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Well, not to spoil the ending, but we’re back home from our Trek Travel ride camp. The last few days of riding went by in a flash – just like my first 50 years. Sigh…
Stef already gave you a recap of our first couple days in Mallorca, so I’ll pick up where she left off.
Day 3: Sa Calobra
Sa Calobra is a world famous climb, and the biggest ride of our trip. I don’t really know how to describe this road, so we’ll just start with a picture.
It’s an impossibly twisty road that descends about 2000 feet from the mountains down to the sea over 10 or so kilometers; the kind of climb that cycling nuts dream about, especially if you like descending (which I don’t really like, but I’m working on it…).
You may be noticing in the pictures that the road to Sa Calobra doesn’t have a center line. You’d think that would mean it was a one way street. But this is Europe so there is indeed two way traffic – including buses – along this road. It’s just really narrow. Somehow, it works and everyone makes room.
After noticing the extremely narrow European roads from our RV trip last year, we were concerned how biking would go. We shouldn’t have been. The drivers in Mallorca are used to cyclists. There’s a completely symbiotic thing happening between cars and bikes, totally different than in the US. Mallorcan drivers treat bikes as they do cars; passing when they get a chance, and keeping a safe distance. No one intentionally tries running bikes off the road or “asserting their vehicular authority” to force bikes onto a narrow shoulder… it’s awesome. So it turns out sharing the roads with cars in Mallorca is a non-event – even single-width roads with two way traffic.
Stef had been terrified of this ride in particular for months. She had researched it, looked at pictures, identified the closest hospitals, ridden it virtually on our smart trainer, and left me instructions on what to do after her inevitable demise. She was CERTAIN this ride was going to kill her. Not the climb, but the descent (because she has a fear of heights). Needless to say, she didn’t die. In fact, she crushed it, and was passing people both on the way down and the way up.
Then, in what was to become a running theme for the rest of the trip, Stef demonstrated her superior intelligence by taking the “short” route back to the hotel. (But even that was over 50 miles and 6800 feet of climbing.) Cyclists with sufficient self-hatred (like me) took a longer option home that added 30 more miles and another mountain or two before getting home. All in all, my day was about 80 miles and an utterly stupid amount of climbing – and it took me over 8 hours! Check it out below.
Day 4: On-Your-Own Day
After the big Sa Calobra day, the Trek Travel itinerary was open for day 4. The thinking is that you’ll select a (probably less difficult) ride from their multiple options and use it as an active recovery day. But we woke up to this.
I’m less than 10% likely to ride in the rain at home. So riding in the rain on vacation was even less likely than that. Instead, it became the “Day of Figuring Out How Mallorca Works”. Meaning: we ran errands!
We had three main objectives:
- Get a new battery installed in my iPhone.
- Get soap, and a few other groceries.
- Get swimwear so we could use the spa (both Stef and I had forgotten to pack anything).
You might think that getting a technical replacement part in a country where you don’t speak the language would be difficult, but the iPhone battery was by far the easiest task on the list. It turns out that “nerd stuff” is pretty much universal. All I had to do was google up an iPhone store (which was in Palma, on the other side of the island) and let them replace the battery.
Even getting to the iPhone store in downtown Palma wasn’t that bad. The driving is pretty similar, and google is again your friend. Parking can be a bit of a challenge as with any European city, but we eventually found an underground parking garage not too far from the iPhone store. Sweet.
While we waited for the battery replacement, we decided to go after the groceries. The first place we tried was really cool.
It was this big multi-level, multi-vendor farmer’s market with all manner of fresh things – from asparagus to whole baby pigs (at least, I hope they were pigs). They even had restaurants inside the market where they would cook up whatever you just bought 5 minutes ago. What a fantastic idea for a restaurant! But while this place was super cool and had every kind of fresh food you could imagine, it didn’t have soap. We had to move on and find a more conventional supermarket, which we eventually did. We thought about stopping for a coffee while we were downtown, but were worried that the iPhone repair place would go on siesta (that’s an all-too-real thing), so we just headed back to pick up my phone.
The final task on our list turned out to be the most difficult. Turns out, February isn’t the right time of year to shop for swimwear; even on an island. This was just hard, hard, hard. Finding the right kind of clothing store on Google was hard. Physically locating the store in the Punto was hard. And then finding a store that was not on siesta was hard. We did find a few that were open, but they were only selling things like mink coats and suits. Eventually, in what seemed like a total cop-out, we found a Nike Outlet Store. Success! Well, sort of success. No swimwear but we found some athletic wear that could double as swimwear.
So while we didn’t ride that day (and we found out later that only one person from the ride camp did), we came back tired nonetheless. But after all that work to hunt down spa attire, we were determined to put it to use.
