Saturday, 19 August 2017

Trans Euro Trail - Summary Round Up...

These were written as we were still travelling, so are our feelings at the time. We’re now back in the UK and doing the laundry, servicing bikes and planning a four day trip as neither of us will have any work in the very near future!

We set out with high hopes for riding the Trans Euro Trail and to be fair, the trail as a whole has been fabulous. Well done to John Ross and the team for all the work they’ve put into it. It is the essence of the ethos of ‘working together’ that has brought the whole thing together in such a short time.

For me personally, the route has been an education as well as an enjoyable bike ride. I’ve seen a lot of countries I hadn’t been to before and because of that I’ve seen a lot of things that have both changed some of my points of view and also cemented some other points of view. I'm really looking forward to see the changes that will happen to the TET as more people get involved and add more information. It'll continue to grow and who knows where it will take us, but one thing is for sure, a lot of people will benefit from this open source information and the trails will see a lot more riders!

Eastern Europe was amazing, the riding was superb, challenging and interesting at the same time. The countries were both a little similar to each other and yet always different. The people were always generous and pleasant, offering help whenever needed or not needed and always happy to see us pass through their country as a visitor and as a rider. Romania & Montenegro were our favorites, with Albania and Bulgaria very close behind. The roads are often dirt roads which are still in use on a daily basis, the pressures of daily life are more basic and people still talk to each other in a friendly way with an open greeting first, then some chat before moving on your way. As an example, we chatted with various shepherds on the hilltops in all these countries and was invited into someone’s hunting hut for coffee as we passed by. Language issues were only a small barrier to just sharing information in a friendly way. Internet access was really easy to find in most places, except Albania, which just doesn’t have the infrastructure as yet. A lot of the journey reminded me of being in Asia or Africa.

Western Europe... The riding was sometimes great, with amazing views and trails, however there seems to be more flatter simpler trails and lots more tarmac roads. More often than not, we drove around in the van on the lanes and spent a lot of time avoiding the extremely busy holiday hotspots, which is understandable at this time of year. Various attempts to chat to shepherds doing the same job as their eastern counterparts was met with either a sullen look or we were just ignored, even the lads on the trials bikes, which seemed petulant at best. I feel Lucy is correct when she says that there are just too many people around and this has left us with the general feeling of being unwelcome in a lot of the areas and left us with a negative impression in general. There is a stark contrast between the friendly, open and positive vibe from the eastern countries and the opposite in the west.

One of the best things we’ve seen in the western sections is something that we think needs to be adopted in the UK. Clear and positive lane management with very clear signage about what is legal and what is not, even good enough for foreigners to understand! (For the most part anyway). Italy, France and Spain have all put in place some very good management processes, information boards for all users with relevant info about restrictions and cautions and relevant signage. An ‘inclusive’ management process instead of an ‘exclusive’ one. From what we saw, the majority of people adhered to the principles as well.

In all of the countries we travelled through, we have had interaction with the police at some point, regular roadblocks, borders, customs etc etc. In almost all of the times these have been positive and even friendly, with the eastern teams waving us through a lot of the time. The western ones included pulling us over off the motorway to check for illegal immigrants/drugs  in one case or just directing us past incidents etc. The Spanish were the worse and the most visible, miserable and sullen as they took money from everyone they stopped, no matter what the cause.

Ironically internet was much harder to find in the western countries too, although when you did find it, it was faster to use.

To end on a positive note, both Lucy and I have aspirations to ride more of the TET, we haven’t travelled much in the northern parts from Hungary upto the Arctic Circle, so maybe when we have some spare time and cash that can be on the agenda. I also still want to ride the Portugal section and of course both of us want to ride around the world for a few years!

Again, a huge debt of thanks is owed to both John Ross and the TET Linesman for their unstinting work and efforts. Lucy & I tried to meet up with a couple as we went by, but for various reasons things never seemed to work out, maybe another time. In the meantime for us, it’s a few days riding in France with some friends around Limoges and it’s surrounding areas, then a return back to the UK with the need to recoup some finances and plan the next bit of riding fun!

