An idiot with a spanner

Take Two – Matching bottom yokes?

Take Two – Matching bottom yokes?

For those of you abreast of the ongoing saga that is my attempted rebuild of my fated DR350 you will be more than aware of my ignorance and general stupidity when faced with a spanner and a tub of grease. My latest faux pas of fitting a ‘wrong’ headstock to my lumbering mass of useless metal has proved to be a valid lesson in observation.

It had taken some time, a lot of effort, a smidge of despair and not to mention a disproportionate amount of profanities to force, mangle and beat the mystery headstock onto the front end – only to find that the DR’s forks wouldn’t fit through the holes. Obvious when you consider that I’d probably only managed to buy a second hand headstock from an old Honda Cub before mercilessly bashing it into submission.

Take Two:

I’m taking the time to sit my new replacement bottom yoke up against the old one. Do they look the same? Yes they do. Do the forks fit through? Why, yes, indeed they do. Feel a bit more confident that I might actually be able to fit these to the DR350 with relative ease? Let’s hope so!

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TPE2012: The Movie

From the depths of the Surrey Hills to the High Pyrenees – what to do with your bike when you’re not busy commuting on it!

Special mention in despatches to Steve who’s spent an inordinate amount of time wrestling with the intracies of what is his first video edit. I think you’ll agree it’s a bit of a winner. Good job Steve-O!

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There and back again

Up early, ready for the long ride back to the Atlantic Coast, we were once again slightly thickheaded from the excesses of the night before. However, the morning cobwebs were quickly banished by some strong coffee and the knowledge that we had a long way to go.

We were quickly packed and ready to go and pulled out of the campsite before there were very many other people up and about. I’d had an extremely circuitous route back to the coast near Bilbao planned for us taking in several national parks and some wicked looking twisties but, the evening before in the bar, I’d chopped a big loop out and cut the route by a hundred miles and 3 hours or more – it would turn out to have been a wise move!

After a quick stop at the local petrol station to brim our tanks for the long day ahead we headed back towards Tudela and, for the first time in the trip, actively sought out a major road. We had some distance to cover before we hit the good stuff again and, having struck out from camp with just a coffee, there was also a good chance we’d find some breakfast along this main route.

Sure enough, after 3/4 of an hour or so of uninspiring and fairly miserable riding, looking at the backs of an endless succession of trucks, we spied a roadside cafe and pulled off into the car park. There were a couple of squad cars parked up outside and cops at the bar tucking into their breakfast – local law enforcement patronising an establishment is always a sign that the food’s good! We commandeered a small table outside, knocked back more strong coffees, wolfed down bocadillos of chorizo tortilla and watched the trucks thundering by for a few minutes.

After another hour or so on the main road we finally turned off and followed the TomTom which led us through increasingly tiny villages with matching tiny roads. Some villages were simply too hilarious not to stop for a quick picture!

iGay

As lunchtime loomed we passed through another tiny village and spied a roadside bar/restaurant. They were offering a 10€ 3 course lunch which proved to be a fantastic deal and, along with some refreshing drinks just the ticket to fuel us up for the afternoon ahead.

Bike Park

Team Lunch

Our passing through this tiny village was no accident however. I had spied another little village a few miles further up the road towards Bilbao that bore my surname and, as it was genuinely pretty much along the route I wanted to take anyway it seemed rude not to pass through and take the opportunity for a photo next to the sign!

Barron

We ploughed on through the afternoon heat, the route twisting us around fields and forests, hills and villages – a massive variety of terrain. A quick glance in my mirror revealed the normal little “train” of bikes following along behind had disappeared and I pulled over to the side of the road to wait for them to catch up. Nobody came.

A few minutes later Steve appeared and said Simon had a problem and had stopped a little distance back so we turned around and returned to where he and Dave were stopped at the roadside.

Si Breakdown

Simon’s chain had come off. However, not only had it come off, but it had doubled back on itself and jammed hard up around the front sprocket and didn’t look like it was going anywhere. After half an hour or so of poking, sweating, swearing, head scratching and a liberal application of brute force Dave finally managed to prise the jammed links free and, with some adjustment of the rear wheel, the chain was reattached.

Chain gang

Luckily it hadn’t snapped, it had just jumped off the sprocket – Simon would later admit that not only had he never adjusted the chain in the 3 or 4 months he’d owned the bike, but that he didn’t have the tools or the knowledge to do so. Poor prep dude, poor prep! Yes we all share tools and knowledge on trips like these, it’s a team effort after all, but at the very minimum you need to carry the tools and the know-how to at least carry out the most basic running maintenance on your own bike. Fortunately between us we did have the right size spanners to adjust Si’s rear wheel, but if we hadn’t then he’d have been in a spot of bother for sure.

We pushed onwards towards the coast, glad now that the ferry wasn’t until the morning and that we had a buffer of time for these little incidents – particularly as our last campsite was one that I wasn’t 100% sure even existed! I had seen it mentioned online, I think there was a “pin” also on Google maps, but I couldn’t find any firm details beyond that. It was however the nearest one I could find to the ferry port meaning we’d only have a short ride in the morning. If it was there of course!

