Pyrekneesup 2010 Llavorsi, Spain My First Pyrekneesup event, July 2010 Llavorsi, Spain. A last minute invite from Austin Vince and his charming wife Lois Pryce to attend this year’s Pyrekneesup threw my schedule on its head. With less than a week to go I was making plans and trying to get my bike shipped down to llav and book flights etc. After few phone calls to the guys at Adventure Spec, Kriega and a few other places I heard that Nick Plumb was in a similar predicament to me. After the briefest of calls had made arrangements to share his Touratech van the costs and the driving down to Spain on Sunday 18th July. All went well and after a butt numbing 11 hours driving from Calais we arrived at the Riberia Hotel in Llavorsi at about 1.30 am. Rooms were rustled up by the night manager and we both crashed. Nick having done all the driving and me having done all the co piloting, changing the audio book CD every hour and opening bags of junk food that would have delighted any 12 year old. Day one was a revelation as we had arrived in the dark we had not been able to fully appreciate the beauty around us. A big breakfast and a coffee on the patio restored us to being half human. Quite a few of the other participants were there and general banter about the various means and methods of getting from the UK to Spain were the topic of the morning. Unloading the bikes was easy as and after about 2 mins of visual maintenance were stashed in the undercover garage at the hotel. Later that afternoon as the participants rolled in from all corners Nick and I took a trip into the village to top up with gas and get some essential supplies for the next few days. Well kitted in shorts and flip flops for the short ride we discovered the nearest gas station was around 12km away. A cautious ride got us there and soon we had a rucksack full of bottled water, sweets and chocolate to see us through the next day or so. The scenery was breathtaking and was just a hint of what was to follow over the next days. At 8pm all the participants were on location and Austin held his pre knees up briefing. Mindful of local customs and emphasising a respect for the local populace Austin managed to make it more of a stand up routine than a briefing which was a welcome change from the boring old farts normally hosting these type of events. Unexpectedly Austin called me to the front of the class and proceeded to sing the praises of Satmap and Azcari, much to my delight and surprise as I was expecting a much lower key intro to all the people at the pyrekneesup. The rules of the event were explained and last minute questions answered in the familiar Vince touch of humour. On the way out of the garage where the briefing had been held I was approached by many people asking loads of very precise questions. An absolute revelation to me as I was not answering the usual string of banal questions. All the folk here clearly had a good understanding of maps, map reading and navigation. This after all is what the pyrekneesup is all about. More so than just plain riding skill. Dinner was a sober affair for most and much map reading and planning was being done at a few of the poolside tables. A quietly purposeful hum as the team’s fine tuned their strategy for the event.The pyrekneesup is planned and hosted by Austin and Lois who go to the chosen area one year in advance of the event and ride the trails and set out the route and place the markers. A few weeks before the event participants are given a map and reference book made up by the Austin. On the full sheet map there are various routes and checkpoints set out covering a large area of the Pyrenees. The guide books give a detailed snapshot of the checkpoint location with a photo of where the marker may be found. Under a rock, nailed to a fencepost, tied to a tree and a few other obscure locations are the norm. In the instruction book one is prompted to record a selection of the characters off the little plaques and enter them into the space provided on each page. Each checkpoint has a value assigned and generally the harder the trial to get there or the more obscure locations are awarded the highest points.The aim is to get to as many checkpoints as possible and gather the highest number of points over the two day event with some of the teams covering nearly 700km in the two days. The teams are generally limited to a max of three riders so that it is less intimidating for the walkers and other users of the area. It also attracts a lot less attention than having large groups of riders haring through the countryside. The only occasion in two days where we met two other teams at the same checkpoint was also one of the closest to the hotel so many teams headed here at the start of day one. On day one I was teamed up with Rupert who had flown out from Australia to attend the event. His regular bike, a BMW R100 was awaiting sopares from the UK so he had the use of Lois’s bike, a 250 Yamaha, for the day. Much slower than his regular choice of bike it was non the less great to be out