Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bikin' USA

Once I finished the John Muir Trail (much more about that here) this summer, I figured that the only way to celebrate 25 days of hiking was to go mountain biking for two weeks. This is the story of those weeks.

It was nighttime - way past JMT bedtime - by the time my boyfriend, Audun, arrived in Mammoth. He had an absolutely heroic drive, picking up the rental car at the airport in San Francisco directly after flying in from Norway with both of our bicycles, and then driving 6 hours to Mammoth through the night Norway time. He is the only person I know who could do that. I had had one day of respite from the JMT, and spent it eating and walking around Mammoth, looking up good bike routes. 

The next morning, me, Audun, Zoe, Mom and Dad went out for an enormous breakfast at the Stove before the rest of the family headed to San Fransisco for the flight home. The Stove's a popular place, so we had to wait in line. The result was that I was super hungry by the time we sat down, and order one of the biggest breakfasts on the menu. I have the appetite of a small wolf, I thought as I tucked in. My stomach was not on board with my brain however, and a half an hour later I had a serious tummy ache that lasted for the rest of the day. I simple wasn’t used to that much rich food after a month on the trail!

Despite the late start, Audun and I got in two laps on the Mammoth Rock Trail, Strava data here.

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The day was hazy, actually smoky, because of the proximity of some forest fires, so we didn’t get the spectacular view of the Sierras we could have had. But Mammoth Rock Trail provided good, mellow, mountain biking fun - the perfect start to the many days of biking our trip would contain.

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Audun under Mammoth Rock

The next day, we forked over 50 bucks for lift tickets, and explored the paradise of the Mammoth Bike Park. Unlike most of bike parks I’ve ridden in, it wasn’t super downhill-oriented. There were even stretches of trail that were meant to be ridden uphill! For once I was happy not to be riding a bike with 200 mm of travel...

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On Juniper Trail (I think)

 

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Audun rides a super-double-black-diamond pro segment, or whatever the rating system called it.

I was also surprised by the rating system for the trails. In Norway, it’s usually just green, blue, red and black. At Mammoth there was no red, but there was black diamond, double black diamond and pro, which made it sound like all of these trails would be really hard. After trying first a blue, then a black diamond, then a double black diamond, I started to feel like the system was a bit inflated.

I was even more surprised to learn I had ridden a ‘pro’ stretch of trail - just a steep ramp at the end of some technical singletrack. The grading was definitely soft in on some trails, but maybe not on this one:

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Audun goes off the big jump.

Luckily there was a chicken run!

We then drove north to Tahoe, hoping to get away from the fire smog and test some legendary trails. In retrospect, Tahoe was our favorite biking of the whole trip. The trails were technical, but graded so that most of the riding was fun uphill as well as down. They climbed up through beautiful forests to sweeping alpine vistas, and were devoid of hikers.

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Headed up to Armstrong Pass the first day in Tahoe.

Our first day in Tahoe, we biked up to Armstrong Pass and over to a challenging downhill trail called Mr Toad’s, Strava data here. I was in a daring mood, and biked down a bunch of technical pitches that I usually would have stopped, inspected and probably chicken out on. Clocking in 1200 vertical meters starting at 2000 meters was a hard day, but we agreed to put in one more day of riding in the marvellous terrain.

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Audun along the alpine meadow above Armstrong Pass

The second day in Tahoe, we biked up to Star Lake and around Freel Pass to Armstrong Pass, and then down the same way we had biked up the first day (Strava data here). Soon after heading out, we had the choice between biking up a trail or a dirt road. Thinking to conserve energy, we opted for the dirt road. This turned out to be a mistake. The road did long, steep rollers with grades of close to 25%. My legs burned, and I only managed to bike the whole road because it flattened out enough occasionally to stop and have a breather.

The riding grew fun when we finally got on a trail, but I was glad when we finally topped out at Star Lake. I was starting to feel our fourth day in a row biking!

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Poising at Star Lake before the obligatory alpine lake skinny dip.
 

The trail continued slightly uphill under Freel Peak, and then headed down in some exposed singletrack to Armstrong Pass. I had to work hard to stay on my bike. Although I wouldn’t have minded narrow trail if I was walking, riding a bike sometimes make feel like I’m perched on a pedestal, about to tip off. Maybe some day it will feel natural!

