Here Comes the Chill…

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The descent down into Aracena cuts through the vegetation along narrow paths and then tight, rooty singletrack. Its an exciting change from the wider dirt roads, at least until I need to get off and walk…

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Over the last few days I’ve noticed things getting colder – when I’ve camped, I’ve needed my jacket as well as my quilt, and have woken up with that 3am chill that sometimes comes at the coldest point of the night. My quilt has done a brilliant job but as mid-December approaches, I’m possibly asking a little bit much of it.

When I arrive in Aracena its very crowded and as I stop riding, I’m cold very quickly. I squeeze into a rammed cafe to warm up and see if I can find somewhere to stay. The first two places tell me that they are full and they emphasise, with a little disbelief that I’m not already aware, that everywhere is full. It appears that I’ve overlooked the fact that it’s a holiday weekend in Spain. With national holidays on 6th and 8th December, everyone has come into town for a weekend of celebrations. I’d really love to stay and soak it up, and there is the chance of a room in a hotel where one set of guests hasn’t been in touch or arrived yet. But its getting dark and colder and I don’t want to take the chance of waiting around just in case, only to have to head on much later. So I fill up with water and head out along the trail as darkness falls, riding by the light of my hub powered headlight, and the Exposure Joystick on my helmet. Once again, the path is flanked on either side by fenced land, but after less than half an hour I find a track leading up off the main path to a bit of a dead end, which looks like the back gate to someone’s property. I can hear people in the distance and lights not too far away, but the gate looks like it hasn’t been used for years. The patch of land on the other side of the fence is a bit more secluded but the gate seems so rickety that I don’t think it will survive me clambering over, so I just pitch up here for the night, by torchlight. In the morning, just as I descend the track to turn onto the main trail, about 40 mountain bikers whiz past on a Sunday morning outing, some looking rather confused at my loaded bike and where I might have come from.

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Breakfast is in a cafe in a little whitewashed town, with a fire burning in one corner of the room. Its tempting to stay here in the warm for lunch. And dinner…

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There are small festivals taking place in all the villages I pass through today, this one rather randomly led by an old Peugeot 205…

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I spend a night in Cortegana, where this little guy shows me the skyline, dominated by the town’s castle and church…

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My departure in the morning is delayed by a problem with the Viewranger app on my iPhone, which for some reason means the app won’t show the gps track I’m trying to follow at this point. If I scroll over further East or South, then the detailed track is shown without problems, and if I zoom out, the high level route is shown also. It feels like a memory problem of some sort. I stop before I’ve even left Cortegana and sit in a cafe with wifi, trying to delete and reload the track. This doesn’t seem to work so I delete and reinstall the app, and then reload the track. It seems to improve things and so I set off again, but by the time I reach Aroche to the West, the problem is back again. I find a cafe which looks like it has wifi, buy a coffee and sit down, only to realise that the wifi is from the cafe next door. Of course I can’t get the password without buying a drink there, so I neck the first coffee, head next door to buy another, log onto their wifi and try deleting and reinstalling the app and route all over again. In the end, I just can’t get it to work so resort to using a different GPS app – MotionX-GPS. This works just fine, with less lag than I sometimes get with Viewranger, but it doesn’t have the detailed base maps that I’ve downloaded (at some cost!).

Finally heading out of Aroche in the late afternoon, the trail turns south. After just a few miles I find an area set back off the road on a bit of high ground and pull off for the evening. Its been a frustrating day trying to fix the mapping, but this spot is lovely and it feels good to be properly hidden from the road, so I spread out and relax without fear of being disturbed.

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I’m using this little Vargo Hexagon Stove which is designed to burn wood, but which also happily accommodates a little Esbit alcohol stove inside. One panel opens up to gain access, which makes it easier to use the simmer cap of the Esbit than I found with the Honey Stove that I had previously.

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It’s another cold night. I’m woken on and off by alternating sounds of a goat bell and by angry, barking dogs both which seem to pass close to the tent and then drift away into the distance. This repeats itself two or three times, and I just hope that the dogs at least are on the other side of the fence…!

