The post-Christmas period is a dark time for mountain biking in the UK. Fitness and motivation are low, and the only thing on the menu is muddy slop, liberally garnished with wind and rain. To counteract the depression, we’ve started a tradition of a late winter budget biking adventure. A bikepacking trip to Bulgaria last year certainly ticked the adventure box, although I also have some repressed memories of pushing bikes through some mud to rival anything back in Blighty, and hurriedly donning overtrousers to stop ice forming on my bare shins. So this year we looked further south.

Just now it seems like everyone is disappearing off to Majorca for some sun and skinny tyres. Menorca isn’t as well known as its pointy, roadie-beloved cousin, being more synonymous with upmarket beach holidays. What draws our interest is the Cami des Cavalls, a 200 km walking, riding and mountain biking path that completely encircles the island. There’s a very defined tourist season, direct flights don’t start until after Easter, and many places to eat and sleep are closed. But if we went self-supported and camped wild, none of this would matter. In theory, anyway.

So we find ourselves packing for a fully loaded trip. Our (t)rusty singlespeeds are prepped for action. Tyres are tubelessed. A swanky bike bag is borrowed from the Singletrack offices. Packing lists are made and ticked off. Bagged-up bicycles are weighed with a groan. And, just as I’m wondering how I can drop a bit of weight from my setup, Celia hands me half a kilo of incredibly dense home-baked fruit cake – an imposition that later turns out to be a great move. We also pack swimmers and snorkels, because, even after the coldest Mediterranean winter in years, the sea over there will probably be warmer than it ever gets in the UK.

After the obligatory budget flight, and a ferry crossing seemingly designed to prevent any sleep unless you splash out the extra for a proper cabin, we emerge blinking into a gloriously Technicolour version of the familiar Spanish landscape. There are the usual greys and browns dotted with white houses, but also lush green meadows, towering roadside fennels with bursts of yellow flowers, and pink and purple vetches. Coffee is drunk, packed lunches and dry rations are procured, and we head off into the hills.

As the first off-road climb hits, we realise that bikes with one gear may not be the ideal tool for the job (How many hundreds of times has this observation appeared in bike trip write-ups? I think I just answered my own question). The trail bucks up and down like an angry Loch Ness monster made of pointy rocks, with plenty of loose gravel, wooden steps, and “if I roll this, will I die?” moments. It’s hard work, and not entirely rideable on any bike, especially one laden with camping gear, but at least none of the pushes last more than a few minutes. There are a lot of gates too, although they’re beautifully crafted from waney local timber and close with a nice musical clack.

The first day’s riding is punctuated by a series of small disasters. I tear the end off a drybag while trying to squash my clothes into it. My bar harness loses one of its rubber spacers, and for the remainder of the trip it has to be kept away from my brake cables by Celia’s flannel. My camera mysteriously decides that it no longer recognises its lens, and stops working. And our very first snorkeling session almost ends the trip, as I slip sideways on a green rock shelf, and emerge from the chilly water with a deep cut in my palm. I patch up my hand with steri-strips, and we enjoy a brief explore of an underwater garden of eelgrass, complete with a slightly unnerving encounter with a small but purposeful jellyfish. The trail passes a tonne of beaches, all completely deserted and holiday brochure perfect, and it’s great to have caught a glimpse of the hidden world that lies beneath the languid blue water.

Riding on, the names on the map make us think we might be drawing nearer to a late afternoon ice cream, an end-of-the-day beer, and a fancy restaurant dinner, before we retreat to the woods for the night. When we arrive at the next town though, our hopes are dashed. The houses are shuttered, the supermarket is closed, and the only group of people we see are a gang of workmen building a new pavement. One of them points us towards a bigger town and we dutifully backtrack a mile or two, and find an open bar, but no food. It’s now getting late and we need to find somewhere to camp before it gets completely dark, so we top up our water and retrace our steps.

