Flying With the Falcons – Pirineos 2016

Normally my last tour in France would have been my last for the season. But because a tour was cancelled that I was assigned after my UK tours in June, I felt like I really would not have done enough tour days this year. So over the course of summer I signed up for a few extra spots that appeared. The first one, a week after the French tour, would be a “Special Tour” (custom, exclusive tour) for a group of Mexican customers, in the Spanish Pyrenees. Not just a classic sightseeing tour, but an “Extreme” tour that is much heavier on riding. In this case it could even be categorized as “Super Extreme”, since the riding distances would be even longer than is usually the norm…

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Things started with me driving 900 km to Austria in my own van, picking up fellow tourguide Claudia along the way who would be one of 2 other tourguides on this tour. From Mieming, Austria, we loaded up 15 bikes on two huge trailers, and set off for the 1400km drive to Barcelona in Spain.

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We picked up Manuel, the third tourguide and most experienced out of the three of us, at his home in Italy. Since we had gotten a late start due to loading the huge number of bikes, we drove past midnight and ended up manoeuvering our huge trailers on a full hotel parking lot in Frejus in the South of France at 2 am at night. Another 7-8 hours of driving brought us to the hotel in Barcelona, where no even a loading place in front of the hotel made the unloading of the bikes an interesting juggle with space and parking.

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Once I met the customers, I got a bit of a picture of the scope of this tour. 15 men, all part of an exclusive club out of Monterrey, called “Halcones”, or “Falcons”, they go on a trip like this every year. They are so into their club that they had custom-made T-shirts, hats, dress shirts and stickers with the club logo for their bikes. They all live to ride and last year’s tour was a bit short and not challenging enough for them, so things were stepped up a notch for this tour.

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Because of the huge amount of riders, they were split into two groups, which is why we were three tourguides: two ride motorcycles, one does the luggage van for the day. The Falcons decided the group structure themselves; we’d learned this was based on eating preferences; one group liked long lunch breaks with multiple courses, the other group barely stopped at all, preferring to avoid the drowsiness that follows a meal, instead staying sharp and riding more. Both groups barely wanted to stop for pictures or sightseeing.

 

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In general, I don’t have so many pictures from this trip as I usually do, as there was always things to attend to and unexpected situations always sprung up. My first day, where I was in the van, had me driving from Barcelona to Peramola 3 times, a 200km trip one way, to retrieve luggage that had stayed behind in Barcelona.  The next day, unexpected motorcycle exchanges had me swapping around GPS-mounts on bikes (this takes at least 15 minutes) right before we were about to leave for the day’s ride!

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The choice of motorcycles for this trip clearly showed the goal of the trip too: not a single one was under 1000cc, all motorcycles had more than 100 horsepower (which is a lot for a motorcycle). We swapped bikes with guests a bit to make sure they were comfortable, and got their bike in return, a BMW R1200RS, which I’d be riding mostly for the tour. Being 3 tourguides also means you ride 2 out of 3 days instead of 1 out of 2, and my shoulder muscles started to not like this BMW race-posture much halfway through the tour…

It needs to be said; the riding on this tour was some of the best I’ve done. Valleys, canyons, mountain crests, wide sweeping major roads to small mountain paths, we’ve had it all in the best of weather. Most of the tour was in Spain, where the roads and traffic were noticeably better than in France, where we had 3 of our 8 days.

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Hotels were mostly great too, one of my favorites was the Parador de Monte Perdido, “Hotel of the Lost Mountain”. There was mostly not that much time to appreciate them, as we arrived late, had long dinners and then had to prepare our crazy complicated routes for the next day on almost every occasion.

The only exception to that was our rest day in San Sebastian, on the Atlantic coast. After having done about 1000km in 3 days, crossing the entire Pyrenees East to West, we spent a very welcome two nights in San Sebastain. Even our Mexican riders seemed to appreciate this, opting not to ride that day but instead sightseeing the city. Manuel, Claudia and me even managed to finish that evening drinking Cava on the beach by ourselves, a rare treat!

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In general our guests didn’t want to do much sightseeing or stop at all. At most they wanted some selfies in front of a castle or mountain pass every day, but that was a bout the extent of it. That’s mainly the reason I feel like I don’t have pictures of even half of the amazing things I saw on this trip; either I was attending to the Mexicans on foot, or we just flew by on the bike.

Suprisingly, on day 5 some of them came up with the request to go to Lourdes, which was not planned or on the route at all even. Since this was a Special tour, there’s no real issue witha request like that and we oblige. So I took “Los Religiosos” on an improvised ride to Lourdes (almost the opposite direction of the planned route), while Claudia followed the normal day with the rest of the group.

Lourdes was an interesting experience, I usually have my reservations with these religious or spiritual places, and this was no exception. Firstly a lot of people there didn’t interested in atonement or prayers or anything along those lines: they mainly want to get their hands on that famed holy water. Religious fans were filling up bottles by the dozen, some people came away with entire cartloads. The shops around the place were all eager to make money of this, with true religious supermarkets selling all kinds of trinkets and containers for holy water. I couldn’t help but think of the “Cleansing of the Temple” narrative from the bible, where Jesus expels false merchants and money changers from a holy temple as they have no place there…

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As if the trip was not challenging enough, on the second-to-last day we had a mishap that put the most experienced tourguide, Manuel, out of action. There’s not much more to say than that it was an unfortunate chain of events with some inexplicable bad luck, resulting in Manuel staying behind in the hospital in Carcassonne, France. The main office came into action quickly and arranged a replacement for him on very short notice, which made the strain on me and Claudia quite alright, leaving us just a little shaken at what happened.

As the trip came to an end for the guests, I still had some 3 days of loading, driving and unloading to do. The whole crazy parking situation in Barcelona lead to 3 of us loading bikes for 5 to 6 hours in the heat, and then setting off for the 2-day drive back to Austria. The next day I was unloading bikes late into the night. I ended up in the town hotel sharing a room with another fellow tourguide, who put my mind onto another crazy adventure for the near future.

After that, being reunited with my own van was actually quite nice. Driving back all the events from the tour played through my mind. I tend to ask other tourguides how tough they would rate the tour they’ve just been on, and me and Claudia agreed this one must be a 9/10 Super Tough tour. But despite that, I really enjoyed it. It sure beat sitting in an office, and offered me all the excitement and variation I could hope for.

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