Amazing where you can carry a bike along (27.09.)
I had allowed myself a longer night and set the alarm for 6am, and used the “snooze function” several times. I had slept very well and am always thrilled with my equipment. After a small breakfast, I had bought everything in Aragon, I continued. Past the chalet on a single trail, over a suspension bridge (an interesting driving experience!) It went on and on steeply uphill and downhill on gravel. Around 08:50, about 30 minutes after sunrise, I reached the road at Beteta. High gradients, many herds of sheep, and later great gravel roads on a high plateau awaited me. Before that, however, Miles Clemson caught up with me. He was the leader at Iberica Traversa Road. We chatted briefly before he moved on. I could see him on and off for a while, but my wide gravel tires didn’t roll nearly as well as narrow road bike tires. And I was, after all, in “vacation mode”.
The route to Las Majadas at kilometer 136 stretched through another national park, the Parque Natural Serrania de Cuenca. Finally arrived in the village, there was no supermarket, but a restaurant. After using the rest rooms to remove all dirt from me and my clothes, I allowed myself a salad and a baguette, in addition I bought water, before I continued again. Back in the heat of the day up a mountain further through the national park. On a descent then a stroke. I had hit a stone with my right pedal. Unfortunately, a piece of the pedal body broke off. Better than a crash, I thought. I could also continue to click into the pedal with my right shoe, but just only on one side. I quickly got used to it, and it wasn’t a problem for the rest of the tour. The impressions of the national park were overwhelming. Especially the Camino de la Raya was worth all the efforts of the last days.
Even if I had to push or carry the bike for miles down the mountain, it was gigantic. Arrived in the valley in Una I had to find out that the supermarket was already closed. It did not open again until the next morning. “Always this siesta,” I thought. But I could more than understand that one should move as little as possible in the midday heat. In a bar in town I allowed myself a non-alcoholic beer (bottled), a Calippo ice cream, and supplied myself with fresh water for the coming kilometers to the next checkpoint in Cuenca.
Over the asphalt road I made good and fast progress. Finally home, from the terrain. For the first time since the start, I felt like my motivation and legs were back. I still wanted to reach Cuenca in brightness, so I pushed the gas a bit. I reached the checkpoint around 20:15 with the last rays of sun. Actually too early for a stop, but I wanted to shower, wash my clothes, eat something sensible, and rather leave early the next morning.
So I quickly booked a hotel and rinsed off the dirt. Next to my hotel there was still an open supermarket, where I could buy everything for breakfast for the next morning. Across the street was a Chinese restaurant where I bought fried noodles to take away. Finally something warm to eat, what a luxury. Still quickly phone, powerbank and Garmin to the charging station and off to bed.
A kind of transfer stage (28.09.)
The alarm clock rang at 4 o’clock. Quickly some breakfast and off through a deserted city. I had to realize in the past few days that you need more cash in Spain than expected. I had actually expected that in the Balkans during the TCR. But almost everywhere, whether in the EU or in Bosnia, Albania or northern Macedonia, it was possible to pay with a smartphone. Also, English was understood everywhere there. Not so in Spain. Cash is the order of the day, and communication was often rather pantomimic. The third ATM finally worked. Shortly after Cuenca it was not easy to find the route. My helmet lamp is not the brightest, which I later still often regretted. For the road more than sufficient, one takes in the terrain rather a much stronger lamp. Be it as it may, I found the way. The kilometers from Cuenca I felt not very exciting or beautiful. Up and down, somehow somewhat barren landscapes, and in addition more or less well passable tracks and trails.
Around 11:50 this changed with reaching the next checkpoint in Alarcon. What a landscape, what architecture! The last 7 hours of frustration as forgotten in one fell swoop. Here one could take photos and linger for hours. But I tried to keep going. The next ascent I had to continue on foot. Too steep for me, even a my derailleur somehow made problems. I tried to fix it when I got to the top, but didn’t really succeed. Also I was under time pressure, because to the next town it was still about 16 kilometers, and the siesta was not far. Once again closed supermarkets like the day before had to be avoided. I made it before 1400 to the village, shopped, and approved me in the next bar a baguette and a cold non-alcoholic beer.
While I was there enjoying my cold drink, Irena reached the place. She bought some cans in the bar and went straight on. I decided to linger a little in the midday heat in the shade and eat something. It continued quite flat after that. No mountains, how can that be? Over gravel roads, which were good to ride, and a small single trail along a river, I caught up with Irina. Not far from the next place to restock, I heard a strange noise behind me. Had something fallen out of my jersey, or had I lost something? I stopped, and had to realize that I had lost the tracker attached with 2 cable ties. Fortunately I found it again quite quickly in the cornfield, it had only slipped about 50 centimeters into the same. Now it was attached to my handlebar bag with thick straps, and I continued on to the next town, where I was able to replenish my supplies. It was not far to checkpoint number 6 in El Cuartico. I reached this at 18:41. There was cell phone coverage and I searched for a possibility to stay overnight in Alcaraz. One call to a hostel and the room was booked. Remained just under 60 kilometers on gravel to get there. The road was surprisingly good, a former railroad line with moderate gradient and many tunnels, some of which were illuminated, some even with motion detectors. The last tunnel before Alcaraz had to be avoided. The way through the tunnel leads to a dead end, or away from the route. I found it difficult to find the right way. Drove first into the tunnel, then again opposite, and something zigzag before I found the actual route again.