Some personal thoughts & questions...
It seems to me that the price of living in a country where things are ‘modern, safe and easy’ is the need to accept the majority opinion of the democratic process, no matter what that is or how biased it may seem to an individual. It also means that the financial setup of that country has to be spread across a lot more areas so things cost more. With the ever increasing regulations to control the ever increasing populations, more ways of taking earned money from the citizens and just more pressure to conform all the time I can fully see why, in the last few years, there have been more British citizens leaving the UK than the immigrants coming to live there. I’d be surprised to find that isn’t the case for several other ‘developed’ European countries too. Maybe history is repeating itself again as more people move south and east to find a more relaxed way of life? Democracy is a great thing, capitalism is a great thing, but at some point they have to be reset to achieve a balance that is fair for all and not just the greediest or the loudest.

A question that does recur in my thoughts as I ride along is ‘Why are so many of the lanes being closed across Europe?’ I think there is more than one answer to this but the two main ones I feel are down to money & security. Borders and in-country security is always a priority for any government and it’s where a fair proportion of each person taxes go without a doubt.. Money, well, that’s on several levels, but governments, local councils & businesses would be the main places. You earn far more money from the skiing industry in one winter than from several years of ‘off road’ folk coming through so who cares if you close that valley piste or that mountain piste so long as you can reap the financial benefits from the influx of tourism in the winter with the bonus that the utter destruction of the hillsides to achieve the desired skiing areas is also covered up by metres of snow for large portions of the year!

All of the countries we passed through also all have some form of huge hydro power systems either being built or already in place. These provide both water and electricity for the ever hungry needs of the growing populations across the earth, plus the income from all this. This is affecting the traditional dirt road infrastructure too, basically removing or limiting them as the valleys are bull dozed and the concrete poured. As mankind develops so our planet pays the price, just when will things hit a crisis point is the question or are we already there?

Phew, that is some serious thinking, I think it’s time to go ride my bike! ;-)

France - A day of random riding!

We ended up driving back into France and heading upto towards Angouleme. The bill for the van repairs had left us short and when we worked out the finances, we decided we'd have to start heading north back to the UK and reality again...

Hey ho, we had one last adventure planned, which was to ride with a friend who lives around that area plus we had a free gaff to doss at for a couple of days! En route we found a great little van selling roast chicken so that was lunch sorted.

We meandered through the Pyrenees, crossing back into France and taking a steady route north. En route we made arrangements to meet up with Mike and go for an exploration ride with some nice coffee and snack stops and stopped at a little hot springs so Lucy could go soak in the sulphuric waters!

The riding day set out following some trails Mike had been on before, he's a good rider and was off at a pace on his home ground trails, leaving Lucy & I trailing behind! Things settled down and we did a 180km loop with lots of new areas and trails, some of which turned out to be dead ends, some of which turned out to ace!

A lovely sardine based BBQ for the evening, along with some wine and that was us for our trip! The drive home was via Caen, where we saw a few refugees floating around, but was on the whole very uneventful, which is a good thing really... 

Trans Euro Trail: The Spanish Pyrenees

We blasted across France to get to the Pyrenees, knowing we can ride in France pretty easily anytime. Our plan was to get over to Portugal with a stop at a friends place near Benidorm and a couple of days riding around the Pyrenees sections.

However, fate and life intervened a bit and so we ended up with only one day of riding, mainly due to the van problems catching up with us...

We met up with some friends of Lucy's at the town of Sort. They were on a paddling & cycling trip, so we parked up and had a beer or two and a gossip, which is always a good thing! The van had another brakes problem on the drive and we'd gone past a garage full of local 4x4's and vans en route, so we'd booked it in to have the oil and the brake fluid changed, the mechanic took one look at the discs and said, no to changing the fluid as the brakes would still be crap, so change the discs, pads, fluid or nowt at all... OK, so we added two rear tyres to the list and effectively the bill was our budget for Portugal, so...

With the van in the garage and the dog in safe hands, we went riding!

The garage guys had a bike and told us about some lanes to a ski resort, this linked to a section of the TET and so a loop was sorted...

