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Garda bike tour, 2000
250 kilometers on a mountain bike in six days. Sounds plausible. But add 9200 meters of climbing and its starts to sound little tricky. Mix in some +30C heat, roads so steep you have difficulty walking up them, a landscape full of pointy rocks, and you have a recipe for some seriously tough riding. This was the Mad Miler's first foray to Lake Garda which holds something of a reputation as the mecca of European mountain biking.

Lake Garda Power Rangers!

The MadMilers drove down to Lake Garda following the Garmisch marathon in June 2000, where in addition to our warm-up ride in Arco, we rode three major rides:

Arco TourCool dude?


We decide to step with trepidation into the unknown world of biking in Garda by choosing an easy 'leg turner' around Arco for our first ride. It turned out that an easy ride in Garda is a relative thing - easy meant rocky, 15% climbs in +30 °C heat. Here I am trying to cool off after the first 400m of uphill. We also sampled our first downhill Garda style - rated 3 out of 6 in our guide book - which for us translated into 'get off on three sections and walk'. Although climbing high above the valley is bloody hard work, the views from the top are genuinely breathtaking.

Monte Altissima

After our hard introduction to the rigours of riding in the Garda area on day one, we foolishly opted for what Jens' guide book described as a six star ride - i.e. six star fitness required. The reason for this was the 2000m of vertical climbing from the gun, climbing up to the refuge at the top of Mount Altissima. Our 4 hour assault of steady, steep climbing, started on asphalt and slowly deteriorated into gravel track and eventually walker's single trail. The last 300m had deteriorated so badly that we were forced to walk for 45 mins, dragging (and on occasion carrying) the bike by foot, as shown here. We reached the summit by 13:00, and stayed all of about 30 seconds before descending out of the chill and clouds to the refuge. We were welcomed with the world's most chocolatey hot chocolate - it was literally just melted chocolate with a drop of milk (full fat, not doubt) thrown in - delicious! As we sat down to eat our penne all' arrabiate, a hailstorm broke out, dropping marble sized chunks of ice over the ground. We were snugly nestled inside around the heater, sniggling at the frosted, bruised and battered bikers who came in. The descent was a typical Garda rock-fest at first, but then turned into an asphalt road. As the weather was threatening to break again, we opted for the 'loose as much height as quickly as possible' option. This took us down to lower and warmer pastures, but, because of lost height, we had to X-country around the hillside, riding on tough, undulating single trail. With 2000m in our legs already, we were all hanging on by thin threads as we approached Riva after 60kms. Such a grandiose start to our week deserved a grandiose send-off, and we stopped at the town square in Torbole for a celebratory beer. We rolled home giggling several hours later, and just beat the mother-of-all-thunder storms home.

Monte Casale

After a well deserved rest day, we decided to ride two back-to-back three star rides, which by my estimation adds up to another six star affair. Firstly, a climb of some 1000m up the main road to San Giovanni followed by a similar height gain, but largely off-road climb, to Monte Casale. With +30 °C temperatures and the sun on our backs, the road up to San Giovanni was a blisteringly hot, steep and hard start, but after 30 minutes of fighting to get into a rhythm, it became more reasonable. After a rest stop at San Giovanni to refill 3 litres of empty Camelback, we hit the gravel roads and tracks across the mountain. In one section, our map reader failed us and Jens directed us to a side-shoot of our ride, from which we had an amazing view across to Monte Casale and down to the Garda valley, 1500m below us. Summiteers on Monte CasaleNaturally, we didn't know until we got to the viewing point that we were riding through a forest section that had a 1500m vertical drop about 5 yards to our left. After checking the map, we corrected our route and crossed towards a rough single trail which led up towards Monte Casale - we had to walk a long stretch up along the cliff face with a 1500m vertical drop awaiting the careless. Disappointingly, the refuge at the summit was closed, so we ploughed on unfed to the summit. After the obligatory photo stop and power bars at the top, we faced the downhill without the assistance of added weight, but with the added protection of Ninja X-men elbow and knee pads (which you can see in the photo up top). Although the downhill was good - with technical single trail and one particularly interesting trial section - we didn't get to perform the full crash test on our new gear. We had thought 'simple trial' was a typo in Jens' guide book, but it turned out to be 'trial' as in the Dougie Lambkin, leaping-off-buses-and-overturned-skips type of riding. No wipe-outs to report, although everyone had knackered wrists from the bumps and hard braking, and I did have an interesting episode with a bramble - I hooked my bar-ends through the thorny undergrowth which was so thick that it stopped my bike, and me with it, dead in its tracks. I thought I was going to have a embarrassing "tip over 'cos you can't get your feet unclipped" wipe-out, but I was so well entwined that the thorn bush heldme and my bike upright. The extraction process drew first blood for the week, as my hands were shredded retrieving my bike from the thieving undergrowth. This tale did of course have to be retold several times using progressively bolder language, so we finished our ride in the centre of Riva exaggerating around a bottle of Becks.

Lago di Cei

On what was purported to be 'an easy day', we thought the scenic-sounding ride to the LagoBuster on the cobbled road to hell di Cei would fit the bill nicely, i.e. a tranquil ride on our final day in Garda. This mindset was shattered as soon as we approached the first hill to find our 'cobbled road' had in fact been made from lumps of mountain, loosely cemented together on a 25% gradient, which is shown here (no camera trickery needed). This startling beginning soon degenerated into the most ridiculously steep road in the history of biking (900m in 8km, topping out at 26%) , most of which was tackled by foot (even then it was hard going). It was followed by a tough techy climb to summit, after which things went further wrong. A long and simple (in Garda terms) downhill on gravel roads led to the Lago, which disappointingly turned out to be an overgrown swamp with only one topless bather. We decided against sharing the fetid waters with her, and rode on to Diaino's, an empty but splendid little restaurant tucked into the middle of nowhere. In fact, our waiter appeared to also be the chef, manager, and - judging by his attire as we arrived - gardener. After a long lay-up, we took the road looking for what Jens' guide book described as the highlight of the ride - a waterfall which you ride behind. All we could find, though, was the sound of the waterfall and a crusty old streambed which, if we had been able to ride it, would have redefined mountain biking (average 30% with half-meter drop-offs!). It was scary enough just walking down in cleated cycling shoes. After darting up and down the mountain side trying to get back, and making a few wrong turns, we realised we were hot, knackered and going nowhere fast, so Jens, Andy and I road down into the valley and took the road back from Rovareto to Riva. With tremendous good fortune, we ended up going down the 'cobbled street' we had started on, which ended the same Torbole market square - and the same tried and tested pils - we had discovered two days earlier. Cheers!

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