“Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.”
Since I had just finished my longest ultra to date (my PhD), I felt the need to run away and wander where there are no PCs and the wifi is weak. I knew that my friend and Maverick teammate Adrien (alias ultra.chamois) would be up for a good running adventure and given his experience in point-to-point running trips, I felt more comfortable doing my first multi-day, point-to-point running adventure with him. Having been locked away in rooms and stuck behind PCs for the last few months, I wanted to go somewhere with good views, shorts weather in January and nice food 😉 I had previously heard about the Dry-Stone Route, also called GR221, on the Spanish island of Mallorca and decided this is where my running adventure should take place! So, Spanish sun here I come.
The GR221 (~140km depending on the route options) crosses the beautiful mountain range Serra de Tramuntana from Port d’Andratx in the south west of the island all the way to Pollenca in the north west. It takes runners or hikers to imposing peaks above the rocky coastline and down into valleys, following ancient cobbled paths lined with olive and citrus groves on terraces. With frequent and well-priced flights to and from Mallorca, quite well-maintained and signed sections (although less so in the South) and wonderful mountain hostels that serve food (!!!) and provide a good nights’ sleep, the Serra de Tramuntana makes a cheap, easy and varied running destination.
Arriving on Mallorca
Once we arrived at the airport of Palma de Mallorca, we got changed into our running gear and packed our running backpacks with the bare minimum (as I painfully had to realise). Obviously, running with a backpack (I ran with the Salomon Skin 12l hydration vest; Adrien ran with the Ultimate Direction Fastpack) meant only packing what is really necessary in order to minimize the weight you have to carry. Adrien was already accustomed to ‘Dirtbag Runner’ style and had a good laugh about my ideas of princess-style adventuring. He thus made me chuck out half of the stuff I wanted to take with me. I had to negotiate to at least be allowed TWO pairs of socks and TWO shirts, which for me was a no-brainer…I definitely wanted a fresh shirt and socks to change into after showering. I won! I leave it up to you and your olfaction to imagine Adrien’s approach…
We stored our clean, non-running clothes (and half of my running wardrobe I was no longer allowed to take) in a locker at the main bus station Plaza de Espana before heading to Pollenca where the GR221 starts or finishes depending on the direction of travel. The bus journey took around an hour, travelling through various charming villages. Once we arrived in Pollenca, we made our way to the Refugi Pont Roma and were served some delicious food for dinner. Even though I was expecting some problems given Adrien’s and mine dietary restrictions (he is vegan and I am vegetarian), I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the people working at the hostel immediately knew how to accommodate our ‘picky’ eating habits 😉 This made for a great start to the adventure with enough nourishing food in my belly to run long distances over the next 4 days.
Day 1: Pollenca to Refugio Tossal Verds – 34km with 1600m elevation
We got up bright and early for our first day of running along the GR221, starting with a nice breakfast at the refuge and buying some baguette in a local bakery for the road. Even though the temperatures were still fresh in the morning, once we got going, we warmed up quickly and due to the excitement level the miles just flew by. After a stop on one of the numerous peaks to devour the baguette we bought in the morning, we were treated to a rocky, but nice downhill section towards the Refugio Tossals Verde. The light during this time of the day was magical, colouring everything in a light gold; I guess that’s why it is called the golden hour. However, since we did not spend much time on planning our running adventure, let alone checking whether the mountain hostels are actually open in January, I was getting slightly worried that the refuge might actually be closed or not serve any food – I can’t imagine not having food after a long run (oh, I love food!). Well, luckily luck does sometimes visit a fool 😉 On the way down to the refuge, which was located in the middle of the mountains with nothing else than mountains around it, we could see smoke coming out of the chimney – Phew, at least we’d have a roof over our heads and a bed to lie down on. The guy working in the refuge also quickly reassured us that he has food but that it would be rather basic. The food he served us was far from basic, at least for my taste buds. Tasty vegan spinach cannelloni, bread that we could toast over the open fireplace and loads of oranges and nectarines – oh so yummy. We stuffed our faces until we could not eat anything else and rolled into bed happy and content.
