Pachamama: Gravel riding with Mother Nature at its heart

A two-wheeled, off-road adventure in to the wild

Pachamama is a state of mind, achieved by embracing Mother Nature and a fearless sense of adventure. The glue that binds these elements together? Gravel. This is a two-wheeled exploration inspired by curiosity and the desire to rediscover a world in harmony with the wild.

Part of a new video series of Pachamama gravel rides, First Time Around The World explores this concept of a deeper spiritual connection to the things around us inspired by the pioneering spirit of 16th century Basque explorer Juan Sebastián Elkano.

Pachamama: First Time Around The World

This story revolves around recognising what is on one’s doorstep and appreciating the little things closer to home before setting out on a worldly adventure. Exploration is central to Basque identity, after all.

Following gravel paths through the countryside, ambassadors Elena Bris and Jon Munitxa visit the small fishing village of Getaria, where Elkano was born in 1487. Learning about the symbiotic, ancient relationship between the sea and the Basque people drums into the Pachamama connection between man and Mother Nature – this time, brought about by gravel bikes.

Related: Rouleur Explore. Guadarrama, geology of gravel in the heart of Spain.

500 years of Basque exploration

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Elena and Jon ride through the rugged Basque countryside on their carbon Orbea Terra bikes, travelling a lot lighter than their intrepid ancestors. In 1519, Elkano and Fernando Magellan departed Spain for the Philippines with a crew of 239 men and five ships. The expedition was initially agreed for Spanish commercial gain, intending to open up a route to the Spice Islands, known nowadays as the Moluccas in Indonesia. However, Elkano had other designs and pushed Magellan, turning it into a voyage that would become the first recorded successful circumnavigation of the globe.

The crew suffered grueling hardships including numerous mutinies, outbreaks of disease, tropical storms and a dwindling supply of provisions. Nevertheless, more than three years after departing, Elkano and just 18 of the original crew arrived in the southern Spanish city of Sanlúcar on the battered Victoria (the only ship to survive the journey), home at last.

Related: Rouleur Explore. Gran Guache: Canary Island B-side.

Elkano's determined, uncompromising sense of adventure is a defining characteristic of Pachamama, something for future riders to channel. This Renaissance tale shouldn’t put modern riders off: in 2022, there’s little chance of getting scurvy.

From hoisting sails to riding trails

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This Pachamama project about Elkano is anchored in the narrative of the voyaging sailor and a journey around the world. A 21st century reinterpretation merely switches boats for bikes.

It would therefore be negligent not to give our two modern-day Basque explorers their due. Though Elena has covered many thousands of miles on two wheels in locations as far-flung as Taiwan, Lapland, Madagascar and Latin America, she has never raced competitively. She has tended to take the road less-travelled, saying that “the gravel path is my place in the world”. Clearly, a subscriber to the Pachamama way of life.

Related: Rouleur Explore. Kilometro Cero; an expresse pilgrimage between Madrid and Finisterre.

Though he has competed, Jon still retains a love of the unknown and a spirit of discovery. “Despite racing in the Basque Country, I have discovered great places I never knew were there,” he says of the inspiring route.

The relationship between Pachamama and gravel

Arguably the most important tenet of Pachamama is a spiritual desire to explore the unknown. It is not fuelled by competition or by climbing the same mountains that already have iconic status in the cycling world.

Pachamama is about going further rather than faster. It is about the evolution of the conventional relationship between rider and bike. As well as acting as a mode of transport, the bike acts as a gateway to days of introspection and exploration of the soul.

Related: Rouleur Explore. The complete guide to cycling in the Pyrenees.

Off-road helps that: Orbea believes that gravel riding allows the discovery-desiring explorer to go where many others can’t. It opens new territory; fresh experiences; an invitation to connect with the magic and mystery of Mother Nature.

The bottom line is that if you can embrace the Basque spirit of adventure that has endured for hundreds of years, respect the unknowability of the big wide world and allow gravel and dirt to take you to new places, then you will find yourself in possession of the Pachamama spirit.

Pachamama: Forged in Solitude

Let’s dive back 500 years in time, following a route first trodden by pilgrims that continues to be popular in the present day. For this Pachamama: Forged in Solitude story, we tread the same path, only this time robes and sandals have been replaced by Lycra and cleats.

Related: Rouleur Explore. Silk Road Mountain Race, a cycling Odyssey.

For this journey, leading pro racer Luis Ángel Maté of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team is the one embracing the Pachamama spirit. The route is the Camino Ignaciano, the Ignatian way. Named after St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Catholic priest and co-founder of the Society of Jesus, it covers 681 kilometres of picturesque mountains, arid desert and verdant plains by the river Ebro.

Watch Forged in Solitude on YouTube

Starting in the small town of Loyola, the route takes in a total of 7,061 metres of climbing, going as high as 1,223 metres. Clearly, this is not a ride for the faint-hearted. But then, pilgrimages aren’t meant to be easy, are they? Leaving the Basque Country, Maté heads south through the fabulously beautiful regions of Navarre, Rioja and Aragon before reaching the Catalan town of Manresa, the endpoint of St. Ignatius’s quest. Maté’s modern journey is one that pays homage to the rich landscape and the gravel bike that enables him to cross it.

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Off-road with Orbea: Terra firma

The Terra M20i Team is Maté’s steed of choice for the journey. It boasts a carbon OMR frame and fork, powered by Shimano’s top-end gravel crankset, the GRX RX810. As you would expect with any leading gravel bike, it looks the part and its disc brakes ensure precise stopping power, meaning a rider can really let go and revel in riding trails full bore.

Attempting to emulate the travels of Elkano or St. Ignatius requires a set-up geared toward hardiness, stability and, most importantly, durability. The Terra ticks all those boxes.

Related: Rouleur Explore. Riding a Tour de France stage by gravel.

The M20 1X is shorn with Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H tyres, a byword for reliability in the gravel world. Despite not being the chunkiest, at 40mm, no trail or track encountered by Elena and Jon gave any reason for worry.

In an increasingly saturated market for gravel bikes, the Terra stands out. Built with the spirit of Pachamama in mind, it is made for adventures.

Travel and gravel – the future for Pachamama

Orbea’s Pachamama project features a number of rides from all over the world from Europe to North America and beyond. The intention is to inspire and inform both gravel and travel enthusiasts.

Keep an eye out for episodes covering America (called Tears of Joy: Unbound) and Berlin (Gravel Collective). That isn’t the end either – just like Elkano all those centuries ago, the Terra will continue to explore the world, chosen by daring riders, seeking to discover their limits and the unknown.

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