9-16 June 2019
Looking at El Solitario’s Instagram one day I saw a picture hash-tagged OUTLAWS and it caught my attention right away. It was a group selfie of David and a bunch of guys looking completely destroyed, commemorating the end of a week long off-road exploration across the whole Iberian Peninsula. I thought ‘what a fucking adventure, these guys must be crazy. I want in!’. It turns out it was a pilot trip, for what was to become the first of a new adventure for the wolves’ close family and friends. Not doing W&W this year for the first time in years made it so the closest to ES had a huge gap in their diary, and this had to be filled celebrating freedom, independence and trust. I had to join this journey. I had to. And somehow I was about to visit El Solitario at their Ranch a few days after I saw that post. The planets were aligning.
David Borras declaration was “El Solitario O U T L A W S is a story about long lasting friendships. Not just between riders, but between designers, makers and storytellers, collaborating freely on one common goal – adventure. The nucleus is a motorcycle expedition across the Iberian peninsula. A think tank on the move, we will gather all these free spirits and immerse them into an OFF ROAD + OFF THE GRID adventure to excite and challenge their passion and survival instincts. For seven days we will storm the hell out of our machines across two of the most beautiful countries in Europe. Riding all day and drinking whisky under the stars at night. Together we aim to keep the fire alive and excite our creative ethos like we’ve been doing all these years in Wheels & Waves, although this time communication will be more direct without the interference of commercialism”
Yet, not everybody will ride off road all time. There will be an alternative via road for the Outlaws who wish that. But who are these Outlaws and what do they mean? I was soon gonna find out if this Neapolitan would fit.
No amount of preparation, or (as soon I will discover) leaving stuff to chance, would gear me up for what was to come. For starters, this was going to be my first real enduro experience. Aside some youth dirt riding, I’d only just bought my 1987 XR600R less than a year before, and I was still getting the hang of it. Shall I now reveal still on my first rear knobbly?! But I love a challenge, especially if it leads into the possibly glorious unknown, so there was no question I would try. But would my 1980’s, 600cc, drum brake, 180kg, tall bike cut it?! Most off-roaders were riding agile modern KTM 350, but not only. Asking which terrain we’d go through, I was reassured ‘hard, knobbies all the way!’, but what did that mean over 7 days riding? I knew there was also a road route organised for the road riders, and in case I fell apart – and I will!
The prep and transport of my bike was a whole story! Having done the stator and coil some 10 months before and still getting some unpredictable cut outs’ I decided to order a Rick’s Electrics CDI from the US. The carbs were cleaner than my bathroom, I had just done camchain spring, valve adjustment, sorted a leak, and now the CDI finally sorted the cutting out problem. I thought nothing can stop this beast now! (little I knew hey).
Told we’d ride about 200km a day off-road, I had a Dakar kind of epiphany and went on a hunt for a larger tank. It was delivered the day before the bike was meant to be transported to Spain by Geoff – more on this later. Night riding was also in the cards, so I thought well to install some led lights signing up to Amazon Prime again. After a few returns I quickly discovered you can’t just wire them in, lol. Finally, I got them working ace with the revised rectifier, diode, capacitor and my two eight degrees led spots. It looked killer, and for once I could actually see what was in front of me.
Another recommendation was ‘Mousse if you don’t want to spend time changing tubes’, and I went on the hunt. No matter what, you just can’t get a 17” mousse. But that’s the size of my ‘vintage rear wheel! I even went on to buy a second hand wheel on ebay advertised as in ‘good condition’, but this had 5 cracks in the rim and even the welder didn’t want to touch it. All these preps in the middle of a house moving. Happy days! So I swapped the sleeks for the knobblies and finished my bike about 6 hours after I was meant to meet CoBuilt Geoff (the man behind those mouth watering titanium pipes) in Oxford. He was going to ride the Outlaws and offered to transport my bike, and even ended up coming all the way to West London at 1am to pick it up!
So with the bike packed and gone I could finally relax a couple of days before the trip, or actually not, I had to finish my moving, and hoping to get my delayed Alpinestars and Airoh packages with the protections. It was all very last minute and pretty nerve wrecking, but it was exactly the same for everybody involved in this mad venture.
DAY 00 – Friday – A Coruńa, Galicia, Spain.
Arriving at La Coruña airport around 10pm on the Friday I had no idea about the plan, yet often my trips are like that so I’m not concerned. The crew that arrived earlier is finishing at a restaurant so I go straight to Mama Juana’s house (as they call him), one of the most loving wolves in the pack. Juanito is this incredible guy, always smiling and always helping and making sure you’re alright. And he’s got some real skills and incredible taste too. His house is absolutely stunning, made entirely out of organic materials and filled with beautiful wooden and metal art. It’s an absolute joy to be with him. I’m immediately welcomed with beers on a roller (as I will discover later, this is one of Dani and Javi’s magic tricks). More people arrive from the restaurant and after jolly greetings and introductions I’m completely lost for everybody’s name, but so are many others, yet we’ve got a week to learn them, hopefully the beers and whiskey will allow it.
