At the moment I am currently designing the next route for Andalucia Cycling. This new adventurous route will be apt for both gravel bikes and mountain bikes.
The enthusiast’s problem of keeping routes short.
Any cyclist who knows me, knows that I sometimes have a problem keeping routes short. I will find a start point and I´ll have a vague end point, or, maybe I’ll just have a set amount of time, and suddenly I’m lost in an overestimation of what could be achieved. It is all done in the best possible faith of course, and with enthusiasm for what we´ll find on the road ahead.
However, I have learnt to reign myself in. When I am designing routes for Andalucia Cycling I have to keep many things in mind when thinking of the cyclists who come to ride my routes. I have learnt to divide one “really great idea of a route” into two or three routes. I keep the stages manageable, and I hold fast when I feel the urge to include just one more thing on to any route.
All of this aside, I love thinking about all the places I could introduce you to, and all that you will see from the saddle during the ride. I have a collection of favorite roads which I have discovered over the years and have enjoyed so much, as I am sure you also will do when I take you down them.
At the moment I am currently designing the next route for Andalucia Cycling.
I am still working on all the fine details and I am filtering through the various possibilities, (Should I take them down that road ? Or shall I swing the route east and then cut back onto that next stage ?). There are always so many possibilities. It ‘s hard work !
One of my most favorite roads.
This new route I am working on is based, in part, upon one of my most favorite roads. This road is in the Sierra Morena, more precisely it is in the Sierra Norte. The road runs from the small town of Alanís to the equally small town of Fuente Obejuna in the province of Córdoba. All in all the road is a tad over 60 kms, with very few signs of civilization in between the first town and the next.
Riding east from Alanís, the first 40kms of the road are the most enjoyable. This road is high. This section of the mountains, with the Sierra de Recuero to the north and the Sierra del Águila to the south, is the highest part of this area, at about 700m above sea level. A lot of this sierra is a protected Natural Park. The road also marks the northernmost edge of this part of Andalucia.
I first came across the road by accident years ago when I was camped-up in San Nicolás. I had a free day, so I unloaded my bike and left my tat behind at the campsite. I headed north towards Alanís where I kept following my nose until I happened upon this road.
I knew it was special. After a couple of kilometres of a steady climb out of the town I arrived at a viewing point which looked out eastwards over the huge open sierra. The size of the landscape spread out in front of me was humbling. One distant ridge of hills or mountains just gave way to another ridge behind, and another behind that, all hues of blues and greens fading towards the horizon. It was obvious that this was a road that required an independent spirit, not least because of the very large sign declaring it to be “Carretera Muy Peligrosa” (“Very Dangerous Road”).
“Carretera Muy Peligrosa”
I have since learnt that roads declaring themselves “Carretera Muy Peligrosa” are the best ones. When you see that sign, go forth ! It means that no one has bothered maintaining the road at all so it will be almost empty of traffic as no attempt has ever been made to accommodate car drivers. These roads are almost as they have always been since time immemorial, they follow the natural lie of the land and they snake around and around, up and down. When these tracks and byeways were “modernised”, way way back in the day, they received only the very slightest of a gravel hard-top and almost certainly they have not been renovated since way back when.
Honestly, most of me hopes these “dangerous roads” stay exactly this way and that they remain forgotten and neglected by the authorities. It discourages casual traffic and keeps these areas empty of engine noise. It helps to maintain the ambience that these areas always would have had, of the isolation, of the vastness and stillness, the vastness which swallows you into the landscape like a sea.
As I said, with all these elements considered it means that you have to go forth with an independent spirit, as there will be no roadside bar or small shop where you can grab a bar of chocolate if your legs begin to wobble. The only places that you will come across in almost 40 km of this road, is one cortijo where fighting bulls are bred, a tiny house in the absolute middle of nowhere for some reason, and some telephone masts. At the end of the road there are the long abandoned Minas Valdeinfierno, where the old stone buildings are ruined and give haunting effect hidden within the hills.
My first attempts at the road.
