FROM THE RACING DIARY OF A BIKEPACKER LUBOŠ SEIDL: IBERICA TRAVERSA #2
21. 06. 2019
Day 2 Sunday 14thApril 2019
El Burgo – Granada 221 km / 5,632 m superelevation, time on the road 21:01
Although I had managed to fall asleep quite easily and quickly, I woke up at two o'clock in the morning already. Less than an hour and half of sleep is too little, so I ordered myself to fall asleep again. I could hear constant barking of dogs in the nearby village and I could not fall asleep at all. When I found out it was 3 A.M., I finally made up my mind: “Better ride on than just lie without proper sleep!” I thus changed into my cycle wear, packed up my bivouac and tried to eat something in the meantime not to ride on an empty stomach. Even though I had trained unpacking and packing my sleeping bag and mattress at home, with all the dressing up, packing the saddle bag and the meal, it took me almost an hour before I was ready to go. This time became the standard for me for the rest of the race, although I was later able to replace the "slowest" shopping bag with another one, that slipped smoothly on the inner rubber lining of my saddlebag and eased the packing, at a petrol station.
At 4:01 AM I hit the road again. The landscape was still in the middle of a deep night when I was ascending the first hill of the day. After about 25 km, I stopped in the first village and had a proper breakfast. It was 6:00 in the morning and it was still pitch black in Spain, not a single soul around. Suddenly a cart started nearby and passed by. I just waved at it in an attempt for a greeting. The driver stopped and he spoke English which took me completely by surprise. He asked me what I needed. Well, my bidons were almost empty, so I asked for some water. He handed me a two-litre plastic bottle from his passenger seat, saying that it's a gift. Then he asked if I needed anything more. I thanked him, saying that I had everything and I was OK. He waved at me and disappeared in the darkness. If it hadn't been for the bottle in my hand, I would have thought I had been dreaming.
I went further over the hills and it was slowly dawning when I plunged into a single downhill ride which looked like in a bike park. Yeah, this is what I like - the harder the technique, the greater the experience. In the next village, I just replenished water at the public drinking water fountain and "executed" a whole family of Haribo gummy bears at once. According to the tracker, it looked like Nicola had already set off and he was going much faster than me, reducing my lead easily. The trail was great, after sunrise, we reached the open hills offering beautiful views of the countryside. Although I was feeling well, I did not ride very fast. The sleep had been too short. I just hoped I was not going to pay for that by a serious crisis in the evening.
After about 80 km, I arrived in the city of Antequera, where there was a chance there would be open shops and restaurants where I could have a meal and replenish my water and supplies. And my notes warned me against another section without water. The sun was already frying the back of my neck, so I stopped at a restaurant and had an early lunch. When I was setting out again, I met Nicola coming out of a shop with an armful of PET bottles. We greeted briefly and we were both sincerely happy to see a soul mate. Nikola was planning to have some meal, so I went on my own. I was completely all right and I was literally flying up the first hill where there was still a tarmac road. At least I thought so, until a pro on the road bike in the Astana team jersey raced past me, greeted me and disappeared. Even so, I felt great, I enjoyed the route, everything was going smoothly, and besides the crazy heat, nothing worried me.
When I was passing some big road, I saw an elderly man collecting water to about 20 jerry cans. I stopped by him and asked whether “Aqua potable?” He nodded his head, that “Buena aqua”. I replenished my bidons and drank one bottoms up right on the spot. I poured water all over me, dipped my gloves and headband in it and raced on. A few villages later, a girl who could have been about five years old jumped in front of my bike, but fortunately, I managed to stop right on the spot and did not even fell off the bike. We just nodded at each other with her dad to say that everything was OK, and I continued to the foot of some new mountain range.
