Alvor 2022 #2

It is now Thursday 24 February and only two more days to go before I start my trek back to the Quercy. This is the first day of rain since I’ve been here, which has given me a chance to catch up on the Blog. I can’t complain as I’ve been here seven weeks and the daytime temperatures have consistently been in the high teens and often over 20. It looks like the freezing cold weather back home is finally over so not a bad time to be heading North.

For the second part of my stay I was joined by my sister Sara, who flew over for 10 days but decided not to share my little apartment, preferring to stay in a five star hotel on the beach instead.

Five star accommodation for Sara…
…with direct access to the beach…

As usual when I get together with my sister, we manage to get A LOT of exercise and during the course of her stay we averaged over 40,000 steps per day. This started with a morning run on the beach (which I have done every day I’ve been here), usually followed by a very long walk in the afternoon or a trip out on mountain bikes. I think she had ideas of lounging on a sun bed by the pool but in the end the holiday became a kind of “boot camp” by the sea – very enjoyable but admittedly quite tiring. We had two favourite walking routes – one out to the West across the marshes taking in the ruins of a Roman Villa, the other one was to the East along the beach (tide permitting) to the harbour at Portimao and our favourite destination – an ice cream stall. The ice cream cones were cheap, very tasty (mint choc chip) and enormous..

“One scoop” of ice cream !

As the walk to the ice cream kiosk was rather long we managed to find a beach restaurant to use as a refreshment stop near the half way point..

Light lunch en route to ice cream…

We managed a few meals out with Tim and Helen, when we could fit them in to our busy exercise schedule…

Alvor clams – a very local speciality

On one of the beach walks we decided to be a bit more adventurous and try to follow the line of the cliffs as closely as possible. Not really recommended as the cliffs are badly eroded and unstable – with lots of danger signs for good measure. A bit of rock climbing was an interesting addition to the training regime though…

Rock climbing practice

On one of the beach walks we came across one of the “stone piles” that are quite common (don’t know if they have a name – cairns?) – basically a stack of rocks created by a passing tourist. However, this particular stack was one of the most impressive I’ve seen. Usually they are just a pile of rocks in decreasing sizes, balanced on each other, but this one had small pieces inserted to hold the whole thing together.

Impressive “rock stack”

Sara and I stood there admiring it for a while and she became convinced that it was not free standing and must be glued together in some way – so scrambled up to take a closer look. As children we were taught to “look with your eyes not your hands”, but Sara completely ignored this lesson and lifted the top stone to see if it was held by anything more than gravity (it wasn’t). Unfortunately this destabilised the stack and the whole thing started to totter and collapse, the next picture shows her trying to hold it all together shortly before it became a very small pile of rocks…

Vandalism..

Once Sara had gone home for a rest I was back into my daily routine of a beach run, followed by breakfast of coffee and a Pastel de Nata at the Plaza cafe opposite the apartment.

Breakfast in the sun..

In the afternoon I would typically head out onto the trails to the North on my motorbike or mountain bike. My favourite destination was Monchique – up in the hills about 30Km North of Alvor, which took about an hour and a half on my (electric) mountain bike. It wouldn’t be possible to climb some of the hills without electrical assistance. Tim rented an electric bike from Tic Tac Cycles and joined me on one occasion, but he had a puncture en route and it took us four hours to get there.

Lunch in Monchique…

I was very impressed with the performance of Tim’s bike – he used a lot less battery than I did and managed to get up one hill that I had attempted and failed to get up several times on my bike. His rental bike was a KTM hardtail with a 250W centre drive motor and 400Wh battery. Mine is a home built electric conversion from a Trek full suspension bike with an OZO 1000W hub motor and 1000Wh battery – so on paper it should have been faster, run further and been able to climb better. As it turned out they were quite evenly matched with the KTM apparently much more efficient on battery use. Of course it may just be that Tim just has more cycling ability than I have – I needed to find out !

So I rented another KTM bike from Tic Tac to do the Monchique route and get a back to back comparison with my own bike. The results were very interesting, but I won’t bore you with all the details here. Suffice to say that the bikes were quite evenly matched but the KTM only used one third of the battery power needed by my Trek, and it managed to get up the tricky hill.

