Bikepacking Southern Spain (part 3): The Thought Vacuum
Thoughts, or lack thereof, from our explorations in the Sierra Nevada, Sierra De Baza, and Sierra de Cazorla mountains…
There’s some sort of brain reconnoitering magic that happens during long days in the saddle. Perhaps it’s the endless serenade of dirt and pisté beneath the tires, crackling like bacon frying in a skillet. Maybe it’s the zen-like focus required to negotiate stone littered paths. It could be the cadence of breath. Or simply the meditative quality of being fully immersed in the landscape. It’s kind of like a temporary lobotomy, or a thought vacuum. Here, and right now, it seems a tad amplified.
Winter is coming. Actually I just checked the date, and yep, it’s here. There are some patches of green in the valleys and bright yellow leaves still adorn the most stubborn of trees, but as the piles of crisp brown leaves continue to grow and the skies exchange some of their vivid blue hue for a lazy gray, we are reminded that fall has come and gone. On occasion, bursts of blooming desert evergreens paint little swatches of color. But for the most part, everything is asleep. Morning damp tent has been replaced with morning frosty tent, which eventually becomes wet tent by the time I get Gin out of it and the sun has thawed the ice crystals.
Nights are quiet and devoid of chirping insects. Perfect silence is only interrupted when there’s a breeze, or distant barking dog. During the mid-day, small towns and villages seem to be ghost towns; sometimes there’s not a single person to be found. Even places that may typically draw a crowd are bereft of selfie-snapping tourists. For the most part, we’ve had every natural and national park to ourselves. Even the requisite occasional stretches of tarmac are empty. It’s kind of eerie, but kind of refreshing in its own right.
Normally the contours and folds of the land are clothed by grass or the velvet of crops. Now the tilled soil, stones, and skeleton trees are present and immediate. This trip has been remarkably different from our last. Portraits, handshakes, laughter, and hiding in the shade, have been replaced by navigation, contemplation, hands in pockets, and milking the sunlight. These aren’t bad qualities, they are just different.
I read Steven King’s Dark Tower series when I was much younger. Familiar motifs of stark silence from those books are conjured in my imagination. There was something about those books that was incredibly vivid, even though a lot of the depicted landscapes were empty and lifeless. Almost as if the open spaces allowed room for the mind to breathe and fill them. Similarly, the absence of life in this landscape seems to provide a lot of room for thoughts to float out into the space.
A byproduct of this quiet voyage seems to be incredibly vivid, and sometimes heroic dreams. Me with an incredible singing voice, or being able to ride endless nose wheelies. I wonder if this is my mind compensating for the thoughts that get pulled out by the pedals during the day. Speculation, fear, and energy are all left in the wind, then replaced by other images during the night.
This post gets us through several mountain ranges. We attacked the Sierra Nevada and made quick work of the TransNevada and GR7 into Baza. Then we crossed the barren Sierra de Baza and made our way to the prized Sierra de Cazorla, which is quite possibly the most beautiful range we’ve traversed in southern Spain. We enjoyed it so much we partook in a bit of zig-zagging to explore the GR247, its variances, and the refugios in the park. These cozy hiker huts built by the park service are scattered throughout the park and available for anyone using the trails. The landscape of the Cazorla ranges from rich Waldenesque forests, to moonscape mountains, to desert peaks. The GR247 is a large ovular circuit around through the heart of the mountains and several towns along the way. We’ll be publishing the route in the near future; stay tuned. Also, stay tuned for our final update as we make our way to Valencia.