At the beginning, there were two very steep hills where I had a feeling that my Achilles tendons would rupture while I was pushing the bike and between them a short descent with a trough / feeding pump for cattle. It was so hot that I climbed into the trough as I was, in shorts and jersey, and I was fresh again for at least half an hour. I got out of the trough, crossed the 1,100 m long pass and descended down the rough and broken country lane into the village of Alfamarte. I had made a note that it would be 60 km without water, so it was necessary to go saturated, watered and well stocked. In the village there was something like a shed with over-the-counter sale which was buzzing like a beehive. Unfortunately, nobody spoke English and for the first time, I experienced that when I did not speak Spanish and wanted to be served in English, they ignored me and did not want to serve me. It was the only time during the whole stay this had happened, otherwise I have to say that the Spaniards, although rarely speaking other languages than their native one, are always helpful and accommodating and try to meet your wishes. But there I had a lot of difficulties and I actually wasted all the lead that I had on Nicola waiting for the ordered meat. I was given the water for topping the bidon by a group of German cyclists, who had also been sitting there on their 30km ride. When Nicola arrived, I waved at him and he joined me at the table. At that moment they finally brought me the meal and Nicola ordered the same with his mixture of Italian and Spanish, and in a minute, he was eating, too. Together we discussed that there was the Sierra de Loja crossing and we would be without water for about 60 km and how far it was realistic to ride until the evening after the day in the heat. We wanted to get as close to Granada as possible, but it was still nearly 90 km away, and if the terrain was very technical, we would be happy to avoid bivouacking up in the mountains. I set off a bit earlier. Nicola was still finishing his non-alcoholic beer and I headed for the mountains.
I was full of energy after the meal. I did not have to stand on the bike to go up the hill, the views were beautiful and, it being late afternoon, the sun was not so strong any more. The roads were smooth gravel roads with limestone rocks all around in the grass. Such a nice mix of green and white colour. New views opened up on top of the ridge. In the distance, you could see the snow-capped peaks of the three-thousand-meter peaks of the Sierra Nevada, as a little sample of what awaited us the next day. When I started descending after reaching the highest point, Andy was lurking at me, so I stopped by him. I poured my dose of optimism and euphoria of the stay in such an amazing environment. He replied that a super-nice downhill ride was waiting for me. That he had wanted to accompany me and shoot me from his bike, but there were flocks of sheep, and the shooting would be too difficult, and he was just thinking of bivouacking there. He asked me whether I was planning to reach Granada. I replied that I would love to but I did not know whether it was realistic. However, he thought I could make it, saying that he had also arrived in Granada at night when he had been testing the trail, and that there was a chance to get a bed in a hostel with a 24/7 reception.
His words had the same effect on me as if he had shouted: “Run, Forrest, run!” I rushed down the slope and raced towards Granada. There was a Spanish fan down there, who, when he saw me, immediately stopped, offered me cookies and reported that I was the first and that he was watching the race. I exchanged a few sentences with him and rushed on. I reached the flatter sections and I believed I would make it. I asked my friends on the WhatsApp group if they could find me somewhere to spend the night in Granada. The guys eagerly took on the task and, in a moment, I had a plenty of places to choose from. However, my entire physical and mental capacity was fully devoted to the rotation of the rear wheel, so I left it on them. I refilled my water bidons at some open pub and then I called Vašek, who booked me the hotel, and Verča at home and I kept riding through the Andalusian night towards Granada. The trail led along the side field paths so I could lean on my bar extension and cut kilometre after kilometre. It just had to keep an eye on the little black rabbits that were constantly running across the road in front of my light.
I arrived in Granada at about 23:30 and I was surprised at how lively the city was. I still had to go through the centre to CP2 to make a mandatory selfie and then I could finally go to the hostel. In the morning, I was scheduled to head to the highest point of the race with the elevation of 1,900 m and cross several smaller Sierra Nevada passes. It would be great to go to sleep well fed and with replenished supplies. I saw an open kebab stand where I filled my stomach to the point of bursting, and headed out to the historic city centre. It was a Sunday midnight a week before Easter, and in Granada (and probably all over Spain), Easter celebrations begin with a religious feast of "nailing" Jesus on the cross and the procession of believers through the streets accompanied by bands. I had to struggle against all the hustle and bustle and mainly against the tide of people with my fully loaded bike, trying to get through the narrow, cobbled streets and staircases to a square from where there is a view of the Alhambra which I needed as a background for my obligatory photo. At one point I was helped by a taxi wading through the stream of believers. I hang on behind it and let it push the way through. It worked. I got to CP2, and at 0:50 I had a photo of me taken by some female Spanish students who gave me a lecture on optimal night portrait exposure. In fact, the photo taken according to their instructions was the best of the three, but I was really looking forward to resting my head. I found my dream hostel just a few meters away from the square in an absolutely empty and quiet alley, I had a shower, I noticed that Nicola was sleeping in a village before Granada (Santa Fe) and I finally lay down at 2:00. I set the alarm clock to 5:00 A.M. to be able to set off at about 6. I expected that Nicola would be on the way by then, but I definitely needed to sleep.
