Monday 13th May 2013

Back in February, a few of us were interested in doing a biking trip in Europe. Verbier in Switzerland and the Basque Country in Spain looked like the best options. We opted for the Basque Country, a week holiday with 5 days riding, guided by Baseque MTB (www.basquemtb.com) and a rest day in-between.

Eventually the day came and we headed to Manchester Airport for our flight to Bilbao. It didn't take long for the first incident to happen - one member of the group realised he had brought the wrong passport with him as we were queuing to check in. The only affordable option was to transfer to the next available flight, unfortunately being 3 days later.

With a man down we arrived on the Spanish coast and didn't have to wait long for Doug, our guide for the week, to turn up. Complete with the Rolling Stones blasting out of his uplift van, even though we were in a different country, it all felt typically British. A short transfer and we were at our digs in the small town of Hondarribia eagerly rebuilding our bikes, itching to get out and do some riding.

Day One

Our introduction day was on the ridge between Hondarribia and San Sebastian. We started with a quick loop where Doug could get an good idea of our skill level. Literally less than a mile into the ride and we were presented with one of the most stunning coastal views I've ever seen - no messing about here! We then set off for the first main descent before dinner - 'All Along the Watchtowers' (http://vimeo.com/22661769). Doug gave us the easy option of spinning up on the tarmac or the more interesting, longer, off road. We gingerly chose the off road route.

It didn't take long after this for the first mechanical to rear it's head - my chain broke. I was however expecting it at least once, with it being pretty worn. Mechanicals seemed to be a running theme for day one - by the time we had finished, two bikes had bent mechs bad enough to need replacements. Surprisingly, the following days, we got away with no more than a few punctures.

'All Along the Watchtowers' proved to be as good as it looked on the video - a never ending descent, gradually loosing height, but never throwing it away, all single track, starting on the moor tops and finishing in the woods. There were some technical sections and lots of flowing sections. It was perfect and the very reason we had chosen the Basque Coast as our holiday destination.

With a quick lunch break, we then made our way to the hills closer to Sans Sebastian. Riding through the old cobbled streets really set the scene and we even took a small boat across the bay to avoid a lengthy detour to the nearest bridge crossing. Our final descent took us right onto the beach front of Sans Sebastian. It was quite amasing that so much top quality single track descending can be so close to a large town like this.

The day over, we had covered nearly 22 miles. This was probably more than more than what most of the group expected, but it felt about right in my opinion to get a full days balanced riding in. With such a successful start, it was an early night and yet more anticipation for the next day.

Day two

This would turn out to be our big day ride of the holiday. A full mountain epic, rightly named 'Epic Days' (http://vimeo.com/37578610), it was really comparable to doing several passes in the Lake District. What was different to how we would usually set about things back home however, was that the ride would be linear and we would start with a big uplift to around 2200ft. It would also be virtually all off road, the majority of which on single track.

We started with some technical contouring through the woods for a few miles, before hitting a fantastic fast descent round the edge of a valley. It really doesn't get much better than this! Then there was a bit of steady climbing before the lunch stop. Next came the hard part, the climbing started to get steep - first on a concrete road, then a dirt track, finally a grassy hill. Before we could benefit from the hard work, we had a 15 minute hike-a-bike to the very top of a mountain summit, which was totally breathtaking. We could see the entire 10 mile route we had just ridden.

Then came the descent - 5 miles, loosing over 2000ft in altitude. It started off steep and very sketchy. The summit was exposed on both sides and we couldn't really see where the track was going to take us. Once we were off the top of the mountain, we settled into more first class single track with plenty of technical rocky problems and flowing sections to encounter.

At the end of the day, we met up with our fifth group member, with him now having made it out to Spain with the correct passport.

Day three

Our fifth member did however bring the weather over with him. The rain had set in, just like it does in the Lakes, so we headed for the woods where there would be a bit more protection from the elements. It turned out to be a great day despite the weather, with a totally different feel to the previous two. The wooded singletrack was riddled with technical rooty sections and some ridiculously steep shoots. Banter was at a high as we would stop at a particularly awkward problem and have a few attempts each, working out the best ways to approach them.

Following a bargain three course meal for only 10 Euros, we were treated to more of the same in the afternoon, with the added benefit of the weather starting to improve.

Day four

Our rest day, typically turned out to be dry and fairly sunny. Rather frustrating considering that the following two days weren't looking too good. We had plans to take the bus and explore Sans Sebastian, but we were all pretty knackered and it ended up with plenty of resting and a gentle jaunt around Hondarribia.

Day five

The weather was looking a bit better today, mostly dry with a hint of rain in the air. We headed for a mountain called 'Larrun' on the Spanish / French border. Starting with an uplift and a short amount of climbing on the bikes not quiet to the top of the mountain, it was soon time for a tricky technical descent zig zagging down the fellside. There was then a long climbing back up to the van and we headed to a restaurant for lunch. It was just in time as the sun had made an appearance later in the morning, but literally as soon as we got into the restaurant, the heavens opened. Unfortunately for Doug, he had the van to take to the bottom of the hill and to ride back up to meet us - in typical hardy Scotsman fashion, he didn't seem to mind the miserable conditions at all!

Luck was on our side and as we headed for the afternoon part of the ride, it started to clear up and the sun came out again. Everywhere was soaking wet with sticky mud, which made for some interesting riding conditions.

Day six

Our final day was a total wash out. It had rained all night, with no let up and was still bouncing off the road when we woke. Nevertheless, we were here and it seemed a waste to do nothing, so we headed out to another wooded section where we tackled another of Doug's trails called 'Celtic Flow'. A beautifully hand crafted singletrack descent, which would be really fast in the dry and proved really interesting and tricky in the wet!

By dinner time, we were soaked to the bone and ready to call it a day. It was probably one of the wettest rides I've ever been on, but well worth it all he same.

Summary

The Basque Coast has some stunning scenery and technical singletrack to die for. I can't thank Doug enough for his guiding skills and holiday he put on for us. We have some unfinished business as there were a couple of routes we really wanted to have a go at - 'Rocky Hell Road' (https://vimeo.com/37061894) and 'The Crosses' (https://vimeo.com/20879829), but just couldn't do them due to the weather. So we will be back, hopefully in the not too distant future.

Stats 'n that

Location info

Who was with me:

Richard Grave, Tony Farnell, Stuart Sirey, Stephen Coulthard
Arrived in Bilbao airpot.

Arrived in Bilbao airpot.

Day 1 : Stunning coastal views less than a mile into the first ride.

Day 1 : Stunning coastal views less than a mile into the first ride.

Day 1 : We took the GoPro along too. Is it recording?

Day 1 : We took the GoPro along too. Is it recording?

Day 1 : The bikes take a boat ride across the bay.

Day 1 : The bikes take a boat ride across the bay.

Day 1 : Finished on the beach at San Sebastian

Day 1 : Finished on the beach at San Sebastian

Day 2 : Through the woods.

Day 2 : Through the woods.

Day 2 :  All about views like this.

Day 2 : All about views like this.

Day 2 : Long single track descent.

Day 2 : Long single track descent.

Day 2 : Hike-a-bike to the mountain top.

Day 2 : Hike-a-bike to the mountain top.

Day 2 : High up on the tops.

Day 2 : High up on the tops.

Day 5 : Descending Larrun

Day 5 : Descending Larrun