We wake up to a very different view out of the window to yesterday. Cloud hides the tips of the mountains all around us, just the lower slopes sliding into the lake are visible, their reflections bouncing back at them from the silver mirror like surface. The world is still and quiet. It’s a shame we leave the mountains today.
We follow the lake edge again, following the opening section of yesterday’s ride, but instead of continuing towards Cangas de Onis we follow the sign for Oviedo, 105 kilometres away. As we trace the edge of the lake the clouds breaks and mountains beyond are slowing exposed like a developing photograph (for anyone old enough to remember dark rooms).
We’re aiming for a mountain pass at around 1450 metres from which we should gradually descend towards Oviedo. We’re on the main road but we’ve not seen a car for ages, just gently climbing back up into the snow. We stop at the Puerto de Tarna and grab snacks from the framebags. The map is unfolded to look at the next part of the route. We can continue directly back over the border into Asturias on the main road, but the Garmin is telling us to turn left to climb over the 1625m Puerto de Señales. This isn’t exactly direct but we can see on the map that we’ll drop down onto another road to Oviedo. We’ve got all day and we’re not quite ready to leave the mountains so we clip in and carry on climbing.
We seem to drop quite steeply forever from the pass. It’s a lot of fun losing height so quickly…but in the back of my mind I know that at some point we’ve got to get over another 1500+m pass on the border of Castilla Y Leon and Asturias. How far are we going to have to climb? Ah, forget that, this is fun! Gradually the road levels and we swoop into the valley bottom at lunch time. Time for more food to fuel the next 80 kilometres.
Finding a deserted hostal bar we order fried chorizo and a salad of potatoes, eggs, and tuna. Actually, that’s just for me. George orders a chorizo omelette sandwich. Sipping on tea and coffee the food is slowly delivered. First the fried chorizo. It’s an entire large chorizo sausage and a load of bread. Hmm, I may have over ordered. Then George’s sandwich arrives and it’s basically a loaf of bread with a huge omelette stuffed inside. The salad when it arrives isn’t exactly ‘a salad’, more an enormous plate of carbs in mayonnaise. Between us we make our way through the chorizo and salad. The sandwich is stuffed in a musette that George straps across his back for later*.
Time to ride back uphill. And we seem to have a tailwind for the first time! We have no idea how high we already are but we assume we probably have a 600 metre climb over the next 15 kilometres. The road rises, then falls, then rises again. We keep gaining some height just to lose it again. Then the road just rises and keeps rising. The climb has really started. Snow poles appear beside the road again. Then what looks like a ski resort appears on a plateau ahead of us. Bloody hell ski resorts are ugly places, just a swathe of concrete poured over a beautiful mountain top. We realise how unspoilt the Picos have been. Other than the occasional small town and tiny village, and the roads we’ve ridden, we have barely seen any human intervention. Some days we’ve ridden for hours without seeing a car or another person. We stop long enough to layer up ready for the descent.
The map gives no real indication of the road that unfolds before us. The next 35 kilometres are all downhill. Every single centimetre. Not a single little ramp upwards anywhere. It’s stunning. The first 10 kilometres are beautiful. Almost clichéd. Long straights between sweeping curves and tight hairpins. The kilometre markers ping by every 90 seconds. The tarmac is smooth and the road empty, we pick and choose our lines with impunity. We are sad to be saying goodbye to the mountains but this is one hell of a parting. We’re so glad that we changed our mind back at the top of the first climb this morning. That road may also have been stunning, we’ll have to come back one day to find out. Once the steep bit runs out the road continues its downward trajectory but at a gentler gradient, there’s time to watch the landscape change from mountains to foothills to hills. Rock and snow give way to grass and trees.
At the base of the valley we hit some big roads. There are junctions and traffic to negotiate. It’s a shock to the system after the quiet of the last few days. We’ve spent most days on one road, with barely a junction to make us think “Which way?”
The map is retrieved from the bag. George realises we are very close to the Alto el Cordal, a climb he has wanted to climb for years (George is his anglicized name, his real name is Jorge Cordal Lorenzo). The first version of our route for this trip included the Angliru and Cordal on the first day, until we figured out that the logistics were easier reversing the route. We probably haven’t got time to get to the Angliru but the Cordal is doable. “A nothing little climb they do in La Vuelta on the way to Angliru” is how it is sold to me. “Okay”, I say. I’ll feel bad if I don’t let him ride it when we’re only 5km away.
He lied. It’s horrible. Even without 500 kilometres in the legs and bags hanging off the bike it would be tough. It’s steep from the word go. George disappears into the distance. I can tell how far ahead he is by the sound of dogs barking all the way up the lower slopes. Once past the villages it ramps up again, into switchbacks. I get to the top and have a bit of a swear at George.
However, to be fair to him the 15 kilometre descent off it is bloody great, and when we hit the final 15km to Oviedo we realise the detour has saved us from some horrible roads.
* This later gets dumped when we realise an egg sarnie that has been sweating away under a jacket all the way up a mountain with the sun beating down on it is probably best not eaten
Distance: 145 kilometres
Climbing: 3000 metres