Anka Martin lives the spirit of mountain bike adventure as she competes in any and all types of MTB racing across the globe. In between races, she and her photographer husband, Sven, are constantly in search of new riding adventures, so listen closely as Anka lays down a handful of her all-time favorite riding locations.
When asked to list my top 5 all-time favorite rides, my first reaction was, "ah, that’ll be easy," but once I actually sat down to start writing about them, I realized just how challenging this was going to be. It is like when someone asks you what your favorite food is, or what your favorite tunes are. There is no one answer for these kinds of questions. It all depends on the time, the place, the mood, the riding crew and the emotional frame of mind that you may be in to answer these types of questions. Therefore I have elaborated a little bit (and have been a touch vague), about my favorite five.
I have been very fortunate to spend the last 10-plus-years riding and racing my bike in, and across, some of the most spectacular parts of the world. For the most part, those rides have all been very memorable, but the trails and locations listed below carry some very special memories, shared with some amazing friends, and that is what makes a great ride even greater.
Scotland is stunning. It looks a little bit like parts of New Zealand, but with a wee Scottish twist. I love the Scots, I love the whiskey and mushy peas and I love the hairy highland cows you see out on the tracks – oh, and the trails are amazing, too. We rode up in the Scottish highlands this year, near a town called Ballater in Royal Deeside. The Cairngorms were amazing, with varied terrain, stunning views, peats and bogs, and the sun was shining. Every time we’ve ridden in Scotland, the weather has been just fine, making it a perfect biking destination in my opinion, and I’m not even talking about any of the trail centres here.
Lake Garda and Finale, ItalyLake Garda has always been one of my favorites. It has this magical, holiday summer feel to it while the rest of Europe is still thawing out and waiting for summer. As soon as you get to the lake, the pace of life slows down. You swim, you eat – copious amounts of amazing Italian food, wine, Limóncello and gelato – you ride and repeat.
We always try to make time for a few days out there in-between the race season, to slow down a bit, to re-charge and to actually enjoy the summer weather, as it is usually raining everywhere we go – guaranteed. Once again it is a time where friends get to hang out and catch up away from the working environment and races.
The riding is insane. You catch a gondola to the top of the mountain, grab one last shot of espresso, then climb up to the top of another mountain for an hour and a half, grab a beer at the refuge of course, then start heading down for an hour and a half of downhill. Dry, loose, rough, rocky and relentless and the views are magical. Even in the rain, the tracks are awesome. You just have to hang on and let go. It hammers your bike and body as you smash through the rocks, but your reward for making it to the bottom is jumping into that shimmering lake that you catch glimpses of on the way down. After your dip in the lake, you're tasting and cheers-ing that ice cold radler with your mates and scarfing down a delicious pizza – all set amongst the most picturesque, medieval, history-clad Italian village. To top it off (or take the top off), the boys never mind checking out the topless Italian ladies lounging on the beaches either. It's safe to say there aren't too many places in the world where a bike ride ends with titties.
I finally made my way out to Finale, Italy, this past summer, and man, that little Italian seaside village crept into my heart very quickly. The trails were absolutely amazing, and the setting, the medieval towns, the restaurants and the laid back attitude of the locals made this one of the best riding destinations that I’ve been to. The fact that you can jump into the sea after riding sick trails doesn’t hurt either. Definitely a place I want to return, as we’ve only scratched the riding's surface. That town and its surrounding areas are littered with tracks and trails everywhere. The three C’s, culture, cuisine and challenging trails, Finale delivers.
Backcountry Nelson and Craigieburn Forest, New Zealand
Man, I could write a book about the amazing trails out here in New Zealand. There are so many trails listed in the guide books, which are all amazing in their own special way, but there are just as many unknown, out-there trails around that you can go exploring for days on end. Thanks to the locals for sharing these nuggets with us. You see, NZ has this amazing backcountry hut system from back in the day when the pioneers were gold mining. These old huts are scattered all over the country, usually placed way back in the remote whop whops (middle of nowhere), that you can ride in to and sleep over. This opens up a whole new world of riding, as you can get further away from civilization, deeper into the native bush and experience a wilder side of the country (as if NZ isn’t remote enough already).
