There’s a certain romance to bikepacking. Have you picked up on it yet? It’s tied to the notion of exploring beyond the everyday. For friend of the brand Tomas Montes, perhaps better known as journalist and photographer Arriere du Peloton, bikepacking is a form of cycling in which there are no rules. And the only person you depend on is yourself.
The way he talks about this discipline of cycling – and the way he captures it in his camera lens is a continual source of inspiration for us. We love seeing where he’ll go next, and what story he’ll come and tell us afterwards.
In early September, he joined two friends to ride the Montañas Vacías, a route of roughly 700 kilometres through a rural area of Southern Spain, where the population amounts to just seven residents per square kilometre. Such isolation brings with it unspoiled terrain and vast, open landscapes to admire. But there’s also the added challenge for cyclists who choose to stray so far from the beaten track: where to sleep, how to refuel, how to deal with mechanicals, and how best to navigate when conditions turn unpredictable. Which, in this case, they did.
Montañas Vacías, or Empty Mountains in English, is a spectacular route devised and maintained by passionate local rider Ernesto Pastor in Spain. Traversing the region known as Spanish Lapland, this gruelling self-supported route, which starts about three hours from Barcelona, enticed Tomas and his friends and they scheduled a 6-day trip for late summer.
‘We picked the dates for the ride earlier in the year and planned everything using the information on the website. It’s incredibly helpful with the GPS files and suggestions on where to sleep and things, but it doesn’t give you all of the information – for example, you won’t find out where all the water fountains are so there’s the added challenge of learning how to manage vital elements like that.’
Ernesto’s suggestion is to ride the Empty Mountains route in four stages, with each measuring between 150–160 km. There’s a huge amount of climbing though, so Tomas and friends decided to split the 700 kilometres into 6 days to ensure a more leisurely ride – ‘the reality was very different though’, he tells us. ‘We didn’t see another living soul for the whole of the first day.’
There are next to no hotels in the spartan towns that you pass through so the guys followed Ernesto’s advice to sleep at basic mountain huts at high elevation–encountering 4 degrees Celsius upon waking up. ‘This is when the weather was starting to turn,’ explains Tomas, who was thankful for his wintery sleeping bag. However, without a phone signal or connectivity, they didn’t fully grasp the destruction that the rain was causing in this area of Spain.
‘While it was an insanely beautiful route, it was also very tough with a quick a bit of hike-a-bike. With each day the weather was getting more and more threatening and we were starting to get quite tired. One day we decided we needed proper shelter for the following night, but the only issue here was finding a hotel that was open. We pushed onwards to the next mountain hut, which was at 1,700 msl. We were hungry and worn-out when we eventually got there but fortunately we met a family who shared their water with us so we could cook a proper meal and warm up beside the fire.’
‘On day 5 we seized the chance to get a phone signal when we could and rented an extravagant country house for the night – way out of budget but we were in need of some extra comfort. The scrolling news revealed the extent of the rain that we were supposed to be riding directly towards. Orange alarm for heavy rain. Exactly where we were headed. With 2,000 metres of climbing on the schedule for the next day, the forecast was worrying and we knew that continuing could be disastrous. We decided the most sensible option was to ride in time trial formation on the main road back to the starting point.’
‘The spectacular storm that was unleashed just moments after we got back to the starting point was all the confirmation we needed that we’d made the right choice.’
Tomas laughs about it now, but we can’t imagine that 85 km along a main road was a fitting end to the ride they had done.
‘The route was truly spectacular,’ he concludes, ‘and it was the best way I could have imagined to disconnect. I spent a week with my phone in airplane mode and the daylight was what set the pace–although some days we did end up finishing in the dark.’
He finishes by saying: ‘I’d really recommend it to everyone and I predict that it’s going to become something iconic within a short while. Just you wait.’
Follow Arriere du Peloton here: www.strava.com/athletes/3162407
More on the Empty Mountains here: https://montanasvacias.com
Explore the TRAIL Collection here http://bit.ly/ASSOSTRAIL