Expectations and Elevation: Riding the 2022 Veneto Trail
Over the summer, friends Tommy Ransome and Ralph Berwanger traveled to Italy to ride the 2022 Veneto Trail, a stunning route and event in the Dolomites. This jointly written piece reminds us that reality can completely defy expectations in an instant—for better or worse. Find their unique story and a vibrant gallery of photos here…
If you’re a longer-term reader of BIKEPACKING.com, chances are you’ve already got a visual understanding of the incredible riding and scenery the Veneto Trail is known for. What you might not know is that the event is run and routed by one of our favourite northern Italian trailblazers, Andrea Securo, with his family! Andrea’s partner Beatrice manages most of the organisation, his father Antonio assists heavily with routing and rider morale, and his mother Daniela keeps the exhausted finishers in line.
It’s a vibe, and it attracts some wonderful people from all over the globe, giving the feels, community, and sense of measured achievement that come from an organised event (as opposed to, say, solo touring). The route itself winds through the Dolomites for about 450 kilometres with 10,000 metres of climbing. The loop starts and ends in Citadella; an interesting place that’s steeped in history, with a walled old town filled with well-dressed people riding clapped-out step-thrus and surrounded by cute moat. This year’s route had many similarities to the 2021 route, taking riders to the highs of Monte Grappa, Forcella Ambrizzola, Forcella Maraia, and Col Visentin, as well as the towns of Feltre, Agordo, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Misurina, Lago, and Asolo.
It’s not full gas all the time. Some parts are easy, and some parts doable, but others are just bloody challenging. It is possible to race, ride, or party pace, with some riders opting for super light setups and staying in the mountaintop Rifugios, some choosing simple roadside bivvy spots, and some aiming to find that 10/10 tent spot with lush grass, morning sun, and mountain views.
Tommy rode the trail last year in 2021 with his mate Jody and had a blast. As Jody had moved back to Australia, Tommy was super keen to share the experience with others in 2022. He roped in a few friends from Berlin—Ralph, Boris, and Dan—who were chuffed at the prospect of sampling the visual and gastronomical treats of northern Italy.
Tommy was also looking forward to linking up again with Manuel and the crew from Bombtrack Bikes, who he met at the 2021 event. Manuel was looking to finish the 2022 event strongly after his unfortunate accident on the final day of last year’s Veneto Trail that rendered him unable to finish. He’d brought along an even bigger riding group with him for this year!
The first time Ralph heard of Veneto Trail was probably when Tommy told him of his plans to participate in 2021. Trying to uphold his usual low-expectations approach proved to be difficult this time, as so much excellent content flooded his consciousness stream. So, when Tommy described it to him as “like my ultimate bike tour: great riding, great company, endless pizzas, and tasty refreshments,” he had to come along in 2022.
Time to ride
Ralph: I was confident that riding as a bike messenger for Crow Courier Collective (@crowberlin) would have me in a good enough shape, and hauling heavy stuff on a cargo bike would be decent uphill training. This turned out to be somewhat true, and I was in good seasonal form. But, even truer is that gear ratios are not a mind over matter thing, and mountains are mountains! The route’s very first challenge, Monte Grappa, became a peculiar mix of fun and torture that made me second-guess every item in my bags. My sketchbook and pens that I would barely use felt like an unnecessary burden, as we were all cooked out of our minds by day’s end.
Tommy: The Monte Grappa goat tracks aren’t the type of climbs I would normally volunteer to do twice. Although this year was a slightly different track, it still featured those huge round rocks, uneven grades, and the same pain. This year was surely five times longer than last year, or at least it felt like it. Lucky for us, Antonio and his mates had organised the best DIY pop-up refreshment stand we’d ever seen about 80% up the climb. Pastries, pre-cut bananas, tap water with hilarious labels of your choice, plus smiles to match. Really true to the vibe of the whole event. The view of the flatlands from the top is great, as was the veggie lasagne at the Rifugio.
Ralph: The way down from Monte Grappa didn’t allow for much relaxation since the trail demanded full presence of mind. It was quite a challenge as I found myself torn between bombing down this amazing trail and stopping for the splendid view at every second turn.
We met one participant whose crank broke, I had my first big tubeless puncture, we helped out a rider named Martin who had an even bigger puncture (Daniel sewed it with dental floss), my rear brake stopped working on a steep gravel section, and a fellow rider had a hard crash right in front of me. I bandaged him as best possible, but it wasn’t until later that we realised his elbow wound needed professional attention. At least there was one thing though that turned out exactly as expected after this first day: the pizza! We spent the night in a field a stone’s throw from the pizzeria.
Tommy: The second day was strangely quiet. So, to inject some Type 2.5 fun, I dragged the crew all the way to Alleghe in the dark to “the second-best camping spot ever.” We arrived to find a muddy construction site with barely any suitable spot to pitch. Coincidentally, Manuel had brought the Bombtrack crew there also because it really was great last year! My mates were clearly disappointed, and I felt the weight of expectation on my shoulders.
Ralph: Day three had a lot of hard climbing with a lot of pushbiking ready for us right from the start. The final bit up to Forcella Ambrizzola was an especially “delightful” hike-a-bike. But wow, what a payoff it presented! The views from up there were truly unforgettable. And the trail that led us back down engraved a wide grin into my face.
