Words by Guido Casbah and OK Fede / Pictures by Cello & OK Fede
Words by Guido Casbah
I saw everything, I saw nothing. I saw thousands stars shining in a crystal clear sky, I saw animals and magic trees, memories of peoples passed by, martyrs, heroes, wayfarers and bandits. I saw them all but I haven’t seen none of them. We were nowhere, we were everywhere. We were crossing borders, mountains, rivers, clouds, we were moving limits somewhere on the edge of an hill surrounded by sheeps. Lost once again following nothing, roads and forest, loan and rocks. We were dying up there, at one point you’re just too small, is a matter of perception, mother nature is cloaking you. Only one second, our particles spread all over, lost in nature’s essence. Was it a revelation? No. Were we high? Nope. We died up there and we were born again. That was all so shiny and brand new.
Mountains where simply beautiful.
We were born from a bike or a bike was given us right away, that’s unclear, but roads were teaching us with signs and small rocks, the long grass was cheering from the sides, trees were giving high fives. We were doing quite well up there. Running through the landscape always with a ridge to cross, the bikes were feeding us like puppies, giving us shelter at night; and yes we took care of them, hand in hand over climbs that even Fede couldn’t ride, downhill and single tracks. Our eyes inhaling the magic encircling us. We were born again and we need to learn again.
Oh, and the mountains, they were so beautiful.
I saw some aviators’ grave, one was named like me, they were from overseas. What did they see? Paths like lines from above, white drawings on mountains under the moonlight. Who where they observing on these paths? Where they looking for somebody? Carrying something? Throwing something else? And then the fog and the clouds, those thick clouds you can only witness on the mountains; or maybe the wind, the same that was about to blow away our tents, such a wind! Coming from thousand directions hitting us like an enormous brush. Something went wrong up there, who knows. poor guys… And then the french plane, a grenade splinter, an howitzer fragment, it was so big and heavy, Clava rode it. Why did they shot it? And from where? We scratch our heads while looking somewhere on the other side of the valley.
Mountains where so beautiful.
Then the small villages, the towns, other people.
_See them walking, aren’t they funny?
_Yes they are, but we do walk too, it seems so weird.
We were mainly sitting, we did conquer a bench in the center of the square, nearby a fountain with one of the best water we ever had, we where trying not to loose a single detail, focusing on people, try to understand the way they behave. We saw children playing around, having fun on small rowing boats on a tiny pool, jumping on the mats, crossing suspended bridges. We met an old man, he showed us the house his grandfather built, he was waiting to die there.
_oh no way
that’s what we said, no bad thoughts. but he was ok, no problem about that, he was aware. He was in the french navy back in the days, he went around the world four times. Four times, it was enough. How comes that a guy from the french alps reached the navy then? He wanted to travel. Four times, waving is hand up and down, up and down. Was it from north to south? Maybe. We saw cars and families, places where to buy food, buildings and roads. We then saw women for the first time in our new lives, amazing creatures riding a silver bmw R90, they were so fast. We were still sitting, we were learning.
They were so fast and the mountains, my God, they were beautiful.
We learned to read back again, piece of papers, sings, moss, small parts composing a place somewhere, a map, a road, some traces to follow. We where riding to our goal, but we didn’t really know that, I mean, we didn’t have a goal. mountains were just growing in front of us and there were some urgencies to cross them, always, up until the end. Then one day something changed, or maybe we changed, we were then prepared to go back home.
_hey look, I can see the sea with my sunglasses!
_let me have a look…. uh yeah!
mountains where beautiful.
Words by OK Fede
Contrasts. That’s what it’s been, all the time. And that’s every time I leave the city in a rush, at the very last minute. When I pack my bike waking up at 5 AM I know I’m beginning a journey the right way.
You know: sometimes you’re just sitting there alone, sipping some Miles Davis’ tune in your headphones.
We had black metal thundering from Cello’s Boombotix while we were hammering our cranks on the last and steepest gravel turns of the Gardetta Pass.
It’s july in Milan, and you can’t sleep at night. It’s too damn hot, and of course you have no AC ‘cause you live on a budget and you hate ceiling fans.
