The steamy summer heat of Rome justified our plan to make the transition back to the mountains a fast one. We'd clean our entire biking wardrobe, tune the bikes and pack the car for three weeks on the road in less than 48 hours. Our first stop was Kranjska Gora, Slovenia where we'd meet back up with Jon for a trip to explore the Julian Alps.
In camp, the first night that comfortable feeling of being in the mountains returned as it usually does. The pull into any mountain environment has not escaped us and knowing we still have that connection is critical for our mental stability. Spending the night outside in crisp mountain air was a welcome joy but waking to a driving jackhammer at 7 am was not. Camping in Europe takes some extra time to enjoy, but once you get over the tight spaces and lack of privacy, you’ll be fine.
The early wake-up call got the day started off a bit edgy, but by the time we reached the top of our first 4km descent of the day any memory of jackhammering was lost. Gathering beta for any new zone can present a few challenges for riders, and Slovenia wasn't immune to those challenges. With some local and shared advice from Bear (Scotland Guide), we pieced together two outstanding days in the mountains surrounding Kranjska Gora and the Soca Valley. The trails are well designed and worthy of any trail in Europe. The vertical rise of the Julian Alps is impressive, their beauty and size rival the neighboring Dolomiti which makes Kranjska Gora a prime target on any mountain bikers radar.
We know Slovenia is going places in the bike world, and it offers some spectacular riding, but with the limited information we found, two days was going to have to be sufficient enough for our first taste of the countries mountain biking. Before leaving town, we'd meet my buddy Rok who lives in town for a couple of beers and a conversation about the growing local bike community. The popularity of bicycling is rapidly changing, and the community is ready to embrace it. Rok's bike tour company was booked all summer if that’s any indicator of things to come.
Arriving back into Italy to a resort area named Kronplatz where German is the preferred language spoken, and the towns feel more like Austria then Italy, the strange mix of cultures, languages and shifting borders take a back seat to the surrounding Dolomiti. The prior weeks of riding were starting to take hold of our crew, we gladly welcomed a few days of riding with some support of the local cable systems.
Home for the next few days would be in another classic Euro campground in St. Vigil. From here we had access to over 40 km of trail that starts at the top of the Kronplatz, just a short gondola ride away. We ripped, shredded, and destroyed our bikes on trails that seemed to last for hours. The well maintained, machine made trails were a nice mellow change from the rugged routes of Iceland and Scotland. But after two days of long descents, our brakes were in pressing need of some love.
On the way out of St. Vigil, Heidi and I picked up our bikes from a local bike shop. Neither one of us had fully functional brakes so when the chap at the shop said he could do the required maintenance overnight we were elated. The next morning, with our sights set on the next stop on tour in Alta Badia, we quickly paid for and loaded our bikes. To our dismay, by the time we noticed that our brakes weren't professional serviced and my new rims were permanently stained with brake fluid it was too late to get upset. Live and learn. Heidi and I took the risk of leaving them as they were (trust issues) and rode the rest of the trip fearing for our lives.
The accommodations in Corvara had a fantastic view of the Sassongher, level ground, and a host who loved to tell Heidi what to do. This region of the Sud Tyrol was surrounded by the incredible sheer walls of the Dolomiti and is considered an outdoor wonderland. WIth countless kilometers of trails and a lift system that circumnavigates the entire Sella Group, no biker should miss this experience. The alpine terrain is steep, rugged and requires a sure foot where falling isn’t an option. Your mind will tend to wander in the Dolomiti, with each step and new view you're challenged to stay focused as you continually ask yourself if you’ve ever seen anything more outstanding.
Badia was to be Jon’s last stop on the Summer Jam Tour. We’d get one more short day of riding around the local resort trails before the rain would arrive and bring Jon’s trip to a close. Thanks to Jon the laughs were plenty, and we found a new nickname for Heidi, Squizy. (It’s a play on H squared.) Jon was my motivation to stop and actually take pictures of this trip, and even though every capture I took of him was out of focus, we had a great time running our own photo shoots. Thanks for a great time Jon!!! Check out Jon’s awesome photos here: Gately Collection
As the tour ended for Jon, the tour picked up its first cameo appearance by Justin Kleiter. Kleiter is roughneck beatnik who knows how to read and can talk his way into or out of just about anything. He was in Europe for a BMW instructor training course (kinda like a ski instructor for motorcycles) and had some extra time to himself to explore the Alps. He caught up with us in Badia and joined us for a couple choice dinners before he was off again on his hog. Great to see you G, good luck with the new endeavor, you’ll be a great smurf!
