SELF SUPPORTED TRAIL RUN THROUGH MALLORCA
Lejos llega el que para no se. That, who doesn’t stop goes far.
Serra de Tramuntana – Dry Stone Route is a long-distance route crossing Palma de Mallorca from West to North. Ultra Mallorca – 105km long ultra-race from Andratx to Pollenca – was unfortunately cancelled in 2016 due to ‘administrative difficulties’.
And this was the beginning of my journey. Once I read this, a little seed took root in the soil of my mind. And an idea started growing, from plan to action. Why not running it on my own, self-supported, with backpack, one pair of trainers, some colourful shirts, sun cream, lots of water and Suunto, so I won’t end up in the middle of nowhere with sheep grazing on rocks. Why? Because I love challenges. Adventures. Explorations. Because I didn’t knew if I can do it. So I booked flight tickets and various hotels based on location and suddenly it was March. Through the looking glass the mountains were calling and I was on my way.
Day 1, Friday 10th of March
… started at 7am at home in London where I checked for the 55th time if I have everything I need. If I need everything I think I need. The next four days my little big adventure backpack will be my ‘gastropod shell’ (what a disgusting word!). As per definition it should protect me from predators, mechanical damage, dehydration, and be my calcium storage. Not sure about calcium, but it definitely caused some mechanical damage to me (sore shoulders). Expect the best, prepare for the worst.
The key was to pack light. Weather forecast was showing 21-24 degrees and sun. So I was rather optimistic. But no matter how hard you try, the backpack will always feel heavy. Four days mean four pairs of socks and same applies for underwear. Running bra, two t-shirts, vest, long sleeve shirt, warm long sleeve shirt, skirt, tights and waterproof jacket. Two bandanas, pair of gloves, compress sport guards, arm sleeves, hat, sunglasses. 1,5 litre water bladder and 0.5 litre soft flask bottle. Power bank, head torch, all the cables, European plug. Running shoes. Emergency blanket, whistle, tape, tiny pods for various cosmetic products (being pretty sure that I will spend next 4 days applying toothpaste on my face, hair wax on my toothbrush and hydration cream into my hair), toothbrush, antiperspirant, baby wipes, tissues. Printed out timetables for buses. Map for buses. Three packs of baby food, two packages of blocks, two cliff bars. Oh, and passport! Everything packed in small plastic bags in case it will rain, there will be bed bugs or I will fall from the cliff into the sea. And because I have OCD.
Half day at work, airport, take off, landing, bus from airport, food shopping for dinner and breakfast, bus to Andratx. Getting off the bus, getting in the right bus. On the way to Andratx. Arriving at 8pm. Being able to see the hotel but unable to get to it. Crossing the road there and back, scrambling through some rocks and bushes, scratching my precious legs for the first time in Mallorca but definitely not the last one. Finally I found the path which led to the hotel. The only problem was it was about 3,5 metres under me. So what I did? I climbed on the wall parallel to it until it was low enough to jump. This was the particular moment when I promised myself, that this was the very last stupid thing I did during this trip. And I almost kept that promise.
Hotel looked like scary castle. To add some charm to it: I was there alone. All alone. Was greeted by cat. Somehow from somewhere an older guy appeared. It all reminded me of a beginning of some classic horror movie. But there was no red light in my head and I had nowhere else to go. So I decided to trust in good in people. The owner had no staff for some reason. I decided not to analyse it. Luckily for me, he must have thought I am the crazy one. Especially after he asked me a) where is my luggage b) where I’m going tomorrow and c) why on earth. 1:1 in the freak world. I triple checked I locked the doors.
Day 2, Saturday 11th of March
… was the start of my running journey. Bright and early at 8am, after a baguette with homemade orange jam and coffee I decided to go for a short run. From Andratx to Valldemossa to be exact.
I was aware that route from Andratx to Estellencs is not really marked. Somehow I thought it will be visible. Or at least used? I used to think I hate running on wet rocks. No. I hate big rocks covered in 1 metre tall grass. Oh and those bushes. The dead trees lying casually around. The dried long dead branches which are trying to twist your ankle. Rip your clothes. Or least scratch you. Not really sure how, but I somehow reached the road and never been happier to run on one. Got lost few times but this time no walls were climbed and I retraced my steps to find the route. Only to cross some private lands sometimes. Few times. I started to understand why the race might have been cancelled. From about 10th km the route became kinda runnable and I was enjoying it so much! Charming Banyalbufar, 30k in, avocado sandwich in, sun cream applied, and allez!
