This is the story of three friends (Antoine, Mathis & Charles), who for the better part of the year had been dreaming, discussing and planning to get reunited for a bikepacking adventure over the summer.
Our goal was to put our busy lives on the side and return to basic needs. The initial plan was to explore Bretagne with a loop around iconic villages and locations throughout the region. However, the forecasted (and regular) rainy weather and cold temperatures made us rethink our route. After a quick search on bikepacking.com, our eyes landed on a route created by Ernesto Pastor: Montañas Vacías (Empty Mountains).
For a brief moment, we were transported to another world by the route’s description and pictures. After discussing the features (length, elevation and remoteness), we decided it was the alternative we had been looking for. With warm and sunny weather forecasted throughout the next few weeks, it was the perfect destination. Situated six hours away from Toulouse (France), the starting point in Teruel was proved to be very similar to our original plans in Bretagne. The date was set to August 11th, 2021.
We as a group had already shared a few bikepacking experiences earlier in the year and were quite accustomed to each other. Although it wouldn’t be our first adventure, this one was set to challenge our physical and mental capacities. We knew preparation was going to be key but this quick change of plans left us with less than a week to organize everything.
As for most of our plans, we sat down with a few beers and quickly filled a table-sheet with all the essentials we would need. From bags to toothpaste, we divided everything evenly among the group members. However, a forecasted heatwave (one of the strongest in recent years) on the horizon was going to become our biggest issue. We had never experienced temperatures over 45°C in our lives, let alone on a bikepacking trip.
One of the route’s exciting feature is its remoteness, but combined with a heatwave, it made planning for water and food quite hard. We weren’t sure how much we would need, consume or even find. The recommendation was around two liters per person, so we took a conservative guess (which proved lifesaving) at four liters with the possibility to carry twice that amount in foldable bladders.
As much as we would have liked to plan everything, leaving some uncertainty made the adventure even more desirable and enjoyable. We just had to pack everything and get going.
On a calm but already hot (28°C) summer morning we loaded the car with the three bikes and our bags. Lacking a bike-rack, everything had to fit inside, so it took us quite a while to successfully complete this Tetris game.
With the car loaded, we relaxed a bit and shared lunch to celebrate my birthday (🎂) and headed for Teruel. Once the destination was entered in Waze, all there was left was to drive for 6 hours. Since we were heading for one of the least densely populated area in Europe, there were no motorways on the journey. While it did make the drive much longer, it also made it much more enjoyable with amazing landscapes. We first crossed the Pyrenees going through the tunnel d’Aragnouet and entered Spain in the Aragon region.
When we left Toulouse the temperature was 35°C, but just a few kilometers after crossing the border (facing south), it climbed immediately to around 40°C. The car's AC wasn't functioning properly so the drive turned into an acclimation session, not too bad for what was awaiting us. As we continued our journey down south, the landscape drastically changed from lush mountainous vegetation to arid plains with strong winds blowing dust from nearby ongoing wildfires.
Then, what we feared the most happened, suddenly the check engine light came on and soon after, the engine decided to stop working. We pulled over the side of the road, waited for the car to “cooldown” in 45°C. A few but very long minutes later, the car turned back on, and we continued the drive at a slower pace, finally reaching Teruel at around 9pm after 8 hours of driving.
The plan was to find a place to eat on the outskirts of Teruel and setup camp nearby. After a quick glance at the map, we found a place in the middle of a park but it turned out to be closed, which wasn’t that bad since it was buzzing with mosquitos. Everyone was quite tired, and we decided to head into town, find a hostel to drop our bags and grab a few drinks in the center. An hour later, we found the Graal: a jamon bocadillo with the freshest and cheapest beer (1.7€ a pint).
Although we hadn’t ridden a single kilometer of the route, sounds, smells and food were already different. Adventure mode was on.