Cycling solo through half of Spain: 580km of unpredictability -Day 1

I am sitting at the curb in front of a gas station in remote Spain eating two greasy sandwiches with unidentifiable ingredients.

I don’t recall the name of the town, maybe it has none? It does not matter, this is just a very deserted area.

I am alternating between being deeply engaged with my cell phone and observing the truck drivers who are curiously passing by. They probably wonder why a woman in cycling clothes is sitting by herself at a curb of a gas station in remote Spain.

If they knew what I am up to.

Monika, focus! Back to the cell phone. Will you keep going or find a hotel here?

It is 5pm, plenty of daylight left. Shall I risk it?

Ok! Why not!

But I should have known better. It is day 3 and I know what will be ahead.

The beginning of a 580km cycling adventure through Spain.

I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

I recently moved from Australia to Spain. I love Spain and found a great cycling community here. But my inquisitive nature wanted to know what is beyond the daily cycling routes. Spain is huge so there is so much to explore. I decided a cycling trip from the capital Madrid back home would satisfy my curiosity – at least for a while. I packed a tiny bag with the bare essentials and off I was leaving Madrid heading South. I let myself guided by an online map. 530km so it said.

The first 60km I was accompanied by two newly made friends, Alvaro and Slahde. The first day was short due to a late start. After 70km I called it a day. I was disappointed but I knew I shouldnt keep going. I promised myself to make day 2 epic though!

I got into a rural hotel in Chinchon, bought food from the supermarket, washed my cycling kit since I only had one and looked at a map for the first time of the trip.

Besides of a rough estimate of the total distance I had no idea about the route. I decided to take a closer look and planned a destination for the following day. Since day 1 was such a short day of 70km, I wanted to make day 2 long. If everything is going well, I could ride 250km I told myself.

But soon I would learn, this trip had its own timeline, not the one I set.

I was dreaming of an epic day.

And surely, tomorrow would not disappoint.

In different ways than I thought though. But that is for the next post.


When a German is bending Spanish rules – Travelling by bike on public transportation

Hello!

Jerte, very close to Portgual and 2.5 hours West of Madrid.

Greetings from Jerte, a town in the middle of Spain. Until 2 weeks ago I didnt even know that this town exists and now I am part of a 3 day non-competitive cycling event called La Extrema. Changing plans or creating sudden new ones is not unheard of for me. Spontaneity seems to be my middle name. I think it would scare me if I knew where I will be in one month time.

But back to Jerte. A friend from Salobrena told me about this event and it didnt take too long and I was signed up to La Extrema. The event promoter emphasized that this is not a race, it is solely about enjoying the social and adventure aspect of cycling. Well, perfect, that’s what I am about!

Although the actual cycling event will not start until tomorrow, my adventure has been in full swing. It started with getting here.

Between Solabrena (where I live) and Jerte lie 550km. Until last week, I thought this distance would make a great solo adventure tour over a few days to Jerte. And then I reassessed the situation after Guad al Xenil – taking a bus sounded just fine by me.

The bus network in Spain works quite well and it is a great way to get around. So, I bought tickets to Madrid where I would meet my friend to drive to Jerte.

6 hours bus trip ahead

It was a 6 hours bus trip ahead. The first bus to Granada (about 1 hour), then the second bus to Madrid (5 hours). When I bought the tickets I read that the bike has to be packed in a bag. But because this would be very inconvenient for me taking my hard-case bag with me I asked a few Spanish friends how serious this rule was taken. I was told I would be able to make it happen without the bag.

But it didnt sound too convincing to me. I anticipated some efforts of persuasion. I was completely living on the edge here. 😉

When I put my bike into the first bus to Granada, the bus driver even was helping me. No questions asked. I sighed of relief.

A bike is like having a puppy

Once in Granada while unloading my bike one of the station workers was very interested in the bike and within 5 minutes we were connected via Strava. It is fantastic how you sometimes connect with the most random people because you got a bike with you. It is almost like having a puppy.

