Riding MV with a furry is quite an adventure and a great responsibility which requires of detailed prior planning. Our friend Antonio Gallardo tells us about his experience traveling with Siroco and gives us a lot of good advice and recommendations.
Text by Antonio Gallardo (@brutalbichos)
Watercolours by by Ernesto Pastor
At first, MontañasVacías was one more route within the tour of Spain Off-Road as a form of adventure that Siroco and I were doing. I’ve been chewing on it in my head for more than two years. Not only because of the journey itself, but because of the intrahistory that it has behind the scenes. Added value that distinguishes it from others and makes it great, it and Ernesto. It is not an empty route like its mountains, but rather a whole reason to travel along the Montes Universales and the Javalambre and Gúdar mountain ranges that govern it. A terrible population density which I understand, since I am from Extremadura… we also have our own thing. This was an irrefutable opportunity to ride it, to feel it, to live it with the best of companions. Pedaling the kms and kms of a continuous leg breaker loaded with practically virgin beauty and great difficulty. Because MontañasVacías is tough and, with a dog…it goes up another level. This is perceived from the first pedal stroke, which in my case was connecting through Puebla de San Miguel in direction to Javalambre. From the Valencian Community to Aragon. One of the hardest trails, although one of the most wonderful in terms of natural heritage. And it is that scabies with pleasure does not itch, since the difficulty of the trip was returned in the form of continued beauty.
I have traveled MontañasVacías at the speed of the wind. Rather, at the speed of Siroco, my warm wind that in Levante is also known as Jaloque. That wind that has so much to do with the star Sirius, the brightest in its constellation, the Canis Major or the Greater Dog that follows Orion the Hunter on its journey through the universe and on its hunts. Siroco, my faithful furry adventurer who accompanies me like Orion running alongside me like a gale on my journey into the unknown. This was an immovable requirement since I started not only MontañasVacías, but all my detour around Spain. Ride at his pace and at whatever he demanded. Ride at the speed of the wind. It is a trip for two and as such, it had to be that way. Depending on the day, Siroco and I did between 30 and 50 km a day. Kilometer up or down. The math didn’t matter. Me pedaling and him running. Yes, he runs by my side since riding in a trailer or in a box stresses him a lot. I emphasize this, because most people do not believe it and, not only that, but they see it as outrageous due to ignorance, even above the stress. Personally, I think that society humanizes and objectifies furries too much in the worst sense. There is nothing in the world that Siroco likes more than running. Since he was born. Siroco is a sportsman like me and therefore I have never underestimated his abilities. On the contrary, I have promoted, pampered, and cared for them. In fact, he has a preventive treatment for his paw pads, something that is one of my priorities. In MontañasVacías, Siroco’s speed and resistance were one of the most complicated points. The relocation between populations, added to the non-existence of food stores in many of them, emerged as an exponential challenge. I love challenges and, besides, the goat pulls for the mountain.
In fact, there were many factors in the equation. An Off-road Bikepacking route in self-sufficiency mode like MontañasVacías, in which you also add the company of a furry friend, meant that I had to be twice as watchful of everything around me and its prior planning. It is a great responsibility to travel with Siroco. In reality, everything changes when I travel with him. From the components of the bicycle to the amount of water to transport. Fortunately, the latter was not a problem. At least in spring, the time of year that we have traveled in and the one that I recommend, together with autumn, because the weather conditions are more suitable to do it with a furry. The summer heat literally leaves them out of the game and that must be taken into account. It wears them out too much. On the contrary, it was not a problem, since it is incredible the amount of water that runs in many of the towns and the amount of km that is traveled parallel to various rivers such as the Guadalaviar or the Alfambra that originates in Gúdar. From their union, the Turia is born. Even so, I always carry a 1 liter bottle for Siroco, plus 4 liters of water in general, since dry feed requires much more hydration, as opposed to fresh food. I know that the second is preferable, but in this case, due to logistics, I opted for the feed. Therefore, his cares are my priority and if we must stop, we stop. Normally the way in which people travel MontañasVacías is with a Bikepacking philosophy in its pure form. Much lighter. My total antithesis as much as I had eased off. It’s true that I’ve included it in my Tour Around Spain, but even so, traveling with Siroco, I’ve transported much more weight than normal.
In this sense, my bicycle, which I affectionately call Mariquilla in honor of my mother, normally weighs between 30 and 40 kg. We carry the house on our backs to have everything we need anywhere and in any situation. You never know when you have to do a bivouac in the middle of nowhere. Herein lies one of the charms of adventure. Weight is the common thread of everything else. Aside from my stuff, Siroco’s luggage adds a lot more kg to the saddlebags. His bed, his water, his food, his vitamin supplement, his vital paw pad treatment, his treats, his teeth cleaning bars, his pills, his temperature thermometer, etc. The day I had to buy the bag of feed to replace, just there, I added between 3 or 4 kg of weight. The bicycle load is essential when you decide to do MontañasVacías. Only about 30% of it is ridden on the road, which meant battling the elements in the wilderness, far from any repair shop or garage. Something that I liked, being isolated from everything and everyone, simply embraced by the amalgam of beauty that the entire route offers you. It’s clear, Ernesto is always around and the MVPoints like that of the wonderful Juan Pedro and his “Casa Rural” in Alobras, that’s true. Rolling Off-roads with more than 30 kg and with a dog, resulted in an increase of breakdowns, lower speed, and greater brake wear, such as the one that occurred on the vertiginous slopes of the entrance to El Cuervo, since Siroco was penalized by the negative slopes like all furry ones.
