Cycling in Colombia was the hardest (and greatest) experience of my life

This article was created for The Travel Project by Sammy Gibson, who has a love for immersing herself into remote locations and adrenaline-infused travel.

Travel isn’t always a holiday - and sometimes it can be challenging. My mantra has always been ‘if it's scary, do it’ - and this mantra was put to the test after I recently signed up to a hike and bike experience with my mum on a volcano in southern Colombia.

A guide picked us up in a hurry without explaining the gear needed for the hike and bike trip or what was in store for the day. At home, I would ask questions –  but when you’re travelling, you submit to the feeling of freedom. As we drove, sun beams danced on the cobblestone streets and the bright, baby-blue sky was an unmarked canvas. Locals were selling roadside treats from colourful stalls and children played with worn out tires. The beige landscape stretched out in the distance, and the view gave me goose bumps. It was true, raw beauty.


The first half of the hike was a muddy, slippery slide. Laughing on the way up, we were making great progress as a group of eight. We communicated through broken Spanish and hand gestures with the local guide.

All of a sudden, everything changed. Within moments, cloud had begun to surround us. Rain started to pelt down and ice-cold wind shot through me like knives.

I wasn’t equipped for this sudden weather change. We were drenched to the skin, nothing was dry. We pushed on and looked back to find two of our group missing. The thick cloud blocked our view. We were not on the path anymore. The thought of ancient land mines still resting under the dirt clouded my thoughts. We huddled behind a rock while the guide went back down to find the others. My heart pounded, body freezing. The wind picked up, throwing rain at us with an unearthly strength.


We called out to the missing and our guide. There was no response, all we could see was mist. After 15 minutes, shadows started emerging from the grey wall. By the time they reached us, I could feel my limbs shutting down. My mouth chattered, hands shook uncontrollably and all feeling left my fingers. I tried to keep positive and smiled to myself through tears but my cheeks stung and felt heavy. The temperate was dropping by the second. We decided to turn around and head back. We were 30 minutes from the summit.

We started the descent, singing with frozen lips and telling jokes to keep our spirits up and bodies warm. When we reached the military base, a group of Colombias had attempted the climb but hadn’t even made it half way before they turned around. The elements were against all of us. All huddled in a concrete shed, I took off my waterproof puffer jacket, that had actually collected and stored the rain. The local hikers generously shared their coca tea with us.


It wasn’t over yet – we still had to bike home. Determined to do it, Mum and I jumped on the bikes still soaking wet. We just wanted to move and feel our limbs working again! Our guide told us he would pick us up in a couple of kilometres as he believed we would not make the 48km bike ride back to Popayan in our frozen state. He was wrong: we wanted to get there – we had to.

The next 30km were gravel road with unbelievable views as the sun came out. We skidded down steep, windy country streets and sped past local farmers walking cattle. We pushed and pushed, singing and yelling with complete happiness. Everything had changed! We were now warm, pushing through tired muscles and cycling among picturesque Colombian countryside. I was in awe.


When I saw the first glimpse of Popayan, tears welled up in my eyes. I had one 2km hill climb to go before flying down the country roads into the town centre. We made it!

This test from Mother Nature really opened my eyes. She taught me a valid lesson. When she says more, you don’t fight it. A part of me wishes that we pushed on to the summit, but I knew it was dangerous.

This challenge of drastic contrasts, from sub-zero terrifying conditions to adrenaline fuelled mountain biking is one of the greatest experiences I have had while travelling. It shaped who I am today, and gave me a new found confidence I knew I never had. I am so glad I dominated the 48km bike journey. I’ll never forget it.

Has travel pushed you outside of your comfort zone, or challenged you in some way? Share your stories with us here and you could see your work published on six-two…