This was my second excursion to The Pyrenees with The Bigtrailbike Club, last years trip was great but over all too quickly so when I saw the dates for this years coincided with a changeover week off in my shift pattern I knew I had no excuse not to go.
Living in Northern Ireland I have the dubious pleasure of being able to extend any continental bike holiday by a couple of days over and above what you lot on the mainland enjoy, usually means another couple of overnights plus another ferry crossing and some extra mileage, one of the reasons that I dont appear at as many BTBC runs as I would like to (the Scottish is the easiest one for me to do). Anyways, I digress .
Ferry booked for 12.20 out of Belfast so bit of running about to get the last minute things that no self respecting Big Trailbiker can do without, important things like Phrase Book (to avoid such culinary delights as frogs legs, snails and veal head amongst others ), Phone top up to keep my text habit satisfied, and lots of Euros.
Made the ferry and was surprised to pull up beside a very tidy looking Africa Twin, exceptionally tidy in fact considering it was heavily abused in my ownership. The current owner didnt bat an eyelid when I introduced myself and told him his bike had been to Nordkapp and back, small country over here, Im sure his and my paths will cross again
Stranraer and the road to Carlisle were almost traffic free so progress was made in normal BTBC fashion, arriving at my sisters place in Rochdale just in time for an evening meal ( I love it when a plan comes together). An early night and several alarms set for 4am ensured I got the whole house up - no point in messing about.
Bacon butty and coffee saw me on the road at 4.30am, meeting a bloke at 5.30 am in a motorway service area isnt the sort of thing I normally admit to doing but Brian seemed perfectly normal last time we met so seemed like a sensible plan this time as he was travelling from North Wales. We headed off down the M6 on what promised to be a scorcher of a day with 4 hours to get to Dover, maybe a little tight but we arrived at the rendezvous with 10 minutes to spare. The two of us made a happy bunch of 6, Paul, Roge, Dave,(the other) John, Brian and Myself. Paul explained that a couple of guys had to pull out for various reasons and that only Alex was to come.
Poor Alex, only got a replacement bike the day before and it clearly was giving trouble, excessive fuel consumption being only part of the problem but after making a phone call or 2 Paul headed off to deliver some petrol and get him to the ferry just in the nick of time.
The crossing allowed us to get to know each other a little and to grab a bite to eat before the blast to our first nights digs in Lusigny, a bit over 200 miles from Calais.
We took a little longer than expected to get to the hotel, Alexs bike needed a bit of fettling to get there and I made a detour into Reims to get couple of parts from a bike shop in the hope of saving Alexs holiday. Roge and Dave spent some time stripping the carbs to see if anything could be done, all to no avail unfortunately. We discussed the options over our first meal abroad and sadly came to the conclusion that poor Alex would have to either seek professional help in France to get the bike sorted or limp back home and get the thing fixed there. Not the best start
Sunday morning and up at an unusually early hour for 7.30 breakfast and on the road for 8, we have an appointment with the mother of all bridges somewhere in the southern half of France. The map says turn left and I think Im smart and have my bike facing in the right direction, Paul has a different plan however so off we blast (no other word can describe it) onto the less well used D roads for a hundred miles or so, through the heart of rural France, lots of beautiful little villages waking up to a lovely summers morning. The further south we went the sunnier and warmer it became. Petrol stops became a regular feature of the day (why does a TDM have such a small tank?) in all honesty we all looked forward to the chance of a quick break, a coffee, ice cream or a smoke. To cover the distance to the Millau Bridge we hit the Motorway/Peage for a long stretch through the Massif Central, what a motorway! The scenery was superb as was the engineering along the way, fast sweeping bends, bridges and viaducts, and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and hills.
