With one week to spare, I got a last minute phone call from my good friend Sergio over at Troy Lee Designs. He told me about this opportunity to do a urban DH race in Colombia. I was hyped and immediately started packing my stuff, I was off to Colombia!
I was greeted by Cycle Planet’s Daniel Arredondo and his Girlfriend Susy Calle at Colombia’s Medellin Jose Marie Cordova airport. Daniel’s Parents were generous enough to give me a room for the entirety of the visit. We hung out at the airport waiting to pick up Ecuador’s Mario Jarrin, who arrived shortly after me. Then we headed into Medellin for the night.
The City of Medellin is a prime example of the beauty and rich culture that Colombia has. In the mid 1980’s at the peak of his power infamous gangster, Pablo Escobar, and his cartel ran the streets of Medellin. Once a place of hostility and violence, I saw Medellin now as a place full of character, beauty, and peace.
Daniel, Susy, Mario and I made the 3 hour drive to Manizales, home of Chiguiro Extreme Urbana Manizales 2011 the next day. The drive took almost double the expected time due to massive land slides and road construction. It gave me more time to enjoy the sights of the Colombian countryside. I have seen wild driving at home in California, but WOW the Colombians are ALL crazy drivers! Daniel was pinned every opportunity he got, tires squealing, passing no matter what the paint on the road or the signs on the side said. It was an extremely exciting drive to say the least.
Once in Manizales, we met up with some of Daniel’s friends, Pokee and Garro. Who werehanging out at the local bike shop with a huge group of local riders tuning their bikes in for race. Afer the meet and greet, we headed up the gondola to walk what was to be the track the following day. The brothers were more than generous in offering a place for us to stay for free. Thanks guys for the Generosity.
My 2nd day in Colombia was race day. Practice started at 8am and went for only 1.5 hours. Manizales has a chair lift in the middle of the city, making the race even more amazing. The Track was super fun, technical, and lined with layers of local Colombians. We took a qualifying run to eliminate to 30. I took a nice smooth run with a couple toboggans and whips over the jumps on my way down. I happily sat 6th after the qualifier.
Video 1- https://vimeo.com/19555372
Video 2- https://vimeo.com/19664304
Video 3- https://vimeo.com/19804981
I had all my focus on the finals. Got in the gate, waiting my 60 seconds to start my attack on the streets of Manizales….. I rode aggressively right off the start with the win in my sights. I made the second turn, hopped the curb into the longest stair set on track, and started pedaling as hard as i could. I exited the stairs with far too much speed to make the next corner, went off track and straight into a couple of young female spectators. “I sent one flying”. Needless to say I knew my race was thrown at that point, but I got right back on the gas and pushed hard to the finish. I unfortunately ended up with the same 6th place as quali’s. Colombian pinner and Manizales local Marcelo Gutierrez took the win over last year’s winner Filip Polc. All-in-all the race was a complete success, my Intense SS2 equipped with the latest X-Fusion suspension pieces was for sure the right tool for the job, and my run was excitingly fun! GREAT SUCCESS!!!
After the race, all the usual downhiller party antics were in full effect. The group went out on the town in full-force, taking over local bars, strip clubs, and even a city bus! The night went without a hitch, and I was left laughing with all my entertaining new Colombian friends as the night got rowdier.
The next morning I woke up to realize I had no voice leftover from the partying and for the rest of the trip I would struggle to not crackle, sounding like I was hitting puberty all over again. Ride hard, party hard, right? Daniel, Susy, Garro, Poque, and I had a nice chill morning with a homemade Colombian breakfast while we watched the TV coverage of the previous day’s DH race. It was nice to see our sport captured and showcased so well on TV.
After our chill morning, we packed up the bikes and headed out to Garro and Poque’s personal training track. Colombian DHer’s face the same property rights issues that I face in the US, but the brothers had found a nice solution to the problem. They had befriended a local farmer who owned this awesome jungle hillside and was willing to let them shuttle and build their DH trails. I felt the track they had laid out was top notch and I was so hyped to ride a wet, rooty, dark-dirt, middle of the Colombian forrest DH trail. Great job on the hard work and thanks for taking me out there.
After an epic first run down, just checking out the techie sections and going for a cruiser we met up with the trucks at the bottom. To my surprise, there were two more trucks sitting there packed full of DHer’s. Lead car driven by Marcello Gutierrez(the winner of the urban DH) wanted the group to come with them on this “epic hour long DH!” The idea sounded good to the group and so we decided to follow.
