The weather was supposed to be nice. The route was drawn. I hadn‘t been sick for years. Stefan started the trip with 206 bones in his body. One fun part of touring is planning. Where will we go? What will we bring? What route will we follow? Where will we sleep? Buying maps and using Google Street View safe in the knowledge that the best roads and paths aren‘t ‘Street Viewable‘. Another fun part of touring is that you can be pretty sure that things won’t go as planned.

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A good start

Stefan had been wanting to visit the Parque Natural Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas for a few years. This natural park in Jaén, a province in the region of Andalusia, is the largest protected area in Spain and the second largest in Europe. From the 18th until the 28th of March, it would finally happen. Stefan took the ferry from Ibiza to Denia one day earlier, choosing to camp somewhere near Valencia airport and pick me up the next day. He found a nice, secluded spot in the middle of nowhere. The next morning, the battery of his car was dead. Clearly, the guy from the breakdown service wasn‘t sure if he was entering a crime scene, or if he himself was the intended victim. Luckily, my plane was delayed by a few hours, so Stefan had more than enough time to find a new battery.

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Clockwise or anti-clockwise?

Our first stop was a hotel in Hellín, where we would leave Stefan‘s car, ‘Pedro‘s’ our chains and mount new Vittoria tires. The closer we came to the national park, the darker the sky became. After checking several weather apps, we decided to try to avoid the worst rain by riding our intended loop clockwise instead of anti-clockwise. As we will explain later, this proved to be a mistake. We managed to stay pretty dry on the first day, but we got ‘lost‘ and strayed from our planned route. After almost 100 km, it was time to ditch the tents in the panniers and find a hotel; always willing to support the locals and, moreover, I had started to wheeze and cough, suffering from shortness of breath on any climb taller than a speed bump.

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Hail and thunder

The next day we get back on our clockwise route again. After a beautiful, sunny day on the bike with stunning gorges and awesome views, we decided to buy food plus enough water to see us through the rest of the day, a shower and the start of the next day. We managed to find a few more or less level square meters on the mountainside and pitched our tents. Less than half an hour later, it started to drizzle. Drizzle turned into rain, rain turned into a serious hail and thunderstorm. Not much fun on a mountain in a thunderstorm. Luckily we had our all-season Hilleberg tents and as long as the aluminium poles weren‘t buzzing, we were safe. Right…?

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Vittoria Bomboloni

Climbing is fun and rewarding. Afterwards there is an unrivalled sense of pride, a nice view or an awesome descent. Although by day three we should have become suspicious of the terrain. Another day of endless climbing was ahead of us, now on a muddy path. Our Vittoria Adventure Trail tires were performing well, but in this mud we couldn’t help asking ourselves why we hadn’t brought the Vittoria Bombolonis. After each turn there was another climb, no respite. The seemingly-endless 30 km of muddy climbs in the rain and hail sapped our energy and I was shivering like a leaf. The highlight of the day was a group of about 15 deer running with us for a few hundred meters. Impressive!

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M.C. Escher

Oh, the endless climbing… If you aren‘t familiar with the work of the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, please google him. One of his most well-known works is ‘Ascending and Descending‘, inspired by the never-ending ‘Penrose stairs‘, and definitely aptly titled for our route. ‘Ascending and Descending’ depicts two groups of walking men: the men who walk clockwise, ascend continuously; the men who walk counterclockwise, descend continuously. Which direction had we chosen?

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Jamón

After sheltering for two nights in a rented apartment in picturesque Segura de la Sierra, the rain and my fever had more or less abated. There was a dense fog though and we were soon wet and cold. However, the fortunate thing about Spain is that wherever you are, there is often a bar with decent coffee, beer and jamón nearby. As fate would have it, a bar suddenly loomed out of the fog, almost like a mirage with a horse waiting outside for his horseshoes to be replaced and three wild pigs hanging on the wall waiting for customers. A cool place for some coffee and jamón and for drying our rain and down jackets. At the end of another cold day, we ended up in a hotel in Santiago de la Espada.

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Campos de Hernán Perea

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The Campos de Hernán Perea plateau was always going to be a highlight of our tour. But the locals in the hotel bar were outspoken and unanimous: there was a lot of snow and it would be impossible to ride a bike there. Fortunately, the locals were wrong. What a day! The stunning nature, endless views, snow-capped mountains, foxes, birds of prey and sun meant that it ranked pretty highly on the all-time list of amazing rides. Other than three men on horses, we didn’t see another soul – and we only had to push a few times through bits of snow.

Climbing and camping

Over the next few days we found ourselves back on the Penrose stairs again, climbing and climbing, weaving up through beautiful mountains with little villages nestled in the rocks, the Embalse el Tranco (a huge reservoir), lots of olive trees with their beautiful leaves turning silver in the wind, some hike-the-bike-bushes and more jamón. Our camping spots were idyllic; one day in an olive field, another day next to a sign warning about angry bees (we figured it would be too windy and too cold for the bees to leave their hives). Both evenings the light was amazing while we cooked some noodles and spaghetti with tomato and tuna sauce. And both evenings we were happy to crawl into our warm sleeping bags early. I was shaking and shivering again. Later it would turn out I had bronchitis and sinusitis.

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An alternative interpretation of the Firefly Bones project

We both love our touring bikes, Stefan‘s ff236 and my ff340. Firefly made us awesome bikes that have been taking us to beautiful places. As an homage, we decided to do our own version of the Firefly Bones project, a cool collaboration between Firefly and Eric Bones. Nearly two years ago in Romania, I steered my Firefly towards the ground and broke my left hip, a fracture on the femur neck I found out later. Now it was Stefan‘s turn. On a hiking path in a beautiful gorge, Stefan had an encounter with a rock and ended up with a broken elbow. Luckily it was our last day and we were only 40 km from the hotel in Hellín, the starting point of our tour. With some Ibuprofen, he managed to cycle back to the hotel. An x-ray clearly showed a 207th bone in his body.

Some stats: 8 days of cycling, 1 day of sitting out the rain, 579 kilometers, 12,160 meters of elevation gain, about 2.5 kilos of jamón.

Many thanks for the support: Firefly Bicycles, Pedro‘s, Vittoria tires, Rapha.

The route: strava.com

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Words: Ad Vermaas Photos: Stefan Rohner, Ad Vermaas