Euro2020 Part 4: in to the Mountains

Today is the final long-ish slog of the first part of my trip. It takes me from just north of Madrid to just south of Granada into the Sierra Nevada national park where I will stay for a few days.

Euro2020 Part 4: in to the Mountains

You can also read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

The rough plan today is to start off on the mountain roads of the national park I am currently in and skirt around Madrid on country roads towards Toledo. Near Toledo I would jump on the A4 and munch some miles, taking me beyond Granada and into my destination in the mountains of Sierra Nevada.

The last few days were each 600-700km days. Today was shorter in comparison, just 500km. I'd never ridden in temperatures anywhere near this in the past and I wondered how I and the bike would fare. I wanted to get to my destination by late afternoon. That gave me 7-8 hours on the road.

As I soon discovered, the challenge was staying alert and focused on several hundred kilometres of motorway riding in temperatures close to 45 degrees. I'd never really sweated while doing 80mph+ but today that was going to change. I was wearing a leather sportsbike jacket which was a decent option for the road with large mesh pannels across the front and a few on the back for air flow. My jeans thick kevlar-lined riding jeans with knee pads - not so ideal. But they were the only pair of jeans I had. The only other option was wearing shorts and I didn't quite fancy that. I've never felt air this warm brushing past me. It wasn't cooling me down at all. I settled on a strategy of pinning it as fast as I could and taking frequent stops for water, concentration and mental sanity.

A rare and welcome bit of shade. In this heat my 5 min fuel stops became 15 minute fuel + warm water + buy cold drink stops.

The stops too were draining. Cars that I had overtaken 10 minutes ago would pass me while I was stopped, only for me to overtake them again shortly after getting back on the road. This made me feel like I wasn't covering much ground - but I was reassured by the map which suggested otherwise.

We all know that in the story of the Hare and the Tortoise, the Tortoise with its slow and steady progress beats the Hare with his rapid pace and regular breaks. I can now tell you that the tortoise was not riding a GSXR in this story, but the hare might have been. The Hare's strategy is undeniably the better one for me. The fatigue is identical whether you travel 60 miles in 60 minutes or 120 miles in 60 minutes on a sportsbike. It is the heat, sweat, mental expenditure and the toll of body positioning that wears you out on a journey like this. None of these are affected by speed (except perhaps mental expenditure), only by time on the bike. If anything, riding faster is more comfortable because of the support offered by the wind at this speed and the ability to get lower down, rest your chin and tuck in your elbows into the perfectly placed grooves on Gix's tank.

I peeled off the A4 at a town called Valdelpe├▒as. I spotted a Burger King in the distance as a fall back eating option but settled instead for a local cafe I passed by. After a lot of phone-aided translation, I was able to get them to open up their (closed due to Covid) toilet for me to use and ordered a vegetable sandwich - i.e. lettuce, carrots and tomato ketchup with tuna on top. After further translation and negotiation, I was able to get them to swap up the tinned tuna for tinned artichoke. A small victory.

Gix looking pretty as I ate lunch.

Soaked in sweat yet refreshed, I got back on the A4 toward Granada. I was reminded of my trip last year. Munching miles from Slovenia to Berlin on the autobahn in heavy rain on the Africa Twin. After hours in the rain, I had started to lose waterproof-ness on some bits of my kit. The Africa Twin's 50/50 off-road biased tyres were transmitting every slight wobble through the handlebars which was unnerving at 100mph. Yeah it was kind of miserable but in that moment I was pretty content. Nothing was particularly wrong. Of course we all ride for 25 degree weather and ideal mountain roads but I'm really reminded of how good motorcycling is for me when I find myself content in less than ideal situations.

It was in that moment that I also felt very far away from home. The landscape had changed from the greenery of France and Northern Spain into parched yellow shrubland, which for me was closer to what I imagined the Sahel to be than country that houses both the Pyrenees and Picos de Europa mountain ranges. The road signs too were occassionally in Arabic. I felt so close to Africa and an entirely new adventure. It briefly crossed my mind that I could extend my trip. I should probably plan that trip though and perhaps choose something other than the GSXR for it. Or on seconds thoughts, maybe I should stick with the GSXR for that trip too.

A few hours after lunch I saw signs for Granada. The motorway cut right through the city which made for relaxed riding as I took in the views. It was here that I encountered my first traffic of the trip. I hesitated to filter at first, but once I was overtaken by a moped happily splitting lanes, I felt I should join in the fun too.

After the traffic for Granada had exited, the road then turned into the Autovia de Sierra Nevada. The Spanish are much better at naming motorways than the British I thought. We should give the M4 a nice nickname like the Motorway of the Black Forest. Renaming the M25 would be a struggle though - The Round Motorway of Misery perhaps would be fitting. Although all motorways in Britain are becoming miserable thanks to smart motorways and average speed cameras. Average speed sections of motorways are probably what being in Azkaban felt like. I am certain that if I ever meet a dementor, it will turn into a some sort of SPECs-HADECs camera hybrid and suck up all my joy. I've digressed, let's get back to this Euro trip.

Another hour or so later I was peeling off the motorway onto mountain roads. The road surface deteriorated first into wrinkly concrete slabs with ruts. And after that it turned into an unpaved, stony dusty road as I got further away from civilisation and closer to my spot in the mountains that would be my base for a few days. I took a wrong turn and had to wrestle Gix into doing a U-Turn on a very steep slope. My boots struggled for traction but I managed to keep things rubber side down for both me and the bike. It was still over 40 degrees. I unzipped my leather jacket and wished I could unzip everything else too. As I climbed further up into the mountains I was hoping it would cool off, but that didn't happen. There was no tree cover, the mountains too barren for any sort of protection from the sun. I had never voluntarily chosen to be outside in heat like this - never mind with an engine that was hitting 107 degrees between my legs.

The heat was intense but the view made it bearable, just.

Finally, I made it to the campsite. The car park was a 10 minute walk. I put a little stand stabiliser under the stand to stop Gix falling over on the unstable rocky ground, unstrapped my rucksack and marched to the campsite.

The first thing I did when I got there was change into shorts and t-shirt, finally feeling some respite from the intensity of the sun. I made a mental note to wash my helmet lining when I got home (editor update Jan 2021 - helmet yet to be washed). Overall I felt a sense of accomplishment and looked forward to a relaxing few days off the bike, blissfully unaware that somewhere on my journey up the mountain I had picked up a puncture that would render my rear tyre completely flat before the end of the sun had set. This, I would discover 3 days later when I returned to my bike for the steep downhill journey off the mountain and back into civilisation. Ignorance is bliss - I spent the next few days happily taking in the views, eating good food, meditating and doing a bit of hiking in the mornings and evenings when the weather allowed.

Next up: Part 5