A Thoroughly Stupid Day

By Jane Mountain | June 27, 2014

15,342 km so far.

In 15 months of travelling, with many days that could compete for stupidest day, none were more stupid than today.

It started out with the disheartening news that to enter the Mount Bromo park, we would have to pay the equivalent of $25 each. I was sure I’d read that it was around $2 each, but no, $25 or go home. And, to top it off, we would have to pay another $25 each if we wanted to stay in the park tomorrow.

We almost turned around and went right down the mountain then and there.

Would that we had.

Of Grades And Angles

Knowing that the hill would continue today where it had left off yesterday is not the same as having to ride that hill. Our legs were stiff and tired from yesterday’s exertions, and the mountain had angled sharply up overnight, resulting in an almost impassibly steep climb.

It was a rare few hundred meters that we could get on our bikes and ride. For the most part, we pushed the bikes up the steep slopes while motorbikes struggled past us, revving their smelly engines.

Down the hill came a steady stream of Toyota Land Cruisers, carrying sleepy passengers who had risen at 2am to see the sunrise. Judging from the number of vehicles, they wouldn’t have been able to see much at the top but other tourists.

Entering the Bromo Tengger National Park.

Entering the Bromo Tengger National Park.

What I had been referring to in my mind as “only” 6 kilometres swiftly became the unthinkably long distance of six whole kilometres! Never, in 15 months of riding, have we encountered a mountain we couldn’t ride up. Somehow it seems fitting that our last mountain is the mountain that beat us.

After what seemed like hours of pushing, we came to the first viewpoint. Without really realising what we were about to see, we wandered up to the tumbling-down viewing platform.

It doesn't look like much, right?

It doesn’t look like much, right?

Wow.

Our first glimpse of the caldera surrounding Mount Bromo. Impressive.

Our first glimpse of the caldera surrounding Mount Bromo. Impressive.

All of a sudden, dragging our bikes up an impossibly steep hill all seemed worth it.

Some of the local men, who we assume run the small food booths at the viewpoint, came over to talk to us. I guess they don’t see very many foreign cyclists climbing this crazy hill.

The local man who pointed out the Bromo landmarks for us.

The local man who pointed out the Bromo landmarks for us.

They pointed out the various volcanoes to us. The green one in front is Mount Batok, hiding behind it is the smoking Bromo.

The green Mount Batok and smoking Mount Bromo from above.

The green Mount Batok and smoking Mount Bromo from above.

I asked them if the vast emptiness below us was the Sand Sea, and they assured us it was.

I wish I had thought to ask them how to get there.

This Is Where It Starts To Get Stupid

Stephen had diligently mapped our route on RideWithGPS, and on ‘paper’ it looked about right. There aren’t many blogs describing the ride, and the ones that do are sorely lacking in detail.

We somehow managed to forget that we didn’t really know where we were going, which is why we neglected to ask the locals for directions before we went trundling up another 400 vertical metres of too-steep-to-ride roads.

Yet another rest break on the excruciating climb, above Mount Batok and Mount Bromo.

Yet another rest break on the excruciating climb, above Mount Batok and Mount Bromo.

When we arrived, exhausted, at the spot we thought was our turn-off, all we found was an overgrown dirt path, heading steeply downhill. It looked pretty much impassible.

Side note: My mom is going to hate this part.

So we turned around. Right? We made the sensible decision. Right? We turned around, went back down the hill we’d just climbed, asked for directions, and had an easy(ish) ride across the Sand Sea.

If that’s what we’d done, do you think this post would be called A Thoroughly Stupid Day?

Instead, we decided now was time to ask advice from the locals. There was a work crew at the top of the trail, and Stephen asked if the path led to Cemoro Lawang. Yes, they said. Is it OK for bicycles? Yes, they said again.

Great! Off we go then.

Just Turn Around, You Fools!

About 25 m down the path, I called a halt to second-guess our decision. The trail was steep and narrow, too rough to drag our bikes along without excessive force, and obviously there was no way we could ride any of it.

We could still go back. Retrace our steps. Find a better way.

Unfortunately, there’s something about cycle touring that makes it impossible to turn around. No matter what dire circumstances we bicycle travellers find ourselves in, we forge ahead, hoping for the best, expecting the worst.

Forge ahead we did. In another 25 m, a vista of the caldera and volcanoes opened up before us. From here, we could clearly see a road way off in the distance, leading directly from the first view point we’d stopped at right down into the Sand Sea. Land Cruisers buzzed back and forth across the sea, past the volcano, and up to Cemoro Lawang.

