6TH INTERNATIONAL YETI GATHERING
Words by: Chris Conroy
On the heels of 2020, we thought the pandemic would be in the rearview window by the end of last year, but it still had a tight grip on the world and we were looking at potentially canceling another Yeti International Gathering. It didn’t feel right. We got with the crew at H&I Adventures to find a place where we could all leave the pandemic behind and just ride our bikes. And then the mountain bike gods smiled, a small window opened, and we made the break to an island in the Atlantic known for its wine, seafood, and epic riding – Madeira.
Many are familiar with Madeira from the Enduro World Series stops in 2017 and 2019. It’s an island territory of Portugal, but sits significantly further south of the mother country off the coast of Morocco. Its southern location makes the island temperate and nice year around.
It's also the home of John Fernandes, a pioneer who had a “Field of Dreams” type vision about mountain biking and started building trails on the steep mountains that surrounded his home. What started as a single trail is now a sprawling network that includes steep, wet, technical trails on the north side of the island, dusty trails through eucalyptus trees on the south, and the sunny flowing trails in the west.
John runs a company called Freeride Madeira, which organizes mountain bike tours on the island, is HQ for their content and media productions and has a cool bike shop, stocked with riding essentials and cold post-ride beers in the fridge.
Our crew first met at the hotel in Funchal next to the bike shop and included over twenty Yeti freaks from around the world. It’s always fun to meet the diverse cadre of mountain bikers that show up for these events. The stoke is typically high the first night, but the newcomers are always a bit unsure about the terrain and how things will unfold during the trip.
The first day, we loaded up the vans and literally climbed into the clouds. The temperate, sunny beach temperature was replaced by a wet fog, and people started adding layers before we got out of the van.
We warmed up on a relatively easy trail but as we dropped into the first technical descent, it was no joke. Slick, technical and rowdy – as Euan said “more slippery than a dolphin covered in baby oil”… This is the point in a trip where the group typically fractures – the fast racer types push to the front and the less aggressive riders pull up the rear. That happened for a bit, but there was the quick realization that everyone could rally on two wheels and the pecking order was not important. The crew was simply stoked to be riding with people who were having as much fun as they were.
The following days we rode epic terrain and two days before our trip ended, we finished at the famous Maktub Pub, a surfer bar that sits on the beach on the west side of the island. We started with mojitos, moved too enthusiastically into caipirinhas, and next thing you know, the owner of the pub is nailing a Yeti flag to the ceiling of the bar. Big night, that one…
The trip wrapped up with dinner in a refurbished house overlooking the ocean, owned by Roberto Chaves, John’s business partner. As the mountains of food arrived family style to the huge farm table, people laughed, shared stories and pictures. The kitchen was run by Roberto’s parents and they generously allowed us to walk in, mingle and see the magic happen first-hand. There was also a small bar next to the wood-fired oven that kept everyone hydrated and happy.
As we finished our final meal together, we toasted the group and agreed the trip was special because it wasn’t about the bike or even the trails (both are obviously great). It was about the people who showed up. We rode, wrecked, laughed at each other wrecking, shared stories, and marinated our wounds and sore bodies with beers afterwards. It was mountain biking paradise. And when it was all done and we were saying our goodbyes, we pledged to do it again next year.
Here’s to next year.
Big thanks to John, Euan, Chris (the Bear), and all the Yeti freaks who made this event so special.