Community, Cloud Forests, and Coffee: Jeff Kendall-Weed Mountain Biking Costa Rica
by Mary Bardell
Kitsbow's diverse collection of gear keeps Jeff Kendall-Weed rolling in any and all conditions. From riding in the pouring rain in the Trials Jacket to the intense humidity and heat in the Radiator Tee and Adjustable short, Kitsbow kept him covered in the changing and harsh conditions of Costa Rica.
Community. The Central American community. The enduro community. While a handful of days is nowhere near enough time to really understand a new culture, this one theme kept coming up during my adventure in Costa Rica. Just how did this overriding sense of community grab me?
I had never been to Central America, though I had spent a great deal of time attempting to get to know the scene in Costa Rica before heading south from the Pacific Northwest that I call home. I had been working with local customers in the country, and from trying to understand the business side of the mountain bike scene there, I could tell there was something special about this place. But without a visit, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly that was. Pura Vida... I had an idea about what that means on paper, but what would it feel like to live it?
When the opportunity came to finally make the trek south, I simply did what I’ve always done when I’m hoping to learn more about a place: I called a local bike shop owner. More specifically, I contacted one who appeared to be well involved in the riding and racing scene. Sure enough, Oscar Avila, owner of Avimil Distribution, answered many of my questions. But what he did next really blew me away.
Oscar arranged for us to spend a great deal of time riding with his young friend Roy Mora, but for the most adventurous portion of the visit, our roadtrip to Providencia, Oscar had arranged for us to stay and ride with Andres Martinez. Andres is the premier racer for a competing distribution company. We didn’t share the same sponsors, we simply shared the goal of riding our bikes in rad places and as fast as possible. And this was really cool. How many companies would put a visiting rider in direct contact with a rider who is actively pushing competing brands, simply in order to show this foreigner the best possible example of the local riding scene?
I was not traveling alone on this trip. I was joined by fellow PNW residents Logan Nelson and Eric Mickelson. Logan and I have filmed many videos together, but I had never met Eric before the trip. Well, that’s not entirely true--36 hours before take-off, I made sure to stop by his home and finally introduce myself, but we’d never worked together previously. What could go wrong?
Once in Costa Rica, we rode three distinct riding areas. The first venue we sampled, Adventure Park, is a working forest, with an active operation to harvest local hardwoods. Along with the timber operation, the park is also home to a paintball course and a series of zip-lines running through the vibrant forest canopy. Yes, we were riding trails while screaming tourists occasionally soared by overhead! Adventure Park had hosted a local endure race a day before our visit, and is a common spot for San Jose locals to ride.
Providencia, with its requisite road trip south from San Jose, was next, and became a spot that I’ll never forget. The main road to Providencia was closed due to a massive landslide, so we took a well-travelled back route. The road never seemed either flat or straight. For a solid two hours, still grungy from our ride at Adventure Park, we were constantly zigging and zagging left and right, up and down. After stopping for a delicious truck stop dinner (seriously- amazing chicken gallas, like tacos but Costa Rican style, complete with beet salad, it was unbeatable), we eventually made it to a dirt road. Great, we thought, we’ll be there soon!
As the crow flies, we weren’t terribly far from our destination, maybe 30 km. However, as the truck drives, we still had over an hour to go. And around 2,000 meters of descending. Once we turned onto that steep dirt road in Parque Nacional de Quetzales, we began the most difficult part of the journey. The night was dark as could be, and after experiencing the more common trails of Adventure Park that morning, we were excited to ride something more remote and mysterious.
Eventually we heard the sounds of a very swift river. This meant we were nearing our destination. After we finally made our way through town--about three blocks long, with a handful of lights, a school, a bar, a church, and a store--we stretched our legs in the yard outside of Andres’ family cabin. We felt incredibly fortunate to get to stay at the family cabin, complete with running water and electricity. The Milky Way was extremely humbling when viewed from this latitude, and the lack of light pollution made for an incredible nightscape. Andres’ father had worked with some locals to build this cabin years ago, and with the sole goal of making frequent trips to the remote mountain town more feasible.
