Euro 2020 Part 6 - National Park hopping from Granada to somewhere not far from Madrid

My aim for the day was to get to somewhere that was less than a day's riding distance to Bilbao, ready for my ferry back to England. I decided to avoid Madrid - we were in the middle of a pandemic.

Euro 2020 Part 6 - National Park hopping from Granada to somewhere not far from Madrid

You can also read/watch: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and video part 5.

I woke up feeling refreshed from my first night in an actual bed since my stay in Brittany. The AC was a welcome luxury after several late nights and waking up to the mid-morning sun.

My aim for the day was to get to somewhere that was less than a day's riding distance to Bilbao, ready for my ferry back to England. I decided to avoid Madrid - we were in the middle of a pandemic the appeal of spending time shackled within a city (where most of the fun things were closed) was low. I set off first to an area of national park close to Cazorla. The "Parque Natural de las Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas" (copied and pasted from the map).

The journey from Granada to an improvised wild camping spot for the night.

After a short stint on motorways I was soon riding on single lane country roads. As I got further into the greenery, the air got cooler and beautiful views of the Tranco de Beas Dam and reservoir unfolded to my right. I was pleased at how well the bike was handling with the plugged tyre and I relaxed into a state of flow, enjoying the technical, twisty roads I had been gifted. It felt like I was the protagonist in a world where a tapestry of blue and green was being weaved for me as I rode through it. The road was clear, with only the occasional car to dispatch with a subconscious overtake.

Views like this made for frequent stops to admire the scenery.

I was taken in by the beauty of my surroundings as much as I was enjoying the near-perfect riding conditions. I found myself stopping to pull over frequently and take in the views from the "Miradors". Gix was also looking perfect in every single spot I stopped and I might haven taken many more photos of my bike than I am willing to admit. I am adamant that I will never be a "boyfriend of Instagram" but I came close to being one with Gix.

As the afternoon drew to an end, I began to think about food and shelter for the night. Most places were not serving food as it was still siesta / pre-dinner time. But I managed to find a restaurant serving substantial tapas - my last taste of Andalucian cuisine on this trip.

Tuna, white fish, bread and potatos.

Eating at that point turned out to be the right choice because restaurants and supermarkets here were few and far between. It was now 6 or 7 and evening was drawing in. With the sun setting, I started looking at small side streets on my map and pulled in to a small entrance off the main road to enter what seemed to be an abandoned hotel.

It reminded me of Chernobyl and the town of Pipriyat which is being gradually taken back over by nature following its evacuation in the 1986. Like Pipriyat, this place was eerie. Not because of the nature, but because of the obvious signs of human activity in a place you don't expect it, smashed glass panes and a dark, hollow building.

I quickly decided that it would not be wise to camp here. Yet despite the waning daylight, I felt compelled to walk around and explore the decaying remains of this place, imagining it as a bustling retreat that it might once have been in its heyday.

It was now getting seriously late in the day and I hadn't sorted out where I would be staying. I tried to find roads that led to a lake I could see on the map but all of them ended short of the lake. Eventually I circled back to a road I had overlooked, marked "private road".  I use the word road generously - it was more of an "off road". but by this point me and Gix were no strangers to a dusty, rocky road. I followed it down for 10 minutes and reached "Embalse de Alarcon", a reservoir it turned out.

To my slight dismay there were two groups of people by the lake. A family, where the father was fishing and mother and daughter were wading in the water. And down the lake there was another couple settled in with a cool box and fishing rods out. I spoke to the family and asked if it was safe to swim. They seemed friendly and unperturbed by the arrival of a poco-Español-speaking stranger rocking up on a sportbike with a big green rucksack strapped to it.

I took that as a good sign and went for a walk to scope out of the area. The family had two dogs with them. One was a curious puppy that took a liking to me. So I was accompanied on my recce by this playful pup, who had an air of light heartendness. Much needed after a stressful few hours of wondering where I would sleep that night.

I soon realised that this was not the remote wild camping spot I had expected to find. But it was now close to 8.30pm. There was no point setting back out to find a new place to stay. And I didn't feel defeated enough to want to check in to a hotel for a second night in a row. So with that I made my way back to my bike.

I noticed that I had passed a fork in the dirt path so I went back up a few metres and took the other fork. This took me around the lake and I found a place where I could park my bike behind a bush. Being an open lake, there was no way to hide it completely but at least here it was hidden from the main dirt track that led down. While the family were packing up their car to leave, the couple fishing had started a fire and showed no signs of departing. I found a clearing a little further on where I was out of their sight and decided I would sleep here.

There were a few bin bags filled with beer and spirit bottles. Even this spot wasn't as secluded as I had thought but it would have to do. I changed out of my bike clothes, set up my roll mat and sleeping bag and jumped into a lake for a swim and bathe. Yes, the place was creepy but in the fading sunlight, the view was beautiful.

After my swim I called a friend with birthday wishes and to catch up about life in post-lockdown England. Our conversation helped take my mind off the past few hours though I had a suspicion that sleep wouldn't come easily that night. I was tucked up and peering out of my sleeping bag into the sky as the stars and moon came out that night. As I tried getting to sleep I saw a flurry of shooting stars - the most I've ever seen in one night. This brought out the Marcus Aurelius in me and I feel asleep pondering the insignificance of individuals in the context of space and the universe.

My sleep was abruptly broken around midnight. Tyres were screeching and a car was making its way along the fork in the dirt path directly to me. Oh, great. The car turned the corner into the open space in which I was camping and was now driving straight at me - at reasonable speed.

I managed to free my arms from my sleeping bag and waved them about in the air to signal my presence. The car came to a sudden halt a few metres away. It hadn't occurred to me that this could have been a parking spot. It hadn't really occurred to me that someone might want to come here at midnight either. The car had already pulled away after seeing my waving, and was making its way to another part of the lake. I closed my eyes and tried going back to sleep.

That's when I heard the barks. There was an excited dog running around. I thought it had seen me but just in case flashed my torch in its direction. This startled the dog who clearly hadn't seen me. Now the dog was growling as it walked in my direction. As I weighed up how to best free myself and what sort of response might be needed, I heard a voice shouting in the distance. Fortunately it was the owner recalling the dog, who reluctantly abided. "Cerveza?" said the dark figure that was now standing a few feet away from me.

In another time and another setting, I would have welcomed this offer of a beer with a stranger but right now, I wanted - and needed - to sleep. I strung together a bunch of words in Spanish to thank him for the offer and politely decline it. After all the commotion, I struggled to sleep. I thought I heard howling in the distance at some point in the night as well as more voices shouting. I tried to stay alert but really was too tired to investigate.

I felt relieved when my eyes opened in the morning. It was just before 6am but the darkness had gone. I didn't waste time getting up, getting ready and packing everything back on to the bike. The fishing couple had also camped overnight and were still asleep in their tent. The bike and my kit was all there, undisturbed. I was relieved and swiftly got on my way in the direction of Bilbao.