Anticipating the same friendliness of the second bus driver I laid my bike into the luggage space. But one furious bus driver stomped towards the crowd and made one big scene. Not to me but to an innocent girl who was mistaken to be that shameless cyclist who would just put a unbagged bike in the luggage space.

Well, soon enough I got the full spectrum of Spanish “not-so-friendly” vocabulary. By this time, I had no idea anymore what was said and just heard one angry voice. It became quite clear that he would not be satisfied by anything and I saw my plans getting to Madrid ruined. Of course, it was my mistake! I should have packed that bike in a bag as indicated in the instructions.  So ungerman from me!

I think he realized that it would have been too harsh to leave me in Granada for not wrapping or bagging my bike (I did ended up taking it apart, just without a wrap or a bag.) At the end, I did make it to Madrid after a long, long journey.

Made it to the north pole?

Not only the length of the trip but also the strong temperature drop made me feel like we ended up at the north pole. So I ended up closing that adventure chapter for that day and went to bed in the hotel.

The next day my friend and I drove for another 2.5 hours (Spain is huge!!!) to Jerte and I finally made it to the event hotel. And it does not disappoint: 4 stars, all-you-can-eat breakfast and dinner buffet. I hope the staff is prepared for 50 hungry cyclists.

I received a big expression of disapproval by my legs on today’s ride. So tomorrow’s 163km and 3600m of climbing with a high chance of rain and strong wind will not disappoint in the category of being epic.

Hasta manana!

Buenas noches!


Why this Spanish Gran Fondo should be on your Calendar!

Have you heard about Guad al Xenil Gran Fondo? No? Me neither, 😊, until I was told by locals about it. After a 2 day recon, I just raced it last weekend and I highly suggest this Spanish Gran Fondo for your 2018 racing calendar. Now you might wonder, why you should race exactly this cycling challenge next year…. Here is why:

Because of the weather.

While it is still snowing in the Northern Europe (currently April), Southern Spain (Andalusia) has had great weather since….ahem….always. There is never really bad weather here and I have not been wearing arm or leg warmers since beginning of April and a pretty sharp tan line is emerging.

Guad al Xenil is here in sunny, warm Southern Spain. For this year’s race, there was a chance of rain. But in contrary to other parts of the world, I think the weather forecaster is just bored with predicting sun every day so once in a while he throws in chances of something. Rain never came. Although it started off cold because the race starts in the mountains, it became a beautiful day and I was way too overdressed.

Because of its time of the year.

Although Europe definitely is full of gran fondos, beginning of the year is still a bit sparse, especially when you have done all the famous ones already. So if you like to try out something new and want to leave your winter jacket at home, Guad al Xenil is a great season starter.

Because of its toughness.

It is a great season starter but don’t get me wrong, this is a tough race! 161km of racing with 3700m of climbing will definitely bring your fitness to the next level. So for those who are not discouraged by it, I would strongly recommend going for it!

Because of its atmosphere.

I haven’t been to many cycling challenges where I received so much encouragement! At first, I didn’t even know how to handle it when literally every cyclist who passed me or I passed had some “animo” (go,go,go!)  left in him or her. It was incredible. And the Spaniards know how to create an amazing atmosphere! Literally, the sound waves of the four ladies at the 17% ramp at the end carried me to the finish line.

Because of its size.

With 360 starters this race is big enough to have plenty of competition but small enough not run each other over. After a 40km neutralization phase, the race starts with a steep climb and that was the end to the peloton. Every man for himself!

What I especially liked?

Hands down, the atmosphere made my race! The encouragement from anyone really got to me and made this race very special for me. I also loved the course. It is tough, tough, tough! The climbs are serious! The scenery is stunning if you have the time to enjoy it!

So mark your calendar for mid April 2018: http://www.guadalxenil.org/

To help with your trip planning:

Book your Flights to Granada, Spain with Expedia here.