The whole crew moves to the ranch for a little pre pre-party. Outside in the cobbled courtyard David lights a fire, and we all share the EL Solitario Outlaw Whisky Collection, shaking to the awesome beats of Loren’s records. But it’s an early night for me when at around 1am Juanito is about to leave and goes “where will you sleep tonight?” – I don’t know, really, I guess somewhere upstairs in the ranch house?! – “mmmm, come with me, my couch is free and you’ll sleep like a king there!”.
DAY 0 – Saturday – El Solitario Ranch.
Rest days are for In-laws!
The next day is the official start of this bonkers adventure. Juanito of course is in charge of the delicious food, and he’s not messing about. With all the ingredients prepared for one of the best paellas I’ve ever eaten, him, Dani, Javi and I go to A Coruña to get some amazing empanadas especially ordered for our pre party. Back at the ranch more and more people keep arriving from all over the globe.
There are Fede and Juana from Argentina, Tommy and Jake OGara of Native Sons from Japan, Hong of Motorino from Korea, Julian form LA, Carlo from Milan, Arne from Amsterdam, Geoff, Caylee and I from UK, and then of course the French posse Vincent and Tania Prat, plus David, Polo and Olivier; Fred from Corsica, and then the Madrid crew with Juan Ramon, Alberto Garcia-Alix, Cesar, Dani, and then many more from the rest of Spain, from Lalo to Jose Manuel, Borja, Dani, Jaime, Jonas, then Andre and Pio, and the list goes on. And of course David, Pico, Val and Jose, who together with their whole crew of kids on fire Mia, Nico, Diego and Clarita have been there getting everything ready for us all for days. Now I do hate long name lists, I think they are useless and I myself never read them because inevitably I can never remember them. But the truth of this list is that it comes here just as everybody appears to me, in one single shot. All of a sudden I realise I am sharing an incredible experience with 50 new people I’ve barely met before, but I won’t forget so easily. Well, right up my street I shall say. And the exceptional thing is that everybody has come this far via land, sea and air, on bikes, planes and vans, because they trusted El Solitario and its values. It’s a celebration of loyalty and trust, and we all know this is going to be pretty special.
With more and more people arriving throughout the whole day, the Ranch is pretty much transforming into a full swing international funfair. Between prepping and testing the bikes and kits, and toasting with more Estrella Galicia beers than I can remember, we have a feast with Juanito’s paella, empanadas, cheese, local wine and a delicious local pastry of prunes and fish. Food is next level at ES Ranch, but the next stage is already underway. A big school board is out with a Wank Rally list of two teams, and I’m asked if I’ll race. “Of course!”.
Soon after we’re in the field by the enduro track with two bikes, a bunch of helmets and a chest of iced beer just on time for the sun to break through the clouds. Clarita, not the beer shandy but Lalo’s 10 years old daughter, rounds us all and gives instructions with the megaphone, and we’re eagerly lining up in 2 lines. In turn we leg it to the 2 KTMs with hilarious moments of bikes parked in gear, people falling over, some cutting through the whole truck, others wheeling around, for one of the teams to finish first.
With this shot of hysterical fun straight into our veins and some more beers in our bellies, we team up and get on with setting up our tents for the night. A bit like Steve Jobs with his OS, David’s called the teams with animal names. Fitting for a ranch I guess. And so just like Noa’s arch the ranch is filled with stuff like the hedgehogs, the goatz and the eaglez, while I’m in the pandas with Dani Urbana and Jose Manuel. After all we’ve got to practice building these super duper high tech tents sponsored by Japanese brand Snowpeak, and check if any of us snore! But there won’t be much chance to check that this night really. The official per party is now in full swing with a bbq of meats and salad, drinks and the most funky and rare music I’ve heard in a long while. Dancing, making fire, drinking whiskey under the stars, it all goes on for probably a little too long before the first day, but we all knew there was gonna be no escape from this!
DAY 1 – Sunday – A Coruńa to Loucía, Galicia, Spain.
Some say the first day riding is always the hardest, and while I would agree based on this experience, I’m really hesitant to confirm the last days were any easier.
We pack the tents, each load our bags in the van and the enduro team is ready to go at 10am. We were meant to leave by 9 to be in good time but how to manage a convoy of 20 enduro bikes is a mystery. While the road ‘impostors’ will leisurely leave after breakfast and probably some beers too, everybody who is planning any off-road during this trip is out this morning for the first route. Throughout the whole journey people will swap road for mountains depending on their injuries, their bikes’ injuries and the hard reality of the track. And this is not a bad thing, as I will later discover and tell here too.
