Sierra Nevada by Bike

by Andre Turro

                                                              Los Jamones De Sierra Nevada

                                          Bikepacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains on a Pine Mountain

 

Question: Where can you have sun, warmth and an adventure?

Last year we went to Sweden on a bikepacking adventure in hopes of sunshine and a warm climate, but instead we got snow, ice and cold weather! Because the Finnish winter is dark, cold and long, this year we were determined to find some sun, warm weather and an adventure.

 We browsed for routes in warm European countries and found The TransNevada route, a loop of 450km around the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucia, Spain. According to Bikepacking.com eight days were needed to ride the route. We booked our flights for the 10th of March and waited for our adventure in the warm Spanish sun.

 So, did we have sun, warmth and an adventure?

We landed at Malaga airport, unpacked and put our bikes in the van – all in heavy rain. After a couple of hours we reached the start and end point of the loop, the town of Güejar Sierra. It was already getting dark by the time we’d unloaded our bikes, checked our bikepacking bags, bought a bottle of whisky for the first night and headed to the trail start. In two hours we managed to do 6km and ascend 540m to the first camping area, at 1710m above sea level, but it was closed! So we pitched our tents on the side of the road in the pouring rain, drank some whisky and went to sleep, only to wake up to a white cold morning.

 On the first day we climbed slowly up to 2056m on frozen and snowy roads. The first peak we conquered was windy and foggy. Then we started our first downhill, descending down to 1365m through beautiful changing scenery to a small town and restaurant. By the warmth of the fireplace we drank beers and had lunch and waited for the rain to stop. After lunch we climbed back up to 1743m in a hail storm pushing the bikes in a strong headwind as the hail hit our faces. After an uphill comes a downhill, a beautiful winding gravel road that we bombed down smiling. With a strong tailwind on our backs we started looking for a campsite and soon we found ourselves in the middle of olive tree fields where we found shelter from the wind behind a storage building.

 The second day started with strong winds and our first sunrise. The whole day was going up and down, climb after climb, but in sunshine. We stopped for lunch by a small mountain river, unaware of the climb we were facing. It wasn’t steep or long, it was muddy and full of cow turds! A big herd of cows had made the surface into a sticky and slippery road. During the next part of the ride, we passed a small sleepy town where we bought rum and tapas. We camped on the hillside overlooking the valley filled with blossoming almond trees. We drank, ate and watched the sun go down.

 The third day started with a 7km long climb on tarmac. We crossed the mountain and on the top by the ski center we found two friendly workers who told us the route up was full of ice and snow, but if we would take the road down to the next village, there would be beer and tapas. It was around lunch time and beer and tapas sounded good! Good it was, and after a short ride we descended into sunshine and a nice 16°C. We found a restaurant with a terrace and an amazing view. After a great lunch in the sun we started climbing up again. In the altitude of 1260m we found a perfect camp spot in the middle of the mountains. Before making camp we had stopped in the last village shop to buy more Haribo and meat for the night under the starry sky.

 The fourth day started like all the other days, climb up, ride down, repeat. We passed countless small villages in the Alpujarras region, stopping for lunch in Trevellez, a town famous for its ham. There I made a new addition to my camping gear: a traditional Alpujarra poncho. After lunch we rode more winding climbs, passed more towns and found a nice campsite by the road. Of course we stopped in the last store, for some food and chocolate, drinks, and beers!

 On the fifth day it seemed we might have a rainy day on the saddle, but luckily it was only in the morning. We rode in a hail storm and on the top of the climbs we were met by stormy winds that almost blow us out of our saddles. We ascended almost 2400m until we reached the town of Niquelas. There we bought tortillas, tapas and a bottle of red wine, climbed into a small valley surrounded by sharp peaks and condors flying above us. We slept well that night.

 The sixth day started in the shadows of the peaks, but while packing our gear the sun found its way into the valley. This would be our last full day in the saddle and it started with a nice 8km climb, after which we descended 700 meters lower on a fun gravel road, with small jumps, nice corners to shred and some mountain horses to admire. We stopped halfway to enjoy lunch by the road and have the traditional slingshot competition.

 On the bottom we encountered a flooded road with a cracked bottom. I didn’t want to soak my shoes, so barefooted I walked with my bike in the freezing water with my bike over it, only to see the taller guys on their bigger bikes riding over it. At least my feet were clean! We climbed over two smaller climbs and from the top we saw a small town that should have been only 13km away. We smiled and thought it would be peace of cake. We descended from 1500m to 850m in just 6 km, even finding some singletrack along the way. Now all we had to do was to ascend 400m in 7km, have a beer and set up camp. Sounds easy, right?

 The climb was steep, first on tarmac, then over a muddy field, followed by stickier and softer mud that jammed our tires. We then had a steep climb on a mixture of rocks and mud that led to a broken trail crossing a field and a farm. When we arrived in the village there was no shop, only a restaurant, La Guitarra. After finding a nice little hilltop with pine trees to set up camp, we pitched the tents, sprayed deodorant, changed out of our riding clothes and rode in the dark back to the restaurant to fill our water bottles, drink beers and to eat a heavy meal. A bit before midnight we were back in our tents for a last, cold night.

 On the seventh day we didn’t rest, even during the night, because our tentpole snapped and made our tent even stealthier and smaller. It was a cold morning, but there were only two big climbs and one smaller one left. On the first climb we encountered a pair of friendly shepherd dogs with their flock of goats roaming freely by the hillside. On the top we rode in 5-10cm of snow with the occasional strong winds. After the first climb and downhill we decided to skip lunch, having instead a quick five minute break to eat some chorizo and Haribo candies next to an old dam and pedal quickly to the van. On the last climb it started raining heavily and that continued the rest of the day. So we went down hill from the snowy peaks in pouring rain to the vans. In those 10km we found that the road was gone, like really gone. It didn’t stop us and one by one the bikes were lowered from the other side and pulled up from the other by our four man line. After the last climb we reached our van soaking wet, but with big smiles on our faces.

 To end the trip properly we walked to a nearby restaurant and had a big steak for dinner. Back to the van and to Malaga airport, where we packed our bikes and gear into our bike bags, drank beers and slept a little.

 We skipped two sections and rode in the end around 350km in seven days, ascending almost 11,000m. We did have some warm sunny days, and we did indeed have an epic adventure. As for the Pine Mountain, it was made for adventure in the mountains where pine trees grow and condors fly.

 

 

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