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.
"Stay safe", everyone said. "Be careful". Their fear and concern were infectious, by the time we left for Colombia I had to keep myself away from the internet, stop searching for tales of mayhem and terror there. Four weeks later, this picture records the reality we encountered - welcoming, helpful with not a hint of danger.
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.
If you like a challenge, mountain biking and big, big mountains, Nepal is the right place for you. We decided it was the right place for us, as we bikepacked a loop from Kathmandu, around the famed Annapurna Circuit trekking route, and back to Kathmandu via the Chitwan National Park jungle.
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.