The #XPDTN3Dolomites Italian Gravel EXPLOROation

Boundaries were made to be broken. Comfort zones made to be crushed. Three days of diverse and incredible riding on the Italian Dolomite Giara last September…

The idea for this adventure was born last summer, when at the end of the #5MaratonasChallenge my host Igor Tavella from Holimites gave me the GPX file for a 'wild card ride', which took me on several sections of gravel road — it opened my mind to a great opportunity…

Igor said that when I returned to the mountain range I should bring a gravel bike; so that we could further explore these 'roads less travelled'; roads that can take you high above the asphalt, onto the plateau of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The idea of a three day adventure was born: starting from Badia, we would complete a figure of eight loop of gravel passes and paths in the Alta Badia region; stopping overnight at two remote alpine rifugios, which themselves perfectly complement the idea of a 'back-and-beyond' far-flung adventure.

Ideas became plans, and plans were pushed to become reality, with the support of the XPDTN3 club and Holimites. And so, in the late September sunshine we began the Italian adventure…

Day One

The first day is a baptism of fire. We start on the old Valparolla Pass - now a gravel track blockaded at times by landslides, which scales the mountain next to the pristine asphalt (but at far steeper gradients).

Then, we shot off into the wild… along a single-track path laced precariously to the cliff edge high above Cortina. Heart rates are kept high by the ski-slope gradients, hike-a-bike sections; and from the adrenaline of riding quite literally 'on the edge'…

What goes up, must come down... our path shoots back down to the valley, along a section of disused railway line, and then begins the second ascent of the day.

This one is brutal. Loose gravel the size of your fist, and gradients that reach well over twenty-five percent. We are crawling and grappling for grip by the time we reach the alpine pastures at the summit.

A reward of coffee and strudel in the Rifugio is necessitated.

One last descent, and then the final climb of the day...

Refreshed by our stop at the rifugio we blast down the gravel path in the setting sun; slide our way down the steep concrete switchbacks; then cross the river on the valley floor to begin our ascent.

We finish our first day in the Dolomites at the Rifugio de Fanes - a truly remote alpine hut; it stands at 2306 metres above sea level — making it most probably the highest place I have ever slept. It was a good night's sleep too: high above the clouds, and with a stomach full from a South Tyrolean dinner feast.

Day Two

Up with the sun, we head out onto the gravel trails on top of the Badia plateau. On reaching the cliff edge, we are forced to shoulder bikes and tiptoe down the rock staircase to the valley below...

Once at the base of the sheer cliff there is little time to rest... we need to somehow squeeze over 3000 metres of elevation gain into less than seventy kilometres of riding.

The path heads up again, and onto the opposite plateau. Panoramic views present themselves at the summit, and despite a casquette now soaked in sweat from the gear grinding climb, you cannot help but look out on the vista; smile, and be in complete awe at the mountains...

Onwards to the Passo Pordoi. We climb at first on the asphalt, then take a left at the top of the road pass, and continue skywards to the rifugio at the summit.

Refreshed by espresso, we head out onto the most challenging parcour yet... a tiny single track path laced to the mountainside; with dolomite spikes protruding from beneath it, which require precarious slaloming to avoid. 

The backdrop of the iconic Mount Marmolada is a welcome distraction from the heavy legs: though perhaps not one to rest your eyes on for too long, for fear of losing your footing on the path.  

After summiting the Pordoi for the second time, we rock hop our way down the other side of the pass, and then immediately begin the climb of Sellajoch.

The asphalt only lasts a few hundred metres, before we swing a right onto another boulder-strewn gravel path.

When we emerge above the tree line, we can set our eyes on the prize... the Rifugio Frederich August sits proudly below the jagged peaks; we push hard, knowing it promises a cool drink, spectacular food, and a good night's sleep on the mountain top.

Day Three

The third and final day on the Dolomite gravel is a solo affair for me; Igor heads home to attend the hotel.

I begin with breakfast looking out from our stunning mountain top cabin, before rolling (and walking) out along another single track path laced to the mountain side.

I descend down from the peak into the forested valley below, and then begin the biggest and steepest climb of the day up from the alpine resort of Ortisei. 

This path is something else... an unrelenting double figure gradient, that lasts for well over ninety minutes of climbing. My bottom gear (42-42) has never been so well engaged.

The view from the summit is equally breath taking...

Descending down rock slabs and carrying the 3T Exploro down staircases is almost too much for my fatigued and battered body; but only one climb remains.

It begins with a gentle shaded ramp up through the forest; that is a relief at least. Then when the path heads out onto the open slopes the gradient doubles, and the gravel becomes the size of small apples. I am forced to walk sections because my legs just cannot take it - when I do finally reach the rifugio at the summit; I treat myself to one last apfel strudel...

The sun is setting as I begin the final descent back down into Val Badia, and home to Hotel Ustaria Posta. It is a beautiful ride: gravel pinging from beneath tyres, and a golden light on the peaks in the horizon.

Three days, three incredible point-to-point rides; one amazing EXPLOROation. #XPDTN3Dolomites


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