There is no doubt, if MontañasVacías is already hard in itself, in the modality in which we made it, it raised the level of the adventure. I already had 5 broken spokes throughout my whole trip before starting. Among other breakdowns, of course. How to split the carrier, since the materials have a breaking point. They are not infinite. By road, perhaps, since we go through the mountain and here things change. Moreover, we do not always ride along smooth forest tracks with almost no potholes, such as the Griegos to Guadalaviar section or, through the Natural Park of La Puebla de San Miguel towards Javalambre, where, by the way, the presence of the Pine Processionary was a dangerous madness for Siroco (in this season was the Processionary, but when the heat arrives, for example, you have to think very hard about protecting them from ticks in areas where there is cattle). Those tracks were delights for the gravel modality. On the contrary, there were many places where the stones became inseparable and rather uncomfortable companions, such as in the Sierra de Albarracín or the section from Zafrilla to Alobras. Parts where I doubt a car would have come off well. The more load, the greater probability of breakage of spokes and other elements. As I mentioned in previous lines, negative slopes, in which Siroco went slowly, and to which you add stones, such as the section from Formiche Alto to connect with the Vía Verde de Ojos Negros near Teruel, translated into hell for the palms of my hands and forearms due to the tension of squeezing the brake levers for a long period of time. Actually, for the entire Mariquilla.
Along this same line, one of the components that most influenced us, along with the weight of the bicycle, which are intrinsically linked, was the relocation between towns and the services that exist in them. The backbone of the reason for being of MontañasVacías. This is where the crux of the matter lies. And I say that it influenced and that I did not suffer, since we tested both sides of the coin. The negative and the positive part. The negative is already known, it is why MontañasVacías emerges, but the positive… The song «Lodo» (Mud) by Xoel López prays that » from the mud the tallest flowers grow «. We tasted in our flesh the generosity and hospitality that is born from the fact of going through 4 towns without a grocery store. In fact, on the first day, we had to go down to Camarena de la Sierra before going up to the Javalambre peak at 2,020 m high, in order to buy food on our way to Puebla de Valverde. Sergio, a resident of that town, seeing us eating some peanuts in the square, offered us a hot shower and a bed to sleep on. You do not expect this, nor do you see it coming. Or in Zafrilla, where two women, after asking them about a grocery store in the town, which was closed, gave us food for Siroco and a bag for me out of nowhere so that we could endure until Castielfabib. I’m a faithful thinker that the path provides and, furthermore, that in the world there are more good people than bad. With difference. Each km reinforces this thought. Things don’t just happen.
Adding to the above, MontañasVacías and our Tour Around Spain were in sleeping anywhere mode. 100% adventure. I feel the need to highlight on this point, the strength that the route possesses. The network of recreational areas that exist in the vicinity of most of the towns and, above all, the mountain refuges available along the route is incredible. They are oases in the middle of the desert that give the possibility of sheltering from inclement weather. From the recreational area right at the entrance to Cabra de Mora, perfect for making a delicious, controlled night fire and pitching the tent, to the incredible two-story Ligros mountain refuge completely renovated in the heart of the Pinares del Rodeno. Crazy… Siroco and I were alone in the middle of Holy Week. Even Ernesto, having coffee in Teruel at the end of the challenge, admitted to me that he did not know that it had been restored. While I hypnotically looked at the flames of the candle I’d just lit, I thought about how that place could be totally deserted of people and, on the other hand, Albarracín or Bronchales, be cram-full with people crowded into camping areas and campsites. I’m sorry, but I’m not a follower of that kind of unsustainable tourism. Get out of the madness of the city to «escape» into a huddle of people in nature. What’s the point? Simply, I was glad to be alone enjoying that beautiful and quiet Eden. Well, not alone, with Siroco. It was simply a delicious night.
It’s true that it would involve carrying more weight, but I encourage everyone to mingle in nature. Even if it’s just one night. An Overnighter in a responsible and sustainable way in nature. It’s crazy that in a society loaded with stimuli and a marked globalization of knowledge, one continues to be surprised to learn of the virginal state of many of the parts of MontañasVacías. I was surprised every day, what motivated and excited me. I encourage you to pedal without the stress of doing X km. Riding without the thought of arriving at an accommodation. Riding MontañasVacías under a sea of calm, carried simply by the speed of the wind. It doesn’t matter how far you travel a day. The wind is something natural that transports elements from one place to another. As is the case with bikepackers. We go from here to there with the intention of just riding, feeling, and merging with nature, taking baths with a restorative effect in the heart of a forest. It gave me a lot of peace not to have stress or worry about not knowing where I was going to sleep or when I was going to stop. Society goes running everywhere, only looking forward. I propose looking everywhere, not just straight ahead. In all directions things happen. Even backwards, one does not become a pillar of salt here. Here one becomes one more element of the environment.
