Guadalajara to Madrid

Tuesday 4 September 2012
Hotel Melia Barajas (Madrid airport), Madrid Spain
57.06km, 2hrs 52 mins, 19.82kph,
1478 km total
7189 m rise in Spain

Ascent 505, Descent 600m
Route: Local roads to the N320, NW to nnn, SW to Paracuellos, tunnel under airport, to Barajas

We are here! Hurray!

We had our doubts a few days ago – a long way and hard riding. But we slowed down to more bite-sized pieces and have arrived.

Getting from Guadalajara to Madrid is a little tricky – you have to go north as there are no local roads which go all the way through, only the motorway.

Riding was hard at first – strong winds in our face, but when we turned south it helped push us to our destination. At Paracuellos, there’s a small turn in the road at the top of a long hill – and there’s the airport and the city in front of you.

After the hill, you enter the “bikes prohibited” tunnel (were we to ride across the runways??), which was a little disconcerting. It has quite a wide shoulder and is lit, but there were black holes, the traffic was fast and heavy, and our only light is a little blinking red light on my bike, so Olin was pretty invisible except for his reflectors on his packs. It’s 2500m, a long way, kept thinking some authorities might come and growl at us, but no one did and there’s other bike tracks so we were not that unusual.

After the tunnel we were in Barajas, where we had booked an airport hotel.

Into Madrid to see the spectacular city, go to the Prado, and celebrate with champagne in the garden of the Ritz Hotel.


Galve de Sorba to Guadalajara, Castille-LaMancha, Spain

Monday 3 September 2012
Hotel Espana, Guadalajara, Castilla – la Mancha, Spain
90.9km, 4hrs 8mins, 23.6kph, 0900 – 1430

Ascent 810m, descent 1490m, elevation 695

Route: Road 1001 and 101 all the way into Guadalajara

Some days you cycle through molasses, some days through air. Today was an air day.

The morning started with yet another climb, about 200m, up to our highest pass yet at 1530m, unmarked and unnamed. We could see a long way south, and pick out some of the route ahead. We were back in pine forests, mostly planted as part of the fairly active forest industry in this part of Spain.

A series of swooping descents followed each time by another ascent brought us out of the mountains to the small town of nnn. The roads are fantastic to ride on – well engineered (good work again Spanish road engineers!) and with virtually no traffic they are perfect for cycling.

We passed several tiny villages in the mountains, all very beautiful but you have to wonder what keeps them going because they are so remote.

We also keep passing EU signs as having funded various things far from anywhere. Whose money? No wonder the EU is in trouble.

From Cogolludo (lunch) to Guadalajara is probably the fastest 40km we have ever ridden. With gentle downward grade and strong wind at our backs Team Anton was flying at over 40kph for long stretches.

Guadalajara is a bit in the dumps – closed stores, dull fashions in the windows, and not many people in the streets. For some reason not many older buildings in the city. There are some interesting heritage buildings, but most of the city seems to have been built in the last 60 years. It’s the only city we’ve been in which does not have a central plaza.

Dinner at a nearby restaurant, which is unlikely to have changed its menu since 1962. OK, but we have yet to have a meal in Spain which is particularly good, except for the tapas and copos de cava in Logrono.

San Estaban de Gormaz to Galve de Sorbe, Guadalajara, Spain

Sunday 2 September 2012
Pension Nuestra Senora del Pinar, Galve de Sorbe, Guadalajara, Spain
52.7km, 3hrs 39mins, 14.43kph, 0945 – 1500hrs

Rise: 980m; elevation 1350m

Route today: S on country roads through Morcuera, Liceras, Noviales, Villacadima, Galve de Sorbe

Aside from the climbing, the roads are perfect in every other way. The scenery is stunning and the traffic completely minimal – very few cars.

In the morning we climbed up out of the Duero River Valley heading towards a wind farm far in the distance.  Slow going as we had to stop and take photos of the plains of Spain, and the view backwards towards San Estaban. We then climbed up, over and down several substantial ridges, the most spectacular being just after Liceras, with red sandstone cliffs carved into fantastic shapes. We’ve cycled many places but few with this drama.

