To Alicante - The Seven Year Itch - CycleBlaze

March 16, 2024

To Alicante

Before moving on to today’s ride, let’s go back to that topic I raised and quickly dropped yesterday - how we’re going to get from Alicante to Águilas.  There’s a little bit of a backstory here, so we might as well waste a few minutes explaining how we ended up with our current situation.

First off, there’s no reason to not just bike from the one place to the other.  There are two general approaches: one is to follow the coast through Cartagena, as the Grampies just did last month; and the other is the inland route, through Murcia.  In earlier drafts of this tour I planned for us to take that inland route, which I’m sure would be fine.  It has some enticing names along that route; and in really early versions of the plan I envisioned us going inland just west of Valencia, which would mean we’d have missed wonderful Dénia and Calpe.

It’s a long way from Mallorca to Santander though when you move at our preferred pace now, and when looking back on those early drafts we decided something needed to be cut out to free up more layover days.  One obvious candidate was this 5-6 day stretch between Alicante and Águilas - obvious because there’s the option of riding the Cercanías, Spain’s light rail suburban trains that are quite bike-friendly - that’s how we escaped Barcelona two years ago, saving us two days of unattractive suburban cycling.

Murcia is the hub for one of these Cercanías networks.  The C-1 line runs between Alicante and Murcia, and the C-2 line runs between Murcia and Águilas.  Perfect - we’ll leverage the light rail network for this stretch and free up a week to use elsewhere.

A few months later I’ll find a wrinkle in this plan: the C-2 line is either still vaporware or is shut down indefinitely for infrastructure upgrades.  In its place a bus service is available, which may or may not take bikes - I can’t really tell.  We don’t really like the idea of relying on the bus, so we revise the plan - we’ll take the train to Murcia, but take two days to bike from there to Águilas, breaking up the ride with an overnight in Puerto de Mazarrón.  They’re two longish days with quite a bit of climbing, but it should be doable - after all, we biked this stretch in the opposite direction just four years ago.

Then Covid happened, and these two challenging days between Murcia and Águilas became exhibit A in the case for renting a car.  Neither of us was confident we’d be able to complete these rides without getting our health back first, and it’s quite remote country with no real bail-out options if we find ourselves in trouble.

So we rented a car.  And in reinventing the next month of the tour we cancelled our booking at Puerto de Mazarrón and added a third day to our uncancellable booking in Águilas.

And then we got better, ditched the car, and reopened the Alicante-Murcia-Águilas problem, except now it’s worse.  We now have an uncancellable three day booking in Águilas, with only one day to get there from Murcia.  if we were worried about biking from Murcia in two days, one day for sure isn’t going to happen.

This of course was one of the issues we stared at when we decided to drop the car.  Our new plan was to take the train to Murcia, hope that the bus would take bikes the rest of the way, and if not we’d eat the cost of a taxi.  We left it at that, and decided to wait until we got close to Alicante to finalize it somehow.

So we’re here now; and the first thing we discover is that we likely cannot take bikes on that bus - I finally found a webpage that speaks to it, but ambiguously - in one paragraph it says you can’t take unfolded bikes, but in the next it says you can’t take bikes period, without qualification.

Well, actually that’s not the first thing we discovered.  The first thing was when Rachael was looking up our booking in Alicante but couldn’t find it.  We couldn’t find it because one of us made it for the wrong month.  We have a booking, but it’s in April.  So that needs correcting, and some time goes into rethinking where we want to stay because the first place is quite expensive now because it’s for a Saturday night.  Rachael hunts around and finds a reasonable apartment that’s only about a five minute walk from the train station, which looks perfect.

That won’t get us from Murcia to Águilas in one day though, so we’ll need to find a taxi.  We find what looks like the most reasonable cab company, start a WhatsApp chat, and learn that the ride we ask for a quote on is really exhorbitant.  So we stare at the map again, and I’m excited to find a hotel that’s never shown up before - a business hotel out in the country by the freeway, near Totana.  I map out the distances, see that it leaves us with two longish but manageable rides, so that’s the plan.  We’ll just write off the cost of that first night in Águilas, because we won’t be there yet.

And then, because Rachael points out that there’s no harm in asking, we’re really happy when our host agrees to let us drop the first night without penalty.  

So, to summarize: we’ll catch the train to Murcia early Sunday morning, bike from there to Totana, and then on to Águilas on the day after.  And because there’s no restaurant open at our Totana hotel on Sunday night, we’ll stop off for lunch on the way at what looks like a very agreeable spot in Alhama de Murcia.  Perfect, right?

Today’s ride

Finally!  I’m sure you thought we’d never get here.  Unfortunately, we’ve exhausted most of our word budget for the day so you’re just going to get the abridged version.

