A Hard Day's Graft

Day 3 - Garganta to Raiza

After the high of day two, we didn’t realize we were going to face such a real adventure with a gamut of conditions, demands and emotions throughout the day.

The alarm went at 6am but it wasn’t until 8am that we had packed up and were on the road looking at a beautiful sunrise and real tranquility in the rolling hills of the Sierra towards our next climb. The night before had been the first in tents and hadn’t been the best night’s sleep for me, re-acquainting myself with this ancient form of nomadic living.

The views were inspiring, as you looked over endless fields and lakes towards the mountains we were about to challenge – or were about to challenge us.

Spanish villages in this region of Castilly Y Leon are beautiful, not the blanched white structures you see on the Costa del Sol but anything from small houses, chipped and worn with the years through to stunning castillets that were part of the historic cities and towns. There is a similarity to the French villages but a very different feel. One of the joys of cycling is that you get to observe the different ways of living.

We then arrived at our first of five climbs, which were to challenge us throughout the 11 hours of cycling we wound up doing. After yesterday’s incredible ascent and descent, we thought we were well prepared mentally, but today’s experience was quite different to the exhilaration of day two.

We climbed 2100m throughout the day – the equivalent of reaching the summit of Ben Nevis in Scotland – and the riding was more labored today. We would pedal then dismount to walk and push the bikes when the incline was too steep – usually over 8% gradient - and would do this several times throughout the day in the end. The descents became slightly more begrudging this time as you knew you’d need to claim those metres back again on the next mountain.

By the afternoon we were in isolation deep into the mountains. The maps were inconsistent with their information and there was a labyrinth of small roads, some of which went nowhere, some of which connected. Get one wrong and you could add another mountain to the day’s total. The local tourist office and a local forest agent were able to point us in the right direction and we wound up taking a dirt road for 10km along two mountain ridges to finally connect in. For anyone who has driven in mountains as a passenger in a car, you know that you can look out the window and look down at the drop but there’s always a wall and arnco railing there just in case. On this dirt road, you had the same 1500m drop but no wall and no railing.

The roads were endless, each turn bringing a new marvel as you discover something different to look at, listen to and smell. In the valleys it was tranquil with mountain water streams (we would top up our water in these) and remarkable warm lush grass with the sun coming down. One more turn and you’d see a steep climb with poor tarmac, which means the next 30 minutes were hard slog then suddenly it would even out and you’d pick up speed before it deteriorated again. The sun would shine on one side then the clouds would form and a huge wind tunnel its way through, luckily it was often a tailwind as most of the wind seems southerly so far.

There were times towards the end of the day when your mood was really low. Just before the final peak, we had climbed around 500m over 10km or so and it was cold and the rain would come and go. By then I was only able to focus on pedaling and stopping to breathe as the altitude was making an impact. I would pedal 100 times (about 100m) then stop for 15 seconds to catch my breath. This continued on forever and all you could focus on was counting the turns of the wheel before earning a break.

Then the most remarkable thing happened, on the final climb and descent, we rode into clouds. First there was a mist, then a drizzle then as we started to make our final descent and picking up some speed, we hit a huge hailstorm and for the next 20 minutes were cycling downhill in hazardous conditions trying not to stack or get taken out by cars sharing the road with us.

By the time we arrived into Riaza, we were frozen, shivering and cold through and everything we had was sodden. We had planned to camp again but this was deeply unwise as the storm was closing in again. We took a chalet and let everything dry out as much as possible before taking a dinner cooked in a kitchen and served by someone.

We had travelled 77km, which doesn’t seem like a lot in distance cycling terms but with the climb it was a hard fought day, but deeply gratifying. Today was an adventure.

Strava stats

We burned just shy of one kilo of energy today so the running total is now two kilos in three days. Food wise, we had two breakfast. Tea/biscuits at the camp then mid morning croissants. Lunch was baguette with sardines then afternoon snacks of biscuits before dinner of fish & vegetables. We drank five to six litres of water.