Learning From Failure – Reflections From Colombia


[Originally published in the BIKEPACKING.com One Question Five Voices Series, 2019.]

My biggest bikepacking failure was when I abandoned a route on my 10-day Colombia trip in 2017. I’d spent months planning a unique route and itinerary to ride with a friend. The route began in the city of Armenia and was to end in Bogotá, passing through the sublime wax palms of Cocora Valley, coffee fields, colonial cities, and small mountain villages.

Calling it quits was one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever had to make while bikepacking. After climbing for hours from Ibagué, we reached a rough area on the trail that became extremely dangerous. I checked my maps and GPS coordinates and everything seemed to check out. But I’ve heard before when traveling in South America you should always plan for things to go wrong.

Starting our descent, the trail narrowed in and we suddenly found ourselves on a section of hindering terrain that led through a small village, where the locals were shocked to see us passing through on bikes. The route became steeper and more technical as we continued to push on, and to make matters worse I crashed and broke my front brake.

After skidding down, now only on my rear brake, we approached a hillside section of the trail with a near-vertical slope that was so narrow that it could only be traversed on foot. And certainly without a bike. The heavy bush made it impossible to see what lay ahead. This was the moment when I had to make the decision to either hike all the way back up or take the incredible risk of going down. I decided it was best to abandon the route that I’d labored over for months and hike back to Ibagué. And oh yea, it was my birthday.

This bikepacking failure taught me to know my limits, be strategic and grounded, and to constantly reassess situations as they come. The adventurer in me wanted to continue on the route as planned – no risk, no reward. But the logical side needed to consider our safety and the best route forward. For me, it’s easy to get comfortable in remote areas and off-roading – but learning how to deal with unplanned situations that are life-threatening or otherwise, that’s what makes for a pro bikepacker.

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Ridden & Written by

Dwayne Burgess (Manual Pedal)

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