Winter strikes hard; rural Burgos to more walled cities

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April 12th 2019
Published: April 12th 2019
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Kindly our Burgos host let us leave our gear whilst we scooted off for a few days of exploration before returning later in the week. Forecasting a mix of snow, rain, wind, cloud, sun and thunderstorms, we’re feeling more than a little intrepid and quite at home!

The night-before-research into this three day jaunt first had an 80km path, that crossed several B roads and then entered La Rioja province on the LR113. Zero degrees at 8am upon sunrise was likely to put our departures back, to comfortably ride. So with the big back pack packing out of the way and panniers loaded up, we finally set off at 11, with energy to burn.

Navigating out of town was trying, but soon we’d gone off piste, not quite as planned, trying to cut some distance on our way east by going first to Cortes. Striking a non existent road there however on, we then sought local advice from a girl walking with crutches, telling me to cross on a dirt path ‘over there’.

That took us to a sealed road, rejoining an incomplete motorway over bridge extension, which after 100 metres became rough track again.

Kilometres went by and fortunately what lacks in choosing accurate sealed road alternatives makes up for knowing virtually every farm or dirt track / goat path available . It got rickety, and that’s just the mood. But when adversity presents, the beastly bikes were certainly up for the impromptu mountain bike challenge. We were not alone either being the Sunday day of leisure it was.

Until we got to the B road, when it was deathly quiet. Some time and around 14km of rough trail later (I’ll blame my navigation here), the seal and dirt met in a beautiful moment. We could advance faster than 8/10kph. But I wouldn’t get my hopes up as we were both riding the equivalent of a tractor.

Palazuelos de la Sierra was our lunch stop. Gloomy clouds chilled us quickly so we munched on the pita rolls I’d made and went. Jackets, head socks, buffs, we needed the lot. On to Villamiel de la Sierra, the snowy mountains were in full view. Tracking east through several valleys and crossing several hills, it was a sequence of pretty rural villages; Tanabueyes, San Milan De Lara, Jaramillo De la Fuente, Vizcaínos, Barbadillo del Pez, Barbadillo de Herreros, Monterrubio de la Demanda.

About seven kilometres out from Canales de la Sierra, we crossed from the brown road of Castilla y León into darker seal of the first L road into La Rioja district, the LR113. Spirits lifted after a hefty day on these chunky beasts with just seven to go! Hot meal and heating soon would be on its way, I said

We coasted easily into town to find Hotel Taberna vacant, signs up stating maintenance was occurring, and only the sleepy dog out back to greet us. Chairs were laid out but nobody was home. I knocked without success. Tumbleweeds may have rolled by. Sunday in a remote valley was silent.

A ute drove by. Still silent. Then the ute U turned and came back, señor parking up and stepping out to inform me rapid-fire there was no open hotel. Without wifi it was impossible to know at around 2pm that day the hotel shut with a broken boiler. Option two presented by a few hours before our arrival (which became apparent later) was to be 600m more of altitude climbed and 30km on. That was never going to happen!

Reflecting on the resource poor places I’ve stayed at before, having no heating and a basic sandwich for tea was very first world. My picnic skills came to be appreciated, and with lunch leftovers of jamón, queso, espinacas, pitas, hummus and carrot sticks, plus the bevvy of snacks I’d crammed in, we went to bed with full stomachs.

What do you really need anyway. A roof, food, and warm place to rest. All skills and warm clothing items came to the fore.

Outside was pitch black. We were the only mugs that turned up to this local run establishment. Meanwhile, the dog slept.

Hopeful of better weather the following day, we woke to cloudy, rainy skies, but by 9am, the heating had been fixed! We had aromatic but dry clothing to don. Chubascos (heavy showers) were forecast, the afternoon promising to clear up. On we went, reservations of accommodation all lined up and paid for.

Señora whom delivered us a homemade sandwich late the previous night presented us with a tostada and tea breakfast, with café to fortify the steady 7km climb to Huerta de Arriba. That was easily ticked off when surrounded by a beautiful valley, and we reached it in under an hour, coasting down thereafter through forestry areas to Huerta de Abajo. Señor (whom had greeted us the previous day) passed us with a hearty wave in his orange ute, the sheep were mowing the lawns wearing their bells, and a big dog lay watching over the hills of town. If it were not resident dogs, there’s the resident cats to welcome people - one local in Canales was calling them ‘vigilantes’!

The route to Santo Domingo de Silos traversed a few more hills and one very windy plateau, where we caught sight of those signature Western movie escarpments. Clint Eastwood has a history in this town, now retained as the cemetery of The Good Bad and the Ugly movie filmed here.

With nothing open of any note in Salas de Los infantes (the Spanish siesta exists), we munched on remaining bread and cheese before boxing on to climb and ride a little more. The ascent around the escarpment, to enter the gorge into Santo Domingo, was spectacular. Finally too, the sun came out, wind lightened, and relative warmth returned. We’d rolled into a valley but nobody was home.

The Number 8 Calle Las Condesas occupant, opposite to what we found as Santo Domingo apartments, stepped out to direct us around a corner to a hotel. There, señor jack-of-all was running the joint, then hurriedly coming to let us in to the apartments, as the sole guests. Bikes took premium parking in the foyer and once we’d downed a deserved cuppa tea, we returned to check in by a more civil 5pm.

