After 4 weeks of food, beer and no exercise at home in the UK you could say that we were sufficiently rested. Cycling seemed like a distant memory as we got on a train to start the mammoth journey back to Ecuador. As with the outward flights the return trip was booked as cheaply as possible and went like this: lift to the station with Steph’s parents, train to Stansted, overnight in the airport, flight to Madrid, 12 hour layover, 12 hour flight to Lima, 15 hour layover, 2 hour flight to Quito. Arriving in Quito at midnight after 60 hours of travelling we were shattered. For once we did the sensible thing and went straight to a hostel near the airport, check out wasn’t until 1pm and we made full use of the time to catch up on some sleep.
Returning to the Casa de Ciclista was great. There were many different cyclists there, but the vibe was still the same. Martin and Leo were also still there, meaning they had been staying with Santi for 7 and 4 weeks respectively, it’s the kind of place that can be hard to leave. We were excited to be back as one of the other great things about going home was that we took the chance to completely change some of our kit setup. Colombia, Central America and Mexico aren’t renowned for their cold weather so we wouldn’t need our bulky sleeping bags or as many warm clothes for the foreseeable future! Changing from a sleeping bag to a down quilt and from a bulky insulated air mattress to a more minimal one has effectively halved the weight and size of our camp setup. Along with leaving behind many things we haven’t used our overall weight should have reduced significantly.
>>Our new kit list can be found HERE.
We also decided to change our tent. Our MSR Mutha Hubba HP has been amazing and has survived some brutal conditions on the trip so far. But with limited mesh on the inner tent it gets very hot in there and condensation can be a real issue. Heading to hot climates we wanted something with much better ventilation, and also something smaller. A lighter tent is easier to carry and easier to find wild camping places for as the footprint takes up much less space. While not the lightest our new Big Agnes Frying Pan SL tent (yes it’s a stupid name) saves 1.4kg over our old one and is much more compact in all respects. Upon first inspection and after several nights in it at the Casa de Ciclista it seems like it will be a solid performer.
The bikes also had their own Christmas when we returned. Over a year on the road has given us plenty of opportunities to work out what we need and how we like to ride. Being back in the UK temporarily was the perfect time to swap out a few things to suit our preferred style. Firstly we changed our drivetrains to a much more simple 1×11 setup. Modern mountain bikes have all gone this way as you can have a similar gear range to a setup that uses multiple chainrings but without the need for a front derailleur or shifter and the extra complication (and weight) that brings. Steph’s bike also gained wider handlebars and some new wider tyres which should provide better handling and more comfort when riding offroad. Ben just changed his stem and saddle to improve the riding position and comfort of the bike. Wider tyres will be a future addition once his current ones wear out!
The changes to the bike components have made things more simple and more comfortable but the most visibly obvious differences are in our luggage. Gone are the chunky panniers and awkward tail pack that were on Ben’s bike. They have been replaced by a large seatpack from Yorkshire brand, Carradice. With less kit we need less carrying space and this bag will provide all the space needed in a very convenient arrangement. Sadly due to the XS frame on Steph’s bike finding a rear bag that fits nicely is an issue. We looked at other options and decided on some ultra lightweight panniers from Arkel. These are more like dry bags than the classic panniers. With no real frame to them they are one quarter of the weight of Ben’s old panniers yet they have the same capacity. It also means the top of Steph’s rear rack is now free so the tent will be carried there.
It feels like we are starting fresh from now. We have taken everything we learned from the first section of this trip and used it to improve the way we do things going forward. Our new (lack of) kit and bike setup will allow us to more easily do the things we prefer, off road routes in the mountains. Next up is the end of the TEMBR route we have followed through Ecuador, our final few hundred kilometres in this country. Then into Colombia… for real this time!
Ben and Steph