And so on day one to my amazement there are not only KTM 350s, but a Yamaha Tenere, a KTM690, an R100 and even a fully loaded GS1200, all with dual sport tyres. The monster GS worries me, but if he can do that, then I can survive on my tall XR with the 20L tank for sure. I should have never thought that. As soon as we leave the road and get on the first wet track climb, taken by the enthusiasm and riding a bit too comfortable my front end goes and right away I snap the front brake lever at the pin. I carry two Kriega bags with me, a US10 onto the bike and a R15 backpack and camelback, and they are both filled with all sorts of emergency good stuff. I got cable ties, cable repair kits, tubes, tyre levers, tools, new plug, gaffer tape, camera lenses, snacks, whiskey, even cacao beans, but for the life of me I haven’t got a new lever! That’s it. No brake for now. Filled with fear, I carry on as I don’t want to stop everyone so soon for any longer than needed, and I think who really needs the front brake anyway?! Immediately though I discover it’s pretty essential with my XR being drum brake and kickstart only. How else to start the bike on a hill!?
An hour riding up some real steep and rough terrain and we stop again in the middle of what looks like Bali’s forest (but it’s Galicia here – the Scotland of Spain ie clouds, chill, amazing flora) as we wait for our massive group to catch up. I get the chance to ask around for a lever and legendary Dani G has one. I hug him with joy and I’m back in the game, but this time I’m not gonna get all cocky and fuck it up again. It’s starting to look like a real adventure and no one really knows what’s going to happen and how’s going to work. I’ve never seen anyone riding a R100 with such agility like Fred, or a GS1200 like Jose Manuel does through massive holes uphill and up through roman wet cobbled paths. The skills range across the group is pretty huge and we all help each other in the most difficult parts, a bit like a Darak.
At one point Dani G loses the front sprocket nut and he ties a piece of wire to secure the thing. Clever tick, but soon after he starts pissing oil from the same area and has to go back to the road and get recovery to make it to the daily destination. Dani G is a good rider and pretty prepared. He will be back on track pretty soon. Things like this will happen all the time and it isn’t easy riding off-road in big groups. We end up waiting a lot, but it’s the first day and it’s all about understanding dynamics and adjusting to one another, figuring out the more skilled riders, the slowest, so that we can make a plan. Inevitably we get separated again but it’s not all bad, a good chance for Geoff, Carlo, Julian and I to enjoy a fast ride for a while. I’m a lucky impostor here, as this lot are the best really, but the terrain isn’t that bad and I get away with it.
Finally we get to our first campsite in Galicia, on the marvellous land of David’s mother Pilar. Her house is built out of a medieval noble’s fort that’s up on a mountain, surrounded by her beloved vineyards where she produces this amazing vine called A Pita Cega. We are so happy to be here, reunite with the road guys and finally eat some real food. All day without breakfast but a mild hangover we’ve survived on nuts and sweets. But the spirits are super high and the banter is raucous. The road guys welcome us in a return from war kind of celebration, but they are completely clean and sound, and will have to suffer our parody for a while. Juanito is preparing the best Spanish-Mex in this continent while Juan Ramon teaches us all a lesson in Jamon slicing. This is heaven. After 10 solid hours in the saddle through some of the most challenging routes several of us have ever done before, we drink cold beers like we’ve just fund water on a desert island, but Pilar’s biodynamic white wine is next level, and we have no choice but to break the golden rule and sip off both. After all, if today’s route hasn’t killed us, this won’t either.
DAY 2 – Monday. Loucía to Puebla de Sanabria, Gaicia, Spain.
Whoever said Mondays are boring needs to change life.
We have breakfast, oil our chains and get dressed in ur bionic armours to get going. After the first day everyone feels more attuned to the adventure vibe and the spirits are high. As usual, us off-road riders leave earlier, and we start descending the mountain through some thick fields of hay in two groups of about 10. Marcos and Andreas, two super good Galician riders have just joined us today. It’ll be a blessing having them, they really know what’s up. We’ve now got a sort of system going. Carlo is in the front, leading the pack and Geoff in the back making sure no one is left behind, and it works. We only stop on really challenging routes to help each other and wait for the pack, and it gives us the chance to shoot some pictures too. Descending off the back of the huge mountain is spectacular as we’re really high and at times going completely off piste through rocks, forest, and paths filled with logs, branches and fallen trees of all sizes. Riding the XR is not easy, nor taking a good photo with a fixed lens while chasing bikes and trying not to fall off a cliff.
We’re finally down into the easier bushy hills and start riding pretty fast, but as I go with Marcos through some branches I feel the clutch go completely. The threaded cable holder onto the case has completely snapped off and something has to be devised. In the blink on an eye Marcos jumps off his bike and pulls out a metal wire from his tool kit (that’s another thing I didn’t carry in mine). We tie the clutch cable to the engine mount and we’re off again. I’m starting to realise teamwork here is like a survival mode. My bike is your bike and we gotta get out in one piece. We ride fast and aggressive cutting through forest paths, occasionally seeing the old man with dog, inevitably followed 200 mt away by an old lady with a frown.
