Beim Ausgang am Flughafen wusste ich schon, ein erster Atemzug in der milden Luft, alles wird gut. Wir waren kurz nach Sonnenuntergang auf der portugiesischen Insel Madeira mitten im Atlantik gelandet. Weihnachtsurlaub mit Familie, aber die Bikes mussten trotzdem irgendwie mit. Zumindest zum Auskundschaften. Ich hatte zwar schon von Mountainbiketouren auf der Insel gehört, aber für echten Bike-Urlaub ist eher La Palma bekannt. Ob Madeira also wirklich zum lässigen Biken oder gar Vertriden taugt? Um dem Glück etwas nachzuhelfen hatte ich John von Freeride Madeira kontaktiert, vielleicht könnte er uns etwas herumführen und die Locations zeigen. Ja, könne er.
Als Nächstes Ankunft in der Pension, wo wir die nächsten Tage wohnen sollen und wo Robert arbeitet. Ich komme mit Robert ins Gespräch über unsere Pläne, er horcht auf, als ich erwähne, daß wir unsere Bikes dabei haben. Robert kennt zwar die Vertrider noch nicht, aber sofort nimmt er sein Telefon in die Hand und ruft seinen Kollegen an, John. Der von Freeride Madeira. Wir waren also in besten Händen. Es wird gleich der übernächste Tag ausgemacht, wir werden vor der Pension abgeholt, mit Kleinbus und Hänger für sechs Bikes, drei Downhill-Bikes sind schon geladen. Neben John sind dabei seine Kollegen Roberto und Luis. Aber damit unsere portugiesischen Freunde auch was davon haben, schreibe ich auf Englisch weiter.
So we were up for a first sampling of Madeiran dirt. John and Roberto had a fine menu of trails in mind and we sampled the light starter on the rough central altiplano of the island riding down towards the most north western point. The red earth on the trails winding down in between the macchia and ancient laurel forest, created a stunning surrounding. Further down, eucalyptus forest took over together with refreshing smells until the salty scents of the ocean rounded off a dish of trails with a wide variety, from smooth single track to rough downhill type riding to bermy and loathy forest tracks, steep enough at stages to make us happy.
We did a couple of shorter runs in all geographic directions, with endless sudden secret turnoffs into the bush that I would need a GPS record to find them again. And find them again definitely would be worth it. Just that GPS is for nerds and recording somebody else’s tracks is bad karma, so we’ll have to go with the locals again. The last trail of the day, however, I did remember and I would sure find by myself, too perfect the setting… a secret little hidden trail leads onto a cliff overlooking the waves rolling in below. And in the low evening sun us five set off down the side of the cliff, the topography suggesting a much steeper trail. A nice and steep section of steps and great riding later, we touched base exactly (ok, we still had to pedal 2 minutes) at a reggae bar by the sea. A soothing sound that after such a day wouldn’t have anything to mend. A hooray to sunsets, beer and oceans.
Talking to John, he told us a little how the whole Freeride Madeiria story began. Ten years ago, when mountain biking was still a total niche, some local downhill guys shuttled themselves and explored the tracks on the island. After a visit to the gigantic bikepark system of Portes Du Soleil in France they started thinking of more on their own home trails. In 2005 they bought a van with trailor and re-discovered some more old tracks with google-earth and cleaned them up. The first downhill races were organized and today about 70 racers compete in an annual Madeiran DH-cup with five races. Now, besides Freeride Madeira, several other companies offer guided tours and maintain trails, yet the real bike-tourism has remained illusive on the island. This is a little hard to comprehend, a wide selection of different style race-ready downhill tracks and the fact that some of the best Portuguese racers are from Madeira, speaks a clear language. Oh, and a first Enduro race was also held last December. So pretty damn close to gravity bikes’s paradise.