What do you think of when you are spending four days on your own? When you keep on running for so many hours? I thought about sprained ankles. Friends with sprained ankles. That I’m allergic to inspect bites. If there are any insects. If I would die in pain if a bee will fly into my mouth. But mainly I thought about nothing. About everything. About what you should think of – so you can write it down – what you thought of. Sometimes you actually catch yourself thinking about what you are thinking of. It doesn’t matter. But it makes you free somehow. You simply exist. Nothing outside that day, that moment, that view matters. You don’t analyse people, problems, work. You don’t judge. You don’t worry. You have to focus on the path underneath your feet. I think they call it ‘being present in the moment’?
Some parts of the route were crazy, and must’ve been created by a mountain goat as you just leave the lovely visible elegant path and decide to scramble rocks instead. Views were unreal. The azure colour of the sea. The rocky peaks. The very few runnable paths. The damned bushes. Tiny little goats and sheeps. The best cold water I ever tasted in a local bar in Port de Canonge. Ordered two more bottles and as there was no take away, I poured them in my water bladder. Elegant I know. And then the way up up to Valldemossa. How happy I was when this charming little town suddenly jumped out into my view.
I was staying in absolutely lovely flat in the centre with the most amazing owner. Month ago he asked me if I have special requirements and what time will I arrive. I asked if possible to get coffee somewhere and that I’ll be probably late as running from Andratx. I swear he must be a runner as he offered to leave in the flat pasta and tomato sauce for me and coffee with milk. I said I don’t eat dairy and he left me dairy free milk. Ate the dinner, drank tons of water, collapsed on social media and it was time to recharge all the batteries for the following day. As usual, when I closed my eyes for the night, I could see hills, mountains, rocks, I was running yet again and tripping over and my kegs were kicking to the sides. Somehow I fell asleep in the end.
Stage 1: Andratx to Valldemossa 45km 1,961m altitude gain
Day 3, Sunday 12th of March
… excited and bit scared how I would feel the day after a marathon and bit. Felt lazy and woke up too late. Satisfied with previous day I thought I will have plenty of time anyway. Sunday was supposed to be shorter anyway so no rush. Coffee, pastry, food on the way, repack, water, view through window, few more pics of the town. Ok ok ok, let’s go! Quick scan, legs are good, body bit tired, shoulders not happy. Surprisingly amazing.
I started the day on high note. Not only I left the flat way too late, I also started running in opposite direction. Once I found the right direction, Suunto was trying to trick me into hide and seek – sending me for exploration to bushes, trees and fences. On the route yet again, lovely uphill appeared. Who cares, I met some very friendly dogs on the way and I sweat the life out of me but I got to Refugi de Son Moragues! Joy was temporary as from there I was going up and up and up yet again. Until I’ve reached the top of the world and the world decided to lift me up with unreal views.
Few more kilometres in, and few more cute goats admiring in, I’ve finally reached the part of the route called ‘downhill’. If you are a mountain runner, you are more than aware that downhill might be way more disgusting than uphill. It was exactly like that in this particular case. First few meters I was enjoying flying on open meadow until the path decided to turn me back, around and balance on lose rocks with cliff edge way too close to me. This lovely feature soon changed into never ending zig zag zag zig path down. I think it caused me a little brain injury. If you don’t focus on the tiny rocky pyramids used instead of signposts (how overrated!) you may get lost quickly.
In general there is one rule: if there is nice wide visible path in Serra de Tramuntana, you can be sure, that you are on the wrong path. Look for tiny rock pyramids. Sometimes they are there. Sometimes not. Go figure out.
Got my lovely legs all the way down to Deixa and got lost and found my way and was heading to Soller. Soller was promising as there are shops in there! Can of coke (race beverage only!), 1 litre of cold (!!!) water and one banana later, I was off again. Suffer fest was about to start. Barranc de Biniaraix should be a swear word. The path goes up forever (vertical k almost) and it looks all the same forever. Rocks. Rocks. Rocks. I was like a dream. That kind of dream when you are trying to get somewhere but you just can’t.
