The bustling city of Aosta sits in the valley of the same name and is surrounded by monster mountains with quaint villages and farmhouses perched on their rocky slopes. Ditte and I have had a couple of previous sessions exploring the valley’s magnificent trails and so were pretty excited to return last year for an encore.
We were ensconced at alpine resort Vulpera, opposite Scuol but on the wrong side of the railway tracks and river. The faded once grand hotels and 80s budget apartments have been left to the vampires, vultures, chain smoking Italian road workers, and us mountain bikers. A bouncy castle, mini golf and kids swimming pool had invaded our front lawn, but an amazing piece of single trail descended from this to the mineral springs and back along the other side of the river into Scuol, bliss.
As we pack, shop and reluctantly bid farewell to Davos, we take a moment to reflect on a marvellous two weeks of riding, before heading for Scuol just 50kms away over the Fluela Pass. We adored Davos for its stunning trails, weather and discount guest pass covering bikes on lifts, trains, boats, buses and planes. Every trail and every day was a revelation. Our trips are studiously marked in sunflower fluoro highlighter on the 'single trail topo' map. A spiderweb of good times, challenges and climbs.
With bad old Christchurch be-calmed in a grey blanket of drizzly smeg, Ditte and I headed for the clear and cloudless Ashburton Lakes in the Canterbury High Country.
Beyond the twin set and pearls of Alexandra lies the badlands. It's dry, it's dusty and features an 11 metre clock surrounded by thyme. It's on the wrong side of the “Otago Rail Trail” tracks, Manuherikia River and derelict water race, and receives less rainfall per year than Fiordland often gets in a day.
Mt Hutt ski-field road climbs relentlessly in the Hakatere Conservation Park, but lucky for us the most excellent “Bike Methven Club” has built 30+ kms of trail in the Mt Hutt Mountain Bike Park. After the forestry plantation was logged and replanted the club purchased the land and restored their original MTB tracks, and have been busy building more.
A favorable weather pattern presented Dave Mitchell and Ditte Van der Meulen with the only excuse needed to head south to the tracks and trails of Otago and Southland. A road trip on the cusp of autumn was soon conceived with their van packed to the gunnels, maps selected and bikes prepared within an inch of their lives.
The mono culture of grapes on the Wairau Valley floor stretches forever towards St Arnaud, and across the bridge on SH6 the foot hills above North Bank Road contain the second mono culture, pine trees. They follow the grapes towards St Arnaud, fill up the gullies and ridges to the native bush line and have self seeded their way onto open tops and into vacant clearings in the bush.
The lights winked out on the night before - the night before Christmas, with the promise that we would awake to one of twenty seventeens longest days. We awoke at dawn, heralded with a sunny morning set amongst the golden tussocks, beside the historic Fowlers Pass Hut. Fowlers Pass with its long thin ribbon of luscious single track lay before us - roaming upwards towards the open tops where mountain bike heaven truly resides.
In March 2017 the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park, like much of the North Island, was hit hard by cyclone Debbie. Ditte and I were hunkered down in Rotorua while torrential rain drummed for three days solid on our accommodation's corrugated iron roof. Fast forward to spring 2017 and the Herculean effort to repair the road is still ongoing. It took all of four months just to join the dots so the locals of Minginui didn't have an hours drive through dodgy forestry roads to get to Murapara.
From the Ocean Atlantique to the Mer Mediterranee the Pyrenees mountain range undulates from east to west for over one thousand kilometers. Its summit chain pretty much marks the border between Spain and France, with the small enclave of Andorra slotting in along the way, like one small piece of a massive rugged jigsaw puzzle.