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The trail final flattens out and I relaxed 

After our last ride in Tahoe, we headed out to drive across Nevada to Utah. We kept looking for a place to eat dinner, hoping to find a charming diner in one of the black-dot towns on our road map. The towns just got smaller and smaller the further we got into Nevada. We finally had to drive past Walker Lake, where we had planned to camp, to go into Hawthorne, which was our last real prayer of finding food. Driving into the tiny town that hosts a military base of some sort, we were both praying for any-any sign of food. We saw the golden arches from the outskirts in town and cheered. I have never been so glad to see a McDonalds. Luckily we didn’t have to eat there, as Hawthorne also hosted a Pizza Factory (we toss ‘em - they’re awesome!)

We pulled into the BLM campsite along Walker Lake well after dark, and spent a fitfull but cheap night there listening to semitrucks blaze down the interstate. In the morning we woke up to a spectacular view of the lake:

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The 3 dollar campsite at Walker Lake.

…but also realized we could have camped further away from the main road and closer to the lake’s shore. Too bad!

We spent the whole next day driving across relentless Nevada, stopping to buy beaf jerky from a talkative guy in Beatty, outside of Death Valley. We pulled through St George, Utah, and stopped just long enough to dig up a mountain bike guide book to the area and some food.

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This is what all of Nevada looks like from a car. I’m not kidding.

We finally reached our destination for the day, Zion National Park, but the park campground was full, so we spent the night at a kitchy B&B in Rockville. The next day would be a rest day from biking, we decided. We would go hiking in the Narrows in Zion. After reading all the information pamphlets that said one must have special canyoneering shoes and a special walking stick to hike in the Narrows, we decided to disregard all of that sage advice and see how far we could get in our Tevas.

Further than most people, it turned out.

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Audun in the Narrows. Note the people correctly outfitted with walking sticks in the background.

The first part of the Narrows was basically a zoo, but if you were willing to hike for longer than 30 minutes you can get past the crowds. Then you can feel the silence of the towering canyon walls that extend hundreds of feet above you. Some people do backpacking trips all the way through the Narrows, but I was happy to just do a day hike. Since you can't see further than the next bend in the river, the whole experience very quickly starts to feel like a trip to nowhere. And if you a person with OK balance and tolerance for semi-cold water, you don’t need fancy canyoneering shoes and a stick.

The next day we decided to get up early to try and beat the heat at Gooseberry Mesa outside of Zion. Of course, this was the day when the alarms we set didn’t go off properly, and I woke up with a start a half an hour after we had planned to get up. We packed up quickly and drove off the Mesa, following the instructions in our handy guidebook. And then the driving became extreme.

The road turned from asphalt to dirt and became deeply rutted and pitted. Still a few miles away from destination, we came to a section of road so steep it took two tries to get up it in our underpowered Ford Compass. This is when we realized why everyone drives pick-ups around here. Our mini-SUV just wasn’t cutting it. But on a hope and a prayer, we made it to the parking lot and were able to indulge in the winding slickrock trails of Gooseberry Mesa (Strava data here).

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Audun enjoys the view of the edge of the Mesa.

The trails were truly disorienting, twisting to and fro until you couldn’t figure out where you had come from or what direction you were looking. Once I got used to the idea that yes, my tires would stick to the slick-in-appearences rock, I had good time.

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Audun rounds another crazy rock formation.

 Although the mesa was a cool place to ride for a day, I decided I like rides where you don’t go round and round in circles, but where you actually get to the top of something.

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Me on the slickrock.

The day heated up quickly, and by 11 o’clock we left the Mesa to drive out to Bryce Canyon. We arrived at the Canyon in time for a nice hike. Again, the goal was to get just a little bit further than most tourists, and if you are willing to hike for more than 30 minutes, you are quickly alone on the trails.

If you’re not familiar with Bryce Canyon, it’s famous for these crazy hoodoos, towering red rock formations that form in alternating frost and thaw cycles:

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Audun and a Hoodoo.

Unfortunately, you’re not allow to ride mountain bikes in National Parks. Luckily for us, our guidebook let us in on an amazing secret. You can bike among the Hoodoos - in Red Canyon just outside the National Park!