And I realised I’m somehow late with the day considering I wanted to finish in daylight. It should be 42k today, I’ll be fine! Some of the barranc was stunning, some was not. Same for the couple I disturbed in the worst possible moment. Get a room, woods are holy. Magically I reached the top of the mountain (only 900m but when you start from 0m it feels like Mont Blanc) and the view in front of me was too much. So was my empty stomach so I stopped for avocado sandwich which survived 32k so far. It was in better shape than me though. But the amazing view over the lake was covered in heavy clouds.
That’s fine, 5k run to the end of the lake and from there about 6k (and 500m climb up and similar down) 2 hours of daylight. Easy! After I reached end of the lake, it suddenly got colder and somehow I wasn’t really that sure of what to do. Checked my phone and there was message from Fran (local!) Perfect timing! He asked me where I am and that it would be at least 3 hours. Hm, what? Oh, not 6k then. 15? Found a signpost for hikers and it said 5:22h walking. I was standing there like an idiot for a while waiting for miracle. As usual there was no miracle. Considering the paths are wild and not always (almost never) maintained I checked the distance on google maps and decided to run on road instead. Same distance (15k) but much easier terrain.
With 37k in legs, let’s get smashed on some good old pavement. Well, could’ve hitchhiked. Or wave at the taxi which passed me three times. Decided not to. Because I’m stubborn. And bit stupid. And this whole running thing was so much more important to me that I would ever admit. Because I decided not to run through mountains, I needed to finish it anyway. Running. With 4k of the roady-road left, my Suunto died and just as I stopped to get the charger out… a signpost with Lluc 35min hiking appeared (the miracle I was waiting for)! Running watch on charger I flew downhill (to be fair it was slow) through the stony steps. And the church bells were ringing. And I was there. On my own finish line!
And I was there. Silly girl laughing out loud with tears in her eyes.
I still need to find the words (and I don’t think I ever will) to express fully what this little trip meant to me. What I achieved internally. What were all the emotions. How much it touched me. From the very core. How thankful I am. For everything. For the people that mean so much. Who were there with me, not in person but they were there.
And this is a face of a girl who just finished two days run across Serra de Tramuntana on Mallorca. 45k followed by 50k. Self supported carrying everything with her. After she had a laugh and cry. It might be the worst selfie ever but it is mine.
Always dream big, stay humble, stay stubborn, stay yourself.
And yes, in the end I washed my teeth with my expensive face cream.
Stage 2: Valldemossa to Lluc 50km 2,317m altitude gain
Day 4, Monday 13th of March
… was spent on browsing through the streets of Palma and aftermath.
And my stupid legs felt like running. Luckily there was plane to catch at 5pm. They would most probably change their mind after 2k anyway. Some scratches, feet bit swollen, but no harm, no pain, no blisters. As I write this the shoulders are still quite sore. And I’m still hungry. During runs I don’t really eat that much. Breakfast was usually black coffee and some bread with jam. During run I had baby food around 15k in and bread with avocado around 30k in. The second running day I was bit hungry so munched some cliff blocks. Saturday’s dinner were spaghetti with some sauce and Sunday’s some local accidentally vegan dish of veggies baked in tomato sauce. Yum. I started every day with 2 litres of water and bought another litre on the way as around 30k mark I was always close to run out of it. There is no water on the way. It is dry stone route after all. On Barranc de Binairaix there were some taps but not sure if drinkable so used them only to wash my face and hair all the time. Damn I love the short hair!
So many people asking me how could I run with backpack carrying everything? Well, get backpack, suitable for running and try to pack light. But don’t be naive. It will be heavy anyway. But if the heavy backpack is your only problem, you are lucky. Some people can’t comprehend that I went on solo trip. Not for the first time, right? No, it is not stupid or irresponsible. Going alone makes you more aware of all potential situations than anything else. You know that there won’t be anyone to safe your ass. So you don’t risk. I didn’t trip over even once within last two days. I’m always better safe than sorry. Hence I took the road instead crossing the mountain in the dark. Sure I had head torch and spare battery, sure I would be fine, but why adding additional stress, especially when crossing unknown territory. When you are alone, you know when to stop, when to eat, you know your abilities. And you can’t blame anyone. Safety in mountains? As safe as you are. If I could do this, everyone can. You don’t need to be superhuman. You just need the right mixture of courage, strong will, determination, passion and joy. Go and explore. You will find much more than just mountains. You will find yourself.
Review of my adventure backpack by Ian Corless: