11 May

Cycling solo through half of Spain: More gravel. Locked gates and a desperate car ride. Day 3

Breakfast and coffee should do the trick.

I woke up groggy. I felt the exhaustion from yesterday.
I was in Valdepena. 320km to my final destination – no more than 2 days and I will be back at home.
There were two options: Make today a long ride so tomorrow is easy or split the distance equally over the two days.
The first option sounded more appealing. So, here I was sitting over breakfast and my map finding an appropriate destination for today.
Granada. 250km.
That would be awesome.
If I dont get the same headwind as yesterday, it would be a possibility. I am starting 1.5 hours earlier than yesterday so I really have the entire day for those 250km.

But again, this trip had its own timeline.

This time, it did not require to get outside to make a crucial mistake.

This picture does not show it well but this was 20%. The other side just looked the same. Plus another 10 of them.

The mistake was made when choosing the right route.
Option A went through a rural part of Spain, option B led along the highway.
To avoid cars, I decided to go for the rural routes. I always could turn West to the highway route if necessary.
20km into the ride, I found myself on that rural route which became gravel.
Like yesterday, I stopped. Evaluated.
Looking at the map, there was no option to avoid this road except going all the way back to the beginning.
All the way back to the beginning? No way!
Going 20km back would be more mentally devastating than a puncture, I decided it is time to ride gravel now.
But I decided to head to route option B with the hope that the service road of the highway would be well-maintained.
How wrong I was!

The gravel action was just starting.


The pictures only show the smooth sections. During the pothole-mine-fields I had no time to take photos.

With a gravel bike this route would have been heaven. Instead, I was constantly worried about punctures. My enjoyment was limited. Due to the 20% gradient pitches, some hike-a-bike action was required as well. Not knowing how long this would go, my plan to finish in Granada changed to would I finish at all?
I seemed to make no progress. And this is the road I have to take all the way to Granada! Another 200km!
If I keep going with a pace of 15kmh….let’s not think about it.
After an eternity of riding-walking alternation, I came across a gas station.
A group of motorcycles looked at me wondering where I came from. That made me worried. Was there even a road out of this gas station besides the highway and the road I just came from?
My hopes to see Granada at all today were diminished.
Expecting the worst, I couldnt believe to find myself on a paved road through a national park, Despenaperros, with an amazing scenery over the country side. Having been through a bit of a rough time the past hours, I could enjoy this path even more. I loved the climb, the surroundings, the smooth paved road. My requirements to enjoy the ride have been drastically reduced.
The more I rode along enjoying the scenery, the more I forgot about the unpredictable changes of the road surface.
I made it to Linares and had my favorite meal during this trip: Migas – similar to spiced up bread crumbs.
It was 3pm.
I took me almost 6 hours for 100km. Wow!
While sitting comfortable at the curb in front of the supermarket, I had this whole “relaxing while looking at the map” moment. Or was I just procrastinating?
Half-motivated I got back on my bike knowing that at least I have to make it to Jaen – that is the 160km mark which would make tomorrow’s day the same distance.
Slowly but surely I got back into the rhythm and found myself on a main road with headwind. But this time, I almost appreciated the headwind. I knew it could have been a lot worse.
By having gone faster than the 15kmh earlier in the day, I decided to finally cover some ground.
My strategy was to ride for another hour and then to decide what to do next.
Once I left Jaen heading South it became rural again. I was following the paved service road of the highway but there was nothing else around.
After an hour I stopped at the gas station.
I was sitting at the curb eating two greasy sandwiches with unidentifiable ingredients.
I was alternating between being deeply engaged with my cell phone and observing the truck drivers who were curiously passing by. They probably wonder why a woman in cycling clothes is sitting by herself at a curb of a gas station in remote Spain.

If they knew what I was up to.

Monika, focus! Back to the cell phone. Will you keep going or find a hotel here?
I looked at the map. I had two options. Either a hotel here or 50km up the road.
It is 5pm, plenty of daylight left. Shall I risk it going for the one 50km ahead?
Ok! Why not!
But I should have known better. It is day 3 and I know what will be ahead.


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I booked the hotel online that forced me to keep going. I paid now, so now I have to get there.
I immediately regretted my decision.
The food made me tired. Really tired. I could have fallen asleep immediately.
Monika, only 50 more kilometers. It cant be that bad!
Yes, it can!
My energy evaporated 15km down the road.
I was looking at a farm track. 35km of farm track? Would I even make it to the hotel in daylight? Slowly I kept going, the battery of my garmin, my phone and myself nearing their end. Maybe the next town has a hotel despite not advertising online?
Hope was what kept me going. Monika, only to the next village!
The village had one road which I was pacing nervously up and down.
No hotel. No accommodation. No option but to keep going.
At my last attempt I asked two persons on the road. Is there a hotel in this village?
Nope, sorry!
They asked me where I came from and where I am heading to. I told them.
They started talking fast. Too fast for me to understand.
I looked down gazing at the road trying not to fade away.  I was visibly tired and exhausted.
A minute passed. One of them looked at me.
“I can drive you to your hotel!”
I looked up. Puzzled. I couldnt believe it.
Normally, I would politely decline. But this time, considering my condition, I happily accepted.
We loaded the bike and drove to the hotel 30km on the highway.
I looked at the path next to the highway -the path I would have had to take. I would have arrived in the night.
The sun was setting.
I entered the hotel in disbelief. I made it!
I closed the door of my hotel room. Exhausted. Tired. Happy. If someone had told me this morning that I had to ride 70km of gravel out of 206 very long kilometers, that I would have found myself at locked gates that forced me to turn around, that I had to walk my bike for an extended period and that I had to take a car ride to the hotel, I would have not believed it.
What extreme up and downs this day brought. What motivation and patience today required. What a true adventure that is riding through this country!
Today was done.
Tomorrow will be a new day.

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