PROJECT RUTA DEL SOL ALTERNATIVO

PROJECT RUTA DEL SOL ALTERNATIVO

‘‘ Un pequeño escape in the pampas del corazon’’

Why is it, we call a bike ride from A to B an adventure, and a bike ride from A back to A, well, a bike ride? The best ideas are often the most simple ones. Especially in the beginning. It’s only when the execution of the idea starts, the troubles begin. There are all kinds of practical reasons why some of the best ideas have never seen the light of day.  Well, not this time. This idea didn’t need a particular reason either, except the hunger for freedom and adventure.  It just came falling from the sky. The idea: let’s travel to a sunny place and ride our bikes. Three nights and four days. And to make things a little less predictable, we chose a few conditions for this trip: sun, tarmac (that funny compact gravel stuff) and a long, unknown route from A to B. A became Madrid. B became Valencia. The sun was playing hard to get. And somehow, the tarmac became gravel, every now and then. 

This is our alternative style Ruta del Sol.

This is Roger, a buddy of mine. Roger is king when it comes to logistics (really helpful if you plan on going from A to B). Hence, the cell phone in his hand. He got us a courier ( expensive - don’t ask) to bring our bike bags from Madrid to Valencia. Right from the beating heart of Madrid - Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, we left for our first stage. We figured, why not get in the first 100 kilometers right away. It appeared that leaving the center of Madrid on a bike isn’t that easy and before we knew it, the hesitant spring sunlight faded into twilight and soon it became pitch dark. This sudden transition made us stop to make a quick phone call to the hotel: ‘’We are a poco mas tarde, is the kitchen still a-bier-to?’’

Day 2. Km 5 from 220. We have a big day ahead of us and what we referred to as Project Ruta del Sol is not living up to its name. It’s cold, it’s wet and it’s misty. A minor setback. Silently, we continue. Every now and then, we keep up the spirit with jokes like: ‘’What an amazing view, right?” We are just getting started, so we can still make fun of the situation. But seriously, what an empty landscape. We draw a comparison with the American Heartlands. And because we have been giving everything a Spanish like name, we call this area the ‘Pampas Corazon’. 

Day 2. Km 70 of 220. We need food and drinks. And maybe even more important: warmth. We pass a lot of deserted villages and end up in Bar Los Cerillos - it has a fireplace. Even in the villages, it still feels like on the Pampas: no one there. No shops or bars and if there is one, it is closed. ‘’But surely these people have to eat as well?’’ I ask Roger, who is busy checking out Google Maps. His answer says it all: ‘’What people?’’

Day 2. Km 120 of 220. To spice things up a little bit, I secretly added a bit of gravel to our route. I thought it was a great idea, but in reality, it turned out to be a boobytrap for Roger. He has a flat and he is not amused. He doesn’t care for the beauty of the landscape, which, in my opinion, has changed for the better. A pale spring sun starts shining and the beautiful Laguna de Bezas presents herself to us. I never saw greener water in my life. Within 30 minutes we went from one world to another. When we get back to the tarmac road after an hour, a hipster like Spanish guy comes up to me and says: ‘’Next time, come with gravel bike, because you are now in Montañas Vacias.’’ Later that night in the hotel, I remember what the man said and google the name. A fantastic world opens before my eyes, which is also referred to as the Spanish Lapland. Next time I am bringing the Diverge.

As bikepacking Dutchmen we are totally dependent on Repsols and Pueblos in this region. Whenever we pass one, we go in and bulk on food and water. It’s like laying in your sleeping bag at night and having to get out to pee - just do it, don’t hesitate. The next Repsol could be another 50 kilometers away. And one more thing about the bars: How ‘cerrado’ they might look, there is always the secret word to use, which might open their kitchen. The one thing you can always order - bocadillo. Con queso is good. Con jamon even better. And con tomate y tortilla is just heaven. 

This is the Torre Mudejar de El Salvador. The route crosses a pretty unknown, non-touristic area and we are eager to discover what the landscape will bring us in terms of vegetation, roads, mountains and towns. We pass so many picturesque and utterly Spanish towns, but there are two towns in particular that are jaw dropping; Teruel and Albarracin. You should indeed google it. In the center of Teruel we find a place to stay the night. It is in the countryside on a plateau at 915 meters altitude, at the crossing of the two rivers Alfambra and Guadalaviar, and known for its many Mudéjar structures. Again, you should google it.  

On day three, the sun arrived. To enhance the sudden feeling of spring, the roads of Aragon were covered with blossom leaves. Everyone who has ever rode his or her bike for a few days in a row, knows you will always have to face some difficult parts. But also, you will have these great happy moments on your bike. This was one of them. 

Valencia is at sea level. Teruel, the starting point of day three, is at a level of more than 900 meters. It goes without saying that day three was a good day. Sun, warmth, lots of towns with bars, blossom and many long, long roads, some up, but most down. Heavenly.

The Spanish are great at many things, but making candy isn’t one of them. You ask yourself: ‘’How hard can it be?’’ but even their Haribo style candy is awful. This is especially difficult when you have to ride a lot and have to fuel yourself with sugary stuff and water. Thank god for Oreo. Siempre mas Oreo, non?

Nothing beats riding into a vibrant big city after more than 500 kilometers of straight roads, nature and a lot of silence. And riding into Valencia is the cherry on the cake. We reach our destination with buzzing streets, laughter and a welcoming 21 degrees Celsius. This brings me back to my first question. Why should you go from A to B instead of going from A to A? Why the hassle of getting from Madrid to Valencia instead of an easy loop near the coast? The answer is simple. You leave something you will never go back to. At least, not on this trip. It feels like it’s all up to you, the good and the bad decisions. There is no going back, like leaving the house without your keys. And most importantly, you cover a much bigger area to play in. The fact that you have to continue, makes you see places you would probably never visit. The mountain you go down leaving the hotel, will not be needed to climb up again at the end of the day. It all adds up to that feeling of freedom and adventure, which were the main reasons to start this bike trip, and, let’s be honest, are the main reasons to start any cycling journey.


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