Day 2: Refugio Tossals Verds to Deia – 33km with 1300m elevation
Waking up in the mountains with nothing else than absolute tranquillity surrounding you is one of these special moments in life that simply make you feel calm and content. If you’re then served a good breakfast, the start into the day is just PERFECT. Leaving this enchanting place behind, we first had to tackle a downhill section on yet cold muscles but soon after started climbing up a mountain again. The trail zig-zagged up the rugged mountain side with great views from the top over the entire mountain range. The next downhill section would have been soo much fun had I not have had ITB issues…this made for a rather interesting (or painful) way downhill with lots of weird noises coming out of my mouth. It brought great amusement to Adrien while I was happy once we were down. It was a bit of a shame as I love a good downhill…The trail then looped around a turquois lake. While the miles flew by on day one, today we both felt tired so it was a nice distraction to pass through the beautiful valley and town of Soller. Orchards of citrus trees laden with fruits invited us to ‘steal’ some of their juicy fruits – they simply looked and tasted incredible! In Soller, we further bought some much needed food and sat down in the sun to stuff our faces with an avocado-tomato baguette and some chocolate. Food simply tastes amazing when you are out and running! After this refuelling pit stop, we made our way to the magnificent village of Deia where we stayed in the mountain refuge of Can Boi. Deja-vu moment – the lady from the first mountain hostel suddenly greeted us again and she even remembered our dietary preferences by cooking yet another fabulous dinner. Winner, winner, veggie dinner 😉
Day 3: Deia to Banyalbufar – 35km with 1900m elevation
On the morning of the third day, it was windy down in the valley but we were blissfully unaware of what was waiting for us higher up…As we were tackling a steep climb up the mountain, the higher we got, the stronger the wind blew. Once we got to the top, the wind was so strong it literately blew us off the trails. Fighting against the wind, trying not to be blown of the mountain top while running over rocky terrain was far from easy. Even though the trail ran along a beautiful ridge with awesome views, due to the windy and rocky conditions, I had to keep my eyes peeled on the ground. A gust of wind nearly pushed me of my feet and the trail (I had a big smile on my face nevertheless)…but Adrien grabbed me by my backpack and prevented the worst. He was getting more and more worried about the unsafe conditions and pictured himself calling mountain rescue (probably because he knows of my potential for clumsy running behaviour;-) Well, he wasn’t wrong!
Suddenly, I felt my foot getting stuck on a rock and my body froze in anticipation of smashing onto rocks…Within a second, I was on the ground. But, to my surprise, no pain kicked in (huh). I opened my eyes to see that a very kind bush came to the rescue 🙂 I landed on the only bush in site; don’t ask me how I managed to do that! I straight away signalled Adrien that I was fine by laughing out loud and giving him TWO thumbs up. I guess, I am one lucky runner! After this shock to the system, I obviously calmed my nerves with some more food in Valdemossa 😉 This is yet another beautiful village worth a visit. Although, the initial plan had been to stay overnight in Esporles, we decided to push on to Banyalbufar. This appeared to have been a mistake as everything in the town was closed apart from a small shop selling some food and a restaurant. Luckily, after going around town for nearly 2 hours, we found an accommodation with a cold shower (brrrr). You can’t have it all 😉
Day 4: Banyalbufar to Peguera – 33km with 1000m elevation
The last day of this running adventure came around so quickly and ticked off the getting-lost box of adventuring. While the route should have taken us to Port d’Andratx along the coast, the GR221 markers somehow took us to Peguera instead. By the time we noticed, it was too late to turn around really but this route meant some more beautiful and fun downhill sections (which I could finally run for the first time during this trip as my ITB was settling down). The trail zig-zagged down through a lush canyon-like environment with wild mountain goats and mules (or donkeys – the biologist in me got confused here). Then, we ran along farmland with fields of almond trees which were in blossom – the abundance of the blossom had a powerful and magnificent beauty. In one of the villages we passed through, I managed to convince Adrien to make a cheeky stop for ice cream and coke; obviously only I had almond ice cream (yummy) and coke (yay, sugar) as a sugar junkie. The last stretch to Peguera was rather unspectacular and flat. However, the final icing on the cake was dipping our battered feet into the Mediterranean Sea and walking along the beach barefoot while recapitulating the GR221 running adventure. I can highly recommend running the GR221 as long as you are prepared for some technical, rocky trails with breath-taking sceneries.