Once you get North of the motorway (and avoid the golf courses and solar farm) there are trails going everywhere. I had been spending quite a bit of time in the evenings plotting out and validating routes using Google Earth for me to explore the next day. As time went on I tended to stick to my favourite routes – usually involving a cafe as a destination. Most of the off road tracks are perfectly manageable and are really forestry tracks. However, some of them ae very much steeper and trickier due to the loose rocks or ruts. I didn’t intentionally try any of these on the mountain bike, but did test myself on a few with the motorbike. This particular hill is en route to Monchique and is pretty challenging although I did manage it…

Tricky hill climb, steep and loose…

Since I have been here I haven’t really used the car at all or been very far afield, so one day I decided to head out West to the Atlantic coast in the car and visited the fort at Sagres – just about the most south-westerly point in mainland Europe. The whole area seemed to be dedicated to surfing and with good resaon as they have some amazing surf beaches…

Surf’s up…

In the evenings, when not plotting routes or going out to dinner with Tim and Helen I did manage to read a small amount of one of the books I brought with me. My apartment was actually quite cold and dark in the late afternoon and evening so I often took the opportunity to get out and watch the sunset over the harbour…

Alvor harbour sunset…

Tim and Helen have been spending the Winter out here for many years and have made great progress with their Portuguese language skills – I can just about manage the usual please, thank you and can I have the bill. However, I did see an old Clio parked at the side of the road with some writing on the side window that I think I could translate…

Clean me !

Oh yes and I need to mention the Lemon Tea… I stopped having caffeine in the middle of last year and have been pleasantly surprised at the range of herbal teas available. Helen did mention once that I should try putting a bit of lemon rind in a cup of hot water to make a nice refreshing drink. I never got around to trying it and had assumed it would have very little flavour – how wrong I was ! It is now one of my staple brews, supplemented by a bit of ginger and turmeric…

Well that’s about it for this year, we’ll have to see what next year brings and whether I can make it back to Morocco. Until next time…

Morning beach run…

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Alvor 2022

This post covers the first three weeks of my “escape from the Quercy cold”, covering most of January 2022. For this part of the holiday I was joined by Georgina, recently returned from two years in Canada, who was off again at the end of Jan to participate in a Yoga teacher training course on one of the Greek Islands (Amorgos). Tim and Helen spend every winter out here and now have their own apartment in Alvor – they had kindly arranged an apartment rental for me in the same building at a very reasonable rate. My original plan was to use Alvor as a base but to also venture into Morocco but with the Covid situation this has not been possible.

7 January – off we go !

The journey from Albas to Alvor is about 1500Km and we broke the journey into three legs with two overnight stops. We were towing the trailer with my KTM and Trek mountain bike, to give me plenty of opportunities to explore the trails in theAlgarve.

Our first overnight stop was at a truck stop, which was fine, but we weren’t prepared for the dining experience… We went down to the “dining room” at the appointed hour and found lots of small tables spread out around the room – each one laid for one person. We sat down and were immediately brought another place setting and a bottle of red wine straight from the fridge. Food quickly followed – no menu, no choice – you just eat what you are given it seems…

Luxury dining, cold red wine and bread followed by soup…
Truckers Fayre…

The second leg took us right down through Spain to Badajoz, right on the border with Portugal. After two days driving I needed to get some exercise so went for an evening run down by the river.

Sunset run in Badajoz

This was a “proper” hotel but the main restaurant was closed so we went to eat in the cafe next door, which proved to be fairly basic, but filling..

Plenty of protein…

We arrived in Alvor in good time, but spent a while trying to get the trailer into the very small underground parking space. Tim was most insistent that nothing was allowed outside the white line on the floor that defined the allocated space. I carefully arranged the trailer and bikes to comply and used the space like this for three weeks, until one day I returned from a ride to discover that my trailer and mountain bike had been unceremoniously dragged across the garage into another space (in spite of having a wheel clamp fitted!). I consulted Tim and he soon realised that he had shown me the wrong space ! So much for being careful with the white lines !!

One of the great things about Alvor is the beautiful sandy beach that is only a short walk from the apartment. I have been taking advantage of this by going for a run on the beach every morning, usually followed by breakfast at the Plaza Cafe opposite the apartment.

Morning beach run…
Footsteps in the pristine sand…

After my run and breakfast I have tended to return to the apartment and spend some time reading on the terrace which gets the sun in the morning – not really had any rain and daytime temperatures have been 16/17 most days. There has been a bit of a chilly East wind but in the sun and out of the wind it is very warm and certainly a far cry from the sub zero tempertaures being experienced back home in the Lot.