A couple of hours later we were a stonesthrow from the coast, although the terrain was still really mountainous with lush fields and forests, very reminiscent of Switzerland, when the Gremlins struck again. Dave dropped back and a few toots of his horn brought the group to a standstill at the roadside next to some gates belonging to a very nice looking house.

RegWreck

His electrical problem, the one the Yamaha dealer back towards Pamplona had said they couldn’t find any trace of, had resurfaced. Strangely we were an almost identical distance away from where we needed to be as when Dave had broken down on the very first evening of the trip en-route to Camp 1. Suddenly 18 miles seemed like a very long way again. This time however there was at least a better plan to get us to where we needed to be.

Steve and Dave set about stripping the luggage and seats off their bikes. Dave’s problem, a flaky Regulator/Rectifier (the little electronic box responsible distributing electricity around the bike and ultimately charging the battery) was the problem. If it stops working then the battery stops charging and, once the bikes systems (electronic ignition, ECU, fuel injection, fuel pump, lights, etc etc) have drained the battery then the bike will run incredibly rough and eventually stop.

Quick Fix when you have two identical bikes on the trip: Swap the Batteries! Steve’s fully charged “Donor” Battery should have plenty of charge to see Dave to the coast and most likely on to the ferry in the morning. Meanwhile, Steve’s bike with it’s fully functioning Reg/Rec would charge up Dave’s flat battery which could be swapped back in later. Everyone’s a winner. No scary towing required!

The swap was quickly accomplished and we were, once again, on our way. Now the nerves started jangling a bit. Would the battery hold up for the remainder of the distance. Sure it was less than 20 miles… but only if the campsite was actually there! We carried on, the terrain surprising us all in that despite being so near to the coast the mountains just kept on coming and coming. There were twisty forest roads leading us up and up when we felt sure we should be heading down towards sea level. Any other day and we would have revelled in the interesting riding, but now we all just wanted to get to camp without further incident.

A few minutes from the coast at La Arena and our little mountain road emptied us out below a motorway flyover and into a weird landscape of apartment blocks and huge fuel stores all wedged into a small valley. Our road snaked around the fuel stores, under the motorway high above us and out onto a long straight road towards where I knew from the TransEnduro satellite there was a nice looking beach. However, despite being late afternoon/early evening on a Monday, the road was crammed with parked cars, jammed in at all angles to every tiny space they could fit and, the nearer we got to the beach the more crazy the parking situation got. It must have been a Bank Holiday Monday or whatever the Spanish equivalent is.

La Arena

This wasn’t the quiet spot I was hoping for and, judging by the look of the place, it was seeming increasingly unlikely that my little campsite would be where it was supposed to be. A few hundred yards of pedestrian dodging along the crowded beachfront later confirmed my fears. No campsite. Just another very overcrowded carpark where I had expected to see tents. Shitbags! Now we had a little problem. Not a massive problem as I did have a “Plan B” campsite lined up for just such an eventuality, but more that it meant we had to nurse Dave’s bike a little bit further, and in the wrong direction for getting back to the ferry in the morning. A quick reassignment of the TomTom showed we had another 16 miles to do, so off we went.

The whole trip had been planned to avoid motorways, however now our situation dictated we needed to get to Camp as quickly as possible before Dave’s bike flaked out again so I took the decision to hop on the motorway. Easier said than done though in the maze of sliproads and roundabout that followed with the signs saying one thing and TomTom telling me another. We racked up a good 5 or 6 miles of wrong turns and doubling back before we found ourselves heading in the right direction for Camping Castro.

It was another nerve jangling ride, not least because there was very heavy traffic on the motorway and at one point it completely ground to a halt so we found ourselves filtering through the stationary traffic. Our junction eventually loomed ahead and we turned off and became immediately lost in the small town we entered. A few more wrong turns later and I spied the sign for the campsite and followed the road, through a tunnel and up a hillside until we saw the camp ahead. Made it!

Well, sort of. It took a good 3/4 of an hour after we arrived before we were able to be “processed” and assigned a tiny pitch, perched at the very top of the steeply terraced site. However, there was a great view out to sea towards the ferry port from up there and we made good use of the bar while we waited!

Final Camp

After pitching the tents for the last time on the trip and swapping the batteries back over on the Yammies Dave decided that the nerve wracking trip back to the boat in morning may be a bridge too far for the ailing Tenéré and, literally, made the call to arrange a recovery truck to take him to the ferry. It was the right thing to do really, we couldn’t afford another breakdown en-route there in the morning and jeapordise one or all of us missing the boat.

That arranged, we hit the bar for the last time, watched the sun set and sunk a few well earned beers along with the most awesome of campsite burgers we had yet come across! Despite the huge and tasty burgers, the site itself was tired and in need of a few €€€€’s spending updating the facilities – it was however the cheapest site we stayed on throughout the whole trip and one of the nearest to the port so we’d probably use it again if need be.

