Hans Rey made his name showcasing supreme bike handling skills in locations not usually associated with mountain biking. These days he's still making the most of those legendary skills, but is more focussed on finding new two-wheeled adventures around the world, partly to explore different cultures and landscapes but also to promote and meet up with people who have benefitted from his Wheels 4 Life charity.
His most recent trip took him to Guatemala City in Central America where he met up with Austrian photographer Stefan Voitl, Austrian trials rider Tom Oehler and local tour operator, Matt, from Oldtown Outfitters who suggested they go on a unique and remote hut-to-hut tour in the area's Highlands, with extreme high altitudes of 3000 meters.
Here's what Hans had to say about his exciting adventure….
Austrian photographer Stefan Voitl approached me a few months ago and asked whether I would like to join him and fellow Austrian trials rider Tom Oehler on a high altitude bike adventure – we all met in Guatemala City with local tour operator, Matt, from Oldtown Outfitters. He had suggested a unique and remote hut-to-hut tour in the Highlands at an extreme high altitude of 3000 meters.
We had all brought full suspension mountain bikes, except Matt who was rocking his hardtail. During the first few days we rode locally around the picturesque and colonial cobblestoned city of Antigua, surrounded by several active, spewing and fuming volcanoes. We also got to ride the first bike park in Guatemala - El Zur. After a 45 minutes bumpy truck shuttle we were offloaded half way up the Volcan de Agua to embrace a 20km downhill ride through lush cloud-forest with loose, dusty volcanic soil.
A few days later, after a five hour drive through the countryside, we arrived near Todos Santos at the base of the Cuchumatanes mountain range and highlands. The goal was to ride all the way via Laguna Magdalena and Chortiz to the town of Acul Quiche in three days, sleeping in simple backpackers huts and getting fed by local families. The trails, when we had one, where rather technical and slow going. Often we had to push, hike and trials our way on the wild, overgrown trails. Between scattered remote farms and wandering shepherds along the way, we were seldom alone but always far from civilization.
Arriving at the small settlement of Laguna Magdalena, named after the beautiful lagoon and waterfall, the locals were surprised to see us clattering down the rough hillside on mountain bikes. When night fell temperatures dropped and I had to put on every piece of clothing I had – with no electricity or fire, we were relying on blankets in the huts. After a fun round of dice and a flask of local moonshine to warm us up, we crawled into our beds before 9pm. When we woke up, the stars where still visible in the dark sky and the ground was frozen; we didn’t waste much time to begin our climb out of the freezing valley to reach the first rays of sun.
This was the big day, most of the route was never ridden on bicycles and there were several parts with no trail at all. We knew that the small village of Chortiz had another backpacker cabin, but standing in our way were several valleys and mountain ranges at a staggering altitude of around 3000m, where our highest point was nearer 3200m.
Tom’s trials biking skills transferred very well into his mountain biking style, with ease he would pick his line through the gnarliest rock gardens. At one point Matt suggested a potential short cut, which he was not sure about. This was not an area to get lost in, after following a tiny over grown trail for an hour and a half we came back to the main track. We figured we had saved about 30 minutes, but we still had another two hours to go with the sun already getting close to the horizon. Between shooting photos, filming some GoPro footage and the slow going because of the technical nature of the trail, we didn’t arrive at our destination until right before sunset. Showers were out of the question, and drinking water had to be filtered. A local family invited us into their primitive home with dirt floors and a fire pit in the middle of the room, where the females of the family were preparing a tasty smelling meal consisting of chicken broth, noodles, potatos and eggs; the same would be served for breakfast the following morning.
After loosing my crown as the undisputed Yahtzee dice champion the night before, I was looking forward to the last leg of our trip, the long downhill to the Hacienda San Antonio – a working cheese farm. The trail reminded me of the old military switch back trails in the Italian Alps from WWII, and the descent just seemed to keep on going.
Back in Antigua we were getting ready to visit The EFTC (Education For The Children) School and meet some of the previous Wheels 4 Life bike recipients, as well as 31 new children that received bikes from us during our stay. Wheels 4 Life is a non-profit charity that provides bicycles to people in need of transportation in Developing Countries. EFTC is a school run by a UK based non-profit charity, providing education, healthcare, nutrition and where needed, psychological council and therapy for kids and families that have undergone traumatic experiences. Further educational support includes University scholarships to set these kids up for real jobs with opportunities to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Many of these families live on less than $1 per day and often three or four children share one small room and one big bed.
I was very chuffed to see Stefan and Tom supporting my cause and being inspired by seeing the situation and hardship these kids are facing. I was also happy to see our project flourishing and succeeding after our initial phase three years ago. It was rewarding to see the bikes put to good use and still running. Some of the students are now attending university with dreams of administrative jobs or work in Guatemala’s growing tourism industry.
For more information on guided Guatemalan tours check out: Oldtown Outfitters. If you want to learn more about Hans' charity click here: Wheels 4 Life. Photos by: Tom Oehler. Check out Hans Rey on Instagram.