Tres amigos en el sud.
Feast and famine in spain.
The three amigos: John, Bruce and Tom converged on Abdet, a small village in the Costa Blanca mountains for an expedition by bike through the regions of Alicante, Albacete, Murcia and Granada, ending up in Castril
Estimated distance: around 400 kms.
Route choice: mountainous
First challenge was to meet up on the 26th April in Abdet. John by van, Bruce by bus, Tom by plane.
Initial thoughts on the route are:
Weather, forecast not so good although I am writing this in Alicante in the mid 20's. We may get a tailwind.
Mountains, Sierra Cazorla sounds interesting. One of the wildest areas of Europe.
Accommodation, Bruce reckons he has booked us into a 3*** hotel in Jumilla for the first night for £15 each
Equipment - will Bruce's' bike saw itself in half ? Apparently his chain ring is rubbing against the frame and he hasn't managed to find a new part that doesn't require a re mortgage.
Before setting off I had to give the bike a check and also put on a smaller chain ring. In theory this only needed an allen key. I ended up using:
Allen key, Large spanner, Chain set remover and wrench, Variety of screw drivers, Chisel, Angle grinder (Getting desperate?) Drill plus bit, Assorted pieces of metal, Skin, Plasters, WD40, Chain ring bolts from spare mountain bike
Got the job done though!
Thursday saw the team group together successfully in Abdet and even with a lack of food we were ready to go by Friday morning, although we all had headaches for differing reasons so we were not in the best of shape for the exertions to come.
Despite a poor forecast the day started brightly and Los Tres set of at 11 am. 300 m of climbing over the Puerto de Confrides was followed by several kms of classic mountain descending down towards the Alcoy valley, past the impressive monolith like Penella castle where we stopped as the weather took a turn for the worse.
A few Km's on and the urge to refuel and dodge the impending rain gave a good cafe stop excuse. The cafe owner took one look at Los Tres and put us into a back room where we wouldn't scare his other customers away.
The impending rain went past the pending and into the present. Time for us all to get wet -except Tom who ( always prepared) pulled out his flash waterproof . Cocky bugger. As we rode on, Tom ex paned on the virtues of waterproof breathable membranes. The rain continued unabated as we peddled quickly towards the shelter of the Alcoy Via Verde (cycle route) and it's unused railway tunnels. Brief shelter and time for comparing degrees of wetness. The cycle path gradually descends to the NW edge of Alcoy where again we regrouped before venturing forth into the dampness.
It continued raining in Alcoy as promised and we gradually absorbed the moisture, our feet in particular like sponges. . Thankfully the rain started to ease and the climb past the old buildings perched on the edge of the cliffs at El Salt warmed us up a bit. Soon due to an organisational error we went off the edge of our map, hopefully only for a short while.
Well, we found our way back onto the map and over another 1000m pass then down to the busy valley passing through Ibi, Castalla and Biar. We utterly failed to find anywhere serving food but fortunately a fast descent bought us in to Villena (pronounced Vienna but not really quite as pretty). Bruce had not been sawing through his bike but John was certainly sawing through his rims at a highly efficient rate with just the right amount of water around to allow his now metal only brake blocks to make a nice grinding paste. Liquid aluminium covering his back brake, and his front break squealing louder than a London taxi. John got his bike sorted at Mañana cycles (I think that's what it was called) and we sorted our empty stomachs at the only place we could find willing to serve food. The biggest burgers known to man.
We were running well late now and still had to get out of Villena onto the right road and do 40 plus kms to Jumilla where we had accommodation booked. The inevitable moonlit ride became reality, though atmospheric, passing through wide valleys flanked by rocky ridges and peaks. It felt like we were in our own bubble floating through the landscape. The last 20 km to Jumilla were gentle down hill, to our relief as we were approaching 100 miles at the finish, a record distance in one day for all except Tom.
Luckily our 3 star hotel hadn't thought the reservation a hoax and had a nice room for us and let us park our weary bikes in the very high tech conference room, near a warm radiator.
Steak and beer felt good after a long day.
150 ish kms
6 hours 20 mins
1750 m of ascent
After Spanish breakfast (AKA) small and John rehashing his braking system that was totally hashed by Manana cycles the day before, by 11 we were of heading west towards unknown territory. A day where the map gave little clues in the terrain we were covering. A fast 20 km's past Volcan Cancarix and a quick stop for a refuel before swinging North past Agramon and and Hellin
Hellin was not so inspiring, and lacked any appropriate fuelling stops, even Lidl was shut so we blasted on trough. Using Toms compass watch to head north west saw us heading south east. John, an X sailor, realised this after catching a brief glimpse of the sol (sun) through the expanding cloud mass.( The weather was still not Spanish) Orientation of the map and reading the road number on a sign helped us get back on track towards Lietor. Scenic riding along a quiet, gradually steeping road took us to what looked like an endless climb heading up towards the heavens. Luckily we turned off just before entering the outer stratosphere. A short steep incline made us reach into our bottom energy draw, before rewarding us with a fantastic steep hurtle down a 12% gradient into the puebla of Lietor. Due to John's mischievously noisy brakes, the locals saw us coming. Stealthily los tres sneaked into the local hostelry and enjoyed fine views down the craggy valley below and refueled on huevos y patatas and fanta limon. The site of tres cyclistas in this small village seemed to be a novelty and showed that we were well off the normal tourist path.
