Words & pictures by Cello
“Hey, whenever I look at your Tumblr or Flickr I envy you so much…”
This is the same old sentence that comes out from the mouth of my Tuscany friend Fano every time we meet. That’s because we can easily open the door and ride on the Alps, where we live, and where the history (and the present) of cycling has been written in sweat, tears, pain, joy and suffering. To ride the Alps are probably one of any cyclists’ biggest dream. Or at least it was Fano’s…
His chance came in conjunction with the annual “Freccia del Lario”, a 170km fixed gear ride around the lake of Como that we organize each year for the Italian “Festa della Repubblica” holiday. We’ll have three days time to roll up and down.
It was on the third and last day of his stay that we decided to take up the San Marco pass. We were all worn out after the fixed gear ride and we wanted to do something safe and easy. Effectively, the 26km climb starts only 10km away from where I live: pretty easy.
“But hey, wait a minute… I’m almost sure that the San Marco pass it’s still under its winter closure at the moment.” – I said to my fellows right after waking up, quite late and dazed for yesterday evening’s after-ride party. We fell silent for a while ’til we decided to call another friend and ask: “ Maybe he knows.”
“Hellooo! Yes, it’s open. Or better… It is still closed to traffic but you can go by bike!
Mmmmmmmmmh… In a few minutes we were ready (not before a full spaghetti ceremony, of course) and hit the road. The climb is not that hard, even though is quite long, and the first 10km were a pleasure. For us. But not for “Johnny Thunder” Fano, aka “La locomotiva”, who had problems digesting his “carbonara”.
We stopped in the alpine town of Albaredo per San Marco to drink hot tea and try to uncork Fano’s digestive tract. It was right before the doorstep that a small puppy started having sex-without-love with my right leg. I let him do his job, entering the bar by dragging him on my shin.
“Where are you going” – the barkeeper asked. – “Are you going up? Up to the pass?”
And without waiting for our answer she started to slowly shaking her head with a piercingly sneer on her face: “You’ll never get there. Never. Road is closed. No way.”
It was then that we realized that it was the second time that day someone tried to make us desist. It was a road biker going downhill while we were going up that shouted: “Where are you going? Look at the sky, it’s going to storm! I’ve just turned back.”
And for the second time we ignored those jinx advices. The third came soon: mr. mustache with binoculars on his neck started the usual cant: “Where are you going? Are you going to the pass?” – and always that head shaking and that surly smile meaning: you’ll never get there! You’ll never get there! You’ll never get there!
Ok, message received but we’ll keep rolling.
Alpe Lago hut, 1550 mt. It rises over a small valley and it appears to the glances of the passers-by after a left turn of the road. And there we saw, at its feet, a huge dirty avalanche filling the road. We got nearer and realized that luckily someone dug it with a snow milling machine. We moved on, pedaling through a tunnel of tall grey snow.
Yes, the first encounter with that power.
“What will be after the next turn? Things can only get worse and worse and worse.” – we thought with a touch of sick excitement. And so it was: spring avalanches, rocks, uprooted trees and broken guardrails were in turn blocking the roadway, forcing us to zigzag through it.
Anyway, we decided not to stop but try to reach the pass by dodging through this mayhem; and it was at this stage that we started getting aware that the true wild obscure power of nature was surrounding us. A force that coerces your behavior, that says: “NO, YOU CAN NOT”, that pushes you back. And you can smell it in the air, this overwhelming majesty.
There is a big landslip of dirt, rocks and trees now in front of us, no way to go. But after that it seems like that the vegetation ends. Perhaps it could be the last barrier to the top. We shoulder our bikes and hobble along the sag: “100 mt and it’s over, I guess…”
It is, we can resume cycling. But for a bit…
Km 23, 3 to the top: we must give up. Snow tongues eating the whole road, making it indistinguishable from the surrounding fields. There we are, the end of it all, where only a slight hollow on the snow hints the path we should have ridden over the mountain facing us.
It’s time to turn back, throwing a last glimpse to the sleeping pass and shift gears.
The mountain denied us its kingdom and once we turned our bikes downhill clouds open, sky clears and the first rays of sunlight hit our faces. “Not this time”.
We were closing the day outside on a pub bench, watching people passing by with cold beers in our hands. Our Tuscany friend was tired and silent, until he came up slowly articulating these words: “I don’t know why, but always, when I think to the valley where you live, Hviss Lyset Tar Oss comes to my mind.
And today, my friends, I really had the perception that what I was living was the astounding, striking visual display of that helplessly doomy music and feeling…”
If the Light takes us – The Mountain plays Burzum