After saying goodbye to my Italian cycling partner, Antonio, and crossing into Costa Rica from Nicaragua, it was getting late in the day, but I wanted to make it to this National Park – Santa Rosa - so I could camp. I didn’t really know how far away it was, but I wanted to get there.
As I passed a town, La Cruz, I was going down a hill at a good speed, 15-20 mph, when I swayed towards the side of the road where there was a dip, a little curb, like two levels in the road. As I came to the dip, I was trying to turn myself back onto the road, and this got me unstable, and I couldn’t hold on. My bike fell to the side and I went with it, clipped in to the pedals. I slid on the road for maybe 10 feet when I came to a stop. My left knee and my bike got the worst of it. My left knee got torn up badly and I could see bright white skin with blood coming quickly. I let out an “ahhhh” but to no one; I just wanted to yell, I guess. My handlebar and brake lever got scraped badly and my left pannier got scraped too and now there’s a hole in the bottom corner I have to stitch up. I got a moist wipe from my handlebar bag, and then some rubbing alcohol from my pannier. I let the alcohol burn up my wound — it felt good and gave me a sense that it got clean. It didn’t really though.
(I’m glad there wasn’t any traffic coming when I fell. I probably would have been killed.)
It was about 3pm, and I wondered if I should turn back to La Cruz, which I had just passed, and stay there for the night, and rest my leg. As I stood up, I figured I would be okay. I still didn’t know how far the park was, but I assumed it would be close. I kept going.
I saw a sign saying 12 miles to a town nearby the park. I could do it. My knee was bleeding badly, and the blood was streaking down onto my sock. I kept having to stop to wipe it up; I didn’t want to get my sock stained. Then I wrapped my bike-greased washcloth just under my wound and secured it with a rubber band so that it would sop up the seeping blood.
12 miles later, I saw a sign for Santa Rosa — 12 miles. Another damn 12 miles. I kept going.
I finally got to the entrance of the park at 5pm. There wasn’t a ranger in the front office. I saw a map. To get to the camping area at the beach, 12 miles. Endless 12 miles. I rode into the park on a paved road for a few miles then I saw a turn off for the beach.
It would be about 7 miles to get to the beach on a dirt, rock road. There was a sign that said driving was not recommended, walking is better, drive at your own risk. At first, the road wasn’t too bad, just a few rocks in the dirt. The rocks got bigger and more frequent. Then mud pits appeared. Then descents of loose, big rocks. I had to get off my bike most of the time. I was feeling sorry for my bike; I had no idea what kind of damage I was doing to it. I was cringing for my wheels as I was clunking over these rocks.
It was getting dark as I was walking my bike through this nightmare road. I was really hungry, and I had no hope of eating. I had eaten at 10:30 am, and nothing since. But I had a lot of water. At least I wouldn’t die out here. I took out my bike light and strapped it to the handlebar.
It got pitch black with only my bike light illuminating my path through rocks and mud. The bike was really heavy as I had to push it up hills and keep it from running down descents. Pushing it over these rocks was terrible. Then I had to go through some of these mud pits since there was no high side I could walk on. My feet sunk down, and my wheels picked up generous amounts of mud. Pushing the bike got harder as the mud got stuck up inside the fender, so it was like pushing the bike with the brakes engaged.
It was 8pm. I had been pushing my damn bike for 2.5 hours. I was exhausted, my knee was bloody and crusting in spots, I was hungry, and there was still no campsite. I parked my bike and walked without it to see if the campsite was up ahead. 15 minutes later, still nothing. I gave up. I walked the bike back to an area that looked okay for camping.
I set up a humble camp in the dark. Bugs were interested in me, and especially my bloody knee; the small flies feasted. The park is supposed to have 3800 species of moth — one thing they all have in common is that they love my bike light.
My knee had become a black, crusty mess. It was still oily and bloody in the center though. I poured some more alcohol on it, and then I jumped into my sweaty tent. There was lots of wind high in the trees above, but I didn’t get much breeze, and I had my rain fly on. I started worrying that some huge branch would fall on top of me, since my luck had been bad so far. I lay there on my sleeping mat, naked, sweating, bloody knee, hungry, and very, very alone — I hadn’t seen anyone, even though I called out “HOLA!” a number of times. I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep.
I got up at 6am, packed up, and moved out of there, back onto the dreaded, nightmare road I came in on. 7 miles of hell. I wanted to wait for a truck to pick me up and bring me out of there, but I hadn’t seen one, the rangers didn’t know I was in there, and I was down to one big bottle of water. I had to bail myself out, and not sit around all day hoping for a miracle. Plus I needed to beat the heat of the day.
On the return trip, I had more hills to push my bike up. Rocky, damn climbs. My body was slick with sweat, and my stomach was empty. I got out of there in 2 hours. And I passed the warning sign at the entrance to that damn road.
I loved getting back onto paved road, but the next problem was the ranger station at the front entrance. I did not want to pay for this experience. I was adamant I was not going to pay. Probably some damn entrance fee to the park, plus a camping fee. I hadn’t been able to use any of there facilities, and I had traveled on the worst road of my life. I cruised over the speed bump at the ranger’s office and got the hell out of there. They didn’t stop me.
I’ve found out that Costa Rica’s got long stretches of road with nothing. I’m used to seeing some small convenience stores (tiendas) or cheap, family-run restaurants (comedors). But I didn’t see anything. Liberia, the next big town, was over 20 miles away. I was biking fast for a while, as my interest in eating was spurring me on, but then a heavy wind hit me as I was passing through some open plains. I was suffering. The sun beating down and the wind holding me at about 8 mph.
I was thinking of Subway. I wanted a damn, Subway sandwich. Something familiar and really good. As I got into Liberia, I asked some guys about it. They told me there was a Subway!! I got in there, just over 24 hours since my last meal. My water bottles were empty. I was going to go wild. I got a meatball sub with everything on it, and a small drink, as I espied the fountain drink was a self-serve, a rarity outside the US. I had Coke, Flor de Jamaica, Iced Tea, and two more Cokes. My teeth had a solid sugar grit on them when I was done.
I was considering staying in Liberia, but there wasn’t anything there, really. I decided to go to the beach, which was 20 miles away. I felt good biking that stretch as the wind was with me, and my stomach was full.
I made it to Playa del Coco, treated myself to a shitty cabina (room) for $7 — I didn’t care at this point after all I’d been through — and got into the Pacific. I cleaned my knee in the salt. All the black crud and scab came off, and it felt clean getting all that salt water on it.
That National Park and rock, dirt road was one of the worst decisions I’ve made. I’ve been successful when I “flow like water,” but this time I forced it. I should have stopped after I fell off my bike, but I kept going because I had a destination in my mind. I forced destiny and I got screwed. And I kept saying to myself as I was pushing the bike, “Dirt Road — Never Again.” It does too much damage to the bike, and getting through it is always a horrible experience.