Camping-Castro-Panorama

It wasn’t the ideal way to end a trip, or to start a trip for that matter, but Dave seemed to have genuinely enjoyed the bits of “proper riding” that we’d done together. My greatest fear was that after all the fanfare and all the build-up that his electrical misfortunes might have put him off touring, or adventure bikes in general. But thankfully that’s not the case and he’s at the head of the queue for next years big trip! The Tenéré has been sold on to make way for a very clean and shiny Triumph Tiger XC800, which looks like just the job for trailblazing and Col Bagging!

In the morning Dave was duly recovered to the port, waited until the recovery guy had left then fired up the Tenéré and rode on to the ferry alongside us. There were a fair few bikes loading up, but our gnarly, muddy and dusty looking steeds drew the most stares. Every patch of dirt, splash of mud, scrape and scratch we had collected along the way had been hard earned on the trails and the bikes wore them like medals. It’s times like these on trips like these that you really bond with a bike. Roll on 2013, roll on the next big trip :)

GS back home

Posted from Santurtzi, Basque Country, Spain.

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As if the roads weren’t unsafe enough…

… the Government plans to introduce in January 2013 so called “Moped Cars” – for 16 year olds!

Light Quadricycles – no, not something out of another Tron sequel, but a £10,000 vehicle that Whitehall has deemed safe to be driven on public roads by 16 year olds who only hold a moped licence. “Moped Licence”, I have to assume, means a CBT which to paraphrase an old schoolteacher of mine back in Scotland are “given away with jeely jars” ie, not worth the paper they’re written on. I would say the CBT is impossible to fail (in fact I have said that in the past), however I know someone closely related with this site who did just that! Yes really! I know! Right Steve? :)

Certain Doom

Would you trust this giant boy behind the wheel?!

I might also put myself “out there”, tarring an entire section of society with a wide brush in the process, and suggest that any 16 year old able to afford a £10,000 Light Quadricycle is unlikely to be the most grounded and responsible of individuals!

“It was actually quite easy to pick up, even for someone who’d never driven a car before.” Said the gangly Jack Hogan, and therein lies the problem. Everything’s easy and nothing’s in the slightest bit dangerous when you’re 16 (or 17 for that matter but for God’s sake let’s not encourage them!) and certainly nothing is every going to happen to you in the cocoon of your safety cell if you should have a little prang. Not everyone is going to come off quite so well though hey.

As a motorcyclist and car driver of over 20 years the roads are most definitely a much more dangerous place now than when I started driving/riding. Sure the cars themselves are safer for the drivers and passengers inside, but it still hurts just as much when one hits you. Safer for the drivers, who are lulled into a false sense of security. Jeremy Clarkson’s idea of replacing the centre nut of the steering wheel with a 6″ spike holds a lot of ground with me! That’s the problem with many of the vehicles that almost collide with me on a daily basis, the nut that connects the steering wheel to the drivers seat.

The daily commute is already a minefield of distracted, cocooned drivers with poor observation, poor signalling (since when was MSM, mirror signal manouevre phased out and replaced with MMS, manouevre maybe signal) and general lack of consideration… and don’t even get me going on the cyclists who flagrantly disregard every roadsign and traffic signal yet who are the first ones to point the finger, or raise the finger, when you almost knock them off their unlit bicycles because they’ve run a red light or hopped off the pavement in front of you. So we really need to introduce a whole new batch of newly-unqualified drivers in to the mix?

I still maintain that all new motorists should be made to ride a scooter/motorcycle for at least one year in order for them to gain an appreciation for other road users, how the road system actually works and just how vulnerable everyone who uses the roads really are. Driving instructors don’t teach you to drive, they teach you how to pass the test. Simple as that. The day you pass and get your licence is the day you really start learning and by then it’s a little late.

I genuinely despair. Going to need to reload the cannons and beef up the armour on the GS for this one I think!

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Into the Bad Lands – The Bárdenas Reales

Bleary eyed and thick headed we emerged from our tents to a fast-moving cloudy sky and a strong wind whipping up the dusty ground of the campsite. The night before had, as usual, been a bigger night in the bar than we’d anticipated and it took us all a little while and more than a little coffee to get going.

The previous evenings campsite Tapas had been fantastic, although the one particular dish described by the waiter in heavy Spanglish along with the help of a little mime as being “intestino” may have been a step too far for me! The TV in the bar was showing a bullfight and it seemed to go on forever – not my cup of tea at all but, if nothing else, the Matador was an extremely amusing caricature of himself. Tall, pencil thin, leathery sun-darkened skin, a slick of jet black dyed hair not entirely hiding his advancing years and topped off with an eye patch no doubt earned in some prior “fight to the death” with another doomed Toro, he cut quite the cartoon-like dash in the arena. We all however had lost interest and turned away long before the final death blow was dealt.

