It was almost a year ago when me and Franzi got in contact for the first time. Not only we had in common the love of cycling and adventure but also our friend Tina, one of the masterminds behind the OSM film production. The first idea was to do a 3 women trip to Albania, but later it turned out into a two women trip through Italian Alps due to Tina’s job commitments.
Prior to our actual meeting in Milano on June 2nd, me and Franzi only exchanged few phone calls, instagram messages and pack lists. We both were busy with our lives so we didn’t put too much into the trip organizing and just decided to be completely spontanious about it.
I would be lying if I said that Franzi and me didn’t get along from the first second we actually met and the good 'vibe' between us lasted to the end of the trip.
We started our trip at the famous lake Como, climbing the steep hiking trails of the peninsula. Our first night and morning after was probably the most eventful of all, not only we got harrased by a wild boar but we’ve also been robbed of a coffee mug and nearly lost our tent rolling down the steep mountain face.
I’ll never forget Franzi asking an advice about the route from a local guy:
Franzi: Do you know this ‘strada militare’ (showing on the map)?
Italian guy (let’s call him Giorgio): Yes, it’s very steep.
Franzi: Do you think we can do it with the bike?
Giorgio: No and you will die, I tell you.
Franzi (offended): Why?
Giorgio: Because a lot of people die there, dangerous, belive me, I tell you.
Franzi: Okey, but why?
Giorgio: Because it’s dangerous, snow, believe me.
Franzi: Ok, thanks for the advice.
Franzi turns towards me: “ So, should we do it? “
That was the moment when I realized that this girl has the guts and there will be no complaining on this trip!
The next two days we found ourselves pedalling on a boring cycle path surronded by mountains with no way across them. We kept ourselves entertained with bended derailleur (successfuly repaired with a help of ‘bicycle hotline’) and asking from each other bunch of silly question.
By luck we stumbled upon a mountain bike route, following along the Swiss/Italian border ending in Bormio, Italy. We manouvered our bikes on a narrow mountain edge, me suffering from a light version of vertigo and Franzi paranoid over amount of blood sucking thicks. The last day on the route included some of the most amazing places I’ve ever rolled my tires onto. Passo di Val Viola consisted of: flower meadows, waterfalls, mossy rocks and screaming marmots but the biggest reward was realizing the strength of our bodies and mind, the ability to bring us to such a rough but mindblowing place. Oh, and the descent was alright also.
After a week and a half we treated our selves to a real shower in a Bormio’s ‘finest’ campground and planned our conquer of the Stelvio pass. We prepared for a long day of climbing, not being sure what to expect, we started our day very early. What was worrying us the whole time was the amount of food we had on us: 1/2 Toblerone, 1/2 pack of cookies, a can of lentils and a small pack of couscous. Considering the amount of food we ate every day, this was a very concerning amount. But just after 3,5 hours we were standing on the top of the Stelvio pass, not really sure if our legs got upgraded to level I. or it was simply just not a big deal to climb. We rocketed down to the valley straight into the first grocery store. That night we probably ate the best gnocchi with tons of cheese and raisins (of course!).
Since we were running out of time a bit, we speeded our travels toward the Dolomites with a short train ride to Brixen, which turned out as a great idea and the next day we were already high above tree line enjoying our solidarity. Our last few days of the trip we spent pushing our bikes on rocky trails with cold numb hands, eating more gnocchi with pasta, making friends with local cows and drinking water from alpine streams.
Not only do I get away with a great adventure, but I also got away with a new friend! Franzi thanks for being my tick remover, my camp kitchen chef, my entertainer and my crying shoulder! #sisterinthewild
MYOBG - ‘Make your own bikepacking gear’
First (or last) in the series of MYOBG, let’s start with a DIY tutorial for making your own ’SNACK BAG’ bag. That's the bag which carries your snacks, camera, phone and other stuff that you want to have on hand at all times.
Stuff you'll need:
- 1/2 m of a thick waterproof fabric (I recycled an old inflatable mattress)
This will be the outer material of the bag, therefore you need it to be durable. You can use fabrics as: X-Pac, Cordura, heavy Ripstop, waxed cotton canvas or recycle some of your old camp gear.