Day 5: The Sineu Out-And-Back Rain Ride
Here’s a tip for you if you ever visit Mallorca: Don’t believe the weather forecasts. They’re just making it up as they go. The day started off rainy, and our guides bravely volunteered to lead the group on the scheduled ride for the day, which would again go up into the mountains. Since it was 35 degrees and rainy down in the foothills, there was some concern that the weather would be even worse in the mountains, but our guides had a van and were ready to support whatever insanity we wanted to endure.
The weather predictions from the various services all said the rain would be stopping about noon. Armed with that (false) knowledge, some of the group chose to try the scheduled ride, and the guides set off with them. I was not in that group, but went with a second group. My group’s plan was to wait until noon, and then head out on a flatter ride that would stay out of the mountains and the sub-freezing temperatures. That plan seemed to be working as we set out around noon.
But here’s where we ran into problems with the weather forecast. The rain had stopped at noon, but it only stopped long enough for us to get about 15 miles away. Then it started again. We ducked into a cafe for lunch where I had a “perrito”, which is Spanish for “hot dog”. We waited in the cafe as long as we thought we could get away with, but when it became apparent that it wasn’t going to stop raining, we headed back the 15 miles in the 36 degrees and rain. When we returned, we learned that the first group had to be plucked off the course by the van at the risk of hypothermia, so we felt smarter than them. But none of us felt as smart as Stef, who stayed back at the hotel and hit the gym. Here’s my route.
After a day like that, just about all of us ride campers hit the spa, which had hot pools, hot tubs, hot saunas, and hot steam rooms.
Since we had swimwear now, we could join in, warm up, and curse the weather forecasters with everyone else.
Day 6: Formentor Ride and My 50th
I hadn’t really told anyone this, but regardless of what the weather was, I was determined to get at least 50 miles in on my 50th birthday. Rain, snow, meteor showers, whatever… I was riding 50 miles.
The day started off well enough. Stef had managed to sneak a present for me all the way to Mallorca – some new pieces of cycling kit. It’s now the most obnoxious cycling jersey I own, but depending on where I try to ride my bike – it may help keep me from being run over. See for yourself.
After a brief ceremony where our guides had surprised me with a mini cake, we set off. Our scheduled route for this day took us out to the Formentor lighthouse.
I thought the ride out there was awesome, but Stef found it terrifying because of all the switchbacks and cliff faces we were riding along.
Despite her complaining, she kicked butt on the way out there. We got out to the lighthouse, had lunch, and were promptly assaulted by goats.
Penny, our guide bravely defended our lunch while Stef bravely declared her intention to stay in the van until we got past all the “if-you-take-the-curve-too-fast-you’ll-go-off-the-cliff-and-die” parts on the way back. Little did I know, she was again demonstrating her genius (or a slightly spooky foreknowledge of Mallorcan weather). I however, had not gotten my 50 miles yet, so I rode on.
As I rode back off the cape, it started to drizzle. Then it started to rain… a lot. Then the temperature started quickly dropping. But I still didn’t have 50 miles so I kept on. When I got to the top of the last climb heading off the cape, the van was there waiting to pick me up, because it was 33 degrees and pouring rain and any sensible person would have stopped. Everyone else was already in the van. But I was at 48 miles! No way was I giving up at that point. As I rolled up to the van I yelled to Penny through the rain, “I need 2 more miles I’m pushing on!” Rather than descend the rain-slick, traffic-y highway, Penny quickly pointed me to a seemingly abandoned side road that climbed up even further, and looked to be about a mile long. Two miles out and back, perfect. Off I went!
The road actually went to someplace called the Talaia d’Albercutx. Looking it up later, if I had been able to see anything at all, the view likely would have been spectacular. But I couldn’t see anything, and the temperature had dropped below freezing and it was snowing. I snapped a quick picture to prove I made it and then headed back down to the van which ferried our bunch of soggy cyclists (except Stef, who had remained completely rain-free) back to the hotel for more spa time. After another fine dinner, it was time to put the lights out on what I’m calling a successful half century celebration.
Day 7: Self Guided Ride
The official itinerary called for a short, self-guided ride to wrap up the ride camp.
Some of the guests had already departed for the airport, so it was just Stef and me on this one. We had asked the guides if we could keep the bikes a bit longer (since we weren’t departing until the next day), and they said sure. So we spent several hours exploring some nearby smaller towns.
Well, I guess the towns weren’t all that nearby, since we did wind up riding just over 45 miles. Here’s the details.
But other than the stats, there’s not much to report about the small towns of Petra, Sineu, Llubi, and Buger – other than that they are all charming, and there’s no better way to see them than by bicycle. It was a relatively easy cap to a terrific week of cycling.
And like I said at the beginning, we’re home now. Though they couldn’t ultimately control the weather, Trek Travel was a fantastic way to pull off this kind of cycling vacation. Their prep and planning, route choices, and equipment service made the whole experience much much easier than it would have been if we had tried to work out the logistics of this ourselves. Stef is already talking about going back next year, which wouldn’t disappoint me one bit. Except if I keep getting older, my birthday mileage challenge will only get more and more difficult, but I’ll worry about that later.