Like a number of you, I have undertaken courses with i2i Motorcycle Academy this year, one of the courses being the Off-Road introduction. About the same sort of time as undertaking the course, I was at a loss of what to do for my summer holidays. Debbie, my wife, had just been on a tour of Jordan and I was free to do what ever I desired.
Browsing the web, I initially came across a company in the Canaries that ran off-road tours. This sounded right up my alley so the plan was started. Next was the task of trying to obtain time off work, normally quite easy but this time there was a difficulty trying to settle dates due to forever changing deadlines.
Finally, in August, a window was opened and I arranged to take my holidays in September. Starting with the Welsh Weekend, cheers by the way primarily to Pete, Tony, Kevin and Rick for the organisation, run leading, etc, then culminating in the off-road tour.
I went back to the web to make a booking with the company in the Canaries, only to find the price had risen by about £200. Not good. What is a boy to do? Luckily for me, whilst browsing an unrelated motorcycling site, I came across a write-up about an off-road tour based in Andorra. Sounded good, so off to their site for more info. The company was TrailBikeTours.com and they ran 2, 3, 4 and 5-day tours, either weekends or mid-week, at a price that was extremely competitive compared to the Canaries. Included in the price was Return Flights, Full Board and lodging in a 4 star hotel, lunch, bike (Suzuki DRZ 400), protective clothing, insurance, in fact just about everything 'cept coffee, beer and cigs.
I sent them an enquiry e-mail to see if they could fit me in on a 3-day weekend at the end of September (my ideal dates being the weekend after Wales). A response came quickly back that there was already a group booked for my chosen weekend on a 2-day tour and that I could join in with them if I wished. 'Yes Please!!!' was my response. Even my request to fly from Leeds/Bradford was catered for; even thought flights were normally arranged from Luton (Easy Jet anyone). Total cost to me, approx £630 with exchange rates and the addition of single supplement. All Dave (the organiser) wanted was my Credit Card details, which he would call for. So I waited for him to call, and waited, and waited some more. Finally, within about 3 weeks of the trip being due, I sent another e-mail to find out what was going on, and left a call on their answer phone. I was getting frantic that it would all fall through. Thankfully, Dave responded pretty quickly, he'd been on holiday and although had his laptop with him, hadn't been able to retrieve e-mails. Finally, it was arranged, payment was made and the date was set.
The flight down from Leeds/Bradford was pretty much non-eventful but 2 things have stuck with me.
1. Due to the prevailing wind, the flight from Leeds to Barcelona only took about 1-hour 45 mins. Travelling at over 600 miles per hour. How long would it take to ride? Could probably do it in a day but would you want to?
2. The flight over the Pyrenees itself. This was the first time I'd seen a proper mountain range, i.e. outside of the UK. It set up a real sense of speculation of things to come.
After collecting my bag in airport luggage area, I made my way out into the crowded arrivals lounge. Lots of people with banners for people to be collected, joining tours, etc. There were just none with my name on, or for TrailBike Tours, not that I could see anyway. I set my bag down and made ready to make a phone call, just when I noticed a bloke walking towards me, carrying what must be a greetings card size banner for TrailBike Tours. Here we go then, I said something like 'You must be Dave?' to which the question was returned 'Derek?' All sorted then, Dave introduced me to Bob and Allyson who were my compatriots for the weekend.
During the drive to Andorra, I found out that Bob works at Donnington Park as a marshal having previously worked for Rover. He'd been introduced to Dave via a former BSB racer, Paul (Jones or Brown, I can't remember which now - he was with Virgin Yamaha during 2003, or was it 2002). Apparently a fair few racers come out here for the Trail Riding and Dave and Bob between them were able to do quite a bit of name-dropping. Lucky sods to be able to count people like that as friends. But hey, if it's good enough for them, I should be ok.
