Follow The River - MV Day 3
Follow The River - MV Day 3
📍 Zaorejas, Spain
🚲 Ride
🖋 Charles Aubert
⏱️ 9 min read

This article is part of the Montañas Vacías series. A story about three friends getting reunited for a bikepacking trip over the summer. Read the previous one here: https://quaero.world/rides/montanas-vacias-day-2/

The clock had just struck one in the morning when I felt something flying over my head. After being asleep for barely half and hour, I opened my eyes and there it was, a bat! YES, A BAT, hung on my handlebars, just a few centimeters away from me. Not knowing what to do, I tried to crawl out of my bivy bag. By the time I had both of my arms out, the bat took off in a hurry and went back in the refuge’s framing. I then whispered “Mathis, are you asleep?”. He too had been waken up by our new friend. We realized that when were setting up camp, our lights had attracted all of the surrounding insects. We had basically prepared a feast. We decided it was best to leave the refuge and sleep outside on the lawn, under the stars, away from the bat.

The sun woke us up around 7:30am and we all had had a pretty bad night. We starting packing our stuff and that’s when I realized the bat had also mistaken my bike for a restroom (yuck!). After this odd start to the day, we left the refuge and rode back to the village to find breakfast. The restaurant we had eaten at the night before was the only opened establishment and only served “tostadas con jamon or tomate” so we settled for that. At this point of the adventure, all of the meals looked the same because bread, potatoes and ham were often the only food available. In retrospective, this unusual diet impacted our energy levels and might have been the reason why were this tired.

This breakfast, was also another occasion to chat about the rest of the trip. Antoine was digging really deep into his reserves and warned the group that he probably wouldn’t be able to finish the adventure. We took time to look at the guide we had printed before and determined that today should be the easiest day since it was mostly downhill alongside the Tajo river. There were only two major climbs, one at the very start of the day and one at the very end to reach the village Zaorejas. We would check back on our plans in the evening.

The day began with a little over ten kilometers of paved roads. On the map, we thought we’d be able to gently warm up but the first climb turned out to be very steep. On several occasions the GPS indicated gradients over 16%. While our legs were clearly feeling the climb, our eyes were drawn to the magical landscape. Once again, it had completely changed and we were now exploring a biome that looked like Colorado. The road was slaloming between red rock formations, each one unique in its own way.

The road then descended towards Peralejos de las Truchas, a small village where we decided to stop and stock up on reserves. In fact, we wouldn’t encounter any resupply options until our final destination. Having learned from our few days on the trail, we knew it could take us an entire day to reach Zaorejas, 60km away.

We were deep in the Spanish lapland

A group of locals, was patiently waiting for the village’s only store to open and we joined the queue, waiting for our turn. I was craving fruits, so I filled my front panniers with apples and oranges, as well as a pasta salad for lunch. Since the sun was already high up in the sky, we stopped at a bar to enjoy once again an ice cold beer and a snack. Although we were deep in the Spanish lapland and villages often had less than fifty inhabitants, they were buzzing with kids riding bikes or playing football.

We resumed our adventure and quickly rejoined the Tajo river in the canyon it had carved over tens of thousands of years. The landscape suddenly changed from red rocks to lush vegetation, steep cliffs and torrents. At this point in the trip, the heat was at its peak and rose over 45ºC. We had filled all of our water reserves, totaling close to 20 liters and therefore kilograms. Although the route was mostly downhill, with the added weight, occasional hills were challenging. I was overheating and had to slow down to prevent a heat stroke. A few meters below, we could hear people swimming in the river and had only one thing on our minds: reach the promised spot where we could too, dive in these icy waters. Twenty kilometers later we finally do!

Standing in front of us was a footbridge spanning across the river. Our book and various signs indicated it was unsafe and it clearly looked like it. After much hesitation we see tens of locals crossing the structure as if it was in perfect condition. We decide to take our chances and one by one make it across the wiggling wooden bridge with our internal "engineer sixth sense" telling us how wrong it is. Now, it was time to jump in the river!