Heidi and I took a day off to clean the stink out of our shammies and dry out our camp. Giving us plenty of time to get overcaffeinated and plan the next two days of riding around this gorgeous region of rock. We decided on a risky route around the Sossongher and a day in the Canazei resort area.
We had stared at the Sossongher for days from camp, and when we saw a possible route around the entire mountain, we prepared ourselves for a long, taxing day of riding with who knows how much hike-a-biking. With no real expectations about the riding and with a simple goal to get out in the alpine to explore, we were pleasantly awarded one of our favorite rides of the summer. The route would lead us up one valley to its headwall where we met another trail that traverses strange rock formations that shaped the warped, twisted gullies into a perfect path towards our descent to lunch in the next valley.
Lunch was a well-deserved plate of pasta with a cold apple spritz. This hut had situated itself in the alpine just above treeline but also above a cliff band that stretched across the valley. Stoked we had made it over the tricky part of the ride in good time, we geared up for the descent. Before we dropped into the trail we watch some severe tourist follies go down, one almost resulting in a young girl getting kicked in the face by a bucking colt that was spooked by her grandmother's chihuahua. You can't make this shit up. The drop down from the hut so steep that wood had to be used to frame dirt steps to the bottom. With the rain from the day before to the gangs of hiking seniors, the trail was a mess. We'll leave it at that.
To complete our tour around the Sassongher, we had to endure our most terrifying section of trail of the day. Straight down, wet, rooted, in the forest...with no brakes. We were at the point where if we had gained too much speed descending the trail it was going to be a crapshoot whether or not our brakes would stop us or even slow us down. In short spirts and with a lot of cursing whoever was responsible for our fear, we made it safely to camp for the evening downpour.
Realizing that Canazei was closer than we thought by car, we made the journey over two passes to a tram that would take us to the Col Rodella. The route from the top dove right into a steep straight-lined trail of loose, rutted trail. Thinking we’d made a bad choice (still no brakes), our luck shifted, and we found a fast, flowy trail back to town. Italy was in the books, so the tour continued west for the last two stops in St. Moritz and Davos, Switzerland.
We had saved the best for last. Outside of Italy, Switzerland has been the only country we’ve visited each summer since our move to Europe. I think its obvious to us that after three years, Switzerland is by far our favorite mountain bike destination in Europe. Zermatt, Davos, Arosa, St. Moritz all have it. IT is the experience many alpine mountain bikers yearn for in every ride. That feeling of having an authentic alpine experience on your bike. Along with the great riding, the systems that are in place here are correctly thought out through the mind of a mountain biker. Maps, signage, communication, etc. Are all working in perfect harmony for the best mountain experience anyone wanting to get out into the mountains can have.
Our encore would start in Pontresina, just outside St. Moritz. We ponied up for a couple of nights at the bike-friendly Hotel Palu’, a mountain bikers dream hotel. With standard amenities like free laundry service for your bike gear, breakfast, a bike wash, and accessible tools for just about any repair, how could you go wrong? Well….by choosing to stay the night their celebrating 10 years of business outside your window. Let’s just say the staff at Hotel Palu’ know how to have a good time, but they also know how to take care of their guests when the time arrives.
We had no reason to think St. Moritz was going to lead us astray from CH’s perfect reputation. Like every other place we’ve visited, St. Moritz had more of the same. More of the best trails, trains, trams, and views one would expect from this riding mecca. The Bernina Pass and the long, exciting resort trails of St. Moritz kept us in la-la land for two days. If Davos weren’t waiting, we would have undoubtedly spent the remaining days of our vacation here.
Davos would be the bittersweet final stop of our summer adventures but would give us two of the best rides of the summer. Not having completed the European IMBA Epic Trail last year we had a good reason for a return trip. Redemption. Our first day’s goal was the Epic ride, and the weather was again going to test our will to complete this ride. Through some torrential downpours and questionable route finding we made it to Filsur cold and hungry but stoked on a massive day in the saddle. Our only remaining question at the end of the ride was how the hell had Jon finished this ride days prior without gloves and only a pretzel to eat. Bravo Jon!!! We would have killed each other.
The remaining days in Davos were pure bliss. We explored the many trails we’d missed the year before and found we had lost out on some seriously good times. As the riding continued to impress, our bodies and bikes were beginning to show the signs of the weeks of use. The last evening in camp was spent reminiscing, celebrating, and missing the people and places we had just spent the previous five weeks riding bicycles with. The summer felt complete. Fulfilled. No regrets. All the while reminding ourselves how blessed were we have each other and friends we love to share a passion for merely riding a bike on a mountain.