Fully sustained now, Los tres raced off towards Eleche de Segura on what looked like a rapid gravity assisted descent down the lovely valley stretching out like a wakening feline. Fantastico. Well not really,the map, not having any contour markings failed the have the courtesy to mention the 300m climb out of the end of the valley rearing up white horse like. We were going upstream! not down ! Fickle place Spain. From the col a fast and furious whiz brought forth Leche and a bed for the night. John a la izquierda y Tom solo. A few beers and a time spectating the lightning and noise of the encroaching tormetador saw Tom and John tucked up by 21.45. Ready for a good solid 11 hours sleep like Lance, Cocky buggers. However by 22.00 Eleche's Saturday night party had started.Even we knew that there was no hombres in our room, that is where the party sounded like it was, the noise ebbing and flowing like a tide through to the small hour. Some of Los Tres announced that they had not slept at all during the festivities, but their snoring proved otherwise. If visiting Elche de Segura it would be wise to know that Saturday night is party night, and they know how to have a good time
95 ish kms
5 hours ish
1150 m ish of ascent
Day 3 saw the team heading west with another frugal breakfast after a night of disturbed sleep (for some). Heavy storms had evaporated and clear skies lay ahead. A large group of Spanish cyclists past us after about 20kms chatting amiably to us about our route, the weather etc.
Even though it was Sunday we went through a village with two open bakeries, feast or famine in Spain! Cakes all round .A gradual climb to 1100m treated us to a sudden dramatic change in scenery. Turning a corner we dropped into a huge river valley, the Rio Par, around us dramatic fins of limestone and unusual pinnacles dominated the hill sides. Even after cake eating earlier in the day Los Tres had to stop for the now regular bocadillo stop and witnessed Tom tucking into the biggest butty yet seen on the trip, unfortunately Toms teckno brick ( some sort of mobile office that kept him in touch with the Phillips empire) had come back into range of cyber beams and his butty eating antics were constantly interrupted by phone calls. The joys of a mobile office.
Leaving Rio Par Los Tres followed winding roads through pine clad hillsides heading towards the Andalucian boarder and home counties. After what can only be described as a typically yorkshire watershed the way on toward Hornos gained momentum and saw Los Tres covering ground like the tree musketeers. A brief excursion through Orcera which included another big butty stop led us on below Segura de la Sierra ,with it's square bull ring and impressive castle. Returning to the valley below pleasant peddling brought us to the final climb up to the impressively placed town of Hornos. A room found for the night and after a brief rest and shower, a cultural trip around Hornos was interspersed by beer and Tapas. Then Dinner, where Tom had the Goat of the house Speciality and John practiced his spanish on fellow cyclistas. The evening ended in a haze. All good training for elite athletes like Los Tres and for what would be a hilly day tomorrow.
5 hours 20 mins
1650 m ascent
Day 4. After another Spanish treat of magalanes and coffee for breakfast Los Tres got off to a rapid but subdued start. Leaving Hornos and the wonderful views over lake Tranco, Los Tres (con dolar de la Cabezas) started the long sinuous climb up through the impressive La Garganta valley. The hillsides wore impressive soring crags, with the airways above being patrolled by numerous vultures and eagles. Following an impressive height gain we broke for air at the head, and ploughed on full steam ahead through high dales like pastures and into very cold air. Toms legs, that had the day before gleamed a bright and brilliant red, turned blue, and John had all his previous cool spanish cycling experiences reiforced as we stopped to don all our spare clothing. Gradual descending took the intrepid three through Pontones to another good quality climb.Taken at speed with the incentive of big Bocadilos in Santiago de Espada in the next valley. The decent that followed was fast and furious ( if you had a set of working brakes) or just furious for those with Pedro the bike mechanics repaired brakes . Hunger forced a dismount at the one horse town of Santiago de la Espada. Another egg fest in bread. Spurred on by the fuel, Los Tres hit the final climb of the trip up "heartbreak hill " and over the col de La Losa at around 1800m the highest point on the route. This climb is never steep, but just keeps on going, questioning our motivation until at the col de La Losa the huge bulk of La Sagra 2382m emerges into view, still blotchy with patches this winters snow. Expanding views seem to strech out for ever from this point over the countryside of the Altiplano de Granada to the snow capped Sierra Nevada in the distance. All the hard work of the last few days behind now only left us with a few km's of mainly down hill to our destination at Castril. Initially the descent for Col de La Losa is of Alpine scale, switchbacks stacking up before us, followed by quiet roads over the dam at the head of San Clemente resovoir. Belting along behind Tom into a fierce headwind we became aware of something we hadn't really seen for 4 days. The Sun. At last
107 ish kms
1935 ish m ascent
5.2 ish hours