The Pain in Spain (part one)
by Dave Land, posted 25 April 2017
Dave and Richard ignore the call of the lycra, to take the call of the wild, off-road around the north east of the beautiful island of Mallorca.
It was slow, relative to other crashes. But I rolled off the rock, grabbed the back brake, and, so I’m told, the surprise on my face was a picture as the front wheel locked up, and over I went. I think I caught my inner thigh on the end of the handle bar, and then put my hands out, which both cut and bruised the left, and damaged my ring finger on my right. I’d like to blame the swapping of the brake levers. Continental brake levers are opposite to UK brakes. I’d like to add the terrain to this general scapegoating. Rocky, with some gravel, and steep, out of my comfort level. Then there’s the pedals – at the bottom of the run the right one was at such a strange angle that it eventually fell out. I’d like to blame all of that, but, of course, really it was just me. We were at the furthest point from the car, on the beach, at sea level. The sun was dropping.
It was not what we’d planned when we embarked upon a long autumn weekend mountain biking on Mallorca. But it is worth knowing that going out of season – mid November – is mostly splendid. Mallorca is brilliant for cycling. It’s very good for self-organised riding. We hired the bikes, but we had our own apartment, booked EasyJet flights, and used a local car hire company. We had some OK maps, and of course the power of the internet. It all worked out rather well. The minor drawbacks are a certain lack of choice in where to eat in the evenings. Less of an issue in the larger towns, but a definite issue for us. A big drawback is when evening begins. It is earlier and darker than when we'd been in late spring. We did eventually make it back to our car and drive to where we were staying at Richard’s, my riding partner’s, holiday apartment (choose your friends wisely), but it was much later than we’d planned (more of this in part two). That meant less choice for recovery eating.
We ended up in a rather up-market proper restaurant. In its favour, the suckling pig was delicious. We ate a lot. Because it was excellent, but also to ensure value for money from the bill. We slumped back on the sofa in the apartment, bellies distended and me realising the extent of my bruises – one on my inner thigh the size of the plate I’d eaten from earlier.
The first night in a different bed is always problematic, tired or otherwise, for me. Even at Richard’s apartment in east Mallorca where I have been before. I am deeply jealous of those, like my wife, who can fall asleep anywhere at any time (her top location being a wicker chair in a Spanish nightclub). Not for me however. So, a twisting turning night later (complicated by my injuries), we got up slowly, slowly chewed muesli/cereal hybrid, and loaded up the bikes into the boot of the hire car to visit the bike shop we’d hired them from and see about repairs. The hire shop guy, Andre, took one look, and agreed it was the thread in the crank arm and sent us off to the cafe on the corner. The leg and hands were being quite painful. To the point where I was rather upset when Andre returned, bikes fixed, new bonus Garmin shining at me, ready to go and fixed on the bars.
Any ride is a good ride. This wasn’t terrible, just not what we had imagined when we organised the trip (again). Wiggling around some roads in the town, trying to map the Garmin line – a line which would come back to haunt me – we rode through what looked like back gardens and paths between houses. It was very local. Imagining being chased by the local dog/old lady congregation kept us riding fast. Until we hit the first hill. It was not a very long hill. Hill doesn’t even do it justice. Wall would do it justice. Lowest gear, standing up, forcing the pedals round. Sweating in the sun. That’s done, great, breather time. Through some local woodlands, where we were expecting to see someone in the woods at any moment. Then suddenly we popped out onto a drive way, complete with gates. It begged the question who and what do they drive to ascend this terrain this high every day?
I misread the Garmin at least twice, but this was when we were going fast along the road. The main off-road parts were all fast, but shallow. It was perfect terrain for the Trek. The 29 wheels ate up the trails, and they were strong and felt planted on the long and winding routes through the woods. The gravel paths were also a fun way down, when we found a very definite fence across the trail. Which begged the question how did they get the Garmin to travel along a route so very clearly out of bounds. Perhaps the Mallorca Mountain Bikers are a wily bunch; certainly, they are an almost invisible bunch.