Wind struck violently our tents at 3 AM, waking up the four of us slamming the flysheets on our faces, as proper windstorms do. We fell asleep occasionally with extended arms. We felt like “I told you”, as we pitched our tents the night before at 2.300 m in what we thought was a sheltered valley.
You may spend summer mornings in complete indolence, just slowly wasting time.
We had reckless descents on rocky trails that led to loads of fun and overwhelming amusement, and to bags failure, mechanicals and tire problems too. Clava was the master of McGyverism solving us most of the problems: especially by fixing (his own) double punctures and restrapping broken bike packs down. And he’s a dedicated tango dancer too.
So you like to show off your fixie while enjoying an aperitif in the coolest bars of the Navigli district? You pussy!
After climbing the strenuous and mighty Colle della Lombarda we happily crushed our beer cans to the sky, laughing like fools in the setting sun, few minutes before crossing the border to France.
In the city one is accustomed to live on a stiff schedule, always obeying timetables and coincidences, rigid agendas and sharp registers. Life as a forced state.
We had freedom to move. And plenty of time for our efforts. We experienced it to the point it hurted. But we also deeply tasted the absolute and true lack of schedule and the delight of feeling lost, looking for the best path to the chosen destination. Even if you’re not able to ride it and must push uphill.
Ultra quick meals are a standard when you work in the city. Work – swallow voraciously – work, repeat. Late in the evening you are desolate walking alone in the aisles of the supermarket just five minutes before it closes, buying the same old stuff to cook an unimaginative dinner.
We were hungry, all the time. When riding down from the mountains to the villages we always happily rushed to grocery stores and bought local and fresh products, had chemical ice creams in shabby bars, filled our bidons with clear water from fountains and always dined together sharing everything with each other, our asses on the ground.
One often thinks a perfect travel-bike should have plenty of gears to face every terrain and any kind of climb, to gain speed on smooth descents and to rely on high cadence when the legs are tired.
We all had plenty of gears on our bikes, but one of us Guido in fact rode the whole journey trusting only one gear, on his Casbah custom made singlespeed cyclocross. Crushing everything with one gear (“Because I’m poor”, as he explained to a Frenchman we met in the Parc du Mercantour). And we were with him all the time, loudly cheering him up from the bottom of our hearts on the steepest climbs.
Training and cycling, most of the time, means routine. The usual, tedious and unexchanged route you could draw from memory. Skinny tires. Asphalt.
We could face every kind of road surface: red clay gravel, singletrack mountain paths, pebbles roads, and we were forced to adjust our speed in the different areas. We rode surrounded by mountains and hills with every kind of rock: from smooth shale and gneiss along the paths to magnificent limestone canyons. Not to mention the various forests. To ride in such an eclectic and colorful environment has been an authentic visual pleasure.
There were no routine at all when we happened to spend a whole day climbing a hill in a steep larch forest getting to the Col de Raus and then pushing our bikes for hours under the hottest sun on a small goats path so narrow we weren’t able to pedal it, even if it was flat. But then we discovered the best descent ever: a true gravel paradise. An 800 meters drop, 13 kilometers long gravel road with small jumps and plenty of switchbacks for the ultimate off-road skids.
Italian people always go to the sea in summer.
In the end we decided to head to Ventimiglia (a city by the sea close to the French-Italian border) as our last goal by following the Roya river valley. To swim in the Ligurian sea. Well this one is no contrast. We wanted to behave as the average Mario. And we did it.
Those days were the epic start of a great summer I was able to spend away from Milan.
Those days were blessed by curiosity for new places against what we already knew. Amazing landscapes against the grey city skyline. The abundance you can find in trustworthy friends against loneliness and egoistic behavior.
We not only experienced the freedom to move, but faced freedom itself as relationship with the Infinite. Infinite in nature and in ourselves. Freedom as the constant thirst for happiness.
And again… very inspiring trip. Is a gravel bike better for such a trip than a 29er..?
Hard to say, so many different terrains. The best is always what you already have in your garage!