THE GLOVES ARE OFF
We swiftly move through small towns North of Vicenza and we dive into another creek; even this one is always dry, the riverbed is a mixture of medium rocks and gravel and at the right floating speed the bike runs fast as if on a normal dirt-road; however, one must stay alert: a big rock, an illegally downloaded block of cement or a fallen tree on the riverbed could be lethal obstacles.
The creek flows into a river and the visual impact is spectacular: after kilometers in a narrow tunnel of gravel, steep grassy banks and sometimes wintry bare trees, the view opens into an immense desert of shingles. Here each one of us follows his own path, wading the river’s rivulets that hardly flow amongst the rocks, crossing rocky islands generated by forking waters, jumping over or climbing the drops created by the furious currents of floods.
To the participants’ joy, we finally see the end of the flatland, of canals and ditches, switching to a more natural ground for enduro: hills and mountains with their mule tracks and trails. The first kilometers in the woods are on soft ground, with a lot of mud and dirt, narrow muddy trails where traction is iffy and the times a foot saves from a disastrous skid and potential fall are countless. Unfortunately, the group scatters and we lose some time to reassemble. Some strategic shortcuts help us to arrive at the trattoria in Passo Zovo right on time for warm sandwiches, beer and a slice of torta della nonna (a type of Italian cake). It goes without saying that the group is as generous with the throttle as it is with beer!
THE ROLLING STONES
The sun, before setting behind the Piccole Dolomiti (small Dolomites), dimms behind some light clouds; in this delightfully freezing wintry atmosphere we start for the Rolling Stones; as the saying goes, downhill even stones roll, and even more so bikes. The first trail takes directly into the riverbed of a creek with black lava rocks nicely slimed by fresh spring water; zero traction, wheels slipping on every rock and lactic acid flowing inside biceps under strain.
From the valley floor we climb to the top on easy dirt-trails but soon it’s time for downhill again; we cross a big abandoned quarry, an enormous scar, a rotten cancer in the center of the valley; the landscape is unattractive, but it can only appeal to the adventurous and free spirit of an enduro rider.
We descend along a counter-sloping gravel slide, your typical way with no return; a few meters along the valley floor and we find risers which we must climb and after that the trail descends a rocky cliff with only a few inclined hairpins.
Slowly, with the engine off, sometimes on foot holding the bike, the whole group overcomes the challenge.
ENDURO IN THE DARK
It is almost dusk, and it is time to head for Posina, 2 valleys over, speeding on mule tracks and trails. Everything is going as smooth as oil … and then it happens! Where the trail we are riding on crosses the valley thalweg, it becomes a muddy, unstable path, hardly as wide as the tire. I don’t know how many motorcycles slip towards the creek with the front or rear tire in absolute darkness; every now and then light beams cut through the night and engines sputter to life and then die.
As we pass the peak to Valposina, on the north side, another surprise: a light blanket of snow covers the mule track as well as the ice over it, and the motorcycles gain acceleration running at breakneck speed. A balanced mix of ability and luck helps everybody to emerge through the danger unscathed, it’s done! But no! The last, easy, flat trail that should take us into town, is littered with fallen trees; we pull out the hacksaw but there really are a lot of trees and while we slave away to free a safe passage under the light of our headlamps, many take their chance working around the trees uphill or downhill: a Dantesque circle of motorcycles wandering like crazy in the woods, with steaming radiators and the smell of burnt clutches.
But this really is the last effort: the outskirt of a town, a dirt-road, a big parade along the lakefront of Posina and we are at the lodging.
The dinner is fit for a wedding and includes a Bohemian award ceremony for the participants that goes on ‘till midnight all rah-rah-fun-fun, jokes and stories that would have made you drunk even without drinking the very good local wine.