When you’re in a foreign country, in a region not known to you for its mountain biking, it can be hard to even know where to begin. Google is a good shout, but when this area is so undiscovered all the info to be found online is in Italian, we realised we might be a little bit stuck! In stepped Aiken’s sister, Emmie. Champion runner (pretty handy on a road bike too), and now Valtellina local where she lives with her photographer boyfriend Phil. Emmie set to it organising an uplift day for the two of us with a local guiding company she knew of, 360 Valtellina Bike. Time and place set, we prepped our kit and bikes and went to beddybies.
We met in a carpark in Morbegno, a lovely old town in the valley filled with excitement in anticipation for what the day had in store for us. Two very friendly chaps rocked up, Luca (our guide) and Nicola (also guide but not getting paid today). We packed our bikes up in their van and headed off on a 40 minute drive up the mountain… and then we headed back down the mountain to get my helmet (oops) AND THEN back up the mountain.
We reached the Bar Bianco Rifugio at 1700m, and unsurprisingly the view was pretty spectacular.
We popped in for a coffee and to admire the view, and then we were off.
Shockingly to me, up a very techy hard climb! It was so cold and the air so thin (well thinner than Derbyshire air at least) that my lungs actually hurt (you know the feeling?). After a day off of the bike yesterday my legs were ever so sleepy and my wandering eyes were focused on the view and not really on the trail ahead, so I pushed. What felt like a million miles later, we reached another awesome view point, had a look, quick photo opportunity…
and back climbing again. Fortunately for me Luca with his ENORMOUS calves, kindly pushed my bike up the hill- what a treat.
The climb up was pretty darn tricky. Very, very steep in places, and loose rocks covering the majority of it. After a good half hour we came across some small huts, and were greeted by a cheese maker nearly 2000m up.
This chap lives there in the alpine with his cows and goats making cheese for most of summer into autumn, only coming down the mountain in October when the snow comes too low! He was so welcoming and our guides were very chatty, so he even ran back to his little house to get us something. He returned with a bowl and spoon which he filled with freshly (cheesed?!) goats cheese, still steaming from the huge cauldron he ladled it out from.
Whilst I am a big cheese fan, and it was deliscious the boys quickly polished it off. After we left the nice cheese man I was heavily distracted by his goats, and couldn’t resist the opportunity for some petting.
Shortly after we dropped into the first descent of the day, a very wild grassy one down to another old hut, said hello to another goat
– and that set the tone for the day!
Flowy single-track, with very technical descents into stream crossings, followed by more flowy single-track, into even techier bits! Whilst none of it in particular was super scary, what was scary was the huge drop on your right (or left) off the side of the trail. One wrong move from a lack of concentration, or sniper roots and rocks and the consequences would’ve been pretty catastrophic! (I could have died). I put that to the back of my mind though and cracked on with the task at hand (not dying/enjoying myself).
We eventually (a long time later) dropped into the tree line and the trails changed yet again. Even rockier this time but with more grip in the dirt, however the exposure didn’t! This was a real test of my nerve, but one I really enjoyed and was proud to ride all the sections the guides pointed me down! After the final bit of descending (cruising down cobbled streets, alleyways, and beautiful old Italian houses) we made it safely back into Morbegno.
Luca treated us to a coffee while Nicola shot off to grab his van to do the retrieval shuttle.
On his return though (with his brother this time who he’d roped in as the driver!) the boys decided to squeeze another (unplanned) ride in which I opted out of. 2000m of descending had been enough for me for one day, so Aiken jumped at the chance and the 4 of them bundled into the van and headed up yet another of the surrounding mountains.
Aiken here. We drove up the road as far as the van could get before the 3 of us then pedaled for another 20 minutes to another rifugio on the opposite side of the valley (San Marco I think?). This trail the boys had told me was pretty gnarly, steep, and sustained. They were not kidding! It was a lot less of a picturesque experience than the alpine views of the morning, but that’s not to take away from the stunning views we did have and the cut-throughs of quaint little villages!
Section after section got greasier and steeper, rocks and roots covered 90% of the trail and my tyres were searching for traction in every little catch berm at the bottom of the chutes! The amount of rain in the last week here though had hammered the trails and the guides were both (needlessly) apologetic. I assured them that their trails, at their worst were still simply sublime to me and only added to the spice. Luca and Nico both took it in turns to lead me out down different sections and I had to absolutely pin it to try and keep these boys on their home turf. It was such a challenge and an awesome experience to follow them down trails like these that they’re rightfully very proud of and want the world to experience. By the time we reached the end of the final section my legs and arms were beat, and I gladly took a minute at the magical fresh water tap (which are literally everywhere in these mountains) and could relax!
I’ve been so lucky on this trip so far to ride such cool places and meet such cool people, so its hard to not sound disingenuous when I describe trails as, ‘the best ever’ time and time again. These trails really were something else though, I’ve never experienced such a contrast in one descent, and then again in another descent a stones throw over the small valley between the two mountains. The 2nd half of the day was my favourite, as whilst I do love the vistas, throwing my trail bike down the steeps with me in tow is what makes me tick and this place has it in abundance. Absolutely awesome day spent with some quality chaps (and Kelly-Jayne), on some superb trails at a very, very reasonable price. (We paid 70euros for the whole day, and they refused to take any more! Even though we’re sure their standard price for a days guiding is about 75euros a head!)