- 1/2 m of lining material
I recommend using lighter synthetic fabric, preferable waterproof
- Light ripstop fabric for the draw cord closing top
- 1 m Paracord string or elastic cord
- 2 x Cord stopper
- 0.5 m webbing 20mm width
- 0.5 m velcro (hook + loop) in 20mm width
* Smaller piece of closed cell foam (evazote), for padding if you are planning to carry a camera
1. Print a downloadable PDF file on A4 paper (do not resize!) and cut it out
2. Cut parts A, B, and C from thicker waterproof fabric and from lining fabric.
3. Cut part D from light ripstop fabric, reflecting the pattern over the dashed line.
4. First sew together A + B + A together on their longer sides and leave 1 cm out before finishing the stitch (this will make it easier to sew on the bottom)
NOTE: The pattern contains 1 cm seam allowance!
5. Apply the 27 cm long nylon webbing, just 2cm under the top. Make sure you burn down both sides of the webbing strap before sewing it on (this will prevent the strap to run up). Make loops with the distances of 2,5 cm (not smaller, otherwise the velcro straps won’t fit into them). Run each stitch 2 times forth and back to secure it and burn the leftover thread, that way you can avoid stitch opening.
6. Apply 11 cm long webbing strap on the C part in the middle and sew on 2,5 cm loops on it.
7. Sew together the remaining part of the B pattern to the A+B+A part, which you sew together in the beginning.
8. Sew on the C part (the bottom).
9. Follow the same process with the lining fabric, skipping the application of webbing. Live a small hole on the A+B side of approx. 6 cm length (the hole will serve for turning the lining inside-out, when it’s sewn on the outer part).
10. Now comes the draw cord closing top. Fold the fabric on half and sew it as show on the picture. Leave a hole of approx. 2 cm length in the middle, this will be the hole where the draw cord will exit.
11. Fold the two sides of the fabric apart and top-stitch them. Now fold the fabric on half, so you have the cord exit hole on the top.
12. Introduce the cord with the cord stopper through the hole and make a knot at the end (you can do this at the end as well).
13. Sew the D part on the outer part of the bag, facing downwards
14. Turn the lining inside out, and sew it on the outer body of the bag and the drawcord part
15. Turn the lining inside out, through that 5cm hole you've left open
16. Sew up the small hole
17. Sew on a draw cord puller ( you can skip it, but it’s handy especially when riding with gloves)
18. Make 3 x velcro straps by cutting 3 x 8 cm (hook) and 3 x 8 cm (look) and face them together on the surface of 2 cm. Sew that part with a ‘safety square’.
NOTE: Length of the velcro straps depends on your stem and handlebar circumference.
19. Make a safety draw cord for attaching the bag through the loops of the D part onto the bike frame
20. Voila! Now strap on the bag on your bike and you are ready to go!
If you have any questions about this tutorial feel free to ask!
More then half year has passed since I returned from my fist bikepacking trip on the Altravesur route in Spain, but I have finally managed with a help of my friend Tina Lagler to put together a short video.
I also wrote a bit of something for bikepacking.com about the trip and the video:
"Growing up as a girl, I’ve been told regularly not to trust strangers (men), to be careful and avoid situations where I’d find myself alone in the middle of nowhere. So when I announced to my family and friends that I was going on a solo bikepacking trip through mountainous regions of southern Spain, they replied with “are you crazy?” questions and all kinds of warnings about possible dangers that I might encounter. But I knew I was not going to be the first one to endeavour on such trip, and I was determined to overcome fears that I had about solo travel."
When me and G started to plan summer holidays, we were sure we want to do a bike touring holidays, what we didn’t know was what would be the destination. First idea was to cycle the lenght of Norway and pay a visit to one of G’s friend, but since this would have been our first common bike tour it seemed a bit of a hustle with all the traveling and trasportations. We came to an agreement to do a tour around my home country Slovenia, since our travel there is always conected with family visits, andwe never spend much time exploring around the country. After the decision was made we basically spent all of our free time on route planning, gear choosing and preparing the bike. We wanted to do the tour bikepacking style, with big fat tubeless tires and as little gear as possible. Slovenia is experiencing a tourist boom in the past few years, so we knew we want to skip the high summer season and setting our departure date to mid-September. We took in consideration the September weather from previous years, hoping to have brilliant weather, with perfect temperatures for cycling and very few tourist.