Day 3 Sunday 15th April 2019
Granada – Sierra de Segura 188 km / 4 323 m superelevation, time on road 17:05
When the alarm clock went off in the morning, I was thinking of sleeping s bit longer but the sight of the moving dot of Nicola's tracker solved the situation and was 'in the street' at 6:00. I rode through the sleeping city and found an open buffet where the lady made me hot waffles with Nutella and a cafe con leche for breakfast and I embarked on a 27 km climb to Collado del Alguacil pass. The dawn gradually came as I was climbing up and views of the snowy peaks of the highest parts of Sierra Nevada, including the highest point in Europe reachable on a road bike, Pico de Veleta at the elevation of 3,395 m. Luckily, we did not have to go that high. After all, there was still a continuous layer of snow above 2,500 m, which was one of the reasons why the originally planned trail had been adjusted and shortened. However, even the 1,200 m elevation at one go was an honest portion. I felt well, though. Nothing worried or limited me, I switched my brain into stand-by mode, and I ground my way up gradually. I tried to rejoice in every new view, and I didn't even think about the slope or how many meters were ahead of me.
At the top, I just crossed the gap and raced downwards. The road turned from a tarmac road to a mountain one and, after a few traverses along the mountainside, it dropped into a narrow valley where I felt so cold that I had to stop and put on a jacket, a neck scarf and a cap under my hard hat. The thermometer showed -1 °C. I warmed up reliably climbing up the next hill, and I was also in the sun, which shyly peeked out. I was on the other side of the mountains and the views of the valley were different than when I was climbing up. The landscape had changed, the clay was red, and I could see sandstone rocks in the distance. Nicola had overtaken me in the morning before I got out of the hostel and so I could see the marks of his tires in some places. But there was still a 500 km long trail ahead, so it didn't really matter. Everybody had to use their strength to get to the finish line.
After some 80 km I reached the town of Guadix, where CP3 was located in a special place with underground houses - something between Hobbit houses and wine cellars in Moravia. I took the compulsory selfie and discovered a restaurant with a three-course lunch menu. In the following 200 km, there was only one opportunity to replenish water at a place about 80 km away, so I knew I would bivouac somewhere behind that place. I had plenty to eat and replenished my water reserves. I even added water into my camel bag on my back. When leaving, I met a Czech family. We exchanged a few sentences about where we were travelling, I wished them a nice holiday and set off. When exiting the city, I bought a two-litre bottle of water at the gas station, which I attached to the triathlon extensions of the handlebars and I started climbing through a peculiar arid canyon beyond the city.
When I reached the top and got to a completely flat land, I looked back and saw clouds gathering over the Sierra Nevada. After a while I was caught in a wind blowing in my back. I tried to take advantage of it and switched to the heaviest gear which I called "Olina" (a Czech name which I derived from ALL-IN) since that moment. I was doing forty like the pros on the Tour, and I just hoped that the direction of the wind and the trail would remain in symbiosis for as long as possible. After some 20 km, the road turned right, but the wind was still propelling me forward. A scenery opened in front of me, so unbelievable that I didn't believe I was still in Europe.
As if there was the Grand Canyon or other similar formation in front of me. The route went down from plateau and I felt like I was riding through a plastic map. I was completely stunned, just looking around and sometimes shouting and taking pictures of the incredible scenery. The path wound downwards until I reached the bottom of a dry river that looked like a training polygon for Dakar racers or a place I knew from western movies. The majestic towering red rock above me perhaps lacked only the carved heads of presidents like Mt. Rushmore. I took photos, recorded videos and enjoyed myself. That was something! Sometimes you just have to stop racing and just have fun. The road turned again and I clambered somewhere up. That was what I was afraid of. Fortunately, the climb was not long, I was still down in the "Grand Canyon". The wind had stopped blowing but it was incredibly hot in the sun.