there in the hills. We took a rather leisurly approach to matters and as I was focused on my Satmap I left all the navigating to Rupert, who was very experienced in the event and navigating in general. We were only ‘lost’ a few times the whole day and never for very long. Lunch was another leisurely event and as we sat on the patio of a tavern in Organya where we watched a few of the other teams whistling through town on their tireless quest for points. After lunch we had a chance to do two more checkpoints bringing our total for the day to seven. The ride back to the hotel was an odd affair with Rupert going very slowly on the uphill’s on the small bike and then whizzing downhill as gravity and momentum changed sides and assisted him. A few blokes passed us with their heads down, bit between the teeth and aiming only on one thing, making ity back to the hotel before cut off time at 8pm. On arrival at the Hotel logbooks and scores were handed in to Austin and Lois who tallied up the points standings. Al most everyone hung around to see who had done what on day one. Jenny, the favourite to win the event rolled into the final stage of the day well ahead of most other teams after having had a nasty crash on the way back to the hotel. The need to win seemed to have rendered her impervious to pain and she was in very high spirits. Since the event only finished at 8 pm it was a bit of a late start at the bar where the freshly showered participants downed the first few ice cold beers and shandies of the evening. Dinner was far livelier than day one and some of the braver teams stayed up well passed pumpkin time drinking and regaling each other with stories of super human riding skills. Day two was a creaky affair and I felt like I was made of very dry wood as I creaked out of bed. Little did I know worse was to come. Rupert had been struck down by what looked like an award winning hangover but was in fact something else entirely. Not yet dressed for the day’s events and now minus a team mate I was promptly inducted into the Austin Vince Nick Plumb team of lunatics as third rider and occasional photographer. My mission was to take photos of the Satmap in use and was not really prepped for the competitive spirit of things. Austin and Nick had set their minds on winning the event and then stepping away as it would have been unfair on the mere mortals who attended the event. I made a mad dash back to the hotel room, puffing away as I kitted up and gathered my cameras, video helmet cam and other paraphernalia for my Satmap quest. When i got to the garage my new team mates were sitting on their bikes tapping their fingers. A theme to be repeated throughout the day. The first part of the day was a tar road for the first 15 minutes or so and this lulled memento a temporary sense of able capability with my machine and rider skills. Watch a Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AxUy2Rb2EA The moment we left the tar road it was like following two madmen possessed by Loki and Nike in equal measure. Hanging onto the throttle for dear life I figured they just need to blow off some steam and things would settle down to a more reasonable pace after a while. Actually they were still warming up…. After a while I actually started enjoying myself and pretty soon was having a few yeeha moments with Nick on my back wheel and Austin not far ahead and thus caught up had no option but to ride at the same pace. Scary and fun at the same time. Lugging a 650 BM around the trails was no easy task but then as I was this close to Austin I realised that even though he had canvas panniers strapped over his front mud guard, a huge map reading screen made of wood fixed to his handle bars and a few other environment friendly modifications on his multi thousand miler Suzuki Dr 350, he was still as quick as. And then I wondered, in between trying to avoid crashing through the trees along the road, how fast would he be if he were on a modern trail bike like a WR 250. Maybe a question that needs answering sometime soon….. During one of our 15 second rest stops I pondered the difference between the navigation gear on our three bikes. Mine with a Satmap on the bars. Austin’s with a wooden map holder and Nicks with everything imaginable for rally bikes from the Touratech catalogue. This was really the essence of the Pyrekneesup event where one had every kind of bike from old to new and knackered to pristine. Off road clothing was the same story with some folk riding in jeans and a shirt whilst others had all the required safety gear for a pain free crash. Fortunately no hi viz clothing in sight for the entire 4 days. And so the day rolled on with Austin and Nick showing the most amazing amount of patience with my lack of speed. The major downside of being a tad slower was that as I was catching up to them at a checkpoint they were just about ready to set off again so I would barely have time for a wave and a thumbs up before cranking the throttle and racing off into the scenery in hot pursuit of Loki and Nike. At