I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that my first interest in adventure bikes came from watching Charley and Ewan trek around the world in The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down. It was hard not to be inspired after seeing them experience the terrain and culture of far-off lands from the seat of an adventure bike. The films helped make sense out of big, clunky, dual sport bikes like the GS, and really put these bikes into perspective. Fast forward more than a decade, and I now own an adventure bike of my own that I regularly use to explore the less traveled areas of Idaho and Wyoming. Sure, I’ve always dreamt of riding around the world like my childhood heroes did, but making a trip like that isn’t exactly a reality for those of us with an eight-to-five, kids, and a mortgage. However, through my job at KLIM, an opportunity presented itself to document a trip to Ecuador with the winners of the KLIM Ultimate Ecuador Adventure Contest. This was finally my chance to experience a third world country from the seat of an adventure bike.
The contest was open to KLIM dealers and consumers with entries gained by either making a purchase or mailing in an entry. After several months, the results were tallied. Jim Baillargeon from Extreme Limité in Quebec City, Canada was the winning dealer, and Curt Thomas from Savannah, Georgia was the winning consumer. The prize was a week-long, all expenses paid trip to Ecuador hosted by Freedom Bike Rental. The winners were each able to bring a guest, and, to top it all off, all four participants were outfitted with a head-to-toe set of KLIM gear. A few colleagues from KLIM came along to assist with logistics, and I was brought along to document the trip.
Getting to Ecuador
Knowing almost nothing about Ecuador, and hardly anybody on the ride, this was surely going to be an enlightening adventure. Even from far-off Idaho, getting to Ecuador was relatively easy. A quick five-hour flight from Salt Lake City to Houston followed by another very bearable five-hour flight, and we found ourselves in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Upon arrival in Quito, we met up with the four contest winners and were then picked up by Court and Sylvain from Freedom Bike Rental in their awesome off-road trucks. Landing at midnight, we went straight to the hotel to get some much-needed rest. With most flights arriving into Quito around midnight, and a need to acclimate to the high elevation, Freedom recommended a sightseeing/rest day in Quito before the tour departed.
The first day was spent at Freedom Bike Rental’s impressive facility, where we picked our bikes and prepped our gear for the week. In the afternoon, we hopped on some of their scooters to tour the city of Quito. With no experience in Ecuadorian-style driving, riding in the busiest, most populated area of the country was a bit of a baptism by fire. There were numerous close calls with buses and other craziness in the bustling streets of Quito – it was a miracle we all survived the first day.
Freedom had put together a 6-day, 5-night tour that would take us on a loop around
Ecuador on a mixture of dirt roads and asphalt. They offered an all-inclusive package that included bike rental, fuel, lodging, food, activities, and probably most valuable of all, guides with local knowledge. We had a total of eight riders in our group, so Freedom provided two guides – Court leading on a GS, and Sylvain chasing in the truck carrying luggage. Two others from the Freedom crew also joined us – Rafael, who also shot photos, and Diego, a well-trained mechanic. They have over 30 bikes in their fleet, ranging from BMW GS 800s, V-Stroms, and a Triumph Tiger on the big end, down to DR200s and about every other dual sport bike in between. Our group picked a few GS800s, a Tiger 800, several DR650s, and a KTM 690. I opted for a BMW GS800. Going into the trip, one of my biggest concerns was the quality of the motorcycles, as it’s common for rental bikes to be pretty hammered. Freedom maintains their bikes at a high level and has a staff of dedicated mechanics keeping the bikes in almost perfect working order.
The first day on adventure bikes took us south out of Quito down the Avenue of the Volcanoes. This almost interstate-like road snaked past several stunning 20,000+ foot snow-capped volcanoes. After a quick lunch in a roadside diner, we headed west into the mountains. At first, the road was cobblestone, and then it turned into really fun, winding gravel as it snaked over the mountains. The scenery was absolutely spectacular – there wasn’t an acre of flat ground or a section of straight road in sight. Toward the end of the day, we were riding a beautiful section of paved road that, without notice, turned into a construction zone. Apparently, Ecuadorians don’t believe in flaggers or closing roads; we rode straight through a working construction zone, maneuvering around trucks and excavation equipment, and dodging falling rocks and dirt from a backhoe moving dirt directly overhead. Soon after, we arrived at the beautiful Mama Hilda hotel for the night. Nestled in the mountain, this little lodge was the perfect place to unwind and prepare for another day on the bike.
