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Chapter 18: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Pampaneira to Trevelez

9th May 2019

You can see my YouTube on this ride here

I left Pampaneira around 8 or 9 Thursday morning, it seems the whole village closes on Thursday and I couldn’t get any breakfast. So I set-off looking for the camino to Boobión. After half an hour I was high above Pampaneira but I couldn’t find the camino. I decided I wasn't going to waste any more time looking for it, and started to descend through the village to take the surfaced road. On my way down I found the 'camino' which was in fact a narrow mule trail. I’d earlier asked a guy where the camino was but couldn’t follow his directions. He had said I shouldn’t take the camino with a bike, and that it was ‘moi complicado’. And he wasn’t kidding, the first few hundred metres are overgrown with huge thistles on one side, with a very narrow pathway that had a three metre sheer drop on the other.

Once past the overgrown part it was clear this was going to be hard work, it was singletrack, steep and rocky. These mule and goat trails have stones set into the soil on their end, so they stick upwards, not flat like cobble stones. It was such hard work, it took every ounce of my energy to push my way forward. At one point I was ready to turn back, it was that difficult. So very steep. And the fact that my trainers had no tread left didn’t help with getting traction to push the bike up over large rocks. At one point I heard myself saying out loud, ‘you’ve got this fuck face’, willing myself on, it was just so very hard, especially with no calories inside me and the sun rising in the sky.

On reaching the top boy was I relieved, did I mention it was hard work, perhaps not to walk it but to push a 40+ kilo bike up that mule trail it took everything I had. As I rested at the top of this trail, at the start of the pweblo of booby-on I noticed a large dog, that I thought was a Great Dane, laying on a dog bed in the pretty tended garden, I said hello to it. And from behind a rose bush in an upper class English accent a lady said Hello.

The lady was Temahoa, Tem for short. She couldn’t believe I had pushed a bike up the mule trail, we got talking.. Tem offered to make me a coffee, first I said no, as I wanted to get on, but then changed my mind and said I’d like a coffee if it was still on offer. I wanted to stay and talk to her, she was very interesting.

Born in Taihiti, Tem was an artist, specialising in prints that she displayed in a gallery in Maryland, USA. Tem had lived in Spain many many years ago, then spent 30 years living in the USA, returning to the Alpujarras around three years ago. She has a Pekingese dog and the big dog, that turns out to be a Boxer Doberman cross, not a Great Dane. It was big.

As we were talking a group of mountain bikers headed down the Mule trail that I’d just come up. Tem wasn’t too impressed with them tearing around but the guy that runs the mountain bike holidays is her neighbour, and he stopped by to say hello.

I could have spent days talking to Tem, she was great company. And it turns out I know of her daughter, Dallas Love, who is a famous horsewoman in the Alpujarras. She runs a horse-riding holiday business, not like pony trekking, this is for very experienced riders, to ride the Sierra Nevada mountains. Small world. Tem gave me her web address, alas I must have written it down incorrectly as I can’t get it to work. I shall investigate when I get some decent WiFi.

I spent around an hour or so with Tem, then pushed up to the top of Bubión, heading towards Capileira. There was a camino between the two villages, but it was very short and I wanted some breakfast so I took the surfaced mountain road. I knew there was a bike shop in Bubión, so whilst having some breakfast in a bar, I gave them a call and arranged to pop in and have some new brake pads fitted to Bay. I’d been running out of brakes on steep descents, and also I think they’d been binding a bit.

After breakfast I stopped at Alpujarra Bikes, where Brian tended to Bay, and me and his wife Lynne had a chat and drank tea! It was a useful chat, as she’d warned me that the camino from Capileira to Trevélez had a wash-out, where the camino had fallen down the mountainside, so there would be a difficult part to traverse.

It’s a fab bike shop they’ve set-up in Bubión. Right on the main road and big signage, so not difficult to find. They carry-out repairs, hire out and sell bikes, and have a well-stocked shop with lots of exciting bike goodies to peruse! They’ve been going four years now, I hope they go from strength to strength.

Brian changed my brake pads and let me have the part-worn ones in case of emergency, as they were only half to three quarters worn. He also cleaned and tinkered with my gears, informing me my derailleur bracket is bent, which I knew, as I had bent it back as best I could a few weeks before after bashing it in the mud at El Churro. I couldn’t afford a new bracket, so Brian did his best with the gears and lubed the chain.

I said my goodbyes at Alpuharra Bikes, then made my way to Capileira, where I couldn’t resist stopping for a coca cola, which came with some delicious free tapas. I also ordered a bocadillo to take with me for later, which was a bit crappy, I’d asked for cheese and tomato but the tomato was some type of tomatoey paste, yuk. There was a large group of French hikers at the restaurant, I’d seen a lot of French holiday makers since Pampaneira, this area of Spain seems popular with the French.