It’s very fair to say I’m a better road than enduro rider, but I still get my first proper fall on tarmac. When I see this old lady stepping onto the road at the junction without looking, I pull the brakes and the front end just goes. To be fair we aren’t exactly going slow, nor my hard enduro front tire is prepared for this kind of action. And so I smash bike and dangling camera down onto my right leg. Bless the old lady, she’s so sweet wanting to call the ambulance! I am pretty sore with a twisted knee and squashed ankle, but the Alpinestars and Sidi protections have done their job, the camera is clicking, and I’m up in a few minutes surrounded by the whole crew. I look around and we’re right outside this lovely bakery and then a bar called ‘boom’ next door. To hell the fall, we roll into a lazy lunch of local quiche, beers and coffees without a care in the world, and it’s total banter again.
Soon enough we start climbing the tightest hard rocky paths I’ve ever seen a goat climb in, let alone a bike, so I’m definitely out of my depth, but amazingly I’m doing okay so maybe the fall has given me some special silly powers. But the joy doesn’t last for long as all of a sudden my bike dies and doesn’t want to start any more. In my time I’ve dissected this XR inside out to know it pretty well, and I’ve got the kick starting down in pretty much all conditions of failed detonation. But this isn’t a problem of dual carbs, I have no spark! Taking the bike apart right here in the middle of nowhere is the only option, but the kill switch, to the plug, the coil, my diy lighting, all the connections, for the life of me everything seems fine and after an hour tampering there is nothing else to do. Could it be the brand new CDI? Finally, Joselito and I take the bike a quarter mile back down through rocks and swamps to the nearby road, and I let him go to carry on with the others. Yet this boring Monday has lots to give still! Just on the other side of the mountain Julian has fried his KTM electrics and he’s also waiting to be picked up by Val. She drives one of the 2 bad ass El Solitario adventure Mercedes vans called Wolf Van filled with all the gear.
As usual unable to give up, I kick the XR again and it starts to my overexcited disbelief. I think there must be a Honda Angel up there, but by the time I send a video message to the others a bloody forest demon has shot him down. Classic! For the next 5 hours I dismantle and check everything on the bike about 3 times, while of course making friends and sharing bike stories with Paco, an old man riding by on his old Yamaha 125. When finally Val, Lalo, Julian, Clarita and Mia came to my rescue, I am fucked off but happy to see them. As they jump out the van and start slicing jamon on the tarmac while making space for my ride, I realise why I am here. It’s a damn road trip and we take it as it comes, but we never forget who we are.
That night was spent amongst a few of us hardcore ones (the ones who would stay up late every night of the week!), down in the garage of the hotel overtaken by our bikes, between multi-meters (thanks Olivier!), Jamon, tools, whiskey and a great amount of laughs.
DAY 3 – Tuesday. Puebla de Sanabria to Parque Natural do DuroInternational, Portugal.
Tuesday is the new Saturday!
It’s my first day without my old banger and I’ve decided it’s a great opportunity to see the other side of the coin and ride via road. For a turn of luck I’ve scored a spot with Fred on his stylish R100. It turns out he’s not only cool, but he rides like a champ having competed professionally and actually even gotten podium several times in his day. Julian, who’s travelled 6000+ miles to be here, takes off without hesitation with the 220 kg Desert Wolf that had previously been ridden by Hong on the road. I have no idea how he will tackle what we went through the past two days with this beast of a bike, but’s he’s well determined and buggers off in a whizz.
I’m starting to learn the personalities and types of people the Outlaws is made of (more on this later), and we’re definitely not your usual Facebook bike pals. The Enduro lot leaves shortly after, while the road team seems to be at a total different pace. Vincent has been doing his magic with the Polo’s Guzzi that’s been playing up.
He even went to the local bike store and scored one of those vintage coils that looks like tnt explosive. Arne has finally received his lost luggage from the airline. It contained all the plastics he’d custom painted for his bike. The ‘Girl with an itch’ looks ace, but riding a bike without any bodywork was real bad ass and proper outlaw. Alberto, Vince and Tania are on comfortable Harleys, Juan Ramon on his bellowed R80, Cesar rides a bad ass W650 that looks like a Triumph. Dani rides a real Triumph, and Fede rides an XR650R he’s borrowed form someone. Tommy and Jake travel on an SR400 that looks like has also arrived from Japan (but it’s El Sol), and Hong is now on the very first El solitario build, a R7/75 painted by Maxwell Paternoster.
At midday we’re still at the hotel, prepping bikes, chatting, smoking and now even sipping beers. Who knew this other side of the world would be so different. It really feels like I’m on holiday right now! I take pictures and relax a bit after the full on previous day. But I can’t sit on my arse, I’ve got to get my bike fixed. It turned out the stator had lost some of the insulation on the primary coil and had crap continuity, so overnight, between beers and jamon, I did a quick epoxy patch (yes I did have JB weld in my kit!) and it’s now reading 200 oms instead of 60 (on my ‘87 it’s meant to be 230-350). Still, determined to really get back on the bike I find a replacement in Belgium and purchase it right away. But it’s a bit of a gamble, as I’m getting it delivered to the hotel we’ll be departing from in 2 days. Well, at least I’ve got two stakes on the go now! The adventure bar has just gone up a notch. After all, this is the Outlaws, and we’ve got to free-flow.