We boarded ourselves and our fully loaded 30kg bikes on sunny Saturday morning train towards Slovenian border, where we planned to take of and start our trip. First day we spent riding through the Slovenian’s chicken head (look at map), mostly through forest roads, fields and tiny little villages with abnormal road gradients (from 17% to 21%). This part of the country is quite isolated and mostly populated with older people who run their own farms usually in the middle of nowhere. And that’s where we slept that night, we set up a tent on an old couples backyard in the middle of nowhere just few meters from Austrian border.
Next day we sought for some good burek (we only found a horrible one), got lost by our GPS track and arrived to Maribor just before it started to rain. When I checked the forecast that evening for the upcoming days I was literally horrified. It showed nothing but rain, rain and more rain for the next few days. Yes we were prepared with rain gear, but honestly who wants to ride all day in a pouring rain, through muddy trails, sleep in a wet tent and repeat that the next day, and the day after and the day after that day? Not us.
Next day we were suppose to take the funicular to the Pohorje plateau, where we would spent riding across for the next two days. But all we got in the morning was a big black cloud above our head and pouring rain, like someone just opened a water pipe. We decided to seek shelter at my family's house and wait it out until it looked a bit more cheerful to ride. In spite of the decision, we still wanted to ride to Celje, which is approx. 60 km from Maribor, just so we wouldn’t look like too pussies. Well we certainly didn’t make it to Celje, but only about 20 km from Maribor in the biggest storm. The water was coming from all direction, it was lightning, and the only thing which was keeping our spirit up was the whiskey, which we were sipping at every bus station we passed.
After a day of drying ourselves we got a brake in the clouds, and used the opportunity to take a 2 day trip to Logar valley, which is not so far from my home village, but still there is a mountain to climb in between.
There is many glacial valleys in Slovenia, but there are only few which are advertised for tourist and that certainly doesn’t mean others are less beautiful or less spectacular and Logar valley is one of them. It’s not a known destination for tourist, not many of them even heard about it and only few actually visit it. It’s a stunning dead end valley with a ‘picture perfect’ waterfall at the end. There were few moments when it felt like being in Iceland (if we forget about the trees). Due to big amount of rain the temperature dropped so we reserved ourselves a room in a mountain hut, that way we wouldn’t have to worry about bringing a tent or possible rain during the night. We arrived there in the late afternoon, the sun was already giving last breaths behind the mountain tops and we were totally surprised when we learned we were the only guests in the hut.
We woke up into mild but very windy morning with a tought of getting back home before afternoon, knowing another multi day storm was apporaching with a lightning speed. While crossing the mountain pass we got caught into a cold fog cloud, and we were not sure if it’s raining or why the hell we were totally wet.
Next few days we spent at home filling up our ‘fat stock’, sneaking on bears (unfortunately we were left out for this experiance) and picking mushrooms. On Sunday we said stop to this madness, packed our bikes and left for Slovenian sea side with a train. We knew there are still few rainy days ahead, but at that point we were fed up and we just wanted to ride, no matter what. In worst case we would get stuck in the mud, ran out of food and die from hypothermia (haha).
We spent a day cruising Slovenian coast, checking out the Strunjan national park and the Moon bay, eating pizza and hoping the threatening black cloud would go away. It rained entire night and we woke up to a soaking tent with a surrounding mud field and more rain.
