For me 2018 was the year where I finally stopped talking about off-roading and started doing more of it. My soul has been thanking me ever since. So when my pal Harley called to see if I wanted to ride dirt bikes in Spain just before Christmas the answer was an emphatic yes please! His pal Lyndon Foster has been guiding folk around Spain and Morocco for over a decade with his outfit ToroTrail - you may have heard of them, Carl Fogarty, James Whitham and his pals are there all the time sating their enduro fix. The ToroTrail HQ is a quick and easy trip from Malaga airport to a great spot just outside the hillside town of Alhaurín El Grande. Lyndon insists on collecting guests from the airport rather than farm out the job to a taxi firm, that way he can get to know everyone, and gauge the proficiency level of the group. We were latecomers to a bunch of lads from Liverpool celebrating their mate's retirement, there was also a chap over from Sweden and another solo traveller from Kent. The sizeable property is ideal for group bookings, feeling somewhere between a regular villa and B&B, with a huge open plan ground floor, perfect for communal breakfasts and hanging out in front of the projector screen to review the day's riding footage. Myself, Harley and our buddy Tom shared one of the many rooms in the main house while the solo guys enjoyed snore-free nights in separate accommodation within the grounds. I had packed my swimmers but even 20 degrees of Andalusian sun wasn't enough to tempt me into the enticing looking pool.
Anyway, I wasn't there for lazing around in a pool, I wanted to explore the mountains. I was especially keen on this trip as Toro's current fleet is a mixture of Yamaha WR250 and 450s. As I have the former I wanted to know what one was like on proper technical trails, rather than the boggy slop I'd been riding thus far in the UK. And to also feel for myself the difference between this, the 450 version and the Husqvarna 350 I tried a couple of months ago. To keep on top of the fleet part-time guide and full-time mechanic Miguel is constantly spannering. The maintenance schedule and volume of work involved in ensuring the machinery is good-to-go each day warrants respect. I find doing one bike at a time more than plenty.
In a bid to adhere to the 'tour model' I packed nothing other than spare pants, knee braces, BSMC jersey and my favourite Knox gloves. Torro are fully stocked with boots, helmets, goggles, backpacks and all the clothing you'd need. A couple of the other guys brought their own gear, which must initiate a sigh of relief for Lyndon's crew. The pile of the previous group's gear by the washing machine was ominous, all needing to be clean and dry for the next wave in 48 hrs.
My pre-trip banter of who was better than who was abruptly silenced after collecting Harley on the way to the airport. He had a dining room full of cardboard boxes stacked with old trophies, for trialling escapades as a kid - gulp! I needn't have worried, Lyndon has guided thousands of visitors, from dirt virgins all the way to his pal Graham Jarvis, and knows the difference between lack of confidence and lack of ability. As we set-off on day one I was instantly regretting not speaking up. I'd been allocated a WR450 rather than a 250. Surely there can't be that much difference, can there? To me yes. I found the bigger version of my bike to be a bit snatchy and angry, with a slightly heavy clutch. The extra seven kilos didn't go unnoticed either. Thankfully we stopped for fuel and I made a sad puppy face at one of the more skilful lads and he agreed to swap.
Ahhhhh, that was better. The 250 is just so much tamer. Harley was managing just fine on his 450 but Tom joined me with the downsizing. Neither Tom or I are particularly experienced off-road and the 250 would guarantee two days of grinning, rather than grimacing. The Torro fleet is massive, so there are always enough of the right bikes for everyone.
Buoyed by this new found confidence I joined the quicker of the two groups and headed from the hillside play areas to the rocky riverbeds. The week before we arrived there had been unprecedented rainfall in southern Spain and there were plenty of fresh sofa-sized boulders on the trail, something I've not had much experience of at all. On my own I'd probably have tickled along at a snail's pace and paddled a fair bit, but to keep up with Harley and the gang I had to press on. The nimble little Yam soaked up all the hits and with encouragement from Lyndon I was attacking some pretty gnarly rock climbs and slippery boulder crawls. Some of the more experienced guys were showing their skill and ripping through these sections like seasoned trials riders.
Once the arm pump had really set in I became the guy at the back, out of my depth and out of breath. The pace quickened and I had to focus so as not to lose the group. And being backmarker meant I was last to arrive when everyone had stopped for a break, so we'd set off again straight away. Now, I could have put my hand up and asked for five minutes rest but I felt in the zone. In my little world I was a kid again, pretending that Malaga was in fact Mauritania and I was Stephane Peterhansel.
As we got closer to the sea the riverbed widened and the huge boulders became sparse, replaced by fist and football sized ones in abundance. My exhausted gaze swapped between the horizon to check for dust clouds and the moist sand 10 feet in front, looking for tyre tracks to ensure I was on the right path. I've ridden this river before, mostly in second gear at a sensible speed. This time 4th, ass on the rear mudguard, slowing only for whoops. I felt like a Dakar hero.