The Millau Bridge is fantastic! The first thing you see from a distance is the support spires with the very fragile looking bridge hanging in the air. Only when you get closer does it become apparent just how huge it is, 2.6km in length and 250m above the valley below. We rode over it (expensive toll) under it, took pictures of it and were in general suitably impressed by it. Shortly after this another mishap befell one of our party
I was riding along, enjoying the view flashing past at a goodly speed when all of a sudden a bike just like one of our party and ridden by a bloke wearing exactly the same kit flashed past in the opposite direction amazed by this, and a little taken aback I stopped as another of our rapidly diminishing group flashed past, but at least he stopped to explain what had happened the old Wallet out of the tankbag routine had struck. The two lads headed off to try and find the missing items, the rest of us found each other after a few minutes and decided to find some shade from the sun and wait for the other two to come back. They were so lucky, finding the missing wallet in a relatively short time, bet the wallet stays deep in a pocket from now on
Onwards towards Castelnau, the medieval hilltop town where our rooms were waiting, just picture the scene A beautiful French summers evening, blue sky, green fields and woods, wide open roads, long straights with enough corners to make it interesting, 6 big trailbikes all in fine fettle being ridden in an enthusiastic manner by their proud owners and 2 cops with a camera and tripod hidden up a bank in the Trees one unlucky BTBCer had the unfortunate experience of explaining how it happened, shoulder shrugging non comprendez didnt cut much ice and 200 Euro was reluctantly passed over as suitable recompense for the misdemeanour (140km/h) OUCH!!! A Few smirking faces were seen in the next lay-by waiting for the unfortunate miscreant to catch up, could have been anyone of us really, but chances are it's the guy at the front that clears the way!!.
Castelnau held the last surprise of the day - a very pleasant one this time. There was a town festival on and the centre of the festivities was the square right outside the hotel. A staging across one end hinted of the music and dancing that was to come as the night drew in. we got ourselves sorted out in the hotel, few beers, excellent meal in the square (definitely a freckle Paul!!) and settled down to be entertained by what turned out to be one of the most innovative 3 piece bands I have ever seen. They covered everything from folksy French stuff to AC/DC and such a variety of styles from one band had me in awe. The song that really amazed me was Youre the one that I want from Grease, one bloke sang the duet by himself, changing his voice from girl to boy with such skill that with my eyes closed I would have sworn there was a girl singing on the stage with them, amazing. They played solidly for almost 5 hours which was a feat in itself. We all gave up before they did and drifted of to bed in the wee small hours looking forward to traversing the Pyrenees the next day.
Another sunny day and everyone in good tune at breakfast, a good early start despite the late night festivities. Plenty of heat from the sun as we head further south along a succession of superb twisty roads through some lovely rural countryside and French towns, Gaillac with its Victorian buildings (French probably call the period something else) and tree lined boulevards, Pamiers with the stream running along the main street and palm trees in abundance and Le Mas where we had a coffee at a Tabac before riding through a stunning natural tunnel carved by a river and so splendidly utilised by the road builders. All the time the mountains visible in the distance were becoming closer and their true size apparent. Once wed ridden through the natural tunnel the whole character of the landscape changed, more hills, less habitation and lots more twisty roads. We had a late lunch at the Wolf Café, at a mountain pass where there is a pen containing what look like wolves but are probably not, was very pleasant sitting out under a parasol watching lizards flitting across the decking and enjoying steak and chips - every run out should have lunches like this
Fed and watered we saddled up and once again headed for the hills and the first proper trail of the trip, minor road that became a gravel track hanging precariously to the side of the mountains, the views were tremendous looking out across the mountains straddling the border of France and Spain. The track once again became a properly surfaced minor road before dropping quickly via some very tight hairpins to the valley floor and the Spanish border. Another day, another country, were in Spain now, the whole countryside having that slightly uncared for appearance that seems to be the Spanish norm, roads a lot dirtier too, more rubbish and an air of untidiness. Not that far to go now and soon we spot the first signposts for Sort, another mountain pass to go over first - over 2000 metres this time, followed by several miles of slow twisting hairpins before the final 25 miles of fast road down the valley to Sort and our home for the next 3 days. Wash and freshen up and off into the town for something to eat, settled for traditional Catalan cuisine which was mostly good wholesome food cooked over coals. The after dinner chat became a lively discussion about rights of way issues, never became too heavy though, and for my part was very interesting as we have a completely different set up in Northern Ireland to that which is in place in England and Wales. It was late on by the time we returned to the hotel, a small select group adjourned to one of the rooms and sat beside what passed for a balcony enjoying some Irish Whiskey and being educated on the history of Northern Ireland, it was getting light by the time we turned in...