An abandoned beach bar look promising, but the inside is a mess of rubbish and broken glass. However there’s a small glade of trees just behind it, with a patch of concrete that’s perfect for an outdoor kitchen. We’ve previously stocked up on instant spaghetti carbonara, and it turns out to be surprisingly palatable, particularly when garnished with slices of lomo curado, a horrible-looking alien proboscis of cured pork fillet that I impulse purchased that morning. Breakfast the following morning is the aforementioned fruit cake, and I’m extremely glad that I agreed to carry it. Self-reliance will be a recurring theme over the next few days.

The next day is a mix of flowy clifftop singletrack, gentle green meadows that could be somewhere on the South Downs, and absolutely murderous hike-a-bike up steep rocky switchbacks. It’s relatively cool, but we’ve yet to pass an open shop since the start of the trail 30 miles ago, and the water situation is still a worry. We find regular top-ups but only by coming off the route, filling up at a village pump and a Don Quixote-themed beach bar.

Each section of the trail has its own character, and the craggy hills and lush green valleys of the north give way to a seemingly endless pumice field, 20 miles of continuous rock garden that requires a fair bit of concentration to negotiate. The rocks are the geological equivalent of Mr Han, the knife-handed baddie from Enter the Dragon: I topple sideways onto them in a silly low-speed crash and suddenly I’m bleeding profusely from a myriad of small but nasty cuts. The trail has flattened out a lot but is still rising just enough to make things hard work.

The towns we pass through are still todo cerrado, but we do start to encounter more people, and after a long day we arrive at Ciutadella, Menorca’s main city. It’s a lovely place, with a rambling old town full of beautiful buildings, and it’s an easy decision to linger for a night and top up on civilisation and supplies.

The next day it’s back into the never-ending pumice field. I have one tyre on my bike that isn’t tubeless, and of course I manage to get a succession of pinch flats, even with some very tentative riding. But soon we’re at the south west tip of the island, and there’s even an open tapas bar.

We enjoy a post-lunch swim, although it’s cut short after a seagull takes an interest in our kit. The terrain gets hillier again, and there are some great bashy descents before we’re spat out at Macarella, a stunning natural harbour with cliffs pockmarked by spooky abandoned caves. It’s like a location from The Goonies, and I keep expecting One-Eyed Willie’s galleon to sail around the headland. There are “no camping” signs, and I’d expect to get moved on if we stayed here in summer, but the beach empties as night falls, and we’re able to set up in the woods back from the beach and enjoy the stars as they come out.

The moon is full, and a terrible bark rends the stillness of the night. I realise that it has emanated from the creature next to me in the hammock, and is followed by several more guttural cries, then a request for the cough medicine in her hydration pack. The wash of the ocean has sucked the heat away from the land, and it’s cold even with our down underquilt. Gradually we’re lulled back to sleep by the sea, and a Radio 4 podcast about jazz.

We wake the next morning and the sea is actually steaming as the sun warms it up. We stage a quick bit of contrived radness on the last descent of the previous day, for the benefit of photos, followed by some actual radness on the cliffside paths into the next town. We’ve discovered that although most of the cafes and bars are shut, there’s usually one open to feed the army of workmen who are busy sprucing things up for the coming season. A quick diversion off the trail and we manage to find it, filling up on brunch bocadillos.

The rest of the morning’s riding is hootsome wooded singletrack, interspersed with flip flop retrieval missions as they make multiple bids for freedom. It’s much more rideable than the section round the north of the island, and I even start feeling confident enough to have a lunchtime danger beer. The trail isn’t finished with us yet though, and the next section passes through a steep chalky gorge, with a few pushes that are basically bouldering with bikes.

We slog on and it mellows out into a maze of walled lanes full of orchids and asphodel. Gradually, the landscape becomes more urbanised, the road sections become longer, and the last section is mainly a cruise along beach front streets followed by a bit of road back to Mahon. We are tired, sunburned, salty and sandy: more than ready for one final day at the beach.