Day three took us on mostly dirt roads, across more mountains, and through deep valleys. The terrain was unique compared to home in the way that there were almost no flat valleys or plains like in the US. The side cut roads snaked their way back and forth, climbing elevation to a summit, then snaked their way back down to the bottom of the valley and back up again. As the crow flies, you aren’t traveling very far, but the gravel roads take a long time to get you anywhere. On day three, most of the roads were unimproved dirt roads, at times crossing small streams and the occasional sluff from a small landslide. Their level of technicality was perfect for a larger adventure bike, though it was humbling at times when you’d be ripping along and come across a bus that travels the same road daily. Toward the end of the third day, we dropped down from the mountains into an area they refer to as the coast. While we were still a little ways from the ocean, the area is at the same elevation, so the locals refer to the whole region as the coast. Our day ended in the bustling city of Quevedo.
Aside from starting and ending in Quito, our overnight stay in Quevedo was the only time we were in a densely populated area. With people comes traffic, so moving around Quevedo was another hair-raising experience. After settling into the Hotel Olympico, we hopped in a taxi to go to dinner. These taxi drivers could give Ken Block a run for his money – ours drove in the center of the road the whole way to dinner, going at least twice as fast as everyone else on the road. Grabbing gears and keeping a hand on the horn, this dude wasn’t messing around. He made short work of a trip across town, and we were thankful to arrive at dinner without incident.
We were ready to get out of the hot, busy city of Quevedo, and left early for a long day that would take us back up and over the mountains. On day four, we started in the lush, hot, and humid lowlands, where bananas and cocoa grow abundantly, and quickly started gaining elevation. In a few hours, we rode from essentially sea level to over 14,000 feet. As we gained elevation, the weather and terrain changed, and before long, we could feel the elevation in the performance of the bike. On what felt like the top of a mountain, we stopped in a small village with around a dozen homes. Court found a local cheese-maker and bought a couple of rounds of incredibly delicious goat cheese that we enjoyed at the side of the road. From there, we traveled further up the western side of the Andes to the town of Salinas de Guaranda. This town is founded on “Economic Solidarity,” where the locals work together at a number of small businesses with the goal of a self-sustaining community economy that encourages the youth to stay in the town. We visited a wool manufacturing plant and a small facility that makes soccer balls. It was incredible to see what the people could produce with primitive machinery and very little space. Salinas was one of the happiest, nicest places we visited on the trip, and the kind of place that would be great to spend several days visiting. From Salinas, we kept gaining elevation and traveled over a pass that skirted the bottom of Chimborazo. Unfortunately, cloud cover stopped us from seeing the full glory of this 20,549-foot inactive volcano; the summit of which is the furthest point from the earth’s center. On some of the most amazing, twisty asphalt I’ve ever ridden, we skirted Chimborazo, headed down into the valley, and stopped in Banos for the night.
Banos is a vacation town nestled in an incredible valley on the edge of the Rio Pastaza valley. The town has a fun vibe with lots of touristy attractions and activities. We stayed at a cool bed and breakfast owned by an American couple, and we enjoyed some more Western-style food. From there, we rode more epic asphalt along the Rio Pastaza, making a few stops along the way for a bridge rope swing and a zip line across the valley. When we first arrived at the bridge rope swing, it wasn’t clear how it all worked – nobody was very excited to launch himself off a bridge with a little rope tied around his waist, but our guide Sylvain took one for the team and did the first jump. After Sylvain had broken the ice, most of the group jumped, except me; I would have loved to, but someone needed to take photographs! Day five was one of the shorter days on the bike, and we made it to the Amazon Lodge mid-afternoon. This incredible lodge is deep in the jungle, and the guides took us on a boat ride up the river, then on a quick hike to an awesome swimming hole. After a quick dip, we returned to the river and floated back down to the lodge on inner tubes as the sun was setting. We stayed in somewhat primitive cabins in the jungle without power and with screen windows and bed nets that kept the bugs and other creatures from snuggling with us under the covers. This lodge was the most unique place we stayed on the trip and was an incredible way to experience the majesty of the Amazon jungle.