Filing out of the campsite, 4 of us now, line astern we rode to the next village and fuelled up for the day ahead. It felt good to have the group back together – we’d been like the A-Team without Face for a week! Following that theme to its natural conclusion, I’d have to bag Hannibal for myself as I really do love it when a plan comes together – especially one involving a complex map. Steve would be a good fit for B.A. I reckon, which only leaves us with Howling Mad Murdoch and Simon which, if you’ll forgive me, is simply a match made in heaven and too good to ignore!

Dave had picked up a tourist map which showed roughly where we could enter the Bárdenas Reales National Park – there were specific routes marked on it as being suitable for motorcycles and 4×4′s. I think in previous years you had been able to venture pretty much wherever you wanted but due to the fragility of the environment and increasing numbers of visitors you now had to stick to marked routes.

The TomTom took us to near where the turn into the Park appeared to be on the paper map but, as we’d found the previous day, the road number on the map, the road number on the TomTom and the actual road number on the road signs were all different. Confusing! However, sure that we were actually in the vicinity of the right place and on the right road we carried on and, a few hundred metres up the road, the turning appeared and the trail stretched out before us.

The surface was rocky, dusty and, most noticeably of all for the three of us who’d spent the last week in the high Pyrenees, it was flat! The trails were good and wide and the visibility was such that we were encouraged to test the bikes throttles a little…if you know what I’m saying! It would only be several hours later (and several hours of living out our Dakar dreams) that it would come to our attention that there was in fact a 40km per hour speed limit…whoops!

The scenery was strange and fantastic. Aeons of wind and water erosion had carved out some impressive formations from the arid soil, leaving a scene more reminiscent of Arizona than Aragon. As with much of our trip, it seemed that within half an hour of a busy town you really could be properly in what at least felt and looked like the middle of nowhere.

Even stopping for lots and lots of pictures, we quickly covered the 20 or 30 miles making up two out of the three 4×4 loops that we were following. It was a fun ride but, I think after the stunning high mountain trails we’d spent the last week riding, it didn’t quite measure up and certainly there was nothing that presented a challenge. A quick stop at the visitor centre pointed us in the direction of what is probably the most famous landmark in the Bárdenas, Castil de Tierra, and a chance to get close up to some of the local wildlife.

In the centre of the park is a huge NATO bombing range, all fenced off and out of bounds of course, but the satellite view shows what looks to be the fuselages of bombed out aircraft evidently used for target practice!

At one point, Dave and I were stopped by the side of the trail taking some pictures when a small dust-devil or whirlwind blew up. It was only a tiny one, but even so it rocked us and the bikes with real force so you could imagine the immense power of the big ones!

We pulled out of the park and back into the small town of Carcastillo in search of food and fuel. The former we found, in the shape of huge Boccadillo’s of Chorizo Fritata at the Nuevo Siglo Cerveceria Internacional (or New Century Pub) – the fuel however proved more elusive.

There was a fuel station in town but it was all closed up, leaving the “automatic pumps” our only option. Awkward at the best of times for motorcycles (as you have to choose and pay at the pump with a credit card for a preset amount in litres before the pump will…well…pump!) these particular ones proved impossible as they wouldn’t accept a selection of various credit cards we offered up.

En-route to where the TomTom told me there was another fuel station we entered a small town, hit some roadworks with a diversion in place and became immediately lost in the grid-like maze of deserted back streets. Separated and reunited several times we eventually found ourselves outside a small house with what seemed to be the majority of the family spilling out into the street. Dave made contact with the natives and, after a few abortive attempts to follow the instructions we were being given, one of the women jumped in her car and gave the international sign for “follow me”!

We blazed through the town and a few minutes later turned into the forecourt of yet another deserted garage. Our guide turned and, with a wave, sped off in a cloud of dust leaving us faced with another bank of Automatic Pumps. These however were more accommodating to our curious foreign bank cards and we all managed to top up the tanks. We decided then we’d have a go at finding the waterfalls Dave had been told of and which were marked on our maps and so headed off on what turned out to be something of a wild goose chase.Paddy Field

Well, actually it was more of a wild Stork chase. As we rode up the network of dirt trails which criss-crossed acres upon acres of paddy fields we disturbed dozens of Storks that I guess would’ve been feeding on a smorgasbord of various frogs, bugs, worms and other assorted beasties which make the watery fields their home. As we passed the huge birds took flight and it was quite an impressive thing to behold. However, no amount of pounding up and down the trails led us to the fabled falls.

The closest we came was following what looked like a painted over road sign, up a turning off the main trail which eventually led us to a dusty, circuitous route around what turned out to be a small lagoon. It had evidently been something of a tourist hotspot in a previous life, however now the toilet block and what I guess would’ve been a shop or something were in total disrepair and the whole area was deserted except for a picniccing elderly couple who looked genuinely confused and miffed that we’d found their secret lakeside hideaway.