I rode through Capileira, onto the at first surfaced, camino. Of course, it was uphill, what else! I was heading for Trevélez, after all! It wasn’t too steep, I rode some, I pushed some. The terrain at times is olive grove then becomes forested mountainside, and the camino becomes gravel.

With ever increasing scenic mountain views. Not to say it hasn’t been scenic since getting to the Sierra Nevada, as it is all beautiful. At this time of year, the wild flowers are in bloom, the gardens are in bloom and the mountains are green. If you’ve only visited the Costas or the cities of Spain, try and find time to visit the Sierra Nevada, to see a slower, more traditional way of life.

So funny, I was taking a squat behind a bush, when who should come along? Dominic and Adam in the map scanning car, I could clearly see them, so I’m hoping I’ll be on Apple maps taking a squat, sometime soon!!

I stopped around 2pm to eat my bocadillo and have a break, just after starting walking again a van drew up the side of me. It was Mike, that runs Switchback Mountain Bike holidays, he was shuttling his clients up the hill, for them to ride down. He just checked I was OK and waited at the top for me so he could point out the way to go as the road forked just after his drop-off point. His clients were having a fabulous time on their bikes and enjoying their holiday.

Mike’s guys had some climbing to do before their downhill ride, and we all set-off together and it inspired me to get pedalling up the hill. I got way out in front, so I could stop and film them alas I did something I hadn’t done for a while, which is turn my GoPro off, instead of on! So I missed them!!

The guys went on their way, and I pushed again, up the camino. Perhaps an hour or so later, just before the highest point of the camino I stopped by an acequia, the water tumbling down the mountain into this manmade catchment. It’s good to see that the Alpujarran land will be provided for!

Flies! Flies had been a problem the last few days when travelling slowly. They would congregate around my sweaty head and face, eventually you stop shushing them away and just put up with it! But now the descent, the flies can’t stay on you when at speed. So double fun!

Some forestry work had recently been done, with gigantic log piles lining the route. I savoured the wonderful aroma of fresh-sawn timber and pine. There were cattle grazing the land, so a couple of gates to open and close, one of which nearly had me fail the initiative test, I couldn’t, at first, see how to untie it!

Riding on, I came to a pretty waterfall to my left, so I stopped to cool down and rest in the shade. I filtered some water too. This is when I noticed some cow poo in the mountain stream, which made me realise I should always filter my water, no matter where I’m getting it.

Continuing on down the camino, the gravel starts to peter out and become grassy, then narrows. This leads to a washout, with a very dry and loose dusty steep descent down then a steep ascent up. Basically, the camino has fallen down the mountain, and you have to negotiate what is left. I teetered around the top, trying to get a good foothold on the rocky dusty surface, but kept sliding down. It was so steep I couldn’t keep the rear of the bike from rising up, trying to overtake the front. I hadn’t gone anywhere yet! I just kept sliding on the dust.

The dust was the best part of the trail, with shale to one side and larger loose rocks to the other. I thought I’ll turn the bike sideways and put it in front of me, this may work. Before I attempted it, two hikers appeared, what luck, as Sofie, from Belgium, offered to help me down. We eased the bike down, still I couldn’t get a foothold with no tread, but having Sofie at the rear, supporting the bike, made it possible. Still it took us sometime.

Sofie’s friend started making her way up the other side of the washout, so I said to Sofie that I’d be OK getting up on my own, so she went off with her friend.

Little did I know, the ascent was just as difficult, if not more so, than the descent. Not being able to get traction meant I was struggling to push the weight of the bike over rocks, this side was rockier than the other. I was struggling. And bless her, Sofie returned to help me. It was so hard, even with two of us. And unfortunately, she broke her bracelet whilst pushing up. I hope she managed to repair it. I was so very thankful to her, what a super-kind lady.

We walked together for a short while, then the ladies walked along the treeline so as to get out of the blazing sun, and I rode off.

The camino ran for a while longer in the forested area, then it narrows slightly, winding its way onto the lower cultivated hills and small-holdings above Trevélez. It was around 6pm by now, the sun less fierce.

I was so pleased to meet another bikepacker, Jack from London, coming from the Trevélez direction. We stopped to chat and for photos. Jack took a great one of me, it’s rarely I get a photo taken, I was so very pleased when he sent me this!

Jack has been riding for five days, he’s riding the Transandalus route, starting in Granada, it circumnavigates the Sierra Nevada in a clockwise direction. Being in Trevélez, he’s done well as he’s three quarters of the way around. He’s young, and looks strong, oh how I wish I had the power and stamina to ride like him! It was a steep hill I was descending, he was riding up…..not pushing, like I would be!

It’s good to meet people that have just ridden where you are going, like with Robert and Meta, as they can pass on information that is helpful to you. I warned Jack about the washout he was going to encounter a few kilometres up. And he informed me of the fork in the road to the upper, middle and lower barrio of Trevélez. Jack was to wildcamp on the sierra that night.

