I leave Romulo a bit late in Valencia, but more rested, rather well slept, and clean. My batteries are full, my clothes clean and my stove washed. I had a productive rest day yesterday. I also found in a Chinese shop a shopping net, it’s like a grid of bungee cords with 6 hooks, under which I can put and entangle anything and it will be stable. It’s really convenient to maintain my jacket on the rear rack. And also to quickly put and remove a packet of cookies.
We have spotted cycling routes that exit Valencia by the coast. Before taking them, I do a little optimistic shopping in Valencia. What I feared about my Vaude rear panniers was confirmed by the bike shop owner in Barcelona: his clients have problems with the hooks of the panniers breaking (which doesn’t happy on the Ortlieb ones). I have already seen them changing in size, there is a gap forming between 2 pieces. It seems it’s the only thing on my bike I am likely to have problems with, and I need to address them now rather than once broken in the Sahara.
Vaude apparently sells a kit of hooks to change them, or to mount 4 instead of 2 per pannier. I don’t know where to find them, have no answer from the Vaude commercial team and start to believe that this brand has no quality control in their factories (maybe a bit … I didn’t have problems with my Vaude towel yet!).
I try a bike shop and a Decathlon more or less on my way, but they don’t have. However, I buy a new pants to replace mine that start to have holes too big to be recovered. I can finally leave to make a few kilometers in this half-day. I am continuing within the Valencian Community, which I entered already since I reached the coast 3 days ago, but now in the Province of Valencia.
The exit of Valencia happens very smoothly thanks to the cycling paths. Those seems indicated nowhere but on the internet, and they are super useful. I am passing again by the City of Arts and Sciences, the port, and then the coast until Sueca. I couldn’t find a shop on the way to buy my lunch, but stopped at a restaurant for a quick menu of the day. I tried the eel, which was good and/but bathing in a soup of oil. That will make more energy …
When the night falls, I have just left the Albufera National Park, an area of leisure and swamps difficult to camp, but am now surrounded by orange fields. It’s time to realize my dream and to pitch my tent in one of them.
After a long night, too warm, I wake up before the sunrise. It’s cold outside, dark, and am somehow forced to return to “bed”. When the light is suitable, I pack and am ready for a long day.
Despite being in an orange field, I can’t eat one right at breakfast (while the cheese went in very well). Indeed, I must have eaten more oranges during the past week than during the past year, at least. For a change I am offered a very poor alternative with the neighboring trees: lemons. However, I find a trick to make use of my location: the minute orange juice shot.
After the initial chill of the morning, the temperature becomes perfect, the sun is here, I have a little bit of headwind and the roads I pick are empty. So empty, as well as the villages, that it makes me wonder if the heat is pushing all the people to disappear in their cooled houses. That gives little activity to watch, and the scenery, still made of fields of oranges and olives, is not breathtaking either. I try to have fun by taking the roundabouts the wrong way while singing, but the real fun eventually comes with the hills. As I am taking distances with the coast, there would finally be times when my elevation leaves the [0m – 20m] window. So it climbs from La Pobla del Duc, through Salem, up to 600 m.
On the way up, I find new fruits: finally an alternative to the oranges! The cactus fruit is fresh and delicious, but my fingertips, which still bear the mini sneaky needles in the evening, wonder if it’s worth it.
There on the top, I quit the province of Valencia for the province of Alicante, but still within the autonomous community of Valencia. I overlook Beniarrés, a dam, and the whole smokey valley of Alcoi.
It’s time for downhill and I almost reach Alcoi for the night. After Cocentaina, I take an uphill path on the side to find a camp spot. Mission successful, even though the traffic is loud. After the oranges, I am now sleeping in the olives. I cook while the tent finishes to dry and notice I have a better view on the shiny signs of Carrefour and Decathlon than on the mountains. I didn’t know I was so close to a big urbanization. Alcoi must be a decent town. I didn’t know either that the train passed here, until the ground started to shake as the train disappeared in a tunnel under my hill.
Although being deeper in the winter, I feel also that I can cycle later than before. I stopped at 18:00 today when there was just enough light left to find a campspot. This moment of the day happened before 17:30 earlier in the trip.
I sleep well, and am glad I now carry a saucisson with me (fuet). I have been without a saucisson in my panniers since Barcelona and that was a mistake. Saucissons bring a lot to dinners and life …
The next morning, I am packing and going, but wake up for real with a squirrel. Chasing him in the trees with a zoomed lens sends the signal to my legs that the day will be long.
I take the opportunity to be early at a supermarket in Alcoi to do a speedy shopping. Earlier, I was taking time to pick up food. I can eat anything edible and there’s much of that in big supermarket, so it’s not making the task easy. Now, I just head for bread, cheese and saucisson (lunch), and the quickest food for dinner: rice meals. It’s called Uncle Ben’s Express or something else, it’s ready after 3 minutes in boiling water and tastier and more consistent than instant noodles.
One thing I like in Spain, is that drinking water is widely available in all big towns and small villages. There are many fountains and taps everywhere. In France if I find a fountain, it’s too often subtitled “Eat non potable”.
Something more redundant than fountains is the lottery. People sell lottery tickets everywhere: in small stands on the streets, with ambulant vendors, in restaurants and shops … everywhere.
I leave Alcoi for the main course of the day: hills and hills. It starts with a quiet national road to Ibi, a town before which I turn for Onil and Castalla, but can’t escape the 1000 m pass.
After Castalla, I choose the shortest route, also the steepest, hardest and quietest, to the other side of the small local mountain range: Sierra de Castalla. It should take me up to 1097 m.
Somehow excited by the climb, I don’t take the obvious small road going up, but choose an even smaller one going through farms. I realize it was not such a good idea when the asphalt disappears and leaves me on a dirt road. Few minutes later, the not-so-good-idea becomes a bad idea when the dirt track turns into a bed of rocks. It’s impossible to cycle it.
I don’t have much to do, less then 5 km after a quick estimation on Google Maps, so I keep going on. It’s very tough at some points where the slope is very steep. Pushing a fully loaded bike among the rocks is not fun. Seeing my altimeter going up and up, it seems that I’m doing the whole pass in this.
The track eventually joins the paved road. I have been looking for this moment for more than one hour now. I should feel instantly better, but actually don’t: the slope of the paved road is no less steeper than on the rocky track.
Once on top, Collado de Pradell at 1097 m, there is a chart of the pass with the steepness per segments on both sides. It ranges from 15% to 22%. I see behind me a 20% sign. Sometimes it’s better not to know it before the climb.
The downhill is pleasant until Elda, a rather big town that I avoid to continue south-west.
It’s not easy to find a camping spot. The ground is mostly rocky. The few habitations are protected with huge dogs barking very aggressively. I cycle beyond sunset, until the first village called La Romana, having in mind to go to a restaurant for dinner and laptop-battery charging. I first find a suitable camp spot in the outskirts of village and then head to the main road. Fortunately There are two bar-restaurants open, one where people smoke inside, so the choice is quickly done.
While eating and sorting pictures, I meet Dioni and he arranges me to stay with the owner, Victor.