Epic trails and enlightenment on the Trans Euro Trail
The sun is sinking low in the sky, casting golden light on the mountains around us. Beneath me the rear tyre of my fully loaded Honda Africa Twin is spinning wildly on the steep gravel trail, but in a split second of respite and grip, I glance up and catch sight of the summit.
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Ten minutes of hard riding and a dozen loose switchbacks later, we’re there. We reach the top sweating and gasping with effort, the din of the Africa Twin and my brother Chris’s KTM 1090 Adventure R filling the mountain top with noise.
We hit the kill switches simultaneously and apart from our heavy breathing and the tinking of hot, overwrought engine metal, the silence is deafening.
We say nothing, just savour the moment before looking at each other in acknowledgement of how our already incredible adventure across northern Spain just reached dizzy new heights.
"What a place..." I say. "What a ride..." replies my elated brother.
With the bikes parked we stand motionless in awe of the view. We’re on the highest peak, which gives a panoramic view of mountain tops around us.
Between the forests we catch sight of the winding tracks we rode to get here and, if we look hard enough, can see a small village or the odd house. But in terms of population there are probably fewer than a hundred people inhabiting the vast expanse of land we can see in every direction.
"Wouldn’t it be amazing to camp up here? Can you imagine the sunset, the dawn, the stars?" says Chris. There is no argument from me.
Camping under the stars
Having enjoyed our first night of wild camping the day before where we found a stunning spot in a valley by a river, the desire to do it again is high. But while last night’s spot was stunning, camping up here at over 1000m looking down on the world would be exceptional.
Easily the most beautiful mountain we’ve ascended in four days of riding the Trans Euro Trail, the whole place feels special and we clearly aren’t the only ones who think that. At the very peak is a tiny building and, being careful not to antagonise the bees buzzing in and out of the ancient stonework, we make our approach.
The door is locked but a tiny slit reveals the immaculately kept interior of the San Benito church which has been standing since the mid-16th century and is still used on special occasions today.
Our night in the wilderness is everything we’d hoped. Watching the stars come out while spectating a monster electrical storm high over the Pyrenees makes for an above average evening.
Early morning chills
We wake in time for the sunrise. The temperature has plummeted overnight and, with fingers wrapped round cups of freshly brewed coffee, we watch the day unfold.
It’s one of those moments you never forget – right here, right now – and with heightened perceptions brought on by the spectacular surroundings it’s one of the best coffees I’ve tasted.
Packing up our tents and loading the bikes is now done with ease. We’re four days in and have camped every night so the once laborious procedure has become second nature.
We know where everything goes and we’ve built up complete trust in our SW Motech and Kriega pannier set-ups.
Despite the sunrise there is still a penetrating chill in the air. The dash on the Honda reads 8°C, which means that as we set off we’re constantly searching for sunlight as the temperature difference between that and the shade is huge, but just five minutes into the ride, being cold is no longer the issue.
Last night’s climb to the top of the highest peak means that the only way is down, but this is no lazy descent. The terrain is loose, rocky and steep, the type of going that would be fun on a lightweight enduro bike, but becomes a different proposition on a fully loaded 1000cc adventure bike that’s nudging close to 300kg.
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It requires maximum concentration, and the combination of the coffee and adrenalin brings us into what feels like a higher state of consciousness with the need to avoid a crash gaining maximum priority in our minds.
We safely negotiate our way to the bottom where we eventually hit a small tarmac road, which feels like a super highway as we enjoy the massively increased grip levels and go in search of breakfast.
The easy cruise along the twisty mountain road gives us time to reflect on how our expectations and riding have changed since we disembarked the Brittany Ferries crossing at Santander.
Day one was all about finding our feet, recalibrating to the extra weight and seriously knobbly Mitas E-09 tyres. Day two was where it all started, kicked off by a fast 30km run through beautiful wooded trails while trying to keep up with my brother on his KTM.
But from day three something changed, the catalyst for which was a look at the rear tyres on the bikes. With so much weight and power, plus our excitable throttle hands, the wear rate was significant, so much so that we started to wonder how much tyre we’d actually have left by the time we got back to the UK.
That special bond
It was then that something clicked. We stopped looking at the bikes as play things, but instead as absolutely crucial components of our immediate existence.
These bikes were all we had, they were carrying everything we needed and given how far away we were from civilisation there wasn’t a recovery service in the world that would be able to help us in case we had a big crash or major technical problem.
A new level of respect developed, a ‘we’re in this together’ feeling that created a bond with the bikes and each other that you only experience when events move out of your comfort zone.
This bond was only strengthened by the amount of riding time. Nine hour days became the norm, and although the heat was oppressive at times, peaking at 33°C, it was just an inevitable part of each ride.
Having been riding the Trans Euro Trail East towards Andorra from day one for four days, we now had two days to get back to Santander to catch our homeward ferry to the UK.
There’s no way we could cover the miles needed riding exclusively on the predominantly off-road TET so we decided on a mix of TET and surfaced roads, which worked perfectly.
The roads are arguably just as stunning and at times almost as remote as the mountain tracks we’ve been used to, while parts of the TET we rode in reverse seemed unfamiliar – and they were: we somehow managed to ride the tracks that we missed first time round, probably due to a diversion to a campsite or for fuel or food.
And while I’d like to put it down to expert planning and Dakar levels of navigation – it wasn’t, it was luck, but we’ll take it.
Like all epic trips that start with the luxury of time and opportunity, reality soon bites when you realise you have to get home. One week after heading into the unknown we’re done.
Seven days doesn’t sound like long, but when you throw yourself into it unconditionally it’s plenty of time to have an adventure you’ll never forget.
What is the Trans Euro Trail?
Inspired by the Trans America Trail, the TET (Trans Euro Trail) is a 23,000-mile predominantly off-road ride across Europe. It’s a community derived route pulled together by experts called Linesmen who are rich with local knowledge.
The idea is that it is 100% legal with the simple ethos of encouraging respectful motorcyclists to embark on a ride or an adventure of a lifetime.
Typically aimed at smaller bikes, the TET is also tackled by many on big adventure bikes. It’s not a race or a competition so if the going gets too tough, you can simply find an alternative route. You can either stay in hotels, B&Bs, campsites or, where permitted, wild camp.
All the information you need including downloadable GPX maps that can be put straight into your satnav can be found at www. transeurotrail.org. Another great resource is the very active TET Facebook page where people share their trips in real time.
And it’s a free, non profit making resource simply aimed at celebrating motorcycle adventure. How refreshing!