I woke early on my last morning, wolfed down the hotel breakfast and then dallied a bit as the 4°C temperature outside didn’t feel all that enticing. I thought I had more time to play with considering all the descending that lay ahead, but as it transpired, I really should have left earlier. In the end, I pedalled out of Arabba at 9 a.m., giving me 9 hours to cover the 82km and 1900m of climbing back to the bike hire shop in Brixen-Bressanone before it closed.
I retraced my steps in the morning, descending the same road I had raced up the previous evening. A few kilometers later I turned off onto a narrow road and the climbing for the day began. This road wound upwards steeply, uncoiling as it reached the top of the valley, passing ski lifts as it turned into a deserted dirt track.
At the top of this dirt climb, I passed several mountain bikers, of which I had seen very few of over the past few days. It seemed like the Dolomites hadn’t fully tapped into the mountain biking market like the Alps had.
With the first big climb of the day out of the way, I descended a gravel track, throwing in a cheeky mountain bike descent with big berms along the way, until I dropped into another ski town. Here the Trans-Dolomiti began following a flat, gravel track where bicycles were not allowed. The only other alternative was a busy road and I couldn’t see why bikes were not allowed on such a wide flat path so I continued on, slowing to a crawl whenever I had to pass walkers as I knew I shouldn’t really have been there.
I climbed gently along this track to the base of a waterfall before the track pitched steeply upwards in typical Dolomite fashion, taking the shortest possible route back to the road. Here I had to get off and push again, a common occurrence here in the Dolomites, especially considering the strain my back was under here each day.
Once on the road I joined a heavy flow of traffic, steeply climbing to the Gardena Pass at 2,136 metres. At the top of this pass lay the large wooden chalet of Rifugio Frara. This particular rifugio was situated right beside a busy main road, and looked more like a 5-star hotel than the rifugios I had been frequenting during my time in the Dolomites. It seemed the better rifugios with a bit more atmosphere were always the ones that had no road leading to them, and instead were frequented purely by hikers and the occasional mountain biker.
From here I turned onto a gorgeous bit of singletrack sweeping downhill through meadows and past wooden huts. Soon this turned into one of the steepest, loosest fireroad I had ever seen, descending at an alarming rate down a steep river valley. I swallowed my pride again and got off and walked, not wanting to risk careering out of control considering the heavy weight on the bike and my lack of ability to get behind the saddle with my seatpack in the way. Whenever things levelled out I got on the bike but would soon be off walking again as I cursed the slow progress I was making.
This descent deposited me onto a beautiful cycleway which passed through charming villages. As I trundled along this, I wondered why the Irish government were so far behind on these kinds of facilities.
At the base of this descent the last big climb of the day reared its ugly head. This was an even more brutal affair than usual as I wrestled my bike up hairpin after hairpin to another ski station.
Here the track turned to gravel and I was met by a constant flow of e-bikes descending towards me, their riders seemingly out of control at times. One biker was descending at speed when he came across two walkers on one side of the track with their backs turned to him, and me facing him on the other side of the track. With the track ahead of him blocked, he tried to brake and skidded horribly out of control. I had no choice but to pull off the track to allow him to pass at speed, while he swerved around the walkers.
This wasn’t the best start, but it got even worse further up the climb. An older man was descending on a steep fireroad. I was climbing up the gravel, completely out of breath as I wrestled the bike uphill. He was descending at a slow speed, but was heading straight for me, making no effort to change line. I had no choice but to put my foot down and stop or he was going to collide with me.
He came to a stop too right in front of me and started cursing at me in German! I’m not sure what he expected of me. It seemed he wanted me to throw myself sideways across the track so that he could continue descending on his chosen line! He continued shouting abuse at me in German while I stood there totally out of breath wrecked and confused at what was happening. I shouted a few choice words back at him when I finally had my breath back, wondering why in the name of hell he had expected me to jump out of the way, and why he was shouting abuse at me for not doing so.
That put a bit of a downer on the rest of the climb as I continued up through the forest to the higher slopes of the mountain. Here I raced down a fireroad which deposited me at the base of another valley. During this descent, I caught a glimpse of the final climb of the day, a tarmac road winding through some meadows. I was now under some serious time pressure to make it back to the bike rental shop before it closed, so I sprinted straight into this climb and pedalled hard all the way to the top.
From the top of this climb, I threw myself into the tarmac descent with the raw abandon of my twenties again considering the time pressure I was under.
This last descent was a bit of a blur as the route swapped between tarmac and off-road trails, with a few technical bonus climbs thrown in for good measure. I didn’t stop for many photos here and just sprinted flat out from 1,860 metres down to the Eisack River at just 480 metres. Down here, one last time trial followed as I raced the last 20 kilometres to the bike shop, enjoying the wonderful riverside cycle path the whole way.
In the end, I arrived at the bike shop with forty minutes to spare, which was probably cutting it a bit tight considering I could have faced some mechanicals along the way. If I hadn’t made it before closing time, I would have been in trouble as my train back to Verona was booked for 7 a.m. the next morning, before the bike rental shop had opened again, which explains why I was racing so hard towards the end of the day.
After handing back my bicycle, it was over; I was just a regular tourist again, just dressed in dust covered leggings, cycling shoes and a mountain biking jersey, and awkwardly carrying bikepacking bags under my arms.
That evening I treated myself to a steak and wine to celebrate having managed the majority of the epic Trans-Dolomiti! It was a real shame not to have completed the whole route, but in the end this bothered me much less than I expected.
A few months previously I had been unable to do any form of exercise, even loading the dishwasher had proved too strenuous, resulting in me damaging my lower back further! Spending four days cycling from dawn to dusk amongst the majestic peaks of the Dolomites, grinding up the harshest of gravel climbs and descending off-road through one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Europe, was something that I could hardly have dreamed of doing before the year’s end.
So even though I hadn’t completed the full Trans-Dolomiti, I was as content as could be, for the beauty and adventure of what I did complete was more than enough for me. I hoped to come back to this region some day to see what I had missed, but for now I was leaving this place happy and fulfilled at what had been a fantastic few days of biking in an especially beautiful part of the world.