If Tahoe was our favorite trails, Red Canyon was the most spectacular (Strava data here). After driving for 20 minutes from the campground at Bryce, we pedalled up a dirt road which quickly became an undulating trail through the forest. The trail swooped in and out of tiny valleys in the landscape, climbing and descending in roller coaster fashion. Finally, the trail climbed a bit more and we could see the hoodoo landscape we had come for. 

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Audun flies past a hoodoo formation.

We saw no one all day, except a group of horse packers. It’s funny how people flock the National Parks, when in this case the National Forest just outside was nearly as spectacular!

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I am a tiny spec on the ridgeline. Check out that landscape!

 After Red Canyon, we made a quick pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon. Next time I go there, I’ll finally get around to doing a Rim-to-Rim. No time on this trip!

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Posing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The next day, we headed back to California, driving through Las Vegas and then into Death Valley. We took one of the back entrances in to Death Valley and drove a long ways through the heat. When we stopped at the Ashford Mill Ruins, it was 114 degrees F, which is basically sauna temperature! 

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I’m so glad we have air conditioning!

We had decided to spend the night in Owens Valley, and settled on Bishop. During the car ride, I was flipping through the guidebook I had bought in Mammoth, and discovered that you could actually bike to the top of Californias third highest mountain, White Mountain Peak (14252 ft or 4344 m). We being the people that we are, we both immediately went: Let’s do THAT!  The only condition was good weather - I didn’t want to be stuck in a thunderstorm at 14000 feet!

Upon gaining internet access at the Hostel California in Bishop (which is, by the way, the BEST place to stay if you are in the area), we discovered that there was virtually no chance of thunderstorms the next day in the forecast. We were at the right place, on the right day - it was on.

We got up early to swing by the grocery store and feasted on the Breakfast of Champions - Egg McMuffins. It was a ways to drive to the trailhead - after all, you can start riding at over 11 000 feet! The road grew increasingly rudimentary as we gained altitude, winding its way up through the ancient bristlecone forest. The ancient bristlecones are some of the oldest trees in the world, and they look like wizened old men. The whole landscape had an enchanted forest feel to it, from the white earth that gives the mountain range its name to the hazy valley far below.

For the last couple of miles, the road grew so narrow and rocky Audun wasn’t sure our poor car could do it. He tried anyway, and everything was going well until the tire pressure light went on. Yes, we had a flat tire at nearly 11 000 feet, 50 miles from the nearest service station. It was not a good moment. We spotted a car a little ways up the road, and decided to go and see if they could help us.

The guy in the car turned out to be this guy - Lloyd, an experienced MTB racer and photographer, out to test some cameras. Used to travelling backroads as he was, he had a patch kit, and we managed to stop the leak in the tire and reinflate it using a bicycle pump. The moment when the tire started holding are again was one of the best moments on the whole trip. We had wasted some time fixing the tire, but still had time to make the top, if the weather held.

Lloyd also decide to join us in biking up White Mountain Peak (something he’s done, from the valley floor, before). Lloyd was an interesting guy, with lots of opinions, especially about National Parks, and a really sweet-looking Moots bike. He regaled us with tales of snow striking on White Mountain Peak in July, and run ins with the Park Service.

The only reason you’re allowed to bike up White Mountain Peak is because it’s exempt from the wilderness zone by virtue of the research station in the area. At the beginning of the climb we rode past the Barcroft research station, which looks like a human settlement on Mars:

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Audun at the Barcroft station

Lloyd was crazy fit. After riding up the first portion with us, he decide to jaunt out ahead so he would have time to test the cameras he was comparing. I had been lagging behind a little, and Audun told me Lloyd thought I couldn’t make it, that the altitude would be too much.

And I was feeling the altitude. I thought I would be acclimatized, it being only a little over a week since I jogged to the top of Mt Whitney. But biking and hiking are two completely different sports, as it turns out, and my quads were consuming enough oxygen to make me seriously dizzy at regular intervals. But I would get to the top, even if I had to push my bike the rest of the stinking way! 

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Headed up White Mountain Peak, the view sprawling tall the way to Nevada.

I did have to push my bike a bunch, but I pedalled everything I possibly could - it was a matter of pride. Audun, damn him, road almost the whole way, only stopping at intervals to catch his breath and wait for me. The ‘road’ grew increasingly rough, steep and technical until it was only slightly flatter than the broken chunks of rock around it. I was hurting, bad, and just wanted to get to the top. All the same, I couldn’t help but enjoy the spectacular day and sweep views of the Owens Valley to the west and Nevada to the east. 

