The Dirtside of Solana De Benicadell
Riding in Spain reminds me of a Romanesco, forming a fractal pattern, a set of shapes that repeat itself on multiple scales, each resembling the other in complexity and beauty. A continuous spiral of rides that keep getting better the deeper you explore.
The first time I rode the foothills of Solana De Benicadell, I thought it was a hidden gem in the Vall D'Albaida. If you haven't already, I recommend reading the first post about Solana De Benicadell.
Whenever I ride the same route again, I diverge a little bit and explore alternate ways in the same area. I recall riding alongside the foothills with Sukho one day. We saw a road running parallel to the pavement, halfway up the mountain. At that moment, I locked it in my head that I needed to ride that, or at least find out what was there. I planned a few routes to explore the area but never got to them back in 2021.
So on my last trip to Valencia, I set out to explore new-to-me areas and find alternatives to some of my favorite routes. After the long rainy March, where it rained almost all month long. I gave the soil time to dry out since I had my Breadwinner Lolo with 28s. Not the best setup for my type of dirt exploration, but it did just fine. Hopefully, I can get my B-road in Valencia soon enough!
As usual, this route starts from the village of Novetle, crossing Xativa into Genoves and over the hill separating La Costera from Vall D'Albaida. Then, fast descent into the Beniganim and onwards to La Pobla del Duc, the backroads between this village and Castelló de Rugat were blooming in every direction. Poppies dressed the banks red, and the smell of orange blossoms filled the air.
The smell brought back memories of Sukho juicing Mandarin oranges almost every morning back on the farm.
The difference between the original route and the dirtside route is elevation. The OG route starts from Castelló de Rugat, heading west (when ridden clockwise). However, the Dirtside route begins at the top of the pass, on a ridge, which happens to be the line separating Valencia from Alicante.
The climb up the pass is a classic and one of the few ways to cross the mountains south, towards Planes and the inner mountains of Costa Blanca. Access to the climb is south of Castelló de Rugat, and it is a reasonably quiet climb, on most days I've ridden it at least.
It is said that the world looks better from above, but the Vall D'Albaida is as beautiful at any elevation.
This climb is a case in point, showing the beauty of the place not just in any elevation but in any direction. The top of the pass reveals both the northern and southern valleys, goosebump-inducing views.
The pavement in Spain is unmatched, but I miss riding gravel roads and ghost trails. It's been way too long. This road cuts through the forest, near the top of the ridge, and continues for a while, elevated above the valley facing north.
It's a consistent climb from the bottom of the pass all the way past this point. Although there was some packed gravel in some spots, there was also some chunder along the way. A bike with 28mm will get you to most places you need around these parts, but I think next time, I'll max out my setup (which is 33mm) to get a bit more cushion. Otherwise, as stated above, I'll probably ship my B-Road via Bikeflights next time I visit Valencia.
I miss that thing!
Being in the woods on forest roads transported me back to the good days of the PNW, where there were no shortages of astounding roads straight out of your front door. Equally, Spain isn't lacking either, I barely scratched the surface here, and I'm hooked!
The road leads to Casa Forestal de Les Planises, a forest ranger station of some sort for the Sierra del Benicadell.
This viewpoint gave me a new perspective on areas I've frequently ridden. For example, if you look through the fence above the top tube, you'll see the foothill road from the OG route. You can see the rest of the Dirtside route as well. The mountain in the background with the white spot near the summit is where the steep Port Del Portitxol is, which is the last big climb on the route past Ontinyent.
The gravel road continues past the Casa Forestal, leading to a steep kicker that gets even steeper (+25%), climbing up to the Observatorio Forestal de Beniatjar. A watchtower that sits atop a ridge with a one-of-a-kind view of the reservoir on the southern side of Sierra del Benicadell.
I sat there for a while, actually, just taking in the views and processing things on my mind, as I usually do when riding. I know some of you understand what I'm referring to since we've talked about it in Spain & in the PNW. However, I'll elaborate for the sake of consistency.
Over the years, I've noticed that I process things better and clearer with a positive mindset whenever I ride. Sure, I sometimes go through it when I'm in the saddle, but then I catch myself being zen. So with time, I leaned more into that method of processing my ideas, reflecting on life, and all that jazz. In short, when I took this photo (above), I was in complete harmony with my surroundings.
A few seconds of that were long enough to zone out into a meta state, looking over at myself, leaning on my bike, taking in the views.
A pure state of Topophilia.
Exploring this gravel section brought back lots of memories. It influenced me to get in touch with my preferred exploration style, just as I did back in Portland. The roads around here are clean and smooth, and the drivers are very respectful. However, there's a sensation that I can only feel when I'm in the woods, high up in the mountains. I immediately feel at home, even though I grew up in a flat, arid desert.
The forest road parallels the entirety of the OG paved road but at a much higher elevation. Given that I rode this clockwise, I ended up riding into Atzeneta d'Albaida. A small industrial village and a connector to the city of Ontinyent, where the rest of the route continues.
This will be on top of my list as soon as I get back to Valencia, and I know Sukho is also eager to ride it!