There is no mechanical team here, nor medical staff. The big wolves’ vans driven by Val and Pio carry bags, tents, food, and now a bunch of broken bikes, but this ain’t a tour operator curated adventure with bells and whistles. This is the Outlaws, and people here seem to be chewing resilience, self-reliance and determination for breakfast. This whole thing is as much about freedom as it is about survival, and coming from Napoli I know one or two things about survival.
The vans are so badass and the people even worst! Today David has decided to follow the enduro lot with one of the big 4x4s to do some filming. I mean that van is a proper mean machine, but it will come back in a different state altogether. I think they all will.
On the other hand, the road ride is all sweet and dandy, and only interrupted by a 3 hours lunch with beer and wine in the shade of a small restaurant in a tiny border town. We’re at the end of the chillier Galician weather and the sun is scorching!
Just as the golden hour approaches we enter into the Parque Natural (natural reserve) and meet up with the vans and all the enduro guys that have been riding the reserve for hours. We’re going to spend the night on top of the cliffs overlooking the most amazing canyon. As always it’s beers all-round first, and then tents and setting up dinner, while the stories from the different teams roll in with laughs and cries. It turns out Julian has flown off into a field and broken some bits off the Desert Wolf that’s now done, while Geoff, Caylee and Dani riding fast in the dust had a little disagreement with a tractor parked in the middle of the lane. Everyone has a little medical kit and I see ipobrufen tablets, cooling gels, ipobrufen gels, compression bands, Voltarol, Arnica gel, we are stocked for war here.
Finally sipping whiskey under the starry sky after eating Juanito’s traditional Fideua is the reward we were all looking for.
DAY 4 – Wednesday. Lagoaça to Monfortinho
Riding through the canyons.
Camping in the wild, there’s no way I can miss the sunrise up on this mountain, and it’s probably the only time I’ll be using the goddam tripod I’ve been lugging all along. But seeing the sun come up through rocks, plants and bikes is glorious and a pretty good payoff. With pictures and dreaming done, it’s time to check if the epoxy has worked. I take the old lady out the van and start kicking. Nothing. Plug out shows no spark. Shit! The mending hasn’t worked. But not all is lost, I’ve got plan B. I quickly bang the XR back in the van and pack my stuff to see who will put up with me today. Fred is leaving and Jose Manuel of Motonity Barcelona quickly steps up with his GS1200. Now this bike is the next level of adventure riding but you have to know how to do it, and Jose Manuel is the master. If I usually take chances and test my limits with my bike, this guy takes it to the next level. We ride on tarmac but I’ve never seen let alone been passenger of anyone leaning such a bike this much at this speed. Sometime I feel like my ear is gonna touch the ground, yet I can’t hear the pegs or pipes scraping, and we’re two up!
Through the huge canyons and mountains, the sun is getting real hot now, but the free air cond and the view is total payback and I can relax a bit looking at the landscapes. We stop at an amazing cliffhanger location to meet up with the enduro lot, and it’s truly incredible where they’re passing. What a challenge. I think I would have done it if I had a bike, but I’d probably shat my pants too. In the distance I even see someone sliding the bike off the path! Thankfully it’s not at the death cliff, yet I can’t imagine recovering this will be easy for the others catching up.
The sun is scorching and we can’t stop for too long so we road warriors take off through mountains that are now covered in olive trees. We’re riding along the border on the Portuguese side, and this must be the real deal olive region. Olives and vines. After all, who doesn’t love Portugese olive oil, wine and enduro?!
Meeting everyone at the Boavista Hotel in Monfortinho is a proper party. Thanks to David’s magic, the 100 year old family hotel has organised a bit of a welcome party for us, together with local singers and litres of cold beer served in frozen glasses. I have a vision of Paradise and I see this place, but there is an old lady holding a muneca (doll). I wonder what that means in the grand scheme of things, but hey, another beer and she looks good in pictures! The night goes on with whiskey and Carlo and Dani playing guitar and singing, but tomorrow is a big day for me trying to get my bike fixed so completely destroyed I retire to the sack at round 3am.
DAY 5 – Thursday. Monfortinho to Castelo De Vide.
Thursday is surprise day!
It’s a slow start for many as the dust on the previous day was also pretty bad so all oil filters have to come out, some punctured tubes have to be changed, and even David’s van has had two punctures riding god knows through what tracks, and of course I’m waiting for my UPS driver from Belgium like a kid on the 24th of December. Vincent, David and Olivier are finishing off the Guzzi electrics while the rest of the road crew hasn’t got a worry in the world. Everybody is hype and I’m a bit nervous as I have no idea what will happen with my delivery and when we’ll leave. Calling UPS three times, at 11am I finally find out it’ll come in the afternoon so I’m out of luck for a tough decision. Do I wait behind with or without bike, or do I ditch the stator and carry on with the others?
