This is a story of four days dedicated to the love of riding new roads, exploring new regions, and spending time with good friends. It’s also the story of the inaugural trip of Stenbroens Adventure Collective - a part of our Copenhagen based cycling community dedicated to adventure rides away from home. Please visit @stadcol or @stenbroen.cc on Instagram if you want to know more about us.
Text and images by Adrian Schmith & Christian Beck
Having chased a cold and dark Festive 500 on the well-ridden (g)roads of Copenhagen between Christmas and New Year, our motivation to stay on our bikes yearned for warmer temperatures and new roads to explore. Opting for more southern latitudes in order to accommodate the former, our choice fell on the Spanish region of Andalucia. Where the sun shines, the cultural heritage is rich, and the mountains are steep. From where oranges, olives, and cork flow to the rest of the world. Yes indeed, our decision was made, and we booked the first flight to Málaga to explore this region on two wheels.
We had planned an ambitious route, departing from Málaga and heading over the mountainuous Penibaetic System to the corners of Granada, Córdoba, and Sevilla, and back, in only four days. A plan made for testing the limits of the Scandinavian off-season cycling form. In fact, when rigging our rented Trek Emonda S5’s at the Escapada Cycling shop, we had no idea what we were heading into. But which other way would this duo have it?
Day 1: Málaga to Granada
We arrived at Escapda Cycling at 10 am, just as Pepe opened the shop. We quickly rigged our bikes: Christian with Rapha Apidura handlebar and seatpost bags, and Adrian with equivalents made by Restrap. For our Andalusian adventure, Escapada had equipped us with Trek Emonda S5’s running Shimano 105. Eager to get on the road, we said our farewell to Pepe and followed the coastline of the Costa del Sol east of Málaga. In short bibs that is, which was indeed welcome thinking of the January cold back in Copenhagen.
We rode the first 5 km along the coastline, turned north and within minutes we were out of Málaga and on secluded roads. We couldn’t believe it! Before us lay a grand day of cycling. We already knew that entering Granada in daylight was out of the question. 170 km with 3.700 vertical metres stood before us. Starting at sea level and finishing 600 metres above it. The first hour of riding we couldn’t escape the customs of cycling back home. Checking the speed, the time, pushing the pedals, constantly pacing. But something was so very different from back home. Whether it was the steeper gradients, the heavier load, the new roads, the warmer temperatures or the feeling of being on an adventure, who knows? Either way, we slowly settled in. Forgot the speedometer, enjoyed the pure essence of riding through a new landscape in short sleeves and without a car in sight. Taking it all in, and smiling all the way through.
Do not be mistaken however, there are indeed some vertical metres to be covered from Málaga to Granada. In fact, this might be the most intensive climbing day we have ever done. The first climb was picturesque, set with the Alboran Sea in the background. And as we climbed north, endless valleys of green, brown, and blue delighted us. Some parts were rigorous mountain cliffs, some were rolling hills. Scraping through segments as “El Muro” (en: The Wall) gives a sense of the challenges of the day.
We stopped for lunch in the small village of Riogordo, where options were limited and our choice fell on a little shop that made bocadillos. Enjoying delicious Spanish ham and cheese, we sat in the shade and felt our legs tickle, just a little. But on we went, and we spent the rest of the day climbing. On the second last climb at Puente Alhama, which Laurents ten Dam last year climbed at double our speed, the sun set on us. The sky filled with pink-red over the mountain ranges, and we took in one of the dreamiest sunsets we have ever seen on the bike. We got on our long sleeves and legs, and turned on our lights. From here on, we were in the dark. Two hours out from Granada.
As warm as the sun made us earlier, as cold was the night. Descending in darkness, the cold wind biting our gloveless hands, we were in over our head. In La Malaha, 15 km outside Granda, our hands could hardly push the brakes. We pulled over, at a tiny shop and stepped inside. The couple who owned the shop, saw our frozen faces. Quickly they got out a heater and two chairs. There, while we were defrosting, they offered us pastries, sweets, and drinks. A gesture that was warm-heartedly received. Having thawn just a bit, we set our for the last 40 minutes of darkness to Granada. Arriving at our destination we were joyful. Astonished by the variety that the day had offered, and impressed with a ride that we won’t forget anytime soon.
Day 2: GRANADA TO CÓRDOBA
We woke up slightly sore in Granada but there was no way out: 200 km and more than 2.000 vertical metres awaited us before our arrival in Córdoba. As we set out in the morning darkness, we had clearly been fooled by the warm temperatures of the late start from the Escapda shop the previous day. We left Granada along the side of a big industrial road at 8:30 am and were quickly reminded of last nights frost bites. The farmland outside Granada was covered in frost even in the first hours of daylight. We pushed hard the first 40 minutes, going 35 to 40 km/t on the flat roads, trying to heat up but without success as our foreheads, fingers, and toes got stiffer and stiffer.
