I have been to Sri Lanka twice before, once on a minibus and beach holiday, and once on an organised bike tour. So why a third time?
The reason is a tad on the nerdy side. Sri Lanka happens to be one of the few Asian countries that has almost 100% street-view coverage, and this is what I found: miles of tiny tarmac country roads winding over mountains, up valleys, through forests, tea plantations, ride paddies ……I couldn’t believe my luck. For those that know me or read this blog, my love of mapping and cycling the roads less traveled knows no bounds, so I felt like a kid in a candy shop.
Are these roads for real? There was only one way to find out. I put together nine 40 to 50 mile routes in RidewithGPS, which linked together over the central highlands from Colombo in the west to Polonaruwa in the east……..and booked a flight!
I knew the risks associated with unreccied small roads, and although street-view reduces the risks of long un-rideable sections, it doesn’t totally eliminate this risk, because the street-view image is not current, and roads in the tropics can be destroyed (and created) very quickly. I was also not prepared to street-view the entire route, as life is too short. So I expected some shocks and surprises, and got both!
Below is a comparison shot between the street-view image and what we actually encountered. I had not street-viewed a long section of this particular road on day 2, and we nearly paid dearly for it. As we climbed up the valley, the road gradually disintegrated to the point where I was questioning whether we would be able to make our intended destination for the day, but as luck would have it, as we approached the col at around 1000 m, the road down the other side had just been re-surfaced. It was super smooth, with newly opened views of the valley and hardly a car on it!! Ho hum, they say that fortune favours the brave!
In the end we cycled 6 of the 9 routes that I had planned. We pushed the bikes for not more than a couple of hundreds yards for the entire trip, the rest was totally rideable, and sometimes a tad on the bumpy side (tarmac over a very uneven base layer). For me, the small remote bumpy roads will always win over the busier smooth roads, but I wasn’t entirely convinced that Kate shared my enthusiasm. I’m sure if she bought a comfortable saddle, increased her tyre size and off-road riding skills she’d be a convert ……….
More maps, photos and journals to follow soon!