It was incredible to see the Amazon jungle, but its hot, humid climate wasn’t as nice to ride in as the higher elevations, so we were ready to get back to the highlands. Traveling on more snaky asphalt, we climbed in elevation up into the protected area of La Cordillera de los Llanganates. The roads were twisty and, throughout most of the country, seemed almost brand new. According to our guides, President Rafael Correa has made huge improvements to the country’s roads since he was elected in 2007. More incredibly scenic and high-elevation mountain dirt roads took us to Oyacachi, where we enjoyed a quick soak in the local hot springs and a tasty lunch of fresh trout. From there, we headed to the Hacienda Cusin, where we would spend our last night in Ecuador.
Sad that our trip was coming to an end, but excited to get back to our families, we headed to a market to stock up on souvenirs to take home. We haggled with merchants and bought many beautiful wool products for ridiculously low prices at the market. We then went to visit a small leather tannery. The tannery was something else – operating in what was basically the backyard of the owner’s house. He and another worker purchased hides from farmers, scraped the fat off of the skin (which the dog thoroughly enjoyed), tanned the hides in a big barrel, and dried them out to nice big leather hides. The end result looked great, but the process was a little nasty. The grand finale of the trip was a stop at a museum/visitor center located directly on the Equator. There, they showed us the controversial demonstration of water draining into a bucket – directly on the equator; the water flows straight with no spiral effect; then, just a few feet on either side of the equator, the water spirals in clockwise or counter-clockwise. The last short section of the ride took us back through traffic into Quito, and back to Freedom’s headquarters. We had a few hours to kill before getting back on a plane and heading home around midnight.
Overall the trip was absolutely incredible; the diversity of the terrain and people through the country was really interesting. Traveling by bike, we really impressed ourselves in the country and by traveling on gravel, we saw a lot of less traveled areas. It was inspiring to see the simple lifestyle of the Ecuadorian people. It was definitely a once in a lifetime trip that I would highly recommend.
Pack for a Purpose
Freedom Bike Rental participates in a charitable initiative called Pack for a Purpose. They encourage visitors of Ecuador to use any space in their luggage to bring school supplies and toys for kids. We packed what felt like an aisle’s worth of Toys R Us into a KLIM Kodiak gear bag, and upon arrival at Freedom Bike Rental, we packed it into the chase truck. We visited a couple of very remote schools in the mountains and distributed a combination of sports balls, crayons, and coloring books to the kids. These children grow up in the mountains, a long way from any city, have very few visitors and are very poor. The kids were ecstatic and super appreciative of the gifts. Seeing all of their little faces grinning from ear to ear was one of the highlights of the trip.
For more information on Pack for a Purpose visit www.packforapurpose.org
Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental
Eight years ago Court Rand and Sylvain Gallea took off on an adventure through South America in search of the perfect location to start a motorcycle tour company. After a year riding from the US all the way to Argentina, hitting every country in between, they settled on Ecuador for the perfect place to start their business. The diversity of the terrain, the culture and the safety of the country was the perfect place to allow customers to have the adventure of a lifetime. Eight years in Ecuador, Freedom Bike Rental now runs a fleet of 30 bikes and offers a range of guided and self-guided tours. Their fleet of bikes includes BMW’s, KTM’s and Suzuki’s ranging from 1000cc down to 200cc DR’s with about every imaginable dual sport bike in between. The bikes are set-up with 80/20 tires like TKC80s for off-road tours or 50/50 tires for the street. The bikes are meticulously maintained and set-up with handguards, skid-plates and a choice of hard or soft luggage.
With years of local knowledge, the guides have an incredible network of restaurants, hotels, and attractions to give customers a great experience in Ecuador. For more information on Freedom Bike Rental visitwww.freedombikerental.com
This trip was amazing, the mountain was fabulous, and people from Ecuador are so nice! We had a perfect group, good riders, and great people. The gears were perfect for all conditions, and it helped to get the perfect trip! Visiting Ecuador is a must! - Jim Baillargeon (Klim dealer contest winner)
It’s impossible to sum up the Klim Ultimate Ecuador Adventure in just a few words and do it justice. From our great group of riders, everyone at Klim, the crew at Freedom Bike Rental, and the people and sights of Ecuador, the entire experience was simply incredible. I came away from this trip with memories and friends for life. - Curt Thomas (Consumer contest winner)