Multiple falls, damaged bike parts, field repairs, a puncture, splendid scenery, challenging trails, good Portuguese food and a fun, enjoyable weekend. These were all features of the Desafio (Challenge) Trail Offroad Adventure 2018, organised by the Motoboxe/Norboxe motorcycle stores and led by Glocal Offroad.
This was the second edition of the Desafio Trail, which is aimed at riders of dirt bikes and adventure bikes, referred to as “maxi trail, big trail, trail and enduro.” The event also sought to cater to two levels of off-road rider – expert and novice – with partly different routes for each group. The total distance covered was projected to be 500km, with 40% being on tarmac and 60% being off-road.
The start point for the ride was the Romanesque Church of Sobretamega, in Marco de Canaveses (about a 40-minute ride from Porto, via toll roads). Riders were required to meet there at 8.00am on Saturday 16th June, so I had an early departure on a foggy morning to get there. Riders gathered in the church car-park and their rides included a variety of dirt bikes and adventure bikes (including Honda Africa Twin, KTM Adventure, BMW GS1200 and, of course, my BMW GS800 Adventure). We signed liability forms, received stickers for the bikes and t-shirts, and were then given a briefing before we set off.
The early-morning fog had cleared by the time we set off, splitting into smaller groups. The dirt-bikes and more experienced riders headed off to tackle a more challenging route whilst I hung back with some other novice off-roaders, escorted by our tour leader, Nuno. After some initial riding on tarmac, we reached the first off-road segment and switched our ride-modes over to “enduro”. We followed dirt tracks as we climbed higher and higher, offering views over the distant countryside. We weren’t stopping for photographs, so I had to snap a few pics whenever we did stop along the route.
I was content to plod along at a slow pace, as I built up confidence in myself and the bike, on the off-road terrain. I found some of the terrain easier than others, but I tended to be the most cautious when tackling the downhill stretches that had loose gravel and shale. Later in the morning, we arrived at a steep hill with a loose gravel surface. One of the riders ahead of us had already decided that he wasn’t going to attempt the hill as it looked to difficult for him, so he would ride around it on tarmac. A rider ahead of me had tackled the hill but dropped his bike on one of the two bends, sliding out on the loose gravel. Another rider dropped his bike twice whilst trying to navigate the hill. Whilst I am nervous on the downhills, I feel much more confident going uphill. I walked up the hill to assess the best route and then went back down to my bike, to ride straight up on the first attempt. I was pleased with myself on that challenge! Eventually, most riders made it up the hill, whilst a couple returned to tarmac and met us further along the route.
The hill was the most challenging part of the day, but it didn’t result in any damage to bikes. A couple of other tumbles during the day did cause damage to hand-protectors and a clutch lever, but nothing significant. My careful and steady pace made me one of the slowest riders, but I got to the destination without falling off.
We stopped for a lunch break at Restaurant o Rogerio in Vila Pouca de Aguiar and our final destination for the day was the Cepo Verde campsite in the Montesinho Natural Park (near Bragança). Whilst camping spots are available for tents, I think everyone in the group opted to stay in the bungalows and houses on the site. I was allocated an en-suite room in a large shared house (Casa Da Bica) for only €21.50 for the night, which I thought was very reasonable. The group got together for dinner at 9.00pm, after which I headed to bed to get some rest, ready for an 8.00am departure on Sunday.
I was up at 7.00am on Sunday morning and a small group of us rode out from the campsite at 8.00am, and headed to a nearby fuel station to top up. Others in the group trickled into the station and took advantage of coffee and a light breakfast before Nuno gave us our briefing for the day.
It was another beautiful day with some lovely views to be enjoyed from the trails. The morning saw a few more falls with one bike requiring some imaginative field-repairs. A KTM 1190 had a fall that damaged the exhaust support bracket, leaving the exhaust unsupported. Some crafty work with barbed wire made the bike rideable again. When we got to a road and could meet up with the support van, the bodge-fix was upgraded with the addition of a packing strap. The trails were very dry throughout both days but one of the very few muddy puddles that did exist managed to up-end an Africa Twin. It was a lovely morning and I found myself being able to increase my off-road speed in some sections, as my confidence increased. The lovely scenic views continued all the way to the town of Chaves, where we stopped for lunch.
After a lovely lunch in Chaves, several riders called it a day and headed home. About five of us continued with the off-road trail, with the intention of finishing in Marco de Canaveses. But my fellow slow-paced rider had also departed after lunch, so I found myself alone at the back of the group, as the rest disappeared ahead of me on the tracks. The group did wait for me at major junctions along the route, but I began to feel bad that I was slowing down the pace for the rest of the group. When we reached another junction, I told the tour leader how I was feeling, but he assured me that it wasn’t a problem and that the group didn’t mind waiting for me. Less than two minutes later, we rounded a bend and saw a rider ahead of us stopped on the trail. He had a puncture in his rear tyre! Fortunately, there was a tarmac road crossing the trail a short way ahead, so he was able to get the bike onto a road and call for the support van. With the bike temporarily out of action until a repair option could arrive, I decided that I should call it a day and head home via tarmac. The fastest route got me home in 90 minutes, arriving about 5.15pm to end a very enjoyable weekend.
The food was excellent. Lunch on both days and dinner on Saturday evening were included in the cost of the trip. All three meals comprised delicious Portuguese food, although I declined the lunch-time wine (don’t like to drink whilst I’m riding).
Overall, I found the trip to be very enjoyable and would certainly sign up for next year’s edition – although I’ll likely seek out some off-road training prior to that. For me, the weak point of the trip involved the GPS tracks. We were supplied with four tracks for the trip in advance (one track for each half-day segment), so that we could load them onto our navigation devices. The concept is great, as it ensures that we all know where we are going and can make our way even if we get separated from the group. But the reality didn’t match the expectation. Even when I was following the tour-leader along the route, my TomTom kept telling me to take different directions. The provided track didn’t seem to accurately match the route we were riding. Due to this problem, I had to rely on staying in contact with the leader, as I wouldn’t know which option to take when the track split into different directions. The tour group was all male, of varying ages and experience. I was the only non-Portuguese participant, so there was definitely a language barrier to deal with. But several of the riders spoke English and I felt welcomed by all of them.
I’m pleased that I was able to make it through the entire trip without dropping my bike – even if I was the slowest rider most of the time (although not always). Getting there safely is more important to me than getting there fast! I’m happy with the way my bike performed and the Continental TKC70 did a very good job on the surfaces that we encountered. I’m glad that the weather was dry though – as I’m sure that the tyres wouldn’t be as comfortable on slimy mud! Dry conditions means lots of dust, and the bike was certainly dusty at the end of the ride. But I’ll take that over sloppy mud any day of the week.
So, an enjoyable Father’s Day weekend accomplished and I’m already itching for another ride. I love riding through Portugal and enjoying the beautiful scenery.