Finally, a little hut appeared above us, the Barcroft Station’s weather station on top, and the final push was upon us. Upon arriving on top, we met a hiker who turned out to be a Norwegian. Small world! 

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On top of White Mountain Peak!

 The top of the descent was rough and difficult, but all rideable. At least there was an excuse to have pushed my bike all of that way - I got a free ride down!

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Enjoying the descent, with White Mountain peak prominent in the background.

White Mountain Peak isn’t a ride I would recommend for the sake of the riding, as the road isn’t the funnest riding, but it was an incredible experience, and (for me) a challenge. Strava data here.

After a relaxing night at the Hostel California, it was time to head back towards San Fran. On the way, we stopped outside of Yosemite and road up to the ghost town of Bennettville and then up to Saddlebag Lake. I was destroyed from White Mountain Peak though, so we cut the ride pretty short. Strava data here.

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Audun tried to ride into the abandoned mine at Bennettville, but unfortunately it was closed.

We got one more day of riding in in Santa Cruz (Strava data here). We road in Demo Forest, which had great, challenging trails, but I missed the sweeping views of our other days riding. So many places, so few days - this trip was an incredible combination of a road trip with a ton of riding, and the perfect way to cap off my Epic Summer Vacation. Then it was back to the real world and starting my PhD, which is a completely different adventure.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Looking forward and back

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Sunrise on one of the last skis of the year, from Hesten in Tingvoll.

Happy New Year! I’m back in the States for the New Years; I’ve been visiting family and friends in Vermont, New York and Massachusetts.

Two thousand and fourteen was a great year. I finished my master’s degree, started my PhD, and still had time to cram in all the adventures you’ve read about here. Here’s some of my favorite posts this year:

- Tops around Tromsø: post from a beautiful week spent skiing in northern Norway, despite the high avalanche danger.

- My foray into the world of enduro mountain bike racing.

- Race report from Ultrabirken 60 km trail race.

- The whole series about thru-hiking the John Muir Trail in July. If you haven’t read it, start here!

- Steve Peat and me: a week of facing my fears mountain biking in Spain.

So much for looking back, what’s in store for 2015? Due to my prolonged trip to California this summer, my running racing season in 2014 was basically limited to one race - Ultrabirken. This year, I hope to race even more. My current plan is to build speed (for me) into the spring, and race a half marathon in early May. I’ve never run the half marathon distance before, but I have a fast enough marathon PR (3:52 at Oslo Marathon in 2010) that I feel some pressure to post a good time. Currently, I hope to be able to hit around the 1:45 mark, but this goal may be adjusted as my training progresses.

From there I will build up to a full marathon, Nordmarka Skogsmarathon, in June. I ran this marathon in 2012, and love the rolling course on dirt roads through Nordmarka in Oslo. In 2012, I was pretty undertrained, so I think I can easily beat my time. An even loftier goal is to beat my overall marathon PR, but Nordmarka Skogsmarathon is not exactly a fast course, so I would have to be in wicked good shape.

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My lastest investment - a Nathan VaporShadow running vest for all the long runs I plan to do in 2015!

After considerable deliberation, I decided that I will focus the rest of my season on one ultra - UltraVasan 90 km in Sweden. The course is extremely flat (only 800 vertical meters in 90 km!) for a trail race, so I think it will be a good way to ramp up the distance and see what running 90 km is like. Really, my goal is to push my limits and run in beautiful places. I just use the races as a framework to kick my butt into shape!

Of course, I won’t be dropping all of the other fun stuff I do just to run! Audun and I are planning a ski traverse of some of the (in my opinion) most beautiful mountains in Romsdalen, Norway sometime in March, and we may take our mountain bikes to Scotland Highlands this summer. Needless to say, there’s plenty to look forward to.

In other news, I’m coverting to NTN (a different type of telemark binding)! I just got new boots, and they are bigger, stiffer and ready to rip!

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What are your plans and goals for 2015?

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

The long-awaited White Christmas has come to mid Norway, and we’ve been out enjoying the new fallen snow in the slanted December light. From winter camping in the public forest in Trondheim...

