Riding Costa Rica, Day 4: A Long Day


The plan in general was to head towards Manuel Antonio and it’s national park, over a few days, before ultimately heading back to Atenas.  

I really wanted to get in at least a solid ‘dirt day,’ and today - was supposed to be it.  Unfortunately, I had not completed the full ride report, so am actually updating days 4 onwards in 2020 best I can recall…noting that literally we had no worthwhile GPS at all, a few hand maps, and a compass for this trip, and that’s it.  

Before we stopped for the night at the Tilawa Lodge, we’d planned on being much closer to the Tamarindo area, which is somewhat of a party town - we weren’t looking to stay there; it was just a general marker for ‘we should make it somewhere around here if possible.’  

The winds had calmed down in the monring, thankfully, and still no luck on seeing Arenal light off, but time to press on.  We geared up and headed on.

We wound up doing a bit more pavement, making sure once again to top off on gas as well as GatorAde for my CamelBak, with 1 or 2 spare bottles ‘just in case.’  It was rather warm out still and hydration is key.

Looking at the maps, I got a ‘maybe route’ plotted out, goong off-road for a while before reaching another town maybe 3-4 hours later…which wouldn’t be a full day of dirt, but as a compromise - it should scratch that itch.  After trying to get some general confirmation from a few locals in broken Spanish and their broken English, it was time to just go for it.

We wound up doing a bit more pavement, making sure once again to top off on gas as well as GatorAde for my CamelBak, with 1 or 2 spare bottles ‘just in case.’  It was rather warm out still and hydration is key.

Looking at the maps, I got a ‘maybe route’ plotted out, goong off-road for a while before reaching another town maybe 3-4 hours later…which wouldn’t be a full day of dirt, but as a compromise - it should scratch that itch.  After trying to get some general confirmation from a few locals in broken Spanish and their broken English, it was time to just go for it.

The Scenic Easy Part

This part of the trip seemingly was going well. We rode on a mixture of dirt and some gravel for a while, andf eventually reached a sign in virtually the middle of…nothing, but it would seem to indicate we’re more or less good to go.

I’d love to go back to find this spot again one day, as at the time, there was nothing at all in sight.  From memory, there might have been a single building going up, but there weren’t signs of anyone other than us. 

I have a vague recollection of we were trying to take one of the ‘dotted line’ routes on the sign’s map…although I'm quite sure - that’s not at all what we wound up doing.

SIgn in middle of nowhere..

We wound up taking longer than expected, as in some cases there were multiple non-obvious turns, switchbacks or smaller trail offshoots, leading to consulting a limited, and likely not-up-to-date printed map and the compass…and doing what made the most sense (seemingly) at each one.

SIgn in middle of nowhere..

In general, the riding so far wasn’t too difficult, more along the lines of trying to ensure we were going in the right general direction.  

We had another surprise to come, when we ran into a relatively small, but still - a seemingly mandatory water crossing.

SIgn in middle of nowhere..

And then there was water...

Now, this normally isn’t that big of a deal, when riding with friends at home, or on some trails when you have a vehicle within an hour to a few hours hike if needed, but here - there was no backup, there was no GPS, and literally - we couldn’t exactly pinpoint our location at all.  

Also, I was informed she wouldn’t ride through the water, so it was either turn back, or take both bikes through.  I’m not gonna lie - some thoughts on 'what’s in that water?’ certainly went through my head.  

On a positive note, we were still on a section of trail/road that was seeing some occasional other vehicles, so waiting around a bit, I was able to watch a pair of vehicles run through - it wasn’t shallow, but also seemed like I should be able to get the bikes through without going over the top of their airboxes.  ANd yeah - I did not want to turn back.

Considering I was going to be bringing both across, at least we got some pictures.. ;)

Back on dry dirt…until more water

Eventually things opened up to more or less the equivalent of a fire-road, with some somewhat hard-packed dirt, seemingly going on for…a long while.  There were a few more turn-offs to consider on the way, but in general I was thinking we’re headed in the right direction.  

Until we weren’t, and the road was blocked by a locked gate..and the end of this road.  

We backtracked a few times, then eventually felt ‘this is it!’ and we wound up at a completely desolate beach. This seemed to actually jive with the map, except for one problem - if we were at the beach I thought we were at, the road off the beach to the town we were aiming for - wasn’t there.  

That one was a pretty quick change from ‘victory, I know where we are and we’re on track!’ to ‘crap, we have no idea exactly where we are...'

The beach was beautiful, but entirely deserted, with nothing in sight.

I suspect in hindsight it may have been Playa Potrero or Playa Flamingo, or some section off of one of those, but literally can’t be certain.

The small stream seemed to be fresh water, and it had been somewhat tired making it this far, with the numerous turnarounds, so we took a break, and used an empty bottle for a bit of on-the-road cleanup on ourselves to rinse some dust and grime off.