Liceras is another tiny perfect town in the middle of nowhere, so we had a quick coffee there and a chat with the locals. At least, they chatted and we tried to pick up a word or two, our Spanish being negligible. Then up high again to Noviales, after which we crossed into Segovia province, then Guadalajara soon after. The advertised dirt road has now been paved so the going was smooth with almost no cars at all.

But the road went up – and up and up. It was a long way to the 1400m pass not even marked on the map. The pass is in the middle of the wind farm, 100s of massive windmills doing their job.

Surely it must all be downhill after that – but it was not, with several smaller downhills and climbs on the way into Galve de Sorbe. The last few kms, the valley opened out and our road flowed down in front of us, with beautiful scenery and beautiful cycling. We saw 2 foxes.

Up in the high hills, there aren’t many trees, you can see and hear for miles. It is completely quiet.

Galve de Sorbe is a small village, and it’s hard to know what keeps it going. A lot of new construction is underway, in the traditional stone style. We had a good time in the bar watching Ronaldo score 2 goals for Real Madrid.

Quintanar de la Sierra to San Estaban de Gormaz, Soria, Spain

Saturday 1 September 2012
Convento San Estaban, San Estaban de Gormaz, Soria
67.44km, 3hrs 50 mins, 17.57kph, 1000 – 1600hrs

Rise: 700m, elevation is 725m

Route: Country roads through: Vilviestre de Pinar, San Leonardo de Yague, Sta Maria de las Hoyas, Rejas, Berzosa, dirt road to Matanza de Soria, then to San Estaban

The 100km day being way too long, we’ve cut our expectations somewhat. I always think if you can’t do 20kph, you’re not getting anywhere. But on this trip it’s impossible for us to do 20 – so much climbing and slow roads. We also stop at most intersections to make sure of our route, so the days become much longer than we are used to.

We dropped down a little coming out of Quintana, but then climbed again to another unnamed pass at 1100m, high up in the scented pine forests. The area is park, and the road curves through the park and the pine trees, with little streams coming in and out of view. It’s a stunning ride.

Quick coffee and some food supplies at San Leonardo, then up high again to Sta Maria de las Hoyas. I stopped to take a photo of  the beautiful little church (Sta Maria of the Holes??) and took a tumble instead. Big ouch, but scraped up and dignity wounded was the worst.

After Berzosa, took the dirt road towards San Estaban – more direct but in poor condition.

Arrived in San Estaban not too late, Olin scouted us the very excellent Convento, in an old church building. San Estaban has a castle, very old churches (11th century) and homes built into the red stone of the hillside. Actually what we though might be tiny little houses turn out to be mostly wine cellars.

Logrono to Quintanar de la Sierra

Friday 31 August 2012
Posada Las Mayas, Quintanar de la Sierra, Spain
104km, 16.1kph, 0915 – 1800 hrs, 6hrs 28mins

Rise 1484m, elevation 1000m

Route: Camino out of Logrono for 10k, combo of camino and roads until turned S on 136 about 5 km east of Najera, S on L133 to Villavelayo, S to Neila, over the Puerto del Collado to Quintanar de la Sierra

We’re now using the book, Cycle Touring in Spain (Cicerone), which gives a route from Madrid to Bilbao, and which we started following when we turned south. The route is country roads and purports to avoid the mountains, saying it is for “those who are happy with hills but prefer to cycle between mountains rather than over them.”  Now, the last time I was in Spain was 30 years ago and in a car so have zero recollection of the country. It is all hills and mountains. My one complaint about the guide is that is constantly understates how much climbing is involved.

(BTW the Tour de Spain is on at the moment – no wonder the Spanish are good cyclists.)

So, in detail: Getting out of Logrono is hard on a bike because the autoroute has absorbed the local road and there is nowhere for cyclists to go except on the camino. Not a bad option, but very slow. We followed it until we could get onto the roads, even then went back and forth as seemed most efficient. But it was slow and with our goal of 100km today, it ate up a lot of time.

Once we turned south, we essentially went uphill for the next 80km. Fairly steady most of the time, good job, Spanish road engineers!

From Anguiano, the scenery was spectacular. Anguiano itself is stunning, with an old church up high, with an old stone bridge across the Najerilla River. From there we followed the Najerilla up the canyon for nearly 20km, beautiful riding, not too hard uphill and endless beauty of river and woods and canyon. Then 15km along the dammed lake (stopped to look at the dam of course), water is low, and though there are some homes there and tourism efforts, it seemed very remote.

