There are a thousand sayings which compare life to a journey. Sometimes it takes a literal journey to encourage yourself to self-reflect enough to see truth rather than cliché in these words.
The story of mountain biking’s positive effect on us isn’t new, but it never grows tiresome. The area I call home isn’t known the world over as a mountain biking mecca. The low elevation, surprisingly impenetrable rocky lumps we call mountains, and general lack of interest in all things outdoors doesn’t lend itself to a thriving mountain bike club. Despite the fact that the cards are stacked against us, such a club exists. And like many of the clubs/teams/friends around the world, like-minded people are brought together. In my case, the somewhat unusual love of hoisting a bicycle onto my back and picking my way up an east coast boulder field with the hope of finding gem-like trail back down was shared with John Parker. I had been riding with John for a year or so, exploring the endless network of trails that weave through the small hills to the north and east of NYC when the opportunity arose to join him and his twin brother, Jesse, on a unique trip to the heart of the Italian Dolomites. Like all good stories, it started by me saying “Yes.”Yes, I’ll fly across the world with you and your identical twin brother that I’ve never met, to spend days looking for similar gems similar to what we’ve been seeking here in the USA."
We spent an evening or two running our fingers over maps, trying to identify good routes. Although, I’ll have to admit I was still playing the role of yes-man rather than shot-caller. If John thought it was a good idea, who was I to disagree? The first few days were planned out and a handful of other rides were identified. It seemed like less planning than one would normally do when traveling to another country, but I had already settled into my role. “Sure, sounds good!”
|It seemed like less planning than one would normally do when traveling to another country, but I had already settled into my role. "Sure, sounds good!" |
Fitting in a full-sized adventure in the fold of a full-time corporate job, keeping up with the house, and spending time with the lady isn’t easy. We elected to start the trip off with a half day at the office. It’s amazing how much work you can get done when you have a hard deadline. We should all probably work harder, and less. After cramming what felt like a weeks worth of work into a few hours we jumped on the train to the airport where we met the other Parker twin, Jesse. Leading up to this point I had a bit of trepidation about being a third wheel to these two brothers. After a few overpriced airport beers served by a sour robot, it was clear that these fears were unfounded. This was going to be a good trip.
After the disorienting saga of dragging bike boxes through stations, trains, and ports, fitfully sleeping on a trans-Atlantic flight, and driving a boxy white rental up into mountains we reached our first stop, Badia. We rolled up just as the late sun gapped the deep valley, slamming itself into the stark white cliffs of Monte Cavallo. We excitedly built our bikes and headed up towards this beacon of stone.
The warm up ride had the group laughing and hooting. Corners were blown as we adjusted to our new terrain. I was impressed with the variability of the short ride, from a loose gravel path tucked under a massive cliff, to dark loamy forest trails where the trees reached in to tug at your arms, finally to open high-speed pastures full of fresh Kuhscheisse where we enjoyed the final rays of sun.
|The weather was projected to be perfect for the foreseeable future, so we elected to attempt our highest and longest route. We packed up for a three day trip into the mountains.|
After reaching our first Rifugio, we agreed that we had enough gas in the tank to do an evening ride. A relatively tame looking loop presented itself. After ditching some gear and grabbing the map, we headed up. The climb was brutal. We expected to be pushing and carrying but had no idea the trail would be a series of head-high steps that stretched up and on to near infinity. There were more than a few suggestions of turning back.
As we reached the summit of our loop, the terrain thankfully changed and now appeared to be more of the bike heaven that we had hoped for.
| It was hard to believe that only a century ago war raged in this beautiful basin, as is evident by the remaining shrapnel and fading fortifications. After a brief stop to reflect on the changes that this basin has seen throughout history, we continued on our descent to the inviting Rifugio below. |
The following day would have us continuing to follow the footsteps of soldiers from the great war. We ground our way up an old military supply route to the top of Monte Vallon Bianco, where we explored some extremely stout military fortifications.
|To say the ride back down was exposed wouldn't adequately describe it. Even now, as I write this, my hands are becoming sweaty.|
As the trail became tamer and the consequences of a fall went from certain death to probable death, our greasy fingers released their death grip on the brake levers. The joy of ripping down trail in the pristine alpine smothered and melted the toxic fear that had locked up my veins only minutes before.
The morning sun found us paying for our 1000 meter drop from the day before. Up and out of the valley, back into the rolling green pastures of Sennes, with stops for espresso whenever possible. The higher we went the more dreamlike the day became. Every bit of the land begged to be ridden and explored.
By mid-day, we had reached our targeted ridgeline, a spot where we could gaze down on the path that had led us to this point. This ridgeline also allowed us to peer into our future as we saw our trail race down and out towards the village below. Being from an area where all of the trails hide beneath a tangled web of knotty trees, the ability to stop time and look forward and back on a trails length added to the feeling of significance. This effort, this time, these people were more than the sum of their parts.
The trail down to St. Vigilio was the stuff of dreams. Everything a natural trail could have, it had.
The next few days seemed to blend together as we found a rhythm. Our bodies quickly becoming accustomed to the physical challenge every day. Our minds relishing in the realization that our bodies were quite happy to indulge.
Although the three of us call America home, we had a connection to a local Italian Mountain Bike Guide with the name of Matze based in the Vinschgau valley of Northern Italy. Matze runs Vinschgaubike.com and is essentially the Don of mountain biking in Northern Italy - exactly the man you want to be riding with. We all agreed that what seemed like an ill-advised trip west to meet this enigmatic man was a great idea.
We had a few sketchy details as to where he could be found, and trusted that he would lead us to some prime riding. We drove into the night to Santa Caterina, where we were warmly greeted with food and drink by a welcoming group. The conversation was difficult to follow as I speak no German, and that was the language of choice. I was informed that the weather was of concern, there was expected to be low snow the next two nights.
We woke to cold rain and a snow line just below the low clouds. There seemed to be some discussion about keeping our bikes in the rack for the day. I was disheartened. Fortunately a couple of Germans were able to rally the group into waiting shuttles for a ride up into the snow. As usual once we were riding there was no concern for the rain and snow. We put this on repeat for the remainder of the day.
That evening, there was even more discussion of cold and snow on tap for the mountains. The grappa was flowing and we hadn’t been stopped by weather today, so we slept easy. The sound of the rain eased through the night. As we looked up in the morning we saw a crisp blue sky and freshly covered hills. Our shuttle took us up to Rifugio Bonetta, unfortunately, the snow and rain had turned the trail to smooth ice. We were forced to take the road back down.
The tour group was departing, we headed back over Passo Stelvio to the Vinschgau valley where we would spend the next two days riding shuttles on prime, purpose-built single track with Matze.
The next morning we lost Jesse to reality, he had to get back to work. We dropped him off in Bolzano and headed back up into the mountains for one last ride before calling it quits. We picked an aggressive unaided loop starting from Passo Pordoi.
Jesse, John and Keenan are three friends who rely on their rugged good looks to carry them through dicey situations. John likes taking photos of cats, Keenan builds machines for world domination and Jesse engineers the shit out of your favorite bike components.
|The trip back to the states was as uneventful as can be hoped for. Although the comparison of life to a journey doesn't elicit thoughts of stillness, solitude, and self-reflection I would argue that these things are integral in our journey. As I sat on the plane high above the seemingly still waters of the North Atlantic I thought of all that fell into place for this opportunity to present itself and how grateful I was that it had. I'm happy to still have bikes in my life, and can't wait to see where they lead me on my journey. |