Suddenly a river appeared and I had to wade it. Behind the ford I laid the bike on the ground and lay down in the water for a while. The refreshment came in handy. I rode through the ruins of ghost villages. I started running out of water in the bidons and camel bags, and was thinking of replenishing it from the plastic bottle on my bar extensions. Finally, I arrived under the wall on the other side of the canyon and climbed out of the oven. One relatively continuous hill with 300 meters of height and I was at the top.
I travelled across the plateau to Pozo Alcón, where I desperately needed to solve my supplies for the next 125 km over the respectable Sierra de Segura Mountains. It was clear that I would have to bivouac there, so I needed enough water and food for dinner and breakfast. It was 6 P.M. and even though I saw some restaurants, they were either closed or not offering any meals as it was too early. I thus had to buy food in the store, I ate it in the street in front of it, and loaded supplies in my backpack. I added the whole loaf of bread of our type to the saddlebag, and called Verča at home, because I knew there would be no signal in the mountains and I set off on the route. My plan was to ride about 50 km where there was supposed to be some cottage with bunk beds for tourists to sleep in over the night. I wanted to sleep there and continue in the morning.
However, the journey didn't go very well. I started the ascent by looking for a path in the blockfield. I was already riding in the dust and I had some problems with the electric contact in my headlight. I pulled out the reserve headlamp and tried to find the footpath I was supposed to follow... There was none! So, I just blindly followed the line in my GPS and tried to keep the arrow on it. After about an hour I crossed the blockfield and found a path on which I could ride. A short descent and then the climb on the main hill that should get me on the main ridge. Whoops, a ford! I totally soaked my shoes and especially the clean socks that I had rewarded myself with earlier that day after bathing in the river. The temperature dropped pretty quickly, the wind started blowing and I was freezing like hell. It was pretty clear that I would not get to the cottage and sleeping on the ridge would be uncomfortable. I stuck to the principle of "sleep on the way up the hill to warm up in the morning" and decided to find a place to sleep and to catch up in the morning rather than sleep badly. So far, I'd only slept five and half hours in the whole race, so I really needed to enjoy some proper sleep.
Somewhere in the elevation of 1,450 m, still below the forest boundary, I found a beautiful sheltered place in the lee of a curve offering soft-pine needles with the scent of pine trees. I stroke bivouac at 23:00 and had a quarter of a loaf of bread with salami, and I "slaughtered" a half of the gummy bear family. On top of that, I drank one non-alcoholic beer, which I rewarded myself with for the great day on holiday. When I got out of my sleeping bag after the "dinner" to answer the call of nature, it was so cold that I shook so much that they could use me to set up sewing machines in Kilpi… I crawled back into my sleeping bag and, after a while, I felt warm and, in a minute, I was sleeping the sleep of the righteous.
Day 4 Sunday 16th April 2019
Sierra de Segura – near Bazalote 200 km / 4 205 m superelevation, time on road 17:20
The night was fine, just a short shower scared me for a moment, but it was over before I could unpack the bivvy bag which I always have at hand. I felt the sleeping bag and it was dry. Less than 10 raindrops had found its way through the tree canopy. So, I lay down again and fell asleep. I set my alarm clock to go off at 4:30 but I stayed in the sleeping bag during the breakfast and I was a bit slower that morning. I eased putting on the cycling shoes soaked after crossing the ford by using dry knee socks, which alleviated the initial shock, but they also got wet from the wet shoes in the first half hour. Never mind, I still had to climb about 300 meters of altitude, which was perfect for warming up.
I experienced the sunrise at the top of the ridge and I was happy for the evening decision and the choice of bivouac. I slept super comfortably, warmed up during the initial climb in the morning and most of all I did not miss the beauty around me by riding in the dark. It was -2 °C and so I put on a Joshua jacket proven during my winter training over my windbreaker, I added cross-country skiing gloves, and I was fine except for the frozen boots. When the first snowfields appeared, I saw that Nicola had had to drive through there sometime at night, and he had probably had enough because he had not been able to go straight through the snow and his bike had often got stuck. I arrived to the cottage where I had originally planned to bivouac, and I saw one motorcycle and two bikes of some tourists in front of it. (Later I learned that Nicola had arrived there and all the bunk beds had been occupied, so he had slept on the stone ground and, unlike me, had not slept at all.)