Georgina had signed up to a local gym and was spending each morning there, before starting work at lunchtime – she has continued working for a Canadian cosmetics company, providing on line and telephone support to customers. This kept her busy all through the afternoon until 8pm in the evening. My afternoon routine involved heading out somewhere on either the motorbike or mountain bike, usually following a route I had planned the day before. There is an official trail riding route that covers the whole of Europe called the TET (Trans European Trail). This doesn’t come down as far as Alvor but does run East West through a town called Monchique, which is about 30Km North of Alvor. So I had in mind to head up North and explore some of this ready defined route. I also tried to find some routes of my own which became quite frustrating as a number of the routes I had identified from the map and on Google Earth turned out to be private or blocked off.

Viewpoint on the TET near Monchique, Alvor and the sea in the distance…
One of many blocked routes..

I spent many an evening plotting potential routes to explore – the main issue is that the coastal strip is all concrete so it is necessary to head North (or NE or NW) to get clear of all the development and across the motorway which runs parallel to the coast. North of the motorway there are an almost infinite number of trails to expore. However, I eventually worked out that directly North of Alvor is mainly golf courses, which don’t allow access to the trails and North East of Alvor is an absolutely massive solar farm that generates 49 MW of electricity. Other than using the main roads, the main route out is one I found to the North West which became my go to start point for any trail riding. In order to explore some sections of the TET I did three trips out with the car and trailer to get to the start of the route and then unload the KTM to get straight onto the off road sections.

Breakfast at the Plaza cafe – apartment in the background..
Heading out to Lagos across the estuary marshes..

My morning beach run makes an 8-10Km circuit, depending on how much of the beach I cover. The difficulty varies depending on the state of the tide. At low tide the sand is hard and flat, but with the tide in I have to run in the soft sand nearer the dunes which is much harder work.

Beach art…
Choose your orange – on the TET near Monchique..
Amazing place for trail riding…

I also played a bit of tennis with Georgina. Tim and Helen are regular players and members of the local club – but we couldn’t play with them as they are far too good for us! I brought my old bats and balls from France but found that the balls were so old they had lost pressure and didn’t bounce very much at all. Fortunately Tim was able to let me have some more from his stock and put mine in his special device for re-pressurising…

Tennis with Georgie…

Much needed refreshments after Tennis…

The Plaza Cafe gets the sun in the morning and it was usually warm enough to sit outside. I gradually worked my way through the various options covering various “pastries” and their toasted sandwiches – my favourite being the “Tosta Mixta” or ham and cheese. I finally settled on a decaffeinated coffee and “Pastel de Nata” – a traditional Portuguese custard tart. Tim and Helen’s usual habit is to eat out at lunchtime at one of the local restaurants which offer traditional Portuguese food (usually fish/seafood) and are great value. Tim usually makes a strategic choice of restaurant on the day by judging the amount of sun and the wind direction – ensuring that outside eating is going to be possible. Georgina and I joined them a few times – usually at the weekend when George wasn’t working.

Coffee and Pastel de Nata
Lunch at Horta with Tim and Helen

It seems that most of the land to the North of the motorway, that is not reserved for golf or solar panels, is dedicated to forestry of some sort. It is hard to tell as most of the trees/shrubs are only a few feet high and look to have been only recently planted – it seems that there was a massive fire that decimated the whole area and it is now being replanted. This has a trail riding side benefit in that there are a huge number of “twin track” trails, which are probably to provide forestry access to all the different planting areas. The ground is gravel/shale and mostly quite easy going if somewhat dusty. However, there are some big climbs and descents which can be okay, but in some cases have become very rutted due to heavy rain and strewn with rocks which makes some of them pretty challenging. I did find one over to the North East by the reservoir which I named “Dam Hill” – being close to the reservoir dam. I came to the top of the hill and looked at the steep, rutted and rocky descent and thought “shall I get off and walk the bike down here?”. Instead I just decided to go for it and managed to get half way down before I fell off – no real harm done but a lesson learnt. I subsequently went back to the bottom of the hill a few days later and walked up some of it to assess whether it was worth another attempt. I think it was probably manageable, but on my own in the middle of nowhere I decided it was took risky and left it for another day…

I forgot to bring the GoPro so don’t have any riding footage apart from this low quality video from my phone on the handlebars which gives some impression of the trail conditions. This is a loose and rutted descent but nowhwere near as difficult as dam hill – there are lots of them like this one so it is fairly typical. I was glad I didn’t bring my big KTM 950 on this trip…

Low quality phone video of the KTM on the trail

I also had a similar downhill scary experience on the mountain bike, which is much less capable on these big hills than the KTM.

