Hesitantly, I pondered over how to spend my precious month off. My friends Nic and Sue had extended an invitation to bike in Spain, but I day-dreamed of a bikepacking escape to mountainous Greece or maybe a trip south of the equator, say, New Zealand. Point being, Spain was not on the top of my list. After much consideration, I admitted I did not want to pass on an opportunity to bike with friends, so I zipped my lips, packed my box, and booked a ticket to Barcelona.
The autumn wind hinted of the winter to come and the sun still beat with summer’s warmth; the perfect condition for my Alaskan temperament. My plan was to intercept Nic and Sue in the Sierra de Los Filabres Mountains as they traversed south on the Altravesur Route. The first few days boasted of rural fields of olives and almonds, punctuated by small sleepy hillside towns. Nic, a snack-packer at heart, showed me to the local roadside fruit and during breaks we gorged ourselves on figs, persimmons, and citrus. We often fell asleep to the sounds of sheep’s bells and roosters.
The Altravesur’s engaging trail is perfectly complemented by the evenly spaced resupply points. The first city I encountered, Baza, was nestled in a large valley and its historical roots are visible in every corner. While we found some amazing stealth camping on the city outskirts, we were also easily able to bleed brakes at a local shop, resupply our jamon inventory, and visit the old medina for a day. We also rendezvoused with Franzi and Jona before heading south towards the Sierra Nevadas.
Spain is known for the challenging and harsh Pyrenees Mountains, but I was equally amazed by the steep southern ranges, particularly the Sierra Nevadas. We crossed our first pass on a snowy afternoon and spent a few days hovering along the ridgelines, the hazy Mediterranean coast floating far in the distance. Foraging for food became my new goal and we gathered nuts, fruit, and mushrooms for snacking and camp meals. We were not the only foragers, as we were often accompanied by Romanian families out harvesting mushrooms by the lug!
Navigation in Spain was a delight as it is rich with many publicized trails and routes. Camino culture is widespread and the well-marked trails connect rural towns throughout the countryside. These trails are littered with fuentes for water and even have the occasional refugio for a cozy indoor respite. While I brought capacity for 8L of water, I never carried more than 2, a biker’s dream! Rest assured the extra cargo space was filled with local wine, vermouth, and produce.
I cannot write about Spain without speaking to the tapas. The citizens of Andalucía take their tapas seriously. For those unfamiliar, tapas are small plates of food provided at cafes to accompany your beverage. One story I heard told of a Spanish king receiving his wine covered with a piece of bread to keep the flies out. Delighted, he decreed all beverages be served with an accompanying bite to eat. I cannot confirm the origins of this story, but I can confirm my love for tapas. From fried calamari to skillet potatoes, to grilled pork, I lost precious riding time in favor of my pursuit of tapas, and I regret not a minute spent!
Bike packing in Spain and riding the Altravesur route will likely be one of the most pleasant surprises in my life. The towns are stocked with delicious fresh food and beverages. The historical sites will please any history buff. The riding will nourish any adventurer’s endless crave for challenging climbs and remote trails. During the right months, the days are warm and the nights cool, a recipe for perfect camping. I am ashamed I originally dismissed this wild and wonderful land but I’ve learned my lesson. After all, what adventure is not worthwhile as long as it’s done from the saddle?
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