H.I.S.S. – High Intensity Sojourns in Spain
Both rallies in 2013 were a great success despite somewhat disappointing attendance figures. Everyone had a great time, including ourselves, plus it seemed that everyone got what they were looking for. As with everything, however, there were lessons to be learned both from the extremely useful comments made at the events and subsequent feedback both from people’s trip reports and private mails. In addition Mrs S and I kept our eyes and ears open during the events themselves.
So, bearing all this in mind we are going to run both the Catalonia and Aragon HISS rallies again next year at the same venues but with some important differences and improvements, the most obvious being the dates, with Aragon at the start of summer and Catalonia at the end of the season:
Aragon: June 16th to 20th 2014
Catalonia: September 1st to 4th 2014
These dates are chosen to fit around local conditions, weather, day length, etc. plus things like fiestas and holidays that impact both the accommodation and, believe it or not, the likelihood of ‘sharing’ the countryside with large numbers of local excursionists. There are also issues around nature and wildlife, in Catalonia the red deer are numerous and during the rut, which happens in late September and early October, are a genuine hazards on some of the most popular trails. On the other hand, I may be able to get permits to ride some trails that are prohibited due to their proximity to rare bird nesting sites – by September, these may literally have flown 🙂
I’ve also chosen the dates to fit my own timetable as experience shows that many riders arrive the day before and leave the day following the rally, so the rallies offer five days riding – although in fact most people took a rest day and another reason for moving into the summer is that tourist facilities like white water rafting, pony trekking, etc. are fully available then. So Mrs S and myself have to be able to get to the locations for the Sunday before and not leave until the Saturday after, not an easy call!
I’ve ended up heavily of our pocket on the year despite the fact that most of the work was already done for the Catalonia rally the guides cost a small fortune to have printed – not helped by the small number of copies – as did the guides for Aragon, which were larger format. But the big cost was the three trips I made to Aragon, one in October 2012 with Mrs S in company for the preliminary reconnaissance (I’m not counting my earlier visits that were part of my Tours of Spain in 2011 and 12) and two visits this year, each of two weeks duration, when I rode almost all of the trails. But both rallies are going to be extended for next year so yet more costs will accrue, so I’ve devised on a ‘rolling’ price scheme which I think is fair to everyone.
There are three ‘Membership’ tariffs:
1) £50 for a first HISS rally attendance. This ‘membership card’ includes a .pdf file of rally notes, riding guides, hazards specific to Spain, rules and regulations, etc. plus a check-list of essentials such as documentation, health cover, insurance, etc. which is mostly common sense but always bears repeating and is useful for riders who haven’t ridden trails in Spain or even ridden abroad at all – as has been the case on several occasions.
2) £25 for any attendance at subsequent rallies. This ‘loyalty card’ includes a route guide updated from the previous time (see below for guides) and personalized notes for itineraries and routes that either weren’t covered before or take into account personal preferences, e.g. historic sites, restaurants, etc (see below for more on this too). Note, this ‘membership’ also applies to those who were at the first HISS in 2012 🙂
3) The VIP Playboy club – or Playgirl as the case may be J This is a free ‘life membership’ for any rider who has volunteered to help reconnoiter a HISS rally in the past. Note that this is not just a case of an afternoon out while you’re passing through on another trip but an actual commitment and doing what I need to have done. The current members of the Club are Phil-in-France and Mr X for their contributions to the first HISS and beyond, plus a special ‘Good Bunny’ platinum membership card to Tramp for his invaluable help with mapping and understanding Satnav’s!
The guides will be in A4 sized bound folders and include maps, co-ords for start, finish and key waypoints, i.e. only those where the trail is ambiguous, otherwise riders should follow the obvious main trails, a description of how to find the subsequent trail and a list of the trails that either coincide or are close by, plus notes on POI’s, fuel, eating and drinking holes, etc.
