All the bikes were weighed and put into matching pairs, one to be strapped on either side of the mule. Everything that was sharp or pointy was carefully covered with thick foam. This wasn’t to protect the bikes but to care for the animals. When one of the bike-pairs didn´t match exactly in weight a bag was filled with stones to make the weights exact. During this whole process the mule guides, Alberto and Alvaro, were talking to the two mules, and it was touching to see the care they took and the obvious love they held for the animals.
These mules are almost 30 years old and it´s a long term relationship, something it was very obvious when you watch man and animal working together. This was going to be a very light load for the mules, normally they carry much heavier weights and the only issue was the height of the bike with some low trees on the route. Careful manoeuvring and detouring was undertaken and after over an hour of walking we arrived to a high mountain coll, looking down on our lakeside camp far below and behind us.
The mountains stretched away eastward of us and it was down into these mountains that our route would take us. The ride down was intense, we largely descended for the whole afternoon, arriving once again as the sun was setting. The trail was anti-flow in the extreme, seriously technical and very trials-like in places. If you had the wrong bike or weren´t very confident it would be a long, long walk. For this group of experienced riders who had come to trust deeply in their bikes it was an absolute riot.
We finished deep down in a canyon, another special experience after starting high up on a mountain-top. That night I could hardly hold a beer and our group settled into a quiet comradery around the dinner table, which was only occasionally broken by Pete´s wisecracking which was subdued and halfhearted. Sleep came fast and deep tonight but all too soon morning broke and we had to force our tired bodies out of warm beds.
The last day we enjoyed some uplifts around the Valle de Benasque and Puro Pirineo. We took it easy and enjoyed some flowing trails and relatively little pedalling. It was an opportunity to finish off the trip on a relaxing note and for the first time during the whole trip we finished well before sunset and arrived to the dinner table full of conversation and with a distinct lack of exhaustion.
Our group was well formed and I honestly think that we formed a friendship during those days of intense adventure that will last. We had shared a profound experience, something that for me at least ranks up there with some of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. It was Ferris Bueller who said “life moves pretty fast, if you don´t stop and look around once in a while you might miss it”.
This week I really feel that we stopped and looked around; it felt like someone stopped the hamster-wheel and I stepped out for a while. Which is crazy when you consider that we never stopped moving from first light to last light, however that´s how it felt. It was a break from the routine, I didn´t have time to think about anything other than what we were doing, and the only problems we encountered were immediate and overcomeable. We made some memories that will stay fresh for a long, long time. We went seeking adventure and we definitely found it and with that adventure we found a reprise from a world where things are often complicated and can´t be solved with a bang from a rock or a dose of man-up-and-get-on-with-it.