Slow Rolling at the 2023 Border Bash Aragon
Tristan Bogaard was at the 2023 Border Bash Aragon last month, where he was surprised to discover how much he enjoyed the organized event format. He put together a short written recap and a gallery showcasing the couple of days his small group of newfound friends spent slowly winding through the beautiful Spanish countryside. Check it out here…
Words and photos by Tristan Bogaard
I’m usually intimidated by gravel events, as I’m not the fastest rider or particularly skilled at riding long distances. I’ve never worn a tight jersey or participated in a race. And I must confess that upon being invited to this year’s Border Bash in Aragon, Spain, I was a little reluctant to head out there.
My partner Belén and I both ride bikes made of steel with gearboxes and belt drivetrains. Our bikepacking attitude is to take it slow, absorb what we are riding by, and document nearly all of it. Over the years, we’ve established a way of frequently stopping so Belén can take a breather while I set up a tripod somewhere. You may guess already; we are not in a hurry.
The Border Bash events are centered around multiple routes of varying lengths, occurring over a weekend and spanning an average of around 90 kilometers with the occasional hike-a-bike section to challenge the riders. There’s a Little Bash, a Big Bash, and so on. The Aragon event is located in Sierra de Guara natural park, where the first emerging peaks of the Spanish Pyrenees serve as a backdrop for the cozy campground cabins that were our shelter for the weekend.
To our surprise, we met quite a few friends and acquaintances at the starting line, with whom we quickly formed an international club of slow-yet-steady ridership, dubbed the Party Group. We were almost meant to be at the tail end of the sixty-odd other riders, and it felt right to be there. While they’d lock into a fast pace and a mission to finish the larger itineraries, our party group opted for the “cheat codes” in the shortest route, numerous photo breaks, and roadside snacking.
Kicking off the event, the communal first ride is called “Blind Bash,” and it aims to blend the attendants together at certain bottlenecks in the route, such as river crossings or steep hillside trails. The organizers even went through the trouble of installing a zip-line feature over the stream so riders wouldn’t have to worry about water working its way into their drivtrains, bottom brackets, and hubs. Now that I think about it, that made a nice environmental touch, too!
Belén and I chugged just through barefoot, happy that our dusty belts got a cleanup. Stefano, Felix, and I quickly dipped in the icy springtime water before ascending the hike-a-bike feature, only mildly cursing the organizers. Besides these more challenging sections, the remaining part was speckled with crispy trail surfaces, red poppies, and cultural features in the landscape, defining my ever-increasing love for the mundane Spanish backcountry. Life flows in circles out here, like vultures in the sky.
After plenty of red wine infused our evening into the weekend, a deck of dark clouds gathered above us on day two. Mudguards got installed all around, spirits lifted during Ondrej’s encouragement speech, and off everyone went, attempting the 135-kilometer route—unless you identified as part of the Party Group, obviously. We’d grown in size to about eight members with equal interest in averting a potential downpour.
Ryan, our newest addition, had cycled to the event from Madrid and, in his own words, felt “increasingly like enjoying the touring side of riding bikes rather than anything ultra.” His frame wore a sticker saying “my bike is my office,” and we all enjoyed his jokes told in a deep, captivating voice.
Felix flung his action camera in all directions, Belén translated Spanish interpretation panels, Stefano recorded podcast segments, and Lena overcame her first non-commuting long bike ride. We admired the limestone forefront of the Pyrenees with haste and still got caught in an epic downpour on the final kilometers. We opened cast iron doors into the realm of a smoky village bar, discussed the validity of ultra-endurance, raced each other on the downhills, and celebrated what became a truly inclusive ride—no set distance, no set speed, no shame in stops, just social banter and bashing it out together by bike.
Some riders opted for the Hangover Ride on Sunday morning, but in the company of Stefano and Ryan, Belén and I turned our little cabin into an open-air café instead. Brand booths got packed, jerseys became sweaters, and office workers redeemed their final ride tokens. Reclined in our folding chairs, we sipped our coffee and concluded that after all, we may be bigger fans of events such as these than we thought. See you next year?
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