We were hesitating with decision what we should do next and only around midday we decided to continue our way to little village of Stanjel, where we could stay at my friend Marusa in their lovely stone house and dry out our wet stuff. What followed in the next 6 hours was probably my hardest ride to date. Heavy winds, rain and a ‘mind which wants to quit’ does not make for a lovely ride. But we made it with a help of 5 Sneaker bars and some cheese. We arrived in the late afternoon and got the greatest warm welcome with some Slovenian Jota (cabbage - bean soup) and beer. Our stuff got dry during the night and we woke up into a fresh but sunny morning, feeling positive to continue what is left from our trip. We waved our goodbyes to Marusa and headed towards Nova Gorica where we met with our friend Dean, who took us in for the night. Next morning all three of us left toward the final destination for that day Bovec. My favorite place in the whole world, seriously. Rather than riding on the road, upstream the Soca river, Dean took us on the Gorisko hills, where we had some stunning views on the Julian alps, Dolomites and we could even see the Adriatic sea. At times I hardly believed we are in Slovenia, with huge mountains surrounding us I secretly imagined we are in Himalayas or more realistically that we are riding in a Milka commercial.
Our ways with Dean separated in Kobarid, but before that we ate a ‘pretty close to authentic Italian pizza.
We arrived to Bovec just before it got dark, and set up our tent in an almost empty camping not far from the village. During the night my mattress decided to give up on me, leaving me sleeping on a cold and hard ground, resulting in ‘not so fresh’ me in the morning. After having a big breakfast we packed ourselves and started our climb toward Vrsis mountain pass. We are talking about the most famous mountain pass Slovenia here, it’s 33 km long climb up to 1611 m a.s.l. and it every Slovenian cyclist dream to do it one day. This was my first attempt and I’d say last as well. I was hot, I was cold, I was thirsty, I was hungry, I stopped for photos, I stopped to look at flowers, I stopped for peeing but after 3 hours I made it. Poor Gergo was there much earlier, freezing while waiting for me to arrive. The only thing waiting ahead for us was to descent into Kranjska Gora where would camp for the night. Unfortunately all didn’t go as we planned and after the 6 hairpin turn, my brakes burnt out. Dammit. Only thing I could do is to walk next 6km down to the valley. So much about the deserved descent.
Above that I was totally bummed when I figured out I have lost one of my sandals which was attached to the saddle bag. And I am still bummed about it.
Our last night spent outside was probably also our coldest one, the temperature dropped to about 2°C. Last day of our trip gifted us with sunny weather, so we decided to ride the whole way to my family house back to Trzin. We finished our journey late afternoon with grinning faces and some stories to tell.
I'd like to say thanks for the support to:
- Source, for keeping me well hydrated with the Source hydration pack, and keeping my feet well ventilated with the most awesome Crossers sandals
- Mesterbike, for being the best bike shop in town and prepin' our bikes serviced for the adventure
- Friends (you know who you are), who hosted us and showed us around
p.s. Note to ourselves, do not bring a 8 year old tent to a rainy bikepacking trip.
For some time I had an idea to create a cycling event, which would be about food and socializing as much as it would be about riding. So we, the Blind Chic.’s teamed up with Mesterbike bike shop to create an event, where like-minded cyclist could meet, ride together and enjoy the best what the Balaton region has to offer.
On July 8th which seemed to be the hottest day of the year we gathered at the Balatonfüred promenade.
28 registered riders were mostly Hungarians but still we had quite few international participators from Slovenia, Netherlands and one crazy Australian.
To no one’s surprise we started the ride with an hour delay and left Füred in the highest heat of the day. First day we planned 63km long ride on varied terrain, but still some people decided that it’s a good idea to show up with a fixed/ss bike.
At the first refreshment stop everyone looked like a ripe tomato and I could only cross fingers that no one will get a heat stroke. Our only task for that day was to get to the winery at 4h in the afternoon, where wine tasting was waiting for us.
The winery was conveniently situated at the top of the most brutal hill, but the spectacular view was definitely worth of gravel grinding. We placed our sticky bodies on the winery’s terrace, sipped on the fröccs (wine + soda water) and nibble on the pogacsa (Hungarian scones) for the next two hours.
Few bottles (18) later we hopped on our bikes and scrambled ourselves down to the campsite.
As it’s suitable for a ‘gourmet’ event like this, the chef was already deep into his mastership, sweating hard to get dinner on the table in time. But first things first, everyone had to put up their tent and dress into their best outfit for the gala dinner (e.g. mermaid bikini). We jumped on the food and vacuum cleaned everything until the last breadcrumb. Not much energy was left after that and slowly everyone disappeared into their shelter for the night.
