Tuesday 5 July
Today's ride was a heady mixture of leg-ripping climbs and vertigo-inducing singletrack. We started in the town of La Zubia, just outside Granada, with a delicious singletrack climb through a forest. We were grateful for the shade provided by the trees as we tackled the gradient, just dusty enough to be interesting, with more than a few rocky bits thrown in to catch us out. The riding was so interesting that I hardly noticed us gaining height - only the burning feeling in my lungs gave it away.
Before long we'd reached the village of Cumbres Verdes at 1250m altitude, and we were out in the open again feeling the full force of the sun. A couple of miles of fireroad led to a spring and cafe: sadly the cafe was closed but we welcomed the cool water and took the opportunity to eat sandwiches and fettle Owain's gears, which had been giving trouble all the way up. The adjusters had all jammed, but some inspired cable-tugging by Simon, our guide for the day, had it all working sweetly again.
Soon we reached the boundary of the Sierra Nevada national park, where the technical riding began in earnest. From this point on, the rest of the ride would be singletrack until we got back to tarmac and the van to pick us up.
Intermittently shaded by pine trees, the trail swooped and dived along the side of the mountain. Such was the concentration required that it was hard to find time to admire the spectacular view back along the valley. Some of the rocky obstacles were seriously tricky and had us egging each other on to ride through them with varying degrees of success.
Sometimes it's the little things that cause trouble, though. One rock in particular, no more than a foot high, grabbed my front wheel unexpectedly and hurled me unceremoniously over the handlebars right in front of Jon. There was no serious damage done to me, but there was an ominous smell of brake fluid: my foot had somehow ripped the hose right out of my front brake caliper! Disaster, or so we thought. But the bodging capacity of a group of mountain bikers should never be underestimated. Much fiddling was required to remove the olive from the hose fitting, and the olive broke in the process, but what should Simon have in his trail pack? A spare one! What are the chances of that? Amazing.
The hose duly reattached, the problem remained of how to bleed the brake - there was hardly any fluid left in the reservoir. However, with a combination of catching the fluid dribbling from the bleed nipple in a plastic bag, and spooning fluid from the rear brake reservoir across with a tyre valve cap, the brake was soon brought back to life. The fluid levels in both front and rear were now perilously low, of course, but they'd have to do.
Fortunately the next section of trail was a singletrack climb with a few tricky sections which afforded the opportunity to try out the repaired brake, and all seemed to be well. We stopped for a few minutes by the side of a very strange concrete barn, home to a colony of rather squeaky bats, before starting the descent proper.
What a descent it was. Staring with loose, steep switchbacks, we ducked and dived in and out of the forest, gradually gaining confidence to tackle the sharp corners and deep, slippery dust. The trail surface afforded little choice of line - any attempt to steer out of the main rut left the rider to recover from a front wheel slide, and braking too hard soon had the back wheel trying to overtake.
That was all exhilarating stuff, but there was more to come. Simon pointed out from a viewpoint the trail snaking along one side of the valley and then back along the other. It looked barely rideable, and his warnings about the severity of the switchbacks and the narrow sections of trail - "you won't be able to walk it, it's too narrow" - had the adrenaline flowing before we'd even turned a wheel.
In reality it was everything we could hope for: the switchbacks at the start were just about manageable but thrilling, and the singletrack clinging to the side of the mountain was truly vertigo-inducing: don't look down!
After a few kilometres the scrubby mountainside gave way to an almost lunar landscape of white gravel and rocks which we slithered and scratched our way through with joy. There was one particular drop-off which Andy rode but managed to snakebite his front tyre on a rock. In the process of fixing the puncture he managed to let go of the wheel which promptly rolled off down the mountain. He had a long, hot walk to go and fetch it!
Eventually even this neverending singletrack had to come to an end, and we dropped down into the village of Monachil to douse ourselves in the spring there. We'd have been grateful for a cafe, but every single commercial establishment in the place was closed. We'd been out exhausting ourselves in the sun while the sensible Spanish were having a siesta!
At this point Tom and Howard climbed into the waiting van while the rest of us formed a scrappy chaingang along the road to La Zubia to burn up those last few calories.
What a day. And we'd covered a distance of no more than about 14 miles, every inch of it a challenge.
Jon winds his way up through the trees from Cumbres Verdes
Singletrack along the side of the valley
Starting the plunge down
Howard on the moon. Probably.