The drive from Barcelona to Andorra itself was schedule to take approx 3 hours. This is where I was able to tick off one from my list of travel experiences, that being the Motorway from Barcelona into the Pyrenees. The whole road twists and turns and climbs like no motorway I'd ever seen before. It's like someone had gone to Snake Pass, turned it into 6 lanes of blacktop without ever straightening it out. It was great fun in a car, must be even better on a bike. A tough climb as well for a lot of vehicles and this wasn't even the full Pyrenees as I found out over the course of the journey. It was just the climb from the coastal strip into the Spanish mainland.
After about an hour we left the motorway and started to follow an A-road to Andorra. To start with there wasn't much to see but eventually you could see the mountains on the Horizon. After a brief stop for a coffee/beer (delete as appropriate), the road started to climb again and didn't really stop climbing for the next 100 miles or so. This was now the Pyrenees proper and there was no room here for a Motorway. We were following a major river valley and it was one lane each way. Overtaking here on anything other than 2 wheels is really an art form. Western culture being what it is though; work was already underway to straighten the road. Cuttings were being dug, tunnels bored and bridges hung. Dave advised that they reckoned that the work, when complete, would save 1/2 hour of this part of the journey, shame that the playability of the existing road would be ruined.
Eventually we arrived in Andorra, suitably delayed by various traffic jams in Andorra itself. We checked in to our hotel, the Hotel Panorama, and agreed to just place our bags in the rooms and head straight back down for Dinner. We were done right proud here, a 3-course buffet that after a day's travelling, went down a treat. Dave hung around, eating seemingly for free, to explain the agenda for tomorrow. We agreed to meet in the Hotel reception at 9:00, after which Dave would escort us to the garage to get suited up and on the bikes, etc.
So it was just a couple of beers each, "Trez cerveza por favor" in my best Yorkshire accented Spanish (best coupled with much pointing and holding up of 3 fingers).
The view from my room the following morning was a sight to behold. The town of Andorra was nestled in a deep valley. The sky itself was bright and blue with some thick cloud cresting the mountaintops. At 7:30 you could tell the Sun was up, it just hadn't yet penetrated the valley bottom. I hung around in my room till about 8 after which I thought Bob and Allyson must now be up and about, so went down for breakfast.
Bob and Allyson weren't yet down so I set about tucking in. I think there must have been about 4 or 5 different courses available for breakfast, catering for every nationality. A definitely Spanish themed English of Sausages, very greasy streaky bacon, scrambled eggs, Spanish omelette, tomatoes. There were also Cereals, cold meats and cheeses, Breads, Coffee and fruit juice. Those of you that know me will guess that I sampled everything. Well it was going to be a very active day!
Bob and Allyson joined me shortly after and we discussed with trepidation what might be on for the day. I tried to reassure them that they'd be OK. I'd done the 1-day off road introduction with i2i and expected myself to be a little bit adequate, if not wary. I was telling them the same things I was saying to myself, "Look where I want to go, keep the weight over the front, don't get carried away". Of course this all went out of the window later.
We met up with Dave at 9, after he'd also visited the restaurant for breakfast. Having made sure we had all the gear we wanted for the day, he led us down to the garage. This was only a 5-minute walk from the hotel and was situated on the 2nd floor of a building. Yes you read that right, the 2nd floor.
Inside was a fully equipped 4x4 that looked if it could complete the Paris-Dakar, and a number of very clean Suzuki DRZ-400's. Next up was sorting out the riding gear; Boots, Knee armour, Body armour (all fitted to a mesh jersey for ease of fitting), Trousers, Jumper, Gloves, Goggles and Helmet. Dave didn't think we'd need riding jackets today (but I had a waterproof in my rucksack just in case). Underneath I decided to wear a wicking base layer to hopefully keep me comfortable.
Once we were all kitted up, Dave gave us a quick brief on the bikes, how to use the Electric Start for one (that'll save some energy), kill switch, petrol tap, choke, etc. Then it was time to turn them around (all facing the wrong way of course), push them down the corridor and into the lift. Once at ground level it was time to mount up and start the bikes. The sound of 4 single cylinder Trail Bikes in the narrow streets of Andorra was seemed to be absolutely deafening. No one complained though. Maybe the locals were used to this.
