The trip to Panama was awesome, with great weather and 8 days of good riding in rolling to high mountain terrain. My girlfriend also enjoyed the people, scenery and weather.
Upon on arriving in Panama City (with all the bags, bike included), my parents picked us up and we headed for lunch in the city before heading to Santiago, the town where I grew up. Early on Friday was the first scheduled ride with my dad. It was pretty cool getting to ride, just the two of us, on roads where he taught me how to ride a bike. On Saturday was the big ride with all the locals and my welcoming committe included the pro national champ, the U23 champ and the Masters champ, so it was time to step up. And like they say, "when in Rome do as the Romans", I didn't hesitate to get the festivities started. It was better to shoot the first round than to wait for the battery of attacks from the locals. The legs responded well and soon it was the U23 and the pro champ with me sandwiched in between. The younger of the trio turned the screws on the last climb and I had to let him go, with the pro champ smiling from ear to ear, since he was on a "recovery" ride.
After the ride we packed and headed to Boquete, up in the mountains of western Panama. It's about 4,400 feet high, with mild temperatures and some gusty winds, land of coffee, flowers and some really nasty climbs. Dad wasted no time to introduce me to his favorite loop and I was soon in a world of trouble, wondering if the 39/26 ratio was going to be enough.
Monday was a fun ride, with the Firefly Club from David. This is where the heavy climbing was done and I was feeling good going hard on the long, gradual and at times steep climbs until a 26 year old local joined me at the head of the pack. The guy had an older model Diamond Back road frame, with a 7 speed cassette and soak and wet I calculated he weighed about 125 lbs. and at 5'4 inches, it was going to be a struggle trying to draft behind him. After a quick pit stop at a store, the now local climber and I headed for battle on the 14 mile ascend up to Caldera. The first 11 miles can be done on the big ring, but you are climbing all the way up to the Chiriqui Dam and after a few short walls that zap your legs, you still have another 9 miles of nice paved road in front, although the last 4 are not as smooth and they get steeper.
The climbing sensation half way through told me he actually was 110 lbs. and I remember what Kyle says about having to climb with a fat ass. My 151 lbs. carcass was hurting me up the ascend. The heat was also taking a toll and the pace was hard but not brutal, until we exited the smooth paved section and headed still higher up on what I dubbed "Highway to Hell", a bumpy stretch where the sun just cooks you slowly. And with two miles to go, I dropped anchor and the bike refused to move forward, it was just mental strength that got me to the end of the ride where mom was waiting with the car, thank goodness.
The rest of the week included more climbing, great food, good company and overall a really great time with our friends and family. We enjoyed it so much that I'm planning on going back hopefully before June and then in late August when the local racing season will be in full swing. Can't wait.