El Chorro – cycling past the lakes

Something I have learned over the past few days is that I am still a nervous cyclist. This may seem surprising seeing as I have absolutely no problem cycling amongst the cars in central London, regularly cycle up hills I once would have walked up before even trying, and “zoom” downhill (on straight roads, with good quality surfaces) at over 50kph. BUT. Send me down a steep road, on a variable surface, with corners some wide, some tight, and a ferocious cross-wind, and I am scared. My hands clench the brakes and I’ve been known to slow to almost walking pace…. Downhill. The more I cycle on the roads, the better I will get, and yesterday was a lesson in cycling with wind.

We planned a 60km cycle with two “escape” routes as we were both feeling tired with sore knees after the 80km cycle two days before, and then a four hour hike / scramble up rock faces the day before. It made for a very enjoyable day as we were never worried about speed or distance.

Our route started with a descent down the horrible hill into El Chorro (James: it’s odd, because you keep forgetting how to pedal, but you never seem to forget how to brake…) We then went up the same climb as the previous day, hugging the side of the national park on a closed road, and it was just as great as before. Push through the barriers blocking the road to cars, you won’t regret it. A sheltered climb at a steady gradient, no cars, beautiful views. We went up side-by-side, chatting as we did so.


At the top we took a right along the MA-9006 – a beautiful quiet descent through the trees, with the rock face of the Sierra de Huma to our right, protecting us from the wind, and the trees dropping down to the stunningly beautiful Embalse del Conde de Guadalhorce on the left.


It was great fun and I was really working on my cornering here, picking up confidence. The road swooped down to the lakeside and crossed over a bridge at Pantano Del Chorro.


Quite quickly afterwards we were crossing again, this time on the top of a gigantic dam so obviously we had to stop to take photos. It was here that we first felt the wind properly, pushing us sideways as we crossed the bridge and knocking my bike over as I stopped to take photos.


The next section of road took us along the lake side, with a few ups and downs but nothing too serious. We saw not another person for over an hour and I was constantly exclaiming at how beautiful it was, while James teased me for being slow. It was fantastic, the perfect road to cycle on. It ended with a short, steep, winding downhill, followed by an equally short, steep, winding uphill. At the midpoint between the two the wind hit us. And that was to be the dominating theme for the rest of the cycle!


At first we were gently winding uphill with cross-winds, still able to enjoy the beauty of the scenery with the rock faces towering over us to our right and then gently rolling hills, filled with olive trees, to our left. We had a long downhill section where I tried to practice my cornerning, but just got too scared by the wind that caught me on every bend, pushing the bike sideways. We joined the main road and continued going downhill, except it now felt like uphill due to the headwind impeding any progress. I just switched to a lower gear and concentrated on keeping my RPM high.


We stopped for a sandwich just before Valle de Abdalajís. This was the first point at which we could turn back. As we’d driven to the town the previous day I knew it was pretty steep, plus we would still be cycling into the wind. And I was enjoying myself so it was an easy decision to say “let’s keep going“. Valle de Abdalajís is a pueblo blanco (white village) perched on the hillside. We reached it above the town and then cycled down into the valley before up the hill on the opposite side to the town. Up and up we went, before cycling along a windy plateau and finally, finally a downhill that took us out of reach of the wind!


We decided to take the second “escape route” but stopped first at a small local supermarket to buy some potatoes for dinner. The lady there was really friendly and we had a nice chat in Spanish before James and I headed home, potatoes in Jersey pockets. Once again we were on a quiet road with barely any cars, cycling through rolling hills between lemon and orange groves. James stopped to pick a sneaky lemon overhanging the road for our dinner.


It was all good fun until my garmin ran out of battery and we started climbing up a seemingly never-ending hill. Plus, as we’d driven the route, I knew there was a much steeper slope yet to come. It turned out it wasn’t never-ending, it was only around 2km but with a gradient of between 8% – 11% on tired legs it felt tough. I threw a strop and told James I’d have to walk up the steeper hill that was yet to come. Strava shows the gradient at maxing out at 26%(!!!!!!) but only for a matter of seconds that was quickly got over by rising out of the saddle.

Cycle over, we dipped our legs in the cold waters of our private pool for a mini ice-bath then headed inside for a hot jacuzzi bath, followed by wine, patatas bravas cooked by James (using the lemon, the potatoes and LOTS of garlic), chicken and tomato salad, and early to bed.


Total distance: 53.3km
Total elevation: 1,045m
Total time: 3 hrs 03

See the Strava file here -> http://www.strava.com/activities/281593699/embed/0711ae9bbfc971c797b131544dcc47ea47489d72

Next – off to the Sierra Subbettica!



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