25th January 2016
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Adventures Abroad, Part Two
Last time, Stuart Urquhart and his chums started an epic motorcycling adventure. Now they head north through Spain towards France and into Pyrenean peaks...
Day 3: Soria via Huesca to Biescas. 28C, 280 miles
We planned to reach the Pyrenees by day three, so it was an early start and breakfast ‘on the road’ in order to cover much of the return distance by lunchtime. The forecast was excellent with a high pressure system building over the Argagon district we were hoping to reach. Breakfast TV forecast that much of Spain was about to bask in a week long heat wave – music to our ears! We decided to use Spain’s peaje (toll motorways) where possible, so we could reach the Pyrenees in time for a late lunch and a little exploring before nightfall.
The first part of the route was a repeat of the previous day, with only coffee breaks to alleviate our weary limbs. We made excellent progress and in a matter of hours we caught our first exciting glimpse of the snow-capped Pyrenees, sticking out in the morning sunshine like bleached and broken teeth. As we made a beeline towards them, we were forced from the quiet peaje into four lanes of heavy traffic that was heading to the city of Saragossa.
Richard guided us through a maze of arterial carriageways and we by-passed the city past suburban factories, grain stores and retail parks. As we followed the appropriate exits to Huesca we filtered into lighter traffic, all heading north towards the rapidly growing mountain vista that now filled our horizon. Onwards we roared accompanied by campervans and luggage-laden motorcycles, making a welcome change to the commercial trucks and speeding vans we had shared the roads with most of yesterday.
Relaxed in the ride I became aware of warning signs for a long tunnel ahead. As we surged around a high banked and sweeping bend I was suddenly confronted with a signal man who had jumped onto the carriageway frantically waving a red flag. In the confusion I neither noticed how far Richard and Ray were ahead or what was coming up behind me. Startled, I just grabbed the brakes and hauled up the Triumph double-quick before I crashed into the signal man!
Behind me the sickening sound of screeching tyres ran my blood cold; as did the fear on the wide-eyed signalman’s face as a BMW 4WD rapidly screeched up my rear end. The signal man jumped to one side and, in the gripping frozen moments, I thought this is where my holiday ends. The acrid smell of burning rubber filled the air, but fortunately the BMW’s driver managed to control the slide and it stopped only inches from my tail light. Clearly we both shared our fright as the driver gestured me a meek apology.
Suddenly the idiot signalman was back in my face screaming incoherent Spanish, gesturing for me to move as he frantically fluttered his flag towards the tunnel. I was enraged at his lack of control and, swearing loudly in his face I shook my head, crashed into first and sped off to join my companions. As I watched the unfolding fiasco in my rear mirror a small group of drivers had abandoned their cars and appeared to be arguing and arm-throwing with the little signalman. Lord knows what all the commotion was about.
A few miles further on we were held up at road works and I noticed an amazing life-size mechanical dummy – another signalman! However this roadside robot was performing calm, clear signals. The right hand held a red flag and moved slowly up and down as the left hand slowly paddled the air – suggesting in any universal language ‘SLOW DOWN AND PASS ME’. As I approached the plastic signalman I smiled and waved my appreciation but he just ignored me – it was a light-hearted moment after my previous encounter. As I thundered past I wondered about the signalman’s future as far as the Spanish Highways Dept was concerned.
Soon we’d reached the town of Huesca and fuelled up. When we came through the other side we were surrounded by fir trees, signaling we’d arrived in the Pyrenean foothills. Ecstatic to be back in the Pyrenees I opened up the Triumph and roared past my companions at a heady 90mph. Hinckley’s Bonneville was really beginning to make an impression on me. Willing to rev hard all the way up to the ton, it delivers nothing less than a smooth and exhilarating ride. And now that we were back on quiet, twisty roads I could indulge myself in another of the Bonneville’s attributes – excellent handling with a sublime exhaust note that is soulfull to the ears. Sounding like a 1960’s classic, its Dunstall aftermarket silencers pump out beautiful decibels when blasting through mountain tunnels. A bright red Ferrari passed me when I was indulging the music, the Triumph’s exhaust’s burbling and booming inside the tunnel and all the occupants grinned and waved enthusiastically at me – this was such fun!
But almost too soon up popped a sign for Biescas and we followed Richard into the village in baking sunshine, not a cloud filled the sky. Our hotel looked very dapper with its marble and ornate reception, hinting at comfort. We were not disappointed either. Our single en-suite bedrooms looked luxurious after the hostel at Medina and we quickly jettisoned our leathers and decanted ourselves into the refreshing showers. As it was barely afternoon and the weather was hovering at 28C some immediate exploring on the bikes was the agenda. Richard decided to stay at the hotel and contact Graham for news of his Harley.
Refreshed and packing only cameras and maps we pointed the bikes for ‘The Pyrenees National Park’ and only minutes later we were rewarded with gob-smacking scenery. The scale and beauty was breathtaking and my head darted in all directions trying to take in the rugged mountains and emerald green lakes that shimmered around every bend. I stopped at the first lay-by, and before I could unzip my camera the sound of singing crickets and clanging cow bells stopped me in my tracks – all that was missing were the Von Trapps. I stood transfixed by the incredible scenery and breathed it in with outstretched arms. Mockingly, Ray cupped both hands to his mouth and bellowed: ‘I’d just like to say this moment alone makes all the bloody hard driving worthwhile!’
We were drunk on scenery. Staggering down to the emerald lake, we took our seats to enjoy the outdoor symphony of a what sounded like million mobile phones singing in harmony – such was the din from crickets! It was a truly amazing experience: we’d found paradise.
Back on the road we approached a small ski resort. Row upon row of chalets with shuttered windows looked brand new, many were still being constructed. EU funding was being put to good use in Spain. We were tempted to stop for coffees but the inviting scenery and warm sunshine pushed us on. Resort after resort receded in my rear view mirrors as we climbed ever higher – only making the occasional stop to snap scenery. After several miles ascending a mountain pass our next stop was a jaw-dropping panorama of snow-capped mountains that I’d noticed in my rear view mirrors. I walked across the deserted road to take in the view when I noticed a large sign warning of bison, lynx, wolf and deer – but why not bear I mused? Unfortunately my camera now had expectations of snapping some wild bison…
A few miles further on we were following a sharp bend when suddenly we rolled up to the French border. I confess I was a little disappointed at the lack of any impressive sign, marker or even a Tricolour. But the majestic peaks opposite the border car park couldn’t possibly be missed. An impressive snow covered crag appeared to be juggling a couple of swirling white clouds which rapidly formed then disappeared again and again in succession, much like a scratched old gramophone record. Once again I was punch-drunk on a double measure of epic scenery… I reached for my screaming camera.
That evening over dinner we relived our afternoon experiences. News from Richard was that Graham would indeed be rejoining our troop on the homeward leg through France. We rejoiced and celebrated with a few toasts to Graham. Then we turned our thoughts to the next day and to persuading Richard that we should stay in this paradise for at least another day… or two…
Next: Stuart visit the most stunning scenery of the trip and gets to ride a giant bicycle…
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