Don’t think for one moment that it is easy going, smooth, singletrack type riding. It is rugged and technical, but with incredible flow, and that is what gives it that special charm. It's as if the old gold miners knew we were going to use them someday. Most of today’s trail builders can learn a thing or two from these pack tracks built back in the day. This kind of riding is really exciting to me, partly because it is a new experience, as you have to take your overnight gear and food in a pack with you and be prepared for pretty much anything and everything. The huts are small, and most of the remote structures are first come, first serve, so you just hope that you don’t have to spend the night outside with the dreaded sand flies.
One of the epic trails out in Golden Bay is called The Kill Devil track with its 58 switchbacks and screaming singletrack all the way to Waingaro Forks hut, where you can camp overnight and feel like a real adventurer. As I said before, there are too many epic trails to list under this category, but every time we ride another new track out here, they become new favorites.
Another amazing place (pretty much in the middle of nowhere) is the Craigieburn forest. People have been raving about these trails ever since we moved out here, and after finally getting to ride them, I too will be raving about them. I think we hit the singletrack heaven jackpot out there. The scenery was just spectacular. Dramatic “Mordor” mountain vistas, tussock grasses, dracophyllem flats (Dr. Seuss trees), stunning beech forests beyond belief, the tackiest dirt, slippery roots, exposed scree slopes, perfect bench cut singletrack, no people, no cell phone reception, no hype. Just stunning landscapes and amazing trails that you can connect up and over mountains, valleys, spurs and hills for days on end. There are many options and loops to ride, but the best way to experience this place is to go camping out there, grab a map and go exploring.
Provence and France in General
The riding in France is just insane. Everyone knows that. Trails that spring to mind are the Alpe d’Huez tracks that the infamous MegAvalanche races down, the Les Deux Alpes tracks famous for the Mountain of Hell race, Morzine, Chatel, Les Arcs, Meribel, the list of amazing trails to ride in France is seemingly endless, but some of my ultimate favorites lie in the big, rugged, still-relatively-unknown mountains of Provence. Yes, Provence of all places, where most people just imagine gentle, lavender field hills and fancy retreat villas. But man oh man, is that a delusional picture.
Thanks to the amazing Trans Provence race, I have explored, and ridden, some of the best, most technical and rugged trails ever. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine Provence to have such big mountains, with little remote villages and endless singletrack trails. Trails with the names such as Donkey Darko, Champ Long, Grey Earth, Lantosque, Granges de Cous - the list goes on and on. And those are just a sampling of what this region has to offer. Imagine how many other amazing trails there must be just waiting to be discovered.
Next time you head to France for some riding, give Morzine or the other *famous* places a skip and go and ride something new, raw and off the beaten track. You can also sign up for one of the guided trips that Trans Provence offers, to ride them all.
Cape Verde Islands, Atlantic Ocean
This is not your typical riding destination and it is not easy to access, but I was fortunate enough to be invited to this archipelago of islands located in the central Atlantic Ocean, 500+ km off the coast of Western Africa, to race one of Fabien Barel’s URGE invitational events. The event featured several races on different islands, all to raise money for the local schools and to experience new cultures and countries.
These islands were just spectacular and the pack tracks and donkey trails we raced and rode down were just unreal in terms of scenery and ruggedness, with death-defying exposure sections and dizzying heights everywhere. This was my first taste of pure, blind trail riding and racing, and I absolutely loved the thrill and adventure of it. That trip is what fueled my desire to race more enduro events and it brought the adventure back to biking for me after many years of just chasing points at various DH races. That feeling of not having a clue where the trail is going, or what obstacles may appear, or how the hell you have are going to race to the bottom of the Fogo volcano you just hiked up to for hours on end is what got me fired up to compete and ride my bike again. That sense of adventure and challenge, along with the camaraderie you build up with the people you share these adventures with, is really the essence of riding bikes and the reason that I am so hopelessly and passionately in love with riding my bike. As it's been said before, it's not the destination, but rather the journey that is important. -Anka
When you're done here, visit ridehousemartin.com to see what Anka is up to and how you can get in on the adventure in New Zealand.
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