Words by Guido / Pictures by Cello / Archive material by the Gazzaniga Family
“Me and your mom, in the seventies, in winter time at night, we used to take a lift up to Passo d’Eira and then going down the road with sleds, it was funny, we had to carry a torch in the mouth just to let the drivers know we were coming down.”1
Livigno2 stands at the top of my familiar places’ axe, the northern point of my childhood, the farthest land of my limited universe back in those days. Of course it was magic, extended and savage. Livigno was the place where I felt in love with mountains.
Cello the Captain: “BAM! BAM! BAM!”
Me: “What? What’s that?
C: “We are going to BAM!”
M: “Ok, where is it?”
C: “In Livigno”
M: “What?! Man it’s amazing! I love that place, it will be awesome! I spent my childhood summers in there, I know tons of pl…“
C: “Yeah, yeah, whatever! So, are you coming?”
M: “’Course I’ll come!”
C: “Good. It will be fun.”
M: “Sure it will…”
C: “That’s what I’m saying.”
M: “No, nothing, I was just wandering… What BAM stands for?”
C: “Bicycle Adventure Meeting”3
It was enough for me. A few days later, in a chilly summer night, three cars loaded with Cani were facing the Bernina pass. Damn cars, the VW Lupo surrendered right after Tirano, not even a single hairpin turn was made. We thaught for a second to go for a hopeless night ride but luckily some of us were wide enough to reject the idea so, after an homemade car-packing-tetris, we managed to squeeze everything into two cars and eventually reach the destination.
“Hey, no sad faces, we are going to enjoy the shiny Livigno sun tomorrow!”
7 hours later Cello, Save, Sette Bellezze, LuLu, Ila and me, were fully dressed in our cycling outfits together with other 40 guys dressed the same way under a cloudy sky and some drops, shiny Livigno sun. The plan, made by the organization, was to reach Nietzsche’s house somewhere in Engadina, a 62 Km ride up to Forcola pass, then the last piece of the Bernina pass and all the way down to Sils Maria4. No clear plans about the way back5. Ok, but it was raining, we were freezing and, most of all, we didn’t have breakfast. So as the ride started we sprinted to the first bar, the peloton was informed and no one chased us. We missed the group but we found some friends, the guys from 10 Cento Torino and we lost a lot of time in cappuccini and croissant. It was time to carry out our plan, not that we did had one, but we kind of knew it: we didn’t want to get to the top of the Forcola pass trough the state highway. We were looking for the military path, a gravel road leaning at the bottom of the valley with a terrific sequence of steep turns at the end. Surprisingly everybody was enthusiastic about the idea, even Lito with a full carbon road bike. A strange company: roadies, mountain-bikers, cyclocrossers, cyclo-tourists and adventurers of course, in the end weren’t we at the Bicycle Adventure Meeting? We all managed our way up, the road was amazing as expected and, as forecasted, I walked all the last section of steep turns, TAP6 style.
By the time we were on top of the Forcola pass the rain has increased and temperature decreased, no sun seen. It was the perfect moment for a cake & tea at “Rifugio Tridentina”, and that’s what we did, the place was crowded, but it was warm and friendly. In the meantime we lost part of the crew somewhere, maybe they were chasing a cupcake or reaching the toilet, who knows? The rifugio was such a cosy place. Ten to forty minutes later we found ourselves, the remaining of us, lost in the fog somewhere on the way up to the Bernina pass. Few figures were appearing and disappearing near us, rain was still pouring.
At the top we found the ride’s survivors, gathering around the pass sign, try to keep themselves warm; with the two of us we were only ten left over 40: one minute of silence. It was a really touching moment. No one was going to Nietzsche’s house, no one was going anyway, everybody was going back home the same way they came up. By that time I had a revealing vision: Alexey “Lone Wolf”7 hugging Lodovico8, the alpine guide of my childhood, and Alexey was declaring with his Russian accent: “Going back home the same way is like doing only half ride”9 Lodovico was pointing his bright hand toward the Valle del Fieno10. Looking at Cello I knew he had the same vision too and I wondered if he knew Lodo and how. So we were two again, for vision of the others, going down the Bernina’s Swiss side heading to the Valle del Fieno.
It was ages I didn’t came to this valley, it was still uninhabited, barren and wild, the climb was sweet and the road was so smooth. We were surrendered by the mountains and by hundreds of marmots. That was so special (mountains&marmots), one more time it reminded me my childhood, the times I came here with my family, Pablo the dog and again Lodovico, I was in a complete childish trip, peeping around nervously in search of a steinbock or a roe deer or a gigiàt and a dahu11, saying to Cello every ten second something naif like “I love mountains” and cheering the stones on the way.