That’s one of the key things to note about cycling in Mallorca. It is a great island. The people are friendly, the food great, self-catering is very good value once you learn to navigate the shops and eating out is affordable if you choose wisely. The rising is outstanding, but interesting too – which is a word I use advisedly. There are plenty of places to hire bikes and heaps of advice, ideas and enthusiasm to encourage you on your way. But if you choose mountain biking then plan well. If your ad lib, or get creative like us then you must embrace the chance to find new definitions of hills, trails, paths and daylight.
The view was impressive, looking over some of the central plain, and out to the east coast. The blue line sent us along the wall, around the property with the gates, but on a trail, that frankly was not wide enough for bikes. The lizards and snakes provided some original interest as we climbed against the wall. And then we were off down through the woods, I’d almost call it a trail. And had we but known … there was a set of features that had been built, we assume, by some locals. A gap jump that looked impossible, and a few other jinx and jumps that, if you knew the area, would be fine, and looked rather fun. But coming across them after a turn through the woods does not place your brain in the right place for this kind of obstacle. Once we’d got down from this bit, things became calmer.
Our third and final day’s riding fitted this perfectly. Having navigated a beach (again look out for part two) we climbed a hill overlooking it close to Cala Ratjada aiming for a castle.
The run down from this point was probably my favourite of the whole trip. Not steep, but interesting, and enough to build speed over time, multiple lines, sand to be avoided, grippy rocks, slidey gravel, but not so many it was annoying. It ended with some wooden boardwalks into Cala Mesquida. We found a board which showed a map and described the paths we could now take from here to carry on along the coast – our plan all along. This made it seem easy, and possibly even pleasant. The first challenge was finding the path. There is every chance we got it right. It simply didn't feel that way. We edge along a path, for want of a better word, which traversed a scree slope which ran to a small cliff which tumbled straight into the sea. Beautiful, if we'd had some crampons. I rolled along, feet off the pedals dabbing generously.
The roll down ended at the bottom of a hill. This was a steep hill. Not only did we have no choice but to push up, but that even pushing up I wish I'd been able to bring my walking boots. My redoubtable 5:10s were stormingly good, but I really could have done with something designed for this kind of terrain. We pushed to the top. Great. Then we found a sign of a trail. This was good news. We wiggled along this for a while. It was kind-of hugging the coast, whether we wanted it to or not. Scary descents, sketchy trails, donkey tracks then nothing. Steep hills, more pushing. We met a large group of German walkers coming our way. Walking in a speed that was wholly disconcerting. One minute they were some distance away. Then they were virtually on top of us, then they were disappearing over the horizon. It felt like the chase scene in Hot Fuzz, where Simon Pegg can't catch the black-clad assassin, who turns out to be multiple people.
The castle turned out to be less of a castle and more tower. The tour was more important to us than most of the other people milling about simply because it marked the point at which we joined the route from two days ago; we should have come here had we not turned around due to my crash. We were no longer making up the route. Instead we had some instructions to follow. Confidence was regaining, we knew where we were, we had someone to tell us where to go next, the end was in site, as was some cerveza, and possible a gin and tonica (served in the enormous goblets the Spanish favour).
Naturally we were lost inside two minutes. We retraced our steps and set off again. The trail turned out to be a lot of fire-road and double track style, super-quick, my Trek's wheels felt like they were made for this fast rolling, slightly sketchy gravel. They are so planted and the weight is so well distributed that braking is simply not required. We were soon at the bottom of the valley, with only the climb out ahead, which was going to take us back to the national park car park we'd parked in two days ago. The climb up was not my finest hour. Made worse when realising that, of course, the car wasn't here today, and it was 20km down the road.
All images © Dave Land
There are times, however, with all cycling, when there is only one option: just ride the bike. So, we did. And in Mallorca it is worth it. Look out for more tales and technical talk in part two of our travelogue.