Guiding Light | An interview with BasqueMTB’s Doug McDonald

Doug McDonald is the man behind Basque MTB, and the mastermind behind Pete’s recent trip across the Spanish Pyrenees.

Pete took some time out whilst in the Spanish mountains to find out more about the man himself and what Basque MTB is all about.

Doug McDonald Basque MTB Orbea Bicycles Wideopenmag

Doug couldn’t wait to show off his ‘Big Fish, Little Fish, Cardboard Box’ routine.

Who is Doug MacDonald?

I am a Scottish mountain bike nut who managed to turn his passion into a job, living and working in the Basque Country, with my family.

What’s your background in cycling?

I’ve been biking for about 20 years. I started when my uncle gave me an old mountain bike and initially it was only to keep fit. That lead very quickly to mountain biking and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. There haven’t been many weeks since then when I haven’t biked.

What’s your background in guiding?

I really only started guiding when I started Basque MTB. I have the SMBLA qualification which I did in Scotland.Doug McDonald Basque MTB Orbea Bicycles Wideopenmag

How did Basque MTB come about?

I met a Basque girl in a dingy bar in Edinburgh. One thing lead to another and we decided to move to the Basque Country. She had a job lined up but at that time I didn´t speak much Spanish and it was going to be tough to get a job.

It was her idea to do something with mountain biking because as she said, “you’re always biking anyway”, and we planned an initial version of BasqueMTB. We planned to make it more gentle with other sports included, for people who wanted a sporty holiday.

When I saw the trails here I changed the direction to focus on serious mountain biking and basqueMTB as it is today was started!

What makes the Basque Country unique?

It’s a mixture of the variety of the landscapes and the culture I think. We guide through the Basque Country and into the Pyrenees which are in Aragon. You go from the coast up to the high mountains very quickly and the landscape changes dramatically.

Even on the coast, within 10 minutes driving you go from the sandstone coastal trails to the deep forest really quickly. The variety is something people always comment on. The culture is really cool here as well. It’s really focused around food and the bars and restaurants are full every night.

You can eat like a king for not much money and the Pintxos (Basque tapas) are something which you need to experience. It all just adds up to somewhere it’s cool to spend a holiday, or the rest of your life!

Don’t know where the Basque Country is?

Doug McDonald Basque MTB Orbea Bicycles Wideopenmag

Dropping into EWS territory. Zona Zero is now on the world stage but has been part of Basque MTBs trips for years.

How many people make up Basque MTB and what do they do?

We have a team of 5 people at the moment, Carlos, Antonio, Borja and Igor. We all pretty much do everything, from driving the van to preparing picnics and organising restaurants. And obviously guiding as well. It’s a pretty varied team, from Borja who races ultra-marathons to Igor who raced WC DH and trials.

I’m meant to be the guy who keeps it all more or less going in the right direction. We guide together, dig trails together and find new routes together too. It’s a little family. Then we have a wider team, of people who help us when we need it and drive vans, fix rental bikes and run the accommodations we use.

Where did the idea for a multi-day Pyrenees traverse come from?

It’s really a seed which has been growing for quite a long time. We talked about organising a stage race, maybe even a “trans”-something but we decided that other people are already doing a great job of that and we didn’t want to be another imitation.

The idea was talked about over beers and maps with lots of people over the years and it grew arms and legs and we talked about doing it with helicopters and boats! In the end I decided we had to just do it and I approached Orbea with the idea to see if they wanted to get involved. They were really into the idea and we worked together on it. I have refined the route over the last few years and worked on the logistics which were pretty complicated.

Doug McDonald Basque MTB Orbea Bicycles Wideopenmag

Loving back wheel high in the Pyrenees.

How did you pick the route?

The route wasn’t that hard. The hardest thing was deciding what to leave out! We tried to make it as close to a point-to-point as possible while still including the best descents and a good bunch of uplift. We always work with local people and they all got involved in helping with the logistics and helping us to plan and test the route. There was a good bit of testing but we also left some things more open to add to the feel of adventure a bit.

What’s the Orbea connection?

