In the zone.
The more the kilometres, the fewer the problems.

Bruno Compagnet and Layla Jean Kerley went to seek adventure by bike in the Province of Huesca in upper Aragon. At the heart of a grey limestone area with stunted vegetation, they were able to perfect their training for climate change, the very same that arrives like an Andalusian galloping in the dust and the furnace of the Sierra de Guara.

Hanging between two pine trees and comfortably lying in our hammocks, we ended up, one night, quietly under a carpet of stars and constellations. I opened my eyes in the silence of the dawn, a little disappointed to have missed the sunrise on the Peña Montagnesa. The day before the Ruta 16 had tired us out and we had dug deep into our reserves to get back to the camp on our old mountain bikes. I listened to the regular sound of Layla’s breathing, at a time when it’s best that I stay away from her.

Layla Jean Kerley

I took a few steps, stretched my sleeping body a little and relieved myself in the midst of a natural garden of thyme, rosemary, wild lavender, juniper… and many other Mediterranean plants I can’t identify. The celestial light would quickly become a fireball. Soon, there wouldn’t be anything nice or comforting left about it. The temperature had already started to rise and, in a few hours, it would be the definition of hell on earth for most of us. But if you like dust, rock, thorny bushes, trails and endless trails. If desertlike places, ghostly or simply abandoned villages in one of the least populated regions of Europe attract you, then this part of Upper Aragon deserves your attention.

Layla Jean Kerley

A fly came buzzing near my ear as I fired up the powerful mini stove. In a few minutes, the water would be warm. It was even faster than at home. I put in a tea bag and listened to the bee-eaters singing. Layla woke up and spotted them. It’s one of our favourite birds, and it’s been a long time since we’ve had the pleasure of watching them fly. After a month of total overpopulation in August, we needed solitude, bivouacs, wilderness and simple things that led to inner peace.

Layla Jean Kerley

Zone 0

A few years ago in northern Spain, on the Pyrenees’ southern flank, a handful of enthusiasts began clearing and marking up kilometres of paths and trails to make it a magnificent territory for biking. We left for a few days in Sobrarbe Centrale, to go to this sanctuary in the Aragon Pyrenees. Its wild vastness, the varied landscapes and the surprises that sometimes await you on the summit of a ridge all make it so interesting.

Bruno Compagnet

A chicken for two and a hammock each

Layla collapsed on the carpet where we were used to sharing our meals. Her inanimate body seemed completely drained of all energy, her arm lying across her face as if she had seen too much or done too much for the day. I smiled internally, thinking that a week earlier, she had confided to me that she wasn’t really passionate about biking… I tried to stay active, but I felt the end of the day in my legs and back. It was already late for nomads who live with the rhythm of the sun and I went to a small bar/restaurant to buy a spit-roast chicken. The waitress’s gaze suddenly made me realise how I looked. Beautiful salt cell patterns were well developed on my black t-shirt – made by a company that made its name by developing a Teflon membrane – and the dust from the tracks that permeated every particle of fibre and clogged the pores of my skin testified a beautiful escapade, but were not to the taste of the place or the moment. I paid for my Gallinaceae and went join my soul mate, for whom it was time to finish being at the point of dying, in a parking lot at the exit of the village.

Bruno Compagnet

We didn’t eat the chicken, we devoured it. We tore it to pieces and shredded it with our teeth, fingers covered with fat (especially me), laughing at the recovery of our instincts. With my mouth full, I thought back to Churchill’s words, “5 meals is what separates civilisation from barbarism”.

Layla Jean Kerley

Few words were exchanged. We were on the same wave length. There are other forms of communication for a couple. We smiled.We understand each other and respond in the same way to simple things. Fatigue, hunger and all the primary and vital instincts. I hadn’t had a chicken this good in ages.

Detour around the lake.

When you set out on an itinerary with GPS way-markers and you don’t have a GPS only a bad map and the desire to battle with it.

Layla Jean Kerley

« I knew that this was a shitty plan !!! » Layla grumbled and I didn’t really have a counter argument. So, as I do sometimes, I called her bluff, apologised and suggested that she gave up and turned around. I knew for a fact that she would refuse and that she would go all the way to the end of the whole thing which, at first glance, didn’t really make any sense. Anyway, I messed up the entrance by starting in the wrong direction and added a good hour to what was initially a 70-kilometre course… We were forced to cross muddy rivers formed by previous day’s storm and suffered the attack of very aggressive horseflies. And to complete the picture, I had just gone wrong again at the last crossing and I only noticed that I had done so at the top of wooded mountain that had just been climbed along a murderous track and in appalling heat. Layla wasn’t saying anything, and that wasn’t a good sign. Then she lashed out at me in an unapologetic tone, “Well, I’m going to start focusing on orientation now.” and snatched the pseudo-map from my hands.

Bruno Compagnet

We stopped in the midst of the furnace, abandoning our mounts in the middle of the track to pick and eat big blackberries full of sugar and sun. We filled our mouths and our fingers took on a pretty wine-coloured tint. Later in the day, a fig tree would also be attacked. In the end, we arrived well after dusk. Many punctures occurred to liven the end of a very beautiful and very long route. But we went back into Aïnsa all tiredness gone, holding hands and pedalling side by side after having dragged our feet while admiring the sunset on the Pyrenees.

Layla Jean Kerley

Simpler, lighter, further.

With dirty hair and greasy calves, I looked at the woman who listened to the Red Hot on a loop at the age of eight. Layla was sweating as she climbed up the rocky trail that winds though a stunted pine forest… At the beginning of the path, I concentrated on my rhythm and the search for the best ratio. Small plateau, medium gear. Trees had become scarcer and had given way to thorny vegetation that greatly widened our field of vision. The vultures had begun to catch the thermals and thus making the most of those columns of warm air that rise towards the heavens, while they scrutinised the less romantic presence of an animal carcass finishing its decomposition in that biblical landscape. The first two hours passed like that, then we took a break on the beautiful stones of the Almazorre dolmen. One of the many testimonies of the megalithic culture of that sierra. While eating some dried fruit, I tried to imagine the lives of those men of the past, excavations of which have only unearthed hundreds of teeth, a few phalanges and an incomplete skeleton.

Layla Jean Kerley

We had opted for circuits away from Ainsa. Longer and less playful, but more rolling, so technically easier and harder physically, they are generally abandoned by locals as well as by foreigners who are looking for more adrenaline and fun. On some routes, there is only a slim chance of running in to another person. The isolation and physical commitment combined to make the flavour of this journey where we crossed zones of boredom, fatigue, nervousness, deep joy, surprise and discouragement.

Drunk with the light.

Layla Jean Kerley

The air that began to vibrate and the wind which agitated the tremors plunging me back into memories of more cerebral, more visual, but just as dangerous distant journeys. I contemplated the ruins that end up crumbling under the indifferent eye of the Egyptian percnopterus (Maria Blanca in Béarnaise) and other species of vultures. If there is a form of wisdom somewhere in this world, the paths I have followed in my life, whether on a bike, on skis or in my head, have still not led me there and I seriously doubt that I will ever be able to access them. But in the end, and even if I’m repeating myself, what matters to me is the journey.

Bruno 11 September 2019

18 years later…


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