straining, with big clouds of black smoke coming out of the tailpipe choking the riders, and the gravel slipping from under their tires. But something inside me was determined to ride up this hill -- I refused to walk. The climb probably lasted about 45 minutes, which doesn't sound so bad. But during this entire time it was so steep the bike was on the verge of either tipping over or spinning out. The rear tire was constantly slipping in the wet loose rocks. The balance was so precarious that I couldn't remove my hands from the handlebars for even two seconds to grab my camelback drinking hose. I was forcing my breathing so hard that my throat was raw. The climb was brutal unrelenting. Finally, I made it to the top of this hill and I could see in the distance the eastern coast of Costa Rica, and the ocean. I was laughing out loud with exultation; I knew that after that climb I could do anything. Here there was a PC but I forgot what number it was -- maybe the 2nd.

From the PC, the trail started mostly down over the rocky bumpy yet rideable road. Eventually, it dropped out onto some pavement, the smoothest pavement I have ever seen in Costa Rica. This was a steep, fast and smooth descent that seemed to go on for hours. It dropped out onto a relatively flat yet extremely bumpy road of hard pan with closely scattered medium sized rocks. It was impossible to avoid the rocks while riding, and as the continual shock waves transmitted up the rigid forks to my hands I only hoped that my forks did not break in half. This road went through a light jungle area with frequent separated houses. It went up and down a few mild hills and eventually came to another PC (the 3rd?) in a small village.

Here, I refilled my camelback and watched the tandem come in; their timing chain was very loose and they tried to adjust it. While they were working on this I took off again. I rode along these hardpan rocky bumpy roads for a couple of hours. Several times I thought I just could not take any more flailing, banging abuse on my hands and arms, and I entered a strange psychological state that was like an in-body out-of-body experience. The constant pain was happening to this thing that was my body, but it didn't matter and I didn't care. The only thing I cared about was to finish this ride.

As this "road" passed through a few villages, kids would line up on the street smiling and cheering with their hands out and as I rode by I would "high 5" them all. I can't explain why, but the experience energized me as I continued to ride. It was like for this tiny snapshot of time, every one of us riders got to be that kid's hero. I guess it was a kind of attempt at recognition that what we were doing was the "real deal" at least in the eyes of a few small boys in Costa Rica. Some of the kids would spray me with garden hoses as I passed by. As we passed through another town and reached the first railroad track of the day, I thought, "here are the dreaded, infamous La Ruta railroad tracks". But the trail did not yet go in between the rails of the tracks, it was always next to them.

Finally, I reached a section where I had to ride along the tracks, in between the rails. The "ties" were solid concrete blocks instead of wood, creating deep pits in between. The front wheel could clear these pits, just barely avoid an "endo" on each one as long as I leaned way back on the bike. My bike's rigid front suspension merely amplified the excruciating banging. This section led to a bridge about 15 or 20 feet over a medium sized river, but this bridge was almost rideable because somebody had nailed wooden planks like an intermittent third rail. As I approached this bridge I caught up to Stefan and we continued along together. After the bridge, the trail left the tracks and followed another dirt road. This "road" had so many deep potholes filled with muddy water that we were constantly swerving to pick a path in between them.

We crossed several creeks or rivers, two of which were pretty wide and we had to hike across. One of them had a deep section with a current so swift, that the locals had gathered in the stream to help riders across. They strung a rope across the river to grab onto while walking, and the current was so strong that I had to hang on hard with both hands to make it across. A couple of them grabbed my bike and handed it across.

We also crossed one or two more long bridges maybe 20 or 30 feet above the water, where we had to tip toe between the railroad ties, avoiding the rotting or broken ones, as we pushed our bikes along with its tires balanced on one of the rails. At some point we reached a major highway and followed it for several miles. This section was very smooth and fast, a welcome relief from the constant painful chattering and banging of the bumpy roads. After all too short a span, we turned left onto another bumpy dirt road. This continued for a while, then changed to pavement and entered a medium sized town, and we soon arrived at what must have been PC4.