Dave led the way through the streets, as you would hope being the guide, followed by myself, then Allyson and finally Bob. Now this was strange. Riding a bike on the wrong side of the road, without indicators and having to use hand signals, I took to it like a duck to water. I really did feel like some sort of motorcycle rebel. After about 5 minutes, we pulled in to a petrol station for Dave to fill all the bikes up. I needed to top up my water carrier so went in to purchase a couple of bottles. The smallest note I had was 20 euros and the water must have been so cheap because the attendant just waved his hands with an anxious look on his face. I gathered from the others that he didn't have enough change. I hoped that when we stopped for coffee that the café wouldn't mind so much. Dave added the water to the cost of the petrol, which didn't cost that much either and then we were on our way proper.
I wasn't aware at this stage that most of the riding would actually be done in Spain. We followed Dave down the main road out of Andorra for what seemed like an age. When we approached the Spanish customs point, the guards there just waved us right through. They had definitely seen all of this before. A couple of minutes further we left the main road onto a dirt track.
The track immediately started to climb and it was quite bumpy and rocky. For me this was time to start standing on the pegs, which immediately made it more comfortable. It was difficult though trying to lean forward over the front when the bike was pulling so hard that it wanted to tip me off the back. I had to slow down to make it easier and Dave, still in front started to pull away. Every 400 meters or so there would be a sharp hair pin and when I looked back, and down, Bob and Allyson were nowhere in sight. I just continued to follow the track and eventually came across Dave waiting at a junction. Dave asked me to switch of the bike so he could listen out for Bob and Allyson. A few seconds later we could hear them and they soon came into view. Dave checked we were all-OK and pointed me in the direction to go. He told to me to continue following the track ahead until reaching the next junction. He would be watching Bob and Allyson for a while.
I set off as indicated. This was getting to be great fun, riding almost alone along a forest track with the sun beating down. Every so often we would pass a house, every one with a 4x4. The bike just excelled on the terrain. You could pop, or bounce, the front wheel over any bumps or small rocks and it just kept on going. Even using the brakes on the dusty surface didn't cause any problems. After a short while, still going up hill, I could hear Dave behind me. I pulled to one side to let him past but he stayed in position. Ahh! No it was my turn to be watched. We soon approached the junction Dave had mentioned and I pulled in to a lay-by to let Dave past but he indicated that it was time for a break. Whilst waiting for Bob and Allyson, Dave advised my to try and keep myself more upright on the bike. When going round corners I was leaning into the bend, pretty much as on a road bike. Dave advised that I should push the bike into the bend but say upright myself. This way I'd be keeping my weight over the contact patch and there'd be less chance of the bike breaking free. Not that it would at the pace I was riding anyway. Bob and Allyson were still riding seated but the same advice was given to them as well.
We sat for a few minutes in the sun, taking a breather, drinking water and having a smoke. Just be careful where you put that cig because even though it was late September, it was bone dry. Dotted around on the hillside where a few cows, with big bells on. That was another first for me, thought they only had those in the Alps. Time to take a photo or two. Dave said we had about another half-hour and that it would then be a Coffee stop.
Off we went again, this time Dave back in front and I decided to follow Bob and Allyson for a while. The track was still climbing and it was nice to go a slower pace for a little while. Not for long though and I soon decided to pass. They weren't going much slower than me, just that I was a little braver in stretches and more willing to open the throttle. They let me past quite easily and I set off after Dave. No chance of catching him though, he would just stop and wait for us to check we were OK then set off again in a cloud of dust.
The coffee stop soon arrived, and was situated at a sort of theme park half way up this mountain. There was archery, a mountain biking path and the outline of a ski run but only us 4 and a couple of parked cars. I decided to opt out of coffee and went for juice instead. I thought that would be better. I still had no need for change though as Allyson was paying. I didn't know it earlier but Allyson had enjoyed the first crash of the day, well more of a spill. She was OK and unperturbed by the experience so we all had a laugh about it. Dave then chose this time to ask our thoughts for the next stage. Some of the tracks so far had been pretty steep and we had handled them well. Were we prepared to handle some steeper, bumpier stuff or did we want to stay on similar tracks to what we'd experienced?