Under this distorted reality I drop into a small lodge we found, asking loudly: “Signooora c’ha mica del laattee?” (Do you have some milk madame?) in a way only a Milanese entrepreneur could have pronounced. I was in seventh heaven, still tripping on my childhood memories, the lady let us in and gave me a big glass of creamy fresh milk, then we added some cheese, speck and gherkins. We ate and had a talk, radio was on with some typical Swiss music, the stove was hot and a small white dog was sleeping on the couch. He was the only dog I’ve ever seen with a dummy that was the same as him, a 1:1 scale puppet, it was hard to spot the differences.
After a pricey goodbye (that wasn’t in my memories) we were back on the road, or better say, the path. We had left the fog at the bottom of the valley to meet the clouds at the top of it, the scenario was fairy. We crossed rocks, riding along ponds filled by the water coming down from lake Grand. As we approached La Stretta, clouds were getting brighter, on the top of the rocky wall overlooking Livigno valley we found ourselves in front of a shiny clear grey vacuum, the valley wasn’t there anymore.
C:“BAM! BAM! BAM!”
M: “What? What’s that again? Why now?”
C: “We have to go back, art is calling me!” 12
M: ”Mmm, yeah, why… why not.”
C: “Oh dude! Wake up! You look so weird, still have those hallucinations about steinbocks?”
M: “Yes sir.”
C: “Uhm I see… let’s figure out how to get down this peak”
M: “Following the path might be the best idea”
C: “I think so. Sure you are ok? I mean no more childish regression? Mystical raptures?”
M: “No, no. I’m in control, trust me.”
C: “Ok, let’s go down.”
M: “Hey look! Cows! Let’s take a picture with cows! Let’s take a picture with cows! Let’s take a picture with cows!”
1_ random anecdotes, my father
2_Livigno is the second highest municipality in Italy, the further north town of Lombardia region and the most populated municipality over 1500 m among the 26 in Italy. It is 1816 m above sea level and is one of the coldest place in Italy. Wikipedia about Livigno’s history says: “Livigno’s first settlers were probably shepherds during the Middle Ages. The first documents called this area “vinea et vineola”. This Latin name does not refer to the presence of vineyards in the area, but comes from the German language, meaning “avalanche”. The valley has always been at risk from this point of view. The last avalanche hitting the village was in 1951, which caused seven deaths and damage to a dozen houses. Politically, Livigno has always followed Bormio’s history, although the relationships between the two communes have always been tense, Bormio being dominant and more populous than Livigno. Until the 1970s Livigno was a farming village. In recent decades, however, things have changed, and nowadays Livigno enjoys a better economic situation and a higher number of inhabitants. Livigno has recently enjoyed one of Italy’s highest birth rates (19.4 births per 1000 inhabitants). Livigno’s economy is based on tourism, both in winter and in summer, and on its duty-free status, with goods sold at bargain prices”. The story is not that easy. Livigno had always been a special area, since the beginning (14° century) Livigno’s community had strong commercial exchanges with the neighbouring Switzerland, special deals, exclusive agreements and so on. But still it was a place nowhere in the mountains. Business kept on going during Austrian and French dominations, no taxes, no duty. Those days Switzerland was still the easiest place to reach, Bormio was still out of reach. the first passable road between Bormio and Livigno was built in 1914 by the Italian army, but still it was a place nowhere in the mountains. In 1968 somebody built a dam, forming Gallo lagoon, and dug a tunnel named Munt la Schera going to Switzerland nearby Austrian border. But still it was a place nowhere in the mountains. In spite of all the special deals Livigno community was so far underdeveloped and mostly farming. Back in the 50’s Livigno was still suffering isolation in winter time, roads where blocked by walls of snow and people had to kept their deceased on the crawl spaces because the ground was too hard to be dug. But in 1968 Livigno was declared a duty free area! Woooo! Booom! Now it was THE place in the mountain. To be quick, lot of money, a river of money, invested Livigno in the following ten to twenty years, and more or less is still going on. Ok, nowadays the old town of Livigno looks like a really well made shopping outlet, nice lodges with top brands; but the surrounding are still wild and amazing. Only three paved roads lead to the town. Two link to Switzerland, one through the Forcola pass, elevation 2315 metres, open in summer only, leading to either Bernina pass and Engadina or to Tirano, and the second through the Munt La Schera tunnel. The third road connects to Bormio through the Foscagno Pass, elevation 2291 metres.