Experiments with A5 and smaller sizes make the guides difficult to use despite being easier to carry. I’ll print one guide for every four riders plus some spares (HISS rallies don’t have teams but ride out in groups that constantly chop and change, electing ‘leaders’ and navigators as they go – three rallies has proved that this idea works well, see my generic notes on how HISS rallies work for more on this). GPS files are available but shouldn’t be used without the guides as some inaccuracies are inevitable, given the sheer amount of data. Regarding the GPS: to follow the trails Satnavs with ‘tracks’ function will be needed to follow trails, but road going Satnavs are OK to find the start and ends of the trails, bit with the caveat that these will tend to lead people completely astray – again I stress that it is essential to read the guide! Read throgh the various ‘Official’ Rally reports topics on ABR forum for examples of these.
The arrangements for the 2013 Aragon rally were so successful I’m going to reassign the Catalonia routes along the same lines, i.e. into distinct areas with ideally two itineraries, one clockwise and one anti-clockwise. In each case I tried to make one itinerary free of difficult sections for novice riders and/or big bikes. This worked but for some riders who thought the other itinerary would all be ‘technical’ rides, which was not the case. Instead I’m going to add special sections for those who want really challenging rides. These will be readily accessible from both sets of itineraries and often link other individual routes.
These sections will be ready for the Catalonia HISS as I know most of them even though some are too touch for me to ride – especially alone! – so these will be a ‘genuine’ challenge as well as helping groups chose their own plans for the day’s riding – it’s worth re-stating here that my itineraries are as much to do with ordering the trails clearly for people who don’t know the geography (very important in Aragon where the terrain is extremely disorientating!) rather than existing to be followed to the letter. Again, the idea of the HISS is to ride where the fancy takes you, but to know there a trail available where and when you want it!
Another innovation is that I’m going to include itineraries for the best road sections. This is in part because some of Spain’s best roads are found in the HISS locations – and that’s saying a lot! – and these are also often essential to get to some of the more distant trails, especially in Aragon where the HISS ‘territory’ is huge (and will be much more extensive in 2014) – groups had no difficulty in riding long distances in Aragon – 150-200 kms per day on trails was the norm, but riders found that they had a long way home on boring roads whereas if they had used the back roads well this wouldn’t have happened.
In Catalonia the situation is rather different bit I’m going to add a whole new region, just to the south and still very mountainous, which will incorporate some spectacular road rides. Between these additions and the POI’s (see below) I hope to give much more scope for choice.
Places of Interest:
At the Catalonia venue I’m going to include a few dozen POI’s, i.e. castles hermitages and other historic sites, plus, natural phenomena like rock ‘bridges’ caves, viewpoints, accessible summits, etc. Although most of these will be included in the routes this list will serve as a summary to help folks who like an objective chose their trails but I’ll also ascribe points to each based on difficulty of access etc. so if anyone wants to make their own ‘navigation event’ they can use these. All of these will be genuine places of interest, with a few notes about the history, geology, etc. as opposed to just being a few code numbers attached to trees, road signs etc. NB this will purely be a private thing between individual groups of riders, I will adjudicate but I stress that I’m not going to organize any kind of competition!
If this proves popular I’ll try to do the same for subsequent Aragon rallies as I’ll make note of these on this year’s exploration visits in April/May and on the rally itself in June – in fact if there is enough interest in advance I will try and get some ready for this June. I already have some; cave paintings, abandoned villages, ‘camps’ used by partisan guerillas during and after the Spanish Civil War, etc, as well as the usual castles, hermitages and so on. So please tell me if you want this.
As before, registration is simple. Just mail me from the Contact page on my The Spanish Biker website, giving your ‘given’ full name – for the camp site’s records, which have to match your passport – an ‘avatar’ or nickname for use in public, plus a non-refundable deposit of £10 to secure your place. It’s also handy for me to know your personal name, e.g. Chris, Dave, Dogbreath, or whatever (There have been quite a few!) that you use amognst your friends J
I’ll make a lost of attendees on specific topics on the ABR forum so riders can contact each other by PM or on the topics themselves. In extreme circumstances I’ll pass messages between riders who aren’t on that forum, but note I will never pass on email addresses on ‘round robin’ messages, which I try to avoid using anyway.
Please note that this is not an ‘official’ ABR rally, I just use their forum to keep things in one place – the HISS rallies get discussed in several other forums, four to my certain knowledge and possibly more – and I very much appreciate ABR’s support in my using this facility.