"You are murderers! Yes, murderers!" Octave Lapize reputedly shouted at race officials in the 1910 Tour de France, after grinding his bicycle over the brutal Col de Tourmalet. I was tempted to make the same accusation to Cristiano Werneck, tour leader on the Doomsday Ride. But as I crested the final hill, after over 40,000 meters of climbing, the best I could manage was, "I need cerveza. Yes, cerveza!"
I joined 21 riders from North America, Europe and South Africa in San Jose, Costa Rica this past November to begin the five-week tour. Our journey would take us from Costa Rica through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and onward to Doomsday, which we would celebrate, appropriately, at the Mayan Lamani Temple in Belize.
The Tour d'Afrique cycling tour company, known for their audacious cross-continental tours around the world, created La Ruta Maya – The Doomsday Ride to mark the end of the Mayan calendar and, of course, the end of the world, on December 21, 2012. If the world was going to end, we'd at least have the opportunity to ride into the afterlife.
This inaugural edition of La Ruta Maya followed the path of the ancient Mayans as they made their way north through Central America to Mexico. The tour allowed us to visit some of the Mayans' most celebrated temples, including Copan and Tikal, and stop in some of Central America's most beautiful colonial towns, including Granada, Antigua and Panajachel.
We feared the Mayans were right from the very first day: high winds, piercing rain and bitter cold meant half the riders didn't finish the stage. And we quickly learned how unforgiving Central America's roads can be. The road surfaces varied - from pavement with some potholes, to potholes with some pavement.
La Ruta Maya also featured many off-road sections. We faced gravel, loose rocks and a never-ending succession of uphills. Those on mountain bikes cheered. Those on hybrids and road bikes grit their teeth. "You guys are amazing," tour leader Cristiano told the riders one morning at breakfast. "The harder the riding gets, the more you smile and enjoy it."
It was impossible not to. Despite the challenging terrain, we rode through impossibly lush landscapes in Costa Rica, with palm trees of every description. Nicaragua and Honduras brought farm towns brimming with flowers, the smell of wood smoke and school kids in blue and white uniforms walking hand in hand. In Guatemala, local markets overflowed with traditional fabrics and handicrafts. By the time we reached Belize, we'd all fallen in love with Central America's unassuming charm.
La Ruta Maya is not a ride for the faint-hearted. It takes all the challenges of the four-month Tour d'Afrique, and jams them into five weeks. But it's the only cycling tour to traverse Central America, a region still relatively undiscovered and unspoiled. The next edition of La Ruta Maya may not take you to doomsday, but it promises a journey through both heaven and hell. For more information, visit www.tourdafrique.com.