Sunday morning started with some ‘breakfast of champions’ and sun-creaming our burned bodies. The ride planchanged in the last moment and instead of taking the route towards Veszprem, we stopped at the public beach, to dip our legs into the lake. But instead we just hanged out at the bar, sipping beers and munching on some oily snacks. From that point on we took it easy and rode the last 20 km full vacation mode.
Few hours later we hugged, shed tears and waived goodbyes until next time we meet.
Thanks again to everyone who came, it was my biggest pleasure to have you here! Next time we meet in Slovenia!
I got my hands on the Beyond only a few months ago this year in March, since then we sweated more than 2000km together. This is my first mountain bike, first 29’er, first disc brakes.
Before I took off on the 900km bike packing trip through Southern Spain, I changed the saddle for a Brooks C17s (female version), the tires were swapped for a tubeless version of Maxxis Ardent race in size 2.2” and installed the Xpedo Spry platform pedals, otherwise everything stayed the same (you can find the specifications here: http://bombtrack.com/bikes/beyond-2/). All the bags on the bike were made by me.
Let’s talk about the size first. I am one of those tall ladies (180cm), whose legs take 2/3 of the body height, and choosing the right size was not a piece of cake. After some ‘consultation’ with the interwebs, I decided on the size M. At first glance the bike looks giant, my seat post is way out into the sky and the handlebars are the size of those multi cultivator’s. But let the size not full you, it fits me fine, damn fine! My knees have bunch of room, meaning I am able to fit those ‘oh so needed’ snack bags and a camera bag with no problems.
The position on the bike is very upright and very comfortable for long rides. If I want to be in a more aggressive position, I reach for the drops, and elbow everyone out who stands on my way. The handlebar is long enough to fit all my gadgets, snack bags, harness, wild flowers and even my hands have their own spot.
Tire clearance. The Beyond comes with WTB Nano 2.1 tires, but for my Spain trip I wanted to have something wider and tubeless compatible. I have been told by the Bombtrack family that max. clearance is 2.1, but I did my ‘smart ass’ move and ordered 2.2”.
Should I mention I regreted it, the first second I rode into the mud?
Brakes. The factory build comes with TRP Spyre C disc brakes, but I suggest you to change the discs, since they don’t last really long. I had to change mine after just 3 days into my trip, which was a surprise to all, the bike only had about 200 km in. I would guess the reason for this could be 15 kg load of gear, rain and bumpy roads.
Gears. The gearing choice is great for long climbs on rough roads, but I missed some cogs on the downhill and most of the times I was just pedaling empty.
Mounts. This bike has all the mounts you will ever need. 3 water bottle mounts, 2 fork mounts for more water cages or even ‘anything cages’, front and rear rack and even mudguards! If you decide to have a frame bag, you should probably forget about those 2 water bottle mounts, but if you are a bit of MacGyver, you can come up with solutions for extra water storage. Or just google it.
How does it ride? Most of the time it felt like I am sitting on a sofa with a TV remote control in my hands, watching a travel channel.
It has climbing abilities of a mountain goat and handles heavy loads like a mule.
Beside that, now ‘she’ gets all the looks instead of me.
I needed fear to quiet my ego, focus my mind, and expose my true strengths. I needed solitude to reflect on how those strengths shaped my identity. - Jill Homer
I applied for the Lael’s Womens Scholarship in autumn 2016 (bajadivide.com/scholarship) to bikepack Baja California peninsula on my own. It seemed like an exciting opportunity, something that I have never done before, but also didn’t feel scared doing it, rather being very curious about how I would handle it on my own. I was very positive and looking forward to the end of November, the time of the announcement.
Unfortunately I was not the one. I admit, that I got dissapointed, but I was still determined to do it anyways, and if it was not going to be Baja, then I go somewhere else. So I dug myself in the bikepacking webpages and found an alternative route: Altravesur in Southern Spain. Basically it was ranked as something super hard, but the mountains and the isolation convienced me. And that was it, I wanted to do it no matter what.