And then it got difficult

After finding no alternate paths off the beach, we decided we must have missed some turnoff, somewhere.  So we headed back the way we came.  At one point, we came across an expat-now-local with a jacked-up Jeep, and had some friendly conversation for a bit, along with some begging for general directions.

We parted ways, and it seemed like we weren’t that far off, but this assumed we knew where we were going.  
I’m not sure we did in reality, but you’ve gotta forge ahead, and the riding turned into some fairly serious 4 wheeler or singletrack riding.  

The pictures don’t do it justice, but we rode for hours, with narrow trails and downed logs, loose rocks, soft-packed and hard-packed along the way….with a few offs along the way, each time me picking up either bike.  I was beginning to question if I had really needed to pack that damned Toughbook for the single time I’d checked work email back at Arenal…or anything else that added weight to the bikes.

The bikes did very well, however, the riders - were getting super-tired.  What’s not obvious from the pics is that some sides of the path take a sharp dive downwards, and we were riding in completely unknown territory, so add a level of mental concetration in there to boot.

Leaving the beach
Nice views from dirt road

And - no more water to be had

It was hitting later afternoon, but the sun was still bright and hot, and anyone whose ridden dirt for any length of time totally gets the reason for CamelBaks - when the riding’s smooth, all good, but you can burn through a lot of energy when the trail gets rough, or even if you’re just having some fun.  

In this case, the combination of heat, mental concentration riding unknown trails, and picking up the bikes numerous times all added up...and then my CamelBak ran dry.

We kept going for a while, of course, and if anything, trying to ride a bit more carefully to minimize the number of offs, or at least having to pick either bike up yet again.  In some sections, I’d ride ahead to check the path, but then hike up to ride her bike down a tricky section, to sometimes find on return, that my bike had fallen over in the trail.  It all added up, and my arms were turning to mush.  

Another iguana walking around

The rock pictured - holds a special place in my heart

It was the rock that sent my front wheel sliding a bit, and I dropped the bike.  Worse, I had no energy left and couldn’t get the bike lifted back upright.  

It was getting later, and I was on the verge of heat exhaustion - had mostly stopped sweating but was borderline lethargic and completely just - out of energy.  I de-geared a bit and laid next to the bike in a partially shaded area to try to recover, while sucking out any remnants in the CamelBaks - which was basically nothing at all.  

Things were NOT looking good...

Undoubtedly, this is where some people, either real expert riders or just armchair ones, have plenty of things to say.  

The reality is we had no idea where we were at this point.  I’d been not only picking up the bikes many times, but also hiking up and down sections to ride her bike down some sections of the trail, the sun had been beating down, and we were out of water.  There wasn’t a convenient phone call to make, and it could be another 10 miles, or 50 miles, until we reached…. something…anything.  

My most promising plan at the moment literally became - stay in shade long enough to get a second (more like fifth!) wind, get the bike back upright, and go for it, crossing fingers there wasn’t another off, or another section I’d have to hike back up to bring her bike down.  

This was a pretty sobering moment in reality.  You certainly do spend at least some time thinking - ok, what should I have done differently?

An actual working GPS and a bit more water is the easy answer, but - could only have addressed one of those two at the time easily..

And then...

I’d probably been there for 45 minutes, and truth be told - not feeling a whole lot of recovery at that point, while the early evening shadows were starting to come in…and then I heard a noise…an engine.  
Getting closer...


bike upright again in the trails

It was the guy in the big-ass-Jeep, coming up from downslope!
He slowed and stopped and asked how things were going.  I told him we’d run out of water, and I had no idea how much further off the trails.

He threw me a 2 liter bottle of cold water from his cooler - at the time, this was the equivalent of winning the lottery; I can’t begin to say how much I needed that one!

And…as it turns out, we were damned close, as in maybe a half mile before we were back onto hard-packed flat and then paved (well, for CR anyways, not in tourist towns…) roads and a small town!  

I was soo thrilled to get some water…I’m pretty sure I offered him some cash, was just very thankful on that one...

We split the water up, and I drank it slowly, and 15 mins later the bike was back upright and off we went.

bikes in front of motel

The ride back down, by comparison to what we’d done so far - was a piece of cake.  A bit more dirt and downhill, some loose sbits here and there, but we were at the bottom and on flat roads again soon enough.  Still amazingly wiped out, but hey - alive and feeling like an overall win as we neared civilization again.  We probably had no more than another 15-20 minutes before dark, but we made it.

This is one of those times I wish we’d had a tracking GPS, to trace the full track we’d actually been on, as well as knowing for certain the town we wound up in, but - no such luck.  It was a smaller town, but we managed to find a single place that seemed like we might be able to get a room there.  

The good news is, yes - they had something.  The not-so-great - apparently it was for hikers or something like that, and the rooms were basically bunk beds, but at this point - who cares?  

We checked in, de-geared and shook the dirt and grime out of everything we could.  I don’t even remember if the shower had warm water or not, but it felt damned good…

The grounds were lit up at night and we did go for a short walk, and lounged outside for a bit before calling it a night.

And tomorrow’s another day...