Not as remote as the next stage though – the 12 km up to Neila took an hour, following the Neila River though its canyon. In that hour we were passed by exactly 2 cars, and felt like we were in our own spaghetti western – the rocks and trees and river were wild and stunning. But it was hard.

The tiny perfect village of Neila would have been good to stay in but the only hotel is closed for renos. Someone’s put a lot of money into the town, with a museum and visitor centre and streets with new pavers looking very tidy.

We stopped for a quick tea, then went even further uphill, quite hard this time, to the Puerto El Collado, which at 1400m is the highest I’ve ever been on a bike.

Quick downhill after that to Quintana de la Sierra about which I can tell you nothing because I was too tired! Olin wasn’t too impressed in his walk around. Very beautiful posada we are in, and we are the only guests. Couldn’t figure out who their customers are.

Pamplona to Logrono

Thursday 30 August 2012
Hotel Husa los Bracos, Logrono, Spain
102.37km, 6hrs 5 mins, 16.8kph, 0900 – 1645

Rise: 1360 up, 1420 down

Route: Pilgrims’ route out of town, N6000 to Puente la Reina; N111 to Logrono

To get out of the city centre, follow the pilgrims route, marked about every 4 feet so the peregrinos don’t stray. However we did stray, getting onto the N6000 instead of the N111. That cost us 8 km but avoided going over the high ridge of the main route.

Stopped at the Eunate church outside Puente la Reina, 12th century, for coffee at Puente, and quick lunch near Estella. Otherwise spent the whole day in the saddle pushing through the heavy winds and high hills.

Spectacular scenery all day, beautiful riding, we’re finding our legs.

Dinner in Spain starts at 9.00 and in the cities we’ve been in, dinner is tapas at the bars. So tonight we got with the program, had our anniversary dinner at multiple establishments, but started and finished at the Torro. Younger guys, newer food, and large copas de cava (local champagne).

Thirty two years and we’re still pushing up the hills together.

St Jean Pied-de-Port France to Pamplona Spain

Wednesday 29 August 2012
Hotel Maisonnave, Pamplona Spain
76 km, 4.50 hrs, 15.7 kph, 0900 – 1600
Total rise 1350

Route: D933 (France), N135 (Spain)

Left St Jean Pied-de-Port at 0900 to start the long climb to the top of the pass at Ibaneta, an 900m climb (with some downhills thrown in).

Leaving St Jean, the road goes through lush landscapes and prosperous farms for the short ride to the border. Not much happening there anymore, no more customs offices in the EU. We have now crossed the entire country of France, from here to Strasbourg.

The hill ride is through beautiful landscapes, from farms into steep hills, with Aquitanian cows surveying the world from the tops of some of the highest. The road is in perfect condition, newly paved, but unrelentingly up.

We’re somewhat following The Way of St James, A Cyclists Guide, John Higginson (Cicerone), which gives a cycling route along the pilgrim’s route to Santiago. Cycling on the actual trail is possible and you see some mountain bikes on it, but they would be pretty annoying to the walkers.  What it doesn’t tell the reader is that this part of Spain is all hills.

The second extremely useful mapbook is Michelin’s “Camino do Santiago”. It’s the walkers’ guide but the maps are of the area and help us at every turn.

With Olin’s Garmin telling us we had another 100m to go, we  came round the corner and we were there – at the chapel at Ibaneta.

Stopped for photos, then took the quick downhill into Roncesvalle for lunch. Time to the top was about 3 hours, including breaks along the way.

There is significant climb from Erro to Alto Erro – another 175m, ouch at the end of the day.

The road and the pilgrims’ route run close to each other. The 39,000 pilgrims a year mean hundreds every day at this time of year. A volunteer at the monastery in Roncesvalle told us they have 200 a night every night – and that’s just one of hundreds of hostels in this area alone.

The small towns are painted and spic and span – the euros coming in are clearly making a difference.

Coming into Pampona: We followed the 135 until it turned into a motorway, turned off at Obaz, and took bike lanes into the city. Here’s the best way to find the city centre: Find a good looking young fella’ on a bike, ask directions, and then he will lead you down the bike routes to the tourist booth.