“Just because we planned to do it doesn’t mean we have to, ” Becky said, out of the blue.
The day before we had driven down from Passo dello Stelvio to Bormio. The road was steep and long and Becky was having serious second thoughts about climbing to the top on her mountain bike.
We had already climbed Les Deux Alpes, Hautacam, Alpe d’Huez, and Col du Tourmalet on this trip. That made for three hors catégorie and one Cat 1 climbs. We had a good idea of what a tough, grand tour caliber climb was about. But the revered Passo dello Stelvio looked, on paper and on the drive down, like another level of animal altogether. Becky admitted to being afraid. I remained silent.
Reaching over 9,000 feet, Passo dello Stelvio is the second highest paved mountain pass in Europe. The road from Bormio was steep and long. And it didn’t help that Europe was in the midst of a heat wave. Maybe Becky was right. Maybe we could give this climb a pass.
Our room reservations in Bormio were for three nights. We could ride Stelvio, if we decided to, on either of the next two days.
Tired from the travel, we woke later than usual. It was already warm and only getting hotter. The bikes had the knobbies installed. The excuses for not riding up to Passo dello Stelvio just piled up. We’d go mountain bike riding instead.
Bormio and nearby Livigno are purported to have excellent mountain biking trails. In Hans Rey’s words, Livigno is a “mountain biking paradise.” The maps we obtained from the tourist information office showed dozens of trails but there was little to differentiate amongst them. There was an easy choice, take the aerial tramway across the parking lot from our hotel and connect to the top, Bormio 3000, on a second tram. We could start our ride at 9,879 feet and ride back down to Bormio at 4,019 feet. Add in some small climbs along the way and there would be over 6,000 feet of descending.
It sounded good, but in reality it wasn’t as interesting as it seemed on the map. In early July there was plenty of snow at the top. Perhaps later in the summer there might have been multiple clear routes down from the high mountain but for our visit there would be 2,600 feet of descending on the ski resorts loosely consolidated support roads. Even on the road, we had to traverse an occasional deep snow patch.
The scree road drop toasted the remainder of my rear brake pads, already worked by descent after descent from the high cols. This was not a good time to have the brakes fail. Pumping the brake lever barely kept the brakes working. There was just enough to make it down the hill under control.
Our route let us connect to a particularly sweet piece of alpine singletrack. This trail is what we imagined we would be riding when we planned this trip. With snowy mountain views, the sliver of a path traversed the hillside, across rocky outcrops and small fresh cold streams, and through meadows and trees. We don’t know the trail’s name or even if it was named. All we know from the signs is that it headed towards Sobrettina. It was one of the sweetest dirt trails we found during our European expedition. But, unfortunately, the sweet singletrack lasted only a few miles.
When the sweetness ended we were back on the forest roads pointing towards hot Bormio. At least we could stop for a fresh German pilsner on the way back to the room. Riding in Europe does have its advantages.