A few weeks ago The Eldest and I (spoiler alert) successfully bicycled across the isthmus of Panama.
Was it "fun"? Sure! Perhaps not every moment, especially near the end, but it was a nice way to spend a Sunday morning. And afternoon. Was it an amazing thing to accomplish? Why, yes, thanks for pointing that out. Was it difficult? I'll let you be the judge as you digest the the chronicle below of the day.
Firstly, we got up insanely early and drove to downtown Panama City to discover that we were supposed to drop off our bikes the day before so they could be driven to the start of the race. Luckily I sweet-talked a worker into putting the bikes in the back of his pick-up with some other equipment for the race. Whew. Then we hopped on the bus in the early morning darkness.
"Hey, Eldest, are you excited to head over the Caribbean at 4:30am after getting up at 3?
"Oh yeah, did I ever tell you how far this thing is?"
Once we arrived at the staging area and saw the chaos of all the riders trying to retrieve their bikes we were somewhat relieved that our bikes were not with the hundreds (thousands?) of other bikes in a big shipping container. Our friend Mateo found our bikes near the starting line and texted us their whereabouts.
From what city does the race start again?
I was able to get some good video of the race, though my GoPro ran out of juice halfway through, so I didn't get to record either bridge or the end. But my cell phone was a great backup for a few more pics.
So when we signed up for this crazy adventure there were two options, the "medio fondo," which was an 85km route across the isthmus (sounds great!) or the "gran fondo," which followed the same route but added a part after the Centenario bridge where riders go further and then double back on the same road. The gran fondo was something in the neighborhood of 120 or 130km. We were fine with the medio fondo, thank you very much.
So we were certainly feeling, yeah know, tired at this point, but were both very cognizant of the mileage on my bike computer. Around kilometer 82 or so I noticed something: there were other cyclists on the other side of the rode going the other way. Had we accidentally missed the turnoff for the medio fondo and were actually doing the gran fondo? Such a thought demoralized us quite a bit, and we decided that we'd take a U-turn at the next available spot regardless of the route.
We did, but that was just following the designated route any way. At this point we did not know how much longer we had. At around 93km I needed to stop, my excuse being to pump up The Eldest's front tire, after which I plopped on the ground for a rest. (Up until this point we hadn't really stopped, excepting the aid stations where we stood over our bikes and ate or drank for a half-minute.) A car soon pulled up asking if I was OK. (There were quite a few support people in cars checking in on riders, and overall the race was very well run.) A couple of cops walked over to us to check in as well. (There were cops throughout the route, both to support all of the cops participating and to ensure tranquility.) We had a nice conversation. I ate a granola bar. Someone pulled over and offered to put my bike on their car and drive me to the finish line. I ate an offered banana (I still can't help but giggle that the Panamanian term is "banano") and decided I could finish. The stop lasted 15 or so minutes. We didn't really have a sense of how far it was to the end, though I knew that once we got to the top of the Bridge of the Americas it would be mostly, if not completely, downhill from there. The bridge ended up being pretty close anyway.
From the top of the bridge to the end was, indeed, all downhill and a bit of flat, and so was very easy.
After collapsing for a little while, we made our way over to the free pasta area for participants. They were packing up but were able to give us our well-earned styrofoam plate of carbs.
I'm 97% sure they changed the route after I signed up. The website now says that the medio fondo (the shorter one) was 95km and has a double-back bit, but I got 100km on my bike computer, and Mateo told me later that he got 99km on his.
The end of the race was on the Amador causeway, which was blocked from most traffic, and our car was back near the hotel where the buses left that morning. The options were to bike down to where traffic was allowed, leave my kiddo with both bikes, get an Uber to the car, and drive back to pick up my son, or... The Eldest talked me into biking, slowly, back to where we needed to be. So in the end we each did 110km (68 miles) that day.
Once we were able to feel all of our body parts again, we were super excited to have accomplished bicycling from one ocean to another, even if we did it in the shortest possible place in the world to do so. Go us!
And we haven't touched our bikes since...