Distance: 87 miles
Total Distance: 162 miles
I slept like a baby. In fact I slept so well I only had to press snooze three or four times before rolling out of my sleeping bag. The best thing about cowboy camping is that you can be up and on your way within ten minutes of waking. I set off just before sunrise, enjoying the cool morning while it lasted. Although I had my lights on, I had to ride at a slower pace than normal as the road here was a minefield of hidden potholes.
I rode into the village of Almargen, where I filled up on water and waited until it was light enough to see without lights. I had been hoping to find somewhere to buy a coffee, but being a Sunday everything was closed. I’d made the difficult decision to go stoveless for the duration of the journey, mainly to save time and weight, but also to save myself any food-based decision-making as it meant I could eat exactly the same meals for three weeks straight. In general this was not a problem for me, although the one thing I did crave was a morning coffee. Alas, my caffeine fix would have to wait.
The smaller the town, the more strange looks I would receive and Almargen was no exception. One man out for an early morning bike ride did stop to talk to me, but his lack of English and my lack of Spanish meant the conversation quickly reached a dead end.
The road led me through countless wind farms, the turbines silhouetted against the rising sun. As I climbed through the hills the wind picked up, pulling insistently at my bike and trying to blow me off course. I can take any kind of weather, from blistering heat to freezing rain, but cycling in strong winds is one of my least favourite things of all time. I kept myself motivated by singing to myself and mooing loudly at any cows I passed. I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t do this is a psychopath. Why would you not?
In fact it wasn’t just cows. I would do this to other animals too. Mainly dogs. And isn’t a cow just a really big dog anyway? On one occasion, passing a remote farm, I accidentally angered a vicious-looking dog which proceeded to chase me for about 300 metres. It was probably the fastest I’d cycled all morning so I made a mental note to enrage more dangerous animals in future.
The road was mostly loose gravel which, combined with the increasingly fierce wind and my aching legs, made for a difficult morning. I kept skidding on the downhill sections, almost getting blown off the road and on a particularly bumpy descent I lost both panniers at the same time.
I soon left the wind farms behind and joined an easy, flat, dusty dirt track through never ending orchards. It was another hot, dry day but the rows of trees provided occasionally relief for a water break in the shade. Nevertheless I was desperate for something to drink by the time I reached the town of Gilena. I usually never drink fizzy drinks but when I’m doing endurance adventures I crave them more than anything. I managed to track down the only cafe open in town to buy a Fanta, which was more difficult than anticipated as I started off speaking to the barman in French and was confused when he didn’t understand what I was asking him.
Climbing steeply out of town, I was really struggling physically. Although I knew the terrain would become easier after the first few days, the difficulty with which I was making progress was discouraging. I perked up somewhat when I finally reached the top and was rewarded with another fun descent into Estepa.
As I descended steeply through the town, my poor choice of footwear very nearly came back to haunt me when my shoelace got caught in my pedal. Rather than investing in some brand new fancy cycling shoes, I had made the executive decision to stick with a battered old pair of Fila trainers I’d bought ten years ago and were still going strong. Luckily I managed to roll to a stop and untangle myself before catastrophe occurred.
As if that wasn’t enough, on my way out of town the screw attaching one of my bottle cages fell out, almost catapulting my water bottle into the road before I caught it. It wasn’t the end of the world but it did mean I had the added inconvenience of having to keep one of my water bottles in my pack, out of easy reach.
I descended along the dusty, open road into the large town of Puente Genil, where I stopped for lunch and received more suspicious looks from locals. I quickly resupplied and headed out, relieved when I left the busy road and rejoined the dirt track. It was another hot afternoon and as I was still on schedule I took some time to stop in the shade and have a little nap under a tree before continuing on to the town of Montilla.
I needed to restock on water but nothing was open. Not a single shop, pub or restaurant in the whole town. I wandered the streets for ages looking for somewhere to refill my water bottles but I had arrived in a ghost town. It was about nine miles to the next town and I knew I couldn’t make it completely dry. I was seriously considering knocking on a local resident’s door to beg them for water, when suddenly I stumbled upon a small square with a water fountain in the centre.
The water was scalding hot. I could have cooked my dinner with it. But it was good enough to keep me alive until the next town so I refilled my bottles and headed back out.
I was starting to enjoy the simple routine of cycling from one identical town to the next, over and over again. The unchanging scenery was fairly monotonous but I quickly got into the rhythm of it and just let my bike ferry me from place to place. By the time I reached Espejo – the final town of the day – I was exhausted and more or less collapsed by the side of the road. I bought a two litre bottle of ice cold water and downed it in seconds before immediately buying another.
I only had to make another 12 miles or so to stay on schedule, and headed out of town one last time. I climbed high before enjoying another fun descent towards Bujalance, a larger town I was aiming to reach first thing the next morning. On my way down I hit a bump in the road and my panniers came straight off for the second time today, skittered across the tarmac and came to a stop in the middle of the road. Fortunately there was no traffic at this point and I jumped off my bike and ran back to retrieve my belongings before they were crushed by a passing car.
I followed a flat, straight road through endless fields and farms as the sun set. The view never changed and it became very boring. My body was aching and I took an energy shot to get me through the last eight or nine miles. There was absolutely nowhere to camp I wouldn’t be seen by passing cars, and I soon overshot my required distance in search of a suitable campsite. I was flagged down by a family whose car had broken down and couldn’t get any phone signal. I lent them mine but they had no more luck with that so I carried on. With only four miles left until Bujalance, and not a single hill or patch of trees to be seen, I decided I might as well push all the way there and find somewhere to stay. I was going to have no luck camping anywhere round here.
It was full dark by the time I cycled into Bujalance. There were people out in the streets eating and drinking and I pushed past them, heading straight for the only hostel in town. I was ready to sleep but as it turned out that wasn’t going to happen just yet. I had arrived in town on the one day of the week the hostel wasn’t open for business. There was nowhere else to stay; I was so frustrated but I had no choice but to keep going.
I cycled out of town, on the hunt for any patch of ground I could reasonably stop and luckily saw a farm just on the outskirts of town, lined with trees. I descended down the side of the road and found a tree under which to set up my sleeping pad. There was a blanket on the ground so someone else had clearly had the same idea as me recently. I just hoped I wouldn’t be disturbed. I was still very close to the town and could hear dogs barking and drunk people prowling the streets. The cars were passing by just overhead and every now and then a group of late night revellers would walk past just metres above me. I couldn’t even turn my headtorch on for fear of being seen. I ate my dinner in pitch black darkness and tried to sleep, knowing it would not be a peaceful night.