Sunday, 24 February 2019

The Spectacular Roads and Mazes of Spain

Another tour done and this one didn't exactly go to plan.  To be fair, only the first tour I did in Australia and my tour in England have gone exactly to plan, most of the tours I have done have had at least minor changes once I am in the reality of the situation.

My actual tour route. Slightly different than planned.
For this one, I significantly overestimated the mileage I could achieve in a day.  Perhaps I am getting old, but I think the main issue in this case was the difficulty of finding my way around.  Stopping to check maps, going the wrong way, and winding your way through mazes of roads takes a lot more time out of your day than you imagine.

One of the great benefits of having a very common name is that I often come across things like this.
Spain has to be one of the best places for cycling in the world; there are plenty of hills and mountains, stunning vistas, the weather is almost always sunny, and the roads are in great condition with very little traffic.

Great for cycling, definitely, but good for bicycle touring?  I'm not so sure about that.  If someone were to ask for my advice about cycling in Spain, I would advise them to fly over with their road bike and do day cycles, maybe hiring a car and finding a 100Km ride to do, then do something similar somewhere else on another day.

The reason for this is that there some wonderful roads, but getting from a to b on a bike over a period of days and weeks can be tricky in Spain.  The are a number of different kinds of roads here; APs, AVs, As, RMs, GLs, ALs, etc.  The first two seemed to always not allow cyclists on them, but the As and RMs also had times when they didn't allow cyclists, but the problem was that you didn't know until things started looking like a motorway or when a sign popped-up.  There didn't seem to be any hard and fast rules to it all.

Going down the side of these more major roads were service roads that looked very good at times, but would often deteriorate into rubble or just end altogether without warning.

My troubles with the roads were summed-up on the last day when I discovered that I could not legally enter Murcia International airport on the bike, despite two bicycle lanes appearing to lead right into the airport (at least on the map).

When I arrived I must have ridden on the road illegally to get going, not seeing any signs.  But on the way in, I saw the signs clearly so diverted down a service road with a bicycle path that led to the airport.  Having discovered that one bicycle path came to a dead end with a 2 metre-high fence, I tried to cycle around, only to discover that this fence stretched on seemingly endlessly.

Turning back, I tried the bicycle path on the other side, but the same thing, it ended at a very high fence.  The airport was in sight the whole time, but I just couldn't reach it.  Hopping onto the main road was not an option either as it was protected by yet another fence and a rather large gutter.  Fortunately, however, a tree had fallen on the fence and this acted like a bridge so I could cross the gutter (slightly precariously) with my bike and then lift it over the barrier.  Without that tree, I have no idea how I would have gotten into the airport.

Wild camping with the new tent.
I had another problem, and that was that I couldn't put my bike on the trains, which meant that my original plans to take the train to Seville and Cordoba was pretty much finished.  In the end, I just cycled to Granada via the coast and then circled back to my Dad's place in Los Alcazeres.

Even then, I had to take the bus between Guadix and Baza because I couldn't find a route that would accept my bicycle.

Troubles aside, when I was actually cycling, the roads and scenery were absolutely beautiful both on the coast and inland.  Despite the fact hills and mountains were everywhere, I found the gradients a lot less severe than New Zealand also, so no climbs were especially tough, particularly with less gear on the bike. The ease of wild camping was also very welcome.  Pretty much any area without houses or farms was easy to just turn off the road and find a nice sheltered place to camp.

It was a shame I couldn't go to Seville or Cordoba, but Granada was a truly beautiful city to spend a day resting and wandering around in.  A combination of Christian and Islamic architecture with the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  European cities are so beautiful, sometimes you forget it when you travel elsewhere in the world.  Australia and New Zealand have the natural wonders, but culturally, hardly anywhere in the world beats Europe.

The main attraction in Granada was Alhambra, a large Islamic fort set on top of a hill overlooking the whole city.  It was an impressive sight, and as usual, I was there early in the day to get in before all the crowds of tourists showed-up.  So early in fact, that I managed to beat the entrance fee as well, and sneaked in for a walk around the castle on my own as the sun rose across the city.  This was a great pick-me-up after the disappointment of not being able to carry out my original plans.

Once I had finished with Alhambra I explored the old quarter of the city, winding through the hilly streets and taking pictures of some of the quaintly beautiful architecture.

The afternoon before, I checked into my only paid accommodation of the whole tour.  At 35 Euros it was quite a luxury for me, especially with my own room.  I had intended to stay at a much cheaper hostel, but typically showed-up in Granada at the weekend and everywhere was full.  This did surprise me, though, as I wouldn't have expected the city to be busy with tourists during winter.

It was a great relief to have a shower and have my own comfortable bed and just be able to catch-up with the world for the evening.  When you cycle all day for consecutive days, you really earn your rest.

The way out of Granada towards a town called Guadix was some of the best cycling of the trip, with steady gradients into the mountains.  For this reason it was also popular with a lot of other cyclists; I have never seen so many in a day.  They were not of the touring kind, but bicycles outnumbered cars significantly all day.  As they all rode by me I was given quizzical looks, like why was I punishing myself by riding with all this gear up a mountain.

I managed to get up to about 1300m, a few hundred metres higher than any road in New Zealand, and passed many pretty villages on the way to an extremely chilly overnight camp next to tunnels drilled in the rock.  These tunnels were slightly mysterious, but over the other side of the valley I had noticed some houses that were actually part of the rock and mountainside.  I assume that I was camping next to a work in progress, as I saw a few of these kinds of houses in this area of Spain.

Some pleasant roads then followed on the way back to my Dad's place in Los Alcazeres, but on one section from Guadix to Baza the route planning was nigh on impossible.  The only way on the bike looked as if I would be doing an extra 100Km or more because the direct route was on a road I couldn't cycle on.  For this reason, I decided to hop on a bus for 60Km, which actually wasn't nearly as troublesome as I anticipated.

I got back to Los Alcazeres a day early, which I was very happy about so I was able to get some rest before the stressful business of packing up and going home.  It had been an eventful trip, much harder logistically than I had imagined, but it had been nice to take a break from the doom and gloom of a British winter and get some sunshine, which it was every single day.

I am thinking now of taking a break from the cycle touring, at least the conventional kind.  The plan is to move to New Zealand in 2020 and I have no plans for any more bike tours in 2019.  I am certainly thinking of other things though, like a return to some hiking and maybe some running.  Once in New Zealand, I am hoping to hit the trails on a new bike and perhaps do some bikepacking.  The adventures will definitely continue.

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