My first attempt on this road only lasted 10 kms or so before I turned around. I was by myself and I was unprepared, I had no map, and it was in the days before clever smartphones. I had no idea where I was going, where I was relative to anything else, and where the road would end. I did know however that I would have to come back, better prepared. I took a mental note.
On the second attempt, and this time in good company, I made it all the way across this sierra and further on towards Fuente Obejuna. I rode with Marta, an american friend and member of the club. We had three short days off work for Semana Santa so we loaded up the bikes and did Sevilla to Cordoba via the Sierra Norte. It was a terrible experience. It rained like it did for Noah, the entire time. It was full waterproofs, overshoes and a stoic resilience for three days. That road was covered in gray low lying clouds and heavy rain and it did not give up for one moment. The road and the Sierra had a savage beauty that day. We must have been the only creatures which had not taken cover.
We arrived at Fuente Obejuna covered in darkness and knowing it would be impossible to put up the tent so we went to the hotel. The hotel had no room. However the owner, a cyclist himself, let us sleep on the floor of the restaurant with the condition that we disappeared before breakfast was served. We left a good tip.
The third time I went back to the road it was for a May Day ride with Goyo, also a member of the club. We drove up to Alanís with the express intention of riding the road. This time we planned a circular route, which left Andalucia for Extremadura and then back again to Alanís. It was a hard 100km of sierra, but we did it. This was the first time I saw the whole of the road in daylight and without too much opposition. We took our time so that we could really enjoy our environes. I really got to grips with the road on this ride. Goyo, a great photographer, took many photos of the sierra that day. In his photos he really captured the absolute beauty of all that was laid out before us.
The only shaggy-dog story I have about that day was when Goyo and I saw from a distance a great mastiff, sat firmly in the middle of the road like a troll. We stopped well ahead and we each picked up a short branch. We rode forward slowly, branch in hand like some kind of Quijote & Sancho Panza. The dog was huge, but thank god it had not the slightest interest in us.
This was a hard day’s ride but we really sensed that we had gone there and that we had seen and felt the sierra.
All photos by Goyo Para (copyright). Please visit Goyo´s blog, http://arsnatura.blogspot.com/ where you can enjoy his spectacular nature photography and blogs from Andalucía and further abroad. Thank you Goyo.
The next time I went back to the road it was in the company of a mini expedition. It was the club’s summer tour and we had seven days of riding ahead. We were five cyclists who would ride that week, and we had a simple plan. Ride out of Sevilla, head north and then east and then see where we had got to when we ran out of time a week later. There was no more planning than that. We were bivouacking for this tour as it always makes things easier when you sleep where you can when the day is done. So that was the first time I slept next to that road.
We left Alanís in the early evening, after a good rest at the town´s lido in the hot summer afternoon. We got on to the road knowing that we would have to bivouac at some point. We took our time in the lowering evening light of the summer, soaking up the day and the colours of the sierra, whilst we kept a keen eye out for some suitable place to rough camp. As the summer’s night met the new day, we saw the sun rise in this privileged forgotten corner of the Sierra. We upt n´left with our bikes. We had a breakfast of canned sardines at the bridge which crosses the Rio Onza, which is now and forever known to us as the “puente de sardinas” (the Sardines bridge).
Next route for Andalucia Cycling: so it will be over to you
This new adventurous route will for both gravel bikes and mountain bikes.
So, to bring things around: this road will form a part of the next route which I will have for you all. It is one of two “Carretera Muy Peligrosa” which I have penciled in, I couldn´t resist. The new route can be ridden on a Gravel bike or a Mountain bike. As you can imagine my main prep work at the moment is reducing the kilometers and bringing it back under hand !
Don´t worry. I will not expect you to be to bivouac by the roadside, or that you’ll arrive at the hotel in Fuente Obejuna without a booking. Big dogs, well they are part and parcel of wherever you maybe (I´ll give you a stick beforehand). I have no special relationship with the weather man, but hopefully the sun will shine when you ride, it generally does around these parts. The sierra is always glorious when the sun is out and the light is pure.
I am really looking forward to introducing this adventurous road to new adventurous cyclists.