There are plenty little towns to stay in. Lanjaron is a very scenic town I would suggest to stay at:

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If you have any questions, I am looking forward to your comments.


Four Useful Tips for Brilliant Cycling Holidays at Costa Tropical (Spain)

In my last post I wrote about all the reasons why you should come visit Costa Tropical.

Here, I put a list together that aims to help you to make your trip planning easier. I am suggesting the ones below because I either have used them myself or have taken a close look about their services. (Disclaimer: For some of the services I do receive a small commission if you book the services with the given promo code. I chose to partner with the companies because I feel comfortable recommending them and it allows me to give you a good deal). With that being said, here is the list:

Car rental. When I first came to Andalusia and landed in Malaga I used Record Rent a Car. I paid 4 Euro/Day! Now, I just looked at the prices and they go as low as 0.99 Euro/Day. For some of the cheaper car rental places you have to walk miles around the airport before finding them. Not in Malaga for Record Car, it is located in the basement of the airport. The desk lady even gave me suggestions where to ride my bike around Malaga. I felt immediately welcomed. I am glad I took an insurance on top of the normal price. The roads can be very narrow in Spanish towns and if you want to park somewhere, cars stand as close as a few centimeters apart. A little nudge while getting the car into a tiny spot is not unusual.

Accommodation. When I am travelling and staying somewhere, I want to feel at home and not closed up in a hotel room, especially with a group. When I met Manuela from Casa Roja in Almunecar, I found exactly that! A house that makes you feel at home. You have a common area, plenty of terraces and nicely furnished rooms that give you a welcoming feeling. Three features that convinced me as a cyclist about this B&B place included that Manuela understands the needs of cyclists whether you want to put your bike into the room or clean it outside. Another feature about this house is the swimming pool within a few meters from your room! So after a tough day on the bike, there is not much needed than just jumping into the pool. And then later over dinner you can take a look at the mountains to see where you rode that day. If you mention “Rad Monika” at your booking, you get early check-in and late check-out for your stay.

Cycling. Now, since we have taken care of transportation and accommodation, we are getting to the most important part: Cycling! I have put a few rides together here and a friend of mine has a website with great cycling routes. All my rides are on Strava as well. In case you are looking for a guided tour, I would highly suggest Paul from Sierra Sports and Tours. Originally from Australia, he moved to Spain six years ago. He has a established cycling tours company based in Andalusia. I had the opportunity to go on a ride with him. Having moved from abroad, he understands what visitors are looking for. He always has an interesting story about the region at hand and really adapts to the pace and needs of his clients. Since I enjoyed it so much, I started working with him offering collaborating training camps. We just completed our first camp in Ronda, Andalusia. Our next one takes place in Granada from 22-25 June. Use “Rad Monika” to get a 50 Euro discount for the Granada camp and 100 Euro for the tours.

Rent a bike/Bike shop. Although 20km from Casa Roja, I suggest Bull Bikes in Motril. When a creaking noise brought me to the bike store, my bike was at the bike stand in the blink of an eye. They took everything apart that needed a close look and gave me a very fair price. You can also rent a bike from them. It cost 35 Euro/ Day or 195 Euro/ week according to the website.

In case you all love it but don’t want to book everything yourself, feel free to contact me for all-inclusive offers.

If you have any questions or comments about a cycling vacation at Costa Tropical, feel free to send me an email or comment below.

I hope this post was helpful to you!

And a bit of a teaser at last:

Stay safe and talk to you soon!


9 Reasons your next cycling destination should be Costa Tropical (Spain)

Europe has plenty of fantastic cycling destinations to offer, Mallorca, Teneriffe or Tuscany to name a few. But there is another one out there which is still not very known and a gem for cyclists who are looking for a new cycling destination.

