So, I am lying here with a sprained ankle and can’t do nothing. Long story short: I thought I’d found flow and decided to do a crux on sight, and forgot about the tree standing real close to the crux, and naturally that same tree was real happy to meet my handlebar and throw me off my bike, and I of course threw out a foot, into a hole between two rocks, and well, that was it. 400 vertical meters later, I was safe in the car with a malleolus the size of an orange… So now, I ride my bike on asphalt and spend a whole lot of time on the sofa with ice on my ankel and nostalgia on my mind. Tonight, it will be Italy. Ah, Italy….
After a long winter, of which I managed to be ill most of the time, I and the hobbit decided to visit the land of pasta, pizza, gelato, wine, and watery beer, for the first time together. After all, the hobbit is fluent in Italian, I have a thing for tasty tomatoes, thick wine, watery beer, and olive oil, and I do live in North Norway…
So here it goes:
When mountainbikers hear the name Liguria, most probably think about Finale. I did too, until I had to book a place to stay, and of course waited until the last minute, and of course found that everything that was at least close to affordable was already booked, and therefore had to search for other places in the vicinity, and ended up booking an appartment in Pietra.
Good on me.
Now when I think about Ligure, I don’t think Finale, I just think about Pietra, with small fluffy pink clouds floating in front of my eyes. Ah, Pietra…
I actually convinced my girl crew that we should go there this autumn for our 40-year celebration, just so that I could go back, and eat, and drink…. and not ride my bike?
Anyhow, Pietra is located about 3 km east of Finale. To get there, you fly to Nice, and then take the train to Ventimiglia, where you change train and slowly roll into Italy. It is a really good idea to validate your tickets. The controllants are very serious about their job…
Pietra has equally narrow backstreets, and equally narrow mainstreets, as Finale, and it is equally crowded by tiny cars, hole in the wall restaurants, and old ruins.
But Pietra is a much smaller town, with much less cyclists roaming the streets. When we were there, we actually didn’t see many tourists, of any sort. We just saw mountains, blue salty water, gelaterias, pizzerias, and bars. Ah, the gelaterias and the bars… Very few things are more rewarding than eating Italian ice cream, drinking an espresso, and very watery beer (in that order), after a steaming hot day on the mountain.
But I am getting distracted. Easily done, when you are cheese/ham/wine deprived in Arctic Norway… Trails! Right, the trails… All trails in Liguria are nicely painted on almost worthless maps. There are thousands of them!… But it takes more than a PhD in economics, and physics, to decipher the map. Many trails are also described in guidebooks. The guidebook that we used was marginally better than the map. In other words, we found ourselves quite a few really nice adventures during our visit.
On our first day, we decided to pedal up to towards Monte Carmo, 1389 masl. You may think that choosing a mountain that is over 1000 vertical meters is a bit over the top for someone who have been struggling with squirrel-ball’s-sized-lungs-syndrom for 6 months. You are right. But I also have a brain of the size of squirrel balls, and so with our bags stuffed with foccacia (containing about a bottle of olive oil each), off we went. After about a fifth of our climb (I thought we had done about two thirds…) we met a man who gave us some directions. He suggested that we should take an easier and shorter route. “Are you very strong?”, he asked Martin. “Is she very strong?”, he asked Martin. “Of course”, the hobbit replied. I did not understand anything, I am an idiot in Italian, but I smiled and pedaled on. And pedaled, and pedaled. As we reached the gravel road, I thought that I had done pretty well, and that we were near the summit. Wrong. On boy was I wrong. The climb begins at the start of the gravel road. Of course I bonked. We didn’t get to the summit, but to the crest about 200 vertical meters below. The foccacia (with ricotta cheese!) saved my bony little butt.
And then, the trails saved my heart, and my soul.
God damn, those trails are dusty, sometimes very rocky, and sweet! I can’t say that I felt like I was in control of my bike. Too much skiing (and lying on the sofa), and too little riding. But still… Even without control, riding down on rock and dust is just heaven on earth. Italy, you little rascal darling!
And then I slept. Before dinner, and after dinner. I didn’t even have enough energy to consume a descent amount of wine. At least according to my standards.
The next day, we of course made a second attempt at Mount Carmo. This time, we climbed through the clouds, and all the way to the summit. It was heavenly.
But of course, I bonked, again… As we dropped into the mist again, and the rocks and cat skulls started nibbling after my feet, I started muttering, and then shouting, and then, about half way down, I had to tell Martin to go ahead. This was, after all, supposed to be a lovecation. I don’t think ogres are very attractive.
If you’re not an ogre, the trails are bloody fantastic though. Martin will assure.
So my first two days in Pietra were perhaps not spectacular, for my company at least. Too much ogre, and too little femme fatale. But fortunately, my partner, the all-knowing hobbit, knew the trick.
“You know”, he said with a soft voice, “we don’t actually have to do 1400 vertical meter climbs every day. We can just chill, and do small tours.” What?! I mean, what?
But of course he said that, he knows me. Doing small climbs, one at the time, with some food, and perhaps even some wine in between, will make me climb all the vertical meters he (and I) wants.
So for the rest of the week, we did small climbs.
Many small climbs. We climbed, and then we ate (cake and coca cola)…
and then we climbed, and rode down, and ate (three courses) and drank (wine, but just a quarter of a litre)…
and climbed, and rode down…
and ate (ice cream), and drank (coffee), and climbed and rode down…
…and drank wonderfully watery beer, and ate wonderfully non watery salami and cheese, and olives, and pizza, and wine….
We rode some of the trails that are on the beaten bike map, but many more that are not. Some of the trails were gnarly and beyond, others dissapeared into five different trails all leading to nowhere, but at the end of the day I always came down with a grin that went from earlobe to earlobe.
We rode on smooth dirt, on Tavelsjö rockiness, on ridges and in the forest. We rode among old Roman ruins, and new ruins.
At all times, however, we ended by the sea, With gelato, and beer, and wine, and cheese.
It was, completely honestly, the most perfect vacation of my life. I liked Italy before, now I love it. Dearly. As I love my hobbit.