I started this super long, exciting and a bit frustrating process of planning my first solo trip ever. And nothing went as I planned, especially when it came to ordering the bike. Knowing that I had a 2,5 weeks trip to USA beforehand in March, it was pure luck (and of course with the support from my friend Andras, the owner of Mesterbike) the bike arrived at least one day before I took off to the States.
I had training plans to do prior to the trip, to get familiar with the ‘machine’, learn how to handle it, do mechanical repairs on it, deal with tubeless system…etc, but I simply had no time for that. After I came back from the States, I had roughly two weeks left before departing for Spain. I still had all the bike bags to sew, figure out the water carrying solutions and the camping combo, and on top of all this: chaotic days at work.
I started to get minor anxiety attacks with the date approaching, and nightmares about the things that could go wrong. To sum it up I was unprepared, but very excited and tried to stay positive. I did a test packing and a pathetic test ride in the parking lot. Everything seemed to be working, the bike was comfy, just heavy as shit (approximately 30kg)…but that’s not so bad, right?
Gergo helped me packing the bike into the box, together with everything…leaving only the bare essentials to carry on the plane. There was no way back at this point, only ahead, so I told to myself “Be brave, be strong, woman!" I said my goodbyes, put all the good lucks in my pocket and I was off to Málaga.
First morning I am all set and ready to start my journey from Málaga. The first 30km on the coast line is rather boring, but soon I take off towards the first National Park of Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara and Almara. A Warmshower bed for the night is waiting for me on the top of the village Alcuncin. The climb to the village is hard, but with a magnificent view. That evening I felt something new, not sure how I should call it, but something between being lonely and freedom.
I wake up to the sound of rain, "That’s great” I think to myself, but I expected that, rain is forcasted for the upcoming 3 days.
There are three main things which I was afraid might happen during the trip:
Rain. If it rains, there is mud, and if there is mud, it’s usually a nasty mud. The type of mud that breaks derailleurs. The one which breaks your spirit.
Wild camping. I’ve never really wild camped before (apart from one night on a farmer’s land). I was naturally afraid, that someone would come during the night, try to steal my bike or hurt me.
Injury. If I got into an accident in the middle of nowhere, hurt myself and there wouldn’t be a person to help me.
So it rains a bit, but then it stops when I come out from the bungalow. I enter the national park road straight away, and it looks like I have it all for myself. Well, for most of the trip, it seems like I am all alone in Spain, the roads are completely empty, the villages are empty, it looks like everyone is having a siesta inside their houses….all day long.
During the day there were few rain drops here and there and I think to myself that’s how Spanish people call rain. Well, if that’s the case, I am gonna be just fine then!
Next stop is the village called Alhama de Granada, where I hope to find replacement for my broken power bank, that just died on me the night before. First seems like a mission impossible, but I am lucky enough and eventually I leave the village with 2 new power banks. My frame bag is full of unhealthy snacks and I have a blown up stomach, after I ate lunch for 4 people.
So I hit the road towards my first wild camping in the middle of nowhere, and when I say middle of nowhere, I am not lying. A narrow hiking path leads me towards the direction of the supposably existing camping. The campground looks abandoned, the refugios are trashed, the water is marked as “no potable” and trashbags all around. For a person, who never wild camped before it looks totally dodgy. I set up my tiny little tent (never tested it prior, whether I fit in or not), do some gear adjustments…hmm…only making it worse, and finally cocoon myself into the tent. The tiredness after riding all day, helps with falling asleep, but just until the rain starts to pour. And it pours like there is no tomorrow. Dammit.
I literally beg the rain to stop, but it does not…let’s just say: it does not want to stop. The tent gets wet on the inside, mainly due to condensation, causing everything - which is not in a drybag - getting wet. I put myself into rain gear and get going. The road to the village is sketchy and rocky, but at least it is going down. But at one point I get lost a bit and it takes me 3 hours to get to the village which is only 20 km away from the camping spot. I get myself a room, turn up the heater to max and hope for my stuff to dry before the morning. At this point my motivation and my mood is zero. I think for a second that it will rain forever and I should just call it over…but then I clear out my toughts and I try to embrace and appreciate where I am.
