I have watched quite a number of editions of ‘Vuelta a Espana’. So, in Team Sportswool, that makes me the expert on the topography of Spain. I know there are some flat stages that I tend to nod off in the middle of. Then there are some almighty hilly stages, where people dressed in as much orange clothing as possible try not to fall in front of the bikes although they started drinking ten hours before the race reached them.
So, we know very little about what each day will bring us. We have no idea of profile, and only guess that it is hilly if the map indicates that the road enters a shaded area and snakes from left to right. We also try and have a look at the WWW. and pick somewhere nice to aim for.
We only ever book a room for one night at a time. So, when it is horribly noisy we can bail out without having to beg for a refund. This is what happened in Albacete. We rode out of town, intending to do just a few k’s and pitch the tent for a snooze. But, the first 30k on the cm-332 were the easiest we have done this year. Oh joy of joys, the headwind was gone for the time being. Skylark were singing, the sun was out and we had a broad shoulder to bike on. Peachy perfect.
We stopped in a bar for food. Barcelona and Real Madrid looked like they had been facing each other for the last 25 years and on the tv was what appeared to be ‘the Basque County’s got talent’. What a load of eyeliner, emotion and cleavage. I am far from qualified to judge, but I will.They were rubbish.
We take a left turn and realize that Alcala de Jucar is not far away. It is a World Heritage Site, and we have seen photos and want to visit. In the images, the houses cling to the side of a mountain and it is all rather wonderful. A sign says that it is just 7k to the village. This is a bit puzzling, as the landscape ahead is pan flat to a dusty horizon.
At 4k to the village, off to our left a hole opens in the ground. As we come around a bend we get the full view. It is a massive canyon and our road goes down into it. We do the 4k hanging onto our brakes as we go down to the village. Alcala de Jucar is clinging to the side of a mountain, but the mountain is in a big hole.
The climb out at the end of site seeing duties is not as bad as feared. We wild camp, this time amongst vines for the first time. There is an abandoned farm in front of us and we investigate. We drop a stone into the well. It falls for ages, and then a muddy gloop of a splash.
Not a breath of wind and we know we have been lucky as the horizon is dotted with turbines. This could have been a Vuelta day with teams strung out from gutter to gutter into a gale. The N322 in the morning is perfect again. We may even have a hint of a tailwind pushing us along towards Requena.
We like the look of the village of Alborea and push up to the church. Inside things are being prepared for the Easter procession. By 11:20 am the wind is really pushing us along. We are going through what we agree is the nicest bit of our ride in Spain. But then the road drops 350 meters in a series of swooping curves and we are back in semi desert and worrying about water and a big climb that may be ahead.
Up we start to go. For the first time on the trip we are bothered by flies as they keep pace with our slow climbing speed. We end the day on a minor road passing through vineyards. It is too early to camp so we shelter from the 30’c heat. This has been a good day and we are riding strong now that we are bike fit and just a little road hardened.
We wild camp in amongst the vines away from the road. I have a look at the vines and conclude that they all look dead to me. Spring here is confusing me with it’s plans for the year ahead. Few trees are in leaf and yet it is hotter than an English summer. It is another great wild camp night. It gets very cold at 3:00 am and we both put on down vests like we have needed to do on every night of camping.
Porridge in the morning and then a short ride to Utiel for coffee. This is all going splendidly and we head on along yet another minor road in a orange world. We pass over a bridge just as a herd of sheep come through. There is a job description that has not changed in a while. I guess he has security, you try out-sourcing that.
When we go into a bar for some food we get ‘talking’. We have a pantomime of mimes a bit of Spanish and a few diagrams. When the guys work out what we are doing it is hugs for me and hugs plus kisses for Esther. I am not the greatest ‘man hug’ kind of guy and will often panic and end up half way with my arm around someone and looking more like we are posing for a photo. The warmth and goodwill here is a big boost to moral.
This is good because our map goes all shaded ahead and we have a hard road ahead. But then it does not, it goes down and then back up and into a forest for the first time in ages. We can see an old road to our left. It made a much harder job of it than our new road. We stop to watch two Eagles and within minutes there are fourteen and then twenty-three filling the sky. This must be a migration route for them. We watch for some time and then dive down to the next village.
It is now both hot and humid. Local kids are throwing water bombs at passing vehicles. They go for big trucks but nothing smaller than a van. It passes the time. Seven boys and one girl, who will go on to be a raven haired beauty and they will all fall out over her in a few years time. We see a Hoopoe as it flys across the road. My first, although they are on the cover of most bird books here.
We give in on the wild camping and take a hotel room as it starts to rain. By morning it is still cold and you can see your breath. The road goes steadily up and we enter fog thick enough for us to put on lights. We really have no idea what we are going to ride through every day. Just to prove that point the road goes down at 8% for K after K, dropping 400 meters in height.
We need food and head to the little village of Torrebaja. The bar serves up a big plate of toast, coffees and lots of handshakes. The next part of the N330 is perfect cycling for us. Silver Birch trees and a clear, flowing stream, the Rio Turia. There are massive mountains around us and many times they look to block our route. The dread is that we are in for a hard climb but the road manages to thread its way through and keeps it easy pedaling.
It has stayed cold and we look back to see snow on the mountains that we have just come through. This is what has been on our mind as we approach the Pyrenees. It is hard to imagine when you are riding in 30’c or more, but we do have a problem and we need a lot of luck.
It is now the very start of April and we need to travel North fast enough to still have summer warmth when we are in Finland. But we need to get over the mountains of the Pyrenees and even here there is snow forecast.
We pull into Teruel, still above 800 meters. We sit in a cafe and I get just one sugar where for the last week I have been getting two. I had thought this a sign of left leaning politics in an area. We are worn out and are planning to go out and eat a big meal no matter what. Which is what we try to do and fail. Nothing is open. It is a wonderful city but it is 8:00 pm for food and not a moment sooner. Bitterly disappointed we shop at Lidl’s and eat in our room. We really can not get used to the rhythm of the day here in Spain.
Ernest Hemingway and Robert Capa were both here in Teruel, during the Civil war. It was the center of action, being bombed heavily. It is full of character and well worth a visit.