We could also see the steep mountainside that lay below us, and waaaay down below, a road that we would eventually meet if we pressed on.

Our way lies straight down the mountainside, to Cemoro Lawang far below.

Our way lies straight down the mountainside, to Cemoro Lawang far below.

Obviously, going forward was the only option (in our heat-befuddled minds).

Stephen’s note: The downhill was hard enough, with gravity working in our favour, that the idea of turning around and hauling our bikes up (in my mind) would surely lead us to death by exhaustion.

The trail we were on would have been a perfectly fine trekking path, if you didn’t have much gear and didn’t mind bushwhacking a little. With loaded touring bikes it was just stupid. It was so steep, we had to grip our brakes the entire way to avoid runaway bicycles. It was so filled with large boulders and bumps, we had to yank and heave our bikes forward even as we were holding them back.

It was so slick with mud that more than once we both ended up on our butts, pinned under the weight of our bikes, yelling for help until the other of us could come to our rescue.

It’s a testament to how awful it was that I don’t have a single picture of the entire trail.

It’s a miracle we didn’t break a spoke, a derailleur, or anything on our bikes. It’s also a miracle we didn’t break an ankle, or worse still, a leg.

Honestly, I don’t know what we were thinking. Stupid.

Cliff Jumping

Eventually, we ended up at a small flat space about 25 m above a crumbling viewing platform. There must be a road to here, we reasoned. Nobody would build a viewing platform and not build a road to it. Right?

After some exploration without the bikes, Stephen figured out that the best way down to the platform would be straight down the cliff-like slope in front of us. It was easy enough to scramble down, unencumbered by bags and bikes, but it was a little hard to picture how we’d load all our gear down.

Whoa! How did I get here?!? At Mount Bromo.

Whoa! How did I get here?!? At Mount Bromo.

We started by carting down all of the bags, in several trips. The way was narrow and steep, with loose rocks and slippery handholds, but it was do-able with the bags strapped around our shoulders, keeping our hands free to hold on tight.

How are we going to get our bikes down this? At Mount Bromo.

How are we going to get our bikes down this? At Mount Bromo.

When it came to the bikes, we took a lesson from the ferry crews in Malaysia. They had expertly loaded our bikes off the top deck of a ferry, about 25m above the docks, by dangling them over the edge of the boat.

Stephen took the topside duty, heaving the bikes, one at a time, as far down the slope as he could safely go.

Contemplating the way forward, at Mount Bromo.

Contemplating the way forward, at Mount Bromo.

Then he grabbed the back rack, slowly lowering the bike towards me, and kept a firm grip until I got my hands on the handlebars and the top tube. When I gave the signal, he released the bike and, using all my strength, I manhandled it to safety.

After this lengthy process, we were a little disappointed to find a long set of stone stairs leading down from the viewing platform. The stairs were rough and crumbling and steep. Normally, this would have been a nightmare to take our bikes down.

So far today, it was the best part of our ride.

Finally, the stairs ended and we came out onto a narrow road, which had obviously been paved at one time. It was now mostly loose gravel and chunks of old asphalt, but it felt like heaven all the same.

Another half-kilometre of pushing our bikes along the steep and treacherous pavement, and we arrived at a real road! Finally, we could get on our bikes and coast down into Cemoro Lawang. It has never felt so amazing to ride.  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.

Please do not attempt this route! If you are planning to ride from Wonokitri to Cemoro Lewang, and want to ride across the Sand Sea, follow our route to the road just past kilometre 8 then turn right at the road towards Pasuruan. Or better yet, stop at the first viewpoint and ask the locals.

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Hi, I’m Jane, founder and chief blogger on My Five Acres. I’ve lived in six countries and have camped, biked, trekked, kayaked, and explored in 50! At My Five Acres, our mission is to inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.

4 comments

  1. Comment by Jazza - NOMADasaurus

    Jazza - NOMADasaurus Reply July 3, 2014 at 3:50 am

    The fact that both yourselves and the bikes survived this ordeal without receiving any permanent damage makes this an adventure, not stupid! Glad everything worked out well (eventually).

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen July 7, 2014 at 11:24 pm

      Thanks Jazza. What an incredible adventure it has been. I am excited to see how your own continues to unfold.

  2. Comment by Geoff L

    Geoff L Reply July 2, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    What a dreadful day! If I didn’t worry that you might not ever speak to me again, I’d be tempted to refer to Stephen’s Yoga post citing “The Road Not Taken”, but probably best not to mention it . . .

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen July 7, 2014 at 11:23 pm

      Yes, if only there had been a road less travelled we would have been on it…

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