Tracks6000: A Hellish Weekend Adventure in Trentino
Back in June, Miha Gazvoda traveled to Italy to take on the technical and challenging Tracks6000 event as his first bikepacking race. Find his story of embracing the absurdity to make it to the finish line here, along with a vibrant set of images from Andrea Securo…
After skipping the Tuscany Trail, Carso Trail, and Veneto Trail, I was out of excuses by the time I came across Tracks6000. Once I read the description, I knew this was the one. It said: “If you come with a mountain bike, it will be hell. If you come with the gravel bike, it will be much, much worse.”
The route consists of 150 kilometers with 6,000 vertical meters of climbing, many of which are not rideable. Intrigued, I applied but still wasn’t fully committed. I was careful to tell a few of my friends that I applied, not that I was attending. I wasn’t sure if I was capable of finishing the route since I hadn’t climbed more than 1,500 vertical meters in a day, and that was with my road bike, and the event would be my first bikepacking experience. When my friend Tadej decided to sign up as well, I figured there was no way back.
In the week before the event, I was consumed by thoughts of what to pack and how the experience would be. Can I survive it?. It kept me absent at work and awake at night. Finally, Friday evening came, and we headed from Ljubljana to Refugio Carlettini in Val Campelle near Trento, Italy, where the Tracks6000 would start the next morning.
After a few short hours of nervous sleep, we started packing at 5:30 a.m., followed by registration, where we signed documents in Italian. I hoped I didn’t sell my soul to the devil. Or maybe I did, since I’d soon be riding through hell. We started at 7:30 a.m., and it was a blessing to finally start pedaling. If I forgot to pack something, it was now too late, and if the route was too hard, well, I’d soon find out.
Most of the first climb to Forcella Val Sorda (14 kilometers, 900 vertical meters) was on gravel between meadows and conifers. Near the top, we also meet our loudest supporters, the cows.
“That was easier than expected!” I told Tadej when he announced we were at the top of the first col. What a mistake! There was a slight descent followed by an almost 300 vertical meter hike-a-bike. With our legs feeling fairly strong, we (only temporarily) moved out of the last-place position during the push up.
The descent was—to paraphrase the event description—hell on full-suspension, even worse on a hardtail, and on a gravel bike… Dante would invent a tenth circle of hell for that. We descended on what used to be an alpine path that soon transformed into a stream full of rocks due to a storm a few days ago. Luckily, the path got better and better (it could hardly get worse), and the last few kilometers of the descent were on gravel.
The family of Ildebrando, the Tracks6000 organizer, surprised us with a fuel station at the bottom. They offered us Coke, watermelons, and pie—an offer we couldn’t refuse. While Ildebrando was absent, we asked his partner Michela if we were the last ones. She didn’t understand, so she turned to her young daughter to ask if she did. She nodded. “Then answer him,” she told her in Italian. The girl smiled and said, “Yes!” Tadej and I laughed, joking that now we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And, oh boy, we had some gaining to do, at least in terms of vertical meters.
Before we left, Ildebrando rejoined us and told us about the route ahead. He suggested that we sleep around kilometer 70 of the route. That meant we had to climb two and a half more mountain passes. Ouch.
The second ascent was to Manghen Pass (8 kilometers, 800 vertical meters). It started on asphalt—oh now I missed its smoothness—but soon switched to a steep gravel road. Turn after turn, I thought, “Surely it has to get flatter eventually?!” It didn’t, but we got back to asphalt, so it was survivable. Once at the top, we briefly caught some competitors but lost them again as we lingered for a while.
On the descent, my brakes started making shrill, metallic noises. The sounds appeared every time I turned the wheel, even when I didn’t use the brakes. We took a look but didn’t find anything obvious. It seemed that one pad was too close to the disc and touched it at every turn. I left it as it was, afraid of making things worse by trying to fix it. Luckily, the worrying sound got quieter, masked the ambient noise on the way up to our third mountain.
The third climb (6 kilometers, 600 vertical meters) to Passo Palu was easier, at least on paper, because it had fewer vertical meters than the previous two. But it had a steep and rocky hike-a-bike at the end that made up half of the climb, and it was the hardest part of the route. Every time I had to lift my bike, I felt like my arms were going to fall off. I’d never imagined that my arms, not legs, would be my weak point. I stopped every couple of meters to rest. Getting to the top felt like a victory, and we knew we could make it to our campsite.