Smugglers Trail today the back road into Andorra, just like home for me, unapproved border crossings have been a fact of life in Northern Ireland for years, nice to see other places are just the same. Everyone decided to go so we headed off out of town in a posse to find the start of the trail. First part of it had been surfaced since the last time I was here, fortunately it was only for half mile or so before the tarmac came to an end and I stopped to turn off the ABS. Lot of dust because it was so dry but we managed to keep a good pace nonetheless. After passing through a small settlement (not even a village) the trail takes a valley into the mountains, through a couple of small fords before taking to the valley side and ascending through a series of hairpins. The views are impressive as we gain height. At one place there is a jutting outcrop of rock with a long grassy slope leading to the top of cliffs, its officially not part of the trail but the temptation to ride to the top is just too great so off we go, to the top and parking on grassy hilltop meadow. The drop off is impressive and the trail weve just ridden is laid out like a map below us. Time for a breather, snack and a smoke (for some) As we head off we notice what looks suspiciously like a police car way off in the distance, heading up the trail. Discretion being the better part of valour (and not speaking the lingo beyond ordering a couple of beers) we proceed in the direction of the border and another jurisdiction (phew!!) Never did find out if they wanted to talk about riding off the trail or if it was just routine for them to drive the trail. Anyway we knew when we got to Andorra because there is a first class metalled road leading up to the border on the Andorra side to meet the dirt track from Spain the big blue ANDORRA sign with bullet holes is also a clue
Time for another break and chat/smoke etc., various alternatives are discussed, funnily enough no one seemed that keen to return down the trail Brian headed off for a bit of an explore on his own, rest of us headed to the main town in Andorra for a look around and to get the much needed stickers and souvenirs to show we were there. My memories of Andorra la Vella are of horrendous traffic congestion so wasnt looking forward to the run through it again, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is now a road tunnel to take a lot of the traffic away from the centre. It was still pretty mad but not too much of an ordeal. Pavement café for lunch before some of us went walk about - not for long as the heat was unbearable - especially in Cordura and Gortex. Back on the bikes and off to Spain again (stopped at customs this time - funny, never noticed them on the way in ) plenty of police about so nice steady run along 30 miles of deserted, wide, twisty road to Sort. Just before the town we took a side road to try and find our way to a remote hilltop village that is on the mountain above Sort and looking down on it. Took a few miles but we eventually got there and the views were superb, judging by the way the place is being refurbished its where the money people will be buying their holiday homes, stunning location.
Back to base for a freshen up and a few beers in the garden before a meal in the hotel, the usual banter and craic carried on after the meal until the wee small hours. No rights of way talk tonight
Day 5. .
A day of 2 choices some of the lads wanted to head off trail riding again and couple of us wanted to head to the west and look at some of the mountain passes on the French side of the border that have become famous from the Tour de France. I was for the passes. We headed off along some lovely gorge roads to the province of Aragon, the character of the mountains changing as we headed west. There is a lot of development going on in the Spanish Pyrenees as tourist villages are being built everywhere, ski resorts mostly. We passed into France and headed towards Pau and Lourdes before taking the small roads over some famous cols including the Col du Tourmalet, it was fascinating to see the messages of encouragement written on the road for the competitors in past races. At one col we stopped at a remote café and had omelette and home made tart.
It was a long day out but Id hoped to meet up with Paul and the trail riders later for a meal in a Catalan restaurant, what we hadnt bargained on was the Spanish enthusiasm for cycling and the fact that a large cycle race was taking place. We crossed back into Spain and within a couple of miles came across stationary traffic, we filtered to the head of the queue (mile or more) to find a police roadblock. The policeman told us 20 minutes (must be Spanish minutes as we were there for about hour and a half). Eventually the roads opened and we joined the throng of hundreds of cyclists and all their supporters for a fairly slow run down the valley, we turned off to less congested roads for Sort, fuelling up on the way into town as we knew Paul was keen for an early start the following day. Back to digs about 10pm, a long day but good to have seen some new places, Pizza outside and then retired to hotel garden for the now usual evening banter and some drinks. The hotel proprietor must think were an OK bunch as he produced some complimentary champagne, not quite convinced its ideal accompaniment to San Miguel or Bacardi and Coke, but it was a nice gesture appreciated by everyone.
