Chapter One: On the Road South

by Dave Mitchell

Hola Ground Effect!

Greetings from the country that brought you the Spanish Inquisition, Siesta, Paella, Corrida de Toros and the Seat Ibiza. After being overwhelmed, in a good way, at the Keukenhof by a zillion varieties of beautiful tulips we waved goodbye to the land of windmills, dykes, Ditte’s family and of course tulips.

After being robbed blind by French road tolls we crossed the Spanish border and headed for the Guggenheim museum in the city of Bilbao. The Guggenheim is "A vast collection of contemporary art housed in a building considered the architectural wonder of the world”. Well what's this got to do with a mountain bike road trip holiday-thingy. Well and I will quote again “The titanium surface is ridged with scale-like pattern, a tribute to Bilbo’s sea faring past, and the evening sun burnishes its surface with a warm glow”. Ooh aah, that last bit makes me go weak at the knees.

Before the 1990s Bibao had acquired the Basque nickname El Boxto (The Hole) due to its run down, poluted, dilapidated and smelly disposition. In a moment of sheer brilliance and madness, which quite often go hand in hand, vast sums were chanelled into the gallery and to clean up the city, consequently the tourists piled in. Now here’s the thing, when contempory art is finally found out, those clever Spaniards can roll all that titanium cladding up into bicycle tubing, stems, seat posts and handle bars. Well anyway we marvelled at the giant bottom bracket balls piled high, the flower-power dog and the David Bowie spider (RIP), had the biggest gelato cone on offer and left culturally and gastronomicaly satisfied.

Our final destination was inland, an apartment in the quaint wee town of Carao. A jumble of ancient, old and restored brick and plaster buildings from early last century. We spotted our first ride, a track that left from in front of the local bar/restaurant. It climbed steeply at first, joining the dots through farmlets and tiny villages, unchanged from the middle ages, to the edge of the Picos de Europa Parque Nacional. After a mix of gravel and single-track the last section to Lago Enol and out to Lago La Ercina was sealed. The stunning mountains of this vast limestone plateau poke skyward from a flowing rock-field of epic proportions, a bit like the Guggenheim. Snow still lingered on the steep slopes and in the gullies and shaded valleys in a pedestrian crossing sort of way. We back tracked down a few farm tracks before our rocky downhil miraculously delivered us to within 2kms of base camp after an unexpected 45kms and 1560m of climbing.

A walk on a great bike track

Yes, mountain biking is fround upon in the Picos, even on old farm tracks, but burning native shrubs and grazing cows is OK. We headed on foot into the big mountains on an old farm track that climbed steadily through green pasture dotted with huge limestone boulders, cows with bells and tiny huts of stone with their clay tile roofs weighed down by rockage. Refugio de Vegarredonda was our destination at the base of the rapidly receeding snow line. Rows of LPG bottles stood empty like ten pins at the back of this empty abode. All shuttered up waiting for the start of the tourist season. We headed further into the mountains scrambling up the karst slopes to avoid the soft wet snow to a 1700m pass without setting off an avalanche or plunging waist deep into the cold white stuff. We enjoyed lunch in the sun, spotted some wild deer, an ominus group of circling vultures and a group of mountain goats. On our way back out we pretended we were riding our bikes, and it helped. The weather forecast is for rain, so tomorrow we shop and plan.

Adios
Dave & Ditte