Sunday, September 7, 2008
Back in the Saddle - Cycling in the Valle de Pop and Col de Rates
Eric and I - both avid road cyclists and both not having been on a bike in a long time (Eric not since last November!) - rented some pretty decent road bikes and headed inland. The owner of the Javea Bike shop told us about a nice little route through the inland mountain region and we headed out at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning. The road out of Javea is a bit industrial, loud and not terribly scenic so we drove to Gata de Gorgos to begin our ride. Both of us felt good to be back in the saddle after a long hiatus. Once we headed under the AP-7 motorway, we traveled on a small country road (~1 ½ lanes), passing through orange groves and grape vines, which appeared to be for raisins. The road began to rise and wind through scented pine forests as we worked our way towards the inland mountains, passing quaint Spanish towns of Liber and Xalo/(Jalon) on the way. We entered the Valle del Pop, which is a beautiful agricultural region at the base of the Sierra de Carrascal de Parcent, known for its “mistela” – a sweet white muscatel wine, as well as several varietials of roses and full-bodied red wines. As we passed the town of Alcalali, the locals were setting up for a huge open-air market, something we will definitely have to come back for with the kids. Another highlight of Alcalali we’ll have to return to is it’s raisin museum, paying homage to what once was a primary economic resource of the region from the time of the Moors until the mid 1900s. We started to see more and more riders – an encouraging sign - it reminded me of Sunday mornings in the Santa Monicas. Two riders blew past us and our competitive fire kicked in as we tried for a while to keep pace. However, they had the advantage of training and knowing what was ahead, so we dropped our egos and backed off. We arrived in Parcent and looked up towards the Coll de Rates , some 780 meters above sea level. The road ahead looked like it was cut into the mountain and we hunkered down for some serious climbing. Now Eric is an experienced road rider, but he was handicapped by not having proper bike shoes (hard to find size 13+ shoes outside of the States!) so he had to rely on toe clips and sandals for the climb. I was quite content to maintain a slower pace, as my “gas tank” was near empty. Passing over the Coll, we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Sierra de Xorta and Sierra de Bernia, as well as back to the Montgo and Mediterranean far below to the North and West. For a moment we briefly contemplated making the descent to Taberna, known for its numerous homemade sausages as well as a Moorish castle. However, common sense dictated that we might not be fit enough to make the grueling climb back up, so we decided to head back the way we came. It was an exhilarating descent as we made our way back down the rocky mountain and into the sweetly scented pine forests. We looped through Parcent and headed over to Orba, where we stopped in the old town and had a much needed breakfast of eggs, bacon, pan y tomate, café con leche and orange juice at a peaceful little main plaza under the church bell tower. Now this was the life! There were several cyclists enjoying coffees in the plaza and we met a guy from Australia who was visiting Spain with his wife. He would head out on his bike from each town they stopped in while his wife did the touristy things. Sounded like a good way to vacation! With our bellies full, Eric and I slowly made our way back to our car, quite satisfied and tired from a very encouraging first outing on the saddle in the Marina Alta.