Steep hill descent on the Trek

When not risking life and limb I do get a chance to stop and take in the views :

En route to Monchique

Monchique has become my favourite destination – it is reachable on both the Trek and KTM (using different routes) and has a nice bike shop/cafe, called Velochique, with great food and a sunny terrace.

Lunch at Velochique

I’m now about half way through my Portugal break and my sister Sara is arriving later today for the next ten days. It looks like the temperatures in the Lot are now above freezing but they’ll have to be much warmer than that before I’ll want to head home…

Alvor Beach

UK Trip 2021

After the VINCE 2020 rerun I was planning to go back to Spain with Alexander to do yet more trail riding, but he had just started a new job so that was cancelled. Instead I decided to head back to the UK with Dougie in his van to visit my brother Chris who had recently broken his leg and fallen behind with his very long list of jobs.

Breakfast in the van on our early morning channel tunnel journey..

Having arrived at Chris and Corinne’s place the first job was to get out one of his “big boys toys” and move some telegraph poles that are destined for use as fence posts.

Big boys toy…

The job list was very long and prioritising seemed to be difficult. As Chris said when sitting in the breakfast room you can look in any direction both inside the house and out of the window to see jobs that need doing. In fact we started with the job that was at our feet – there was a gaping hole in the floor which needed filling, after first re-plumbing the radiator, fitting insulation, floor boards and finishing off with oak flooring.

Big, draughty hole in the floor…
Job done !

While I was staying at Chris’ I wanted to try to keep up my exercise regime. For the next stage of the trip I was planning to visit my sister Sara in Preston who had just retired and had a wild idea of running a marathon. Despite the inclement weather I managed to find a few routes from the farm that weren’t too muddy and explored some public footpaths that didn’t look like they were used much.

Footpath

One of the biggest tasks on the job list was to make some progress with the loft extension. The builders had raised the roof of the bungalow to create a massive additional space – they had installed the new roof trusses, fitted windows and tiled the roof, but all the interior work was down to Chris. He had already fitted flooring boards and done a first layer of insulation in between the trusses. Then he broke his leg…. The next stage was to fit a second layer of insulation and then plasterboard the whole space.

Before – lots of work to do but a great view…

The insulation pieces needed cutting to fit in between the joists/rafters and because the joiners had done a less than perfect job, the spacings were not equal so every piece had to be measured before cutting.

Lots of measuring and cutting, and lots of dust…
Like a big jigsaw…
Making good progress on the insulation…
Bringing in the plasterboard sheets…
Homemade plasterboard lifting frame..
End wall needing battens, insulation and plasterboard…
End wall finished…
Job done…

The job took two weeks to complete and throughout we were kept well supplied with food and tea by Corinne…

Homemade Brioche..

After completing the plasterboarding of the loft it was time to head off to Preston and see what Sara had planned. We had originally talked about renting a cottage in the Lakes or North Wales and doing lots of walking, but the weather forecast was not looking good and she had a couple of rental properties that needed work. The idea of the marathon seemed to be fading but the daily routine involved either a 14 Km run or an even longer walk each day. In terms of food, her children had recently organised a combined birthday/retirement party with lots and lots of food so the fridge was overflowing when I arrived, plus the special cakes that her daughter Zoe had made.

One retirement goal that Sara was keen on was to complete the “Yorkshire Three Peaks” – in terms of distance this is equivalent to a marathon, but with three big peaks to climb. We had heard that it takes 10-12 hours to hike the route which meant we didn’t have enough daylight unless we could run some of the easier parts – we decided to give it a go anyway…

Nearing the top of Ingleborough…

We started off full of enthusiasm and made good progress up the first hill, but as we neared the summit the wind picked up and it became bitterly cold…

Freezing cold at Ingleborough Summit
Made it !

