Alcaniz, Big Agnes tents, Casa Argentera, Cycle Touring Catalonia, Cycle Touring Spain, cycling N420 Spain, Easter Processions Teruel, L'Argentera, Sierra de San Just, Via Verde, Via Verde de la Val de Zafan
Paul Young I think it was, who sang about the benefits of traveling light. “Where ever I lay my hat, that’s my home”, he proposed. The record was very good, a guilty pleasure for someone whose music collection back then, never strayed very
far from Progressive Rock. Now, substitute Paul’s hat, for our ‘Big Agnes’ ultra light tent and we would be joining in with the choruses. In 15 months of travelling, never once reaching into your pocket and finding the reassurance of a set of house keys, the tent has been our place of refuge, our one and only constant. We turn up at the end of the day and pick a dusty bit of soil for the place where we will pitch the tent. Within 10 minutes it is home. It’s technical shell in effect offers less protection from harm than a ‘tea towel’. But if you pick your wild camp well, and have a bit of luck, it is so comfy. A good night in a tent will always be better than all but an exceptional night in a hotel.
The best time for sleep in a Spanish hotel room is between 4 in the afternoon and about 9. After that you can forget sleep until 1 in the morning or later. Spain can not walk, talk or open or close doors without making a heck of a lot of noise. This is as much of a rule and a certainty as gravity, so adjust, get used to it. As the rain hit against the window of our hotel room in Teruel, camping almost lost all of its appeal. So another night in a hotel.
But the hotel was booked out this being Spain and this being Easter, families were coming together. Twenty minutes on the WWW. and we got a room elsewhere and were pushing our bikes through the narrow streets. Tonight is one of the big procession nights of the Easter celebrations and Teruel is one of the best places to be. It starts at 8, but by 7 we just step outside and join the throng making their way into the old town squares.
This is a big night. The rain has stopped, but we are just under 1,000 meters high and it is cold. We pick a spot and within minutes the head of the procession is coming towards us and will take the best part of two hours to pass. I thought it was an amazing experience but beyond that I have no idea what to make of it all. One thing is for sure, from the little girl taking part for the first time, to the town patriarchs, it was an important day.
We wake to heavy rain and wind and there is fresh snow on the hills around Teruel. Within the first 5k we have climbed constantly and just as it flattens out I pick up a nail and flat. Bugger and thrice bugger. If you tried to get a nail that is flat and harmlessly lying there to stick up and go in your tyre, you couldn’t do it. We continue along the N420 towards Alcaniz and it begins snowing on us. It is 5’c, but then we climb and it is 3’c and snow is settling around us. Cars coming towards us all have lights on.
We stop at Perales del Elfambra, a small village at just under 1,200 meters. We know that the road gets higher from here onwards and ask about rooms. A plate of toast and two mugs of coffee and we are going no further. When we set out the next day the wind has gone and so has the snow, but it is very obvious what a good call we made. It is still 3’c, but bright and we have a tailwind. Up we go to over 1,400 meters and there is ice on the roadside puddles. This is a remote area and we pass through the second highest village in Spain.
We drop 200 meters and go through a series of villages pinched and stretched out in the base of narrow canyons. Every time this happens it is narrow roads with crash barriers tight to our elbows. The holiday traffic makes this tense biking. We turn onto the N211 and go back up over 1,000 meters and amongst Pines.
Sweating, freezing cold and overheating at the same time, I change base layers. We are at 650 meters, the lowest all day and have done 82k. We sneak off the road, find a pitch and have the tent up just in time for a heavy shower of hail. This would be unpleasant back at 1,400 meters. Oh how we love our tent and all the little bits of tech equipment that makes this comfortable.
We arrive in Alcanize just as the congregation are spilling out into the square. This is a stroke of luck for us as we are told about an off road route just where we want to go. The nice people we meet in the square tell us how to find the start, which is good because it is not signed. As ever, it is an old railway. It takes in some amazing scenery and takes you down all the way to the coast. The surface is challenging for our heavy touring bikes and we are down to 6kph and swinging from side to side to get a smoother line.
Eventually, one of these bigger rocks is going to make this a very unhappy day and leave us with a big ‘bank holiday bike problem’. We give in and climb out at a remote village. Taking a compass bearing, we join roads in the direction of the coast and then pick up the N420 once again. We are back up to speed as we go down hill at 50 kph. We wild camp, this time under Almond Trees for a bit of a change.
9.30 in the morning and already 18’c is much more like it. We have eaten a vat of porridge, topped with banana and raisins, and are ready for the hills ahead. Crickey, there are lots of them and some go on a bit. We do appear to be having a string of good fortune with hills. We go up at 5% and come down a 8% every time and have done since Portugal. The view from the N 420 is ‘Lord of the Rings’ with a bit of ‘Narnia’. Geology has been given a free hand to express itself here and we take it all in from the shoulder.
The traffic on the N 420 is busy, very busy. And here is the thing. Time and again we witness crazy overtaking on blind corners and diving into gaps that do not exist. Only people with faith and a strong belief in an after life would do this. This is southern European driving at its Bank Holiday worst. We follow the gps for a spell on the old road. There are more wine terraces and some vines are coming into leaf along with the other trees. We are just over 200 meters now and Spring is here.
You could have predicted this. It is now over 30’c and we come to our first 10% climb at the tail end of a long day. We find a rhythm and get up it. A car stops and people come running back towards us. I am being hugged and have two happy smiling people who I do not recognise. We only know four people in Spain so my brain has failed to join together the conclusion that two of them could randomly find us here. We accidentally biked with Pau and Gaelle in New Zealand over a year ago now and here they are. Now that is more impossible than getting a nail in your tyre.
We are trying to get to the house of the other two people that we know in Spain. Google map and the gps are having a bit of a dispute which the gps finally wins and we have another 20k to do, with much of it uphill. We have done 80k already and the gps log shows the last 10k has a series of violent switch backs which may or may not be uphill. Oh, this has been a hard day. With 98k we pull up at our friends Hotel. Thank goodness the last bit turned out to be down and not up. There would have been tears.
This is an amazing area to walk or ride a nice light road bike. That would be a pure joy indeed. In fact we have not come across a better area in Spain to bring the beloved Carbon Fibre joy of your cycling passion. In fact have a look at our Hotel web site here and book a week. You deserve it.
Just because we are able to, we have a complete and total collapse of all energy. We have to work out how we are going to get into France next. We are on the very cusp of Spring and the whole idea is not to get ahead of it. We have had a bit of a taste of winter riding and it is not much fun.