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Discussion Starter #1
After a false start to my trip with lost luggage and a non-functioning phone, things did improve. My missing bag was delivered that evening, but no points to easyJet's customer services who, in response to my e-mail, sent an automatic response that, naturally, didn't help at all.

On the plus side, I did get an upgrade on my hire car: a Citroën C4 Picasso instead of the 'roller-skate' I booked.

But anyway, to the riding. This was my third trip to Redtread Honda in Cómpeta, about an hour east of Málaga, and with (hopefully) all my bad luck out of the way I was looking forward to improving and learning more skills off road.

They have a young fleet of Honda bikes, which from next month will all be 2008 machines when the last of the 2007 machines go back to Honda. There are CRF450X and CRF250Xs, and for the short-of-leg, CRF230Fs. I was entrusted with a 250 because that's what I asked for because it's what I have at home, albeit a KTM (of course!).

Day one saw us at the 'track' - a large area of waste ground that's been fashioned in to a playground for off road bikes, cars, goats and remote control 'planes. The reason for the time down there is to teach the all-important cornering techniques which will stop (or reduce the risk of) you going off the side of the mountain trails.



My recurring problem is that although I know the theory, I have difficulty translating it in to practice - especially, for some reason, on left-handers.

The weather was cool, but warmer in the UK by about 10 degrees centigrade, and ideal riding weather. So after warming up at the track, and going airborne for the first time (in a controlled fashion!) at the top of some of the steeper slopes, we trundled down to the beach for lunch.

Fully sated we headed up in to the mountains above Cómpeta to put the morning's lessons to the test. Taking a circular route around one of the mountains (whose name I've forgotten) we passed an uneventful afternoon of gravel, chalk-like scree (horrible!), sand and rock interspersed with hairpin bends and the odd concrete trough.



Safely back home, and with a well earned beer, we settled in front of a nice log-fire before wandering down in to the town for a meal at Oscar's. Lunch hadn't agreed with me, so I was feeling a bit delicate (I'd spent most of the afternoon's ride with hiccups), so opted for a light meal and passed on the wine and beer.

Sunday dawned cold(er) and wet. We added jackets to our riding apparel and, shivering slightly but undaunted, we set off up the aptly named 'corkscrew' (site of two crashes for me the first time I rode it, two years ago) and to the top of the "Gorge of Hell" - a literal translation of it's Spanish name: Barranco del Infierno.

I was very apprehensive, because it was in this gorge that I had my big crash last year and the bruises are still fresh in my memory! This year we had the added excitement of ice and snow in the more shaded corners in addition to the sand, gravel, ridges, hairpins and other features.

Pleasingly I made it to the bottom unscathed!

From there, through a deep ford (2-3ft deep), on to some long sweeping part gravel / part asphalt roads where we could go almost flat-out. Lunch was at an unassuming café, where a steady stream of tapas and a couple of rounds of hot coffee helped to warm us up. There was a roaring log fire, and the fireplace was rapidly garnished with wet gloves, jackets, boots etc. in an attempt to dry them out.

In the afternoon we continued a circular route along some ridge lines, more roughly surfaced trails and ultimately to the top of a descent in to a riverbed. The slope itself was very loose, and it took a combination of clutch and brake control to get down in one piece. In previous years this river has been almost completely dry, but this year it had around six inches to a foot of water in it. For some reason, a layer of fast-flowing water makes things all the more tricky, and I managed to get caught by a rock and went for an unintended dip in the river. No harm done to either the bike or me.

After climbing back out of the river, one of the bikes had a puncture. So whilst the 'sweeper', who rides at the back to make sure nobody is stuck, lost or left behind, set about changing the tube, the rest of us headed to the 'play hill'. A steep, single-track climb that required lots of throttle, firm steering and a 'committed' approach. Some people decided early on that it wasn't for them, others took a while to decide, others were more gung-ho! The first attempts varied in their success: a clear run, a near-collision with the only tree on the whole hill-side, and an elegant pirouette were just some of the results.

After much deliberation, and words of encouragement from the rest of the group, I decided to give it a try. Ian, the guide, followed me up and about half-way started shouting "don't stop!". I couldn't really hear him, but picked up just enough to hear the second word. So I did. Ooops!

Apparently, at the bottom of the hill, they'd heard it all, with much mirth at the "what did you stop for!" comment. Ahh well, c'est la vie. Or it's Spanish equivalent.

With some careful (!) clutch control I made it almost to the top, stopping with my front wheel on the threshold of the road at the top. Unfortunately the ground was softer there, and I only succeeded in digging a hole. So Ian and I manhandled the bike the last metre or so - it was declared a successful ascent!



Afterwards the rest of the group confided that despite egging me on to do it, they wouldn't have done it themselves!

While we played, the sweeper turned up having made a faux pas with the spare inner tube: he'd picked up a punctured one awaiting repair instead of a new one - but a selection of tubes are shared around the group so it wasn't long before all was well again.