Having made it up the first hill we set off on the long trek to the second, but just got colder and colder. We stopped for a break out of the wind and my fingers were so cold I couldn’t do up my laces so we decided to call it a day rather than risk being exposed on another summit. But we were determined to come back and do more…

On the way back we passed a pub with a special weather forecasting stone hanging outside…

Weather forecasting stone

Sara has one day a week (sometimes more) of Grandma duties and looks after Rory. We decided to take him to the seaside at Lytham and for once the sun was shining…

Sunny day at the seaside…
Sara and Charlie…

One of the rental houses needed a new door mat so we called in to a shop to find one. Unfortunately Sara got distracted by the Christmas decorations and bought a Christmas tree which had to be installed as soon as we got home, despite it being November.

Early Christmas decorations…

Sara’s other children came round for a walk and dinner one day, for which Zoe had made a special bonfire cake…

Bonfire cake and crumble !

The gruelling exercise regime continued each day with long runs or walks under the usual Preston tupperware skies, but feeling quite autumnal.

Autumn leaves

One of the routes we used took us to a Starbuck’s, some of which allow dogs, which allowed us to indulge in a coffee and fruit toast. This didn’t last once we found that said toast has 450 calories, before you add the butter and jam…

Where’s mine ?

This wouldn’t be a blog post of mine if there wasn’t a mention of cars or motorbikes somewhere. We came acoss this bizzare contraption on one of our walks…

Bitsa…

And so it was that we decided to have a second attempt at the “three peaks” – this time we were better prepared with proper cold weather gear. But the weather turned out fine so the cold wasn’t a problem – our goal was to tackle the two peaks we had missed last time.

Great scenery and a lovely day..
One woman and her dog…
Ribblehead viaduct.

We managed to climb both Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside without too much trouble, but the conditions were very good and nothing like we had experienced the first time.

Back on with rental houses and now under time pressure as the new tenants wanted to be in before Christmas. Sara was tackling the painting (I couldn’t be trusted with a brush!) while I sorted out the DIY issues, one of which was a non working dish washer.

Ah, so that’s why it doesn’t work…

By now we had almost finished the left-overs so ventured into Preston to look for more provisions and especially the cheeses from the specialist stall at the indoor market. And I met Gromit outside the shop…

Gromit

Despite being retired Sara had agreed to continue working as a consultant for one day per week, my job was to take Charlie out for a walk. Called in to see Tim and Helen a couple of times, but was banished to the conservatory with Charlie to avoid getting dog hair and mud through the house…

Frosty morning.

While in the UK I took the opportunity to visit Felicity in Manchester and catch up with my grandchildren, before heading down to Sussex to see Lucy (and more grandchildren) – we also had time to go and visit Nanna.

The little beauties…

Bella had a tooth come out during my visit and was very excited at the possibility of the tooth fairy making a call, but she lost the tooth ! All was not lost as she wrote a little note for the tooth fairy which seemed to do the trick..

Dear Tooth Fairy…

Apart from getting up to Durham in Dougie’s van at the start of the trip and Chris/Sara doing a car relay to get me to Preston, the rest of my trip was using the train. I was a bit concerned at the general lack of mask wearing in the UK but seemed to escape uninfected (we had to do a Covid test before being allowed to see Nanna). Generally the train service was very good, although I had a couple of cancellations which introduced some minor delays. I took the Eurostar back to France, which was a first for me and worked very well. Then across Paris and train down to Limoges to be reunited with Hebe – fortunately she still recognised me.

Hebe Dog

Alexander kindly lent me the Focus to get back, but did mention that it needed a service, new front brakes, new tyres and a cam belt change. Oh yes, and the front windows have stopped working. Should keep me busy once I have defrosted the house – it was a bracing 8 degrees in the lounge when I got back…


VINCE 2020 Rerun

In the VINCE 2020 event we finished second using maps and compass with a score of 82 points. The number of competitors was significantly reduced (40 v 90+ for a normal year) due to COVID concerns and travel restrictions. For this reason Austin decided to run the 2020 event again in 2021 – same routes, same CPs – to give those that had missed the original event an opportunity to participate. We entered for the rerun but weren’t officially allowed to compete so we decided to try our luck using GPS instead of maps with the objective of beating last year’s score.

However, we had done no preparation for the rerun so after the Mondo in Spain we decided to head home for some route planning and servicing of the bikes…
I gave mine a wash and it was ready to go again :

Quick wash and ready for more..