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Audun tests a windboiler (check out Dad’s review) after a night bivying in Estenstadmarka

…to riding our bikes to the trailhead for cross-country skiing...

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Note the skis on the backpack. This is at the parking area where everyone else had driven cars to the trail head… We were the only two people stupid enough to bike up!

…to taking advantage of the new fallen snow cover at Oppdal...

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Headed up Storhornet outside of Oppdal on Sunday. The snow barely covered the terrain, but we got in some nice turns nonetheless.

…to finally finding POW! in Viromdalen yesterday...

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Joar explodes through the trees on the way down. It was a grey, snowy day, but there was nearly a meter of fresh snow, making trail breaking like interval training!

…to a contemplative hike down to the fjord at Tingvoll!

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Audun enjoys the sunset at Øygardsneset in Tingvoll, today.

Hope you all are enjoying this beautiful season as much as I am!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter is coming

November in Norway is a torturous time of year, nay a season in its own right. Waiting season. The days grow shorter and the nights longer, and our lives grow darker for lack of snow. This is the season when I pedal to work before dawn, and pedal home in equal darkness.

In the narrow, 5-hour strip of daylight, sunlight takes on an entirely different quality than during the rest of the year. It filters through the trees light liquid gold, warming nothing but the morals of those of us who are waiting for winter.

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Audun, Dad and Sebastian the dog enjoy a late season run above Bårdsgarden in Storlidalen.

We have been having alternate frost and thawing cycles. A cold ground covered in frost makes for beautiful late season biking and running, but each thaw brings cold mud and horrible conditions.

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Out for a frosty ride with Sigurd, Silje and Audun.

November became December, bringing colder temps, lots of ice and light snow cover, but still no relief from the in-between, waiting season. Last weekend, Audun and I decided to go out to the coast in an effort to find snow-free hiking. We arrived at the remote parking lot on the island of Tustna at 9 pm, many hours after sunset, and hiked in to Gullsteinvollen cabin by the light of our headlamps. Even though it was short hike, it felt like an adventure just being out there in the dark.

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In which I try to take a cool night picture without a tripod.

The next morning we awoke to realize there was snow on the peaks above us. The weather looked alright, however, and we were still hopeful that we could make it up to one of the peaks on the island. The island is tiny, maybe 20 km in diameter, and 900 meter peaks extended straight up from the sea.

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Winter in the mountains

The weather quickly turned to snow and mist, and we wallowed up to the pass between the two main ridges on Tustna in the snow, just barely able to find the trail markers.

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It was beautifully and wintery, but not exactly the hiking conditions we had hoped for. We made a half-hearted stab at Skarven, but turned quickly, regretting the lack of crampons in our arsenal.

As we headed down from the pass, the mountain seemed to have felt it won. First a gap in the swirling mist and snow appear, illuminating the fjord below us with a shaft of sunlight.

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The fjord below.

I was breath-taken. This was exactly the reason I go to these places, for the moment when you’ve struggled and are suddenly allowed to see something beautiful. These are the moments you cannot buy.

The weather grew better as we headed downs Trollstua, the cabin we would stay at for the night. I almost wanted to shake my fist at the mountain - why couldn’t it have cleared off while we were up there?

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Still summer in the forest.

The next day was much of the same, only it never cleared off. Thick snow turned to freezing rain and we arrived back at the car, soaking wet and cold.

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A situation which begs the question: is this your idea of fun?

We’re crossing our fingers that this was the last hike of the year - next time we’ll bring skis!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Steve Peat and me: seven days on Costa del Sol

Every fall, as the dark starts to sink in Norway and the forest trails grow increasingly wet and slippery, a group of my friends travels south to warmer trails and guided enduro biking for a week. This year, we choose Fuengirola, Spain, an unashamed haven of everything that is beach vacations in Spain. Walking around the streets of the touristy town, I always felt like I had to defend my presence. This isn’t me! I wanted to shout. I don’t do beaches. I do mountains. 

And mountains we did. Our team of two guides, Simon and James from Sierra MTB, took us all over the mountains above Fuengirola and Malàga, away from the masses of white flesh rolling under parsols on the sunny beaches.

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Simon on a fireroad in the Sierra Mijas.