Come to find out, this “epic” trail had been beaten up by the weather and was in poor condition. We took off in a big group, criss-crossing paths, I became the trails first victim of the day. The group was about 12-15 people as we mobbed down technical, high-speed fire roads to get to the single track deep in the Colombian jungle. My rear wheel got pitched out to my side by a big rock, going 30-35mph, and I instantly knew there was no saving this one. After rag-dolling across the coarse hill-side and coming to rest in a pile of bushes. I laid there motionless and did a self-check for injuries while still. Miraculously everything was all good, besides ruining a brand new TLD D3 that was two days old! Thanks Troy for making the best protection ever. Because of the poor condition of the trail and the creeping full-body soreness, my ride turned into more of an “American tourist” sightseeing trail walk. The trail was decent and I regret leaving the trail we rode in the morning, but the experience was something you do not get every day and for that, Thanks Marcelo.
The morning following, everyone agreed that a day off was in order except for Garro who was ready to compete in the BMX race that day. We drove over to the park where the BMX track was, and to my disbelief was a full-scale moto track, bmx track, along with other sporting facilities such as soccer fields, etc. As the sky dribbled some light rain on us, we sat front row on the sidelines of the track to watch the racing kickoff. When the races finished and we were done getting rained on we checked out the indoor mall in town. The mall was similar to our typical malls except it was like 10 stories tall. Pretty cool scene. Later we enjoyed dinner with a good crowd of mountain bikers and Chiguiro(the promoter of the event). Mmmm colombian food is delicious!
We started the 5th day off with a lovely drive back to Medellin. As I said goodbye to Manizales, I looked back on all the good times I had in the past two days and looked forward to making the return trip next year. The drive back was just as memorable as the drive there, filled with roadside sellers, amazing country, friendly people, and more great weather. Upon arrival in Medellin, Daniel’s mother had prepared us lunch, a full coarse meal topped off with an amazing cup of coffee! The coffee was just what I needed to get going for the later half of the day.
Once our stomachs were filled we headed over to Daniel’s shop to pack up Mario’s bike for his upcoming flight home to Ecuador. With Mario all packed up, we made the twenty minute drive to the airport for his departure. I really enjoyed Mario’s company the whole trip and feel we made a life-long friendship. Happy trails Mario, until next time.
After the airport, we went first off to the grave of the infamous Pablo Escobar to have a look, take a few photos, and ponder off on what things would be like if he were still around. After paying our visit to Pablo, we checked out some local dirt jumps and pump track. The spot was run-down because of issues with the land owner, but it was still fun to play on a little set of weed overgrown jumps. When the bugs came out and the sun was setting I had to stop myself from riding before it got dangerously dark. On the way back to Daniel’s house he took me by this bowl in the middle of the city where all the good skaters hang out and do their thing. The bowl was a really cool kidney, packed with skaters and spectators, covered in graffiti and lit up all night. I watched for about an hour and then Dani and I retreated to home base for some much needed dinner.
After dinner, Dani, Susy, and I met up with “Alvarez” and his girl Marcela for a night on the town. Colombians celebrate their holidays bigger then we do for sure! The whole city had intricate lights strayed up and down, hanging over all the main streets. It was an amazing sight to see, and I made sure they took me to all the “must see’s” on this night, my last night! We parked for a little and walked this light strewed festival for a couple miles. The festival only allowed the lower class citizens to sell and make money, which I thought was a brilliant concept. After the walk, I finally got my Five-Ten shoes off when we paid a visit to Marcela’s home, high-up in one of the city’s tallest housing complexes. The view from her balcony was spectacular, the streets all lit up and buzzing with energy.
My final day in Colombia was a mad dash to get as much in as possible. After another morning being greeted at my door by Daniel’s mother with a glass of fresh orange juice and another delicious breakfast. I started packing for my trip home. Once packed, we scrambled out of the house to get some gifts for me to bring home for my mom and dad. Shopping finished, off to the next destination, a bike park in town. Not more than a ten minute drive from Daniel’s house was this amazing MTB spot. The park had DH trails, dirt jumps, a cement mini ramp, restaurant, and bike shop all in one little facility. I only had time to shred the mini for a few and then we had to hit it.
The time had come, Daniel and Susy dropped me off at the airport. After an unforgettable week filled with good times and new friends, I was saying goodbye. Colombia gave me a whole new perspective, on home, friends, and life. I want to thank first Sergio Ponce De Leon of California Extreme/TLD, Daniel Arredondo of Cycle Planet, and the whole Arredondo family for making this trip happen for me. Also have to say thanks to all my sponsors for always supporting me, and most of all, the Colombians that opened there hearts and home to me. Thanks and happy trails
– J.D. Swanguen