The Coronavirus outbreak has upturned many of our lives. I am now unemployed, for example, but in the context of a medical emergency, even that seems small beer. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a piece written by Paul Gentle about the first leg of his cycle from Tarifa in Spain to Nordkapp in Norway. Alas, that endeavour has also become a victim of the virus and has now been cancelled. A few days ago Paul returned back to the UK from Nice in France. To his credit, Paul has taken the time to write a second piece for CyclingEurope.org about the second week of his cycle through Spain…
As the first week of my attempt to cycle from Spain to Norway drew to a close, so did the Via Verde del Aceite – the amazing cycle path that I’d been following for the last few days. It finished in the town of Jaen, as did I for the day. Jaen was by far the biggest place I’d stayed since setting off, and cycling into it from the wilderness was a bit of a shock to the system. It was a pleasant enough town though, its main feature being the huge renaissance-style cathedral. Not far from the cathedral, the bars of the pedestrianised old town were bubbling with locals who had just ended their week too.
I was up and on my way early on Saturday morning. The roads were quiet, possibly due to the Jaen residents apparently all partying until the early hours, by the sounds I could hear outside at 3am. I made good progress until I was 10km outside of Baeza, and then hit a wall of solid climbing up to the town. This just about finished off my already aching limbs, and I needed to rest when I arrived at the town at the top. I also wanted to rest, as Baeza was the first of a double-bill of interesting-looking UNESCO World Heritage sites that I’d be visiting in quick succession. It was brimful of Italian renaissance buildings, and also the most tourists I’d seen for a while.
The second part of the double-bill was Ubeda, and I thought it would be good to spend the night there. It was dark by the time I made it out into the town, but it was good to see Ubeda’s sights in the dark, in contrast to Baeza’s in the daytime, of which there were plenty.
The next day should have been quite uneventful, looking at the map, but was jazzed up by thick fog leaving Ubeda. The first non-sunny weather of the trip so far. The day also ended with unexpected drama, as my pedal started making unusual noises after leaving a wild-west-style strip of town named Arroyo del Ojanco. The noises quickly became screechier and the pedal harder to turn, as I approached the next town of Puente de Génave. It was approaching 5pm on a Sunday, and a few pangs of worry started to hit me, as I wondered if there would be anywhere at all to get a new pedal within 50km of here.
By an amazing slice of good luck, a few miles down the road, something called the Ferretaría Bike Luna appeared out of nowhere. I thought it must have a mirage at first, a bike shop in this small town, with hardly any other shops at all. Obviously it was closed on a Sunday (like every other single shop in Spain) so I thought I’d come back in the morning. But I did notice some movement through the window, so I thought I’d give them a knock just to ask if they could help, or whether I should start thinking of a back up plan. A few minutes later, the now legendary people of the Ferretaría Bike Luna had raised the shop shutters, ushered in my bike, hauled it up onto the bike maintenance sling, and fitted some brand new pedals!
The next day I was in a jubilant mood; it’s amazing what the feeling of not having something wrong with your bike can do, even though 24 hours earlier I still didn’t think I had anything wrong with it. My mood was buoyed further when I discovered there was another Spanish cycle path just outside Puente de Gènave. The Via Verde de Segura started at another abandoned train station at least three kilometres from the town it used to serve (I was beginning to understand why these railway stations were abandoned, they were all miles from the town that carried their name!). I happily bounded along, seeing only one man and his dog, and two more cyclists, on the entire journey to Alcaraz.
The town I called home for the next night, had a ruined castle on the hill, and an eponymous cycle path leading from it – the Via Verde Sierra de Alcaraz. Once I’d managed to find that the next morning, a little out of town, it was another pleasure to cycle.
From Salinero station, the highest point on the trip so far, I had a gradual downhill slope for around 30km. I hardly even pedalled during that time, being happy to sit back and admire the scenery, while the gradient did the work. Occasionally, there was an area set aside next to the track, consisting of park benches, tables, maps and taps.
After following a really straight cycle path for miles out of Albacete, where I’d spent the previous night, the landscape changed again. The rocks and rivers both became chalkier in colour. Valdeganga and Bormate were pleasant enough food stops, and I met a very enthusiastic road cyclist in the former. “Brothers!” he exclaimed, while pointing at our two very different bikes. “Dos hermanos!” I replied, excited to know as many as two words in Spanish that I could use in a sentence which had some relevance to the situation I was in.
Upon turning the corner and seeing Alcalá Del Júcar, I realised that once again I had completely fluked choosing somewhere a bit wonderful to stay, purely because it was a convenient distance from the last place, and had cheap hotels. Alcalá Del Júcar is a town built into two opposing hillsides, with a castle on top of one, a river running through the middle, and old crumbling buildings on at least one side. I didn’t really explore the other to find out, as walking up one steep hill in the evening was definitely all of the climbing I was prepared to do.
I walked up the same hill the following morning with my bike. It was too steep, narrow, and twisty to physically be able to cycle it. Once out of the town, it was a nice minor-road trundle for the first 25km, before the road suddenly plunged sharply downwards into the Las Hoces del Cabriel Natural Park. It had a nice village at the bottom called Casas Del Río, with a watermill, and seemingly about two residents.
The first part of the road from Los Herreros towards Macastre was great too, a nice smooth road through mountainous terrain, also completely deserted. There was more downhill than uphill, as I headed back towards sea level, but the upward sections still made it a bit challenging. My final day before the easy descent into Valencia was the longest and hilliest of the trip so far, and something I wouldn’t have been capable of cycling two weeks previously.
You can also see Paul’s route via the website DataMinister.com.
Stay safe guys. It is not worth taking the risk. Social distancing is the only weapon we have against this deadly virus.
Sorry for the hardships ahead but please stay positive. We all got to look out for each other.
A joy to read , when my cycling days are over …on a cold March day in Yorkshire .