Aventura Española: Bikepacking and the Unknown

The Vielha tunnel was a dark abyss—one that hypnotises you with it's  mythical and mysterious nature. Straight into the belly of the mountain. Five kilometres long. The only way back from Spain to France.  

We didn't even know if we were allowed to ride through it but it was a risk we had to take, unless we wanted to take a two hundred kilometres detour. I hoped that the slight downhill would give an advantage over the oncoming traffic behind us.  

I took a deep breath, feeling the temperature drop from warm early autumn to frigid cold as I rolled into the darkness. I felt the adrenaline course through my veins. This is why we are here. This is adventure.  

Bikepacking is an endeavour that opens up many doors of possibility. To be fully self-supported means that the opportunity for exploration is limitless. After a summer of guiding up the same roads each week, the impulse to discover beyond what we knew was irresistible.  

The idea was simple—ride a 400km loop over the French & Spanish Pyrenees and bring everything we needed to get it done. All we had to do was keep pedalling, each revolution bringing us deeper into the heart of the Pyrenees mountains. 

After climbing 3 cols—Soulor, Aubisque and Pourtalet, we crossed the border into Spain, and we felt it. There's no other way to describe it, the place just feels Spanish. The golden sun draped over the hills and valleys, the wide open  roads rolling through the sweet-smelling pine forests. 

At one point, we were in what appeared to be complete wilderness. Every direction we looked, there was nothing that indicated a trace of humanity. It was wonderful. Not even a house or electricity pylon in sight. Just an asphalt road leading us to somewhere. 

We were less than a couple hours of riding from our destination when we realised the route we had planned was impassable. There was no choice other than to shoulder our bikes and hike through the woods. The sun was setting and the temperature was dropping—the urgency of our predicament was starting to seep into my awareness. 

This is where the adventure begins. When the unexpected strikes, it reminds you why you're here. It's not meant to be perfectly scripted. We were seeking a raw and real experience, and this was part of the package.  

We clambered our of the forest and began riding through the winding canyon  road. That familiar pink glow began to magnify on the distant peaks—the  shadows simultaneously creeping in and absorbing us into the darkness.  

When we emerged from the canyon, it felt like a rebirth. We had already ridden over 200km and 5 mountain passes—all we had to was enjoy the  downhill all the way to the town below.  

It was liberating. Our arrival was synchronised with setting sun, the  emergence of night time reminded us that the day was complete and it was  time to rest. All we had to do, was do it all over again the next day…back over the Pyrenees and into France. 

I woke up feeling the hurt from the day before. Five mountain passes in a day will do that, but it was a relative warm-up compared to the second day. There was even more distance and more climbing to get back home. 

It was a slow start—we got trapped by roadworks in another canyon and had to wait for the go-ahead signal. Each moment feels agonising when you remember that the daylight hours are limited. 

Naïveté can be a blessing or a curse depending on the circumstances. We were aware that we had a massive climb to get to the Tunnel de Vielha—the five kilometre tunnel straight through the mountain. What we didn't know, was how punishing that climb would be. 

The headwind was unbelievably strong. There were numerous tunnels leading up to Vielha and with each one, the wind would funnel through with  magnified intensity. Each time a lorry passed, I was sucked into the slipstream. It was a demoralising crawl upward, but eventually we made it. 

Five kilometres downhill through a mountain tunnel is a surreal experience.  It felt incredibly vulnerable and claustrophobic, despite the exhilarating speed  of descending. Eventually, we burst out the other side—back into the warmth  and familiarity of daylight. And breathe.

The senses were overwhelmed from such a contrast of sight, sound and feeling. This is what it means to be alive. Despite having three more mountain  passes to climb, we inched our way closer to the French border with a sense of renewed optimism and energy for the journey ahead. 

The sun was setting as we began to climb the final mountain pass—the Col d’Aspin. As we ascended the stars began to emerge, revealing their true glory.  The milky way curved above us, glistening in the night sky. Suddenly it felt  like we hadn't been riding for ten hours—it was a sense of rejuvenation that has no rational explanation. Powered by pure inspiration.  

We glided down the switchbacks. through the pine forests, past the herds of deer grazing in the meadows. Further and closer, not towards a destination but a state of consciousness.  

A place not external but internal—where the concerns of daily life dissipated and the pure sensation of being alive becomes greatly amplified. This is it. It's not even about the bikes or the distance. There is something much more significant that vocabulary fails to describe. 

One thing is certain—the process of seeking is always rewarded. Into the darkness, over the mountains, the stars and the moon guiding the way forward to a new horizon.