Deciding further investigation was a bit pointless, we were soon on our way back to camp for an early bath and a bit of bike-prep, luggage organisation and pre-packing ahead of what promised to be a long final run back to the coast and the Bilbao ferry in the morning. Well, after more beer and Tapas in the bar of course!

Posted from Tudela, Navarre, Spain.

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Pattern forming?

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The perfect Post-trip Blues Buster: Bike Bling

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Back to capacity

Keen to meet up with Dave again we were all up and about uncharacteristically early…well, uncharacteristically for me anyway being someone who’s not keen on mornings! We got some rocket fuel coffee down us to flush out the beer induced cobwebs of the night before and set about breaking camp.

It was still only about 8.30am and it was already really hot. We had the tents down and the bikes packed, loaded and ready to go in about half an hour – we’d reached that point of the trip where, after the first few days of struggling to force everything back into our bags and boxes, everything now had its place and the pack was quick and easy.

We fuelled up directly opposite the campsite at the station attached to the restaurant we’d been in the night before which was now buzzing with campers eager for their breakfast. We bought some water for the day and hit the road again.

It was going to be our shortest day of the trip, looking like it would take 4 hours to cover the 140 miles of winding roads which should see us North West of Tudela and right on the outskirts of the Bárdenas Reales National Park by around lunchtime.

The scenery was ever changing, sometimes the road snaking up and down hills, sometimes through lush forests and fields bursting with crops and sometimes straight as an arrow across barren plains where the only thing moving was us and the ranks of huge windmills on the tops of distant ridges towards the horizon.

Water break

We made good progress right until just North of Tudela when the TomTom started trying to direct me through what, rather surprisingly, were acres and acres of rice paddies next to the road we were on, trying to tell me that the road did not in fact exist. Despite having updated the GPS units maps shortly before the trip (for the first time in about 7 years!) this particular road was obviously newer than the map.

A small amount of head scratching and consultation of the good old fashioned paper map revealed that we were at least still heading in the right direction although the road we were on and the road shown on the map had different numbers – something we found quite common in the later part of the trip. Strange.

Anyway, we were very close to camp by this time so a little perseverance on the road that did not exist led us to the turn towards Villafranca and, fifteen minutes later straight into Camping Bárdenas where, tucking into a plate of lunchtime tapas outside the bar, sat Dave. :o )

We had a brief moment of what, for four hairy bikers, would pass for an emotional reunion before Dave led us around the site to where he was pitched and we quickly threw our tents up next to his and unloaded the bikes. We had 2 nights here – luxury as it meant we could ride the Bárdenas the following day sans luggage, and not only that but the team was back to 100% capacity. Sweet!

Dave had been out exploring again, “making up” with the troublesome Tenéré and had already spied out some trails nearby. He led us to the nearest small town where we had a quick lunch before heading out again to conquer the local trails. Along the way was a medieval hilltop village from which we were able to spy out a few more tracks. The landscape here was flat and arrid, with dusty trails snaking their way around fields – a far cry from the high mountain trails we’d been riding just a couple of days before.

Hill Billies

Separated at birthHigh viewBack at camp we caught up on what, somehow, had ended up being a week apart. We all felt really bad Dave had missed the “big days”, the days of jaw-dropping scenery and unbelievable trails that the three of us had enjoyed, but these things happen. As long as it hasn’t put him off coming on another trip then that’s all cool.

We commandeered a table in the corner of the bar chosen more for its proximity to a plug socket than for any kind of view! Surrepticiously I plugged in the 4 way extension bar that, in a moment of genius (if I do say so) I’d thrown into my panniers, allowing all of us to charge our phones and cameras as we knocked more than a few beers back and demolished plate after plate of tapas.

Posted from Villafranca, Navarre, Spain.

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Turning Point

After helping Si to reattach his bent and beaten panniers and frames we’d showered and taken what turned out to be quite a long walk in to Andorra La Vella with 2 missions – get food and beers and get Steve some extra Micro SD cards for his Contour Roam helmetcam as he’d already filled up all the ones he’d brought with him.

Andorra’s a great place if you’re a biker, a skier or if you like electronic goods as it seems every street of every town is lined with shops such as these, one after another up and down both sides of the street. Our only issue this particular evening was that they were all closed, so after dinner and a few beers we returned to camp and, for me at least, instant sleep.

I awoke about 8.45am to the sound of Steves Tenéré firing up and pulling out as he went off in search of his memory cards. Simon and I had a leisurely coffee and eventually breakfast as we waited for Steve to return. And waited, and waited. At the risk of Type-casting Steve my first reaction was that he must’ve got himself lost… and I wasn’t wrong!

Steve eventually returned about just over an hour later (we could’ve walked to the camera shop we’d scoped out the night before and back to camp again in about half an hour) by which time Si and I had our tents down and bikes mostly packed. I went and settled up for the camping while Steve packed and before long we were on the road again, heading South out of Andorra La Vella and back into Spain before turning to the west. This was the turning point of the trip, we were at our furthest point and from here on we were heading for home.