Back into France today and the start of the run back. Paul planned to go over some of the passes that Id been over the previous day so I suggested that I would go a different way as I wanted to see the Mediterranean while I was relatively close (big kid - I know!!) I felt a twinge of guilt that I was in effect splitting the group but Paul seemed OK with it. Brian decided he would come with me too, hoping that I would show him the Gorges de St Georges which is a spectacular if short gorge on the French side of The Pyrenees, not that far from Perpignan (and The Med). We headed off shortly after 8am, along the super twisty road to Le Seu dUrgell and onwards towards the Spanish town of Figueres. The road to Figueres passed through some lovely pine forests before dropping to the coastal plain, an increase in the amount of graffiti proclaiming Catalan independence was noticeable, and on a couple of occasions there were signs of what looked like burnt out cars in lay-bys. Having lived in Northern Ireland all my life Im maybe more tuned in to the signs of an undercurrent of political unrest than some and I definitely can see some parallels. It was interesting to note the similarity of the subtle campaign that appears to be taking place there.
Onto the motorway for the last blast in Spain, over the border into France and follow the GPS prompts for the lovely seaside town of Argeles sur Mer, only a few miles into France and on the Med. We parked in a carpark half full of folk in camper vans enjoying the view but not the very strong wind We parked as close to the beach as we could and walked the last few yards, A French Coast to Coast J
Quick lunch and reprogrammed the GPS for the Gorge and off we went. Motorway gave way to fast A road which in turn became an ordinary road before we turned off and headed for the hills, another pass - Col de Jau this time - in the mist! The sun soon returned as we descended and eventually rode up the gorge as far as we could, unfortunately the road was closed for part of it so we had to retrace our tracks. Time was getting on so we decided to hit the motorway towards Toulouse before joining the route Paul was taking to Castelnau - same place as on the way down. The run to the motorway was very pleasant across open countryside, through Quillan, almost into Carcassone and then the motorway before cutting cross country again to Castelnau, Big Trailbikes do cross country best - GRIN!!
Turns out we arrived about 20 mins or so after the others so quick shower and we were all sat down outside the bar with a cool beer swapping tales of the days journey before enjoying another superb meal to end the day.
Hey! Were getting good at early starts, everyone packed and ready for the road before 9. Roge and Dave said their farewells as they were spending another week away, heading over to The Alps and other nice places, lot of hand shaking and Good Lucks and the rest of the group headed off for some more gorge roads, more specifically the gorge roads. Time being of the essence the pace was brisk and all too soon we had to join the motorway north to make up the miles. A slight detour had been discussed so near Clermont - Ferrand we headed once again for the hills and the twistys. The area is the Central Massif of France, an area of volcanic remnants, the whole upland area having mountains and hills of a definite volcano shape. I loved this area, the GPS is full of waypoints of places Ill be back to visit in the next couple of years, France is the next Scotland as far as Im concerned. Few photos and off we went again, mostly a slog north again, motorway then backroads back to our last nights digs, passing through the famous wine producing town of Chablis on the way.
The end of trip Blow Out meal turned out to be Swords of steak - a real live sword loaded with lumps of prime steak and cooked on a barbecue (like a monster 4 ft long kebab), presented at the table in a stand so as to allow the pieces of steak to be slid off the sword as required, salad, fries and selection of veg, creme brulee for desert and a bottle of Chablis along with some house Rose what a feast to end the trip.
Early start - leathers at breakfast, bikes outside, all ready to go, just a motorway blast to get the ferry about lunchtime, despite our best endeavours we just missed an earlier ferry - all because some jobsworth at the port decided to have a laugh at our expense. As we queued for immigration checks he came out of a portacabin and waved us across to another lane - the one with the Polish registered bus, the 2 Czech vans and various others who were getting the full works from the immigration officers. We pushed our way back into the Brit. queue but too late. Our ferry appeared relatively quickly though and soon we were loaded and on our way back to England. Farewells were said on the ferry as we docked and everyone headed off home their own way.
In my case that was overnight stop in Rochdale again before heading for Scotland to get a ferry to Belfast, I arrived home a day after everyone else, just in time for tea on Sunday.
