Bikepacking Southern Spain: The Hard Way (part 1)
La primera transmisión from a bikepacking trip across southern Spain via the GR7, TransAndalus, and other impromptu diversions.
Our first report from an attempt to cross southern Spain via the GR7, one of Spain’s long-distance footpaths that runs from the southern tip of Spain to France…
One week ago we landed in Madrid with the goal of taking a train to the GR7 trailhead. From there, we’d devote ourselves to following the exact route… cycling, pushing, and plodding along every inch of the GR7, covering as much distance as we could prior to our mid-December deadline. We projected the terminus would be in Valencia, or maybe Barcelona, if our legs didn’t fall off first. Like all good adventures, surprises have popped up, requiring us to change some plans and alter our trajectory. Instead of sticking with a pre-determined route, things are gonna get a little more interesting.
The first two adventure curveballs came before setting our feet to the pedals. It took two days to get one of the bikes passed through customs. After we finally got the bikes put together, we had to change our start location. Several rail lines were closed for renovation, including the two that would make it possible to get to Tarifa, with bikes. Spain’s high speed trains don’t allow bicycles unless they are in a tiny parcel (i.e. folding bikes in a bag); the key is to use the Media Distancia trains. So we rerouted to Cadiz where we would begin on the TransAndalus in order to get to the GR7.
Before we get too far into the ride, a little background. We cycled in Spain almost two years ago, taking on the GR48 and part of the TransNevada. In addition to those routes, we also heard of the TransAndalus and several other smaller routes. Bikepacking options abound here in Andalusia, and they all seem like promising and tempting off-road cycling routes. But, with our limited insight, the GR7 stuck out as the most interesting and comprehensive way to transect the country.
The GR7 is a long-distance footpath that begins in Tarifa, the southern most point of western Europe. From Tarifa, the route runs across Andalucia, Spain’s most southerly autonomous community, then northeastward through Murcia, Valencia, and Catalonia. From Catalonia, the GR7 winds its way into France, then Andorra, and back to France, where it reaches it conclusion in the Alsace region of northern France. This historical route is undoubtedly beautiful.
However, the GR7 is a walking route. This means steep climbs, boulder fields, steps, and other such non-bicycle friendly bits and bumps. Most cyclists have just nodded when we tell them our goal. Perhaps they think they’ve misunderstood us… our mastery of the Spanish language being as absolutely non-masterful as it is. Otherwise, I think we’d be getting a lot more looks of bewilderment.
Fortunately, when entering the picturesque town of Ubrique, we met a friendly cyclist who, in addition to sharing his lovely home for the night, gave us a much needed “talking to”. Juan, co-developer of cycloturismo.sur, offered us this bit of advice. To paraphrase: the GR7 is a hiking route. The TransAndalus is the cyclists’ response to that route. There are other great cycling-specific routes that closely follow the GR7. They’ll be way more enjoyable to ride.
So, that’s the new plan. With many a map and gpx in hand, we’re going to cobble together a GR7/alt bike track to work our way northeast. The rest in photos and captions. Stay tuned for more from the GR7.
5 Tips for Bikepacking in Andalusia
- 1. Get there by Media Distancia Trains. They allow you to roll your bikes on and off, anytime.
- 2. Enjoy the cuisine. Tapas, huevos tortillas, fresh local goat and sheep cheeses, free-range Ibérico pork. All make excellent fuel, and in rural Spain, it’s easy to eat on the cheap.
- 3. Use some of the great resources to plan your trip. Like TransAndalus, and Cicloturismo.sur.
- 4. Avoid the rains. We’ve been lucky, but the mud in these mountains can eat drivetrains.
- 5. Time your rides around towns. If you time your daily rides just right, you can roll through a village and catch their late lunch from 2-4pm. Conversely, it’s also nice to time their breakfast (you can get a coffee and tostada for less than $2 US).
Gear that’s working
Not a complete list, but here’s some gear choices that have impressed, so far. More on these and additional gear selections soon.
- Surly wool. We both brought Surly wool zip jerseys and have proven that you can wear them for many sweaty days, and they don’t develop a smell. Their socks are great as well.
- WTB Trail Boss 3.0 Tires. Fast rolling, grippy and tough; love them so far.
- Marin Pine Mountain 2. I am really enjoying the 27+ platform, and the Pine Mountain 2 has a great sure-footed geometry for multi-day bikepacking.
- Jamis Dragonslayer. Another 27+ chromoly steed; Gin finds it to be her most comfortable bike to date.
- OR Versaliner Gloves. A nice warm glove with an optional weatherproof glove… great for winter camping and riding.
- Orange Seal Endurance Sealant. No flats yet; and this is acacia country.
- Revelate Terrapin V2. The air release valve on the removable dry bag is killer.
- Zpacks Solo Down Sleeping Bag and Katabatic Alsek 22. Both of these UL down bags are incredibly light and warm.