I really don’t want to get out of bed in the morning…

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When I do venture outside, the tent flysheet is stiff with a layer of ice…

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…whilst the bike is covered with a thick frost…

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But as the sun rises, the change in temperature is immediate, and the frost slowly retreats…

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Heading south once again, the landscape changes noticeably throughout the day. Things are a little more arid, the vegetation a little more sparse, the colours a little less…green…

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The trail slowly descends towards the town of San Telmo, passing first through a decrepit mining village, and then right through the centre of the disused mine on the outskirts of the town. I approach a little tentatively, double checking the GPS route and roadbook instructions, thinking at first that I’ve gone the wrong way, as I ride straight into the middle of the mine facilities. The ground is a mixture of grey and a vibrant, mineral rich orange, as are the puddles of standing water. Although the mine workings themselves are fenced off or flooded, it feels eery and slightly wrong to even be riding through this wasteland. Before long I can feel chemicals in the air irritating the back of my throat, and I’m keen to get out of there.

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The mine is apparently undergoing remediation and there is even a picnic area for visitors, made somewhat less attractive by the covering of orange mud from recent floods. It feels like there is some way to go before this blot on the landscape feels anywhere close to restored…

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I escape the chemical stench, restock on water and lunch in San Telmo and then speed off along a winding tarmac ribbon…

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Passing El Cerro de Andevalo, I head off-road once again along a network of interlinked dirt roads. The disused Estacion del Jaroso is a ruined, derelict shell of slowly crumbling stone and plaster…

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…and as I continue south, the landscape opens up. Tracks split and rejoin, crisscrossing an undulating scrubland. All around are places to camp. The town of Calanas is a few miles away, and its a little early but this place is amazing. I pull off onto a side track, and then off that to find a spot to stop for the night. This feels perfect. There is no fear of being in the wrong place, of discovery. There are views in all directions. I set up in time for sunset, and use the abundant dry wood to have a small fire to keep the chill away for a while. This is how I imagine most nights of wild camping would be. It is exactly how many nights have been for a friend, riding the Great Divide, and I feel a strong urge to do an extended journey in the USA, exploring the wide open spaces there.

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In the morning, there isn’t much left of the fire, but the golden light creeping over the horizon pushes away the chill once again.

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And of course, there is coffee.

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This has been, without doubt, the best night of camping of the trip so far. And thats a very good thing, because its probably also the last one…

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Posted in Bikepacking London to Seville (2014) and tagged , , .

7 Comments

  1. Great stuff! Some of those camping spots look amazing!

    I always expected EVERY night to be cold; not just in winter. Haven’t you found that during the earlier parts of the trip, that the temperatures get a little low, or is it relatively comfortable?

    • Hey Lee – yeah those last few camp spots were pretty cool. I did find nights a little chilly up in the Massif Central, mainly just when I was on higher ground, but my quilt did the job. I had an opportunity to have swop out my quilt for my warmer bag in October but decided that the quilt would be enough, especially layered with a down jacket, and inside my bivvy bag. But those last few nights were pushing it, and I’d wake up quite cold in the small hours…!

      How are your plans coming along??

  2. Very brave of you camping out. Many think Spain is always hot especially in the South. It can reach -10 where we are in the countryside near Fuenteheridos.

  3. Hell of a trip you had! It was a bummer that the app didn’t work. I also use the MotionX-GPS app, but it uses all my data =[ Im planning to do some backpacking while Im in the Spain/France area next year. Would you be able to suggest the average cost for a camping spot or is it wild camping everywhere?

    • Hey Angel,

      Yeah – the app not working in that area was a bit of a pain. I’ve noticed a similar issue in one particular area of a trail in the UK, and can only conclude that it must be a memory related issue – perhaps just where there is a lot of data in certain sections of the map / route. Odd though! In Spain there seems to be a little lack of campsites, compared to France at least. I wild camped more in Spain than I had previously, as there seemed to be more campsites in France. Cost wise, many French towns have municipal campsites than can be as cheap as about €6 a night. More managed sites, often with lots of static caravans can be nearer €20 a night. And, despite having facilities, I personally don’t find the more managed sites particularly pleasant places! I’d probably rather wild camp for a few nights and then have a night in a gite or hostel.

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