The next morning, we woke early to blue skies and cold air. We had a big day ahead of us, potentially the toughest of the trip.
We were traversing across Guara to reach Ainsa and as we were coming to know Guara doesn´t give up its secrets easily; we were expecting to pay for today´s passage with sweat and maybe with blood and tears. All morning and through the early part of the afternoon we rode the most sublime singletrack; ancient trading routes which were only just keeping clear of the encroaching vegetation. Nothing was easy as we winched our way up massive, steep rock slabs and then plummeted down the other side on very technical rocky trails. In these places we were really reliant on our equipment, a bike breaking out here would have spelt disaster for our journey and would have meant a long, long walk.
Luckily for us everything worked perfectly and we crossed Guara, reaching the boundaries of Zona Zero early in the afternoon. With Ainsa in our sights we rode a few stages from the EWS race which had been held here the year before, their well ridden singletracks providing a sharp contrast to the anti-flow trails of Guara. Our weary group rolled into Ainsa just as the sun dropped and night rolled out over the mountains. We didn´t even make it to our apartments but instead we decided to stock up immediately on liquids and then on fuel (beer and pizza!) Everyone slept well that night.
The next morning promised another bluebird day and we had an easy ride planned. Oh wait… no we didn´t! Another hard day in the mountains it was then! We had an uplift from Ainsa, and that was about as easy as the day got. We had chosen to ride into the high Pyrenees mountains on an old aqueduct cut high in the cliffs, perched above the valley below. Not a trail for anyone with vertigo! We rode along and up this trail for most of the morning before enjoying a technical descent full of slippery switchbacks down to the valley below. Another big uplift was followed by around an hour of carrying up to an exposed mountain top.
I have always said that if you want to ride the best trails you need to carry your bike a bit and I´ll stand by that statement. It really cost us to get to the top of that mountain, yesterday weighted heavy in our legs and the mountain seemed to rear up ahead of us, challenging us to take the next step. It was worth it though, oh yes it was definitely worth it. Dropping down off the head of the mountain we reached some sections were it would be suicidal to try and ride but as we dropped slightly further down we reached the gentler shoulders and the trails opened up and became more flowing.
Speeds increased and we played with the limits of traction in the beautiful corners, dropping through high mountain meadows and racing through copses of trees. Somehow we found ourselves racing against yet another sunset and the light was definitely in short supply in the forest sections of the trail but somehow that added some adrenaline to the descent. Eventually we popped out of the singletrack and arrived directly to a bar, and our bed for the night. We refreshed ourselves on Tronzadora beer, from a local brewery which puts part of it´s profits into the Zona Zero trail project. Again, sleeping wasn´t a problem tonight!
That day we rode out from the accommodation with the breaking the dawn. There were blue skies but some low mist and some heavy clouds on the horizon. We had planned to ride some road to get to the next trail but talking with the barman that night, (in the spirit of research obviously) he showed us a bit of singletrack which left from our accommodation and took us directly to the next trailhead. People were tired and sleepy-headed but that changed quickly as we dropped into the most technical trail so far, made even more testing with the morning´s dew on the steep roots and rocks. It was a challenge to stay on the bike and to keep the speed under control for the tight corners and by the time we reached the valley floor we were wide-eyed and full of life.
What a way to wake up, if only we could do that every morning I think that the world would be a far better place. We spent the next two hours being uplifted high, high, high in the mountains but that wasn´t the top! From here we put our bikes on our backs again and we climbed on higher and higher. We carried, pushed and rode for the next couple of hours as the landscape lost any hint of green and became distinctly lunar. We rode along tiny singletracks trampled down in black rocks at 2700m as our lungs screamed and our legs burned. Eventually we reached the top and hunkered down behind some larger rocks, (it was cold up here despite the blue skies), and lunched on choizo and cheese. From here on it was down, down, down to the valley floor below. What a descent! It´s a cliché to say that it had a bit of everything but in this case I´m going to risk using that cliché.
We passed through the high mountains on an old trail which was used to carry wood from Spain into France and descended from 2700m down to 1300m on an incredible singletrack that took you on a journey from high alpine down through high meadows, forest and eventually onto a technical riverside singletrack. On this descent I found myself behind Sam, with him on the Occam AM and me on the Rallon. The two bikes were fast in different places and Sam and I were the same, although Sam is the better rider and was generally faster than me. The pace built up and we played cat and mouse all the way to the bottom of the mountain, testing ourselves and our bikes to the limits and barely stopping to take in the stunning surroundings we were riding through.
When we eventually arrived to where the valley widened out, late in the afternoon, we were met by a 4×4 and started the drive back to the next summit. When we unloaded our bikes high in the mountains the sun had already set and only the last bit of light sneaking over the horizon guided us the along the way. As we saddled up and followed a path into the deep shadows between two mountains the group were obviously apprehensive about what was coming. After a few minutes of pedalling we saw two shapes looming out of the murk ahead of us, as we moved forwards the shapes slowly resolved themselves into two men, leading two mules. We followed them by the light of their head torches down into the base of the mountains and reached a high mountain lake, an Ibon. Following the shores of the lake we saw the welcome glow of the tents where we would spend the night.
Leaving our bikes again on the cold ground we entered a big tent where there was light, and food and most importantly beer and wine! We ate like kings that night, looking out of the tent at the millions of stars which lit the sky and were reflected in the ibon. We told stories of the ghost which haunts the lake, a Muslim queen who rises on the longest day of the year and can only be seen by the pure of heart.
As we scared ourselves with ghost stories the temperatures dropped rapidly. We fortified ourselves with wine and finally crawled into our sleeping bags, most of us wearing all of our clothes. Most of us slept well, apart from poor Muriel who had brought a 1 season sleeping bag, with a comfort level of 16 degC! As I woke and cracked the layer of ice off the tent so I could get out I saw Muriel shivering outside her tent, impatiently waiting for the sun to rise so she could warm herself up. I don´t think that Adventure really arrives until it rides in on the back of Suffering. It had definitely arrived for Muriel that night.