The subdued nature of these places makes one wonder how the residents have their (mostly closed) businesses work. Lucky for us, the one village shop with hours, as restricted as often one hour daily, was open, so we hot footed it there, to buy maybe her biggest sale of the month. €20 later we’d got dinner, breakfast and drinks /snacks sorted.

The sunny afternoon continued and allowed us to see the mirador, Iglesia De San Pedro, monastery precinct, and get a great view of the valley and
gorge that we’d passed through. The vultures had disappeared alongside the Rio Pedroso, but the scenery was stunning.

We couldn’t help but be glued to the forecast for our next day. It was varied, and suggesting anything from sub zero temperatures, thunderstorms, rain and snow. Who to believe. We needed to return to Burgos and had Plan A and B ready.

Rugged up, and waterproof covers in the electronics, we farewelled Señor, riding off into the drizzle on a gentle path. Soon, we climbed half way towards Covarrubias, P2 mentioning the cold fingers for the first time. On descending a steep, cold hill into town, only 16km on, we stopped in desperation to warm those dedos of his up. We wrapped hands around the hottest drink and slowly sensation returned.

The local gathering place was busy with retirees, but more mileage was needed and we agreed that it’d be in chunks. A few spells of wind lightening were promising, but come the next town, our half way point of Cuevas de San Clemente, another stop begged. Physiological need won over a strong will. And this time, we had a fire!

We made ourselves at home. The gloves were drying on the fire top, a change of socks was made, a borrowed pair of extra gloves was squeezed on to P2s hands, and we enjoyed the chance to warm up with hot drinks and a cheap tortilla. The only establishment open on this N road, and San Clemente, we were incredibly lucky.

The end route was planned over another coffee, but with the autopista near, it could get busy. Whilst the N road miles passed quickly, a hail storm stung our faces soon after leaving, then a heavy thunderstorm that we could see advancing forcing a short break under a big tree. I urged us off the N road for a small hill and 3/4 extra kilometres after that; those trucks created a lot of gust and I wanted safety first.

Modubar de la Emparedada, off to the north, curled up a hill to then become the Ruta de Ciclista B800 allowing us to see the renowned Vies Verdes, looking pretty muddy that day. That road then proved a direct route into central Burgos. We were spurred on with hot showers and tea ahead.

Our wonderful host Laura had let us retain a key, due to nobody booking in between. Come 4pm when she needed to attend a planned gas man visit, we were clean, toasty, and all our dirty laundry on the way to being cleaned.

Rain carried on through the afternoon, and when dropping off our tractors to Velobur, we’d an interesting exchange about mountain biking in Rotorua-Taupo area, NZ. Diego the owner was so apologetic of the ‘unlucky weather’. We survived but probably ended it at the right time.

The region had occupied us well. Wildlife, history and cycling near the city, it set the scene for more to come as we planned the next chapter, onwards to the old town of Ávila. We’d a good dose of ancient and recent history at the Burgos museum before leaving, and in plenty time, were on the (late) train to Ávila.

This walled town, north of Madrid, is well preserved and like many, more touristed than chilly Burgos had been for us.

Our short stopover at an old town apartment was very cool. Despite a slight hiccup
in the check-in timing, we roused a neighbour, whom then roused the hosts father. So, we hauled our gear just the one flight this time, to our view over Calle Enrique Larreta, three bedrooms to choose from, and incredibly stylish inside. Juan Jose, father to the owner, turned out to be a panadero from way back, which meant muffins breakfast-lunch-dinner for P2.

The next morning was precious little time to explore the walls and small cityscape, from the river to the mirador. Wooden crosses were anchored around, and set ups beginning for the enduring and imminent Semana Santa celebrations which is serious religious business here.

One hour on an afternoon train took us to the start of the next leg; a point to point cycle from Salamanca to Merida.

This university town of great history (with 12th Century beginnings) felt really good from the outset. A clear network of cycle trails in the City, walking paths, parks, and an easily accessed old precinct has been a joy to stay in. But to get mobile hereon, we needed to employ a little DIY.

Cycling Rentals, the company we’d arranged our hire from, had delivered unassembled bikes in boxes to the Ibis, so with an Allen Key and basic know-how, we put them right after our arrival, for a brief road test in the nearby Park Huerta de Los Jesuitas.

We are in dreamland, having inner city facilities like safely linked bike routes. New Zealand is far behind.

Next issue was the gear transfer to Merida, which we’d poured and stewed a lot over before, with very lengthy proposed time frames by the cycle hire company (being nearly Easter). I won’t hold my breath, but, several assurances by SEUR, a transport company, that two days is sufficient, and backed up by exceptionally helpful staff at the Ibis hotel too in facilitating it, we are quietly confident.

And so we farewell our packs and life now is down to basics. Within seconds, they’d been uplifted from the hotel this evening for just over €40, as a special Easter rate. They’ll have their own cross country tour as we head off ourselves into rural cycling heaven tomorrow. Leaving behind some incredible Salamanca old town architecture, and two memorable meals out at Japanese restaurants
(we just couldn’t help ourselves!), we’ve far better weather forecast.

Thumbs up to that.

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