On a recent trip across the Pyrenees with Basque MTB, Pete followed some ancient trading routes from a once deserted hamlet in the Sierra de Guara, to the market town of Ainsa.
Words by Pete Scullion | Photos by Sam Needham.
Crossing Cowboy Country.
With a population density lower than parts of the Sahara Desert, Sierra de Guara offers a unique experience lacking in artificial light, phone signal, background noise or any of the pitfalls of modern living.
Away from the coast and the motorways, the northern regions of the Basque Country, Navarra and Aragon get very empty with every passing kilometre. The road seemed familiar enough to begin with as both myself and snapper Sam Needham had been this way on a trip with Basque MTB in 2014.
Into the unknown.
It didn’t take long after me and Sam joined Doug, Basque MTB’s owner, and Carlos, our multi-lingual guide, that we collected Paul from Vojo, Muriel from MTBPro and our videographer, Ian in the famous bullfighting city of Pamplona, before we were into new territory. By the time darkness fell we were a long way from a road of any size, winding our way from the broad plains into some serious mountains.
A village reclaimed.
Our first ride out of a formerly derelict hostel starts with a rowdy 4×4 ride up a long, broken access track onto the shoulder of Tozal de Guara. As we leave the high pastures, the gradient steepens and Doug motions to our driver that he’s never seen anyone get up it. Challenge set, manual diff locks on, and we winch our way skyward with the ever-present vultures circling.
Running with the pack.
Long, steep and loose, this has my name written all over it. Everyone is now a bit more comfortable on their bikes and have found their place in the pack. Sam and Doug disappear into the closing darkness, whilst me and Ian trade places, Muriel and Paul seem content out back, with Carlos playing sweeper. If only we’d had daylight enough to ride the full monty! Bright smiles are plainly obvious in the advancing darkness.
Heading down the mountain.
Once atop a long, broad ridge, we’re back under our own steam, winching our way to the peak in the distance. Storm heads bulge above us, and the first cracks of thunder make everyone a bit nervous. As we cross the col towards Tozal, the light begins to fade, and we make tracks down what has to be one of the best big mountain trails I’ve ridden.
Million star hotel.
We camped beneath the stars that night, Bertran and his daughter Eva put on a fine spread, pitched our tents and told tales that seemed too tall, but were nothing but the truth. Someone should make a feature film about this man!
All roads lead to Ainsa.
Day two started with foggy heads and sore legs but under blue skies with strong coffee, everything was looking good. Today would be the big one. 50km from our overnight spot deep in the Sierra de Guara, all the way to Ainsa. A full day’s riding without a road or human being in sight. We didn’t even see power lines until the final approaches to the now infamous EWS venue.
The previous morning’s uplift-assisted runs were put in stark contrast with riding this massive tract of empty landscape, just a thin ribbon of singletrack guiding us along the way. Riding blind is great fun, but hard on the body, as we simply didn’t know how far we still had to go. Long, torturous climbs were, as always, rewarded with endless singletrack of every possible type. Grip was always high, and knowing how to ride blind fast paid some massive dividends.
Candle burnt at both ends.
Approaching Ainsa though, I’d been burning the wick a little too hard, and my toys almost left the pram. In a silver cloud moment my dropper broke, and while Doug and Carlos turned the air blue to fix it, I took the opportunity to have a much needed lie down in the van, and was asleep before my eyes closed. Spent.
Hammering the vine terraces.
After recharging the batteries, I was like new and full of beans in anticipation for riding arguably the most iconic EWS stage from the Ainsa event. Hammering down the vine terraces along a route to the now derelict church, I was again doing my level best to keep pace with Doug, who was scorching off into the distance. After a few wild moments, I opted to just keep it rubber side down and try to enjoy it.
All the pizza.
Pizza in the market square at Ainsa was the perfect way to end a massive day in the mountains. This one third of our crossing of the Pyrenees and I for one couldn’t wait to see what was to come. A group of strangers would become friends over the following 200km+ in the empty mountains of the Pyrenees, but we’d meet more amazing people with some crazy stories along the way.
For anybody wanting to escape the rat race with a bicycle, Sierra de Guara might well be the place for you. Endless ancient singletrack stretches off in all directions through a landscape devoid of humans, and for the most part even their influence. If you can’t remember the last time you had no phone signal for days or haven’t spent days without seeing anyone else but your pals, then BasqueMTB might well have the trip for you.