It’s always sad when the realisation that the trip is running out hits you, but we were bouoyed by the fact that we’d soon be reunited with Dave and that we had our day of trails and spectacular scenery in the Bárdenas Reales to look forward to. We had a lot of miles to cover today, and I’d also worked in the possibility of some trails if we could find them en-route and if we were making good enough progress.

It was a case of heads down and do the miles. As it turned out, there were some really enjoyable rollercoaster stretches of tarmac as we snaked our way across country towards our next overnight stop at Alquezar. Entirely different riding to what we’d experienced for the last few days, but then that’s what makes the Pyrenees such a special place.

It was a long old day, we didn’t find (or even look for for that matter) any of the possible trails except for a slight wrong turning just half an hour out of camp which saw us skirting around a reservoir on some quite nice gravel tracks before embarrassingly ending up turning up somebody’s driveway! Whoops!

Road to Alquezar

We arrived at a very dusty Camping Alquezar, not by the circuitous route, ripe with the promise of mountains, forest trails and gorges that I’d planned, but by a rather ordinary and somewhat “main” road. We queued for a few minutes while the unsmiling attendant processed a couple ahead of us before we were duly assigned the smallest pitch they could possibly cram the three of us onto (at no discount I may add), right next to a French couple who I’m sure were delighted to have 3 hairy bikers pull up next to their previously quiet spot! Seemed odd as the site must have been at around 25% capacity if that and everywhere else we’d been had simply said “pitch anywhere”. Ho Hum.

Stack em HIgh

Food and beverages were taken directly over the road at a small bar/restaurant complex complete with its own petrol station! There was one extremely overworked waiter sprinting between the tables of what became quite a busy spot by the end of the evening. We ate Tapas eventually after a complicated seating/menu arrangement saw us having to move tables before we could order. We duly shifted and were then presented with an entirely different menu which threw everyone into minor confusion!

We’d tried to gee Dave up to head over and meet us at Alquezar but, still with the niggling electrical gremlins of the Tenéré on his mind, he had instead opted for a short hop from Camp 1 directly to our next camp just outside the Bárdenas Reales National Park. We heard from him whilst at the bar and he’d made it there without any problems – in fact he sounded mildly embarrassed about the length of time it took him to get there. Fooled by the large scale of his map Dave had expected a trip of several hours but instead arrived at the campsite in well under an hour!

However, this gave him loads of time to get set up and time to head out and explore the local area in the afternoon. The campsite was busy (it was the weekend after all) and he ended up pitching next to a couple of GB camper vans, and the occupants of one “adopted him” as the lonely traveller that he was and invited him to have dinner and drinks with them.

Tomorrow, the team would be back together.

Ambar Nectar

;

Posted from Alquézar, Aragón, Spain.

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Epic Trail Day

For me this was the big one. I’d scoped out one of the longest trails we’d tackle on the whole trip from the TransEnduro Satellite (or Google maps as they like to call it!) before we left and it looked to be a corker. Hooking this one up and making all the right turns, that is to say the correct turns as opposed to just turning right, would provide us with the perfect liaison in to the Back Way to Andorra that we knew from Pyree Pyree 2010 and make it a day to remember. Getting it wrong would mess the day up in a big way.

We were up and about fairly early, by our standards anyway. We’d enjoyed a lovely evening in the ski village of Espot and great meal at La Llupia. Simon and I had opted for the reasonably safe option of a local sausage whilst Steve had thrown caution to the wind and plumped for the Pigs Trotters. These were however no Caen Kako. Far from the meat-fest of the Normandy Pork Knuckle (a favourite at the Café Bois Charbon from previous trips ending in Caen) slow broiled in local cidre for 5 hours, I can only compare the trotters to the porcine equivalent of chicken wings. Maximum effort and minimum results – and Steve’s a man who likes his meat! However, he was happy with his choice, as much for taking the culinary “road less travelled” as for the few scraps of fatty pork he managed to scrape from the bony offering. He even managed to polish off Simon’s sausage…so to speak!

Trotters

I awoke to a raging back-ache. In spite of the promised comfort I thought the thick green grass of the campsite would afford me, I seemed to have pitched on the very crest of a mini hill, meaning that both my head and my feet were pointing downhill in opposite directions! I remember falling asleep with a slight feeling of being stretched, but woke to a feeling of having been bent over a barrel…backwards!

However, a medicinal coffee and croissant, a couple of Vitamin N(urofen) and the promise of what I hoped would, for me at least, be the defining day of the trip soon banished the pain and, after settling up with the friendliest campsite owner we’ve ever had the pleasure to deal with, we were once again on our way.

I’d chosen the campsite from several others in Espot as it sat at the foot of the road we needed to be on and it worked out perfectly. Turning out of the site we were straight in to a set of pristine tarmac twisties, climbing the mountain towards the ski area of Super-Espot. It was a short run up the hill of no more than 3 or 4 minutes before we hit the car parks beyond which lay the start of the trail.

