Picos De Europa

George and I went bikepacking. Not proper bikepacking you understand – *leisurely* bikepacking. We booked places to stay and slept in proper beds every night. We’re too old to sleep in ditches. However, with the plethora of bikepacking kit available now we chose luggage set-ups that forced us to travel light. Seatpack, saddlebag and framebag: room for just the essentials.

We flew to northern Spain, rebuilt our bikes at the airport and rode to the Picos De Europa mountain range. Seven hundred kilometres and 15,000 metres of climbing in six days. The first and last days were lumpy, the middle four days had proper mountains. That is why we packed light. Two sets of cycle kit, one lot of normal clothes. We booked apartments, with washing machines, so every couple of days we could wash kit rather than fester in the same shorts or clean things in rivers.

What we did is essentially what we used to call lightweight touring. Yes, there was some hard riding and big days out, but distances weren’t ridiculous. It wasn’t epic adventuring, it was a holiday.

Booking places to stay took the stress out of things. We could concentrate on riding, take in the scenery, have fun, and not worry about where we would sleep that night. No turning up in the next village at sun down to find it was two houses and a decrepit barn with half a roof. No detours down every path looking for a suitable bivvy spot. Before we left we’d perused maps and plotted (and replotted) routes. When we got to Spain we knew where we had to get to each day and we had all day to ride there. Most days it seemed we needed all day too, mainly because we set off late, stopped for long lunches, and a coffee whenever the fancy took us. We didn’t always stick to the plan. One day we turned left instead of carrying straight on over the first mountain. It added two more mountains and the most incredible 35 kilometre descent. Thirty five kilometres!

Each day in the mountains had around 3000 metres of ascent in roughly 100 kilometres. Not super easy days nor silly hard days, just spectacular days with glorious views. Rides that stick in the memory. We climbed into snow and cloud, got sunburnt in wide, open valleys, rode to where eagles and vultures soared around us. We screamed in fear and joy swooping down from mountain passes. We passed through narrow gorges, each one more stunning than the last, chasing cascading rivers and the end of the day. Somehow we seemed to have a headwind everywhere.

“We just follow this valley road,” I told George one morning pointing at a squiggle on the map. Checking out of the apartment the owner asked where we were heading. He laughed when George told him, saying in Spanish “I hope you’ve been training!” Just as he said this I noticed on the map on the wall that yes we did follow a valley road, but it was two valleys separated by a 1610 metre mountain pass. That would explain why the road was a squiggle. We stood at the top in the biting wind eating chorizo and local cheese left over from breakfast to replenish sapped reserves. George stuffed the empty packets down his jersey as a windbreak for the descent.

All of our refuelling was like this, no gels and energy bars. We stopped for a three course Menu del Dia most days, all washed down with Tinto de Verano (chilled red wine with fizzy water). Whilst taking our time over one of these huge meals in the fog at Lagos de Covadonga the cloud lifted and we descended not only with satisfied apetites but also able to see all the mountain scenery that had been shrouded in grey on the way up. We also managed to consume vast quantities of fabada (Asturian bean stew with chorizo and pork). Carbs and protein. Masses of it.

Miraculously I came home two kilograms lighter than when I left. Lightweight touring, remember.

Writer and expert