A few years ago, I watched the whole of the Vuelta for the first time. The third of the Grand Tours, three weeks at the end of August, from the olive groves of Andalucia to the high peaks of the Pyrenees. This particular year, the race had summit finishes and climbs in a part of Spain I had never heard of, the Picos de Europa. And it was so stunningly beautiful that, as the camera panned away on the helicopter to give the scenery shots, I thought I have to cycle here one day.
Gradually I began planning the brief outlines of the holiday and we finally went at the end of July 2017. By this point, it was not just the cycling I wanted, but to go a bit further than that and do a spoilt form of bike packing – taking everything we needed for the week with us and travelling from place to place by bike, but staying in hotels and eating in restaurants. So I booked lots of tiny cheap b’n’bs and one splash out 5* spa hotel for a bit of R&R towards the end.
There’s a number of posts coming up about the route and where we stayed etc but to start with, here’s how I planned the whole thing and the kit we took.
There are lots of companies that run cycle touring trips through the Picos and many of them have a rough outline of their route on their website. I particularly looked here and here. I also had a play around on Instagram for pictures of beautiful places and on Google maps to get a sense of the roads. I knew I wanted to cycle the Covadonga climb and hike the Cares Gorge. From Instagram, I decided I wanted to go to Riaño.
So my eventual route went:
1. Panes -> Posada de Valdeón (57km)
Here I had planned a rest day while we climbed Covadonga, two nights in Cangas de Onís. But while browsing Booking.com I found an amazing hotel I knew I wanted to stay at and it was only 14km from Cangas de Onís. Easy day I thought! Turned out not to be quite such an easy cycle as 5km was directly uphill….
4. Cangas de Onís -> Cofiño (15km + Lagos de Covadonga climb and back 47km)
5. Cofiño -> Las Arenas de Cabrales (45km)
6. Las Arenas de Cabrales -> Panes (52km)
It would be 328km in total, but every day would be manageable. Or so I thought. You see, I was really busy at work and didn’t have time to map out every route for the elevation. I knew it would be hilly, we were cycling in a mountain range of course, but I didn’t know how hilly. Big mistake! We ended up climbing 5500m (over 18,000 feet!) over the course of the week.
So next was the kit. I didn’t want to spend a huge amount because I didn’t know if I would like bike touring. I also had to get something that worked with my bike set up, a carbon fibre Liv Envie with no pannier racks.
I found this blog, about micro adventures, incredibly helpful. I ended up going for a Apidura saddle pack in medium, an Alpkit handlebar bag, and my camelbak which has some small pockets in it.
My sandals, kindle, wallet, small wash bag and some of my clothes went in the saddle pack. It worked great, everything fit really well. I could have gone for the larger one to make things easier but I didn’t really want to take any more stuff, I didn’t need any more stuff, and I didn’t want a heavier bag which is how I knew it would end up if I had the room for more stuff!
The rest of my clothes went in the handle bar bag which I tried to stuff as small as possible. I’m quite small so have quite small handle bars on my bike, meaning that if the bag wasn’t squished small enough it took up the entire space between the hoods and didn’t leave much room for me to get my hands to the brakes or shifters! I also have a mount for my Garmin and another one for my go pro off the front of my bike which all got in the way slightly. So it was awkward but still worked.
On my back I had a litre and a half of water and snacks, my phone, chargers and wallet in the pockets of my camelbak. Finally I had a small top-tube bag for my camera and more snacks!
And here’s my gear list – I definitely could have taken less for 6 days but at the same time I didn’t feel overally weighed down so think I took about the right amount of stuff.
- 2 x cycle shorts
- 2 x jerseys
- 2 x sports bras
- 1 x waterproof jacket
- 2 x socks
- 3 x Knickers
- 1 x normal bra
- 1 x small casual dress (easily roll-up-able)
- 1 x shorts
- 1 x t-shirt
- 1 x jumper
- 1 x tights for cold evenings
- Toiletries – toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hair brush, cleanser, suncream
- Battery charger
- Plug, adaptor
- Bike shoes
And that was it!