Right from the start I wanted basqueMTB to be all about local experiences. I didn’t want to put people in a chalet somewhere and cook them British food each night. Don´t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that type of holiday, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Local guides, local accommodation, local food and local drinks. So it was obvious for me to want to start working with Orbea. There was just one problem back then, I wasn’t so keen on the range of bikes which they had and you know that life’s too short to ride shit bikes. Then the updated Occam came along in 2013 maybe? That was a great bike and shortly after the new Rallon which I loved.

So we started working with Orbea; they helped us out and in return we give feedback on the bikes and try to take nice photos for them. It’s a great relationship and the factory is just down the road so I can pop in and say hello easily.

Doug McDonald Basque MTB Orbea Bicycles Wideopenmag

Photo by Sam Needham.

How much of this trip can people ride on your trips?

Some of these trails already form part of our Backcountry Pyrenees trip, however the more extreme trails will probably (and I¨m saying probably here!) become part of a more extreme trip which we will call “The High Pyrenees” and will be open to repeat guests next year. We are always scouting and this is part of that process, bringing new trails and new trips to the guests who come back year after year.

Any other ridiculous ideas that might come to fruition?

We are always working and planning. We might end up offering this “Mule” trip to 6 people a year, who have already done our other trips. Who knows?! We are also working on a High Pyrenees trip which we hope to offer next year. That trip will stay high in the Pyrenees and cross over with the trails from this trip but won’t include the mules or the camping so that we can keep the costs down.

Doug McDonald Basque MTB Orbea Bicycles Wideopenmag

Photo by Sam Needham.

What was your favourite moment from guiding in the Basque Country?

There are too many to think of just one. I know it sounds cheesy but it´s an amazing experience guiding and sharing your trails with people each week and each week has a moment that is memorable. Probably the moments that will stick most in my mind when I’m an old man will be the children that we’ve guided; when you see them really getting that mountain biking buzz it’s amazing. I think I will also always remember the first time I bought a beer with the money I made from guiding, at that time I so skint, I had nothing, and that beer was the best one I’ve ever had.

And the least? Any disasters you’re willing to share with us?

We’ve had our share of disasters definitely. Everything from mechanical issues with the van, cocking up the pricing and having to give everything I earned to the taxman, accidents on the mountains and messing up the logistics!

Once we had a group turn up a month early because of the difference between the European and USA date format. Mostly though we have a big enough team and enough resources at our disposal to sort out the disasters without too many people noticing!

Where next for Basque MTB?

We are where we need to be now after over 8 years of hard, hard work. We don’t want to be any bigger. It’s interesting why we are the size we are, initially I wanted to be just one van but it doesn’t work because people often want to split into a faster and slower group so we needed two vans and two guides. That’s where we are just now and it’s a good size for me.

If we got any bigger I’d be sucked into the office more and that’s not a compromise I’m willing to make; I started basqueMTB to ride bikes with cool people, not to be filling out spreadsheets or sitting in the office. The future will be as the present I think, we will keep digging, riding and doing trips which are designed to be the type of trip I would like to do myself. We will keep adding new trails and new trips as much as we can to keep it interesting for us and for all the repeat guests we have.

Doug McDonald Basque MTB Orbea Bicycles Wideopenmag

Photo by Sam Needham.

Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?

How do you go about thanking people for what I’ve got? It’s like a dream and so many people have helped me to get here. My parents were really understanding when I ditched the career that they suffered to give me the opportunity to pursue. Amaia my wife who was literally been left holding the baby more times that I can count while I’m out riding my bike. The guides, those guys work so hard and believe in the vision we have for basqueMTB and keep it going.

All the guys we work with who provide food, accommodation and uplifts who go out of the way to help us and improve the experience for our guests. Orbea and Mavic for helping us where they can. I can tell you that having nice clothes and bikes that you can rely on really makes the difference when you’ve been riding for a month straight. I could go on but I’m about to start crying!

Thanks to Tom Goldsmith and Ian Robertson for being my first guides and giving me the ideas to steer the company where it is going. Thanks to all the industry people who have put a photo or a story in the magazine and helped me when they didn’t really need to.

And last but definitely not least thanks to all the amazing people who have come and shared the experience with us, thanks for coming and thanks for coming back time and time again! Thanks EVERYONE, I love you all!

All of Basque MTB’s trips can be found here.

Everything from the sublime to the ridiculous to suit every riding taste can be washed down with dry cider and as much amazing food as you can manage.

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