For me, the idea of travelling by bike began in the Summer of 2009 when I was invited to give a photography workshop in Tirana, Albania. I decided to ride the 2700km from my home in Barcelona along the Spanish, French and Italian coast before crossing the Apennines, taking the ferry to Dubrovnik and riding the last stint to Tirana. The route and terrain is not so much of a problem if you are fit, but I hadn’t touched a bike since about 2002, when I began submerging myself into my photography dark rooms. My body had changed a bit in those seven years – I had put on nearly 20kg!
So, anyway, I set off to Tirana on an old mountain bike, completely out of shape, and arrived there 25 days later – very happy with the experience and the fact I managed to lose 11kg in the process! That´s when I found my passion for cycling again, realising that bike touring is a very nice way of cycling – moving slowly, exploring off the main tracks, far from the centres of our modern lives…
"I now see my road bike as more of a cool training tool for the longer trips I love on the touring bike - out in nature, breathing fresh air, experiencing places where you could never arrive with a car, or even a road bike."
The following summer I was back in the French Pyrenees on my road bike, riding the famous Cols: Tourmalet; Aubisques; Solours. I felt obligated to go back and ride the climbs again to show to myself that I was still able to do it. Whilst climbing and climbing, I kept thinking about the freedom of the Tirana trip – realising how different touring on bike with luggage was from the speed, watts, and distance a road bike offered me. I now see my road bike as more of a cool training tool for the longer trips I love on the touring bike – out in nature, breathing fresh air, experiencing places where you could never arrive with a car, or even a road bike.
In 2011 I toured Spain on a cross bike, covering 2800km from the port of Denia on the Spanish mainland, just south of Valencia, to Castilla la Mancha, Extremadura, Galicia, Asturias and on to Bilbao. A cross bike is not the most ideal bike for the touring I wanted to be doing, and it was clear that a proper “working machine” would be needed – a touring bike! So, after some research, I purchased a beautiful, titanium Firefly bike – handmade in Boston, USA. With the new bike I completed one more big tour in Spain and four weeks in Romania last summer. Both countries are great for off-road touring and unspoiled rural surroundings…
My latest short tour, over the Easter week, took me to the backcountry of Valencia. I had seen a photograph of a little road winding along the Barranco de Otonel, a very beautiful canyon that leads to the dam at Embalse de Tous, collecting the waters of the River Júcar. In 1982 after very heavy rains, the dam could not hold the additional water and broke, leaving about 300 million euros in damage to agriculture, housing and road networks. The beautiful tiny road (CV580) from Navarrés to Millares and from Millares to Cortes de Pallás is and unforgettable ride – snaking all along the Otonel canyon. Arriving late in the afternoon at Millares, I took a shower, picked up some more water and food, and cycled on to build my campsite a few kilometres out of town with a vast, spectacular view overlooking the canyon.
The original idea for the tour was to cycle up to the Serrania de Cuenca, one of Spain’s ‘Parque Naturels’, and back to Denia where I started. However, very soon it was clear that with a 25kg bike and a lot of climbing, I had dreamed too big. Often the gravel climbs were so steep that I had to walk several hundred meters. But, as I learned from my Barcelona-Tirana tour, it is not about distance or speed, it is about the journey and the place, so shortened my route without a fuss.
"When touring in this region, I use the ‘white’ slightly gravelly roads where possible because you can be sure that you will have these roads to yourself - you can be out there for days without seeing anybody - perfect. "
Tuéjar was the furthest point for me in the end – before heading back to Denia in a south-easterly direction for the ferry. In the town, I picked up some good queso de cabra (goat’s cheese), jamon serrano, and lots of water bottles for an open air shower before riding a nice snaking climb up to another beautiful camping spot in the woods. Whilst the days were hot, the nights were really cold – down close to 0C – so I was glad for my down jacket and some warm wool underwear as extra layers in my warm weather sleeping bag to get a good night’s sleep! In the morning I rode down to the Embalse de Benabéger dam, where the strange Pantano del Generalissimo fascist buildings stand – built by Franco.
From there on to Utiel, it was a long climb, but luckily most of it in the woods to provide respite from the hot day temperatures. I had ridden so many beautiful off roads the days before, but the day from Utiel to Cofrentes was very special – of the 122km, approximately 80% were gravel roads. At Tamayo I left the CV458 and went down to the River Cabriel – there was no road in the maps and a farmer told me that there was no route along the river, but he was wrong and I made it down to Casas del Rio riding on the most beautiful gravel road just beside the river.
Guess what … I was alone again!
The beautiful Valencian farmland images of the red soil and olive, almond and orange tree fields will live on in my memory. I am still working out how to photograph the intense smell of orange tree fields in full blossom...