Our first day in Fuengirola brought pouring rain, not what we were expecting from Costa del Sol. We dutifully loaded our bikes into the van and got in, hoping that it would clear off as we drove up. It didn’t. By the time we reached the trailhead for the day’s ride it was raining so hard we could barely see the landscape around us. Looking out doubtfully at each other, AP finally voiced what everyone was thinking. “We’re here to have fun. Maybe we should got find somewhere to hang out until the rain lets up.” So we went for a coffee, in which time the rain only let up slightly.

On the way up, Simon, the guide who was driving, talked to AP about how challenging the trails were. “It’s really steep here,” he emphasized, “And there are lots of sharp rocks and switchbacks, and prickly bushes you get stuck in if you fall.” I was already worried about the level of riding. I’m the worst rider in the group, and I’m always afraid that they’ll be laughing down trails that I’m terrified of. The anticipation of biking in new territory, combined with Simon insistence that biking here was dangerous and difficult drove me over the edge, and I started to think that this mountain biking thing was a bad idea. I started crying and saying something to Audun about selling my bike and going home.

Seeing that he had scared me, Simon then explained that he was used to cocky young guys showing up, thinking they were going to bomb down everything, and getting injured on the first day. I’m just the opposite of that - I need to be motivated, not warned. We finally got riding, and it wasn’t as bad as Simon had described. It was awfully muddy, though, although it gradually cleared off as we road.

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Clearing skys on the first day

The ride was mostly wide, rocky, loose trails, and I felt rather successful, given that I was planning to give up biking a few hours before. We were joined by an older, but suprisingly spry, English chap named Neil during the last half of the day. I biked with him, enjoy someone that was as slow as me, even if he was old enough to be my grandfather.

Sierra MTB provided a whole vacation house for us seven Norwegians to use, complete with a pool. Back at the house, we had to wash all of the clothes we wore and spent a considerable amount of time clean mud out of our bikes. That wet day was the benchmark for the rest of the trip, and it was all uphill from there as the trails dried out during the rest of the week. 

The second day brought us up to the telecom towers above Fuengirola, down a rocky, loose piece of singletrack that the guides called Full Telecom. There was yet another addition to our group - Mike, an American from rural Virginia who lived in Kazakstan, working in the oil industry. He was on vacation with his family, but joined us for a couple days of fun. 

After Telecom, we biked San Anton, a nice, fast piece of singletrack with some more technical shoots in the foothills down to Fuengirola. We had done it the day before, and it was so fun we decided to race it, staggering  our starts and chasing each other down the trail.

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Ingvild on the second part of the Telecom trail.

We quickly relaxed into the rhythm of being on a bike trip. A full English breakfast cooked by our hosts at 9, ready to bike by 10, and riding until somewhere between 3 and 5 pm. Every ride brought us back to the coast, and lead us to the obligatory ice cream stop at the Helateria where we quickly became regulars (it was called 900 if you are looking for good gelato in Fuengirola!).  

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Synne enjoys an enormous ice cream after a good day of riding.

In the evenings we would wander around in the touristy center of Fuengirola until we found a place to eat. Our best meal was probably the first night, when we ended up at a pretty authentic tapas place, Charolais.

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Mixed desert at Charolais

I don’t mean to brag, but the boys I travel with - Audun, AP, Øyvind and Mats - are pretty exceptional bikers. It’s always fun when the guide goes, “Oh, well, no one bikes down this part,” and then they do it anyway. On such place was this set of stairs, on a trail called Johnny’s trail after the guide who found it.

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Øyvind concentrated on making it down the treacherous (to my mind) set of stairs.

The stairs we treacherously steep and surrounded by the aforementioned prickly bushes. Worst of all, they end it a sharp switchback which I probably couldn’t clear without the stairs in the way.

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Audun nearly sits on his back wheel.

Johnny’s trail ended with a series of short stairs through dirt-packed forest trails. I was in the back, and I couldn’t decide if the stairs would get steeper, or if they were slippery. As a consequence, I keep braking to see what would happen and would loose so much momentum I would stop. My only triumph was rolling down the rocky stairs at the end of the descent - while everyone was watching.

The biking was very much dominated by sharp switchbacks and loose, rocky sections. This is everything I’m bad at, and I was equally happy every time I drifted over a loose, rocky section rather than stopping.

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Øyvind and Ingvild hit the rocks.