Thankfully providence in the form of Jamon, cerveza and friendship land on my table and we start eating and drinking under the hotel shade out front. It’s laughs and stories and just hanging out without a care in the world, and that’s the proper Outlaw attitude. Fuck it. We do what we want. Motorcycle enduro/rally? Sure. We’ll spend a day slicing jamon here for now. The beer is cold. What could be wrong?! And it’s fun times for the kids too. Mia, Nico, Diego and Clarita get to sneak into the pool on the other side of the hotel. It’s still under renovation and for peacekeeping we decide to stick to our slicing. But we also have to sort the Wolf van punctures, so as soon as siesta time is over a bunch of us jump in the vehicles and head for the next town to find a repair centre.
When we get there the lady says the tyre boys aren’t in and it can’t be done, but David cleverly offers the same money to just use her tools. Now this would have never happened in UK. Of course not. Health and safety, training, equipment, bladibladibla. But this is Portugal, and the show must go on. True outlaw Cesar jumps right in, as it turns out he used to have a bunch of tire centres with all the latest machines, and 2 hours of sweat later we have 5 punctures and 3 massive tyres back on track. Meanwhile even the UPS driver has arrived at the hotel all the way from Porto (yes, really!) with my new stator. It’s a good day! The only downside they sent me the wrong one. Another surprise, but it’s not time to start tampering with cables. It’s 6pm and we haven’t moved one inch all day, so now it’s time to ride to the next location 200km away as we’ll need to make it to a restaurant on time, then go pitch the tents in an sweet olive tree field, amazingly offered to El Solitario by one of their followers who spotted the trip on IG. When they say karma hey!
DAY 6 – Friday. Castelo De Vide to Monsaraz
Friday is the go go go day!
I wake up early to snap a few but as soon as I get the van open I don’t even brush my teeth and start taking the XR apart. The Belgian dude sent me the stator for the European XR that’s 3 phase, while I have a US single phase bike! I had forgotten about that. The enduro team is pretty early today, no faffing and I have to be quite quick with any mods if I want to take off with them. Unfortunately, my gasket has completely disintegrated and with the help of French David I get on with making one out of a sheet of A4 paper. Not the easiest to do under pressure but it’s got to be done. Save different bolts and cabling layout, the stator is almost a straight swap. I seal it up and kick hard. Nothing! Bad news. I call the dude in Belgium and ask for clarification on the wires colours and if it should work on my US bike. The answer is YES (the guy is upset about the mistake, lol), the red and black cable is the ignition, the white and pink lights, the others more lights. Ignoring the lights altogether I try again only with the black and red. Nothing. The enduro lot goes.
Damn! I’m on fire inside but I can’t give up. My brain keeps spinning and I can’t figure out what is going on. Then an idea. Let’s check the coil again! I take off the big ass Clarks tank and discover the coil is disconnected. Of course! I left things disconnected under the tank the other day when taking it apart for three times on the side of the road. Damn! That means my epoxy mending was probably good enough to carry on! Anyway, I put everything back together. Bang! First kick and it’s on! I know this bitch like the back of my hand. In a scramble I get my protections on, and with the biggest smile I finally brush my teeth with paste all over my beard. All the road guys and the vans are almost ready and soon after we go to the petrol station where I think we’ll meet the enduro guys but they’re gone another way this time, together with one of the vans and my phone in it. Fuck! It’s only 9am and the amount of delirious adrenaline this day is producing has already reached dangerous levels. Val is switched on and calls the other van for their location, and soon after I start the crazy chase armed with a mental map in my mind and hope in my gut. After a few detours I finally find the other van and they’re in a hurry to go find the enduro lot. Completely out of breath while I try to explain what happened, I find my phone and a battery, and we take off again chewing a packet of Filipinos (chocolate glazed cookies) through my helmet for breakfast. That lovely charger I built on the bike is out of action, so I have to be careful with the phone recharge now. But that’s not the real problem. What concerns me now is the oil leak from my paper gasket. No idea how much I will loose, but I brought some oil and I just need to fish it out the van mayhem.
Finally reunited with the enduro team, I’m riding fixated on the trail in front of me like an old granny’s focuses on a winning lottery ticket. I know this is the time when I can get hurt. Stressed, overexcited, no breakfast, tired, and eager to ride could be a recipe for disaster, I know myself. Plus El Solitario David is on the bike today for the first day after recovering from a previous month accident and cast, and he’s probably just as edgy as me. But he’s ‘malo’. Proper mischievous, and it’s intoxicatingly fun riding again with him and the others through hills, valleys and through the shut off fields.