We greeted the dawn a few short hours later; for a breathtaking ten minutes we were treated to an other-worldly pink sky as we sipped our coffee. Oh, the coffee: amazingly rich and full bodied, but with a taste closer to a light roast that we might see in the States. The region is known for some of the best coffee in the world, and knowing the coffee was grown only a few meters from the cabin gave “local” a new meaning. We took in the scene, excited to see a view of the Pacific some 70 km away, framed neatly between some steep mountains. Ah yes, mountains. We also looked forward to throwing some knobbies down these things!
After an amazing Costa Rican breakfast of gallopinto (beans and rice) and fresh local fruit made by Andres and Roy, we met with David Retana, whose new Devinci Wilson we were delivering, at 7:45 that morning. David had been saving his money for 7 years, he was beyond excited to finally take delivery of his new bike.
David is known for being crazy, and has a rock star twinkle in his eye. He is a life long resident of Providencia, for all his 23 years. He met us and his new bike in a red and black Nissan 4x4, and it was a fun family affair. He brought his mother and his father Sergio, and we walked across the street to show the bike to his sister, who runs the family business, the town general store.
As we shuttled to the top of the mountain, Sergio showed us his family’s home and mountain biker dormitory. Built entirely out of local hardwoods, including cypress, ira, and magnolia, the guesthouse was amazing. Finely finished walls, beds,and floors were accented by a high end tile and glass bathroom. Sergio is 62 years old and has spent his whole life in Providencia. His grandparents did the original coffee route to Copey.
We met a couple local boys, Willyen and John Paul, who had been doing trail work on the descent. After sessioning some jumps with them, it started raining. Hard. We pushed on, simply stoked to be in the cloud forest, hearing the sounds of the monkeys, watching rain drop from the enormous leaves, witnessing some massive mushrooms. We finally escaped the mountain right as the lightning began to reach its peak for the day.
Wide-eyed to the Central American lifestyle, we left Providencia, aiming to ride the Senderos de Colón the next day. This was also a common spot to host races and events, and many riders I met mentioned they ride here daily.
Senderos was the most heavily ridden spot of the trip, with an established infrastructure and trail maps. As is often the case, this local riding hub was the cornerstone for the local riding community. It was clear that Senderos de Colón, with its bike wash stations, picnic tables, and bike storage at the trailhead, was a perfect hub. Roberto, the friendly owner, gave us a personal tour of one of his favorite tracks. On the trails, we were lucky enough to meet Omar and Michael, two full-time trail maintenance workers. Omar helped us build a trial lip for a silly line we wanted to attempt, and Michael mentioned that he’d worked there for 2 years and 7 months, and that it had yet to feel like work.
Quickly, the skies turned from rich blue to dark black. By noon the typical torrential downpour began. I kept jumping. All was good. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I’m used to rain. Then we got to the last jump, a small right-hand hip. I looked at it to be sure it’d be OK to send without slowing or needing to accelerate. Looked great. Hit it, all still good. Then, shortly after landing- maybe two seconds later- my wheels randomly blew out from under me. I slammed down on my left side.
A patch of clay about 1 x 2 meters was exposed, and I hadn’t thought twice about it. But the dirt just beyond this section of clay had washed away, leaving cheese-grater rocks hungry for unprotected flesh. At full tilt, I slid through these rocks, exposed flesh and all.
I expected to be dizzy and see stars, but I didn’t. I hit my head really, really hard, but the glancing blow was somehow deflected by the high-tech helmet. My hand had a pea-sized hole. My shirt was torn, and my arm began leaking a lot of blood. My pelvis, which had broken pretty badly just two years ago on the same side, was discolored and had a new marble-sized hole that begun to pump blood. And my elbow had some sort of gash. We went back to the hotel so I could clean up and take stock of the damage. In the shower I finally saw just how deep and long the elbow cut was.
We found a local doctor’s office, where we met Dani and Adrian, husband-wife doctor combo. They didn’t mind the pool of red blood that my arm left on their otherwise spotless floor. Like me, they are parents of a toddler and accustomed to messes. Adrian calmly examined my shoulder, which hurt in some unusual ways. They charged me a reasonable $60 for an assessment and 8 stitches. Unfortunately their Tdap shots were out of stock. but I wouldn’t mind returning to Costa Rica to otherwise capitalize on the wonderful medical facilities.