Words by Renaud Skyronka. Photos by @pcrgravier
Born in 2010, Paris Chill Racing is the primary urban cycling community in France today. We wanted to get out of our daily routine and launch some extraordinary challenges.
After an epic Torino-Nice rally in 2016, we were ready to tour the Basque Country of Spain, through the crazy Bardenas Reales desert of Navarre.
GravelBike/BikePacking/Camp /7 days/7friends/700km
There were a trio of obstacles that spiced up this Iberian adventure. We would be starting in Hendaye for a 700km loop, passing by the first passes of the Pyrenees, then heading south towards the desert of Bardenas Reales in the middle of Navarre. Then we would head north towards the Natural Park of Urbasa-Andia where we would cross into the Spanish Basque Country. We would then reach the coast around Bilbao for a return to Hendaye following the ocean. Our bikes would be subjected to a tough test throughout the 700 km of bikepacking/gravel.
#1 - M O U N T A I N
To begin our Spanish tour, we decided to start with the biggest piece of the pie: the Western Pyrenees.
After a particularly rock'n'roll warmup, taking the long-distance hiking trail #10, through the mountains and rocks, without a path, climbing 1000m in 7km, we rode along the French-Spanish border for a fifty kilometers in full nature.
That's where the gravel takes its full dimension. We enjoyed the verdant panoramas.
From the second day, we took the southern cap, to reach the heart of the Navarre region.
A stop in Pamplona was nevertheless indispensable for some essential bike repairs: a chain for Louis and a saddle collar for Alexis. Two bike parts at 10€ each, which could have spoiled the trip!
Bardenas Desert here we come!
#2 - D E S E R T
The main goal of this trip : to ride through this desert!
The desert of the Bardenas is known for its tracks crossing incredible concretions of rocks. We arrived with a nice back wind, passing by a zone of gravel.
With a small stop in a village that was preparing for the festival, it was time to fill water bottles and water pockets!
We benefited from a meteorological anomaly which allowed us to discover these tracks through weather of 20 degrees celsius instead of the usual 40 at this time of the year. What a pleasure!
After the first part of the day relatively "tourist", we left the 4x4 tracks to get lost in the south of the desert, where nobody goes.
We were alone in the world, which is exactly what we came for.
The light was splendid, we attacked some steep slopes, which flirted with 20%.
We set up camp, pitched our tents on the edge of the track, right on time for a sunset and aperitif drink!
A prestige map that we will all remember for a long time.
The night was chilly.
We planned to reach the ocean at Bilbao, passing through the heights of Basque Country.
What should have been an easy part proved to be more complicated than expected. Main problem: the wind.
He who had pushed us towards the south, now blows full-force in our face. Damn headwind!
We had to undergo a full day of indecent gusts, to go mad while we were getting pushed back west. A flat day of 110 kilometers was nothing special, but a necessity to join the Spanish Basque Country.
After a night in a park, a few meters from a village festival, we took the road to the national park of Urabasa. A jewel of nature to be preserved.
To reach it, a long ascent, during which the temperature decreased by 10 degrees celsius minimum. Then, of course, the rain began to fall.
We spent the day wet, in landscapes that look like the Scottish valleys. Horses everywhere.
We camped near a lake, enjoying the return of the sun for the end of the day.
Heavy legs, all our stuff soaked.
This was Antoine's last day. He left the next morning to go back France, after a morning discovery that his rear derailleur was totally disconnected from his bicycle. Luckily, a makeshift repair allowed him to reach the train station on time.
The next day was ocean's day!
#3 - O C E A N
The weather improved and forest roads took us to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Guernica, then Lequeitio where we reached the crowded beach.
What should have been an easy step proved to be the "deadliest one" of the trip! 2300m climb, on gravel roads where every kilometer is worth three times more in the amount it was earned. Solid!
We went along the ocean to Zarautz, where we tasted a really good pizza after ten hours on the bike.
The quest for the bivouac spot was rather incredible. It took place at night, through the sight of a headlamp. We landed on a belvedere facing the sea.
The awakening will be forever memorable. Morning fog, panoramic views and the sound of the waves breaking.
The last day of the trip brought us back to Hendaye, right where we started, to complete the loop.
7 days, 7 friends, 7 panaderia, 700km, 70 patatas frittas. ParisChillRacing Gravier