(April 1 – written by Dave)
Wow, what a day! We made it to Panama City. Woohoo!
Nancy mentioned yesterday that we were concerned about long weekend traffic coming back into the city and somehow getting over the Bridge of the Americas. Well, some of our fears came true, some didn’t, but we made it, safe and sound. What a relief.
First on the beach parties last night – they went on late but we were both so tired that we hardly noticed them. That, and the loud old-fashioned air conditioner unit in our room, meant we got a surprisingly good night’s sleep. We heard rain at some point during the night but that turned out to be some sort of burst water pipe spewing on the roof and dripping out front of our door – and killing our water pressure in the morning. No hotel staff were about when we left in the morning so we just left with water gushing – there will likely be some sore heads this morning who won’t get a shower – oh well.
We were on the road just after 6AM. It was a wee bit dark still but we had a 1k climb to get up from the beach back up to the highway. We guessed that most, if not all, of the folks down at the beach would be sleeping off the big Saturday night and there would be no traffic – we were right.
Once out on the highway, traffic was steady to thick – yes on Sunday morning at just past 6AM! We had a shoulder but at times it was full of gravel. It was also quite bumpy. Worst were the bridges and bus stops where it completely disappeared and we had to go out into the traffic lane. Somehow we timed all of these points with gaps in the traffic.
There were heaps of police out, I’m sure gearing up for a big day. At some point police turned one of the two outgoing lanes into a third in-bound lane. This didn’t really seem to thin the traffic at all but at least it didn’t get worse. At some point in this section, I ran over a big metal shard and got a flat tire. It was at a place where there was a nice pull out and a shady area and we made quick work of the change.
After about 40k, we came up on slow moving traffic. We didn’t think that there would be 60k of back to back traffic all the way to city but this bumper to bumper went on for a good distance. After about 6k, we came upon the reason for the back-up. There was some kind of traffic accident with at least 8 cars and a bus clearly having been in a chain reaction rear-end smash up. Of course, we hope everyone was ok. Whatever the reason, we liked the traffic being slowed for 6k and also liked the way following traffic was slowed after the accident.
Just beyond there the road grew to 3 lanes of traffic in each direction. And much to our delight, the shoulder got better. No more gravel and only a few of those narrow pinchy section. There was a headwind but there was so much following traffic that we actual “local” tailwind from the cars – woohoo. We had this kind of road for almost 40k – head down and concentrate, don’t look up for photos, just grind it out and be safe.
We needed water but it was hard to get off the highway to stop at a servo – all of the bigger service stations with food and drink were on the other side and the police had blocked off all of the cross through spots, which probably made sense given the level of traffic. We pulled over to buy drinks from a guy with a cooler – overpriced but they were cold – and really, a guy standing with a cooler on a motorway shoulder on Easter Sunday – he deserved the inflated prices. We finally pulled up at another McDonalds. We didn’t need food, it was more about getting a map check and off the road for break. Ok, we had milkshakes and they were good!
From there we had another 23k to reach the hotel. First up was to cross over the Bridge of Americas. We kept the nice shoulder most of the way to the bridge, where the shoulder disappeared and there were just two lanes in each direction. We just had to hop into the inside lane, block the road and hope for the best. We had a couple very nice guardian angels who drove behind us blocking traffic for about ½ of the bridge. From there a motorcycle cop pulled up behind us and escorted us the rest of the way over. White knuckle riding but an escort always helps. Actually, all of the traffic on the bridge gave us lots of room and we got quite a few friendly honks as well.
I didn’t (couldn’t) stop for photos on the bridge so we pulled into a park off the far side to get a shot. It’s a nice looking bridge, an exciting one to have reached and crossed under our own power. Woohoo again.
The last 9k to the hotel were a bit of a navigational challenge. We ended up in a very rough city neighbourhood. Nancy was trailing me, yelling something about “getting out of there” and “are we on the right road”. I had memorized the road and know that in many of these moments that it’s best to keep riding and not make any wrong turns. Stopping and getting a phone out didn’t seem all that safe and stopping to be absorb “route feedback” from my wife, well, that was probably not going to yield a great outcome either (Senior editor’s note – I was trying to get him to head down to the water, where I knew there was a nice bike path that we could take. But no, Dave is like many males when it comes to directions…). Head down, ride on.
We eventually made to the hotel – Hotel DeVille. We have a massive suite with sitting area, two queen beds, hot water, English TV, a toilet seat and it’s all cheaper than the last few nights – proving again that price often has no bearing on what you get.
We are really excited to be here. Fairbanks seems so far away and so long ago. One day at a time. We will be here for a week. We need to try sourcing some bike tires and a new kickstand for Nancy’s bike, which broke a couple of days ago. We have to take a boat or fly to Colombia – there is no road – and given the Peterson motion-sickness gene we are flying. We’ll provide more commentary on this and some updates from Panama City in the coming days. And now, we are going to go try to find somewhere open on this Easter Sunday where we can have a nice meal to celebrate the completion of North and Central America!