New formats for HISS events and dates for your diaries!

The HISS events have been going from strength to strength this year but we are of the believe that unless you’re moving forward you’re standing still, and if you’re standing still then you’re falling backwards …

So during the summer we’ve been in ‘thinking caps’ mode and we’re devised two new HISS ‘formats’; HISS Challenge and HISS Big Tread that will run alongside the original idea, which will now be called the HISS v1, and after talking through these with the guys and gals at the HISS here in Catalonia in September we’ve decided to go ahead … (thumbs)

[b][strike]HISS v1: [/strike][/b]this is the time honoured, known and loved HISS at our summer base, Camping Collegats here in the Catalonian Pyrenees. There’s no change here apart from the date, which is in June next year. The ‘HISS v1’ maintains the ‘Veterans’ loyalty bonus scheme of 50% discount – remember that since January 2016 there are no ‘new’ Vets!

[b]HISS Challenge:[/b] this will be happening at a completely new location to the south and east of Teruel. As the name suggests the emphasis is on ‘technical’ trails, of which there are many more in the new zone than both the former Aragon HISS trails and in the Pyrenees! The venue is at a ‘new’ camping – it’s only been open for three years – which not only has bungalows and motel style rooms for those who don’t ‘do’ camping but also has a function room for our exclusive use during the HISS. This has tables, whiteboards. etc. for planning, holding briefing sessions, etc. as well as some kitchen facilities and secure place for charging phones, camera batteries, etc.

[b]HISS Big Tread: [/b]again at a new venue, another camping with bungalows and a function room. This one is located within the old Aragon HISS territory but, like the Challenge site, is only fifteen minutes from the A-23 motorway that runs from Zaragossa to Valencia. As the name implies, the idea is for a HISS specifically geared up for large bikes and less emphasis on ‘technical’ trails. The big difference is that as well as having new trails in a much extended area, the HISS routes will include road sections so that riding days make the best of both worlds – the area has some of the very best roads in Spain – that is to say, the World! (thumbs)

As before the format of the HISS is essentially the same: no teams, no competition, no prizes, etc. just lots of fun …

The other change, reflecting the cost that so many people face trailering or vanning their smaller bikes to Span, is that the HISS v1 and HISS Challenge events will run back to back, so that folks can do the two together.

[b]Dates for your diaries:[/b].

HISS v1: June 12 – 16th at Camping Collegats, La Pobla de Segur, Lleida

HISS Challenge: June 19th – 23rd at Camping Casa Fausto, Formiche Alto, Teruel

HISS Big Tread: September 11th – 15th at Camping Las Corralizas, Bronchales, Teruel

NB – all sites have also offered participants a discount. Details to follow.

[b]Fees:[/b] £150 per bike/rider, passengers, loved ones, children and dogs – yes, we’ve had these! – come free.

As mentioned above the new HISS events do not attract the Veteran’s discount but there will be a 10% discount for riders attending the v1 and Challenge together as well as a 10% discount for couples with a  bike each – note that only one discount applies!

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Making a difference – sponsored ride for Cancer Research

It’s about time I started posting again so what better motivation than to help promote Graham Lampkin’s epic ride through Spain and France on his 1960 vintage Royal Enfield trials bike!

Over the winter we’ve been working out his itinerary from Santander to the Pyrenees, passing through majestic scenery, some of Spain’s best and most famous trails and, er, as many towns whose name begins with ‘L’ as possible!

Do check out Graham’s site: Lampy goes to L and back – get the ‘L’ joke! 🙂 – for the full story or you can donate directly via his entry on the Just Giving fund raising platform.

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HISS Rallies 2014

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!

Fees:

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!

Guides:

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.

Routes:

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.

Registration:

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.

