Every cyclist will have a few rides in their lives that are unforgettable. The reasons may vary, beautiful scenery, extremely difficult, something amazing happens or something awful happens. But when you cycle a lot, although many rides begin to merge into one, there are a few you will always remember. I think I’ve had four of these in my first two years of cycling! Undoubtedly some of the memories will fade as other rides become unforgettable but for now, I have four very special rides.
The first was Mount Ventoux in June this year – for the beauty of the mountain, the sheer scale of the challenge, the feeling of pride when we had conquered it – and for doing it with my sister.
The second was an 80 mile cycle around the Isle of Mull – for the emptiness of the winding roads, the incredible headwinds, the most isolated climb I’ve done and again, the beauty of the island – and for spending a day cycling with my boyfriend. Even if he did keep cycling too close to me and refuse to drag me along the worst of the headwind.
The third was my first 100 miler – for how incredibly difficult it was, the mental challenge of just keeping the legs turning, overcoming my fear of not being able to complete it, and how ridiculously happy I was when I had finally managed it – and for my uncle and cousins in making it a great day out.
Finally – 50km half on and half off road in Andalucia last week. This one will stand out for the amazing views, more stunning and beautiful than any I’ve seen while on a bike, the challenge of a bumpy descent on a mountain bike, the huge plate of goat’s cheese we had at the end, and spending the day on a bike with my mum.
It had been years since I cycled a bike with flat pedals and for the first half an hour of our ride I kept trying to clip out! We rented the bikes from our hotel, Casa Olea, for EUR15 for the day – they were in good condition, not hardcore mountain bikes but good enough for our paths, and to be cycled on the road as well. Brakes and gears worked perfectly. We set off along the road at first, heading from our little hotel to Luque, no clouds in the blue sky overhead and the November sun beating down hard. Within minutes the jacket came off as we worked our way gradually uphill through rolling olive fields and valleys towards Luque. Hot in mid-November, I can’t imagine what it’s like cycling up a hill in Andalucia in the summer – unbearable I imagine!
After just over an hour, though only 10km (mountain bikes are slow on the road!) we freewheeled down a short hill into Luque, a pueblo blanco set on the steep slopes of a hill with its castle perched on a rocky outcrop at the top. We had to cycle up a very steep and narrow road through the centre of town – where I met a bus driver coming down while looking at his phone so I very quickly jumped my bike and myself onto the pavement whilst he passed! At the top of Luque we manouvered our way past the end of a running race and we were on the Buitreras Path – an 18k path over the top of the hill/mountain running from Luque to Carcabuey.
The road surface was sand/gravel and the path began on a gentle slope, winding its way along the side of a hill away from Luque. Soon we had stunning views back to the town, with the plains rolling away beyond it as far as the eye can see.
After a few gently kilometres the path began to climb more steeply with a series of switch-backs – we spotted a very steep path in front of us and for a moment had a panic that we had to go up it but luckily this was just a farm track!
The path flattened out at the top and we went past a small farm before reaching the other side of the mountain (I’ve now decided to call it a mountain as it went up to around 1500m).
We now had views across the plains to Priego de Cordoba and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The sun however was casting a hazy glow over the scenery so it was not quite as spectacular as the other side.
It was very cold as we started to descend, jackets were back on and I was glad of my short-fingered gloves, first for the cold and also for the vibrations. I went very slowly downhill, having never done it before offroad… and being pretty slow onroad as well! We dropped quickly down the back of the hill into another valley with an olive farm, a group of birdwatchers and a guy walking a huge dog.
We curved around the hill and came out onto the plains, to cycle through an olive farm which reminded me of vineyards in southern France.
We were getting closer to our lunch stop at Zagrilla Alta and had been told it was “pretty much” all downhill from here – so we were not impressed to be faced with a 15% climb! Luckily it had a few switchbacks and then was all over, we were traversing the side of the mountain into Zagrilla Alta which was visible in the distance.
A wonderful lunch later including a huge plate of goat’s cheese, and we had just 10k to do to home. We were thinking it might take an hour given our average speed up to that point, but it turned out the rest truly was downhill and we sped home! To arrive after almost four and a half hours of cycling, 47km and 1000m of climbing, exhausted and happy. A ride to remember.
If that wasn’t enough… we then set off (by car!) to explore Priego de Cordoba, a town that we were not overwhelmed with it as one of it’s main selling points is the great view – we had just had the same view but better all day! However we were looking for a cafe for a hot chocolate, and ended up finding one bustling with Spaniards that had a whole separate hot chocolate menu. One chocolate orange hot chocolate with whipped cream later I was about ready for my bed!