Passing over the last bumps of the road that goes from the city of Camanducaia (MG) to Monte Verde (MG) I saw a bright moon covered by a mass of heavy lightning clouds glaring in through the car window. The image signals a weekend of wet and slippery trails. To be headed in the right direction to explore the unknown is the feeling that Monte Verde curtails in its web of trails. This was the weekend, planned months ago together with Bruno Gayer, Guto Affonso, Caio Rufino and Rafael Marquez, that was to finally begin.
I was met by Guto in the Centre of Monte Verde on that cold night in the mountains. We set out towards the Meissner-Hof Hotel, which offers everything a mountain biker needs before and after 100-mile rides: cozy accommodations, a plentiful breakfast, and a heated indoor pool for muscle relaxation. Beyond such perks, the manager, Mariana, greeted us with a fine wine upon our arrival. During our chat, Mariana explains, to my pleasant surprise, that while most hotel's policies discourage cyclists from bringing their bikes and sporting goods, the Meissner-Hof welcomes cyclists carrying their equipment.
Guto, one of the founders and guides of the company MTB Monte Verde, assures that the trails in Monte Verde, in addition to exposing breathtaking sceneries and landscapes, are in reach for riders of all ages and skill-levels. Despite the fact that winter tourist destinations like Monte Verde to typically operate on the policy of "sleep-eat-shop-repeat", MTB Monte Verde has been developing the train infrastructure of the surrounding area. Now, together with the Meissner-Hof Hotel, they lead the transformation of the city into an adventure sports destination.
All of the MTB Monte Verde team, made up of Guto Affonso, Marius Alves, Rafael Cruz "Parrera", and Rafael Marquez, are resident bikers and are familiar with every contour of the mountainside engulfing Monte Verde. Their expertise promises a no-nonsense adventure on every outing. With great responsibility and good humor, they are equipped to offer experiences that range from a stroll through the best city sights to a ride of the best-hidden trails in the region.
Returning to our adventure, later that night, Bruno Gayer, the athlete nicknamed "Chupim" and hailing from Bragança Paulista (SP), joined the group. Gayer already has a solid career in the Brazilian mountain biking arena. After competing in the elite downhill for over twelve years, he now shifts to the master's category and enduro discipline. Additionally, the "Chupim" has plans for some behind-the-scenes projects, which include: administering lectures to future riders and founding an institute that would act as a training center to prepare athletes, beyond physical conditioning, by educating them on their legal rights, trail infrastructure and development, and, above all, prep them for international races.
The group's planned route to peddle for the next couple of days was, undoubtedly, drawn around the most extreme paths. Despite rumors of rain for late Friday night, the weather remained stable. Monte Verde has its own micro climate which makes weather forecasting nearly impossible. That night's dark clouds and flickering flashes hovered over the city only until dawn. The sky released a warm, sunny day on Saturday.
We decided to go easy at first so we could get used to the trail style. Early Saturday morning, we rode the lowest city trails. First, we began on Sirigrilo trail, which runs through fields and pines woodland, an area known as Bela Vista farm, or Batatal, located near a residential area. At the top of the hill of the Fazenda trails, there is a motocross track which had been muddied by recent weather—it rained during the previous week, and formed a big puddle in one of its corners, while thick and deep mud blocked the ride at other sections. However, a single slope with a large tabletop in the last third sufficed for a good 12-minutes of an action-packed adrenaline rush. Bruno rode a DH bike and Guto rode an enduro-specific mountain bike. While the first worked hard on putting that big piece of metal in the right place, the second exercised more sensitivity to not crush seemingly fragile bike into pieces, which ended up holding well on the large jumps.
The ride through the Fazenda Bela Vista continued until after one in the afternoon when our water dried up and the mischievous mountain weather darkened the sky with a handful of dark clouds. Already pretty hungry, we headed to a churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse) on the main street of the little town. Keep that name: Rancho da Picanha. Steak. Do I need to say more? There, we met with Rafael Marquez's wife, who joined for three generous rounds of juicy steak with all the trimmings. As soon as the friendly waiters put the food on the table, it was clearly written on all of our faces, an implicit "that's too much food"—but we managed to even lick our plates clean by lunch's end.
We chatted over an espresso to avoid that post-feast drowsiness before heading out to the beautiful landscapes of one more of many secret trails. The path, although not very physically demanding, requires a consistent climb through the roads that branch off through the mountains. After a bit of a hike-a-bike, we arrived at a view of the entire valley with the city nestled inside and the "sea of hills" that covers the entire horizon. It was the perfect time for a brief free ride session in the rocky mountainside that towered against a breathtaking sunset. As night fell, the MTB Monte Verde team transported us back to the hotel for a hot bath.