The day starts with the best breakfast of the tour - a terrific spread with pastries, croissants, cheese, meat, fresh-squeezed OJ, and all the coffe we want from the self-serve espresso machine.  I mentioned it yesterday,  but in case you forgot or missed it Hotel Castillo is the place you want in Benidorm.

The first couple of miles are a bike along the busy promenade on the western (and much the better) half of town.  It’s the same stretch we walked along at sunset last night, but it’s much busier today.

Leaving Benidorm.
Heart 1 Comment 1
Karen PoretBet you are glad you are not the man with the rolling suitcase…
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2 months ago
The beach chairs are out again, it’s another beautiful day, and the crowds are starting to arrive.
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One of a series of sculptures, all with a similar appearance.
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The first third of the ride is okay, but not the most interesting.  We’re on decent roads the whole way except when we’re biking through surprisingly  busy little Villajoyosa but we don’t find many reasons to stop.  Just as well, because we want to make good time to beat the heat and arrive in time for lunch.

West of Benidorm, laying down the miles.
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After that though we come to some much more dramatic terrain - more to see and stop to admire, and more work to do than cruising along on the flats.

Much more interesting.
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Better and better.
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We’re startled when we stop and look back to see what we’ve been cycling away from.
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And then the ride gets really interesting when we finally leave the coast highway and drop toward the shoreline just a few miles away.  Well, actually we drop, and climb, and drop, and climb, and drop, and climb - steeply, with short grades in the 8-13% range.  The most striking and also the toughest part of the day.

Leaving the highway.
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Steeply down.
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And up.
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Still up. I lose what little momentum I had when I stop for a look at that tower up there.
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Another steep one.
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Oof!
Heart 2 Comment 2
Karen PoretYikes! Considering how you both felt just recently this is a real feather in your cap!
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2 months ago
Rachael AndersonTo Karen PoretIt definitely was a challenge!
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2 months ago
Finally we make it to the shore. There are still a few rollers, but most of the pain is behind us now.
Heart 3 Comment 0
I was intrigued by this structure with a moorish look, and pleased when a magpie flew in to add avian interest.
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Finally we’re really on the beach, and for the next five miles we enjoy a leisurely cycle weaving through the crowds, with our eyes out for a suitable restaurant.  We find one.

On the beach.
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There’s that amazing formation again that we saw earlier.
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Taking it all in, but blocking out the mountain.
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The view from our table.
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It’s an easy five miles from our restaurant to our room in Alicante - and easier because I find a much easier and quieter route than I’d mapped, sparing us one last climb.

I’m really surprised by Alicante, a place I really wasn’t all that interested in seeing.  Its seaside promenade is a delight, reminding me of the one in Malaga.  Perhaps we’ll come back someday.

This photo is to show you the quiet route we found into town, rather than up on the cliff above the tracks. We biked in on small lanes blocked to cars, but I think that whitish strip is a proper bike path under development.
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Entering Alicante.
Heart 6 Comment 3
Kelly IniguezLook at that workmanship!
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2 months ago
Karen PoretTo Kelly IniguezStunning!
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2 months ago
Rachael AndersonTo Kelly IniguezA lot of the boardwalks along the coast are like this. Not only are they beautiful but they are also full of kids and adults having a great time!
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2 months ago

Video sound track: Adonde Fue Cecilia?, by Kany García

We find our way to our apartment, a very nice and stylish place with an agreeable, informative host.  After we’ve settled in and Rachael’s back from the store I walk down to the train station to confirm that our plan is viable and if possible get ourselves ticketed for the morning.

It doesn’t go well at first, as the agent tells me it’s not possible to travel to Murcia by bike.  That is alarming of course, but I point out that there’s both an MD (middle distance) train, most of which allow bikes, as well as the Cercanías.  So she pulls up the schedule, starting with the MD.  It does take bikes, but not this time.  The spaces are limited and have to be reserved, and this one’s already booked up.  So I ask her again about the Cercanías, and it’s like she’s hearing me for the first time - maybe I mispronounced it.  Yes, you can take your bike; but you can’t get ticketed until tomorrow morning.  Arrive a half hour early, I’m advised.

So there’s something to worry about and earn another restless night’s sleep over.  Hope for the best.

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Today's ride: 30 miles (48 km)
Total: 208 miles (335 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 2
Betsy EvansI'm so glad you're both feeling better! And now you have a terrific reason to go back to Mallorca :-)
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Betsy EvansThanks, Betsy. It’s a relief to have the trip finally start feeling normal again with the more normal concerns to deal with. And you’re right - Mallorca’s still out there waiting. An easy ferry ride from our pad in Dénia.
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2 months ago