All in all a tremendous trip, my bike took the abuse very well, covering just under 4000 miles door to door in 10 days. Lots of new places, lots of familiar places, old friends and new friends.
Thanks to Paul, Roge, Dave, Brian and the other John for a great week away,
as usual it was over far too quickly.
Got home yesterday from a fantastic Posh Pyres trip. Hope everyone
else got/gets home OK, in particular PC who had a rear tyre that was looking
bit the worse for wear when we were still in Spain!
A great trip with top hotels/food, good company, and some great
roads and trails. - sign me up for the next one PC there's lots more to explore
In particular thanks again to PC for his organisation of the trip and for the best afternoons trail riding ever (borderline stupid I think we said!!).
Write up to follow (I promise).
Yes, got home safely despite a female driver in a Golf estate nearly taking me out on the M6. Just to repeat Tim's comments, what a great trip. Thanks to P.C. for the organisation and for the great weather and great hotels, especially the one with the Jacuzzi. Great food and scenery too, the roads and trails are some of the very best I've ever ridden. But most of all thanks to the best bunch of guys and gals to have on holiday. Also big thanks to Chris for making us all laugh.(Hope you got your pint pot of tea)
Brian and Susan Crabtree
PCs Posh Pyrenees Passes
PCs Posh Pyrenees Passes eh? Well, I¹d considered it last year but had decided on the Stella instead as 'The trip to do' and indeed it was. But now it was time to consider a trip for 2004 and I thought that it would be nice to have a change, plus I had been to the Pyres with Er Indoors a few years ago on the Africa Twin and had had a great time. I kind of liked the sound of the 'posh' bit too, as being a (very) southern softy I am rather partial to a nice hotel and good food and wine (as evidenced by my old riding kit being XXL and the new stuff being XXXL!!).
So the Posh Pyres it was, my entry form and deposit was sent off to PC and I started to wait. It was along wait too as I had sent off the entry around October 2003 for the June 2004 trip (Top Man, PC)! I kept an eye on the site to see who else was going and was slightly concerned to see that the list of names was only filling up very slowly, that said I was please to see that Mark and Brian had signed up, having met them on the Stella and also seen Mark and Monica on the 2003 C2C.
So, PC confirmed that the trip was a goer, which was nice, as I had already booked my ferry crossing and obtained a 'pass' from Er Indoors. As I live in Guernsey I was had to cross to St Malo in Brittany and catch up with the group at the first nights digs near the Loire valley.
After checking in for the ferry I pulled up behind a GS1150 with a smart custom paint job and all Tourateched up. It was local reg but was ridden by a German living in Guernsey (must have been left behind after we were liberated in 1945!). He was a pleasant enough chap and made me smile as he told me that my KTM 640 Adventure was a good trail bike, but his GS was too big to take off road! I cast my mind back to previous years Stella and Mr. B on the Cambrian, but said nothing.
On boarding the ferry the bikes are secured by the crew. They put a large foam pad over the seat and then use two large ratchet straps in a X across the seat and secured to loops on the deck before pulling it down tight. They were efficient and seemed to do a good job, much better than some of the tails one hears about with other cross Channel ferries, where folk are thrown a bit of oily rope and left to get on with it!
I rolled up the ramp in St Malo at exactly 5.00pm and had 300 miles ahead of me to get to our Friday overnight stop. I made pretty good time from St Malo, duel carriageway to Rennes and on to Le Mans. Past the entrance to the world famous 24 hour track and then I noticed the blue and yellow stripes on the curb, I was riding on the part of the road that is used for the 24 hour race. Would have been nice to have stopped for a photo but that would have to wait for another time as I needed to crack on. From Le Mans it was onto A roads, cross country to Tours. Now, if there is one place in France that you want to avoid it¹s Tours. I always get lost in Tours and this time would be no different. I had studied my maps and was using my GPS, both showed that I needed to go straight through the center of Tours and then turn left and follow the river. Easier said then done, as the main road did indeed run straight through the middle, but that had been restricted to busses only and I was sent off on a tour of Tours (did you see what I did there?). So having circumnavigated (I'll have to spell check that one) Tours I ended up on the right road but had lost some time, note to self - next time carry on through the middle in the bus lane and act dumb if challenged (easier for some than others). Having eventually got on the right road to the meeting place I was then able to follow PCs directions and rolled up at the hotel at 9.00pm exactly. Four hours and 300 miles with some lost time in Tours, you do the sums, but a pretty good average speed me thinks!