Now, clearly this is highly dramatised for the purposes of my own daydream. Had I been a moment later to any of the crossroads Lyndon would have spun around to scoop me up. But there are times when we all need pushing through our comfort zone. At the top of a seemingly vertical hillside Lyndon urged me to try the more difficult of two descents, I protested but knew it'd stand me in good stead if I went for it.
The route was deeply rutted from the storms and covered in sharp, loose scree. With new techniques I'd gleaned seconds before heading over the edge I made it nearly all the way to the bottom. A lapse in concentration and a stiffening from panic caused the front wheel to drop into a thigh deep rut, I pressed the ejector button and aimed for a bush. I just missed it, thank goodness for body armour. Looking back up from the bottom I was elated to have given the properly steep section a go. There's just no way I'd have tempted such a route in Wales with a bunch of mates.
Just before lunch we exited a concrete tunnel and needed to negotiate a three foot drop back into the sandy riverbed. Luckily everyone had already set off as I made a complete horlicks of an attempted wheelie-jump thing and dived head first into a grubby pool, shortly followed by my WR which slammed me back into the water. A perfect lesson learned. Pick the route, plan ahead and remain calm. Now without a front brake I sped to catch the group, even more excitement - I was completely spent but having so much fun. Salad, chips and three iced Fanta Limóns couldn't come soon enough.
Lunch is also part of the package with Toro and Lyndon endeavours to mix things up so those on longer trips can try some new places.
Most of the group were on their third day, and I was clearly all used up, needing a beer and some sympathy, so Lyndon steadied the afternoon session. Just challenging enough to remain focussed yet chilled enough to be easy on weary limbs. One of the Scouse lads took an awkward tumble right in front of me on a steep decent so after helping him off the slope I decided to focus on that cold beer and keep the pace as low as I could get away with.
Back at base we were greeted with a tray of frosty cervesas, instantly energising us before a trip to an eatery in the old part of town. Another reminder of why it's worth heading abroad for these trips rather than shivering around a Mars Bar in Wales. The wine, food and company was excellent, and without a day's riding to follow Lyndon would have regretted his choice to be trail guide and taxi service.
That said, if you're planning trip with Torro Trail and you want a day off and bit of nightlife, just say. Lyndon plays guitar for a heavy rock band and knows all the good places to go. He'll cater for enduro heroes on stag dos to nervous teetotal novices. Just make sure you don't book the wrong group!
Day two would was more adventurous from the off as we headed across the mountains to coast, only kissing tarmac to fill-up on fuel. That's beauty about this part of Spain, with the right guide you can get nearly everywhere by navigating gullies, streams, paths, rivers and dirt roads. And the scenery is epic. We were blessed with perfect weather, clear skies and temperatures just warm enough to make it feel like a holiday, but not hot hot. The perfect respite from the frigid winter encroaching on the UK.
Next time I head to these parts I'm taking a helmet camera with a button on the handlebars. Trying to show the gradient of the climbs and descents from the top or bottom doesnt really work. So you'll have to trust me, there were some that I couldn't walk up without using my hands to steady myself on the slope. Yet the little WR picked up its skirt and made me look me competent than I deserve - mighty impressed. I'm sure many better, or perhaps heavier, riders than me need a 450 but I certainly don't.
Once in the lowlands we hit some sweeping trails where we could really drop the hammer. The rally raid feeling returned as we swept left and right, wide open in 3rd and 4th, slowing only to wheelie (if there's a shadow under the front tyre, it's a wheelie) through small river crossings (not the one above, that's a big'n).
We followed the river to the sea and popped out on nearly empty, sandy beach for a spot of lunch. On the horizon Morocco was jutting out of the sea, just a stone's throw away. Which is handy if you want to take the adventure one step further. Torotrail run tours across the desert on either the Yamahas or their brand spanking new fleet of BMW R1250GSs. Some of the footage we watched from a recent trip made my feet very, very itchy indeed. A weekend is great, but perhaps not quite long enough.....
Harley, Tom, Lyndon and I headed back to HQ and left the other guys to enjoy the rest of what had turned out to be a perfect day. It was 3:30pm and we'd become all too cautious about flight times. We needn't have been. There's more than enough time to fit in a full day's riding, shower, pack and head to the airport for an evening flight back to Gatwick and be tucked up in bed by midnight. Ready to dream of hitting the trails again.
Having just rolled my WR250 back into a shipping container and fumbled the padlock with frozen hands I'm thinking that these mini moto breaks are the way forward.
If any or all of that sounds too good to be true why not find out for yourself - give ToroTrail a shout, and tell Lyndon we sent you. And don't forget to give us the head's up, we'd like to go again. And again.
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If you're not already jealous, click the photos below to enlarge.