Of course it had to be steeper. The next stage would be all the way to the top.
From leaving the café, we set off again up another forest track, starting to climb before breaking through the tree line on to the upper slopes. The track itself started to disintegrate into a more rubble, potted surface. It was more difficult to actually try and pick the smoothest line and was necessary to use the throttle to try and pick up the front wheel. Beyond my skill though so I used another trick from Dr Dom. A twist of the throttle extends the front forks, which provides enough suspension travel to bounce the front wheel over the obstruction. It made for an entertaining yet demanding ride, all the time the track getting steeper. Dave let me go forward on my own so he could check on Bob and Allyson again. He just advised me to wait at the top.
I was starting to feel quite brave by now. I could see a long way into the distance since there were no trees to block my view and my speed started to increase. Getting near the top, the surface started to smooth out again and I decided to try and drift the rear wheel through the next corner. Whoops! That was a close one. Nearly lost it there. The rear wheel stepped out a lot further than I expected whilst leant over. Foot down needed to help push the bike back upright and away again. My heart was racing. A few hundred yards further a came across a viewpoint with a Cairn so decided to park up and take a breath.
The view up here was absolutely spectacular. All I could see in any direction where mountain tops. No houses, no people, no cars. The only trace of humanity being the track, the Cairn and the vapour trails in the sky.
I took a few photos whilst waiting for the others but I seemed to be waiting quite a while. I decided to walk back down the track a short way to get a view point of Dave, Bob or Allyson coming up the trail. Shortly Dave came racing in to view, it could only be him moving at that speed. As he parked up he explained that Allyson had come off again but she was OK and that they were taking it steady. A few minutes later Allyson arrived. Big beaming smile on her face. She was having difficulties but enjoying every bit of it. But no Bob? We sat waiting and sure enough, we could hear his bike. Apparently after Allyson had got going again, he'd had problems of his own but he too, was fine.
Once Bob and Allyson were rested and had chance to take some photo's, Dave gave us a final warning of not to go past him when he stops, then he led us off on the next stretch. After a short downhill, we turned another corner and started the final climb that took us to the very top. The track itself petered out and eventually we were just riding on black shale. Dave had set off at his usual, practised, pace but due to the nature of the terrain, we could see him well ahead. The steepness and looseness of the trail made this section very interesting but I tried to keep up the pace. It was only 5 minutes riding before I could see Dave park up and dismount ahead. As I approached, he was waving his arms for me to slow down, so I duly stopped and parked up just behind his bike. Now how do you dismount a tall trail bike when you're on a 20-degree incline, with your left foot just dangling in the air? The answer, kick out the side stand, dismount on the right whilst keeping the bike upright, then lean it away from you onto the stand. Man that took some figuring out. Must be the altitude. The answer actually came to me 10 minutes later when it was time to remount and I did the above in reverse. The dismount was much more comical.
Dave then motioned me over to show why he warned us not to go past him. Just over the other side of the peak was an extremely steep scree slope. Not the sort of thing for novice off-roaders to go careering down. Dave must have been happy with my competence so far though as he then asked me if I wished to attempt it. "No thank you" was my reply, wandering at the same time, how it would be down and how would you get back up to the top.
I later checked in an Atlas for details of where we had ridden. The peak of today's mountain was over 2600 metres high, at least 1500 metres higher than the town of Andorra itself.
Dave took this opportunity to give us a bit of a brief on where the ride would go next and also how we should attempt it. We were basically going to follow a figure of eight around the mountaintop, taking in a couple of the peaks.
The first part of the next stage would be a very steep descent, again on loose, rutted shale. This would be followed by a flat stage that could be attacked with an open throttle before another ascent and descent before bringing us back to our current position.
