1st June 2013

I have spent the previous evening reviewing today’s GR7 route to avoid yesterday’s problems – or rather mitigate them. I have studied the route on Google satellite, checked for gorges, and planned alternative routes and villages to fall back to if GR7 is impassable. I had identified that the GR7 leaves Montanejos on a steep single-track up over a mountain, only to descend again a few miles later; I categorised this as difficult and pointless, and found a roundabout route. So I set off feeling confident, and cycle north out of Montanejos on some tarmac, heading uphill to my first pass of the day at 800m. Then I am on a high plain, heading slightly upwards,  where the conditions seem right for the local farmers to grow wheat and barley, and I find myself cycling through miles of beautiful fields ringed with wild flowers. I rejoin the GR7 here and start cycling off-road; however the track soon diminishes to rough single-track, and with the generally upwards trend it proves slow going.

It is helpful to understand some of the logic that was going on here. If you are walking on rough single-track, it slows you down by maybe 20% as legs are adapted for it. If you are cycling, it slows you down by maybe 50%, as wheels are not adapted. Generally rough single-track is sought out for down-hill routes where it is fun. On the level or uphill it is not fun at all, especially with a trailer.

All this is is to justify being a light-weight: I give up and get back on the tarmac. The GR7 is shadowing the road, so the views are the same. There are no cars. So it’s like the GR7 but faster. In fact on the descent into Villahermosa del Rio I hit my all-time land speed record at 58.2 kph.

I’ve been having problems with my tyres. I swapped the heavy down-hill tyres (for the illuminati I had Maxxis Ardent rear and Minion front) for a local set which Rafael in Valencia assured me were more suitable for the local conditions. Sadly, they were not. They have a lower tread pattern which does not push through the gravel – rather it sits on top of it and uses the pieces of gravel like marbles. I failed to make a corner for the first time ever, sliding off into the verge, and had difficulty stopping when I needed to. They also do not give as much traction up hill, and I have found my rear wheel spinning at the most unfortunate moments. I think having a trailer exacerbates the problem as grip up hill and on corners is crucial because of the extra weight. However they are better on smooth tracks and tarmac, and probably contributed to my new land speed record. But the old ones were too heavy so as soon as I find a bike shop I’m swapping to High-rollers.

I arrived in Villahermosa around 1.00 in the afternoon, and it does live up to it’s name; is is a beautiful little village perched on a hill-side with views over fields and mountains. The centre is very pleasant with a nice church and a garage for the local bus in a cave.

After a swift lunch I press on up the GR7 north. I have checked this part of the route out on Google satellite and it appeared fine, but I was suspicious as it was in the base of a valley – often a sign of trouble. Sure enough I find it is rocky single track, crossing back and forward over a stream using stepping stones and moving uphill with frequent large rocky steps. But I have a plan B, and change to a an alternative route in the same direction which turns out to be a well made track into the hills. So I follow this for a couple of miles, and the GR7 rejoins me. It is a gorgeous route, and I stop for a while in a small field next to the stream to admire the view. I can hear a dog barking incessantly further up the gorge, but as dogs barks are a standard feature of the Spanish countryside I think nothing of it and press on. Shortly the well made track stops, and turns without warning into a rough tracks, again criss crossing the stream and moving up hill over boulders and rock ledges. I am gobsmacked. Neither Gooogle maps nor my satnav show any change in notation at this stage, as if a 4m wide track and a 50cm wide track are the same thing. If you had come up here in your 4×4 you would have trouble!

I know I can’t pull my trailer over the 10 miles of this stuff to the next village. But to make sure it doesn’t change back into something ridable, I leave my bike and trailer and start too walk further up hill to check it out. Sure enough it just gets worse. Then I notice that the dog is still barking; it has been now for 20 minutes. I realise that in such difficult terrain it could mean there is a problem – maybe it is stuck or its owner is injured. So I continue walking for another 5 minutes, and start to realise that, sure enough, the sound is coming not from the valley but from the cliffs above. I work my way along to a point where the sound is directly above me – I can’t see the dog as the sides of the gorge are heavily wooded, but fortunately not sheer at this point. I blow my whistle (carried for emergencies) and shout, asking if anyone needs help. There is no answer but the dog keeps on barking. So I start to climb up through the trees and gorse towards the noise. And this is what I see:

The dog, one of the local sheep dogs by its looks, has chased a Mouflon (wild goat/sheep type thing) to a cliff. He can’t get down to it; I’m sure it could go further down as I have seen these things climb. But instead the Mouflon stays where it is, presumably knowing the dog can’t follow. I can see the dog is not trapped as it is near the top of the cliff and has a simple route up. He is also as happy as Larry, wagging his tail as if he is very proud of his achievement. But it is a Mexican stand-off. I advise the dog to give up and go home, and climb back down. 10 minutes later I get back to my bike and the barking has stopped; I assume he has taken my advice.

So now I have to implement Plan C; I return to Villahermosa, to find a hotel and reconsider my options. On the way I descend via the GR7 single-track along the river bed that was too rough to ascend; but it does make an excellent down-hill. Where it criss-crosses the river, fording becomes easy once I have the speed and momentum of the descent, and the rocky ledges that would mean a pull up on the ascent become interesting drop-offs on the descent. As usual I am amazed how well the trailer copes with all this; the only problems are when the track bends sharply or passes narrow between two large rocks…when the trailer gets wedged!  I find a nice hotel on the edge of town, where rooms are 25ε. They provide a hose to wash my bike, let me put it in their garage and give me a room with a lovely balcony and a view over the valley with the sun streaming in. So I sit there with a cold beer, warm in the sunshine, and decide that following the GR7 is not working. I need a new strategy.

Published by jhalstead1

This is my blog of my trip around Spain, off road, on my mountain bike. The story is told in full in my book "Three Wheels on my Bicycle", available on Amazon in Kindle or hardback.

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