Mountain Biking Magazine





Gazing out over an impressive range of peaks whilst leant against a large, all–encompassing information panel (translated into English), which described in detail the extraordinary geology and tragic history of El Chorro and the Ardales Park, one of our group proclaimed devotedly, “I…am going to Google search this place as soon as I get home.” 


Words by James McKnight. Photos by Victor Lucas

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the downfall of modern society and exactly the reason why we had decided upon an experiment to push the boundaries of what is humanly possible, to put ourselves through great suffering in the name of science. Our mission was to go without technology for a grand total of three days; no social media, no digital cameras, no idea of the time. Nobody could have predicted the results…


Having spent a cold, sleepless night positioned next to a large air conditioning unit in Bristol airport, the three of us – Paul Aston, Pedro Ballin and I – finally arrived to the most luxurious sleeping arrangement of our trip: a row of bargain airline seats. Sleep we most certainly did, for we were making the most of our final taste of minor luxury before heading out into the wilderness.

Or at least that is how we had foreseen the week ahead. We were expecting, and prepared for, several nights sleeping under the stars in one of Spain’s many areas of natural beauty – Parajes Naturales – most probably in a cave, if not less. But with an ever–worsening weather forecast, our mentor for the week, photographer and Irish ex–pat Victor Lucas, had been busy making other arrangements. He greeted us as we landed into Malaga airport, helped us to order a train ticket and began his hell–bent assault on technology. We were going Unplugged, ‘anti–technology’ was the order of the trip.


For about ten Euros one of Spain’s Renfe (the rail network) trains will take you from Malaga airport into the city’s central station and then connect you with another that will whisk you away from the conveniences of the modern world and toward the country’s interior. Travelling at 160 kilometres per hour, a brief journey of less than one hour through the plains, that so famously harbour Spain’s rain, delivers passengers to a desolate feeling platform set at the foot of a vertiginous gorge. Hardy, weathered–looking climbers spend days here at the platform’s small café.

One such group were sitting out a storm when we alighted, perhaps their weekly contact with the world beyond, and enjoying a chat with the little old lady who happily opens her establishment to outdoors folk (many foreign) every day. Here, we sat and fuelled ourselves on cortados (short, strong coffee with milk) and generally avoided the inevitable…a thousand–odd metre tarmac climb.

We had arrived at El Chorro, a tiny village near Alora in Andalusia. Village is an overstatement as the reality is more of a community split between those who live in houses, probably because they run one of the very few local businesses, and those who live either in camper vans, tents or caves. Most of the population stay hidden, only appearing for infrequent parties, which mostly involve litre bottles of beer and music until the early hours.

There was no such evidence of life–beyond–café upon our arrival and we eventually began to make our way up the steep, grinding road without sight of another soul. Climbing on a mountain bike with a backpack loaded full of food and supplies for a multi–day trip is a struggle at best, and by the time we made the top we were already half beaten. However, we were warmly welcomed into our new landlord’s house for a cup of tea and biscuits.

And so it was that our intentions of liberty, simplicity and raw survival began to waver somewhat. Replenished, warm and dry, we were shown to our shelter – a small refuge, house, called Casa Bolero.

We managed a spin on the bikes late that afternoon and took in one of the beautifully flowing and semi–natural snakes of singletrack that will one day make El Chorro a very famous mountain bike destination. Never too hard on the pedals, rarely on the brakes, always wide–eyed looking down the trail at the next fast approaching crest or fall. Trail riding doesn’t get much better. We had to scrabble across a fallen tree at the foot of the trail, a burst river between us and the only exit route.

To re–stock our energy after such a heroic river crossing we pedalled uphill to a great little café that Victor and I had previously visited. Boar heads hanging from the walls peered over our shoulders as we sipped coffee.

Hours later, many cortados consumed, we rode back to the refuge via another memorable trail.>>



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