Helmets on and mounted up, away we went, Dave first and myself immediately behind. As I reached the bottom, I saw Dave quickly U turn and come back past me. Stopping to look behind, I could see Allyson in a lot of difficulty, trying to get her bike upright. She didn't look to be enjoying the descent one bit. Unfortunately for her, she was trying to control the bike with her feet on the ground and using the front brake. Not easy considering the height of the machines and with all her weight at the front. Maybe this stage was just a little too much, but she persevered and eventually got to the bottom.
As we then moved off again, Dave stopped ahead and motioned me to follow the track he'd outlined. This was now time to show off and again use the techniques learnt on the i2i off road day. I despatched the next climb with no difficulty and was able to stop and turn the bike in a very short space to come back down. I could see that Dave was motioning Allyson and Bob to bypass the climb and take a short cut. I think a wise idea.
The only thing left now was the descent down the Mountain. This was unfortunate for Allyson as she now suffered a severe attack of nerves. Having already fallen off on a steep downhill stretch, she was now confronted by another. There she was, a 3rd of the way down and had partially dismounted. She tried to mount again but the height of the bike and the gradient was against her. Flying above us was a sole bird of prey, circling, looking for prey. An ominous sight since we were the only living things visible up here. Then another trail rider appeared over the top of the peak, so we were not alone after all. After he had passed, Allyson was still stranded and it appeared that the only way forward was for someone to ride the bike down for her. Sure enough, Dave rode his bike back up the hill to meet her, parked up, mounted her bike and rode it down, Allyson following on foot. Dave then had to ascend the hill again, on foot; he must have been absolutely bushed, to retrieve his own bike. Problem solved. If it seems I'm picking on Allyson, I'm not. She had a very steep learning curve, having never ridden off-road, being short of stature and only having completed a few miles on road. She had a number of falls over the weekend but never gave up, always got back on and always kept smiling. Well done to her. I dare say if she goes back to repeat the trip, I believe as Bob and her are planning, she'll have a ball.
After all this, it was still only 2 p.m and we were yet to have lunch. Dave now led us down the mountain, back to the tree line and continue down. This seemed to take forever, as I was so hungry. We eventually came to a small village and rode up to a house with a table laid out on the veranda. This was one of numerous mountain restaurants that exist in the Pyrenees, most of which are just houses that serve food to the locals. Makes no difference to me, it was a welcome site. Helmets, jerseys and upper armour were removed and we sat down. The feeling of exhaustion hit us in waves. Glasses of red wine were poured from a jug and a plate of bread and a huge bowl of pasta were presented to us. We all heartily tucked in, eating our fill and more. It was so pleasant here, sat in the sun, I couldn't have cared if it was the end of the day but we knew there was more riding to come.
Turns out there was more food first. What we had just eaten was the starter; the lady of the house came out again with a bowl of meat and wild mushroom stew. We all tried some and it was wonderful but we were so stuffed we could hardly eat another thing, except for ice cream that is. Always room for ice cream!
After a break of about an hour, we started getting ready to move on. Dave congratulated us all on our riding so far, especially so to Allyson and Bob. What they had achieved in the morning was much more than you'd expect for novices and thankfully for them, the afternoon would be much more sedate.
Two events of note happened after lunch, one of which Bob will never let us forget, the other happened to me, finally. Riding along the forest track, I'd soon been left on my own, Dave way ahead in front, Bob and Allyson some way behind. I was trying to get a move on, at least trying to keep Dave's dust trail in site. Into a left hand bend I tried again to have some fun, getting the rear wheel spinning. Good idea but the wrong technique, the front washed away from me and I went sprawling into a bush. Ooof! Leaping to my feet, I was unhurt and I killed the engine and set about picking up the bike and hauling it back onto the track. It's a good job these things are lightweight. Dave had asked us to wait after a fall, so that he could come back and check both the bikes and us were ok to continue. Bob came past so I told him what had happened so he could relay the information on. Allyson waited with me, I think just so she could get a breather. Dave was only a couple of minutes and he came up, smiling and shaking his head. "I could have sworn you'd make it through the day without falling off". "I'm glad I didn't bet on it" was my reply. The bike was fine so onwards we went.