That said, how about our peculiar habit of vertriding? A big part of vertriding is about exploring new trails, and if possible a summit. You live only once so we went for the highest peak. Ok, the Pico Ruivo is at 1860 m not the Everest for Austrian standards and most of the way you can drive your car to a close parking and the trail to the summit is well renovated, even paved on some stretches, but the final 100 m are Vertrider terrain finally. No matter the trail, the view over the rugged Madeiran interior to the Atlantic on both sides would be worth it on its own. Coming down was fun but the big adventure started below the parking lot.
A Madeiran speciality are toboggans. Toboggans are vegetation covered gullies or wide channels, which could carry a lot of water after heavy rains. The tree and bush cover make for a tunnel like feeling. But the actual surprise is the dirt. The ground consists of a slimy slippery smooth reddish rock (Basalt rock? geologists anywhere?). Riding the slippery steep was a new chapter in my riding experience! Amongst the Tyrolian limestone, the Moab Slickrock, the Utah Dirt and the Canadian Cedar, the Madeirian Toboggan slimerock should have its own rank in the hall-of-fame of mountain bike tire surfaces. In any case, that particular Toboggan was in bad shape after the last heavy rains and it was a good and earnest effort negotiating the trail.
I had one more joker in my hand: A shear cliff on the far west coast. If the trail I found on the map was rideable and the teleferico would take us up again, I would sure have found what I was looking for, not only on that day, but in a more universal sense. So we went there to see just how universal. As it looked, the cable car guy is not permitted to take bikes, the trail being too dangerous anyways and bikes would be too large for the cable car, and hikers would not be amused…the old story. Anyways, I thought, first lets check out the trail, hiking back up is another story. Entering the trail verging to the north face of the cliff which is less vertical, it looks like the perfect terrain. The trail winding down from one little terrace to next one below. Nice steep and tight corners, semi-exposed, small bushes hide the view of downfall and disguise the exposure.
The trail traverses the face, the bikes speed up and jump on the links between the switchbacks. A natural step combination leads right to edge, a shady safety cable is in place. Not too hard to ride but you sure have to have some confidence in tight, steep cornering, or look at it like a little danger to remind you’re alive. The sun is reflected from the blue ocean below, the huge roaring waves from the northeast crashing on the black cobble beach creating a white interface. After sticking all lines, on the last few meters, the trail throws at you its final and biggest riddle in form of a very long sequence of artificial steps right towards the last ledge a few meters above the beach. I bailed out on the last steps as I was already aware of being alive…the raging ocean, the salty wind, some mild ray of the sun, everything is good. Cause that’s the trail, I thought! It’s the legendary Mezzocorona trail of the Atlantic.
And if you don’t want to hike up, you will have to convince the teleferico guy. Tell him about the grandeur of the trail that captures you, of the switchbacks that allows no other thoughts and clear your mind to make you smile again. Tell him how you can take your front wheel off in 5 seconds so that your bike fits easily. And tell him that when you see a hiker, you park your bike and lift your helmet to greet and catch your breath to let him past, after a little chat.
Finding the jewel of the Atlantic it was OK that the departure was imminent. And on the final riding day we had to see a huge line-up of the local downhill community. Robert had called upon the boys (and girls!) from his Clube Canico Riders, an enthusiastic group of local bikers. Three minibuses with trailors, John part of it again, comprised the crowd. New trails again, great riding again. Also because of Pedros ‘Pulga’ Silva. Pulga is one of the high potential Portuguese DH riders, entering elite next year and ready to rip the tracks apart. Riding with him showed me again what downhill is all about – simple speed and finding the fastest lines. His enthusiasm was totally contagious. Great fun and next time I’ll bring more suspension and heavier gear to the island (not that I can keep up then). John and Roberto also turned out not as just as the perfect guides but also as fast racy riders. And Robert, the mastermind and father figure of the Canico Riders had an impressive eye and the lens for some cover page shots. Thanks guys, for introducing us the trails for Madeira!
We’ll be back. Axel und das Team Vertriders.