Monday, 20 May 2013

A week with Basque MTB

Last week a small group of us took a trip to the Basque Coast for a wee biking holiday with we were all looking forward to a week of sun, dusty trails and great riding, and we nearly got it all too.

The first little hiccup was during check-in one member of the group (I will mention no names) discovered that he had brought his other half's passport, so he wasn't able to fly with us and would join us later in the week. Fortunately for the remaining four, the rest of the journey went well, Doug met us at the airport and dropped us off at our weeks lodgings and arranged to pick us up for day one at 9:30am the following morning.

Waiting at Bilbao Airport for our ride

On the morning of our first day a quick brake fix was needed for my bike as during transit the front brake had leaked leaving me with no braking at all. Thankfully Doug has a van full of stuff for such occasions and we were able to do a quick top up without it needing a full bleed.

Day one wasn't quite the easy introduction day I had imagined, we ended up riding a variety of coastal trails and covered around 22 miles in total, this day wasn't without issue either, first up was Stu's rear mech being damaged near the dropout, while not unusable it did need to be fixed, cue a few phone calls to our late arriving friend to bring out a spare rear mech. Later on that day another rear mech issue hit us, this time it was mine, somehow I managed to bend the section in the middle of the mech, luckily we were near the end of the day so I was able to freewheel back into San Sebastian, before heading to a bike shop to purchase a new rear mech. Thankfully we were able to salvage some parts of my broken mech to fix Stu's so the day's damage could of been worse.

Looking down on San Sebastian

Day two dawned and it was a cracker, bright blue sky, big ol' yellow sun, this is why we had come here. It would be another long ride with some superb views, sublime sections of single track and our first meeting with the prickly Gauze Bush who would turn up every now and again to scratch arms, legs and eyes. We ate lunch on the hill and spent the afternoon chasing a group of noisy spanish students before ascending a ridge then finishing with even more single track. Our late arrival (Coley) was waiting for us back at the b&b after a few days spent feeling rather stupid after his passport faux pas.

It's all about the sweet sections of long singletrack

Day three can be summed up in three words, technical, wet and muddy. The technical trails in the morning certainly woke most if us up, and even though I couldn't quite ride everything thrown my way it was good fun as we slipped and slid down steep muddy trails festooned with tight technical switchbacks. After a bargain 10€ three course lunch we donned less muddy gear and headed out for more, the trails weren't quite as techy in the afternoon and had a little more flow about them and thankfully the rain held off for the rest of the day.

Not all the trails are dry and dusty

Our day off was spent doing very little, we had plans for going into San Sebastian and sampling some food but most people settled on breakfast followed by sleep. The furthest we got was the beach / harbour area in Hondaribbia, before chilling out in the garden. It was good to have a rest day though as most were feeling a little tired after three days riding and it gave us the chance to clean the muddy clothes of the previous day.

Just chillin'

The weather report for the remaining two days did not look promising and we all expected more rain on our fourth riding day but we got lucky and stayed reasonably dry for most of the day. It was another fairly technical morning ride with some tricky off camber rocky sections and some tyre slashing descents, followed by one big slog back to the van. Then a little more flow in the afternoon after a heavy rain shower in a cafe at the top of a hill on the spanish / french border.

Unluckily for us the last day was a very wet one, it had managed to rain all night and didn't stop all day. Grave decided (probably wisely) to miss the day due to weather and back problems and Stu only decided to join us at the last minute. We didn't ride much this day but the trails were brilliant. A lovely flowy trail through the trees called Celtic Flow that was made a little more difficult by the wet roots and muddy corners that very much reminded me of some of the trails back home. The only other one we rode was aptly titled Heavy Rain and this was another real nice flowy trail that I would have loved to ride in nicer conditions also. We were pretty much done after that as I was soaked to the bone and Coley was too tired to climb any more hills.

I just want to say a huge thanks to Doug for guiding us during the week and showing us a selection of some amazing trails he has helped seek out and sculpt during his years there. Also thanks to our b&b hosts for the breakfasts. Would I recommend to others; yes very much so, great holiday and I would happily go back.

Our guide Doug, Always happy to be riding.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Ride 38: Even when it's super sunny my feet still get soaked

After spending a fairly warm weekend in the south of this fair country I was quite surprised and happy to see us northerners get a small share on the sun pie. Deciding that anything Keswick based would be inundated with old people wearing beige shorts and more red socks than you can shake a stick at, we opted for the quieter area of Haweswater.

Blue Sky over Haweswater

We started by riding (then pushing) our bikes up Gatesgarth Pass, this is usually a descent for me but I wanted to try something a little different. We met a few people coming down as we ascended and it turns out they would be the only people we would see (except for one grizzled old farmer). Once at the top it was a quick blast down to a stream and then a series of boggy climbs, wet descents and calculated guesses as to where the bridleway had vanished too. Luckily we guessed correctly and found ourselves at Swindale Head and met the aforementioned grizzled farmer.

Not lost exactly just unsure of direction

To get back over to Haweswater again you take the Old Corpse Road, I had heard this was a good descent so that's why I was here. The first section of the climb was steep, once it finally flattened out it was back to more guessing where the bridleway may go amongst more boggyness. We definitely strayed from the bridleway once or twice but finally after what seemed to be a never ending series of fake summits we spied Haweswater and our way down.

Fast, steep and stunning views

The run down was pretty good, quite steep in places but all rideable and fun, the view over Haweswater as you drop back down the valley again was stunning, then just as you begin to get a feel for the track you reach the road at the bottom. Apart from the boggyness it was a good ride out, t-shirt and shorts were all you needed, the sun was warm and the remoteness of the area made it feel like you were really exploring.

The view was so good it was a distraction