All of the descents brought us all the way down to the coast, but only after biking one of the two routes through the foothills of the mountains. Our favorite was San Anton, which we biked a number of times, faster each time. The other way down was on wider trails which afforded more of a view.

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The more spectacular descent through the foothills.

The worst trail we biked was the Bikepark. This single track is built up by locals, but had gotten completely washed out by the rain. Everything was so soft, and if you didn’t have enough speed to go high on the banked turns, you ended up in the washed out, mushy crude in the middle. Luckily it was a one time experience!

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Audun hitting the banked turn in the bike park perfectly.

The most challenging day for me was the day we biked Steve Peat. Steve Peat is a professional downhill mountain biker who has been competing at the top level since the 90’s. He apparently comes to Fuengirola to train, and has a downhill track named after him. On the first day, before the guides knew what we were capable of, they told us “we don’t usually take riders down Steve Peat. It’s for the more crazy riders!"

Yet somehow on our fourth day in Spain, I was standing at the entrance, about to head down Steve Peat. The first run was awful. The rational part of my brain kept telling me that nothing was particularly difficult, I just I had to roll over it, but I couldn’t let go of my brakes, and the trail was strewn with obstacles, no relief from the challenge of picking a good line and letting up down the hill. Ingvild biked slowly in front of me for the second half, giving me a wheel to follow, and I started to bike marginally better.

At the bottom, I was shaking. Everyone assumed I wouldn’t want to do another run, but I did. I simply couldn’t leave a trail like that, that I knew I could do better. So I invoked the Boyfriend Clause, and Audun bike in front of me on the second run, to help me see the lines and encourage me. It went much better - I biked everything, except one steep, root-covered shoot that I couldn’t bring myself to let go and roll right over.

No one took pictures on Steve Peat - we were all too busy biking. 

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Synne flying over a jump in motorcross park.

Our most spectacular day was probably the day we ascended Pico de Mijas, fondly known as "the Golfballs". A bit of climbing on fire roads and a lot of bike pushing lead us to a summit crowned by one of those white, circular radio tower structures that looked exactly like a gigantic golfball. Our view extended to Gibraltar in the southwest to the Sierra Nevadas in the north.

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The gang on top of Pico de Mijas.

The descent was a difficult one. At one point I traded bikes with Synne, who has a bigger suspension, beefier bike than me. I was surprised at how much of a difference it made on a technical section - maybe I can at least partially blame my bike, not just my head, when it comes to technical stretches.

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Me on - gasp - Synne’s bike.

The steep switchbacks off the top of the mountain teetered out, and the trail became faster and flowy-er through the forest.

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Mats at the bottom of the descent from Pico del Mijas


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AP jumps in the foothills on the way back to Fuengirola.

On the last day, our group grew considerably with the addition of some new Brits. We drove the two enormous vans 20 km down to the coast to Malàga to check out some new trails that the owner of Sierra MTB, Allen, had found. The first run was kind of boring, mostly a steep fireroad, and I was already tired, to I considered calling it quits. But the second run brought us down this spectacular ridge: 

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Rolling ridge above Malàga on our last day as a full group.

 …and my enthusiasm grew anew.  The trial did these big rolls, going up and down steep, loose rocky sections. It was super hot, and the descents were so loose and steep I could barely cling on. But I made it down, and enjoyed traversing the rolling ridge above Malàga and the sea.

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Our guide James on the trail.

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This is fun! Me back on my own bike

On the last day, everyone except Audun and I left on a super early plane. We had a evening flight, and got to enjoy one more day of biking, joining our guides with several other of the British guests. We repeated the same trails as day 3, traversing the rolling fireroad balconies above Fuengirola before descending on Johnny’s trail, a zig-zaging, rocky piece of fun. I had one goal: biking down all the stairs that I had hesitated and consequently stopped on at the first go round. Using the trick from Steve Peat, I made Audun bike directly in front of me, and made it down them all. In many ways, it’s good to be able to repeat trails so that you can see progress.

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Johnny’s trail

I biked for seven days straight on this vacation, partially because there was nothing else I wanted to do in the city. At the same time, this is a proof that I am somehow growing stronger. On our previous bike trips, I’ve been tired and sick of challenges after 3 or 4 days. So much biking on terrain I struggle with was really good, and this may have been our best enduro vacation so far.

- The Wild Bazilchuk