What a relief! We couldn’t believe how good it felt. The water was crystal clear and so refreshing. Mathis seeing the locals jumping off the bridge wanted to give it a try too. For a moment, we forgot about our thirst, hunger and lack of sleep. We were just there, living in the moment… Like lizards, we dried in the sun and dressed back into our cycling clothes to continue our journey. A local asked us about our adventure and even gave us directions to a small hidden bar (not on our maps) on the banks.

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A short hike a bike later, we reach the bar and sit down for a drink. We were well into the afternoon but all grabbed what we had bought earlier for lunch. It was also a chance to top up our water reserves before getting back on our bikes. Half an hour later, we stumbled upon a fountain on the side of the road. The water in my bottles was so warm that I emptied it all. That’s when Mathis and Antoine started an argument with me about wasting clean water for unfiltered but cooler one. For the first time on a trip, I was carrying with me a filter that allowed me to clean water from any running source. The others weren’t convinced and gave me a real hard time. It didn’t matter, I filtered the water and now had cold water in my bottles.

It’s the freshest and cleanest water around here

Just as we were departing, a group of 4x4 passes by and stops at the fountain. We hadn’t said anything yet, when one of the local exclaims: “It’s the freshest and cleanest water around here!”. They took large water containers and filled them up directly from the hose. I had a true laugh when Mathis and Antoine started drinking and washing their faces in the “supposedly unsafe water”!

We continued ridding alongside the river, deep in the canyon. We were surrounded by cliffs, towers of rocks and lush trees whose roots descended in the river. However, for the first time we were bothered by cars on gravel roads. In fact, the multiple natural pools offered by the river attracted a lot of tourists and the dust elevated by the cars wasn’t helping. The road was narrow and while climbing we had to stop a few times to let cars pass. In some places the sand meant that our tires were struggling for traction and it was hard to get going again. Nonetheless, trees provided much need shadow and the scenery distracted us from the physical effort.

Soon after, we reached the end of the canyon where we waved goodbye to the Tajo river, we went our separate ways. Our destination was Zaorejas 10km away while hers was Lisbon, hundreds of kilometers away. We emptied our water bottles to keep the bear minimum for the last climb of the day. It was supposed to be on a paved road, but the road had clearly suffered from freeze-thaw cycles and we couldn’t even count the potholes. Still, our goal was in sight, we pressed on and quickly reached the village.

As soon as we arrived, we headed for the only hotel, bar and restaurant (a common sight in these small towns). It was only 7:30pm and the restaurant wouldn’t serve us before 9pm so we ordered beers and enjoyed the sunset. It seemed like the whole village was going to the bar and soon the place was packed. We couldn’t understand where all of these people were coming from. A few rounds later, we were finally able to order food: several plates of pasta, fried squid and ham. As planned, we discussed the rest of the trip. Antoine was the one suffering the most and wanted to book a room at the hotel to properly recover, but it was full. I wasn’t in my best shape, however I had chosen the route because it didn’t include a plan B. I wanted the full experience and so did Mathis! Our only option was to keep going and sleep outside.

After this long discussion, it was getting late. We headed for our nightly shower in the fountain on the central square. Once again, locals were laughing at us and quite curious about our attire.

Next on the list was: scouting for a place to sleep. We took the only road crossing the village and one hundred meters later, made a right turn into a field of ruins. The atmosphere was strange, we were surrounded by collapsed buildings in total darkness and could hear distant people walking. Not wanting to find out what was going on, we quietly setup camp under the stars.

The milky way was there, right above our heads. Since I wasn’t sleeping in a tent, I could appreciate it in all its beauty. All that remained was to count the stars and fall asleep. 1…2…3…zzzzz

Suddenly, loud music starts playing and I'm waken up by flashlights!

Come back next week to read about our worst night of the trip! You can check the route and our activity on Strava using the link below.

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