QECP Collective on tour in the Basque Country
Myself and Rupert headed off to the Basque Country to see our friend Ian Robertson who was spending 5 months working as a guide for Basque MTB after wangling a career break from work (unpaid!!). Ian had been on a few mountain bike holidays around the globe but after visiting Basque MTB last year he loved it so much he wanted to become a guide himself and set about getting the qualifications, experience and time of work to do what he wanted to do. (to find out more on Ian’s adventure visit his blog at http://thetraineemtbguide.wordpress.com )
Once all was agreed myself and Rupert set up a date to go out and visit him and booked up with Doug who runs Basque MTB. Rather than stay in Hondarribia (in northern Spain), where most guests of Basque MTB do, we stayed in Guethary in the south of France as that was where Ian had decided to locate himself during his 5 month sabbatical. We booked up a flight to Bilbao and a “chalet” in a camp site in Guethary and rode as much as we could to get ready for the mountains of the Basque Country.
I had never ridden abroad (unless you count Wales!) but Rupert had been riding in various spots around the globe including the Alps, so he knew what a good bike holiday was. I had however been to the Basque country before so knew of the beauty of the area and counted Donostia (San Sebastian) as my second favourite city in the world. I had no preconceptions of what the trails would be like. If Ian hadn’t have been a guide with Basque MTB I would have probably followed the well worn path of a holiday in the Alps to pop my riding abroad cherry.
I can’t say that Basque MTB is better than the Alps as I have never been there, however on only our second day of riding in the Basque country Rupert had declared the trails we were riding were better in his book. Why? More natural and technical compared to the fast motorway like bike parks of the Alps according to Rupert. Horses for courses I guess you could say.
For me the trails were amazing. Every day was something different, from coastal paths along cliffs to dusty desert plains, attacking the wind turbines that loomed on the horizon like a bicycled Don Quixote. As the week progressed so did the trails, pushing my boundaries each day and improving on the way… well until the last day where I think a bit of fatigue and erring on the side of caution crept in….. and my brake pads had worn out!
The trails, in my opinion, were the best I have ever ridden. Why? In the current world of trail centres it is impossible to have pieces of tight flowy singletrack, as 100,00 riders a year wont make it tight anymore so trails have to be built to be hard wearing and often weather proof, which to me takes out some of the seasonal fun of mountain biking. The trails we rode were a mixture of fire road ups, hand made slithers of singletrack carved into steep loamy mountain sides, which were “maintained” by the tyres of skilful riders, and shared footpaths (which is legal in Spain). Rocks, roots and dust were all part of the daily diet of trails. All trails are little used by bikes as “mountain biking” seems to be mostly confined to roads and fire roads and ridden on hard tails. Each time we passed any walkers they stood aside, clapping and cheering us on as if we were in a race. Quite different from crossing paths with walkers in the UK. This means you are getting a truly unique trail and experience, feeling much more in contact with nature than you would on an all weather motorway of table tops. Not that bike parks can’t be fun.
Doug seems to have access to limitless amounts of trails and tailors rides to the rider’s wants, needs and skill levels. There is something for everyone at Basque MTB. Doug and Ian provide transport to the rides (the longest we had being a 90 minute journey to the desert as it was raining by the coast) and even throw in some uplift so you get more downs than ups.
So will I now do an “Ian and take 5 months off work to have fun in the Spanish sun? No. I really underestimated how hard guiding is. I realised this within the first few minutes of the first days ride as Ian and Doug had to help another member of the group we rode in with some issues with their bike. To be a guide you need to be very good on a bike, willing to engage and chat with customers, patience of a saint, good knowledge of trail side bike maintenance as well as dealing with all the logistics of picking your customers up and taking them home, hopefully all in one piece. I don’t think I’m capable of any of that! Doug however says it is easy, which it might be for him. Obviously I will say nice things about Ian but Doug is also a fantastic person to ride with. He is very relaxed on the trail and attentive to everyone’s needs and is very happy to help people get the most out of their holiday and bikes. Some people may think that guiding isn’t needed when on a bike holiday, but if you really want to explore natural as well as hand sculpted trails then there is no way you could do it without a guide, plus they get you there in the first place. Oh and they always make sure you have a nice place to get lunch from and more often than not finish the ride with an alcoholic beverage in hand.
Now if all that hasn’t tempted you then being located in the gastronomic capital of the world (Donostia has more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else) next to beautiful mountains which are the backdrop to some of the best surfing beaches around surely must. Beautiful scenery, amazing food, drink, and jaw dropping sunsets are just part of life in the Basque Country. So you shouldn’t ask yourself why should you go, you should ask why wouldn’t you go. As for that I can’t think of one answer.
For more information on Basque MTB visit http://www.basquemtb.com and for more holiday snaps http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152110974925321.899444.863690320&type=1
A big thanks to Doug and Ian for their hospitality and Rups for being the faithful domestique