Bikepacking in the Appennine Mountains

In November 2016 I was solo bikepacking for four days on a road bike that I slightly modified for touring purposes.

Totals
Regions crossed; Lazio – Umbria – Abruzzo
Distance: 254,7 km – Elevation: 6.254 m
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Click on the colored stages to see some number
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According to my initial plan, I was supposed to start my short journey from L’Aquila, but alas, just when I was in transit at the train station of Terni a fearful earthquake shook Central Italy. After some scenes of panic at the caffetteria of the station, it became clear the railway was shutting down and no train would run anymore. Despite the strength of the shock, news reported no fatalities and no major damage to the buildings. Quite a miracle since in the previous months an earthquake swarm made greater destruction in the area.
With no trains running, nothing remained but to start pedaling from Terni, a town in the lowland.
bikepacking in Umbria, Papigno
 Papigno is the first village I came across after leaving the industrial town of Terni.
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I started climbing as soon as I had the chance, just outside the town. I tried to draw the most straight line in order to arrive in 2 days at the base of the mountain that I really wanted to climb, the Gran Sasso D’Italia.
Capradosso typical Central Italy town
 Capradosso is one of the many typical towns you’ll come across travelling in Central Italy
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 I climbed the all day and when I started to search for a place where to spend the night I realized that everything was closed.  I had no tent with me, I was travelling as light as possible. Problem was then that local people were understandably very concerned about another possible earthquake.  Many wouldn’t host anyone. I eventually convinced a host that I was aware of the danger and wanted to risk. She left all doors of the house open to escape quickly in case another earthquake struck again. But it didn’t happen, until today, thank god!
 Lago del Salto, LazioLago del Salto, I left Umbria region and entered Lazio
bikepacking lago del salto lake
Lago del Salto, many mountains and valleys still to pass through
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On the second day I woke up on the bank of a wonderful mountain lake, Lago del Salto. I could really feel how the landscape was rapidly changing towards a truly mountain environment. The weather was surprisingly good and warm for the season. Snowfalls were foreseen for the week later.
I climbed the all morning to pass a first mountain pass, a grassland at 1500 m asl, known as Piana di Rascino.
bikepacking in Abruzzo
 Climbing towards Piana di Rascino
Bikepacking towrds Rascino
Mountain Hairpins, the pass is at 1500 m asl. past the forest
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Roads there are a dream. I  already left Lazio region and entered Abruzzo. These places are surprisingly unfrequented. Despite being just 100 km far from the capital, there is nobody here except for some elderly people who occasionally show up from nowhere, typically carrying firewood in their arms.
bikepacking altopiano di Rascino
 Unexpectedly, at the end of a day long ascent, this gorgeous and desert  grassland showed up (I will learn later that it is the Rascino’s plateau at 1600 m ASL).
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For the time being, the bike behaved very well on climbs, I never thanked enough the moment I decided to experiment an ultra light set up.
Once passed the Rascino’s  Plateau I met a guy on a fat bike. We talked enough to convince me that an off-road adventure should be on my list at all costs. But that is another story.

The road began to descent into the next valley and I made the mistake to chose a shortcut on an ultra steep road. The temperature dropped, the air became wet, the road was covered by a thin humid layer. I discovered soon that in these conditions my brakes become pretty useless. I coudn’t stop unless applying a brutal force. After a few minutes I felt my forearms like Popeye and my hands and fingers started to froze.  I couldn’t manage to completely  stop even at walking speed on that ridiculous descent. The sun began to quickly drop behind the mountains.
In some way I managed to reach and pass through L’Aquila, the Abruzzo chief town.
 .
l'aquila skyline
L’Aquila skyline is full of cranes: the historical center is still being reconstructed after a deadly earthquake in 2009
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Pedaling as fast as I could,  I reached Paganica a little town in the valley. It was already completely dark. Looking for an accommodation for the night I lost my way in the country backroads until I found a graveyard. I didn’t know that those places were open at night. I was amazed. I love those unexpected things people do, and I love wandering with a bike because I will always see things that I wouldn’t even know they exist otherwise.
cemetery at night
Looking for an accommodation for the night I lost my way in the country backroads until I found myself in a graveyard.
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On the morning of the third day I was finally at the base of the Gran Sasso d’Italia, the highest mountain in the Appennine mountains and host of the southernmost glacier of Europe. The plan was to climb  for +1700 meters in less than 40 km. The road is steep and long, in some sections the gradient is higher than 10%. Two consecutive segments are rated as HC (Hors catégorie). It is a little of a challenge for me, but I have no hurry, the weather forecast is good yet again. The outstanding landscape and nature around make me totally forget any feel of physical fatigue.

After this  portal carved into the rock  it begins the ascent to Gran Sasso Mountain

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The last village I passed by is Assergi. After this point, there’s only the mountain and the nature. These were the last days that the upper part of  this road would remain open before heavy snowfalls would cover everything. But on that morning the sun was already shining and dispersing the morning mist,  tough the temperature was still low as -3°C and the road frozen.
bikepacking Assergi Campo Imperatore, Gran Sasso

Assergi

After climbing to an elevation of  1500 m  I arrived atop of the Campo Imperatore Plateau, an outstanding beautiful grassland. There everything looks like a Central Asia landscape (some locals call it the Little Tibet).

Bikepacking on Campo Imperatore, Gran Sasso

Campo Imperatore plateau
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The feeling of isolation is total. Even cell phones quit working there.
I would stay here indefinitely, but in late autumn the sun goes down early and the last and steeper climb to the top was still awaiting for me.

 

Bikepacking - Campo Imperatore, Gran Sasso

Eventually the Corno Grande, the highest peak  of the Gran Sasso d’Italia ( literally “Great Rock of Italy”)  showed up with its 2,912 m of elevation (9,554 ft).

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Bikepacking Campo Imperatore, Gran Sasso

The last and 12% steep climb to the astronomical observatory at the base of the Gran Sasso d’Italia, elevation 2190 m ASL. The atmosphere was crystal clear and even the Adriatic Sea was visible at more than one hundred kilometers.
At that point my knee hurted more than it usually does and the temperature was drastically dropping because of both the gained altitude and the incoming darkness. Breathing was OK and seemed not really affected by the elevation, which is now is around 2.100 m.
I had to find a place to spend the night. I was lucky enough that the guardian of the then closed refugee on top of the rock, let me in for the night anyway. No water, no heating, moisture everywhere but it was totally fine to sleep under a roof when outside it’s several degrees below zero and windy.
[to be continued, very soon]
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