14 February 2016

Bike-hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees

Arriving back in Spain after a year and a half on the road, we made a beeline for Benasque, a small town in the Pyrenees Mountains where we could spend time with family, be in nature, and generally ease back in to 'real life' as the Canadians processed our visas. Most of the month and a half that we were there we were without a car, making for plenty of bike and hike adventures.

Happily for us, the Valle de Benasque is littered with signposted MTB trails.
Our first outing is for the signposted 'Vuelta a la Sierra de Chia' route which circumnavigates the Chia mountains. A bit tougher than anticipated but great fun!

We marvel at Spain's awesome dirt roads and vow to find more time to explore them.

The views provide a good reward.

Too often, we decide to try out tracks we find online which take us down unreasonable paths for our bike setups and/or skill level. Well, we fancied a bit of bike and hike anyway!

There are plenty of towns in this valley (Chía in the background), but it's also possible to spend a day cycling on tracks and paths and never step foot in one.
Some days we drop the bikes and hiked up easier trails with the family

The views never disappointed

Getting higher

The Aneto in the background, with its tiny glacier

Close up on the glacier...to the right we saw a line of people climbing up

At the top of "El Portillón" one can see La France and on a clear day the end of the Pyrinees. Definitely a route worth attempting as a hike-a-bike

A little easy scramble and Alberto reached the Salvaguardia at 2700 m. 

The Valle de Benasque on the left

The Aneto range to the South

Switching back to bikes, we are always impressed by some of the old doors found  in the Pyrinean villages

Another loop around the Sierra de Chía, and some of the peaks found along the way

We are most certainly in the best shape of our lives but these rides in the Pyrenees are really tough on us!

Trails reminiscent of those in the Andes

With the occasional singletrack thrown in

Friends Jorge and Fina came out to play for a weekend, so we took them up to an ibón (alpine lake)

Coming from the warm city of Valencia, they enjoyed the change of scenery

With autumn right on us, it was mushroom picking season. We all know this one, right!?

Having been eating oats for breakfast for several months in a row, we couldn´t help but mention the similarities between these mushroom features and oats

Still lushy green, but not for long

Casa de Conques, a historic place near Benasque

Some more singletrack puts Lucy to practise her skills

Switching to backpacks once again, we aim for Ibón de Cregüeña to overnight there

Hiking up some boulders

Upon reaching the lake, snow starts coming down hard on us, followed by an electric storm. Both not ideal conditions, so we retrace our steps and camp lower down

The following morning we decide to join a mushroom picking free class organised by the folks of the village of Sahún. Here´s a winner Boletus edulis (aka ceps, porcini or simply boletus) with locally made deer chorizo

In the evening, an expert identifies more than half dozen mushroom that we picked up during the day

Just before turning back to Madrid and prepare for our move to Vancouver, we hiked up to El Turbón. 

Met some foggy conditions on the way up

And eventually hit the summit in near 0 temperatures and heavy rain. Happy faces all around for a wonderful time in the Pyrinees. Until next time. See you Spain!

02 January 2016

Eureka MT to Calgary AB via the Great Divide Mountain Biking Route: A grand finale

Having long ago bought tickets out of Calgary to head back to Europe, by the time we got to Eureka, Montana we were still pretty conflicted about it and fantasized about turning right instead of left (south instead of north). But it was not to be, it was time to start wrapping up our year and a half of cycling in the Americas. We would join the Great Divide Mountain Biking Route (GDMBR) north to Banff, Alberta as our grand finale. The Canada section is rumored to be the most beautiful of the entire GDMBR (which stretches from Banff to the Mexican border), so we tried to let that fact comfort us as we finally admitted to ourselves that it was all coming to an end...

By this time we are old pros at planning multiple days without shops - although having to hang a bear bag with four days of food did get interesting...

We set off from Eureka towards the Canadian border a few hours' ride away.

Bus-sized campervans towing rather large cars - yep, we're in Canada again (and this is the smaller sibling of what we saw most of the time!)

No sooner do we cross the border do we find ourselves on some classic dirt road tracks, courtesy of the GDMBR.

Beautiful wildflowers bloom in these hills

After cresting our first pass of the trip we descend again on virtually traffic-free roads...into the Flathead Valley (known as the Grizzly highway cause it has the highest grizzly concentration of North America apparently)

...and eventually hit the bike-hike section that will connect us to another forest service road - it's little unmapped connectors like these that make the GDMBR a proper route instead of just a bunch of dirt roads you could follow yourself.

The path is beautiful, if slow-going.

We do wonder what would happen if we came across a bear in these woods!? We (Lucy) sang loudly...

Finally, road again!

We pedal into the dusk, looking for a place to camp with adequate trees for food cache hanging. Coming around a bend we see a rather large black bear running away from us (having been frightened by Lucy's singing). Now we DEFINITELY want to find a good camp spot for hanging the food!

Can't complain about the scenery though.

After a free camp in one of the BC Forest Service campgrounds we are on our way again in the morning.

We pass Butts cabin, a hunter's shelter, and have a bite to eat before carrying on. We knew it was legal (after you pay a ton of cash) to shoot bears in Canada...but here we see proof that it´s a big deal to bag a few bears in one day.

The views get better and better.

The next day, we spot this guy while having a late lunch. We had planned to camp right about where he was standing! One of the beauties of bike touring is the ability to change plans rapidly!

Around this point we notice a bad crack in Lucy's rear rim - it's a cheapie that we got in Cajamarca, Peru. This means we have to find a way to a bike shop - not convenient!

First we have to pass through the coal mine at Corbin... later when we fly out of Calgary all our equipment will test positive for explosives because of this!

We head into Sparwood on pavement which is kind to Lucy's back tire.

Sparwood is mainly known for its massive truck, but it's also the first town in four days and conveniently located not too far from Fernie, a town with plenty of bike shops.

We hitch a ride to Fernie (5 minutes of cycling on highway 3 is enough to convince us to wait for a pickup and fortunately we strike it lucky quickly enough). It costs us a day's riding but we manage to get a used, UCI approved rim.

Back on the trail there are berries all around. Alberto is delighted as it means he can eat them. Lucy is terrified as berries mean bears!

We had thought about making it to this cabin to sleep but on our way up the pass a driver tells us he has just seen a grizzly mom and cubs by this cabin. So we stop to camp lower down, and make an almighty racket when we pass by the next morning.

Approaching Banff National Park the views open up.

We feel very privileged to be riding through such beautiful areas.

Our last night on the GDMBR we meet Joe, a Brit heading in the opposite direction. It's camp o'clock anyway so we camp together, sharing stories and tips in the way that only cycle tourists can.

After so much time on remote forest roads it is somewhat shocking to arrive in tourist-trap Banff. How some people come to Banff just to stay at this pretentious fortress-looking hotel...something worth a PhD thesis

A separated cycle lane mercifully takes us to Canmore, a more real town than Banff. We get dinner and camp somewhere hidden from the road on what would be our very last night of cycle touring. The next day we passed through Cochrane, a suburb of Calgary that has nothing but new developments...and shares its name with Cochrane in Southern Chile, definitely a rather more interesting place on the Carretera Austral.
At some point we are sure we've truly reached Alberta (although we've been in the province a few days already) when we start seeing nodding donkeys in every backyard. 

Our kind warmshowers hosts in Calgary take us with them on a hike in the Lake Louise area.

We're glad to go with people who know the trails and take us to a pretty quiet one, so close to the crowds of Lake Louise.

We stop by the touristy parts too just to say we've seen them.

And soon it's time to put the bikes on the plane again! An anticlimactic end to the journey but all good things come to an end.  Until next time...maybe Central Asia?