We hadn't put together a complete weekend of riding in a while. After another kind suggestion from Alisa that we should join a new bike friend, Dario, for a ride in the Gran Sasso on Sunday we had some direction for the weekend. I sent out a quick text out to the Rome Bike Gang for some opinions on a couple areas in Abruzzo and it was decided.
Saturday morning we made the easy hour and a half to Campo Felice for some hot laps off the chairlift. Heidi had been here over the winter and really enjoyed the ski area. She was excited to make a return trip without snow. I found myself impressed with the wide valleys and tall, steep mountains surrounding Campo Felice. This area is an untapped goldmine for bike trails but there doesn't seem to be any interest in doing that at the moment. So we'll ride the park.
The vibe at Campo Felice was perfect for a day of hot laps. Nice and chill, no ego. The bike park is made up of about 5 or 6 trails that intertwine with each other down the hill. We sampled them all and spent the majority of our 7 or 8 laps on a fast and flowy trail with plenty of variation to keep it interesting. Most of the trails here offer a good time and they all have manmade features peppered in for those who feel like hucking their meat. I have to say the dirt was some of the best we've ridden here in Italy. We shared the park with about 30 other riders throughout the day and always had the trails to ourselves while we were riding.
Something I'd like to see at these small bike parks is a better mix of trails for all abilities. Mostly the intermediate rider. I think builders should focus on building the trail for they clientele and develop the trails with features for the "pros" in the area. I saw a lot of great terrain here that could be made into a fantastic park but it seems that the builders have made the majority of the park for experts who don't show up. My opinion is that parks should build within the terrain they have to produce a trail system and build trails everyone will ride. Not multiple jump lines and expert trails only one person rides a day. My two cents.
We both really enjoyed our time running hot laps. It was a welcome change to be able to ride trails over and over without any other distractions. Being on our bike all day was what we needed to get back to that solid feeling of riding a bike. Being weekend warriors now, pulling the bikes out once or twice a week doesn't always allow one to feel particularly comfortable on a bike. In hindsight, it was a great set up for Sunday's rough ride.
Deciding to stay in L'Aquila for the night to alleviate the early morning drive back up to Fonte Cerreto worked out pretty well. Although on our way down to our B&B we got the call that our room was not available due to an electrical issue in the building. No worries, they had a room in a nice quaint hotel in town booked for us. But the electrical issues seemed to be following us. Our first room had an A.C. unit that wouldn't run so after a great dinner on the terrace we moved into a new room for a cool nights sleep.
Dario, Simone, and Filippo pulled in right behind us as we parked in Fonte Cerreto on Sunday morning. Dario is a character and always seems stoked to ride his bike. I wasn't sure who we were riding with today but the crew grew quickly when suddenly everyone in the parking lot knew Dario. I don't' think Dario was expecting to see any of these people and was a bit frustrated with a number of folks in the group. Oh well. Let's ride.
We loaded the Funivia Gran Sasso for the 1000 meter bump to the upper valley of Campo Imperatore. The 100 person tram car was full of bikers and hikers. At the top, the view was incredible. High alpine peaks everywhere. Our route for the first half of the day could be seen from here and we were stoked to see what laid ahead of us. Heidi and I immediately felt the pull of the mountains. A feeling we've missed greatly and one that also put us in a great mood for the day.
It's obvious this trial was built with hiking in mind. Whether you're hiking with a backpack or bike or your back the environment is too beautiful to focus on the negative. Besides, we've come to terms with the whole carrying your bike thing. We were ready for an adventure. We started off traversing a bit on the bikes then we'd carry the bikes a while and so on. But for some reason, it all just worked. There were never any thoughts of disappointment or questioning if this was biking or not. Once we made the summit of Monte Aquila all was good and it was time to let rowdy.
The trail across the western ridge of Mone Aquila was super rowdy with sections of solid rock, loose rock and with the lack of dirt up here in the alpine there was plenty of "choose your own adventure" type riding. Both Heidi and I really enjoyed this section. Even with our first experience with loose rock that was deep (think of it as riding down a giant gravel pile), we had a blast. Our Maestro of Biking, Dario, had a scary trip over his handlebars and would be calling it quits when we reached the top. He had had a bad wreck here years ago and was flown off the mountain by helicopter with multiple injuries, I'm sure he was happy calling it a day.
Pedaling back to the top of the tram on pavement took about 45 minutes. Still in a good mood, it didn't phase us. We were still amped from the morning and looking forward the next big descent. It didn't take long for us to be ripped back into reality on this last descent. It started off really nice. The trail traversed just below the southern aspect of a ridgeline which would connect with a newly scared avalanche path. The trail through the avy path was where is got a bit gnarly or should I say... loose. To get back down to treeline and the heat we had to make our way down tons of short switchback covered in....you guessed it. Loose rock. It was a real test of controlling your bike. Braking on this kind of surface is almost useless. This type of trail is without a doubt the scariest riding for me. For Simone and Filippo it was just more mountain biking and they crushed the hell out of the trail. I'm still in awe to see folks ride this loose rock so confidently. Nice work boys!
Once we hit treeline the trail ran out a little longer between switchbacks and became much more enjoyable. This trail had been closed earlier this summer due to the amount of debris an avalanche left behind. Seeing the results of a giant avalanche that happened this winter was impressive. Huge snapped trees were littered everywhere as root balls dotted the ground and were even wedged meters off the ground in trees less affected by the slide. Definitely a historic slide.
We found Dario enjoying a couple of beers in the shade after we packed up the car. We wandered over to have a quick one before heading back to Rome. As we were recapping the ride Dario asked me if I had enjoyed the ride. I did, I liked the challenges it posed and the adventure of being in alpine terrain. His response to the same question was a little different. "That trail is shit. It's not for mountain biking. I'm done with Gran Sasso", he said. We laughed together and I could understand how being flown off this same trail and experiencing another close call would cause someone to respond like that. I have to give him a ton of credit, I probably wouldn't have even given it a second chance. Go on ya Dario!
**** I've added a new Strava block on our main page. It's just below the Instagram block on the right-hand side of the page. You'll find maps and details of this ride and our future ride there. Enjoy! ****