After our meeting I soon found the road, making my way to Camping Trevélez, alas, this took around an hour simply because where Google maps says it is, is incorrect. I was up and down the road at least four times before I flagged a motorhome down, asking where the campsite was. It’s around another 100 – 200 metres farther than shown on the map!

It was around half seven when I checked myself in. Camping Trevélez caters for tents, caravans, campervans and RVs. Built on the mountainside, looking down onto Trevélez to the left and directly across to the next mountain, that I knew I would have to climb over next!

The lady in the office was helpful, I checked in for two nights and paid for electricity, it was around 30 euros all told. It was a steep climb up to the tent area, in fact everywhere was a steep climb! I bumped into the couple, from I think Germany, that I had flagged down earlier, a few times, they were also staying there. The man spoke some English, so we had a few little chats.

There was only one other tent in the tent area, so I decided I’d give them space and pitch at the other end but after getting all my stuff up there, I decided they had chosen the better area, with no bushes obscuring the view of the mountain opposite. So, I decided to pitch nearer them, still 20 metres away, mind. They were a young German couple, we exchanged pleasantries and discussed our tours, they spoke excellent English. It always amazes me just how well non-native English speakers have such a good grasp of the language; I feel quite ignorant that I know no German!

The campsite has the usual facilities; showers, toilets, drinking water, wash-up area, clothes washing area etc. Also, this site has a restaurant and bar which opens at half seven in the evening, the WiFi is in the area of the restaurant only.

I absolutely love getting to a ‘proper’ campsite, I don’t dislike wildcamping and I’m not scared of it, but it’s very stressful selecting a spot where you won’t get moved on, harassed, disturbed, soaked, eaten by mozzies or blown away!!

I’d soon set-up camp and had me some dinner and lots of tea! The sun hadn’t gone down yet, there was a few flies and mozzies around, so I lit a Myrrh incense stick inside my vestibule, this did seem to keep them away but I think it will only work in an enclosed area, unless you have a giant stick! Unfortunately, I burnt a small hole in my tent with it, when I forgot it was there.

I really shouldn’t have gone to sleep so early, at 9pm, as I was awake again at around 1am, I decided to make a cup of tea and have some more food.

When it’s a clear night, the Sierra Nevada has full on Milky Way night skies. It wasn’t such a night, but still there was more stars than I would see at home and it was quite beautiful.

The sun rose over the mountain directly opposite, giving an early blanket of warmth, no waiting here! I love to have a lazy day at camp, it really is a treat, there’s nothing like it! I spent the first few hours washing my clothes, taking a shower and pottering around. And charging my electronics. Even though I’d paid for electricity, there isn’t actually any sockets in the tent area, so I was having to leave all my expensive gear down in the RV area, charging. It was beautifully sunny so I used my solar charger to charge my power packs.

The site owner allowed me to sit in the restaurant and use the power socket so I could do some YouTube editing on my laptop, I ended up being there from around 11am until 18:30. When I left I checked with him that the restaurant opened at half seven, he confirmed so I took my gear back to my tent, on the way I got way-laid for three quarters of an hour, chatting to a lady that had been working at the site. Her name was Gazala, from London, widely travelled and very interesting, I’m guessing in her late twenties. She had been working at Camping Trevélez for two and a half weeks, placed with WorkAway, similar to HelpX, where you work for your accommodation and food. The next day she was leaving for another job, this one on a farm in the Tabernas desert, north-east of Trevélez.

We had a fabulous chat, she needed to get her gear packed up, ready for an early morning leave at half six. It would take her many bus rides to get to the Tabernas, over a days travelling, staying overnight, I think in Granada. I needed to get down to the restaurant for dinner, I was so looking forward to some proper non-camp food.

I returned my laptop to my tent and had a quick cup of tea.

So sweet of her, Gazala walked all the way up to my tent, with the food she couldn’t take with her. Sadly it was no use to me either, since I couldn’t be carrying heavy vegetables on my bike and I didn’t want to be cooking at camp… I was going to the restaurant for food, or so I thought.

Unfortunately, when I got down to the restaurant, it was packed! There was a table of 15 rock-climbers and three other tables of two occupied too. I sat at the only spare table, and waited half an hour or so, but realised, with the fifteen only just having starters, that I wouldn’t get food until around 10pm. Gazala had been called on to waitress, as was the owner, with a chef, possibly his wife, in the kitchen. I needed to pay for a bocadillo I’d had earlier in the day, so Gazala sorted that out for me and I returned to my tent with my tail between my legs, having two packets of noodles for dinner instead!

I was pretty pissed that the owner hadn’t warned me to get down there early, as he had a table of fifteen in, but hey shit happens doesn’t it! It was another starry night sky, this, Day 52 of my tour, Friday the 10th of May. On the Saturday morning both me and the Germans were packing up our tents, them flying back to Germany later that day, me on to Juviles. I hope the Germans got a ride; they were hitching a ride to catch the bus in Orgiva.


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