Costa Tropical is a small region located in Andalucia, Southern Spain. And it is a special one – particularly for cyclists. Here are 9 reasons why Costa Tropical is a cycling paradise:

  1. With 300 days of sunshine, chances are very high that you will be riding in nice weather. Currently, mid-April, we have 23 degrees every day. Even in the mornings 8:30am/9am it is so warm that arm warmers are not required.
  2. Respectful car drivers. Having lived in a country with constant conflicts between cyclists and car drivers, it has become very important to me to move to a country that respects cyclists on the road. Spanish car drivers give plenty of space and wait patiently before passing cyclists. You can find exceptions anywhere but in general I feel very safe on Spanish roads.
  3. Quiet roads. I am currently living on the coast but just heading 10km inland and the roads are mine. Since Costa Tropical is 90km East of Malaga and has not had the infrastructure for easy access until recently, it has been sheltered from the tourism boom.
  4. Terrain. At the edge of the Sierra Nevada you have access to a seriously good mountain range. And even before the Sierra Nevada, you can climb up a mountain with 1200m elevation gain straight from the coast.
  5. Agricultural zone. Costa Tropical is covered with agricultural zones. You can see all the greenhouses from the mountains. That means you know exactly where you get your fruits and veggies from – thanks to the unique microclimate at Costa Tropical.
  6. Costa Tropical is very Spanish. The people are friendly, warm and welcoming. The food and the mentality untouched by tourism. In fact, only a few people speak another language so my learning curve has been steep. Still, the Spaniards love helping so there has never been an issue to communicate.
  7. You can get around Spain on a very small budget, especially food is cheap. Since Costa Tropical has not had the same influx of tourism as in other regions, the prices are very low.
  8. Tranquilo: Stress is the last thing you will experience at Costa Tropical. The people are relaxed. There is always time to chat with someone on the street.
  9. Everyone seems to know each other. Everyone talks to each other and greets each other. There is sometimes a lot of honking but that is to say hi to someone they recognized on the street. Within a short amount of time, the cashier says hi, the policeman waves at you and the neighbor tells her stories although she knows that you dont understand anything. Everyone is friendly and genuinely interested in the life of others. There is a true sense of community here.

I hope you got intrigued about a cycling vacation at Costa Tropical. Book your trip here via Booking.com.

In the next post, you will find helpful tips how to make the cycling holidays happen.

In the mean time, if you like the post, please share it via social media.

Thank you for reading!


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Tasting blood for the next solo adventure tour

The beauty of cycling is that it is so versatile. Yesterday was all about a tough training ride with a riding partner. Today, it became a solo adventure ride.

No goals, no pace setting, exploring the region, just soaking in the scenery and taking occasionally pictures and videos. And those, I want to share with you today:

 

Lujar. If you look closely you see a road switchbacking up that mountain! Unfortunately, it is not accessible by road bike so a hike will be in the near future.

There is no shortage of roads crisscrossing the countryside.

The weather looks worse in the pictures than it was. It was hazy but very warm. In the distance an invitation to an adventure ride to the ridge.

Enjoying the ride. No traffic. Great condition of the roads and fantastic views.

After an ultra-light bikepacking tour through France last year, today’s ride got me thinking about a similar ride through Spain.

Where in Spain shall this tour go?


Five tips to make travelling your lifestyle

In the last 10 years, I have lived on three continents, five countries and about 30+ places. Some of them weren’t longer than a month, one lasted for an entire six months. It was almost worth noting down the address. I truly love travelling, moving around and meeting new people and cultures. I am not afraid of moving to a new continent without knowing a soul, the language or the culture. In fact, I thrive on the excitement of experiencing new adventures.

Rather than travelling, I call it moving because I do immerse myself into my surroundings, in fact that is a must for me. I don’t like to be a tourist and prefer to stay where the locals live and do what the locals do as told here.

