What the hell just happened? How did an 8 day stay in Livigno just about come to an end? It seems like so recently that we arrived in Livigno, anticipating epic rides, amazing food, crazy Italians, thin air and mountain scenery. For the most part – Livigno delivered. While we didn’t have seven days of warm sunshine, that is a lot to expect in any mountain environment especially at the end of summer and start of autumn.
But still, something is missing.
On this visit to Livigno, I never moved myself out of my comfort zone. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do here, in the mountains. I wanted to be able to push myself, to question decisions I’d made, to find myself in a valley (figuratively and literally) with my only option being to ride out of it.
Imogen mentioned on day two that I had grand visions of coming and doing epic rides – bulk training! And in essence, that was true. I have had a little over a week off from work, with accommodation booked, maps on hand, and routes in my head. I wanted to suffer, I wanted to ride through lunch, making it to a rifugio for food or snacks, before getting myself through those two final passes to get home.
And I guess you’re wondering – why do I want to do that. Mountain biking is so diverse now, and really the whole idea of suffering for it is a bit passe. I’ve already had someone remind me this week that there are chairlifts to access some of the trails we have been riding. I know that. That’s just not where my passion lies.
When I started mountain biking, I was also dabbling in rock climbing and general other Outdoor Things. I loved the idea of alpinism, the exploits of modern climbers pushing new routes, or summer routes in winter, in the Alps, Antarctica, South America, the Himalayas. The sense of achievement must have been immense. I remember reading a National Geographic about a winter ascent somewhere, with the climbers shoving plastic bottles of warm water into their crotch in their sleeping bag while trying to bivvy, shivering through the night. They calculated that by carrying 6 less energy gels they could take a file to keep their tools sharp on the mixed route, climbing to be faster. Climbing safer. Climbing better. They made huge sacrifices to succeed, and didn’t mind putting themselves in a place of highly calculated risk.
I’ve done some climbing, and some mountaineering. But I’m not really made for super exposure, and I don’t fancy such precise navigation, and I never remembered ALL the knots. But mountain biking – that was fun. That was easy to do more of. And I did a lot more, since about 2003 when I figured I could always go back to the mountains to do some sort of climbing. To this day, any visit somewhere high has me looking up, quickly realising I’d be shitting myself to be up there- but in awe of the exploits of climbers and alpinists past and present.
And so, Livigno Day Seven
With a mildly better weather forecast for today, I cleaned and prepped our bikes last night. Chains were degreased, a fresh coat of Ride Mechanic Bike Syrup was added, shock pressures checked, pads had the glaze rubbed off (on concrete) and I tuned the pressures on Imogen’s tyres. She’s running an Aspen front and Rekon Race rear, with Tubolito Tubes on the EIE Carbon wheels we had built. I’ll have more details on those wheels soon – but DT Swiss hubs, 25mm internal width, regular spokes and nipples and 1290g. Yep – those are a good mix.
I wanted to crush a huge route today. I wanted to really set off and make something big happen. Over to the Stelvio? Or Up the Val Viola and back up the Bernina Pass? Maybe to Doss Radond and over the Offenpass? That was weighed up with Imogen also wanting to go for a good ride – and I’d much rather share a good trail ride with my wife than head out on some sufferfest alone.
So I proposed a route – up the Alpisella, around the lakes of Cancano, past the towers, along the old railroad grading that was there to build the dams (thus maintaining an altitude of more than 1700m all day) and then back over via Trepalle, probably via Foscagno. About 60-65km most likely. Not crazy – not too hilly. But fun.
And it was good, it was cold. We worked into it, with a 20 minute effort from the bridge past some goats and onto Alpisella. We loved the singletrack descent. We cruised past the lakes, warming up a little.
We rode past the towers di Fraele, ancient fortresses on the route of salt and wine that stretched from the Valtellina to Salzburg (or something like that, I’m not Wikipedia).
The sun warmed us as we looked up the Val Viola, and when it was time to climb up the double track and bike trail to Foscagno, the rain set in. Cold, soaking rain. The climbed dragged up, pretty steep. And we both got slower, and Imogen was clearly having trouble in the cold. While we mostly dressed for the cold, dressing for wet and cold is different. We don’t have those nifty waterproof over shorts or trousers. The big booties, waterproof gloves and helmet cover.
The route continued over the pass, sticking to a trail above the road and dropping into the trail system below Trepalle. But that’s not what we did. We pulled into a hotel, and ordered lunch. Imogen was frozen – we needed a new plan.
It was a good lunch. They staff were friendly, if not curious. Don’t they get mountain bikers here? Or foreigners? Or any cyclists? It does always amaze me the incredible capacity to look that many Europeans have. Southern Germany (or the Black Forest anyway) still wins in that regard.
I had to get Imogen home and after lunch, the rain had just about stopped, leaving us with wet roads. We buzzed down the Foscagno on wet roads, soaked through our summer weight bibs in seconds. We ducked into the bottom of Trepalle and found the bottom of the valley, to an unmarked trail I was certain would go through, saving any more climbing, and putting us at the lake at Livigno.
We had a few creek crossings, but it was the fastest, and most downhill way back.
So here I am. Happy to have been riding. Happy to climb up to the Foscagno a new way. But I’m disappointed – deeply. I yearn for the ache of sore legs when I roll over in bed. I want that uncertainty of whether I’ll get back before dark, after leaving about 10am. I wanted the sense of adventure of just following a trail, and figuring out where I was when reaching the end of it. I wanted to wonder whether I could truly ride the descent infront of me, given a state of fatigue and not really knowing where it went. I wanted the ‘safe’ exploration and ‘safe’ suffering that this middle class sport can give. I wanted to ride trails with reckless abandon, and figure out how to get home when I wasn’t having fun anymore, when I’d seen everything that made me curious, and knew what lay up every small valley.
And I guess what hurts the most is the fact I could have done that. On our first day I could have headed out again – there was at least 6 hours of daylight remaining. I could have pedalled through the swelling of hitting my knee in a silly crash on day two. But I didn’t. I played it safe – and I regret that. TrainingPeaks says I’ve come out fitter, with about 16hrs over the 7 days. But that’s just a bigger week while working at home. I wanted 25-30 hours. I wanted to crawl into the car tomorrow, a broken man, fill up the tank with duty free petrol and make my way back to Switzerland.
It’s back to work tomorrow (it’s ok, my job is pretty cool) and some long hours for a week at Lenzerheide. But I wanted to head there having had my fill of my own riding.
Next time Livigno. Next time.