From there a short ride back to base where wet kit was hung to dry, brandies and hot coffee provided, and we unanimously decided that getting a pizza delivered was preferable to another soaking or a pricey taxi ride in to town. So with a few beers, a roaring log fire, some bike DVDs and plenty of banter we passed the evening.

[Continued in next post...]
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Christmas Escape to Spain - Part 2

[Cont. from previous post]

Day 3, Monday, looked overcast, but dry as we set off in a new direction for me towards Nerja and a challenging river ascent over many kilometres, with hidden rocks, loose shale and the odd steep step. Strong arms were needed and mine weren't strong enough. Some of the group had never ridden off road before, so this was quite a challenge for them. Eventually we all made it to the top, but not before I'd helped to retrieve a bike from an odd attempt at an embankment, and having helped a couple of people out, promptly crashed myself. Purely due to lack of strength to keep the bike going in the right direction.



At the top of the ascent we found a house that had been almost completely washed away during storms earlier in the year, except for the garden. The owner and his wife were there harvesting oranges and lemons, and having helped them over the rocks back to their car, they gave us an orange each - which was just what was needed.

Some more steep tracks and roads, some of them resembling a roller-coaster, and we were able to do out second 'good Samaritan' act of the day. An elderly gentleman on a yellow Suzuki scooter cum trail bike had broken down at the side of the track. Ian set about trying to coax it back to life, but it was obviously very poorly. Another, even older, gentleman appeared in a van and was not pleased that we were blocking the track. But with a length of rope we towed the stricken bike to the top of the hill while the two gentlemen followed in the van. Then, in a scene that could be straight from Last of the Summer Vino, we had the idea of putting the broken bike in to the small Renault van. The comment from one of our group was "great, we're putting the most unreliable of bikes in to the most unreliable of vans...".



From there, we decided it was lunchtime and today's venue was at the top of a mountain in a free wildlife park. Riding up through the park with ostriches and lions alongside was interesting. En route Ian took us to a couple more play hills, and in the process of demonstrating it our sweeper's bike's chain broke.

Not to be defeated, Ian free-wheeled the bike back down the hill to the nearest road where the support vehicle was summoned to bring a replacement; we went for food.

The roller-coaster tracks were more like a ghost train in the thick fog that had descended, but lunch of pork chop, sautéed potatoes and fried egg was worth waiting for.

With the events of the morning, after lunch the clock was ticking - would we get home before nightfall? Would the bikes run out of fuel? And most worrying of all to the novices, would we have to face the river again?

In the event we did do the river, but only the lower part that we'd missed out earlier, and then rejoined the earlier trail back to Cómpeta. Going back uphill is sometimes more tricky than going down, and a sudden bounce on one particularly short, sharp and loose climb lead to me being thrown up out of the saddle and subsequently a painful landing back on it, destroying my concentration and coordination. The sympathy was... umm... limited: "That was a bit rubbish..." said Guy (the sweeper) - and he was right :)

As the light faded, we retraced our steps back to Cómpeta and most of the bikes made it back unaided, but some of the 450s, including Ian's, coughed to a stop to be replenished by one of the two mobile tankers - AKA the Honda CRF230Fs, which seem to use hardly any fuel at all. For some reason the 2008 bikes seem a little more thirsty than the older bikes.



As the sun sank below the clouds, over the final meal, and with plenty of liquid refreshment, tales of derring do were embellished, inflated, and fabricated - but we all agreed it had been a great few days, and one or two people might even have been converted from road to dirt :)

All being well I'll be heading back again next year.

There are so many trails that although some are repeated, there's plenty of new routes and variations of them to take. Ian and Guy's routes are adapted to everyone's ability - encouraging you to push yourself that little bit more without it being dangerous. You can ride at your own pace, fast or slow, with no pressure to keep up and as much tuition as you need. Highly recommended.

Oh, in case you were wondering, one person did fall off the trail after an overtake didn't do entirely to plan. No real harm done - the bike was recovered back up on to the track and there were no injuries or bike damage.

Unfortunately it was an early start for me this morning to fly home, but at least easyJet (well, they're orange! :rolleyes:) managed to get me (and both my bags) to Stansted almost on time.

And a word of advice to anyone thinking of buying a Citroën C4 Picasso: Don't!

:)
 

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Brilliant read, with good pic's too, maybe you should send it to one of the magazines for printing, its certainly good enough.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Having had a some time to get organised, I'm in the early stages of planning another trip out to Spain, this time for a group from a bike club, in late October: 4 nights / 3 days riding; £555 (excl. flights and transfers).

Would anyone be interested in coming along? The earlier we book, the cheaper the flights!
 

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Is Tom still working as the sweeper? I did this last year and was most impressed with the set up. I had a broken heel and he nursed me round for three days.Bloody hot when i was there.Went for a swim in a pool, in a zoo, on top of a mountain one day.Beats the rain in Scotland any day.





 
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