Dougie’s Freeride needed a bit of tinkering before it was ready…

Freeride fettling…

It did clean up nicley once he had finished though – only time would tell if it would be reliable…

Cleaned up nicely…

I did need to do some work on my map board as we were intending to use our phones as GPS units, running an app to give us a track to follow. I wanted it mounted up high so it would be easy to see at a glance when standing up on the bike.

Map board with phone mount.

Dougie’s set up had two phones as he likes to use one for tracking the route and the other showing a wider overview of the general area – useful when having to replan the route on the fly.

Although the GPS option is easier to follow when riding, the amount of preparation is very similar and takes hours of work. We had to identify an “optimum” route for each day to accumulate as many points as possible within the time limit (12 hours riding per day). The selected route is then converted into a GPX track which can be validated using Google Earth to make sure the tracks exist and to try and spot any alternatives or short cuts.

Office converted to map central…

One of the difficulties we experienced last time we ran this event was in a large area to the North that consists of endless olive groves. They all look the same on the ground so navigating with a map and compass is really difficult. We were hoping to pick up time here and avoid getting lost. Here is a view of some of the olive groves on Google Earth…

Endless Olive Groves…

I managed to rustle up a few meals to keep us going – lots of vegetables to make a change from the Mondo menu of meat with extra meat at every meal. I did a stir fry one night but think I might have overdone the Chilli for Dougie’s taste…

We did manage a small amount of local trail riding in between planning sessions. This gave Dougie a chance to use his electric Freeride, but even that had problems and it had to be jump started from my bike every time we stopped !

Albas viewpoint.

We did a route that took us down into Prayssac which included the obligatory coffee stop where Dougie was able to have his cake and eat it.

Coffee and cake !

We saw some amazing views when we were in Spain, but the views from the terrace back home aren’t too bad either…

Morning mist from Hauts Du Brel

Once we had the bikes fettled, routes plotted and checkpoint cards printed and laminated, we were ready for the off once more..

Off we go again…

The location of the VINCE rerun was much further south in Spain and it took all day to get there. When we arrived in the early evening the town of Valderrobres was bathed in a golden glow.

Valderrobres

This was a new location for us – last year we stayed in Arnes a few Km away – and we struggled to find the hotel which seemed to be right in the middle of the old town with very narrow streets. Having failed to get the van anywhere near we called the hotel only to be told we had to park outside the town and walk !

Base camp established

The hotel was very old and quite small – the building to the right of the old gate in this picture..

Hotel in Valderrobres

We had a free day before the event and did a test ride and checked out the new walkie talkies we were planning to use – we soon gave up with them as the bike and wind noise made hearing anything very difficult. Dougie discovered a problem with the starter switch/solenoid on his bike, possibly as a result of pressure washing – so it was back to base for more fettling. Fortunately he has spares of almost everything and the solenoid was soon changed.

Day 1
We got away on time and set off on the long road stretch leading to the first trail. I was having trouble with my phone/app as it would not update the GPS location and was telling me I hadn’t left the car park. Fortunately we remembered this route from last year so finding the start of the first trail was no problem and my phone soon sorted itself out. Dougie was having more trouble – the Freeride was misfing along the road stretch and he was afraid this would only get worse along the bumpy trail. I set off to go and get the first checkpoint with Dougie following along behind – it didn’t matter too much if we got separated as we were both following the same GPS track and the app we were using has a useful “Buddy Beacon” feature to show where the other person is (or where they were 5 minutes ago). I got the first CP and waited, but no sign of Dougie. After a while I decided to retrace my steps to see what had happened and came across him at the side of the trail with his bike partially dismantled.

Breakdown on the trail…

He couldn’t do too much on his own as I was carrying the tools, but soon had the bike completely in bits. It emerged that the starter motor had engaged as he was riding along the trail and had kept on cranking continuously until it flattened the battery. Having stripped and checked everything there was nothing for it but to reassemble and try to get it going again. But the battery was dead flat and the Freeride doesn’t have a kickstarter (weight saving). Trying to bump start the bike on the trail was hard work but at least it was downhill going back the way we had come. It didn’t start…
We eventually made it back down to the road with the Freeride coasting most of the way…

Battery swap…

The Freeride battery was completely dead, but we realised it was the same size as the battery on my bike. Not only that, but my KTM does have a kickstart and doesn’t need a battery to run. A battery swap did the trick and we got the Freeride running again, but decided to head back to base for further investigation rather than risk being stranded out in the middle of nowhere.

