Just over a week ago we embarked on our epic, three week mountain bike trip through Italy and Switzerland. We packed the car up with just about everything we own, leaving the apartment in Rome almost completely empty and the car completely full. As we headed toward Venice on the tollway we almost lost the bikes and the bike rack off the roof of the car. So we were on the right track for a bike trip, lose the most important things we own in the first hour. Luckily I had done some tightening of the rack before we left which ended up saving us. After some roadside maintenance we were off again for Cortina.
Cortina was a long day of driving from Rome but well worth it. The Dolomites are absolutely stunning and neither of us had ever laid eyes on these wonders of nature. After deciding to camp in Cortina due to huge hotel costs, we found our campground and headed into town. Where we did some serious gaping and had a wonderful dinner of local fare and wine. We are really loving the different local foods that change not only from region to region but town to town. From the beet stuffed pasta to the carne di salada, everything has been made to perfection.
We had a great nights sleep on our new Big Agnes sleeping pads (small plug for a sleeping pad that blows a Paco out of the water) we headed into town for our normal coffee and corinetti. We decided upon looking at our maps and apps we'd ride off the top of one of the many trams in the area. Bad idea. We got our asses kicked AND our teeth kicked in. Welcome to alps riding I guess. We ended up walking down a nice, 35 degree trail with loose gravel, sharp switchbacks, and large boulders for almost 2 hours. Following some slipping, sliding, falling, and cursing, we made our way to the much appreciated bike path back to town. Sorry no pics from this ride, I'm sure you can figure out why.
We decided we hadn't had enough torture and loaded the tram again for a different trail that started at the mid load station of the tram and would take us to another part of the ski area where we'd load another chair and descend for 15km back to town. After a much more enjoyable ride that only included a 20 minute walk pushing our bike uphill to the start of the trail, we made it to the rifugio at the top and the skies opened up. This was something we had quickly forgotten living in Rome a short time. Mountain weather. Elevation, cold rain, wind, etc. A couple beers/wines later at the rifugio we thought we'd just down load the chairlift we came up and battle back to town on the pavement. Great idea, only if you were allowed to down load with the bikes. No bikes are downloaded. So that decision was quickly made for us and we started down along the national park boundary on a double track which ended up being super fun and fast. It also stopped raining for the remaining portion of the ride to town, which we quickly thanked the mountain biking gods for.
The next few days in Cortina we battled with the rain. We got a couple incredible rides/tours in on the days that the weather allowed us to. I was quickly learning that riding in the alps didn't just consist of riding single track to and from a trailhead. Riding here is a mix of just about every type of mountain biking you can think of. Single track, double track, forest roads, paths, downhill, uphill, pushing your bike, carrying your bike, riding chairlifts. As soon as you're good with that, you'll quickly fall in love with what these mountains have to offer.
Finishing up our time in Cortina we had some amazing rides that pieced together amazing views, multiple beautiful mountain huts, cow pastures, deadly downhill courses, and a lot of learning about how the area is ridden. We finally decided on a route that would take us around a section of national park that was to have the most amazing views along with 40km of trail and a guaranteed good nights sleep. But the rain wouldn't let up. After four nights of camping in the rain we opted for a hotel on the last night and if it was clear in the morning we'd get this ride in. No such luck. More rain and obscured skies lead us to make a change and head to the Val di Sole for more riding in the Dolomites and a chance at better weather.
We arrived in the Val di Sole with the weather breaking and a positive view on riding the next day in the Brenta group of Dolomites. We tried to squeeze in an evening ride after we got to our campground that night. It was more like a crushing road climb to choosing your own adventure back to camp before the rain. Live and learn.
Our campground was great but a bit quirky. Every evening this loud symphonic music would come on from who knows where and an announcement would follow in both Italian and English. The first night was bingo, wine tasting the next and a dance party for the last. It felt like we were in this weird overnight camp. I guess we were but it was a bit creepy.
For the next day's ride we hired a guide to show us the area and WOW. This valley was out of this world with a mix of dolomites and high alpine mountains with glaciers and waterfalls. Our guide for the day was Alessandro (Ale) who grew up in this area and he was stoked to show a couple Americans his back yard. We did a quick run through one of the many ski areas in this area to "make sure" we could ride the technical portions of the planned ride through the Brenta. We passed and Ale was impressed. Our ride started from the top of the gondola down to the cheese makers farm (who Ale of course knew) then an hour grunt up to a restaurant for lunch before another gondola ride to the 4 hour downhill. Of course the weather obscured the views a bit but the ride was amazing. It was technical, steep, fast, flowy and just all around amazing.
For dinner each night while in the Val di Sole we didn't want to eat at a restaurant but at the same time we didn't have any way to cook. So we found this quiet place that did hot food you could carry out. No not McDonald's. It was such great home cooked food. Local mushrooms, chicken, potatoes, green beans that where insanely good, lasagna to die for, and roasted tomatoes. After our days of riding this and some warm beer and vine, really hit the spot.
The next day we rode some more chairlifts and over 25km's of mixed trails from Passo Tonale to the surrounding towns. It was unbelievable the ground you can cover in Val di Sole. This area has hosted the World Championships in many mountain biking disciplines over the years. The world champs for downhill are here again in September.
We woke up on Sunday to thunder and lighting. The thunder was so strong it was shaking the ground we were sleeping on and then the sound would echo for a few seconds off the surrounding valleys. I guess it was a sign for another move. We had seen the forecast and knew that Sunday was going to be a travel day to Livigno. Another mountain bike mecca.
Just a reminder. I took lots of photos while in Cortina and Val di Sole. So click on the Flickr icon at the bottom the page for more photos of our first week of fun. I also left out some ride details for the sake of not sitting in this bar any longer than needed. Please don't hesitate to post questions for more details. I'll try harder next time. Love you all!!!