3_ From Bam’s website: “it’s not important how heavy your bike is, but where it takes you. It’s not important how much time it takes you to get there, but what you see during the trip. BAM! is the first European meeting of cycle-travelers, of all those who dream and choose a horizon, a pair of wheels and the wind on the face. Adventure Awards Days, the international Festival of exploration and adventure, will host the first edition of BAM! And will call together all bike travelers in Europe. BAM! Is an occasion to meet and share a passion, but also a stage from which to tell stories and share experiences, a time to learn something new or meet a new travel companion.” Yawn!
4_ Sils Maria was the place where the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche lived during the summers of 1881 and 1883 to 1888.
5_ According to the organization there was the option of taking a train on the way back, this would have eventually brought the riders somewhere nearby the Bernina pass leaving them with the Swiss side of Forcola to be ridden, to be fair that was not a real charming plan.
6_TAP: tüt a pè, all by walking. Is a new Olympic category in which athletes are walking around mountains carrying a bike with them, the riding is not compulsory but the bike has to be taken to the end of the course. Some other popular TAP related disciplines are nonlaraidaneanchefede, maybewrongbike and nonlaraidaneanchetaco (very popular in south america)
8_Lodovico Cusini (1933 – 2006) was an alpine guide, he did some tours on the paths around Livigno, one every two days, for free. Born October 25th 1933 third of nine children. he completed primary school in Livigno From November 1954 to march 1956 he was called up for military service into the alpine military school in Aosta, meanwhile he was competing nationally in alpine and nordic skiing. In 1959 he was the cofounder of the first ski school in Livigno: “Scuola Sci Livitur”. In 1967 he became an alpine guide. In 1981 he promoted the restoration of some paths in the area and started the first free tours for tourists. From 1985 to 1991 he was director of CAI (club alpino italiano) Livigno, during this period he promoted the Federia valley conservation obstructing the urbanization plan. He fought against heli-ski, quads, car track and others. he was devoted to nature. if you’ll go to Livigno in summertime you can have a walk in Val Salient, there you’ll find a path named after Lodovico Cusini, walking that path would be the best way to celebrate the memory of this man. We met him in the late 80’s, it was a complete blast, we did all the tours he proposed, several times during five years. I always missed the Fopel since it was too hard for children. He knew everything about mountains and he was happy to share his knowledge with others. Dozen of people used to come ad the start, early in the morning. But there was always somebody wearing sneakers instead of proper walking shoes, Lodovico was firm: no sneakers, bye bye! We weren’t simply going for a walk, we were going trough the mountains and there were no easy climbs up there. But there were hundreds of animals, flowers, stones and rivers to be told. Lodovico was happy to do that.
9_ Despite the great production of Mr. Popov in terms of anecdotes and quotations, the one reported in the text doesn’t belong to Alexei standards. One of the most popular phrase recorded is for sure: “In a ride you never have to stop, if you stop then they’ll become two different rides”, here we are probably in front of a misunderstanding the author did by paraphrasing the sentence and distorting it in a advantageous way.
10_Valle del Fieno (Valley of Hay, Val da Fain) is a valley connecting the Bernina pass to Livigno. Starting from Diavolezza base camp the valley bends north-west heading to Italy. It goes from 2093 m above sea level to La Stretta passage at 2476 m, right on top of Livigno valley.
11_Those mythological animals can be find in many places around Alps. According to some legends the gigiàt looks like a big mountain goat and stinks like a hundred of them, some others says that this animal is a hybridize between different species with the body of a steinbock, the head of a goat and the rear paws of an eagle, in the end there are no sure records about his real shape. Apparently only one specimen was captured in val Masino in the middle-age and was brought to Morbegno to be shown to the population, unfortunately this animal wasn’t accustomed to the valley climate and died of a cold shortly after. The dahu is more common and less horrific, he looks like a roe deer, his feature is to have two legs on one side shorter than the other, his nature forces him to walk around the mountains peek always in the same direction. Not all the dahus have the same orientation, that’s why many of them die at the moment they born, being structured the opposite side compared to their mother they lose their balance and fall down the slope as soon as they touch the ground.
12_The Captain was invited to hold a conference on the topic “photography and cycling”, we were late, and the presentation wasn’t ready. By the time we arrived the auditorium was so crowded that the organization had to move the entire meeting to a bar… Ok, acoustics wasn’t perfect, but they had great beers.