Bikepacking Southern Spain (part 4): Unexpected
Our journey from Cadiz to Valencia is in the books. The route didn’t pan out exactly as we’d planned prior to leaving the U.S. But, as with everything else in life, the experience along the way changed our course.
Our intention was to follow the GR7 footpath from the southernmost point in Spain to somewhere between Valencia and Barcelona. But instead of relying on one well-established route, ours became an exploratory one, a patchwork of trails, piste, and dirt roads of all shapes and sizes. We used the GR7 as a hearty backbone, but spun in other established tracks, including the GR242, GR249, and GR247 as well as the TransAndalus, Ruta de Don Quixote, and the numbered BTT trails in Valencia. We took advice from locals, studied maps, and kept a keen eye on weather forecasts, but, ultimately, our course was most dictated by happenstance and instinct.
As our time in Spain was coming to a close, it was just such an example of happenstance that brought us to a most enjoyable stretch. While perusing the Gaia topo map, in hopes of directional inspiration, we noticed a long, serpentine gash in the landscape, swelling from west to east. The feature had narrowly spaced contour lines rippling to its north and south, evidence that it was a fairly large canyon with a river at the bottom. We were at a crossroads in our trip, and at the last minute decided to set off and explore this unknown set of contours via a series of dotted lines that danced in and around it. This would be the last notable leg of our southern Spain traverse.
This eye-catching map feature was the Rio Jucar, a river formed by headwaters in the Serrania de Cuenca to the north, flowing south, then eastward toward the Mediterranean Sea in the autonomous community of Valencia. The Júcar is a beautiful river, nestled in a magnificent and deep canyon formed by millennia of erosion. Its water is a milky teal color due to the runoff from the calcium rich limestone that the river flows in and through.
Once in the canyon, we were pleasantly surprised that a fair percentage of the dotted lines we had spotted just days prior were indeed singletrack. And really good singletrack at that. It turned out that we were following a numbered mountain bike specific route in the BTT series (bicicleta todo terreno). For a couple of days we explored the rocky tracks that made up this route. Some of the riding was reminiscent to that of western Colorado, rocky and loose with the occasional forested section of good dirt. We passed through scenic towns that stood on the riverside cliffs like sentinels guarding the its banks. The tracks changed from singletrack to rough Moab-like jeep roads adjacent to cliffs studded with embedded dwellings used by farmers and shepherds.
Ultimately, we climbed out of Rio Jucar and made our way to Valencia on a neverending series of flat farm roads that threaded olive and almond groves. As an appropriate finale, and a reminder of where we started, we met back up and had one last rendezvous with the familiar red and white trail markers of the GR7.
Note: The photos above are from the GR66; the photos below are from the Ruta De Don Quixote and Rio Jucar.
To wrap things up, here is a running list of magical moments from this trip, and further below, a few more pieces of our favorite gear we brought along…
Being charged by an unbroken stallion. Looking over our shoulders to see three distinct ranges we’d crossed/ridden in the last 24 hours. The way cheap beer tastes amazingly awesome after a tough day in the saddle. Watching the sun rise over places you’ll be riding that day. Thinking that ‘tuna surprise’ made with off-brand Laughing Cow cheese is some sort of culinary masterpiece. Accepting a stranger’s generous offer of a warm place to sleep only to later realize that she had just been translating a magazine article with my name in it. Fully appreciating (and maybe even fighting over the tail end of) a liter box of wine that cost a buck. Watching a fox attempt to steal our cook kit. Rounding a corner to come face to face with a giant umpteen point buck, breathing thick steam in the winter air. Depending on the sun’s warmth. Not caring how far we made it in a day. Picking almonds leftover from the harvest. Finding ripe cherry tomatoes scattered on the ground, and having an amazing impromptu picnic. Being given a bag of walnuts and realizing a week later that it was priceless. Thinking a twin bed in a crappy hotel is incredibly comfortable. Shaking a strangers hand and thanking him for directions. Having a dog wag its tail like he’s welcoming us home. Getting a dessert on the house because we look like we need it. A 20KM downhill. Ripening our semi-curado cheese between grocery stops. The smell of unfamiliar plants. Being told that there was a dangerous bull that could have killed us a few miles back. The warmth of a fire. Getting a surprise snack. Having a 1 week old lamb think you are its mother. Carrying all of your possessions that matter. Being a long way from where we started. Finding a stretch of singletrack that forces laughter. Sitting on the forest floor. Really dreaming.
More Gear Favorites
On a few of the posts in this series, we’ve highlighted various equipment that has impressed and endured. Here are a few more. Click on each for comments…