On this same Saturday night, Caio Rufino, another Bragança Paulista athlete, joined the group. Curiously enough, no one was late for the Meissner-Hof's happy hour: with drinks and appetizers served at the bar and a comfortable lounge to relax in at the end of a long day of biking. By now, Caio could only listen to the stories that Guto, Rafael and Chupim, accompanied by Mariana, inspired by the drinks, made a point to tell him about the unique experiences on the trails of the day. Caio's eyes glittered, but we knew that the following day would promise news stories to be lived and worth telling.
On Sunday morning, still under the haze of the previous night's happy hour, we decided to start on easy trails nearby. We put the "bike friendly" promise of the hotel to the test by doing some urban downhill training in their external areas. The obstacles were already in place. In fact, soon, the hotel is to offer besides coziness, a downhill urban race on the property.
Then, we went to Platô Trail, probably Monte Verde's most famous, and, therefore, the one requiring greater attention and an easygoing disposition from the riders since there is some light traffic of trekkers. Next, we headed toward the top of Serra da Mantiqueira and entered the deep trails of the Atlantic Rainforest. These paths are the epitome of what I understand mountain biking to be: steep terrain, rock gardens with a subtle touch of slime, small drops, slippery surfaces, traction for high-speed, stones, mud, creeks, gravel, roots, many moist roots. It is enough. These terms are sufficient for any mountain biker who breathes mountain air to be aware of what we are talking about here."The tracks are highly entertaining, with the right ratio between aggressiveness and safety, (well-balanced) by the speed you ride"
- Caio Rufino.
The last trek of our journey was the result of a project conceived and administered by Guto Affonso. The trajectory named the "New Zealand Connection", has unique characteristics referencing the name. It transposes lands and permeates over the innermost layer of an exquisite tropical vegetation. Composed of huge ferns, orchids, bromeliads, lichens, mosses, shrubs and rare trees, at long last, across a variety of unique species that can only be observed in higher altitudes of the Mantiqueira massifs, it is a singletrack of switchback turns through the mountains. The action peaks in the trek's final meters where the Rio do Cadete snakes under the bike. This is the moment when the cyclist should ride in narrow bridges, about eight inches wide, just like in the circus, it puts the nerves to the test. It is a section that requires self-control and training of the senses.
The challenge starts with a short bridge about 2 meters extension. Then comes another short bridge (a little longer and higher, the adrenaline here hits stronger). The last one is rated expert level. There is no negotiating—you must go for it, or you must go for it. It is more than 20-meters long and to be ridden with no chances to stop. Chupim made the first attempt, unsuccessfully. A slow pace unbalanced him and caused him to drop off at 2 meters high and go crashing into shallow river waters. Fortunately, he was unhurt but added some bruises to those that already throbbed from an accident he suffered during the Descida das Escadas de Santos Race a week earlier. Guto, the guide of the adventure, looked at the bridge, focused on the momentum and kept pedaling: he did what had to be done. He finished with a manual steering in the final meters of the crossing.
The next challenge was to make a proper lunch order at the Paulo das Trutas Restaurant. Among a variety of options, they offer: grilled trout with almonds, and a myriad of other fish recipes. There is no better location for a restaurant dedicated to serving delicious dishes for starving cyclists after a long journey. The pleasant spot is located, quite literally, at the end of the trail. The unanimous choice was the house specialty, "Truta no Papelote": slow baked trout, with sliced olives, mushrooms, capers, tomatoes, green peppers, and butter.
With the weekend coming to an end, it was about time for each one of us go back home. In total, we rode about 25km of trails and accumulated approximately 1.900 m of elevation on each day of planned route.
The infrastructure, the properties and the natural features of the city of Monte Verde define it as a kind of lost bridge connecting people to one of the best mountain biking regions, for both competitive and leisure rider, in Brazil. It is no wonder why these trails, and many others that we couldn't put in the script, were the stage of one of most difficult and feared rounds of Montanhas Race's Enduro event in 2016.
Additionally, there are some services we recommend to help save you time planning your next trip. Or your next adventure.
MTB Monte Verde
Address: Monte Verde, MG, Brazil.
Hotel Meissner hof
Address: Travessa da Pedra, n°2, Monte Verde, MG, Brazil.
Rancho da Picanha Steakhouse
Address: Monte Verde Ave, n°1040, Monte Verde, MG, Brazil.
Paulo das Trutas Restaurant
Address: Floresta St, n°810, Monte Verde, MG, Brazil.
words & photography: Adilson Martins