I was greeted at the Hotel by the Big Fella who showed me the garage parking, then following a quick freshen up it was downstairs for some grub and a few beers. Here I had the opportunity to meet Chris who I was sharing with and a chance to reacquaint myself with Brian and Rabbit, Mark and Monica.
Next day we were all up bright eyed and bushy tailed for the next leg of the journey. We left our Hotel and according to my GPS we were heading North. This was a little strange since as far as I knew the Pyrenees were to the South, but having complete faith in our leader, who I was sure had a cunning plan, I followed along. After a few kms I saw the tell tale signs from PC - speed drops, lots of looking at signs, then peering at the map in his tank bag, yep PC made a slight error and was following signs for a local radio station frequency that he thought were distance to the motorway signs, it was only when the distance remained the same that he realised his mistake!! Oh well Paul it normally goes so well it's nice to see you're human too!
Having made it to the motorway we got a few miles under our belts before getting off and onto some nice twisties before arriving at Castle Donnington (as Carl would call it), our overnight stop, with 362 miles covered that day. Now, when we arrived at Castle I must confess that I thought that PC had got it wrong again. We rode into what I can only describe as what appeared to be a medieval square and he rode straight towards the front of a hotel, bumped up a kerb and looked like he was about to ride into the hotel!! A sudden right turn lead us down a tiny alley and around to the back of the hotel were we were able to park in the garage.
Well, this hotel is one of the Hotels that gives the trip it's 'Posh' tag. It was fantastic! Chris and I had a room with a large sitting room, a very nice bathroom with multi jet shower and Jacuzzi bath and a large bed room with twin beds. Our door opened out onto a terrace where the plunge pool was, ideal for cooling off after a long days ride, superb.
Having cooled off I had a wander around the village and what a gem it is. Parts of it have been restored and other bits are awaiting restoration but none have been over restored. It really was like stepping back in time with cobbled streets, timbered buildings with upper floors overhanging the street, shuttered windows and ancient gnarled doors that would obviously have had some tales to tell.
We regrouped for our excellent evening meal, with good beer, good wine, good food and good company, what more could you ask for? And so to bed.
Next morning was bright and sunny and looked like being a good day. As we wound our way towards the Pyrenees the roads got better and better and then we hit our first pass, the Col de Mente (1349m). At the top of the Col we stopped at a cafe for ice creams and break. I got my maps out to have a look at where we were and saw that there was a trail, the Col d¹Artigasou (1351m) that ran from the ski centre behind the cafe down in the direction we were going. A quick check that everyone was up for it and we were off. We found the trail after a couple of false starts in the ski village and what a nice little find it was too. Not too difficult, we were loaded with luggage, two had pillions and Chris had never been off road before, but just right as an introduction to the Pyrenees. We wound our way down hairpin after hairpin and emerged right on the France / Spain border. It was then larger, but no less entertaining roads up the Val D'Arran, over Port de la Bonaigua (2072m) and down the wider and more sweeping bends of the Vall d'Aneu to Sort, with 237 miles under our tyres.
The hotel in Sort, and Sort itself were not picturesque like Castle but offered all we needed for the next three nights. The bikes were secure in the garage and the rooms were comfortable with good facilities, a swimming pool and a bar.
Having dumped our stuff in our rooms some of us decided on a dip in the pool, well I don¹t think I have ever been in such a cold pool. Cold just doesn't seem to do it justice, maybe I shouldn't have jumped in but I really thought that my heart was going to stop it was that cold. Anyway having got used to the shock it was nice to cool down and then enjoy a beer sat in the sun. Our evening meal was in a typical Catalan restaurant, once again, good food, wine and company.