Up to the hostel it went in the place once again steeply up the streets. I was glad to have a room with shower and plenty of space. Also could buy water and something to eat in the Hosten. A very nice and cheap accommodation. I was curious what the next day would bring.
Alcoholfree, or alcohol for free? (29.09.)
I set off at about 6 o’clock. It started on asphalt uphill for a long time. Almost 45 minutes later I arrived at the top in Vianos, where everything was still asleep and only the moon illuminated the scenery. Shortly after, I continued on gravel again. Up and down, sometimes good, sometimes less rideable. It was a great landscape with many forests and olive tree plantations. Quickly it got hot again. In Siles, about 70 km from Alcaraz, there should be shopping again. My supplies of food were also already used up. Once again I had to climb a very steep road up to the center of Siles. There arriving, it was Friday, I stood in the middle of a festival. In general, there was a festival in almost every village and town at the end of September. “Great”, I thought, “you will surely find something here”.
But all the stores were closed for the local holiday. Only a bakery and the cafes and pubs were open. In the bakery I bought things for later, and looked for a table in one of the cafes. A Dutch couple approached me and I asked them to join me. We chatted a bit about biking (both were also biking and camping) and I ordered a large non-alcoholic beer and some food. As in southern Spain always there was first of all tappas to the beer and I let myself enjoy my food. There was a fountain with drinking water next to the café, and after a bit of a break, I set off again. Then I heard someone call my name. It was Luc Aucremanne, who was participating in the street version. We chatted for a few minutes before I moved on, after buying another ice cream at a gas station.
Somehow my head felt funny. It was hot. But I was the last hour actually only in the shade. Also the way went through a forest. Although steeply uphill, some times I had to push again, but a heat stroke I ruled out. Nevertheless, I was a little dizzy. Normally there was the non-alcoholic beer always in bottles. I had gotten one in a big glass. Had it not been non-alcoholic in the end? I had wondered while drinking it that it tasted so good. Somehow almost like “real” beer. I think that was the reason for my dizzy state. Fortunately, there was a spring from which fresh and cold water bubbled. I dipped my head into the cold water and I was wide awake and sober again. In the coming days I would only order non-alcoholic bottled 😉 My derailleur was giving me more and more problems. Often I had to shift gears by hand, i.e. shift, stop, chain on the appropriate sprocket, keep going. It affected the two smallest gears. So I often had to stop in the steepest sections, and not always I could continue afterwards, that it was too steep to start. It was already afternoon and still 60 kilometers to Cueva del Agua, a cave, and still 70 kilometers to the next town. All the moaning didn’t help, I had to keep going. After about 43 kilometers there was a small, somewhat hidden restaurant. It was already 18:45 when I arrived there. I filled up my bottles, ordered something to eat, and just a short time later set off for the Cueva del Agua. The way to the cave, and also afterwards, was steep, not rideable, and so I had to carry and push the bike the more than 5 kilometers. A bypass was possible, but was almost 14 kilometers longer, and meant an additional 2 hours as penalty time. For me no option. So be it.
The landscape was great, the path a disaster. When I arrived at the big cave, it was already dark. A cave in the dark, it was really pitch black, great. Only the roaring of the deer on the other side of the valley could be heard, as well as the reflecting eyes of countless bats that lived in the many caves here. I was glad, in spite of a little stray path, after more than 2 1/2 hours of crawling, to have some kind of road under me again, even if only shortly. Pontones was the next place, there were hotels here. Either spend the night here, or drive another 25 kilometers to a national park. In this national park it was forbidden to stay overnight. There were two refugios, which according to the Internet should also be completely intact. “You can still make the 25 kilometers,” I said to myself, and continued my ride. There were wild horses on the way, barking dogs, and it felt like it was all uphill (it really was, as I found out the next morning). Around 2 am I reached the refugio.
There were three cars in front of it along with the occupants sleeping in them. In the Refugio already slumbered a hiker and a mountain biker. I joined them, space was enough, connected smartphone and Garmin with the powerbank, put my earplugs in my ears, and fell asleep.
A desert day (30.09.)