Here, I loaded up the camelback again, ate another sandwich and got underway. Here was a long, smooth, flat paved road that seemed to run right through the middle of some kind of huge plantation or farm of huge trees that looked like banana trees to my non-botanist eyes. It went on extremely flat and straight for many miles, then turned to a dirt road. The dirt road led on for a few miles and intersected the railroad tracks. This time, it was the real deal.

These tracks passed right through the middle of a swamp with only a few feet of passable (non-rideable) ground on either side. The pits in between the concrete ties were mostly filled with coarse gravel of medium sized stones, but some of them were not filled and would dangerously suck down a front wheel, "endo"ing the rider. Every few hundred hards, maybe once or twice each mile, there was a small bridge that required me to dismount and carefully walk across. As I started pedaling along in between the tracks, the shocks of the front wheel hitting each concrete tie were amplified by my rigid front shocks to my hands, which were now utterly and completely bruised past the point of any pain I can describe. This went on for several miles, perhaps an hour of "riding". At one point I was so fatigued and ravenously hungry that I had to stop to cram two Clif bars down my throat, one of which was caffeinated.

I finally saw an end to the misery of the railroad tracks. About 100 yards up ahead I saw the orange La Ruta marker pointing to the left off the tracks. As I looked down again, I suddenly saw my front wheel heading for a deep railroad tie "pit" that had no gravel in it. It was too late to shift my weight further back to attempt to wheelie over it -- it instantly sucked down my front wheel and I "endoed" over the handlebars, landing hard onto the concrete track ties and left rail. I managed to stick my left arm out in front of my face, so I took the blow on my left hand and thigh, landing upside down with my head in the pit and my feet splayed over the rails. It must have looked pretty bad because in midair as I was falling I heard the course worker up ahead utter an exclaiming groan. I might have blacked out for a second or two, I'm not sure. But I got up, picked up my bike, straightened the wheel and rode the final few yards along the tracks. Combined with the beating of the past two days, my left hand was now so bruised I could hardly hold onto the handlebars. This was the final stop, PC5.

As I stopped briefly to refill water and I heard the ocean, I knew that I had made it. I will never be able to describe the feeling that struck me at this realization, but even remembering it now brings tears to my eyes. The trail was a muddy, rocky path with the beach off to my left and railroad tracks to my right. The first 20 minutes or so was OK except for the fact that my entire left hand was now non-functional so I had to ride one-handed. But the tribulations of La Ruta were not yet over.

I soon encountered large puddles in the "trail". These puddles grew larger, deeper and more frequent until soon the trail had become a more or less constant stream that varied in depth from my ankles to near my hips as I rode. At several points, I was half under water with my bike almost completely submerged, riding along a bottom I could not see because the water was so muddy. I was constantly expecting the bike to drop out from under me into a big deep underwater hole, but this never happened. The rain was coming down in a torrential downpour. This continued for a few more miles, another 20 minutes or so, until the river / trail broke into a paved section. I could see the Atlantic ocean and the city of Limon. There were dark clouds overhead and the ocean was rough and stormy.

I rode along the paved city streets of Limon, following the La Ruta markers, for a few miles. Every time I went around a turn I expected to see the "Meta" banner but it took a long time before it actually appeared. My ass was so sore I could not sit down on the bike. My left hand was bruised, numb and non-functional. My bike's front suspension, brakes and shifters were filled with mud and completely jammed. I was more tired than I have ever been in my life, or am likely ever to be. But I felt none of this as I rode up to the finish line, because the only thing I could comprehend was that it was over.

I can't say whether this was the happiest moment of my life because "happy" doesn't really describe the intense feeling. It would be an understatement to say that riding La Ruta was the greatest physical challenge of my life. For me, La Ruta went far beyond physical challenge and became a psychological test of sheer will, determination and raw guts, and this is what made it a deeper and more meaningful experience.


I am fairly confident that I will never again ride La Ruta. But this does not mean it wasn't a positive experience, or that I wouldn't recommend it for others. Preparing for and completing this ride has given me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that is equal to the incredible challenge it represents. But my own achievement is not what inspired me most about this ride. There was a rider who, years ago, lost his right leg above the knee. He completed the entire race. He is a pro MTB racer whose name is Brett Wolfe. In several parts of the race I had the privilege of riding next to him, and his achievement will continue to inspire me.