Bikepacking Southern Spain (part 2): Rhythm
After two weeks riding through the rocky, sun-baked landscape of southern Spain’s Andalucían provinces, the weave of slopeside footpaths, winding pisté, agricultural tracks, and maze-like towns are still proving unpredictable. Some days we find a rhythm navigating these passages; on others, we stumble.
On a perfect day, we’d ride a mix of forest tracks and gravel, with a healthy dose of singletrack somewhere in the middle. At around 17:30 hours, we’d beat the early sunset and find a tranquil campsite with eastern exposure, ideally several miles before a small town. The following morning we’d wake to the warmth of the sun, roll through town and sit for a few minutes over café con leche, and tostadas with olive oil and tomato puree. From there, we’d climb back into the mountains, descending just in time for a cold beer during the afternoon siesta.
Of course, it never plays out exactly like that. The reality is that we’re held in the grips of endless false summits, extremely short days, happenstance, and the vagaries of the weather. Furthermore, gale-force headwind tantrums remind us that we are treading a narrow path between the mountains and the sea.
Route planning is something of a timing game. Piecing together a cursive route across an unknown place involves map-reading, beta and hearsay, as well intuition and the reckoning of pace. By the time we figure out the rhythm of the landscape, its terrain, the culture and all its quirks, everything changes. And that’s part of the charm; it’s what keeps things interesting. So, as the days’ actual events trump our “schedule”, we find success in spending solid hours in the saddle, enjoying the sun’s warm rays and life as it unfolds.
Since Ronda, the terrain has turned all hill. When we tire of climbing, the terrain only gets steeper. And the tracks are a motley lot. We’ve meandered on rugged forest paths, trudged up and down steep, loose and rocky grades, bounced over ancient broken stone, made time on fast narrow tarmac, and picked lines down technical singletrack. We’re still following the GR7, but have thrown in parts of the TransAndalus and the GR249 (The Great Malaga Path). If there is a metronome to our daily cadence, it’s the contraction of our leg muscles. Mostly, we are hard pressed to make it over 50 KM in a day. Late afternoon usually features at least one push-bike session.
From Antequera, known as the heart of Andalucía, we had to choose one of two paths, both considered the GR7. The northerly route leads through Cordoba and Jaén provinces, while the southern route goes through Granada and the Sierra Nevada range (see map below). We elected to go south, in order to retain the option of adding bits of the TransAndalus and TransNevada routes into our eclectic stitchwork.
Beyond Granada, the scenery has shifted. There is still the consistent agricultural landscape, wedged as it is into the cobbled hills. And there are always endless groves of olives. But now, cruciferous valley crops and fields of artichoke have been replaced with citrus and almond orchards. The olde world permeates the small hill towns that dot the landscape. Hints of Roman roads, Moorish architecture, and crumbled stone structures add to their allure. The low winter sun casts longer shadows from these structures, making it ever more difficult to judge the time of day.
We’re now in the Sierra Nevada range. From here, we aim to follow a combination of the GR7, TransAndalus and the hearty TransNevada, taking us over 2,000 meters in altitude as we cross the range and continue northward. I’ve little doubt that longer ups, bigger downs, and free tapas will set the tempo. Stay tuned…
We began this trip with a mission to track the GR7 to a ‘T’, come hell or high water. Once the reality of this ‘footpath’ set in, and a few other options came in to perspective, our quest shifted. Our general trajectory remains the same: to cross south Spain using the GR7 as a framework, taking in as many of the natural and national parks as possible. However, our new formula involves weaving in segments of other great routes too: GR242, GR249, the TransAndalus, the TransNevada, and the GR249. Check out the map above for a perspective on some of the longer routes, and stay tuned to see how our journey takes shape.