Albunelas is placed in between two canyons, remote as it could get and surronded by endless hills of almond and orange trees, it truly takes my breath away. After a good night sleep, I decide to continue to Granada the next day despite the rain. My bike needs a service and I do not want to risk going into Sierra Nevada with non-functioning brakes and other gear issues. It is approximately 40km to cycle to Granada and I have to catch the bike shop closing at 13h (it was Saturday, with the upcoming 1st of May holiday on Monday). At 11:30AM I fall through the door of the Granada bike shop totally happy and relieved that I made it. While my bike is getting a fix, I try my first “tostadas con tomate y aceite” and it’s love at first bite. It becomes my daily treat for the rest of the trip.
Change of plans: with the new disc brake pads and fixed gears I am heading North-East through Gaudix basin towards the National park of Baza. Majestic Sierra Nevada is on my right and I feel a bit of regret, that I have to skip it, but it is an unfortunate situation, and going back south from Granada would take too much time, which I don’t have. I find a room for the evening in the village of Purullenas right before it starts to rain again. I spend my evening in the Hostal bar with old men drinking beer and watching football match. After the time consuming process of morning packing I run into a dutch touring cyclist, who tells me, he is doing 150 km per day, I feel like I should be doing more kms and not only my average 60-70 km per day. I leave the village fully determined that on that day I am gonna make it to the Sierra de Segura. Eveything goes well, I am cruising through the tiny little villages, the vistas (views) are out of this world, the road is a perfect gravel, and I am riding like crazy between endless olive tree plantations. I feel free and I cannot stop smiling! It is almost siesta time, meaning tostada time, and my GPS friend says 10 km until the first village Pozo Alcon. Then suddenly, from one second to another my bike literally stops. I look down and there is big nasty mud all around me. Dammit, I start to panic, and my brain instantly starts to search for different options to save my ass, as fast as possible.
I eat something, and then see what I can come up with.
I cry first and then wait for a car, which might never come
I push the bike until I reach dry road
I carry the bike until I can ride it again
After a few seconds I realize that the first 3 is not an option. I am way too nervous to eat, I would probably grow a beard before a car passes me by, and the pushing wouldn’t work either, because of my tiny mud clearance (should have followed the 2.1 tire recommendation).
I deattach the front dry bag and pour out surplus water, and then start to carry a 25 kg heavy bike for 5 meters and rest for another 5 minutes, and then repeat the same and repeat and repeat, until I reach a small stream where I am able to clean the tires with water and a wooden stick. After that I can continue to push the bike through the bushes and high grass for the next 3 km until I get on a dry road. Feeling relieved, but still have 6 km to go, and it is an extremely steep climb out of the canyon. I manage to “keep my shit together” until I hit the pavement, and that is the moment when I get a small emotional breakdown. A strong wave of emotions is going through me: relief, fear, adrenalin, happiness. Then I just cry all the way to the village. There I meet Tom and Pete, two Aussies, just crossing the village and it seems like someone sent them there for me. Even if only for a quick chat, it feels comforting to share my feelings and frustrations about the trip, but mostly it feels good to talk to someone after days of solitude.
I find my spot for the night in the nearby camping, trying to figure out the route for next day, with help of the receptionist lady, using my “no Spanish” Spanish. I wrote in my diary the night before that the route I would take in the morning depends on how brave I would wake up.
The morning is sunny but chilly, I am at the foothill of Natural Park Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and the Villas (they also call it the Yellowstone of Spain) and I feel good, so I decide to ride on the forest road which consisted of small footpaths, crossing little bridges very steep ascents and everything is going great, until I am again stuck in the mud. The forest is getting denser and I assume the mud to get deeper as well, because it is all under shadow.
So I sit down again to consider my options. My original plan is to reach the first village the very same day, after doing around 60-70 km, but it is already 1:00PM and I only made 20 km, meaning I am progressing slow and I don’t have info on how the terrain ahead looks like. I only have food for 1,5 days and I am not sure about water supplies either… Eventually I decide to return and continue towards the direction of Huescar. Unfortunately my navigation skills fail me again, and I make a 90km detour instead of a short trip of 40 km, and at the end of the day I am not even there where I should be.