We’re armed with pliers and a grinder, but we also have brand new padlocks with keys to leave at the gates we’re planning to open. Outlaws is about freedom, not harming others or their work. We don’t ride into the fields but along the edges. Sometimes we can get through, sometimes we have to go back, but the story only gets more interesting as we take more and more chances. It’s all on the GPS route after all. I just don’t know who the hell made this incredible route lol!
Caylee’s XL250 that’s been doing so well for the past 5 days starts pissing oil from behind the pipes. This bike and this woman, with the rear wheel wobbling like crazy from day 0 have been incredible. But the poor little worrior has now decided to give up and the chain has eaten a big hole through the cylinder. The ride is over for Caylee, and we have to leave her waiting for recovery with Dani to carry on.
Passing olive fields, abandoned rail tracks, fences and gates with the cheer, bemusement and sometimes mad anger of some farmers, we finally get to a crazy national reserve park with a massive lake lined by dead trees, rocks, destroyed antique bridges and cows on the loose. This looks like a landscape from Mad Max. We’ve just got better bikes and protections. Truth is we’re not supposed to be here. Our route should now be a lot of road but David is on fire and convinces us all to carry on with a cheeky grin. Crossing small passes of the river is the real challenge, especially when a farmer comes out with his shotgun totally unhappy for us to be there. From the other side of the path he could probably get us all with the shrapnel of just two shot of his rifle, but David chats him up and ‘I like your dog’ puts immediately a smile on the man’s face. We’re safe! Physically dismantled and mentally messed up, we carry on like kids that have just gotten away with stealing candies at the fairground.
Hyped and scared in equal measure by the situation, we of course carry on where the gun man told us not to go, and end up in the most ridiculous of places: riding on a slice of nothing between the massive lake and a bunch of Portuguese bamboo, sinking in the mud and just trying to move forward a bit at a time. My bike sinks to the pegs and it takes a good 5 people to take it out. Absolute shame I can’t take any pictures of this, my camera is covered in mud as much as my bike!
Finally out of this mad stunt we’re completely broken and get going fast, but immediately I notice I have zero brake at my rear. I know what it is, I’ve had it before. The rear drum is full of mud and it’s absolutely useless. When I finally manage to stop the others, I quickly give it a clean with Carlo’s water. He’s been giving me endless cable ties, waiting for me when stopped to take pictures and now even the last of his water, this guy is a real lifesaver and a big heart!
Getting to today’s destination, Castel de Monsaratz, a tiny fort type village on top of a hill, the light is marvellous, the rest of the crew is already there, and the beer is cheap and cold. We are over ourselves with joy and banter as if we’ve just done the Normandy landing, and the dinner turns into an hilariously raucous party of sorts. The few small hotels El Solitario has booked for us are super rustic and high quality, and the food is brilliant too. It’s the 3rd day we’re served the special local delicacy called Baccalao and this is definitely one of the best!
From tonight people will start leaving, so we have to celebrate with extra beers, extra whisky and extra laughs!
Day 7 – Saturday. Monsaraz to Ayamonte.
Saturday is the learn it all over again day!
Just when I thought I had mastered riding my big old lady through every fauna and flora of the Iberian Peninsula, I’m back at square one as the baby has left last night in Geoff’s van to return to UK, and I’m now riding a KTM 690 Enduro for today’s final 300Km. This die hard bike has seen a few hands across the trip. From Polo with his skilful backflip over a pond on the first day, to Federico’s replacement on the road (after in true Outlaw style he melted the XR650 engine), and then to French David newly discovered off-road skills with almost no rear brake. The whole rear end, the seat and the rear brake pedal are all held together with cable ties. Now it was my turn to see what state I could get it into. But for some reason, for this morning descend from the castle, from steep stairs to the narrowest foot trails through trees and rocks, I totally forget the rear brake trick and happily ride along, standing up with camera in right hand trying to take a half decent picture. Surprisingly I make it to the bottom with no problems and off we go into the open land.
It’s the last day of riding and most are pretty knackered, but it’s also David (El Sol) and my second day back on off-road and the spirits are high. The enduro outlaws have finally distilled to the last nutters standing, the ones prepared to be intoxicated by each and every single chance of riding through wild unknown. The pace is pretty fast but often interrupted by farmer’s gates and cow’s fences. Just like rats, we’re riding along the edges and try to chew our way through to the next one, passing hills, ditches, dried out and muddy streams and abandoned bushy fields. Each and every time we open or undo a fence, we tidy it all back together nicely. There shall be no damage or trace of our fly by, nor wondering cows where they shouldn’t be. Quite incredibly we still haven’t snapped any padlocks.