At the town of Valderrubio, just 25 km outside Granada, we couldn’t take it anymore. We stopped at a cafeteria, ordered two cafe con leche - and then two more. Slowly heating up in the warm rural atmosphere of this quaint little coffee shop, we had to remind of us how good it was going to get, when the sun broke through.
We got back on the bikes and spent the rest of the day riding through olive groves. They just kept coming. Up and down climbs, olives all over. We picked a few, enjoyed the taste and discussed the ins and outs of olives while we enjoyed the scenery and the warm sun that had finally arrived. Once again we stopped for bocadillos, this time accompanied by beers. We deserved it. Running through the day, we laughed at our frozen state earlier, and the amazing landscape we had been riding through all alone, with nothing to disturb us.
We kept riding, kept climbing, and kept smiling as we took in beautiful road that Andulcia offers back on back. The last 40 kms of the 200 to Córdoba were on one single road in complete solitude. No one around but the gravel stones, the setting sun, and our two bikes travelling a road carving through the landscape. The sun set once again, and we were once again breath taken by the pink-red sky all around us.
As it turned dark we could see Córdoba on the horizon but with darkness came exhaustion. We battled our way down the hills in darkness, delusional and dehydrated until we reached the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba that proudly landmarks the city. We navigated the tiny old streets to our hotel, and we sighed in relief. What a day, what a ride, what a place.
Day 3: Córdoba to Morón de la Frontera
On the previous day, we had decided to cut the route of Day 3 a bit short. There was no way we were going to make the 220 km from Seville to Malaga on Day 4 in time to return the bikes. So we cut the total route short by 70 km, heading to the small town of Morón de la Frontera instead of all the way to Sevilla.
The day was flat, for the first and only time. Even though our knees and backs were tired, we pushed through the straits. Cruising 35 km/t through the orange groves, which had replaced the olives of yesterday, we quickly arrived at lunch in the beautiful city of Palma del Rio. We had beers and bocadillos, sat in the sun, and couldn’t believe that it was start January, and what we had been riding through the last two days.
We lost time at lunch and suddenly had 90 km of the 150 left, and not enough daylight. We had even left Córdoba later, to avoid frosty toes and dark roads. Laughing at our own foolishness, we got on with it. Two hours went by without much talk, as we pedalled through the Andalusian countryside, getting to that state of mind where it’s just you and your bike, and you’re losing time and place through - and it’s perfect.
For sunset we turned on to a small road, and were reminded of our experiences the day before. After a quiet two hours, we chatted our way into the darkness and were once again amazed by the dreamy Andalusian sunsets. It turned dark, and we had 15 km left on a large road with small lights. The final push to Morón was no good. We were in over our heads on a dark highway with inadequate lighting. We fought our way back home. Home, was an old, isolated highway hotel which hosted us as the only guests. Food was nowhere to be found, so we ordered in three pizzas and watched Copa del Rey in the hotel room, soaking up the more than 500 km in three days, and maybe even more the 6.500 verticals.
Day 4: Morón de la Frontera to Málaga
The last day. The last climbs. And it started that way. Leaving around 9 am, we had wrapped our toes in tin foil and had two ibuprofen. The first 90 km would be climbing, the last 60 km a long descent to Malaga.
The climbing was rough. Not only were we challenged by tired legs, the roads were merciless. From gravel climbs above 10 per cent, to long highway climbs on the A357 with traffic rushing by. We were pleased to turn off the main road for the last climb of the trip, and what a climb that met us outside the small town of Carratraca. On an isolated back road, we rode through conifers and switchback corners. And what a view that awaited us: The valleys north of Málaga, covered in green on a sunny Thursday in January. The combination of solitude and picturesque landscape was a perfect recap of these four days, and as we swept down the mountain, with a clear view all the way, we couldn’t stop smiling.
We knew we had left it a bit late, and as we reached the flats outside Malaga, we could see that indeed time would be an issue. Pushing in the headwind from Pizarra, we reached Málaga in darkness. Navigating our way on an iPhone, we arrived at Escapda Cycling just as shop was closing up. Quickly clearing out, we found ourselves with no bikes, just bags and flat shoes, 10 minutes later. To let it sink in, we sat down next door from the shop for a couple of beers and reminisced what had just flown by. Four days of challenging cycling. Four days of experiencing a wonderful region with changing scenery and warm-hearted locals. Four days of companionship. And that right there, is all that bike travelling is about.