Back at base for yet another strip down…

In the mobile workshop Dougie did have a spare battery, but it too was completely flat. He had brought a new spare battery with him but gave that to a needy friend at the VINCE a couple of weeks ago… Having checked all we could we decided to set off again to try to collect at least some points – crossing our fingers that the Freeride kept going and that mine would continue to be OK on the kick starter only. We managed to collect a few points and did one particularly gnarly goat trail that Austin had warned “no big bikes” and “no novices”..


Tricky trail – a lot worse than it looks in the photo…

I dicovered a problem with my setup – the phone wasn’t charging, probably due to the flat battery I was using which was refusing to hold any charge. As we were reliant on the phone for navigation we decided to call it a day and head for home to try to source a new battery for the Freeride to give us a decent shot at Day 2.

Back at base Dougie went to see Austin…
Fortunately he had a battery, but it was attached to his bike so he offered to lend it to Dougie for the day…

Austin’s CRF 250L

A bit of work was required to fit the map board/navigation and charging system to Austin’s bike, but at least it looked like we were in with a chance for Day 2…
Coincidentally Dougie had begun to tire of the Freeride and the constant maintenance and reliability issues and had been hoping to blag a ride on a CRF at some point…

The CRF 250L and Austin’s bike in particular is a very rugged and reliable machine (it’s a Honda!) and Austin had ridden his all the way down from the UK. It is a relatively heavy bike, made even heavier by the accessories and luggage that have been added…

Ex army canvas panniers…
Luggage rack, or fireguard…?

Day 2
With a reliable bike the machine problems were behind us and we could concentrate on following the route we had planned. As with the Vince 2021 we adopted our usual formula – me in front getting to the checkpoints and reading the tags, Dougie following, keeping a check on the route and monitoring the schedule and replanning as required to keep us on track.

Compared to the map and compass approach I found using GPS to be much better. Following a map is fine if your hiking or stationary but doesn’t allow you to glance down while riding to check you are still on track. With a GPS mounted high up on the bike it is possible to ride at a reasonable pace and concentrate more on riding while also being able to check that we are on track. When we did go wrong it was only by 50m or so and mistakes were quickly and esily corrected.

We made great progress and only a couple of minor errors – one place where the road we wanted to access from the trail was fenced off (not shown on the map or Google Earth), so we had to find an alternative route, and another where the trail we had plotted on the GPS didn’t exist – again a work around route was required.

We rode for 11 hours on Day 2 and managed to collect 74 points despite tackling the olive groves. Last year we scored 82 in two 12 hour days – our total this year was 83 so we did meet our objective of beating last year, but not quite in the manner we had expected. If we had managed a full Day 1 we would easily have had the best score in the event, although it would not have been recognised due to our prior knowledge. We arrived back after sunset and didn’t get back to the hotel until after dark…

The next day Dougie gratefully returned Austin’s bike with a “payment” of a new rear tyre…

Dougie a bit tyred today…

So what did Dougie do about the Freeride and the Honda v KTM debate ?

Which to choose ?

Well he made the only sensible choice and flogged the Freeride on ebay and ordered a brand new Honda….
On the GPS v map and compass issue, Dougie has insisted that we continue to go “old school” for next year’s event, so watch this space….

Mondo 2021

This one week event is the creation of Austin VINCE whose first round the world ride in 1995 was called “Mondo Enduro”. This was in the days before anyone had heard of “adventure motorcyling” and had not been seriously attempted before. Austin and his brother with a few other mates set off on Suzuki DR350s and spent many months and thousands of miles on the road. This video gives a few more details of the trip…

Mondo Enduro

Nowadays there are lots of people that have followed in Austin’s footsteps and he decided it would be a good idea to create an event that would give people a taste of adventure without all the unknowns and risks. This was called “Mini Mondo” and has been running for a number of years. The format is to set off for a week into the Spanish Pyrenees, rough camping every night and carrying everything you need on the bike. Washing is only possible when the route passes a mountain stream !

Dougie has done a few of these but I’ve never been attracted to the rough camping idea. Fortunatly Austin came up with a new idea which he originally christened “Marriott Mondo” – this would follow the same routes as the Mini Mondo but with the advantage of being able to stay in “proper” accommodation each evening – like a Mini Mondo for softies, which suited me fine – Dougie and I signed up. Unfortunately Austin received a legal “cease and desist” notice from the Marriott legal team and renamed the event Motel Mondo – only these aren’t motels but country farmhouses that are well off the beaten track and definitely not on AirBnB.