We made our way up the last climb toward La Bassa (18 kilometers, 700 vertical meters), and it was easy-peasy since we set our expectations so high. In the middle of it, we caught another competitor who was pushing his bike on an almost flat section. A ray of hope started to appear. Could we escape last place? Nope, because he resigned later on.
Tadej and I had dinner at a picnic place alongside the route. In the next few kilometers—as Ildebrando suggested—we set up a camp. After almost eight and a half hours on a bike (excluding pauses), 63 kilometers, and 3m,000 vertical meters of climbing, we were finally done for the day.
The night felt even longer than the day. I was nervous and ironically couldn’t fall asleep because I was worried about needing to get a proper rest for the day ahead.
I felt hungover when I woke up, and it took us at least an hour to get back on our bikes. Thankfully, adrenaline and fresh morning air helped to eradicate my morning nausea. We had a few more kilometers of gravel, surrounded by unusually green meadows and conifers. It was the most enjoyable and beautiful part of the route.
That pleasant stretch was followed by a long descent of almost 1,400 vertical meters. It had everything: asphalt, gravel, singletracks, and of course lots of noises from my brakes. We arrived in Terme Levico, a spa town next to a lake. Our first stop was a grocery shop, where we bought Cokes and loads of food: pizza, croissants, donuts, mini-pizzas, sliced melon, cherry tomatoes, and more. Because of a sudden shower, we ate them under the cover of a bus station.
On the way out of Terme Levico, Tadej broke a spoke, and his tubeless tire deflated as a consequence. While he was replacing it, I gathered the courage to take a look at my noisy front brake and found out it was dislocated. I took out a multi-tool, gave it a shot, and fixed it! I could attack the hardest climb of the route to Cima Mandriolo (22 km, 1,350 vertical meters) without listening to my brake’s heartbreaking squelches!
The first part of the climb to Menador Pass was on asphalt that averaged around 10% incline for more than 8 kilometers. The pass seemed to be popular among road cyclists and car drivers alike, but I was happier being on a bike since cars had problems with the narrow and winding road. Tunnels and deep drops next to the road kept us on our toes, so we focused less on suffering and more on staying alive. We even met a guy who invited us for a beer at a rest stop in the middle of a climb (we declined).
One atop a plateau, the route reminded me of the area where we’d camped: surrounded by meadows full of cows and bordered by coniferous forest. It was a perfect—and not too hard—conclusion of the climb. Then came the rain. It started as a drizzle while we were still in the forest, but once we emerged, it instantly transformed to a full-on downpour. We were soaking wet before we could hide under the trees, and to make matters worse, my shoes were dirty from stepping in cow poop. After an eternity—or half an hour, as the watch showed—the rain stopped.
We checked the elevation profile on the Garmin and saw a free fall ahead of us. Super curious to know what the path would look like, we didn’t lose any time at the top. But before descending even a single meter, and this might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not, we had to dismount our bikes. What awaited was a narrow and steep alpine path full of rocks, some bigger than soccer balls. A couple of times, we even had to climb over fallen trees. Finally, the path transformed into a narrow gravel road that permitted us to ride our bikes. But despite being on gravel, we had to pass two landslides left by an avalanche or torrent. Then came a long descent on asphalt toward Borgo Valsugana, my brakes screeching the whole day down. Once there, we enjoyed a delicious meal and a drink after the day’s excitement.
While we were eating, Ildebrando appeared out of nowhere. He came to apologize that he wouldn’t be able to wait for us in the rifugio because he had to take care of his three toddlers. We told him how much we liked the event description, and together we all laughed about it. He told us that this was the fourth edition of the event, and we were the first foreigners ever to participate. While chatting, I noticed another rider who’d overtaken at the first climb of the route, then lost again.
“Look, we can still overtake him!” I said excitedly.
“He’s already back from Refugio,” replied Ildebrando.
So much for not coming in last.
We expected the climb back to Refugio Carlettini (12 kilometers, 900 vertical meters) wouldn’t be that hard due to its paved surface. We were wrong. The first few kilometers averaged 12%, with some parts closer to 20%. I quickly lost my pride and switched to pushing my bike instead, which I could do almost as quickly as Tadej could ride.
As always, after the toughest moment, it eventually got easier. The climb became less step, and I slowly regained the will to ride again. We moved ahead. At first step by step, then stroke by stroke. At 9:10 p.m., after nine and a half hours on the bike, 80 tough kilometers, and 2,750 vertical meters, we arrived at the rifugio that marked the end of the race.
Together, we’d survived our trip to hell and back on the Tracks6000, and it was a first bikepacking experience that we’re sure never to forget.
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