Next morning I prepare for a long day of climbing after a short conversation with an old man. I told him where I am headed, and he holds his shaking head in his hands, repeating ‘muy montañoso, muy montañoso’, even with my little Spanish, I can understand that.
My GPS is constatly trying to get me to a private road, but the entrance is fenced, so I ride on the paved road next to it. First, I climb up to Puerto de la Losa on 1800m ASL. and then there is the craziest descent I have ever ridden, all the way down to Santiago de la Espada, just in time to catch the opening hours of the shop. The day continues in the same rhythm, long climbs and technical descents. I head for the camping I spotted on the map, but as it turns out I might be too early for the camp season, and what waits for me is a closed entrance. I head back to the village and again, I am the only tourist in the only Hostal in the village.
The next day I plan to have a short day, riding only 40 km to Riopar, stopping on the way to check out the source of the Rio Mundo and then camp at the nearby camping. I take the whole day slow and easy, make a short hike up to the beautiful waterfall and enjoy a long lunchbreak. But again I arrive in front of the door of a closed camping. Since it’s still quite early in the day, I decide to continue towards Alcaraz, and I am actually really happy to spend a night there, as it is insanely beautiful. Its history dates back to the 13th century, so my evening program was just to wander around the historic streets and eat my tarta de queso. My trip was coming to an end and I had approximately 3 days left to arrive to Valencia.
Next day I plan to cross the city of Albacete and find something to sleep in the surroundings. I was lucky to get the information about the bike road going all the way up from Alcaraz to Alabacete, built on what used to be a railroad (Via Verde). I push my paddles on an neverending, straight gravel road through 20 tunnels (some without lights), 2 viaducts, and 1 foot/cycle bridge, until I reach Albacete early afternoon. The landscape changed quickly and suddenly, and now I am surrounded by endless farm fields.
I decide to change the direction a bit and head towards the canyon of Jucar river, in hope of finding an accomodation for the night there. The canyon was incredibly narrow, fitting only the small river and a road wide enough for one car. The tiny villages are built into the rocks. I plan to find a room in Jorquera, which seemed like bigger village on the map, and it was just 16km away. After 16km there is still no village, and all seem a bit suspicious to me, but then I just look up and I realize the village is on the top of the canyon.
At the entrance of the village I ran into an old man, he was enjoying the last rays of the sunset and I ask in my modest Spanish, if he knows about some place where I could spend the night. He is very happy to talk to me, but unfortunately I don’t understand him very well, but what I get from our conversation, that this is a very small village and there in no room for me. Anyways, I continue up the canyon and stop at the village bar, to ask the same question. They tell me the same thing (surprise!) and direct me towards Alcala de Jucar, a village only 16 km further down the road, so I could be there in no time.
Unfortunately, I misunderstood the advice (of course!) and the road did not start to go down but up, and I find myself on the other side of the canyon, riding into the wrong direction, but only figuring it out, when I am already too far to turn back. I am drained, my water is running out and the headwind is eating my last bit of energy.
I start to cry like a baby and I promise myself that if I see a car passing by, I would just throw myself in the middle of the road and beg them to take me to that village. Since I cannot pedal even one more spin, I will just lie there and wait for the wild animals to eat my roasted body.
But there was no car.
At one moment I stop, slap my face and tell to myself: “OK lady, at this moment, stop crying, get your shit together, put your jacket on and pedal as hard, as you can to get to that fucking village before it gets dark, ‘cuz you ain’t dying here”. So, that’s what I did.
Next morning I decide to have a day off before my last push to Valencia. My legs are grateful and I spend the day wondering around Alaca de Jucar, the hidden gem of Spanish tourism, and eating all the food possible.
I feel a bit worried about the last section, how I would handle 135km and roughly 2000m of elevation, but I wake up very positive and determined to do it. For a few kms I am accompanied by a group of couple hundred road cyclists, apparently they had a group ride that day. I enjoy the company for an hour or so, and then again I am left alone to finish what I started. From that point on, it just looked like endless rolling hills…until a few hours later, when I am ringing the doorbell of Valencia Hostel, at 4:00PM. I made it!
I am not aware of it yet, what I have just accomplished.
But I am here…I am here in the fucking Valencia.