Aragon HISS – October 2013

Autumn 2013: The Sistema Iberico – Aragón

The ‘Sistema Iberico’ is the range on mountains that runs roughly north-south  right across Spain between Madrid and Zaragossa. Unlike the Pyrenees these mountains are very ancient so they tend to be well eroded; like the highlands of Scotland there are no ‘Alpine’ landscapes, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who claims that the Scottish mountains lack grandeur! Furthermore, the Sistema Iberica is much larger than the highlands, being some 500 kms (310 miles) in length and having six peaks of over 2,000 metres, the highest being Moncayo 2,313 metres (7,588 feet). This ‘gentle’ profile makes these high mountains much more accessible to trail riding than the Pyrenees, indeed the summit of Javalambre, (2,020 metres) the fourth highest mountain in the system has four distinct trails to the top* – all of which are in the HISS itinerary, naturally. (* OK, there’s a ski resort and various observatories up here too, so road bikers can get there as well with a bit of effort over the last few hundred metres ! )

The mountain chain is far from homogenous, however, and has many distinct landscapes and ecosystems and some more than spectacular geology, the two combining to memorable scenery at almost every turn. The trails, like in all HISS events, are suitable for all levels of skills and machines, the terrain here being well drained and stable – torrential rain and winter blizzards allowing – and include many long distance runs of over 30 kilomtres.

The Sierra de Albarracín is home to pristine forest - it's also full of cave paintings!
The Sierra de Albarracín is home to pristine forest – it’s also full of cave paintings!

As before I’ve selected the trails that form itineraries around distinct mountain ranges, in this case four: the Sierra de Albarracín, the Montes Universales, the Sierra de Javalambre and the Maestrazgo ranges. The first two ranges are adjascent to the base camp whiles the latter are on the eastern section; separated from the centre by the city of Teruel and the valley of its river, the Turia, which exits to the sea at Valencia. But it is possible to cross this ‘barrier’ almost exclusively on trails whilst the main and secondary roads in the whole region are amongst the best I’ve ever come across in Spain!

Looking over the Montes Universales from one of several summits that are rideable on the HISS trails
Looking over the Montes Universales from one of several summits that are rideable on the HISS trails

Similar to the Pyrenees HISS it is possible to ride a ‘circumnavigation’, in this case on roads as opposed to trails, whilst both roads and trails radiate out from the base camp at Albarracín. See my Google map for some clarification. The Teruel HISS covers a much more extensive range than the Pyrenees and when I first planned this I had bigger bikes in mind. But now that I’ve done about half of the detailed survey – and owned and ridden a smaller bike! – I’m reassured that these trails and roads are ideal for any Adventure Bike Rider!

Not forgetting some of the best road riding in Spain!
Not forgetting some of the best road riding in Spain!

The base in Albarracín a real gem – one of numerous towns, technically a city but it’s hardly more than a village, that claims to be the most beautiful in Spain but in this case I think it’s literally true! There’s a degree of tourism based on this but it’s in no way a tourist trap, rather there is plenty of infrastructure, bars, restaurants, etc. and the campsite is one of my favorites, perhaps in my top five best campsites in Spain list, which is a compliment indeed! We will have a whole section of the site to ourselves – delimited by the terrain so we have to be very careful with our use of space – including our own sumptuous toilet/shower bloc. There is a good bar/restaurant that does fixed price menus in the evenings as well as the usual pizzas, grills, etc. Furthermore, there is an enclosed barbecue which is build inside a little stone building. We have to share this but it’s a valuable resource in case of bad weather.

October is a lovely month here with usually settled, sunny weather. But the area is very high, Albarracín is at 1,200 metres, so it can be cold at night. I’ve picked this week carefully for various reasons: the second half of September is often unsettled but October is normally all right – naturally there’s no guarantee of this! – the ferries are cheaper * and the summer is officially over, so there’s little chance of trails being arbitrarily closed due to fire risk – not that in times of severe drought whole regions can be off limits but generally prohibited trails are clearly signposted. (* the area is actually closer to Bilbao and Santander than the Pyrenees HISS site. My Michelin route planner allows four and a half hours ride from the Pyrenean border crossing at the Portalet pass – which compares well with two hours to the Pyrenees HISS from the French border at the Val d’Aran. It’s also closer to the coastal resort areas in Valencia and Alicante and very close to routes to and from Morocco, which some HISS veterans did along the way!