A bit behind the cottage there was supposed to be an extremely difficult downhill ride. Andy had pointed out to us that we should not ride there in the dark at all, and those who did not trust their skills could go along the prepared longer alternative route. But I did not have that in plan, technical sections were what I enjoyed the most about this trail. It is true that the downhill ride was really a massacre but I enjoyed it very much First, there was a sharp drop over rocks and single trails to the valley cut in the rock by a river which flowed into some cave. Then a long traverse along the river slope, where the forest, clay and grass seemed to me as if I was riding at home in the Moravice river valley. It was like a breath of life for me and I enjoyed myself riding along the paths and on the playful single track which even has a decent flow sometimes interrupted by some rock so you had to be vigilant at all times (I must really have enjoyed it - the whole downhill was a STRAVA segment and I ranked 4th).
The river valley ended on a tarmac road. I passed a few villages that were not located directly on the route and I climbed up to some local Lysá hora mountain, after that some Praděd mountain and suddenly I saw a small settlement and a grill bar by the road. The staff practically adopted me. Even if we did not understand each other, they were willing and accommodating. There was a special atmosphere of a secluded place where every guest is a special event. This is how I had always imagined an inn in a clearing, only the innkeeper was happy to have some people there and there was also a Wi-Fi. I had two grille chorizos (sausages), I replenished my drink and climbed another super long hill (1500 m, so another Praděd mountain). I was doing well and the weather was beautiful like from Andy Buchs adventure travel agency catalogue.
After that, there was a long descent to the town of Siles, where I planned to have something to eat and replenish my provisions. I had crossed Sierra de Segura. It had probably been the nicest crossing of the mountains on the whole trail, but also a logistic challenge with planning the water reserves, food and places to bivouac. I arrived to a restaurant, where lunch is apparently at full swing, and I was looking forward to some tasty meal. Unfortunately, a group of pensioners arrived just behind me, caught the waiter and employed him so that I was not sure he had even registered me. After 20 minutes waiting for nothing I rose and left. I made up for everything about three kilometres further at the gas station, I replenished my provisions and water, ate and continued.
First, there was a fast asphalt section where I let Olina work, and then the road wound up to the mountains through three Sierra de Alcaraz gaps to the town bearing the same name. The character of the mountains changed as I left Andalusia and entered Castile. It was perhaps +40 °C in the sun, which was a huge difference against the freezing morning and it reflected mainly in my water consumption. At the end of the downhill section behind the first pass, I drove through a bungalow camp and stopped by a group of young people resting on the terrace. Surprisingly, they all spoke English, replenished my water and inquired where I was going from and to. I initiated them into the race and we ran on-line tracking on their tablet. They promised to offer each of my opponents the possibility of topping up their water bottles and possibly stay in one of the bungalows. They added a few bananas and a handful of muffins for the journey, said goodbye, and I went on feeling the joy of meeting such cool people.
In another downhill section behind the next gap, the sunglasses that I had hung on the handlebars when going up the hill fell down at full speed. They hit my foot which catapulted them into oblivion. I tried to find them for about 10 minutes but it was all in vain. It's a pity and I would miss them but there was nothing that could be done about that. The third gap was the biggest one. I could still ride, just like with the previous gaps, but I had to climb somewhere up to 1,630 m, so it was a bit like Sněžka mountain ☺. The visibility was clear and the moon, which was in full phase, had already risen in the sky, and so I gradually climbed higher and higher up the hill.