At 6:30 am the night was over for me. Quickly I ate something, it was the rest of a large package of madeleines, got dressed, packed everything and started. Although shortly after seven o’clock dawn was already setting in, it was still some way to sunrise at 8:13. The landscape was fascinating. On the one hand very barren, on the other hand one saw many animals. They were surely wondering what the maniac with the bike wanted up here on the plateau. I enjoyed the sunrise. With the sun’s rays came back the motivation and energy that I would certainly need for the rest of the day.
While I ate a few last supplies on a rock a bit off the trail, several jeeps with tourists came driving from below. People apparently like to be chauffeured up to the top so they can hike there. I continued in the opposite direction, and fortunately it was downhill again. It was almost 11 o’clock, I had a few single trails and a river crossing behind me, when a Spaniard on a mountain bike came towards me. He greeted, stopped, and we talked for a while (he spoke perfect English). I told him my adventure to cross Spain by bike and he wished me good luck and success. Around noon I reached Polo Alcon, a larger town with many bars, cafes and supermarkets. I bought a lot, because my hunger was great. Baguette, 1 can of tuna, cheese, yogurt, 2 bottles of Aquarius, tomatoes, chips, orange juice, milk, Haribo. I almost didn’t get the purchase stowed away, and I drove to a small square that had a drinking fountain. There I took a break, topped the baguette with cheese and tomato, and polished off quite a bit of the purchase on the spot. Coincidentally, the spot was right where the gravel and trail route and the road route converged. I had only been sitting a short while before Luc Aucremanne came by. A quick “hello, how are you” and he moved on. While I was still eating dessert, yogurt, Norberto Reina came by. Me and Norberto had sat next to each other at dinner on Saturday night, and we both thought it was funny to meet by chance over a distance of almost 1700 km.
I continued after the town, slightly uphill, past olive tree plantations, into a desert-like landscape. It was steep downhill to the Rio Guardian Menor, a small river whose water supplied a narrow strip of trees and bushes with water. The shade and proximity to the river was pleasant, but as soon as you stepped out of the shade, it was hot. The thermometer on my bike computer was showing 42 degrees Celsius, and what was a steep descent a few minutes ago was a steep ascent on the other side with no shade. Riding, pushing, stopping, looking for shade, drinking, taking photos, and starting over. So it went for some time until I reached a road again. This led me past a reservoir (Embalse de Negratín) (wasn’t I just in the desert?) to Bácor. There, in front of the village at a school, there was a well in the shade, in which I washed out shoes, socks, jersey, gloves and cap. It was a relief to let my legs cool down in the cold water. Although all bars and supermarkets were closed (I still had bread, a can of tuna, 400 g of turron, bananas and the Haribo in my luggage), there was a drinking water point just a few hundred meters away. With fresh water, I continued.
Once again an asphalt road. So far, so good, but why so steep? Double-digit gradients on asphalt with all the luggage are no fun. You always think you are terribly slow. At the top, I realized that there was still a bit to go to Gorafe. I really wanted to reach the entrance to Gorafe Park (https://www.andalucia.org/en/gorafe-routes-georuta-desierto-de-gorafe) in sunlight, and I tried to go a little faster. But the route was technically challenging at first. Rough gravel, steep downhill into a valley, then up again, with some pushing. Once back up, the trail got better. More sandy than rocky. It was easy to slip away. But all went well, and I reached the park entrance exactly 5 minutes before sunset. There was even cell phone coverage at the park entrance. After a quick call home, I decided not to spend the night here or down in Gorafe, but to drive through this desert at night. I had enough of the heat and just wanted to keep going. A police patrol drove into the park. At first I was afraid that I would not be allowed to continue. But the policemen took a quick look at the sunset and drove on. So did I. It got dark quickly. After a few kilometers the last house for the next hours. Also a few cars.
As Andy told me later, he was also standing there to take pictures of me and film me slowly disappearing into the darkness of the desert. But it did not work out , because he had to explain to the police that he, although Swiss and with Swiss license plates on the way, had nothing to do with the two Swiss tourists missing in the desert. Because it was precisely because of them that the police were on their way. By the time he was allowed to drive on, I was long gone in the middle of nowhere. I could still catch some impressive glimpses during the twilight. I will probably have to come back here again in the light, that much is certain! Going up and down, no cellular network, the temperature dropped from still over 30 degrees at sunset quickly below 20 degrees. Somehow there was no end to this. Around 23:30 I began to look around for suitable places to sleep. But everything only sand or dust. “Nah, it doesn’t have to be, there’s something better to come,” I said to myself with courage. At some point lights appeared on the horizon. Surely still many kilometers away. It should still take until 2 o’clock in the morning, until I reached the village. There, I opened the can of tuna and ate it with the remaining baguette as supper and midnight snack. A place to sleep behind a crumbling bench in the village square was quickly found. A small wall provided some protection from the wind that was blowing through the valley. Around 2:30 a.m. was night’s rest.