Welcome to day two – up early and excited to hit the park today. It’s a good sign! The sun is bright, the air is fresh, and my legs are clamouring for action.
The three of us out after another hefty buffet breakfast and with Lucas our trusty support hombre firmly at the wheel drive out to the trail head in the Land Rover. Treated to crazy views over valley and pine forest, interrupted only where fire damage has cleared the slopes. The roads are great – both the tarmac (bring your road bike) and the fire roads (bring your cross-bike!).
“Recognizing its exceptional ecological importance, it was designated a Unesco biosphere reserve in 1983 and created a natural park in 1989. First impressions of the park may consist of barren rocky crests and vast pine forests, but the area’s botanical importance within Andalucia is matched only by the Sierra Nevada, with a fifth of the vascular plants in the Iberian peninsula being found in the Sierra de Cazorla Natural Park. It is also home to 51 species of mammals, 185 birds, 21 reptiles (including an endemic lizard), 12 amphibians, 11 fish and one of the highest number of butterfly species in the Iberian peninsula, with 112 varieties found here.
Two of the Iberian peninsula’s most important rivers, the great Río Guadalquivir and the Segura, have their sources in the Sierra de Cazorla, amid some of the wildest landscape in Spain.”
You get the idea? It feels like being somewhere very remote, pristine and special when you’re there. No human infrastructure as far as the eye can see, save a few gravel paths and emergency Refugio’s (storm huts, some of which smell and look like a goat shed, others of which look like a three star youth hostel). It’s like being on a bike safari, we stop often to marvel at a herd of deer as they race in their own pack across the rocky terrain.
The park is steeped in history – we begin at the monument for Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente, who had a big role in keeping this space in a natural, sustainable state.
Just remember to Macarana before heading out – it’s a tradition.
We set of at a reasonable pace, chatting and enjoying the views. The path is challenging – rough terrain, lots of natural obstacles and steep drops and pitches. It’s the total opposite of buffed urban area trails and I’m loving it. There are some super steep sections, which I’ve been warned about and when we hit it try and keep my line. I’m making good progress at a steady 2.5 miles/hr when Howard cheats and pushes me off my bike mid-pitch. He swears my rear wheel slipped. Hah!
We have a comical nature moment when turning a corner we wake a large male Mouflon (the local apex goat – not to be mixed up with a Moufl) from a deep sleep. He’s barely twenty feet from us and he looks at us all cranky like for waking him, then slowly gets up and half staggers, half runs up the hill away from us. The goat’s clearly out of it because he keeps bumping head first into a bush, then a rock, then another bush, slips on some mud – I mean, it’s a comedy. Epic nature fail. I feel bad for him!
The bike feels good, and the temperature is perfect for a solid tempo pace. Still, my thirst and hunger seem endless. I snack on Bob’s breakfast sandwiches from the hotel and at some point we pull up to a Refugio to say hi to Lucas who is on the roof looking for cell reception. The bike is doing great, and apart from a mid-ride lube up has been performing flawlessly.
By early afternoon we’re ready for some real food. We swoop down into the valley out of the park to Pontones, home of the bubbling hole in the ground where the Segura starts to meet Lucas for lunch. At first the bar/resto looks closed but on closer inspection it’s only masquerading as closed on the outside – inside it’s bustling with Spanish tourists, day trekkers and locals hanging out. They are probably wondering about the nature of our sanity for being out there for “fun” in November!
Today I meet Migas! In English the dishes name literally means crumbs, and it’s an old way of eeking out your food supplies over the winter. Once the foodstuff of peasants and shepards it is now transformed into something we could call haute-Migas. Probably lots of arguments are still had over whose Abuela makes it best. I learn that this dish includes day-old bread soaked in water, garlic, paprika, and olive oil and is often served with pan-fried pork ribs. It’s the gastronomical equivalent of filling your stomach with wet warm concrete. I’m sure it’s cooked in lard. You can probably climb Everest on one serving of the stuff. Or at least until you catch your next goat.
Howard is chasing this calorie bomb with a decent house wine – I can only marvel – some minor fatigue has taken over my energy – maybe sitting next to the cool stove that is fueled by almost husks is getting me high. Either way by the end of lunch the thought of hitting the trail again is very unappealing – at least lined up next to a good nap by the fireside.
Well, nap’s gonna have to wait. We discuss the afternoon riding options and settle on not riding all the way back we came. Instead, we opt to head part way back and pick-up the chance to ride the epic uphill from the morning downhill, if that makes sense, which it did to us.
As a consequence of this decision we spend another 45 minutes or so bouncing back over rough gravel trail. My butt is cursing me way more driving in the Landy than it did on the bike. Still, we got the radio going and I snag a micro-nap or two en route before being whip-lashed back to consciousness by a deep dip in the “road”.
The abuse is worth it. When we stop, it’s time to wrap up warm for a long descent. Howard is clearly trying out for the British bobsled team and vanishes in a slipstream of vaporized crystal light. I’m left scratching my head at his warp-power and resort to shameless drafting behind any available vehicle (there aren’t many) to try and catch up.
He graciously waits for me some and we start attacking the climbs that pop up mid route. I’m struggling to keep up and get dropped again. It takes everything I got to hang tough as the light starts to fade over the last few kilometers. I imagine there’s a race finish line up ahead to keep my motivation going.
Having said that I feel sad to get off the bike after this epic 25km descent, but it’s time – time to load up on pain killers (we find the world’s cheapest paracetamol – 42 cents for 24) at a tiny pharmacy on the way home. Between my French and tiny amount of Spanish (or was it Italian?) I manage to get the order done without hardly any travel linguist stress. My fortunes continues its streak back at the hotel, with our friend the barman pouring me large glass after large glass of his best brandy. Not my favorite drink, but this is a superior breed and takes me somewhere other than just getting sloshed!
We head out later to another great local restaurant, which is the home of the reputed best guide in the area. Stags heads and rams heads and victorious pictures adorn the walls. Every inch of the walls. We enjoy a decent bottle of house Rioja. It’s a meat lover’s paradise to be sure – garlic and onions garnish most dishes and there is the standard pre-meal parade of tapas on the house. All in all, a very civilized way of rewarding and replenishing a tired body.
Day three beckons but we linger over supper enjoying the atmosphere and the opportunity to bask in the after-glow of a great day’s adventure.