The Mondo Team

We assembled in the nominated hotel car park – a motley bunch of 14 riders and their machines to be ably guided by Austin and his right hand man Dai Jones. Unfortunately the event was over subscribed as there is a limit in some areas on the maximum number of riders in a group (6). Dougie saved the day by volunteering to lead a third group. There was quite a range of machinery and quite a few intrepid souls had ridden all the way down from the UK – a couple of Husqvarna 701s, a Triumph Tiger 800 and the ubiquitous Honda CRF 250Ls. A few guys had hired bikes locally, one of which was Steve’s DR650 which came with a rucksack full of spares. This was just as well as he managed to drop it in the car park and bust a brake lever..

Lever replacement before starting…

The DR proved to be one of the more troublesome bikes as it developed an oil leak which dripped onto the exhaust and ensured the bike was always followed by a blue haze and a strong smell of burning oil. Still he kept it topped up and it lasted the week.

Rather than write a long description of each day, I’ll let the photos and captions speak for themselves… We were blessed with great weather and the views at every turn were stunning. The places we stayed were great and every meal was a Catalan meatfest…

Not more bloody motorbikes…
Riding the trails…
View from one of the overnight stops…
Mind the drop…
Another overnight stop with a view…
Austin’s heavily loaded bike with his mascot…
Photo : Austin VINCE
Photo : Austin VINCE
Photo : Austin VINCE
Photo : Austin VINCE
Settling in for the evening…
Meatfest…
Photo : Simon ALDRIDGE
Settled in for the evening…

As the teams and sleeping arrangements were mixed up over the days we gradually got to know everyone on the trip. On this particular evening Austin decided to have a game of “Brush with Celebrity” – where each person in turn gets to tell a story about their own celebrity encounter. The one that I liked best was from Rich who held up his phone and played a video message addressed to our group from Mark Webber – turns out that Rich is his personal trainer !

Getting some help loading my bike in the morning…
Views forever…
The meatfest doesn’t stop at breakfast time..
Lunch stop, careful Austin’s baguette may be loaded…
Lots of photo opportunities…
Selfie time…
On top of the world after an epic hill climb…

On the afternoon of the last day, the groups were split up to take different routes, some people wanted to get away early and take the early bath and others wanted to keep going. I chose to go with Dai’s group as he was offering a very challenging and very long hill climb. It was brilliant fun ! After the climb one of the others decided he had done enough and headed back. That just left Dai, Achilleas and myself and we had a blast. Dai kept upping the pace which was great fun and we got back to the hotel buzzing.

One of the traditions of the Mondo events is that someone volunteers to be the diarist for each day – and makes a record of all the interesting things that happen. The author then reads out the diary at the end of the day, telling amusing tales of the day’s events. This is usually very well received as eveyone has had a drink or two by then. I volunteered to do the diary on the last day, which was a tall order as the preceeding days had been very amusing. I won’t bore you with the full story but I did go “off piste” a bit and talked about some of the riders and their bikes – especially the clown that turned up on a two stroke… The most impressive ride of the week was down to Gary who managed to wrestle his huge Triumph Tiger around without any serious mishaps. I composed a limeric for him…

There once was a rider called Gary
Who thought he had entered a rally
With balls of brass and puckered arse
His skills on his bike were uncanny

To finish off the diary reading I decided a sing song would be a good idea and chose the Frank Sinatra song “My Way” as a base – I can’t sing at all so probably sounded a bit more like the Sid Vicious version of the same song. I also changed the title and got everyone to join in with the chorus line…

WE DID IT OUR WAY

And now, the end is near
And so we face the final diary
My friends, I’ll say it clear
And make it up so it’s rhymly
We lived a week that’s full
We traveled each and every byway
And more, much more than this
We did it our way

Regrets, we’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
We did what we had to do
And saw it through to avoid detention
Our guides made each gnarly route
Each dusty track along the byway
And more, much more than this
We did it our way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When the muddy dust obscured the view
But through it all, when there was doubt
We ate it up and spat it out
We faced it all, and we stood tall
And did it our way

We’ve loved the varied rides
We’ve had our fill, our dose of sunshine
And now, as aches subside
We fortify with food and red wine
To think we did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me
We did it our way

Yes, it was our way

Until next time…