A Badlands journal
The wildest bikepacking off-road challenge on Europe: 780km +16.000m across the only official deserts in Europe, the wild coast of Cabo de Gata and the highest Col in the continent, Pico Veleta at 3.396m
Return to earth
We get back on the bikes after a few days of rest, we have completed our Spanish adventure; the Badlands CC. It’s a strange mix of feelings when we begin pedalling. After the euphoria of completing a race like this beyond our expectations has settled, this short ride is not easy.
Nostalgia, fatigue, laziness.
But the expectation of fresh bread and croissants at the nearest bakery 13 km away from our home, is enough to get us going.
We both must admit that it’s good put our hands back on the handlebars. Riding through the beautiful landscapes of Cévennes where we live and reconnecting with our aching cycling muscles, is a reward in itself. While we ride, the memories of the race comes back to us and results in bursts of laughter. It’s a nostalgic feeling, completing something we have been training for, and looking forward to, for such a long time. Now we will have to set new goals, to motivate us for getting back on the bike.
We are very tired, but alive. What a great race.
The race begins in Granada, which is not so far, but not close either. Jumping on an airplane to go ride a bike, is out of the question for us. We check the trains but its complicated and expensive, so we settle on driving and sleeping in our tent on the side of the road. We take it slow, doing the 1300+ km drive over several days, gently emerging ourselves into the Spanish atmosphere with local radio, warm air through the open windows, and strong coffees.
We arrive in Granada and find a room in the Moorish quarter, just under the Alhambra, its beautiful but very touristy. We need to rest before the race, but its hard with a lot of noise outside until late at night. We can feel the pressure rising.
The day before departure is registration day, and we meet all the other adventurers at the convention center. They are thin, muscular, and look like professional cyclists with their ultra-light gravel bikes. We feel out of place, like everyone is wondering what we are doing there, with our overpacked mountain bikes.
Comfort above all
Until the very first pedal stroke we constantly wanted to change our bikes and scrap half the luggage. But we had tested and refined our setup all through the year, so we just have to trust in ourselves and our bikes. The main advantage of riding as a pair is that you can pool the gear, you only need one tent, one GPS, one repair kit and so on.
We both chose semi-rigid mountain bikes over our lighter and faster gravel bikes for the race, and we did not regret it one bit! Mountain bikes are just more comfortable, especially during descents where we could go fast and still rest. Oh the magic of suspended forks and straight handlebars.
Riding at night
A key to the race was being able to ride at night. With the race only being one stage, it’s a constant battle of who can ride furthest in 24 hours.
We both used Suprabeam V4pro rechargeable headlamps on our helmets, and brought spare rechargeable batteries. With the charging directly in the battery, we could easily charge all 4 batteries whenever we stopped in civilization. We rode 3 hours in the dark every morning, and 2 hours every night. We adjusted the light level to max when descending and low when ascending, in order to save battery life.
Riding at night is a completely different experiences, the perception of speed and landscape changes, and you can only see as far as your light beam. Your senses are heightened, and the sounds of the bikes, the wind, and the animals seems to be enhanced ten times. Dots of light appear on the mountains in the distance, is it other cyclists or just our imagination? The race plays tricks on our minds.
Ah the paradise of patatas fritas and jamon! You get the best here in Spain.
With the heat we were craving for fruits and salads, and luckily there were plenty of grocery stores along the route. We had watermelons, grapes, youghurt, and tomatoes, which gave us some freshness during the 12-14 hours of riding each day. We stuffed ourselves with Pirulos and other popsicles like a couple of kids, but it was the best in the heat!
The clash of landscapes
Our eyes feasted at every moment! The landscapes were varied, from deserts, to mountains, out by the sea, and into the forests. We never got bored. The planners had done an amazing job putting together such a beautiful route.
There was some really magical places along the route; the sunset in the Gorafe desert, the descent before Pozo Alcon in a gigantic canyon, and the climb above the village of Félix with its gray and purple lands. All the beautiful photos on the Badlands website did not lie, it felt like riding through Spain, Tunisia, and the United States in just 780 km.
The Badlands team spoiled us with a very precise roadbook, guiding you to water sources, supplies, through technical passages, and even included a weather forecast. This does of course take away some of the surprise, but really reflects all the hard work the team behind has put into organizing this race.
Choosing the time you arrive at the finish line requires some strategy; too early and everyone is napping, and too late nobody there to applaud. We timed it perfectly, just in time for drinks! We ended our adventure in Spain with a dinner with the organizers and riders.
#286 Lucie Belkaious
#285 Antonin Michaud-Soret
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