Monday 4 July
A hazy, overcast start to the day made it pleasantly cool as we took the bus and van ride up over the pass to Haza del Lino at almost 1000m altitude. The ride started with a fast, gravelly double track descent. I got the first puncture about a mile from the start, setting the trend for the rest of the day's ride. Simon warned us of a treacherous gully at one point which we mostly managed to avoid, except Owain, which led to the second puncture of the day. Fortunately I crashed into the same gully just after him and so was able to help fix it.
The doubletrack gave way to singletrack and things got more tricky. Howard managed to crash whilst standing still, mostly because Tom rode straight into him having misjudged his speed on a steep, loose section. Andy braved the alarming 'kamikaze' trail which was steep, loose, and had a five-foot dropoff at the bottom while the rest of us did the easier option which only had a four-foot drop-off at the bottom. Soon the gravel was replaced by extraordinary sandy singletrack switchbacks through cacti and palms down into the village of Rancho Ferrer.
We descended further on a dirt track (on which Howard found his limit and got his bike and shorts very dusty) to the village of Castell de Ferro almost at sea level. It was surrounded by none-too-pretty polythene greenhouses - this is where all that out-of-season fruit and veg in UK supermarkets comes from. Somehow the farmers manage to extract four crops a year from the land here by enclosing entire fields in plastic.
Simon left to go and get the van for the end of the ride, and Ryan led us, after a few navigational false starts (and, bizarrely, a load of cherry tomatoes strewn across the trail), up an insanely steep and loose climb towards Lújar. A long unrideable section in the middle made us feel quite at home, but we had a final blast with me, Andy, Jon and Ryan determined to make it to the top - we all did but were knackered and blamed each other!
We ate our sandwiches in the shade of a tree in Lújar and then had another break for a coke in the cafe after a ride of nearly, ooh, a hundred yards. We couldn't procrastinate for ever, though, and soon we were back on the road climbing up to a 970m ridge, first on tarmac and then on steep forest track in blistering heat.
Now for the treat: a singletrack descent back towards Lújar which seemed to last forever. Traversing at first gently downhill across the lower slopes of Sierra Lujar, it gradually became more and more rocky and technical. It felt almost like a sun-dried gourmet version of the Peak District trails we know so well. We only had to stop to fight our way through occasional bushes and whenever one of us got a puncture, which was actually quite often! Soon the trail became a series of tight rocky switchbacks which really tested our bike handling skills. Somehow there always seemed to be a drop-off immediately after every bend, which led to some interesting bailing-out manoeuvres. At no point did our grins diminish, though.
Beyond Lújar we descended the unrideably steep track we'd come up hours earlier. It proved to be almost as tricky to get down as it was to get up. Ryan engaged in a little informal soil sampling, and I managed to crash after a snakebite puncture straight into a thorn bush. Ouch.
We eventually made it back down to Simon and Emma in the waiting vans at the road and were surprised to find that it was well after six o'clock. On the way home we all realised just how tired we were, but managed to summon the energy for a frenzy of bike repair, puncture fixing and eating back at the villa. We'd managed a ride with almost twice as much descending as it had climbing, but somehow that made it no less tiring!
It's not all ride, ride, ride
Howard tackles a rocky bit