So was the Basque Back Country tour the trail nirvana everyone promised it would be? Oh Yes. Miles better than the previous twenty years of mountain biking globetrotting? By some distance. Stunning vistas? Fantastic guides? Every type of trail mostly going on for approximately ever? All of that and quite a lot more besides.
Perfect then? Well no but pretty damn close. Weather had its moments. Most of those were filled with rain. More time sat in the van wondering if maybe this was a little bit too much a little bit too late*. Some frustration walking sections that were absolutely ridable. But plenty more when I puckered up and got it done in a parody of bravery and competence. In my head anyway.
Better still no one came home in an ambulance**. Not that thirteen riders hitting trails eight hours for a solid six days was ever going to end without a few injuries. Most of which where of the ‘fucking hell, dodged a bullet there‘ kind except Jim (of the fantastic Northern Contingent making up most of the other half of the group) who was properly fast and apparently fearless.
I arrived pretty late to his crash what with that speed differential, but early enough to catch a gritted ‘fuck it, dislocated my shoulder‘ which since we’d barely dropped off a high ridge above any kind of civilisation wasn’t ideal. He forebode that journey down, the hospital visit and the next couple of days in a sling with way more fortitude than anyone looking like me.
Much as we felt for Jim, we were, frankly, having too much of a good time to think much beyond ‘might back off a bit‘. Still with many of the trails being at about 102% of my skill level, backing off pretty much meant getting off. But since I was pretty sure we weren’t coming back, the prospect of post trip self loathing was more than counterbalanced by praying the bike was quite a lot better than me.
This led to so many memorable moments. Not the weather ones. The thousand metre descents, the 15 minutes of thigh burning ecstasy, the desperate need to stop to shake out brake-numbed wrists, the hanging on to the back wheel of a mate totally unsighted to what comes next, the endless switchbacks, the whip-fast Jedi-Speeder blasts through the trees, the tight and techy, the flat out ruler straight bedrock, the ‘fuck don’t look down there‘ exposure, the raise your head and marvel at the mountains, the banter and the bollocks. The thing no one at home gets.
So like every great ride I’ve ever done. Yes but no. Harder, longer, more intense. Trail Evo if you will. No filler, all killer. And each trail transported you to a different location. Oh this loamy forest, that’s the Ardeche in France. Rocky switchbacks? Sopsel in the Maritime Alps, loose sandy frictionless madness, Malaga and the Sierra Nevadas, Badlands Grey Earth? Well fucking hell, this is new, surely I’ve just ridden through a CGI movie set?
An assault on the senses, and the muscles holding those senses in place. Reviewing the GoPro footage, the ‘house style‘ is mostly heavy breathing, cursing, gibbering and the camera slamming into the bars as I repurpose them as a full body rest. Clearly my plan to mitigate age with a rigorous diet and fitness plan lasted all the time it took to illuminate the light in the beer fridge.
Talking of which, the food was mostly amazing. Accompanied with only moderate servings of beer and wine. Because 102% commitment is not compatible with 18% blood alcohol ratios. We stayed in villages literally at the end of the road, pretty rural towns full of spirit and community, then MTB hubs split between modern metropolis and ancient castles.
But mostly we lived outside of normal time. Wake up, remember where you are, hot showers fail to ease aching muscles, eat everything in front of you then snaffle the remainder for trail snacks, find your bike, kick the tyres for the look of the thing, worry not about patina begat by rock strikes, high five the guides, stumble into the van, watch your world get many hills deep, relish the stillness as engines fade, flick your brake levers, focus on the gap in the mountains. The future is right there. Waiting for you. Best get amongst it.
Back to that first image. Fag end of a long first day. Already overloaded on amazing trails and fading fast. There’s not much downtime on this trip. So no surprise it’s another climb and a carry. But the reward is riding the gap between two freaking mountains ranges. It is a stretched minute of ‘holy fuck‘ as the trail narrows to a sliver of perfect rock.
And then we had to get down. Chasing Si I forgot everything other than there is nothing else – absolutely nothing – that can better this right now. For a man who spends far too much time worrying about the time that has gone and how much is left, that’s as good as it gets.
Other than us finishing in a bar. With a beer and my best friends in the world. And knowing we were doing it all tomorrow. And the next day.
What I’m feeling now is mostly loss. Lamenting I can’t get that time back. But I can go back. There’s still time. Money I can make every day, time, tho, I need to spend. And spend wisely.
*more of than privileged introspection in the next Cranked mag. Don’t worry there is lots more interesting stuff in there 🙂
**Si was lucky not to go home in a hearse. We ‘shared‘ him between the three twin rooms. Each of which showed great restraint not smothering the 8 hour snore monster he transmogrified into at midnight 😉