Bobs adventure was much more comical. A little later, we stopped at the side of the trail, overlooking a ravine with a fast flowing stream at the bottom. As I remounted the bike, I thought to myself, careful when you take it off the stand not to move it too far over to the right, otherwise you'll be right down that ravine. Mounted up and engine on, I pulled away, not knowing at all of the chaos that was about to happen behind me. A minute later, Dave stopped to check the rear. No Bob or Allyson again. Leaving me where I was, he headed back. About 10 minutes later, Dave, Bob and Allyson were back with me.
Bob, unluckily for him and not obeyed my mental warning. He'd swung his leg over the bike, from the left as normal, picking the bike up and leaning it to the right and right over. Apparently, this had sent him slipping down into the ravine, the bike thoughtfully just staying at the top. Dave nearly needed his rope for this one. If you talk to Bob about it now, he was hanging there, above a 3000 foot cliff with a raging torrent below, hanging on to nothing but a stick of wild rhubarb. It sounds great and is very nearly true. He kept the rhubarb for a little while, sticking it into his boot. He was very thankful to that little plant. It'd saved his life. Shame he lost it later, the rhubarb that is.
The afternoon, other than the above, did appear much more sedate than before lunch and eventually we rode back into Andorra, feeling like heroes. Not before passing a local on a mountain bike riding up a hill that we were going down.
We spent the evening having a short walk around town, but didn't really find much of interest, unless you like shopping so headed back to the hotel for a few more beers. The day had been long and we were tired, but had so much of the day's events to talk about. A good nights sleep was in order as we still had another day to complete.
After a good nights sleep, aided by a days riding and a few beers, Allyson, Bob and myself were pretty much ready to tackle the 2nd day of our trip in Andorra. We made our way back to the lockup and were pretty much surprised to find that Dave wasn't there. In his place was a colleague of his called Alan. Alan said that Dave had a lot of admin to catch up on so he would be our guide for the day. Alan himself had been living in Andorra for a good few years, primarily working as a Ski instructor but had then started working for TrailBikeTours and much preferred it. He was now considering giving up the Ski instructing so he could just ride all the time.
As we got changed, I decided that today looked and felt to be a bit colder than yesterday so I decided to wear an extra T-shirt under the armour. Alan said that today would be a bit easier than yesterday. More forest trails with a few small climbs, covering the west of the region rather than the south-east that we had done yesterday.
All mounted up, we headed out again for the dash through the streets of Andorra, being Sunday, it was a little quieter but still plenty of traffic about meaning we had to keep slowing down to ensure that we didn't get separated. We followed the same route back to the border crossing and this time headed right off the main road.
The climb wasn't as instantaneous so we had a bit more time to get used to being on the dirt. Not needed of course as we were now seasoned and the pace was a little quicker. At the first rest, Alan asked if I was OK and not too knackered from standing on the pegs all the time. "Not so" I replied, "I prefer it to being bounced out of the seat all the time". After a little while following him though I noticed that his technique was to remain seated wherever possible. Reading the trail ahead he was able to decide when it was necessary to stand up so I decided to give that a go. It was certainly easier on the uphill as I didn't feel the need to have to keep pulling my weight forwards against the acceleration of the bike.
At the next stop, we could look across the valley and Alan pointed out the mountain we had climbed the previous day.
The first proper rest stop of the morning was in a small village with a café-bar. The owners of the café were definitely cat lovers, there where about 20 running about, all pretty scrawny but seemingly well fed. The kittens had a great game of Tig under our table, in and amongst our discarded riding gear.
Alan told us that the village was the location of the last apparent sighting of the Holy Grail. I should have made a note of the village name 'cos I can't remember at all now.
The morning's climb eventually led us to the top of a Ski resort where there was also a communications relay. Must be high up again. It was pretty windy here so we took a break on the sheltered side. Bob however disappeared to take photo's. He took an absolute age and looking at the number of photo's he sent me after the trip I could see why.
By now I was absolutely roasting and had to take off that extra T-shirt. It was totally soaked with sweat, eurrghh! I stuffed it in my rucksack and with the wind I quickly dried off.