In fact, adding to the previous paragraph and as a climax, I encourage everyone to travel with a furry friend in MontañasVacías. It has been quite a dare, a great adventure, a major challenge. What is life without goals? Of course, with good prior planning, since we’re talking about an enormous responsibility. MontañasVacías has left its mark on us. Siroco was in his natural environment. Chasing rabbits and all kind of birds without any success. If I’ve pedaled 680 km, he has run that distance multiplied by 3 or 4. I go, but he goes and comes, or comes and goes. He brought out the heightened instinct of him, the hunter, like Orion’s dog. Rabbits, roe deers, eagles. He didn’t care. He chased everything that moved. Quite a show. It made me happy to see him in his environment just like a mountain goat. An inexplicable feeling. If MontañasVacías is beautiful, with a dog… even more so.
Experiences of other bikepackers with their dogs
LUBA, TOM, pHOEBE & lOLO
We cycled Montanas Vacias route with Phoebe and Lolo in September 2021. It’s a perfect route to choose for dogpacking as lots of it is off pavement, they could run with us and their paws didn’t suffer on the tarmac. We also enjoyed camping as it was generally easy to find a place. Very special experience was sleeping in the refugios where we enjoyed sitting by the fireplace and cooking. Phoebe and Lolo are pretty used to wildstock and we didn’t have any problems when crossing the pastures with cows, sheep and horses. People in the villages were friendly towards them, they were always happy to help with finding water or food. It’s not easy to find routes where our dogs can spend so much time running next to the bicycles, so we understand this as the huge advantage of Montanas Vacias.
ROBERTO Y KELPA
Riding a bike with your dog is a great experience that comes naturally to both of us. I imagine that both species unconsciously remember the old days when we rode side by side in pursuit of prey, day after day, cooperating to get food, to warm ourselves by the fire or to protect ourselves when darkness fell and other beasts bigger than us came out to hunt. Basically, that first relationship remains the same, but we humans invented the wheel to be able to ride bicycles and with them we modified the balance point. Now we can ride faster and tougher, we can ride hundreds of kilometers in a day, but they can’t, and we have to take that into account. Kelpa was 11 months old when we rode this trip. She rode an average of 42 or 45 kilometers a day during two weeks without any problems, but for that you have to take the right care.
(Here you can read the full story about their winter expedition)
LAIA & eAU
I’ve been traveling with my dog and partner, Eau, for four years, and it’s magic to be able to share these moments with her. Logistics change completely riding with her: water provision, mileage planning, more frequent breaks, less roads, more paths and forests, avoiding heat, storms (they scare him to death), and paying attention to overexertion (in our case, Eau has early osteoarthritis). Look after them as much as possible, they’re faithful friends and will always be with you, so don’t beat them up!
MontañasVacías for me:
- One place: The San Lorenzo hermitage/refuge.
- Nature: Deer rutting under the starry sky.
- Courtesy: The locals and the bars of Beamud and Zafrilla (among others).
- Adventure: I lost my tent pole and had to spend a day without a mobile phone or GPS.
- Acknowledgements: To Ernesto, for his contribution to sustainable tourism.
Essential decalogue for traveling with a dog in MontañasVacías: the «Perrocálogo»
1- Choose the season of the year well: the best times to travel it are spring and autumn. If not, control all the variables of each season. Ask Ernesto or someone who has ridden MontañasVacías for advice. 2- Hydrate your dog well: always carry plenty of water and refresh him in rivers or streams on hot days. Make regular stops for him to drink. Try to carry with you light waterers and feeders made of waterproof fabric. 3- Food choice: feed or fresh food. Each has its advantages and inconveniences. Remember that the feed will make your dog thirstier, although you can always add water when putting it on. It is recommended to include a vitamin supplement to complete the diet. 4- How will your dog travel?: in a trolley, in a box on top of the bike pannier or running alongside you. Each breed has its qualities and knowing how your dog works will make you choose the best way. 5- Control the km per day and carefully plan the route: remember, you are not traveling alone. Be aware of how much your dog can do. Know his limits and always be attentive to his needs. Control the distance between villages and the services you'll find. 6- Take care of his paw pads: they multiply by 3 or by 4 your distances. The wax used in hunting dogs is a good preventive treatment, especially if they run all the km. 7- Dog first-aid kit: something as simple as a thermometer, among many other things, can get you out of more than one problem. 8- Protect him against parasites and other harmful beings: every season has its own. In summer, especially in cattle areas, ticks are prone. In spring, watch out for the Pine Processionary. 9- Up-to-date vaccination record and list of veterinarians: make a visit to the vet before doing MontañasVacías so that they can get your dog ready and thus avoid possible diseases. Make a list of the clinics along the route and the rural veterinarians. 10- Pet-friendly accommodation: find out if your dog is welcome in the accommodations where you plan to stay. If, on the other hand, you prefer to camp or spend the night outside, plan his luggage.