We climbed through the forest to the ski resort of Port Annie 2000 from the village of Vilamur, then did a rolling loop to the Pic D'Orrie and a bergerie where we had a coffee and a sandwich. We picked up the TET part of the trail and followed it for about 20km, climbing and rolling down through the forest. It was a little bit of what we'd ridden in the Vince the previous year and close to the Andorran border.

We followed thr trails down through the trees, had a play in the river and the climbed back around past some old ruined villages to get back into the trees. A bit of rain and thunder started here, so we set a pace to complete the loop before we got soaked!

Great riding, plenty of forest stuff but also some great views... We were almost at the road when we spotted some of the military look out posts that are dotted around this area from the war

Riding in the Pyrenees is always good fun, with plenty to see too. This was not a technical ride at all, but it was interesting and as always it was good to be back on the bikes after too much time in the van!

We returned back to the van to find a part was incorrect and we had another 3 hour wait, so we had coffee and chatted with the mechanics before finally paying up and driving away to another riverside campsite.

Where next was the question?

Trans Euro Trail - Italy, High Mountains and the Police...

05th August 2017

The bikes were out, the kit was on, we were off up the hill to see where the trail went to by 8am this morning. A really peaceful nights sleep next to a bubbling river left us both relaxed after the last couple of days of driving.

This was a bit of an epicentre of trails from what we’d seen on the info received from Alessandro, so we were keen to explore, this was backed up by seeing loads of trail bikes & 4x4’s etc in Oulx where we picked up some food the night before. There are plenty of tyres available at a garage here too if you’re passing on the TET...

Our first trail was straight up the piste behind our camp spot, steady piste which led to an upland grazing area with a beautiful war memorial and then onto a small farming area where a few hardy campervans and some 4x4’s were parked up. Above this and heading towards the French border was the trail we’d come to ride. We arrived at the junction, (left went down to a few building and the Refugio Scarfiotti) and was really put off by the barriers and the toll booth, (5 Euros) to go to the Col de Sommellier at the head of the valley.

After some discussion, we turned around and went to look at the next loop on our GPX file. This turned out to be a great hill climb, (once we’d read the sign saying vehicles were allowed between May & November). However 10 minutes up the hillside was a ‘Closed’ sign, this led to us being confused, was this loop closed totally or open between the May & November? We turned around again to be sure.

3rd trail was the same, another ‘Closed’ sign, we rode on a bit as we were so confused about what was the actual case here but turned around again as we didn’t feel right passing the sign.

4th trail was a cracker, climbing up through the trees, out into the open hillsides, through some high hamlets, great views unfolding as we rode. We were on the trail with a couple of quads, two trials bikes, some mountain bikers and a large group of walkers. We took loads of pictures as we neared the summit, especially of the large cave entrances on the opposite side of the valley. We investigated the ruins from the wartime military bases and generally enjoyed being in the mountains at last.

Once at the summit though, things soured quickly. A group of Italian riders, (all on GS’s) pulled us to one side to warn us that the police were there, (4 of them) with a drone trying to catch folk going ‘off piste’. We also saw painted signs on the walls of the ruins up there saying ‘off road go home’.

We thanked the Italian guys for the warning, even though we had no intention of deviating from the trail and descended back to the villages below. Once back at camp, we found that someone had been through our little stash of beer left to cool in the river and had threw the milk on the bank. We packed up and left Italy for France as things were a little too like certain parts of Britain for us!

The TET route for northern Italy was being updated as we were passing through there, Alessandro had been very kind to pass on some of the info to us and we had followed some sections including the above. Our thoughts are that when you ride this part of the TET, just accept that there will be plenty of tarmac, enjoy the views and the places you pass through and enjoy the dirt sections when you get them but make sure you don’t expect huge dirt sections that roll on forever through the mountains. The whole area is way to busy for that these days and reading up on the history of the individual valleys and ranges we passed through, I’d hazard a guess that anything to do with the borders is still a touchy subject for the local populace and indeed Italy itself, so respect that.