Border Bash Aragon: a coffe & friends story

Border Bash Aragon: the Spanish premiere of the gravel series was a gem for the community

"Ah, do you only need some coffee? I will get you some from my kitchen"
"Oh yes, thanks. That's what we needed!"

It is everything about these little things. Rambling through stunning villages with a bunch of new and not-so-new friends and looking for serendipity, but a special one, the one that navigates around one single but persistent thought: our moka pot. That's the essence of gravel camps in general and the Border Bash in particular: the way they attract several categories of people, all of them special, all of them with different paces that flow naturally into matchy matchy groups.

Groups of all levels of gravelbikers with cameras and in a good, social spirit can be found at gravel camps like the Border Bash Aragon in Spain - Ryan Le Garrec

The way to ABB

I arrive at the Aragon Border Bash on a Thursday late afternoon, after a flight and a long car drive: "Why am I doing this? I am not even fit enough for 3 pedal strokes in a row"- the thoughts bouncing into my sleepy and Vitamin D-deprived brain on my way to Pantano, Aragon, a large area in the heart of Spain.
My rental car sails me through different topography, and I am fascinated by the variety of vegetation and landscapes glimpsing in a few km of Spanish road. "This little European North America called Spain never fails to deliver its riding beauty". These are the words of the artist and good friend Ryan Le Garrec, who I will meet at the event if he will make it on time as he is bikepacking here from coastal Portugal. He will be at BBA with some other familiar faces, but not that many. A bit frightening while I am in the car, but just because I am not used to that anymore. I have been travelling alone for gravel events for almost 15 years now, and a constant of my life on bikes, if there is any, is riding solo and making friends on the way. And finally, the concept of the Border Bashes is just this: come here as you are, and your community will embrace you no matter what. The cherry on top is that Ondrej always finds perfect cycling areas with few cars and much to explore, seasoning the formula with abundant drinks, delicious food and traditional dancing.

Lush green landscapes with an abundance of gravel farm roads invite gravel bikers to the Aragon area in Spain
Rocky, deserted canyons contrasted by green, cool water in the spanish Aragon region in Spain are a great destination forgravel bikers.

All this is in my mind when I see the red arch pinning the location: I have arrived. I park the car and I can see Ondrej sitting with some people I kind of recognize. Stepping on the terrace I can hear their voice, they ring the bell but nothing more.
"Stefano, are you also here?"
"Belen, Tristan! O gosh, so good to see you". Tristan and Belen are two of the kindest, most lovely and most creative people I have met in my podcasting life. They approached me a couple of years back to collaborate for the launch of their book (50 Ways to Cycle the World) with a BroomWagon miniseries, and since then I have been following their travelling admiring their chilled and meaningful bikepacking. "We are here following the Ortlieb peloton. This looks like a good recovery after coming back from our long trip in Baja California". Here's the magic hitting the fan: people colliding without any previous buzz.
"And where's everybody, Ondrej?" I ask while hugging the organizer.
"It is only us for now, everybody left for a ride" – his answer – "But here comes Staffan". Staffan from Ass Savers is a well-known supporter of the gravel scene and a natural ambassador of the gravel lifestyle. A sign of it: "Here is a beer for you, Stefano. Be my guest." Yes I will, Mr Weigel.
While I sit down to sip my drink, a lot of people coming over: Max, Felix (the Testet Bikes Felix), Ryan, Sjors, and many others I will meet properly on the weekend.
The evening goes by with a few drinks outside, a few others (and some delicious food) inside, and plenty of chats, but no plans. While I am going back to my cabin to sleep I hear Tristan's voice, from the neighbouring house: "We have a moka pot here, Stefano. Let's get some coffee powder tomorrow, so we can wake up with good coffee at our place".

Ondrej Vesely is the organizer of the Border Bash Aragon camp sponsored by SRAM and Ortlieb.

The Blind Bash

Take off is at 10am, they said. I wake up not so fresh, but fortunately, I slept a few more hours than usual despite the long sobremesa with Ryan and Sjor with wine on the table accompanying chats. "Let's have a photo and send it to Josh (our common friend Josh Ibbett ndr) so he can see the party he is missing" some of the acts performed at that table.
A delicious breakfast pops me into the event's mood: finally some Pan Tumaca, the breakfast that made me love Spain in my 1 year living in Jerez de la Frontera. Breakfast is delicious, yes, but that coffee at the boot is still waiting. Not so bad though, I get ready and show up at the starting line. It is 10.30am and we are still missing the organizer's brief, but when it arrives it is sweet and lovely just as the sunny day waiting for us.

Good vibes at the startline to the Blind Bash at Border Bash Aragon Gravel Camp.

