Thursday 7 July
Today's ride was straight from the villa. With no van trips required, it meant we had plenty of time and no hurry to get ready and go in the morning. However, our start was somewhat later than planned due to the fact that Tom decided to replace his headset before setting out for the day. It's a simple enough task, but not one you'd normally start just before a ride. Naturally it didn't go quite to plan, requiring assistance from blocks of wood and a hammer to get it seated vaguely right, and the general mauling the bike received caused some damage to the cables. However, we eventually managed to get going some time after 11 o'clock, just as the heat of the day really set in.
There aren't all that many places where you could ride uphill non-stop for two hours from the front door and still not get to the top of the mountain, but this is one of them. The dirt track starting at the spring just behind the villa goes up, and up, and up. To begin with it passes a few houses but is soon left on its own, snaking through the sun-bleached landscape with only the occasional tree for shade. The first part of the route was familiar as the start of the first day's ride, but we carried on much higher. After about 45 minutes we passed a spring, the last chance to get water. We all filled up and found the cold, clear water from high in the Sierra Nevada was a welcome contrast to the relentless heat of the sun.
As we ascended, the air temperature fell a little, which combined with a pleasant breeze made the climbing easier. The pace even picked up a little as we passed hairpin after hairpin. The character of the trail began to change, from dusty but still-used dirt road to rocky, un-maintained track. Eventually we stopped to eat our sandwiches at almost the ride's highest point, the weather station at about 1900m altitude. We'd climbed over 1200m since the start. We had no shortage of insect life trying to help us with lunch: wasps buzzed around us while huge ants scrabbled around in the dirt carrying away our crumbs.
After lunch we headed a little further along the track, past rusty signs warning us that the road was closed beyond this point. Soon we were in the forest, and Ryan picked out the section of singletrack which would start our descent. It took a few moments to adjust from constant mechanical pedalling to the quick reactions and handling skills required for the singletrack, but we were soon whizzing through the trees scattering twigs and pine cones as we passed.
As our confidence increased, so did the technical difficulty of the trail, with loose, dusty hairpins taxing us at every turn. Eventually the forest spat us out on to a fire road, and we set off down it at breakneck speed. It wasn't long, however, before the back end of my bike started to feel distinctly squishy. Oh no. Another flat tyre. But what a puncture! A blunt lump of twig about 5mm across had stabbed straight through the tyre and tube. Feeling around in the tyre I found no less than six more thorns. It was a wonder the tyre had been holding air at all! It was soon fixed, however, with help from Andy's piece of toothpaste tube to reinforce the damaged tyre.
We set off again down a steep section of singletrack to what looked like an abandoned holiday cottage, ducking between the buildings to find the next section of trail. However, Howard had slowed on the descent to protect his grazed arm from the encroaching bushes, and didn't see us take the corner. He went straight on, and started finding his own trail down a steep-sided gorge! The rest of us spent some minutes hunting around for him and shouting in various directions, succeeding mostly in setting dogs barking for miles around.
Soon we heard a plaintive cry from down in the gorge and caught a glimpse of Howard making his way back up, safe and sound, much to our relief. With the group back together we set off down the next section.
This trail, which led almost all the way down into Lanjarón, was an amazing piece of singletrack. It reminded me of Jacob's Ladder wrapped around a corkscrew, with its rocky surface twisting and diving underneath us. It was a real test of skill, but we felt quite confident because it wasn't perched on the edge of a precipice unlike some of the other trails we'd ridden. The consequences of a misplaced front wheel were likely to be just landing in a shrub rather than crashing down a cliff face.
Having said that, Andy did manage a nasty stack on a flat section of track: one hand slipped off the bars and knocked him off-balance, leading to an impressive set of grazes but no serious damage.
Ryan led us down various short but sweet sections of singletrack threading their way in between the secluded houses and barking dogs which formed the margin of the town, eventually emerging via the 'wrist breaker' trail (fortunately, none of us did) on the main road via someone's driveway. Just when we thought it was all over, one of Ryan's tyre valves spontaneously tore off, splattering puncture-sealing latex all over the road. It was soon replaced and we cruised the last kilometre or so, saving the final sprint for the climb back up to the villa and the race for the first shower.
Would you buy a used bike from this man? Tom does some serious fettling
On the 1200m climb, Owain and Andy look like they're enjoying it
The view from nearly 1900m high
Hot, dusty singletrack down into the town