Big ad­ven­ture on your doorstep: we ride the Trans Euro Trail in Spain

MCN’s Michael Guy finds 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. 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

‘Wouldn’t it be amaz­ing to camp up here? Just imag­ine the stars’

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. 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.

‘The ter­rain on the de­scent is rocky and steep’

Pre­pare for a ful­lon ad­ven­ture in only seven days

The route is easy to down­load

Chris quickly got to grips with the KTM

The end­less switch­backs of the Pyre­nees are the per­fect play­ground for Ptrheep­an­reawtiBon­roius gkheyS­fuo­pre­rior seven days off road

Amaz­ing lo­cals were keen to help

Even the roads were spec­tac­u­lar

The per­fect spot for wild camp­ing

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