Right then, the next day was what I was there for, this was to be a trail riding day for those that were up for it, or a day of rest for those that weren't. We'd got no luggage on the bikes and the ladies had decided to have a day off from riding, so it was a solo riding day. PC lead us North out of Sort before turning off to the small village of Llessui. After a little hunting we found the start of the trail near the base of a ski lift. We soon came to an electric cow fence across the trail but found that it unhooked for us to get through, making sure that it was reattached afterwards. The trail was smooth and dusty as it wound it¹s way up, past a ski lift and crossing a number of small, though fast flowing fords. Getting a little bumpier as we ascended we were disappointed to find our way blocked. No, not a fence, not cows, nor a farmer but snow! A great big drift right across the trail. We all got off and looked at it but that didn't¹t help! We weren't going to get past it. It was annoying because we could see the trail was clear beyond the drift and that it continued up and over the ridge in the distance. Having retraced out tracks some of the way we were able to find an alternative descent back to Llessui which was as entertaining as the one we had gone up on. Well over 20 miles of trail riding that morning, no mountain bikers, no walkers, one bloke in a Landrover and one old farmer in a white van, that was it, total isolation, sunshine and great trail riding.
Parting company with Chris, Brian and Mark, PC and I had a snack lunch In Llessui before hitting the trails again for the afternoon. We climbed for miles up into the mountains, intending to get to the other side of the snow that had blocked our way that morning but were thwarted by an even bigger drift approximately a mile or so from the mornings snow. Retracing our tyre tracks we arrived at a trail junction and took a left turn, further into the mountains, avoiding small patches of snow and odd rocks that had been brought down my the snow. Then we saw it, we just rounded a corner and there it was, the mother of all rock falls had totally blocked the trail. One big rock, about the size of a Transit van, along with lots of others that were dustbin sized and smaller all across the trail. We rode up to the blockage, got off, looked at it and decided that there was no way that we were going to be getting past this. Always being curious as to what's around the next corner we clambered over the rock fall and walked up to the next corner. We could see that the trail appeared to continue around the mountain for some way before clearing a Coll where it appeared to continued across the other side of the valley, awesome!.
Upon getting back to the rock fall, we looked at the rocks and moaned, then looked at the rocks and moaned some more. This turned into a bit of kicking and pushing (the rocks, not each other!). Then, before we knew it with some joint pushing, caveman type levering of big rocks using other rocks, some sweat and hard work we had cleared a route of sorts past the biggun. Now, this was not clear enough to ride past (see the pics), we're talking of inching the big GS past with PC pushing it with the front wheel causing the edge to crumble away as it passed, with me hanging on to the inside crash bar so it didn¹t fall down the mountain. But in the end we were past, my KTM got past a little easier but it was still quite wide as I had been too lazy to take my panniers off!
So, a clear run now, or so we thought! We had no sooner cleared the rock fall when we came to another snow drift. Not as big or as steep as the ones that had beaten us earlier on, but big enough. We pushed and struggled with the GS taking countless runs at the drift until finally we managed to have enough momentum to take it over the drift and down the other side. I was able to follow in the ruts and had an easier time until I suddenly got stuck, or so I thought. Looking down I realised that I wasn't stuck at all - my chain had come off in the snow! Fortunately it wasn't snapped, it had just come off the rear sprocket so it was easy enough to put back on again.
Off we went again,ever onwards towards another snow drift in the far distance that appeared to come down to the track, but not to block it. This proved to be an optical illusion and sure enough the trail was (again) totally blocked. As far as we could see the only foot prints crossing it were from cows or some other creatures. So, as with the previous rock fall first we walked across and decided that there was no way we could get the bikes across, then maybe we could, naaah, no way etc. etc. PC then starts kicking the snow, making a boot (and tyre) width channel in it. I joined in and using kicking and some flat bits of rock as makeshift snow cutters we made a channel all the way across. Condensing the time and effort spent into one sentence does not do it justice, but once we were finished we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. During this effort we were treated to the sign of a pair of eagles swooping effortlessly over the valley just below us. This time we decided to take my bike across first, using it to cut a better channel for the big BM. With the engine running and both of us pushing we eventually made it all the way across. We got the BM across in a similar fashion but needing a bit more pushing and shoving in view of the limited amount of grip provided by the rear tyre. I should probably point out at this stage that as advised by PC in his pre trip advice sheet I had made sure that I had new tyres for the trip. It was a shame that he hadn't followed his own good advice and replaced his back tyre which was down to only a mm or so of tread and this was only the third day!
