Although I was, and still am, looking forward to riding the Tour Divide in 2022, there was an event in the far northeast of Italy that was calling for me: the Carso Trail. I had received several invitations from the organizers, and Renzo Fornaro from VAP Cycling wanted to include me in the VAP Cycling team for the event. It didn’t take much to convince me to head to Trieste for the grand depart.
The Carso Trail is an annual bikepacking event that usually takes place within Friuli Venezia-Giulia and it’s neighbour Slovenia. However, the global pandemic forced the organizers to limit the track to Italy only. The result was a 350-kilometre route from the Italian Karst to the Julian Prealps, with a total ascent of 4,300 metres.
For the event, I equipped my Salsa Woodsmoke with a 36/20T singlespeed gearing to compromise between the needed agility for the climb and decent cadence, while also maintaining speed in the flat sections. Looking back, I could have used a harder gear, but that was all I had.
The route starts and ends at the Marina Julia Campground in Monfalcone. On Friday, June 11th, we all lined up, ready to ride. A quick phone call with my family gave away my Brescian accent, which was immediately noticed by the guy next to me. This is how I met Andrea Galanti, with whom I shared a big portion of the route (along with talks, panoramas, and laughs). We were just getting started when my low gear cadence caused a void around me. I’d have to wait for the first climb to catch up with Andrea.
A hilly track with a nice view of the Gulf of Trieste leads us to the trenches on Mount San Michele. Here, my singlespeed rig forced me to a harder pace and I broke away from the group. I rode alone for the rest of the day. We left the karstic rocks and the border with Slovenia to enter the Gorizia hills. It was 1 p.m. and I stopped for lunch, which consisted of ice cream and a lemon granita. Little did I know that this unconventional meal would be the best choice. Shortly after my break, the path along the vineyards became warm and humid, and I was pouring with sweat on the climbs. I stopped again in Rualis for a cold Cola (even though I was dreaming of another ice cream).
A few kilometers later, the first big climb awaits. First, I followed a paved road, which transitioned into gravel next to Mount Purgessimo, and finally, an asphalt road headed to Castelmonte. From Castelmonte, the trail follows some technical singletrack, spiced up with some short hike-a-bike sections. From there, the route leads to Mount La Cima (the highest point of the route) where Luca Petrinka (one of the organizers) was sneaking pictures of us. I asked him about the next part of the route and what I should expect. “From Mount La Cima you’ll just have a descent and a small climb, then down again to Cividale del Friuli.” Well, the “small climb” has a nice 10% average incline, with some small 12% bits. Once I got to the top, I was done. I needed to eat, but my bags only offered bars and gels. I was cold, so I put on my sleeves and a jacket and started the descent.
It was getting dark and the roads of Piedmont were busy. The idea of cycling in these conditions concerned me, so I stopped for a pizza (which somehow managed to convince me to get to keep riding). So, there I was, on my bike again, facing 120 kilometres of flat trails…which translated to a six-hour ride, thanks to my 22km/h pace. I rode past small villages and big fields crowded with animals.
I stopped for the last time in the beautiful city of Palmanova, past Grado into a natural reserve. An owl flew into the cone of my light to catch a bat. I was almost at the finish line when the morning cleared the sky and I rode to the seaside. Marco (one of the organizers) and Andrea, who just arrived, were waiting for me with a cold beer. It was 4 a.m. and my Carso Trail ended in the best possible way: with a sandwich, a couple of beers, and a few new friends.
Next year, I’ll be in Canada during this event, but I still want to come back to try the “No Borders” trail, riding into Slovenia. If my ride report has stirred up your curiosity, check it out at CarsoTrail.it.
From the organizers
Over the course of the last 15 months, the global pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our lives. Traveling, along with bikepacking, was no exception: crossing the borders has become more complex, while gatherings and overnight events are forbidden. Staging a bike event that crosses the national border between Italy and Slovenia was hopeless. Still, here is where the 2021 Carso Trail found its way. Instead of postponing the event, we drew an Italian track, leaving the paths of Slovenia for the next years.
The Carso Trail route starts near the mouth of the Soča river, and it immediately offers a taste of the harsh Italian karst. One hundred kilometres of fast and rocky singletrack leads the participants to Mt. San Michele. Here, the trail retraces the steps of the World War I soldiers, between the trenches and bunkers of an open-air museum. It then leaves the karst to enter the Gorizia hills, a micro-region internationally renowned for its wine production (which was worth a stop for many participants). Approaching the Julian pre-Alps, mountain landscapes replace the vineyards. The trail climbs up 2,000 metres in less than 50 kilometres: at first, it follows a nice gravel path, then some concrete country roads, to end up on a challenging singletrack. The latter was mentioned by almost all riders – in some cases for the nice views on the Kanin Massif, in other cases for the not-so-enjoyed portage sections. The descent brings riders to Cividale del Friuli and down to a fast gravel track along the banks of the Natisone River. Around 120 kilometres of flat trail now divide the participants from the finish line near the Kona Lagoon Reserve.
As redundant as it might sound, we were overwhelmed by mixed sensations. A strong bliss accompanies every Carso Trail edition: the rush for the final preparations; the excitement of the participants, all lined up at sunrise; the racing to follow the riders and get a few pictures along the trails; the enthusiasm of those who reached the end of the track. We were overjoyed. Still, a bitter taste resided at the bottom of the tongue: we’ll have to wait until next year to ride into Slovenia.
Keep an eye on our events calendar for details on the 2022 Carso Trail.
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.