Oscar in Spain – Bikepacking the GR247

Spain GR247 Bikepacking Andalucia Southern Woodlands Trail Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park

This piece was bought to you by Oscar, one of our part time employees. Visit his blog here.

The first trip…

I’ve been into mountain biking for as long as I can remember, and over the last couple of years have also taken a fancy to longer road/gravel rides. I love the speed at which one observes the world by bike, how in touch you can be with your surroundings and how easy it is to meet people as you pass through their parts of the world. Also, when it’s appropriate, shredding down lairy hills and doing jumps is super fun.

So naturally, since I heard about bikepacking I’ve been itching for a proper wilderness adventure combining both disciplines. Now, free from the constrains of full-time education I’ve been able to have one.

The GR247 looked like a pretty sweet option for a first big-ish trip abroad. Having drooled over all the routes and tales on bikepacking.com, it stood out as a sensible but not too sensible option. Some fairly tough looking riding on dirt roads that are gnarly enough to mean a mountain bike is necessary, but not so gnarly that they’ll gnar my arms off. Some big old climbs, but still 90% ridable. Pretty middle-of-nowhere, but the odd town means I won’t actually die if I run out of food.

There’s also tons of information on the trail from both the brilliant bikepacking.com, and sierrasdecazorlaseguraylasvillas.es– a website specific to the 247 itself. Oh and the whole place looks gorgeous. Sold!

I chose to ride my Sven Cycles Pathfinder, as it’s designed for “riding your bike wherever you want”. I thought it should be the perfect machine for the job. (and it was!)

And so with a vague plan of where I’d stay each night, a couple of maps I’d printed off the trail website, an excessive quantity of dry food and a beautiful handmade bicycle, I set off on my first solo adventure.

(If you’re just here for how the Sven Pathfinder performed I’ve put Pathfinder in italics so you can just read those bits and bypass all my other ramblings. If you don’t care about bikes, there’s plenty of ramblings…)

Uno: The ride to the ride:

Beas De Segura to Refugio Casa Forestal El Campillo.
48.2km.
Up 1494m, down 908m.

After a flight over the evening before, I awake in Madrid 4:30am. Super delirious but buzzing with excitement, I write a quick thank you note to my Airbnb hosts then head out into a cold night. Onto my first train of the day, heading south with the feeling that the urban world is rapidly flying from the present, there’s no way I can sleep. I change to a bus in a town called Albacete, feeling like it could be my last outpost of proper civilisation before the backcountry- it’s open, barren, raw. Heading out on my final leg of transport, the surrounding landscape is purely plains of cracked sand. Hills rise from the horizon, hills become mountains, mountains intensify…

It’s 6pm by the time I leave Beas de Segura, a town on the outskirts of the Natural Park that houses the 247. Having assembled my bike and left my travel box at the very friendly and helpful Hotel Avenida, it seriously kicks in where I am and what I’m doing, and I love it.

Pedalling out, I get the feeling of being truly wilderness bound. I was way too camera-happy with the bike here, the excitement had me…

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This first ride to the trail would prove to be pretty long, but a perfect first impression of the scenery.

 

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This is also my first impression of how the Pathfinder rides loaded- and luckily for my weary head after a day’s travelling on minimal sleep, it’s superb. On the initial long dirt climbs it’s my donkey; a comfortable, forgiving laden beast. A donkey with not the slightest sign of flex in the bottom bracket either, even cranking under extreme load, and I’ve never experienced anything like it on such a comfortable ride. A luxurious, nimble donkey.

When I reach peaks and begin to descend, it becomes a stainless steel knife, slashing precise lines down loose rocky paths, dodging boulders and giving me the confidence to ride way too close to precipices.

I eventually arrive at Refugio Casa Forestal El Campillo at midnight. A perk of the 247- numerous Refugios (hiker huts) dotted along the route. A bothy equivalent; they’re dry and safe, all in good condition and have a fountain nearby or in them.

Dos: The actual first day-

Refugio Casa Forestal El Campillo to Camping La Montillana.
25.04km.
Up 744m, down 1343m.

I sleep off last night’s surprisingly big ride, pack up my gear and set off.

Now begins what will be a long running theme of my trip- no water. I know I’ve just praised the Refugios- and while they are one of the great things that enable penniless travellers like me to complete this route, soooooo many of the fountains don’t work. I’d gone to sleep thirsty and woken up into midday heat, the real mission wasn’t off to a great start.

But after a bit of a gruelling pedal I got my agua, and got a taste of what was in store. Hills! Newsflash- it’s mad hilly in the mountains. It’s quickly made clear that my path doesn’t mess about with them either; it’ll rarely skirt around foothills, preferring to blast straight up, down and all around.

The riding is amazing though. It’s mostly dirt roads, but they’re playful- sometimes loose, occasionally littered with boulders meaning only a narrow section is ridable, and consistently winding through incredible scenery. Where there are singletrack paths they’re tight and exciting, I found them to be just as memorable as the far longer dirt roads. The Pathfinder eats it all up, staying agile when it gets twisty despite the load.

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I had the privilege here of passing through the majestic hillside town of El Hornos…

My day winds to a close at a campground called ‘Camping la Montallia’, well sort of. I’d been aiming for it all day, but then when I got there found that it was closed, and so then I thought I’d see if I could camp in the grounds of a nearby ‘Casa Rural’ hostel, and then got a kind no, but then the owner did call the owner of the campsite who said I could go in anyway- for free- “You can pay me next year!” she said, but then when I went back I couldn’t get in, so I wild camped across the road. All part of the fun of it.

Tres:

Camping La Montillana to Fuente de los Cerezos Controlled Camping Area.
32.16km.
Up 1501m, down 1330m.

I awake to crisp morning sunlight glowing around my campground. I’m on the edge of a hilltop forest, overlooking the gorgeous El Tranco (The Stride) reservoir. Feeling refreshed, having finally caught up on sleep, I have a quick breakfast, soak up the views and begin the steep climb out of the valley.

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This would turn out to be one of my hardest days- the initial climb is pretty brutal and covered in loose rock. Progress is slow and many of the water fountains marked on my map are bone dry. Only getting hotter, day two on the trail is already proving to be a test on body and spirit.

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Approaching the summit, salvation comes in the form of four cheerful local riders blasting down the hill. They’re impressed (albeit a bit worried) that I’m doing the 247 solo with so much baggage and tell me there’s a rocky 5km hike-a-bike round the corner, but also a fountain. Can’t complain I suppose. They’ve done the trail many times and are now trying to complete it in just four days- four days! They only have a couple of little rucksacks between them, I could definitely learn a lesson from that…

I thank them and they continue whizzing down. Having a bit of human contact puts me in a much more sane state and I complete the rest of my climb. The hike a bike that follows is tricky; the path dissolves and then it’s clambering up and down an exposed rocky outcrop for what feels like hours. That said, I felt great having traversed this sketchy epic.

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The path eventually reforms and takes me back into the valley, and here I get my first reward from the trail. What was marked on the map as simply a ‘recreational ground’ turns out to be this gem:

 

The Woods Cyclery, at 56 High St, Lyndhurst, SO43 7BG 02380 282028 [email protected]