I am looking around from my Ghost Asket (my ride for today) because I forgot my handlebar bag where to put my trusty fluffy microphone. "Ask Volker from Ortlieb, for sure they got bags" – Felix tells me but I should have a huge question mark on my head because Belen tells me: "No worries Stefano, we will wait for you. We are the party gruppetto, we won't let you down". My brain finally is rebooted, I don't feel the pressure anymore, and I don't feel the urgency of completing the track: there is my people waiting for me. I get the waterproof bag on my handlebar, and the microphone into it, so we can take off for the first day of riding: the Blind Bash. The Blind Bash is a party on pedals: a short ride between spectacular roads where the only goal is to reach lunch by (Spanish) lunchtime and home by apero time. Our party gruppetto is formed by Felix, Tristan, Belen, me but soon we collect people on the way, like Aleix and Pepe: they are here as part of the sponsor team, but ready to adventure our pace with photos, river crossing and chubby laughing. Our way is filled with medieval ruins, gravel churches, poppy fields and tons of chatting.

The young sport of gravel biking attracts a lot of playful non competitive cyclists and brings them together at fun gravel events like the Border Bash Aragon in Spain
Endless, smootgh gravel roads and ancient architecture make gravel biking in northern Spain a bucket list ride!

A few highlights of the day, but let's mention 5 only:

  • the river crossing with a zipline
  • the dip into the river at midday
  • the hike-a-bike to lunch
  • Ryan's words "Damn, I didn't find you people today, so I had to work my ass off following some fasties"
  • the awesome women who gave us coffee powder on the way back to our cabin.

An all-around awesome day immersed in a corner of Spain people don't know enough for beauty and cycling-friendly attitude.
The evening goes into a few more drinks, dinner, a punk rock band, Ryan ordering some cheese instead of dessert (I love this guy) and the classic party move happening when you want to go to bed but you are not that convinced, so you end up chatting in front of your room and keeping on including people to a circle that ends up sleeping way later than anybody else in the official party.

While there technically would have been a bridge at the Border Bash Aragon you cross the river via  a zipline. That was fun and refreshing.!
The rivercrossing at the Border Bash Aragon Blind Bash from above after the hike-a-bike

The Epic Bash (with some cheating)

"Let's have coffee at our cabin at 8, neighbour" – were Tristan's the last words on our good night way. The alarm is set for 7.30am, but I am too confused to jump off the bed on the first ring. The second one got me, so when I wake up I can already smell the black magic coming from outside. "Good Morning neighbour, get some coffee please" – this is Tristan, with a smoky moka pot in his right hand and a cup in his left one.
"Is this a breakfast party?" – and this is Ryan, with his deep podcast voice popping at our doorstep. "Of course it is" – Belen inviting Ryan to seat and help himself with a cup.
We drink our coffee but I am getting nervous: today is a 100+ km day and we are dangling around too much on this patio._ "No worries Stefano"_ – Belen again – "I have the perfect track for us today, no need to be worried, the party gruppetto never fails".

The party Grupetto had all the fun riding gravel bikes at a social pace in spain during the Border Bash Aragon.

Starting time was supposed to be at 9am, but, again, there is no rush: everybody starts at least 20 minutes later than planned (even the fastest cats like Ulrich Bartholmös and Max Riese) and our gruppetto takes off almost at 10am. The base is the same as the day before, but in our family, we are happy to welcome some of the Ortlieb family (Volken and Lena) plus finally Ryan, who catches us on a climb after 10km and sticks with us till the end – "I will never leave you, folks. I couldn't imagine how fun could be riding in stages of 15 minutes and stopping for chats, goat watching and photos without any clear reason". We ride at our pace, admiring the beautiful peaks from the Rio Guatizalema dam (_"That looks like Utah" _Simon's words a few hours later), playing with the echo of some fresh tunnels, and looking for a coffee in a social café that only serves beers and Coca Cola.
At the end of our day, we cycled for 45km packed with adventure, including a solid storm that made us worried about our technology, and a cosy pasta at the Ortlieb house with the classic contest of Carbonara vs Puttanesca (pasta souces).
For dinner we get back to the base, where we can admire some traditional dancing and some less traditional ones, but joyfully performed in front of the speakers by our very own Chimp.

Cafè stops are basically mandatory for every gravelbike ride! In Spain places with cafés can be quite sparse.
Typical café stop in rural spain during a gravel ride. Border Bash Aragon brings you to the locals.

The (skipped) Hangover Bash

The hangover is definitely there, even if it is not the cause of me skipping the ride. I have to fly back to Zurich at 2pm, and I still have to drive back to Barcelona. I am in a rush, but not too much. I still have time to enjoy the open-air cafe of the neighbourhood for a last (and long) cup of coffee with Belen, Tristan, Ryan and Max. Probably the best part of my trip: embracing my gravel circle, flushing the stress and getting back home with a huge pack of memories.
On my way back I remember a few words that Staffan whispered in Ondrej's ear while rock'n'roll was rocking and the party was blasting "Border Bash Aragon is awesome, let's blaze it even more next year".

Staffan from Ass Savers helped organize the Border Bash Aragon. One of the best Gravel Camps out there right now!