Anders......and The European Divide Trail (Part 1)
It's been months since good friend of CCC Anders left Denmark and headed south to begin his adventure on the European Divide Trail
Anders has been taking notes along the way on his endaveaurs on the impassable roads through Portugal, into Spain and France, which seems so far away from the well prepped gravel roads around Copenhagen
Anders has been so kind to write us a summery and "Part 1" from his trip, so just read on and get inspired to do more off-road bikepacking stuff
Words By Anders:
I've now completed a third of the European Divide Trail. Arriving in Valence in the Rhône Valley marked the end of the Southern Section of the trail and what an experience it's been. It has taken me from the incredibly challenging terrain of Portugal with its alternately sandy and rocky but most of all beautiful landscape across the old smuggler's route into Spain. My dad followed me for the first week and we were both amazed by the roughness of the country but also surprised by all the abandoned mining complexes we got to ride through. Some of which dated back to Roman times though all were filled with piles of chemical waste and slagger that discoloured any nearby water.
The lack of water is obvious everywhere I've been. In southern Spain there just wasn't any. All the small streams and lakes were dried up. It's become better the further north I've come but even the big reservoirs are affected.
We took a detour down to Seville where I said goodbye to my dad who only had time to follow along until then. To our surprise we arrived in the middle of the traditional Easter parades so the streets were full of well dressed people making us feel even more like the odd ones out in our sweaty and dirty lycra.
From Seville I went further east to the ancient city of Córdoba for another day of rest. And to enjoy the old Roman and Moorish architecture that can still be found despite many centuries of Catholic rule of the city. These were also the first days on my own on, reviving the independence that's necessary to undertake such an endeavour.
As I approached the sierras of eastern Spain, the landscape became quite monotonous with olive trees as far as I could see. Not only do they make for a rather uninteresting view after a few days, they also did nothing in terms of cooling the local environment hence it was hot. Extremely hot. I couldn't wait to climb the Sierra de Carzola and to enjoy the coolness of the 1700m of elevation. And it didn't dissapoint.
After a long morning of climbing to reach the plateau I was rewarded with a stunning view. At these heights there are hardly any vegetation. The few plants that can call this rugged place home are just as hardy as the rocks they grow on. It all reminded me so much of the Mongolian highlands that I half expected to see a yurt every time I turned a corner.
From here, the route flattens a bit as it runs along some of the Via Verdes with some of the best gravel so far. The Via Verdes are old railway lines that have been turned into cycling infrastructure. Though they are not very well maintained, they still make up some fun km to ride as the gradient never goes above 2.5% as the road tunnels through the hills instead of going over them.
However, the biggest sprocket of the cassette was only allowed a short break as there were new hills to conquer. These have turned out to be the hardest yet as it was just a question of how much of the climbs were at 10% or more and how far I'll have to push or carry my bike. There's a limit to how many times I'm able to do that every day, hence I took four days off to rest in Barcelona and to look after my bike, which was in dire need of attention.
Gear-wise I've found that I've been way too ambitious with the gearing. A 40:52 as my bailout gear has turned out to be too hard for the gradients of Spanish country roads. I've been doing a lot of involuntary threshold training. I've also contemplated changing out some of the gear I've brought, like my sleeping bag, and send home some clothes. This would allow me to get rid of the rear panniers and help a lot on the uphills, I reckon.
Besides, nothing important has broken yet ('knocks on wood'). Apart from having to change sealant and a worn out rear tire, everything just works. This has been a pleasant surprise as I tend to break parts like Pogaçar breaks his opponents. If I'm lucky everything will continue to hold up when I cross the Juras in the coming week. (At this moment, Anders has had some mechanical issues - more on that in a later post)
Having been fed up in Barcelona I had the energy to jump on the bike again and turn for the Pyrenees, looking forward to cross into France. There's something magical about crossing country borders on a bike. It feels like a massive accomplishment especially when it has taken a month to go from one to another like it took me to get through Spain. Even though the border itself was nothing special only being marked by some old fortresses, a small military cemetery and a sign warning about high risk of forest fires.
The same day I entered France, another cyclist riding the European Divide Trail Guilhem LaBûche did. Guilhem is from Lyon and used to ride mountain bikes. This is quite obvious from his bike handling skills. He also travels lighter than I do, making him significantly faster uphill. He doesn't have a gold chain though!;-)
We had been in contact a few times before online but this was the first time we had the opportunity to ride together. So in Béziers we caught up and rode together, battling the massive headwind that has continued since then. A bit of bummer as this was the first time the route hit some proper flat terrain. Still, we had a wonderful three days together with much laughter, coffee, beer and discoveries of many of the possible ways to have peanut butter. Him being France he knows exactly which local foods are the best for fueling a bike tourer, so the quality of my snacks have gone through the roof. He also tends to be much better to stay in a cheerful mood when the route would lead us onto some of the worst roads of the trip so far, steep and with rocks the size of baby heads strewn all over them. We had the pleasure of staying a night at his mother's place in the Ardèche region. However, in the coming days, Guilhem will deviate from the route to go to his home in Lyon to rest for a few days and catch up with his girlfriend. Needless to say, on tours like this one it's always hard to leave someone when you've just met them, but this time was particularly tough. I don't have the time to follow him to Lyon as I'm quite a bit behind schedule. Even though I'll have to pick up the pace, I hope Guilhem will catch me again soon so we'll be able to ride together again. Untill then I'm on my own again.
It's hard to keep up with the calorie expenditure of bike touring. My cooking has bettered noticeably with new skills like frying conserved fish in the tin. Pasta and rice are also regulars for dinner.
I suffered a double puncture of the sidewall of the rear tire. Nothing a few plugs couldn't fix though.
The towns north of Perpignan are ghost towns this time of year. There are no tourists to fill the holiday apartments, streets and beaches that are left empty. Wide stretches of perfect sand and the occasional abandoned water park are the result.
In Part 2 Anders will describe how he continued through Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and ending waaaay up north in Norway.
We at CCC thank you for sharing this with us an inspire us an (hopefully) others to pack some bags and get going