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Chapter 1-Bikepacking the Altravesur-Getting ready and getting to the start

You can see my YouTube on preparations here

Since being addicted to watching the films of my YouTube bikepacking hero, the late Iohan Gueorguiev, I’d wanted to do my own tour. It would be nothing as adventurous as his Artic circle to the tip of South America, 5 year, truly amazing epic, but it would be the best I could do safely, as an older, solo woman.

I had chosen the Altravesur route in Spain, an off road ride from Cadiz on the Atlantic ocean, to Valencia on the Med. Why I chose this, is that I love Spain, I could speak a tiny bit of Spanish. And it was all I could afford! My other option was the Arizona trail, but it was so very expensive!

I had no intentions of riding fast, counting my kilometres, counting metres climbed, it would be just for fun, for the solitude and for a little adventure. The plan is, there is no plan!

The word adventure is bandied about for anything these days, from going shopping! Going to the bike park or putting the bins out! But seriously, on a scale of 1 to 10, of adventuredom, I’d say my Altravesur ride would be perhaps a 3.

I thought I had prepared well, certainly although I do say so myself, time proved out that I had prepared the equipment well, as for being bikepacking savvy, and for my ability to navigate, that was a big fat nope! So the moral to the tale is, just because someone else makes it look easy, doesn’t mean it will come easy to you!

When it came to equipment, I went for mid-range everything, except the bike luggage, which at around GBP250 each, front and rear, was top of the range. Packing the bike for the flight was next on the list, I couldn’t use my Evoc bike bag as I wasn’t returning to the start point. I went to the local Halfords and asked if they had an empty cardboard bike box I could have. They duly obliged, alas the first one they gave me just wasn’t wide enough. A large framed full suspension bike is pretty wide as well as long, the box needed to be wide enough to get the two wheels alongside the frame. The second box they let me have was that of an e bike which are generally bigger. I spent a day cutting it down and re-closing it. I end up with a very sturdy, and as small as possible bike box.

I’d packed and repacked the gear I was to take, twenty times, each time taking things out and sometimes adding something! But I couldn’t get down to just using the bike luggage. I’d have to use, and nearly fill, a large rucksack. When I unpack now, there isn’t much that isn’t used, just some emergency items, of which I’ve used two already, to make some additional tent pegs, needed for the strong winds. Clothes are down to a minimum, and as I write this, I have a wet set of clothes that I’ve just washed and am having to wear my long-johns and mountain bike jersey out into town! Basically, including long-johns, I have two sets of clothes.

I’ll do a separate blog and YouTube on my gear.

My flight to Seville, from Luton airport was effortless, as was getting a taxi from Seville Airport to my Airbnb. I’d booked two nights with a lady called Manuela. Manuela didn’t speak any English, so we communicated using Google translate and my little Spanish. She wasn’t going to be at her apartment until the next day, so a kind friend of hers, Juan, settled me in. There are two longer term tenants staying there too, Victoria and Emilio. Both Spanish, but both speak English, in fact Emilio is an English teacher. And they were a great help to me, in getting some things sorted. I met Manuela on the Tuesday night as she had returned from her trip, we got along fabulously and she was very helpful, especially when it came to disposing of my bike box and miles of bubble wrap!

The apartment was on the fourth floor of the block, it was easy to get the bike up to the flat, in its box, using the lift. I was wondering how I would get it down once the bike was built, as the stairs twist around the lift shaft and are quite narrow.

I spent my time at Manuela’s building Bay, my bike, fitting the bikepacking luggage to him, shopping for camping gas, and trying to find a local SIM card. I had heard Vodafone generally had the best coverage, but trying to find a decent pay as you go package proved to be somewhat difficult, especially with the language barrier. I feel the sales assistants could have been more helpful in the second Vodafone shop I went in, after searching for a couple of hours I returned to the first Vodafone shop I’d been in, I bought the best of what they had.

I’m using two mobile phones, one with the Spanish SIM and my ‘normal’ one with the UK SIM. I also had a spare phone with no sim, it'll become evident how important this was on the final day of the ride!

I’d arrived in Seville on the Monday, and was to start my ride on the Wednesday, so after getting packed up Wednesday morning, I made my way down the four flights of tight twisty stairs with a fully loaded Bay, which was quite a feat! I got a real sweat on!

Before I made my way to the station, I popped into the service garage across the road, the mechanic tightened my pedals for me, as I’d not wanted to carry a heavy spanner just to do that.

My Spanish isn’t very good at all, I’d known a lot more ten years ago, but never really used it, so am having to pickup from what I remember. They really do speak fast, and with different accents in different areas, I find it tricky to understand.

Riding from the garage to the train station was the very first time I’d ridden my bike with luggage on! It took a bit of getting used to! There’s quite a wobble from the handlebars, but in that short ride, perhaps 2kms, I’d got used to it.

The Seville station really is well organised. Everything was effortless, much more so than I expected, from buying the ticket for me and Bay, to boarding the train.

I was a bit miffed at getting shortchanged again, it had happened in a supermarket the night before, then at the station coffee shop. I decided to contest it with the senorita, and she gave me back the euro she had shortchanged me. Only for it to happen a third time in a supermarket in Barbate, again managing enough Spanish to get it back! I think they prey on the non-spanish, and it as always been by a young lady. Bloody cheek!

I had a reflective ride on the train to San Fernando. On the outskirts of Cadiz, we were passing through mainly farmland, almond, olive and orange groves. When the train stopped at Jerez Airport it brought back memories of the times I’d flown into there whilst working at Renault F1, we would test at the Jerez circuit many times a year. Reminiscing can gloss over some terrible times and buff the memory up, to make you long to be back there, when really, although I loved my job, let’s just say it got spoilt.

On arriving at San Fernando, I was concerned to see that I’d have to take the fully loaded bike up an escalator, I had flashbacks of when I tried to take my bike bag up one at Sydney airport, it was touch and go as to whether I’d have to let go of it, sending it crashing down onto people behind me, luckily I just hung on and fell into an embarrassing mess at the top, I was then helped by a very kind airport worker who saw me fall, who then proceeded to pull my bike bag all the way to the domestic terminal for me.

Anyway, it was awkward but fine. It was riding the escalator that I noticed how very windy it was.

Riding through San Fernando to the start of the Altravesur route, Calle Real. It’s a part pedestrianised, part tram tracked street, it was early evening by now and the Spanish had started their promenading, oh how it is so different to the UK, couples old and young, walk hand in hand, to their favourite tapas bar or restaurant.

Calle Real is a part pedestrianised, part tram tracked Calle, it was early evening by now and the Spanish had started their promenading, oh how it is so different to the UK, couples old and young walk hand in hand to their favourite tapas bar or restaurant.

Barbate, where I'm writing this is a small seaside town a few days into my ride. It has many small shops and kiosks, the tapas bars are always busy from nine until two, then it’s siesta time, they re-open from five until whenever! Some are open all day. But generally it is a very traditional Spanish way of life to close for siesta.

I noticed that some large supermarkets have opened on the outskirts of the town. Aldi, Lidl, Dia etc, it's a shame because eventually it will kill this way of life.

So here I am at the start point of the Altravesur route.

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