I had to cross some spring at the top where I replenished the water and the downhill ride started. First, on a narrow path passing between hard and sharp stones, where some shrub got entangled in my handlebars, I got stuck on one of the stones and involuntarily left the bike. I landed quite safely in a prone position above other stones and I got away with only a small graze on my right palm thanks to my full finger gloves. However, the front brake lever and the seat post moved in the frame. Nothing got broken, everything is luckily functional, I just levelled everything as it should have been and continued further. I was a bit uncertain, so I did not enjoy the downhill ride very much. It continued on the loose debris and gravel along a narrow path on a hogback with several hundred meters of deep valleys on both sides. Everything culminated with a totally unexpected end of the path on a ten-meter-high rock. Lucky me, that I was there in the light. It took me a moment to find the way around the rock and get down, and then I was riding on long forest roads, gradually losing height towards Alcaraz. It was a golden hour, so the views and panoramas were unbelievable. The only thing that spoiled my joy was the bent front wheel that I discovered when I was on a smooth surface. It was a reminder of the small accident during the downhill ride. From then on, when driving on smooth roads, I felt a kick in my hands whenever the wheel turned around until the finish line. As if I was holding a jackhammer.
I arrived to Alcaraz with a simple plan: to get something to eat, replenish my water reserves and quickly ride on. Behind Alcaraz there follows about 65 km of a bike trail leading through the corridor of a former railway line, first slightly about 10 km uphill and then over 50 kilometres slightly downhill to CP4 in the psychological half of the race, where the base trail to Valencia divides from my long trail leading to Saint-Jean-de-Luz (FRA). I reached the square in Alcaraz and there I saw people at the tables in the arcade of some historic building. I saw a Pizza sign and everything was decided. I sat down at one table. The waitress was there in a blink of an eye and when I asked her in English, she just replied: “Moment!” and pulled a guy from the next table by the collar. His movements indicated that he had been drinking there for some time. The guy sat beside me and explained to me in amazing Oxford English that the whole table was occupied by the English who had been living there and asked what I needed. If I wanted to eat properly, he recommended a restaurant around the corner, but if I wanted to eat as quickly as possible, no matter how, then I was in the right place.
I opted for speed and ordered a pizza which I had been craving for anyway. I had the pizza on the table in no time, together with one obligatory soft drink and coke for the bidon. The pizza was the frozen sort from the supermarket baked in an oven. It seemed to me that it could have been baked a little more, but it tasted fine and I had it in my stomach within a few minutes. Suddenly a message beeped - it was the boys asking me if I had gone for a beer with Nicola. I had a glimpse at the tracker and saw Nikola's dot in the same square. It'd been there for two hours without moving. So, Nicola had already found a room and was sleeping. This was a surprise for me when there was such an easy ride ahead of us. I jumped in the saddle and left without changing my plan that I would ideally go as far as CP4, which was a deserted building in the fields and bivouac there.
I just got out of the town and was on the railroad track. It rose fluently at the beginning and almost imperceptibly between 1-2% at night. It goes "by itself", the journey is variegated with passages through tunnels, some being illuminated, some lighting up sector after sector as was I passing by, in some there is only emergency red position lighting. After 10 km, I went over the summit and just as I climbed slightly, I slightly went down. The slope is enough for me to shift to Olina gear, lie down on the horizontal bar, turn off the lights when outside the tunnels and enjoy the ride in the dark at full moon.
As I raced through the darkness, I began to feel that something was wrong. A pressure in my stomach and a great urge to go to the toilet. I stopped and ran off the embankment and tried to relieve myself somewhere in the bushes. Unfortunately, the problem escalated and the situation repeated three more times within twenty minutes. In addition, abdominal cramps occurred and the joy of riding under full moon alternated with the fact that I didn't know what to do next. I had long since resigned to CP4, I just needed to calm myself down and get better. Paradoxically, at the same time, there is an avalanche of messages from friends and acquaintances on Facebook and Messenger who wanted to support me think I was trying to make a sufficient lead to Nicola. The notifications kept beeping on my watch, but I had completely different concerns. Probably the best message was: “Go on, now is the breaking point of the race!!!” If only you had known, Pavel… I held on for a while and then said to myself: “OK, you are some 35 km behind Alcaraz, find a place for bivouac and go to sleep.” I found a beautiful olive grove where I stopped, unpacked the sleeping bag and mat. Thyme smelled around me, which miraculously calmed my stomach. It was 11:30 P.M. so I set my alarm clock to 4:30 A.M. and I calmly fell asleep.
How did I feel in the morning and how did the race continue? You can find out in the third part of my diary here: https://www.kilpi.cz/cs/aktualne/blog/ze-zavodniho-deniku-bikepackera-lubose-seidla-iberica-traversa-3Luboš Seidl