While the first days really felt like wild adventure and survival, now, even if all broken and pretty attuned to it all, we’re caressing the end start feeling like we’re a squad on a mission. One thing is sure, David is with us and he’s one of the most mischievous, charismatic and bat shit crazy grown ups I know, and this helps for sure. But he’s jolly too, and he manages to keep happy the whole panorama of farmers we encounter along the way. From the shouty ones with shotguns, to the chilled wavy ones and even the ones chasing us with 4×4’s to tell us ‘helmets don’t protect the whole body’. This man has got a skill, people just love him, and that’s how he’s luring us with his contagious lust for riding through anything. We encounter a massive lake, but the path is too deep to take a swim today. We decide to circumnavigate it and under the scorching sun through the wide open rocky and bushy land, the detour is extra long but fast. Through fig (sadly not ready yet) and olive tree fields we finally make it to the other end to ride hard onto the rocky hills and peaks of unkept land, and that’s when all of a sudden I realise I have no rear brake – again! Great, more learning curves! On a fast bumpy climb I skipped in the air but managed to keep the bike straight up while front plastic with lights and all flied off + my rear brake. Again it’s Carlo with his endless stock of cable ties to rescue me, but the brake is not liking them.
I’ll give it a proper revision in a while when we stop for lunch but for now it’s go go go. Today’s route is a fat 300k, the longest of the whole week, and we can’t be faffing too much. As I carry on without rear brake I wish I were back on my old banger. At least I knew how to wheely and make that bison stop. But this is a whole different thing and I’m shitting my pants on downhill trails with open edges where they’re all flying by. Thankfully Carlo is behind me and it’s only half an hour until we reunite with the whole Outlaws fam at this lovely little village called Mina De San Domingo.
Cerveza, hot dog, laughs and brand new cable tie rear brake later, we’re off for the very last stretch, all the way into the dark hours through abandoned rocky-mountains sliced up by the most absurd 4×4 trails. It’s a dinner menu of dust and rocks all the way, but our poor bodies and our solid gear have got used by now. The last stretch is truly spectacular with the red and purple sky falling into darkness just as we come onto the road, and finally to the plush hotel on a magnificent cliff overlooking the bridge in Parador de Ayamonte. There are about 4 of us with crippled or inexistent headlights and we ride in a pack.
Quick group picture and rid of the bikes, we’re off for the greatest celebratory posh dinner of all things seafood and all the beer Portugal can provide. Food is delicious but they bring cold beer too fast. Who’d have thought that would ever be possible!? Hours later, with David playing tunes out of the van, we’re all still drinking whisky by the vans outside the hotel. To hell with the plush hotel – we don’t want this to finish but we’ll finish it right!
Day 8 – Sunday. Ayamonte – A Coruña.
Hang over and hyped up like we’ve just traversed the whole Iberian Peninsua in total freedom, outside the Hotel it’s time for tight hugs, promises and dangerous sketchy plans for the near future. A big truck has taken the enduro bikes back to Galicia overnight, and we’re all teamed up in various vans and cars to bugger off all over the globe. The wolves vans, Javi’s VW and the big Electra will do 10+ hours on the Portuguese highways to reach El Solitario Ranch in Galicia. I’m in the van with Tommy, Jake, Hong, Jose and David the watchmaker, but as soon as we get onto the highway we have a flat on our rear left. Now that’s last minute dirty luck. Armed with the determination of a bunch that’s just returned from war, and the sound of the Rambo bike chase in our heads, we tip the 5 tonnes fully loaded van onto the drain ditch on the side of the road and proceed with a tiny jack to remove the wheel, while Jake and Tommy wearing a yellow WTF El Solitario jumper wave at people not to drive over our lucky arses.
A funny moment when I begin fully realising what’s a true Outlaw and what this crazy venture really means. Countless times we’ve flipped our bikes and repaired them with whatever we had there, got stranded and off again while eating Jamon on the tarmac, fallen off and kept going without a care in the world; Geoff even kept riding 2 more days on his bloated foot (that’s when he started wearing his inmate coveralls) that turned out to be a broken tibia. This survival mode, this not giving a shit, this resilience to live free and ride our bikes where we shouldn’t or couldn’t, the joy to share it all with this family of incredible people is what makes a true Outlaw. It’s been the most amazing collective adventure, but each and every one of us has in some way been totally free and independent in his/her own journey. Some travelled off-road all the way, some did 5am every single night, some were slow and leisurely via road, some went back to Galicia half way through to drop some and pick others, some changed routes, some smoked all day and still got it it all done, and on and on. Restless for life, we declared ourselves free. In the words of Marc Renton we choose Life. But we aren’t going for the the stable jobs, the big TV sets, or his beloved heroin. Outlaws are choosing the damn freedom of feeling their own instincts just like in the seminal Trainspotting. The difference being, when we ride free we have a much better drug flowing through our veins, adrenaline. And so in a desperate attempt for that last drop of magic juice, we take turns even at riding the Electra on the highway through Portugal and Spain. I take the last 200km in the fucking Galician chill, but I don’t care. Overcoat in the wind and throttle steady at two thirds, I get this 50 years old baby to do what she’s made for, and I get to savour my last riding moment in complete Zen.
Words & photography by Fabio Affuso https://www.fabioaffuso.com
El Solitario Beautiful Outlaws was possible thanks to the support of Alpinestars, Dunlop Spain and Snow peak