We packed up our climbing gear into the back of the VW camper van and said ciao to Lago di Garda, the biggest lake in Italy, then headed south in hopes of a mountain biking paradise in Finale Ligure. Finale sits in northwestern Italy on the Mediterranean Ocean, near the border of France. From the information gathered from our biking obsessed friends, it was THE place to ride.
We pulled into the bike shop that evening and booked some rental bikes and a shuttle for the following morning. After sampling some Italian wine, beer, pizza, pasta and gelato we thought to ourselves "carb loading right?" and went to bed.
Crawling out of our van and brewing up some local roast with our Classic Perfect-Brew Pour Over we both noted that coffee was the best smelling thing in the van, that was getting a lovely odor of outdoor activity and small square footage. In classic tourist fashion, we arrived at the shop giddy in anticipation of the day's adventure. Collecting a couple of beauty Santa Cruz bikes we loaded up the shuttle at the blistering morning hour of 9:30 AM. Of course, the front seat was ours for the taking; we wanted to see everything.
For a thousand meters up in elevation the road was windy and the drivers honked constantly as they drove around corners to avoid head-on collisions on the very narrow roads. Maybe the front seat was a bad choice.
About halfway up our driver slams on his breaks, grabs a plastic bag from his feet and exclaims "Volpe!". Out he ran into the road, picked up a dead fox and stuffed it into a bag. Smiling he tucked the bagged fox somewhere out of view towards the rear of the van. Between language barriers and probably luck, we never found out why there was now a dead fox as a passenger on the shuttle. Some things are best left a mystery.
The shuttle dropped us at Base Nato and we were ready to ride. With dirt flying from the grooves of our tires and bugs in our teeth we rode the classics. It was fast, flowy, technical and everything in between. It was all the hype and more. The sun shone on the views of the Mediterranean, and the trees protected us on the steep climbs back.
After seven hours of impeccable riding, we finished near the bottom of a trail called Rollercoaster. A guided group also finished just behind us. Perfect, a little advice on the best way down is just what we needed.
"Hey is there a way down that has a good view of the ocean?" We asked the guide.
After a few less than optimal options, he decided with a smile that he was coming with us. But, and this is a big but, he knew of a trail but had never ridden it and maybe it was kind of sort of this way and may be very challenging but maybe it would be ok. After giving his tour a disclaimer a quarter of the group decided to take the road back to wherever they had come from and the rest decided “maybe” was good enough for them.
Up the group pedaled, chatting and getting acquainted with each other along the way. Left here? Nope. Backtrack. Over this hill! Well, that took us in a circle. The group was getting tired as we approached the top of a hill where a classic Italian church awaited.
The thing about Italian churches is there is always a cafe attached to them. The sweet cakes and hot espresso gave us newfound vigor. Asking the kid behind the counter if he'd heard of this elusive trail called "Caprazoppa" which in English translates to "the tired goat". He looked at us like we were a bunch of dumb tourists.
"Follow the dots," the kid said as he pointed at three faded dots painted red on the rocks near the edge of a trail.
Our new found guide started down the trail and decided that this kid could not be trusted. He wasn't a biker so it was probably a hiking trail. We took our last wrong turn for the night before the group decided to just follow the red dots down as the light was getting low. We greatly underestimated the kid! It was indeed the trail of "the tired goat" and not just any trail but an old roman walking trail including technical steeps, slick rocks and mind-bending turns that kept us hollering and laughing the entire way.
We were biking on a trail thousands of years old. It was history and adrenaline-packed into one incredible singletrack. The mystical trail spit us out a road crossing away from the bike shop which was ideal.
Ten hours of biking later and exhausted, we hobbled back to our beautiful camping spot, the parking lot of the bike shop. Luckily for us, everything in Italy is beautiful as we were parked along an ancient stone wall with a castle towering in the background atop the hills. Stocked up for a tailgate party for two, we poured cold Italian beer into our Adventure Stacking Beer Pints and sipped sweet and refreshing limoncello from our Classic Stanley flask.
That night sleep came easy as we both shut our eyes to the imaginary sounds of tires on perfect dirt, realizing we got to do it all again tomorrow.
Written by Sarah Kuipers