Snaking its way through the dense pine forest the trail was good and wide and we made quick progress up the the first of the lift stations. Above us on the slopes of the mountain we could see where the ski runs would be come the winter. At this point the trail split and, taking the uphill fork to the left, we quickly found ourselves cruising up what could only be a blue run complete with snow cannons!

Super Espot

The trail switched back and forth, clinging to the mountainside as it carried us higher and higher and eventually to the summit. I’d studied this point from every angle on Google Earth to make sure that the trail we took would actually lead us somewhere and I knew the view would be something special but, even prepared as I was, the epic vista was simply breathtaking. Directly ahead a narrow and dusty looking trail snaked off towards the horizon whilst to our right another trail, our trail, traversed the entire mountain range winding its way into the far distance. Apart from these two trails there was nothing man made as far as the eye could see. This was it!

TransEnduro Satellite View

Tucked away around the next corner was a little 2 storey mountain refuge. Far from the immaculate and welcoming refuge above Longas, this one was in poor order, had a stinky cow shed downstairs, a grubby graffiti-ridden main room and a small sleeping room with manky looking bunk beds upstairs. I’d have to be in all sorts of bother to want to spend the night there in spite of the jaw-dropping scenery outside.

Epic Espot

Moving on, the trail sliced into the mountainside was in good condition and we made rapid progress along the traverse. Every time we rounded a corner we were met with more and more stunning views. Approaching one bend, a huge vulture or eagle swooped around the corner towards us, hugging the mountainside until we passed almost eyeball to eyeball!

After a bit of map consultation, we eventually took a left fork in the trail which immediately started to descend the mountain in a series of rocky rutted and gnarly switchbacks. We stopped to take on water and take some pics at a little shepherds hut on the mountainside before carrying on our way downhill.

Shephers Hut

DownhillI’d pulled away from Steve and Simon a little and they had dropped out of view behind me when the call button on the radio went. As I stopped, turned off the GS and answered the call I could hear no engine noise behind me, a good indicator something wasn’t quite right. “Hold up” said Steve over the radio, “we’ve got a man down here, Simon’s off.”

I immediately parked up the GS, easier said than done on a steep, narrow and rocky downwards slope and started walking back up the trail. With every few metres we had descended the temperature had risen and risen. From the refreshing cool of the high mountains earlier it was now absolutely baking. It took me a good few breathless and sweaty minutes to reach Simon and Steve by which time, at first glance at least, everything looked fairly normal.

Descending the slope, I had strayed slightly too close to the left side of the trail and my pannier had just ever so slightly grazed a large rock poking out from the steep bank as I passed – almost repeating my expensive faux pas from the Surrey Shakedown Run. It appeared Simon hadn’t been quite so lucky though. Taking the same downhill line as me, the previously immaculate left hand 41litre Touratech pannier on his BMW F650 had properly connected with the lurking rock.

Normally a pannier taking a whack like that would dislodge itself from the pannier rack, however as the mountings were a little “shaky” to say the least and after a pannier dropping off earlier in the trip Simon had strapped both boxes on to make sure they stayed in place over the rough ground of the trails. This resulted in the bike being knocked violently off course, gravity taking over and coming down hard, flat on the other side and making a bit of a mess of both panniers in one fell swoop. Not to mention spitting Simon off, perilously close to the large drop at the edge of the trail!

Whoops!

ScrapeNow, we were in the middle of nowhere, so it was all hands to the pump to get the bike upright again, get the boxes reattached, plonk Simon back on top and carry on down the mountain and back to civilisation where we could take a breather, re assess the situation and deal with it as necessary. Half an hour later the trail emptied us out in the tiniest of mountain villages and, after a further 20 minutes or so of twisting tarmac we arrived at the main road through Rialp.

We found a bar and got some much needed fluids down us – it had taken a good 3 hours or more to make the “up and over” from Espot so we were all ready for a break. However, we still had a long afternoon ahead of us with the start of the trail leading us back up into the mountains and over the border into Andorra just a few miles up the road. After cleaning out the entire stock of small sandwiches (three) the bar had to offer and a quick status check on Simons strapped on panniers we were back on our way.

Turning off the main road it was familiar going, wending our way back up into the mountains through the increasingly tiny villages of Tirvia, Ferrara and Burg until the turn onto the trail to Andorra opened up before us. It seemed easier going than before, a little less rough than I remember from 2010 and we made good progress, scooting up to the cross roads of trails on the false summit – the start of our problems on this route the last time. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20 and this was one fork in the road that neither Steve or I would forget. The broken sign was still there…and still broken! I wonder how many other unfortunate explorers had mistakenly gone right instead of left and ended up in the “Meadow of Death”!

Crossroad Signposts

A quick hydration break and a spot of pannier strap adjustment later we were off. From this point the trail traverses the mountain at a fairly constant altitude making for a good flat run interrupted only by a few groups of wild ponies blocking the track.

