Our trail dawg Matt recently went to see our good friends Switchbacks DH and Enduro out in Spain. I've known Mike at Switchbacks for a few years now but his pedigree goes back far beyond that. Friend to the stars and all round man of legend Mike runs a holiday company for riders who don't like their rock gardens laid out at right angles. Matt went out blind but now he can see!!
What started with a quick text to a mate to find out some information about riding holidays abroad quickly turned into gatecrashing his riding adventure whether he liked it or not. I was off to sunny Spain!
While I have done enough road trips to Wales for riding than I have had punctures, this was the first time for me packing up a bike and take it away on a plane. As daunting as it was the reality of carefully packing up my pride and joy and playing the buck-a-roo bike bag weighing game, everything went smoothly and before I knew it I had arrived in the mountains of Sierra Nevada. SN is located in Granada and Almería provinces in south-eastern Spain and covering a total area of 85,883 hectares, making it the largest national park in Spain. After a quick build up and test of the bike, I was ready for a few beers in the last of the day’s sun prepared for my first ride in the morning. I hadn’t done any real research into what laid ahead (a mixture of nerves and not wanting to spoil the surprise) but could not wait.
Our trail bike of choice. The Banshee Spitfire.
The morning came soon enough, we met in the main car park in Bubion and soon enough we rolled straight into the trails (starting at over 4500ft!). The majority of trails that we used during the trip were a mixture of marked up walking trails, ancient trade built paths (with one that would goes as far as Athens), steep shingled fire road, narrow street and back paths. Our initial trails were a mixture of walking trails and streets, they were (at the time so I thought) steep, loose and lots of fun. The switch backs in the streets were perfect to practice on and get my eye in before trying out my new found skills on the hills. After the being shot out onto the road at the end of the trail it was a quick coast down the hill to be picked up by the uplift van (at 300ft). Although this is an “enduro” trip the van is very much needed and extremely welcome. Our pilot, Lucky, is a mtb hero all of his own making.
On this occasion we were dropped off half way up the mountain with still over 1000ft worth of climbing to be had to get to the start of the trails at almost 6000ft up! This trail was made up of beaten up ancient trade route, with fixed smooth rock making up an endless steep staircase. There’s a multitude of line choice at times depending on the strength of brave pill you took in the morning. It’s not the most difficult trail I had ridden but added to the fact it lasted for 3000ft you soon have to juggle your own skills, speed and fatigue to get down in one piece. At the very bottom we are greeted once again by the smooth tarmac fit for us to scoot down in to nearest town for our first lunch break in a very typical Spanish restaurant. Fed on the best quality and cheapest locally sourced tapas, we were ready for the last trails of the day. Again this was a completely different feel compared to the previous trails. It started on a small rock littered single track next to a cliffs edge, not the sort of time to be pushing hard for a PB on strava. Thankfully the cliff soon disappeared into gentle rolling hill where you could practice your switchback technique and the confidence returned. Greeting us at the very bottom is the uplift van ready to back us back to the our base town back in the mountains for a first victory beers of the night.
The start of the next day started the same as before with a urban/back street track ride out of town through a beautifully steep, rocky and steppy trail, the sort that you have to hold on for dear life the first time you do it but (as we found out the next time we did it) it flowed and bounced the whole way down. Next stop after the much appreciated uplift is a new trail for the switchback team to use, starting in a pine forest with the perfect amount of loam and tight tree lines to leave you with a big grin, it was completely different to all the rock that we had a previous day and a real surprise to have such lush vegetation in such a hot and dry place. At the end of the trail we still have a scary foot wide path decent (water ditch one side, clear drop cliff face the other… cue wet feet and no spilt blood) before getting into the main town for lunch. The last of the days riding started 4500ft above sea level and made the way down to the sea itself (don’t get that riding in Essex). The majority of it was on fire road but this is no ordinary fire road. It was steep, loose and sharp shingle reddened track with deep ruts cut in from heavy rain fall in the wetter months. The only way to get down is to hang of the back on the bike and hope the brakes last the hour long descent to the beach. The craziest thing was the closer we got to the beach the more smaller hills we had to climb making it look like the trail would end in a vertical drop that would put rampage to shame. Thankfully the end was a little bit easier but still worth celebrating with a quick swim and a liters worth or beer (all for 1 and half euros!).
Mike tells me you can see Africa from here.
The last day threw up more change. A hike a bike of 1000ft to the top of the trail which flowed all the way down without any scary drops to the side or drops, instead there is a ribbon of smooth dusty trail with shrubbery marking the way to go. This soon enough turns into a small village for some more urban downhill and paths before climbing on the road in the midday sun to the start of the last trail of the trip. Fortunately the gentle flowing trails had stopped I soon found myself hanging off the back of the bike again on some steep rocky switchback descents. With tiredness and fatigue setting in the brave pills were put away and it becomes more of a case survival. As we drop into the last trail there is a sense of achievement on what we rode and sadness that it is all over. But what a trip.