some point, with sweat trickling down the inside of my helmet and my chest thumping I looked at the clock and got a major shock to realise it was only 10.15am and I was already feeling tired. A few hours later we were haring up a mountain side when we can upon a scene of picture postcard beauty. This necessitated a short stop for some snapshots, the only time the whole day we were to do so. The descent was magnificent and were it not for the speed we were doing I would have tried to take more photos. As it was we were heading for our formula one style pit stop lunch. A short trip into the nearest town for fuel and some more 12 year olds favourite food. I had a chocolate covered cream filled pastry in a cellophane wrapper chased down with a diet coke. Diet coke? and a mars bar i meant to say. Odd. Austin and Nick had similar lunches with the aid of some red bull. Surely not the height of Spanish cuisine but all it was all they had in the way of food in the service station. After lunch I managed to do another hour and half of crazy capers but soon felt like I was about to have a second heart attack. The guys generously offered to do one of the loops by themselves and would catch up with me as they passed through La Seu d’Urgell on the end of the loop. At least we were spared the embarrassment of meeting in the town nearby, Arseguell, the butt of many jokes. So i was given a rest and took the time to ride slowly and shoot some pictures for my website and blog. This did wonders to revive my spirits and also gave me pause to remember that in my rush to get ready earlier that morning I had not taken my smorgasbord of tablets as usual. That would perhaps explain the breathlessness but not the slow riding, I would have to work on an excuse for that. A few minutes after schedule the guys were riding towards KM2 and our rendezvous point. They were in high spirits and I felt rested after my slow ride to the RV point. Soon we were back up in the hills and going for gold once again. At one point Austin stopped and showed us where the border with Andorra was and a place where in his past he had made a navigational error and regaled us with the story of the ensuing consequences of his error. Of course now that he is a Satmap convert such incidents will be avoided in future. Pretty soon we arrived at the trail that was to prove to be the highlight of the two days of riding. After a rather steep ascent where i managed to drop my bike twice, in quick succession, and had to be helped up by Nick we made it to the trailhead. A wide, fairly smooth 8 mile long fire road through a forest. No dust, no rocks, just sheer bloody speed and the thrill of riding fast through the cool, post thundershower, afternoon air. Knowing that we had missed only a few checkpoints and would be back at the Hotel before cut-off time. Shooting pics with one hand while travelling at speed results in a few blurred shots and some odd camera angles. The spirit however is not diminished by the lack of quality. To see some more of this watch the video footage of this short trail. At last we were at the end of the day with rest and results in sight. The tar road back to the hotel was just pure unwind. We had all made it through the day with no breakdowns, no bad crashes and our collective sense of humour and elation intact. The teams started to arrive shortly after us and the riders started to hand in the log books and scores. The place began to buzz again as everyone compared scores and stories of the days riding. Listening out for the sound of engines as the last minutes ticked away. Most the teams were in and some of the scores were pretty impressive but none had so far beaten Nick and Austin. Eventually Jenny and her team were in and everyone went up to shower and get ready for the awards dinner in the hotel. After a rather good meal Austin presented the prizes and after building a suitable amount of tension it was, as all expected Jenny who won the event with a score of well over 800 points. The next day rolled around about 4 hours too early for my liking and we packed the van to the limit as we were asked to take a third bike back to London. Nick and I settled in for the 11 hour drive back to Calais and listened to another fine audio book en route, making the time pass more swiftly. The ferry was delayed so we saw a gap on another ferry and dashed aboard with no one any the wiser. After dropping me off i Surrey at 1.30 am Nick had another 3 hours to go to Wales. I cannot remember having such a good time with what was until a few days ago a group of virtual strangers. The camaraderie was exceptional and the riding better than one could dream of. Personally I have not had my riding skills pushed so far past their limits for about 20 years. Having covered over 500km offroad in two days was also a revelation as we are pretty limited here in the UK. Thanks Austin for the invitation, Nick for the company and driving and to all the people I met there who went out of their way to make me welcome. I hope to see all of you next year.