Having got the KTM across the BM made it without too much trouble and we were set to continue. Within about half a mile of this drift we reached the Col and it was all down hill from there. There were black clouds forming in the distance and, not fancying getting caught in a mountain thunderstorm we upped the pace a little, not too sure of where we were going but knowing that down was where we wanted to be. We came to one dead end where the trail stopped at a picnic area which, had we had more time would have been a wonderful place for a stop, and then soon picked up the right trail to continue our descent.
As we rounded a corner we were treated to the sight of a mother deer and her fawn crossing the trail ahead of us and watched as they darted off down a seemingly impossibly steep hillside and into the shelter of some trees. Shortly after that we saw two mountain bikers, the only people that we had seen all afternoon in over 30 miles of trail riding! We were soon back down to civilisation and on the main road back to Sort. The best days riding I have ever done, no question at all. Thanks guys for your company for the morning and many thanks to PC for a fantastic afternoon (Ditto, PC).
That evening PC and I were able to tell our trail tails to everyone over another enjoyable Catalan meal at the same restaurant as the previous night. It was then back to the hotel bar for night-caps and talk of bikes and stuff.
Next day we were treated to a slightly later start but it was still to be a great day. We were to tackle the Smugglers trail that runs from North of Sort up over the mountains and into Andorra, a rear entry to Andorra if you like (steady Fraz!). The trail really was a treat, pretty smooth and wide it followed a small river for most of the way, with one quite large ford which everyone made safely. The trail then got steeper and a bit muddier as a result of the melting snow at the side of the track, until it emerged at the Andorran border.
After photos and a breather at the top we descended into Andorra on a well maintained road down into the hell hole that is Andorra town. Traffic was everywhere! Most of the time jammed so tight that filtering was impossible. There were traffic wardens and police directing traffic at each junction but that didn¹t make much difference it was grid lock everywhere!
Eventually we came out of the other side and continued down the Andorra valley
to pass through the large customs post on the Andorran/Spanish border, back
into Spain. We hadn't gone far into Spain when we were stopped in a line of
traffic at a Police roadblock. Two officers were standing, one on each side
the road. The one checking the drivers through was covered by the other holding a machine gun! Twenty yards beyond them was the welcoming committee for anyone who didn¹t stop for the first two, a bloke holding a stinger ready to throw it and a woman with a pump action shotgun! Nice! Needless to say we were ready to stop but were waved straight through. It was then a leisurely ride back to Sort for an Italian meal and the usual drinks and chat into the early hours.
The following morning it was time to bid farewell to Sort and Spain as we wound or way back over the border into France and down the stunning Gorge de St Georges, which as to be one of the best gorge roads there is. An enjoyable and scenic ride back to Castle brought us to the end of our 228 mile day.
Having enjoyed another excellent meal at Castlenau we had a mainly main roads and motorway day the next day as we made our way back up through France to St Aignan, our stop after 287 miles. PC and I dined like kings at the Hotel whilst the others of the group found a Pizza shop in the town. We enjoyed a few beers sitting in the shaded garden following our truly excellent meal.
The final day consisted of making our way further North through France. After our lunch stop I bid the group farewell and headed West towards St Malo and they continued North towards Le Harvre. After 255 miles I arrived in St Malo with time to spare before my two hour crossing back to Guernsey. On arrival at the docks I pulled up behind a TDM 900 and a Fazer 1000, both Guernsey reg. I inquired of the riders if they had been away long, to which they replied, I felt looking down their noses at my 600 cc trail bike somewhat, that they had been away for a week, I responded that I too had been away for a week. I then asked if they had been far and was told that they had been All the way to the Pyrenees, their faces were a picture when I responded "Oh, and me!".
On arrival home I had covered 1930 miles in eight days at an average speed of 49 mph, which included the trail riding days.
This was a truly excellent trip and I would recommend it to anyone. My thanks to Mark and Monica, Brian and Rabbit, my room mate Chris and last but not least PC for making it all happen. A trueley Excellent Adventure.