Tommy: Morning broke on day three, and Alleghe showed it beauty. The respective crews were in good spirits, and we soaked up the view. After a quick stop for some bike mechanics, espressos, and apricot cornettos, we pushed on toward the highest point of the route, Forcella Ambrizzola. In 2021, at the top of this climb, I was high on life. I almost lost my mind from excitement then, so I was super keen to share it with my Berlin buddies.
The climb itself passed with a few cuss words and lots of sweat. Just before the famous hike-a-bike, there’s some agricultural buildings with makeshift seats. Dan and I waited here for the crew to arrive. We’d found a couple of new crew members, including Tassilo, for the final push.
Given our collective expectations and varying energy levels, the mood at the top felt “cautiously relieved.” This was elevated to “bloody stoked” when we were able to see around the corner, and the epic, rocky alpine singletrack revealed a path to the open valley below. Fast and flowy with a sprinkling of danger. We all made it through the singletrack, and then headed down toward Cortina on the super steep concrete paved track.
Ralph: And then came the incident that changed the whole trip. Something you know is possible when riding off road but at the same time don’t expect to happen. We were descending from Forcella Ambrizzola, already on a paved forest road that was very steep and bendy. A few of us regrouped at a tight turn and waited for the others to catch up. Moments later, I heard Boris scream, “I have no brakes!” Thinking it was a joke, I turned around and saw that he was travelling way too fast to be able to catch the turn. He managed to avoid crashing into us, but hit a big boulder instead, making a head-on dive into a another rock.
Tommy: Almost immediately after the impact, the manager of the closest Rifugio happened to be driving up the track in his 4WD. His name was Amedeo, and he called the emergency services on our behalf. No more than 15 minutes later, an ambulance arrived to administer first aid, and five minutes after that, a helicopter came to take Boris to the hospital. Amedeo was kind enough to take Boris’ broken bike with him, and with that…. it was just us… with our bikes… in the forest… feeling dazed and confused.
Ralph: I will forever remember the eerie minutes after the helicopter, ambulance, and medics left the scene. It was weirdly quiet as if nothing had happened at all. The German word for accident is Unfall; it can be literally translated as “non-case.” An event that should not be. But here it was, the event that changed our ride and shook our expectations.
After the accident
Ralph: I found it difficult to write about the rest of the trip in ordinary terms. We tried to make the best of it, and by any metric, it sure was nothing short of amazing. More challenging climbs, splendid views, lush nature, gnarly downhills, great people, and delicious food. But in the back of my head, there was always the question of how Boris was doing. I was constantly waiting for updates on his condition. It helped a lot to have Dan and Tassilo around, who shared that moment. To process it all, by discussing the lead up to the crash, pondering how we would have reacted in such a situation, and trying to find some light in all this. I also felt a mix of guilt and thankfulness about Tommy staying behind, taking care of getting Boris’ bike back to Citadella.
Tommy: We slowly made our way down to Cortina, got ourselves some vegetariana pizza and Ichnusa Non Filtrata, and pondered what next to do. I felt somewhat responsible for Boris’ accident as I was the pseudo tour guide for this ride. On our way to camp that night, I’d already decided to stick around in Cortina to make sure Boris’ bike and gear got back to Citadella.
As I lay inside my one-person tent on the banks of the Torrente Bòite with a thunderstorm overhead, I pondered how differently this had all gone in comparison to the expectations I’d placed on it. I was scared for Boris but comforted that he was safe. I was happy that Ralph, Dan, and Tassilo got to keep riding, and I was hoping they’d ride safe.
Two days later, we were able to organise that Antonio came to pick me and the two bikes up from Amedeo’s mother’s house just outside of Cortina. Riding back in Antonio’s car gave me a vastly different experience of the Dolomites. Moving in fast-moving traffic, Antonio and I used hand gestures to make jokes and carry on some kind of conversation above the noise of the car radio. The five days up to this point seemed like forever, and now we were just cruising back down to the flatlands of Citadella in a matter of minutes.
I was so grateful for the hospitality and support of all these people in getting our shit back to Citadella. It was pure relief to be back amidst the familiar confines and faces at the Citadella High School Gym. Manuel and the Bombtrack crew had just rolled in safely a couple of hours earlier, and upon waking the next morning, I was greeted by a broad-smiling Martin and his fatbike with that expertly repaired tyre.
Time to sit
A week after leaving Citadella, we set up camp on top of the Peč, near Kranjska Gora, for our final night camping together. Indulging in a 3€ bottle of red wine while watching the rain clouds congregate, we exchanged reflections on the 2022 Veneto Trail. It was nothing like we expected, but much, much more.
Given how close Boris was to a debilitating injury, he is making a solid recovery. His surgery was successful, his rehabilitation is strong, and the vision for his new Kona Sutra LTD is even stronger. With the support of his family and friends, Boris will soon be back on the bike. This will be an important part of the healing process for all involved, and who knows, we might even have to ride the Veneto Trail again next year!
Ironically, for an “unsupported adventure,” we sure did get a lot of support. Thanks, everyone. We couldn’t have done it without you. Ciao, ragazzi!
PS: Boris says, “Read the fine print on your insurance policy! Even with a serious neck injury, the wrong insurance companies can be disappointingly argumentative and/or slow to support you in your claims. Ride with mates whenever possible, because you never know when you’ll need them to help you out!” Also, if you’re in Citadella, we can recommend pizza at Ristorante Marechiaro; bigoli at Taverna del borgo; and espresso, marmelade pastries, and white wine spritzer at Caffè al Pozzo.
Make sure to dig into these related articles for more info...
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.