Horses for Courses

After a sharp left turn the track began to drop down into another valley. Two thirds of the way down I began to hear the rumble of an engine closing up behind me…blimey, Simon’s getting a bit too close again I thought! Snatching a quick glance over my shoulder I caught a glimpse of a red and white jacket and for a second thought it was Steve who had closed right up behind me before the rider shot past atop an old Yamaha XT600. He was really giving it some beans, the back wheel bouncing from side to side and rock to rock, clearly having lots of fun on a lightweight bike un-emcumbered by 2 weeks worth of luggage as we were!

Moments later 3 KTM’s shot past in rapid succession and disappeared through the trees in dusty orange blur. The trail began to flatten out as we reached the bottom the valley, I knew what this meant…River Crossing!

In 2010 Steve and I had ridden the route “blind”, that is to say without any prior knowledge of how tough the going would be, so you cross any bridge as and when you come to it. Well, if there’s no bridge to cross you have to go through the water. First time around I had dutifully stopped, got off and walked through the knee-deep water checking the depth and scoping out the best path across the rocky riverbed. It’s not particularly wide, but ploughing through running water on a bike is always great fun!

This time around however the last of the 4 dirtbikes that had overtaken us was just going across and the guy from the XT was standing just down stream below a small waterfall taking pictures of his party making the crossing. This was no time to get off and walk the course so I opened the throttle and ploughed my way through…much to everyone’s surprise! Crossing

Simon and Steve arrived and followed me across and we had a good chat with the other riders. 2 guys and 2 girls from Holland, they’d driven down with the bikes in the back of a van and were staying at a friends hotel in nearby Andorra. The leader, the guy on the XT said he’d ridden the trail a couple of years before on his BMW GS 1150 too so understood my challenge! Very heavy we agreed, but lots of torque…the torque will save you! Very true, very true. We said our goodbyes and they set off ahead of us to work their way back up the mountain and over in to Andorra and we followed shortly behind. Well, not before we all rode through the river a few more times for the camera!

Steve Bow WaveSiSplash

RobSplashIt wasn’t long before we came upon the “abandoned village” – a group of around half a dozen or so stone buildings high in the mountains, really in the middle of nowhere, that appear to be largely abandoned. Or so I always thought. Crossing the small stream, passing through the narrow “street” and up the steep incline out of the village I glanced back and there were what appear to be new additions of solar panels on a couple of the roofs of the buildings. Perhaps not so abandoned as I thought.

Village

We wound our way up and up and up again, through another new addition of what seemed to be a swing gate in an electric fence across the trail and further up to yet another summit, just as the Dutch guys were setting off on the run back down the other side. We had another fluid break and then followed them down towards Andorra. further down the trail there was some logging in progress and the dusty track was strewn with boughs and branches from the pine trees – puncture alley we thought!

Puncture Alley

However, our TKC80′s didn’t miss a beat, admirably fending off any intruding splinters, and we quickly arrived at the end of the trail and the start of another fantastic rollercoaster road down a narrow gorge and eventually back in to civilisation in Andorra.

Well, I say civilisation, maybe I should say endless roadworks and heavy traffic! We headed for a campsite south of Andorra La Vella only to arrive and find it was literally a building site! A few prods of the TomTom revealed another site a few miles back up to the North so off we went…only to find THAT was a building site too. A third site thrown up by the sat-nav turned out to be non existent until, an irritating hour or so later, we eventually found camp right by the football stadium in Andorra La Vella itself.

We threw the tents up in double time and set about stripping the damaged boxes off Simon’s BMW to assess properly the day’s damage. The boxes themselves had taken a bit of a beating. The left box was heavily dented from the initial contact with the rock and the lid had bent and popped open, whilst the right box had taken the weight of the bike as it fell so was a little squashed and bore some impressive battle scars from the rocky trail. However, it was the pannier frames that had taken the worst beating. Both sides were bent to the extent where the lower mounting points would no longer connect with the matching point on the bike. No amount of straining and pulling would allow us to get them realigned.

In the end we resorted to the age old adage:

“WD40 for if it should move but doesn’t,
Cable Ties for if it does move but shouldn’t!”

So out came the cable ties and we fixed the frames firmly to the rear pillion pegs, finishing off with a good wrapping of Lock-Wire for extra hold. In the end, it was a more solid setup than it had been on Day 1! Simon took Steve’s hammer and did a great job of “panel beating” the boxes back into shape and by the end of it they didn’t look too bad at all, just a couple of well earned battle scars!

We had word from Dave that he’d test-ridden the Tenéré into Pamplona (40km or so from where we’d left him and where he still was right back at Camp 1) and had seen the end of the Bull Run. Not only that but he’d witnessed a goring and had seen blood! By all accounts it was a bit of free-for-all nightmare from the little he could see. I’d still like to do it though, but I’d want to be considerably fitter before trying it!

Posted from Rialp, Cataluña, Spain.

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