We headed down the other side of the piste's back into the woods and were having a really good day. Hardly any instances of people falling off and were making good time.
Lunch came early and we stopped at another mountain restaurant. This building was totally out on it's own with no other buildings in sight. The owners kept a pack of Huskies, for sled racing in winter, and Allyson was quick to get acquainted with the lovely animals. Inside we had another slap up meal that I can only call Carnivore's Delight. Sausages and Chops arrived on a sizzling griddle and were heartily devoured. Whilst eating, another off-road group arrived, this one being run with Honda XR's. The group were fully dressed in fairly good condition gear, including over-jackets. Didn't anyone tell them it was warm, especially as there was no electric start on those Hondas.
After Lunch, as we were getting ready to leave, Bob asked if I wanted any riding photo's so I quickly got ready and started riding up and down the track for him. The photo's not bad, shame that it didn't show the extremes of the terrain we had been covering.
Alan said that we'd enjoy the next bit. He would be taking us along some trails with water hazards. Off we went in the now usual order, enjoying the sun and the terrain. It took about half an hour to get to the water and Alan stopped us for a quick brief. He advised that we take each one slowly and try to avoid the path that the 4x4's take. The water will be deeper and hiding the ruts. We all made it through the first stream easily enough, and all of us with wet legs. Alan stopped us again and advised that we ride a little slower to avoid creating too much of a bow wave. No fun in that but we followed his advice anyway.
The fun soon passed though and after about 5 or 6 streams that crossed the road, we started to descent down into a valley. The track here was deeply rutted and I was having great difficulty keeping the bike up on the un-rutted part of the track. Slowly heading down a 1 in 4 incline I was soon stuck in one deep rut, heading towards a sharp bend. I tried to slow down even more to make it round under some sort of control. No luck here, the bike stopped, I didn't and went over the front and to the side into another bush. Thankfully Alan was just round the corner and quickly came back to make sure I was OK. I was and so was the bike. Rather than try and mount the bike on the downhill part of the track, I wheeled it down to a more level area. Unfortunately for Bob and Allyson, they were directly behind me when I went down and Allyson was in the same rut as me, now with her feet on terra firma, either side of her bike. She was unable to mount back up and had to un-ceremoniously inch the bike down the track using a combination of front brake and peddling. Like yesterday with Dave, Alan was amazed I'd become a cropper and was also sure I'd make it through the day without a crash. "I aim to please" was my reply.
After two more fords across deeper rivers, we started to climb again. Ahead of us in the distance we could see two more bikes on the trail, possibly about a mile or so ahead but the trail was winding. To me the day was getting on and I was quite tired. Looking towards these two other bikes I was wondering when it was going to end. Alan must have sensed this because he told me that the next bit was quite a bit of fun with some possible jumps. He was right on that score. Dug across the trail at regular intervals were channels to help feed the rain and melt water away. The earth from the channels had been pile onto the trail like sleeping policeman and everyone was a possible ramp. The trail was smooth enough to keep the speed up so just as Alan said, I had great fun trying to get the bike airborne and popping small wheelies. Finally we rounded a corner at the top and the trail ended, it became tarmac. And right on that point was a border sign to say we were entering Andorra. I'd seen the quality of tarmac change, say from entering Kirklees from Bradford, or Scotland from England, but nothing on this scale. These Spaniards have something to learn about road maintenance.
The ride back was now easy all the way back to the hotel. Really needed road tyres for this but it was great fun, downhill all the way twisting and turning and leaning the bikes as much as you'd dare.
A shame it was all over and that we'd be flying home the next day. There'd been no time to look round Andorra town fully, although I did manage to do some shopping for chocolates and things in the morning. This was an experience I definitely want to repeat.
Full details of TrailBikeTours can be found on the Internet (see www.trailbiketours.com) and if you're considering a motorcycle holiday, I recommend you take a look.
As for me, I'm considering going back again in September. Give me a call or send me an email if you're interested.
Derek Weldon, Ossett, West Yorkshire
As published in West Yorks Advanced Motorcyclists magazine.