Although moving to an unknown places seems scary at first, there are ways to make this an amazing adventure. Here are few tips:

  1. To make moving easy, I own just enough stuff that I truly need, nothing more. Despite being an absolute bike addict, I only have one bike. Carrying extras of anything makes me feel weighed down. The adventures I am experiencing discredit any materialistic belongings. Stuff weighs me down. Experiences lift me up.
  2. Be happy with yourself alone. Don’t be afraid to be alone in a new country where you don’t speak the language or understand the culture. Yes, it seems at first overwhelming and scary but exactly those intense emotions you will never forget and appreciate even more because they make you feel alive.
  3. Smiling opens doors. There is no better way to communicate. Enough said.
  4. Be proactive. Moving into a new country but then hanging out in front of the TV is not worth the effort. Get out with or without a plan. You learn so much from looking around.
  5. There is no better strategy to learn than observing. Find out why the locals do certain things. How they behave. How they interact. What is different than what you are used to and why could that possibly be?

Travelling is an enriching and rewarding experience. Just buy a plane or train ticket and get out! With or without plan.

Because life is a journey!


From Australia to Spain – The only language you need is Cycling

I love travelling, moving to new places, discovering different cultures.

My friends who know me are not surprised when I tell them about an upcoming move around the world. My family gave up noting down my current living address. That’s me. I love the adventures, the new experiences. Boredom is definitely not on my agenda.

Beginning of this year, I decided to move to Europe after having spent two years in Australia. I say Europe, because I wasn’t sure where to move to. But then I had to start somewhere. I looked at a map, talked to a few friends and decided my first stop would be Andalusia, Southern Spain.

Awesome weather. Amazing cycling terrain and friendly people. That sounded like a great promise!

A month later, I landed in Malaga with only my bike bag (Turkish Airlines wanted to charge me 1000$ for my suitcase so I left it in Australia) hired a car and hoped for the best driving on the other side of the road after a 30 hours flight.

I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t know anyone and I have never been to this region.

Yep, it would be an adventure.

I was welcomed with a cake by my new cycling group!

Through a friends’ connection, I got to Motril, a small town 90km East of Malaga – away from any tourists and international industries. It was a very, very Spanish place. English would not get me anywhere.

I learned about a group ride that starts every day at 9am from the church in town. The next day, I showed up and met the group. No one spoke English. Everyone smiled at me and had a very Spanish conversation. I smiled back. I had absolutely no idea what was talked about.

But once we started riding, the language barrier became smaller and smaller. The way of cycling is the same anywhere I have ridden in the world. Tactics, attacks and heavy breathing are pretty clear ways to communicate. We spoke cycling now.

I loved it. Since that day, I showed up every day at 9am at the church in town. I slowly got to meet the entire group (All men). We did easy, hard and epic rides. I learned the strengths and weaknesses of every rider. I could guess from the intonation of the voices what was said. I was learning cycling vocabulary and surprised the group when I could answer a question.

Once, I heard a word over and over. I became too curious and asked them what it meant.

Bingo! It was one of the rougher cursing words.

The remainder of that ride, the group made sure I would learn all other cursing words as well.

Training with the group.

By solely watching the group, I learned so much about the Spanish culture, the interactions and the mentality. I got to ride to places that only the locals knew. I learned things about the area I would never otherwise have guessed.

Cycling with the locals is a great way to immerse oneself into country’s culture. I would strongly recommend to try it out! It gives you an immense sense of adventure and cultural experience!

 


Cycling in Andalusia – you really got it all!

I love riding in beautiful places. Well, who doesnt?

My dream cycling destination is always sunny, hilly, preferably mountains, decent road surface and friendly car drivers. And Andalusia got it all.

Although it is nice to take in those views alone, I prefer sharing those experiences. That is why I collaborate with Sierra Sports and Tours to put on Gran Fondo Camps in top cycling locations in Andalusia.

Today was the first day of our Ronda training camp. 20 degrees and sunny. Amazing terrain. Spectacular….but wait, why am I writing this….the pictures and videos tell the story.

From the car to the way to Ronda:

Setenil de las Botegas:

Views, views, views:

There is definitely no lack of climbing. On today’s ride we had only short climbs but many of them. It seemed, there was no flat section of this ride.

And the view from the famous bridge in Ronda:



Our next training camp is in June in Granada. Check it out here.

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