After a week of thrills and almost spills in the Campania region of Italy, I boarded the plane back to the UK and began to wonder when would I ever return?
Not only had the weather been glorious but the pre trip mission had been completed. To get to the mountains in southern Italy, do my chores, climb mountains by motorcycle, make videos for the YouTube channel and soak in as much of the local culture as I could.
On the whole it had been a great trip but I also am left with a slight nervous twitch as I recall one of the bike rides which took me along an ancient donkey trail that hugged, halfway up the side of the mountain with a sheer 3000ft drop to contend with too.
Now, I am not much of a thrill seeker and a man of my middling years is not known to launch into dangerous situations just for the fun of it or just to get a few more views on YouTube, however I do not shy away from tricky situations when confronted with them either.
I had eventually managed to rent a motorcycle from ‘Rent 2 Ride’ in Salerno, Italy. The chap there, Tonino, was a very decent type who had cajoled me into renting the bike for the day.
Unfortunately I had an appointment with a friend at 5pm so it was a n early start to go get the bike, a Triumph Tiger 800 XCx, ride off into the mountains on tracks which I had planned, then to get back to the rental shop at 4.
When I left, I headed straight for the motorway to head south. The bike was light, nimble, ample power and had a comforting rumbling tone as I putted along. It was an adventure bike that was definitely good on the open road as it would be on the stone tracks too.
As I got to the first mountain of choice, I momentarily stopped to set up the cameras on the bike but after a few fails and camera crashes, I had to mount it on the tank, which wasn’t ideal but still workable. Then I managed to work out the incredibly simply mode setting change on the bike, to set it to off road too.
I gazed up at the mountain and vowed I would conquer it, but it would have other ideas and my plans would soon be modified to suit.
As I made it up the steep mountain twisties, I eventually got to a halfway point where the asphalt and stone road ended and where the steep meandering rocky trail began.
The weather had been on my side and the going was challenging but as it was dry, the Triumph was climbing well. Riding over the rocks and rolling in and out of ruts, it was performing well and it’s relative compact size and lighter weight than my larger Triumph Explorer was making this the right choice for the ride.
All was going to plan until I came up against a gate fashioned out of sticks and barbed wire that was blocking the trail ahead. I knew that a lot of the trails went into private land and I believe this to be the case, actually as I found out later it wasn’t. It was merely there to stop the mountain livestock from escaping down the mountain.
Anyway my journey had come to an abrupt end and after looking out over the precipice and the thousands of feet below into a nothingness of rocks, trees and wilderness…I decided that I should get down from the mountain and go try another route that I had looked at briefly but I knew it would taking me in the general direction of the next mountain challenge.
It started off as a narrow 4×4 trail made of rocks, compacted mud and dry leaves & twigs but it soon narrowed to not much more than a metre in width and just loose rocks of all sizes, sand and ruts.
It was a steep downhill descent and grip was virtually not existent. All weight was shifted to the rear tyre but any fraction of increased braking would make both front and rear tyres slide. The weight of the bike was pulling me down the mountain trail on switchback donkey trails and on a moving carpet if loose rock and sand.
This was a challenge I had t bargained for but wS ready to face up to it. The trail was too dangerous and narrow to even attempt turning the bike around and I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to get traction to get up the steep ascent either.
There was only one way I could go, and that was down but hopefully it would be on the trail and not off the side of the mountain!
I gingerly progressed, sat firmly in the saddle and feet acting as stabilisers whenever possible. The bike was being made to act unruly by the loose surface and the ruts and wider gullies meant I was forced into one route down…until I reached a point at which I thought might not be passable. Oh bugger! Or words to that effect.
The track had narrowed to much less than a metre and there was a sheer drop into a certain hospital visit if I got it wrong. The actual rideable trail was about 40cm wide and hugged the mountain face, however part of the track had broken away at the very point at which there was a rocky step to get over.
I knew I was in a situation in which I could not turn around and after gauging the route I knew that I had to attack it with a bit more speed to get over it quicker, otherwise I’d be stuck there or worse fall off the edge.
As I launched myself, the front tyre arose like a god and the rear tyre was digging in well but I had no room on the mountain face and my foot peg and gear lever caught a small protruding rock which sent me into a wobble and almost threw me over the edge.
Luckily I managed to quickly lean myself and the bike back towards the mountain face but I was stuck on the step. I knew that the rear tyre had landed back down in the trail below so I only had one option and that was to give it the beans, and up I went right over it onto a more level part. Phew!
Let me tell you that nothing gets the pulse racing fast or the breathing more rapid than being confronted with the split second realisation that it could all be over and a huge fall awaited.
Suffice to say my concentration levels had began to peak and all of my years of riding experience was now bing called upon too. I carried on for another 100ft or so but I could tell that I was a bit shaken by the experience and I was making small errors too but mostly I was a bit knackered as well…so I stopped the bike to have some water and gather my thoughts but also to just take a breath and take in the amazing view.
There I was, halfway up a mountain on a ledge that was trying to chuck me off the edge and all I could think of how blessed I was to be there and gain this experience, albeit j was still reeling from the close call a moment earlier.
Anyway there was no time to waste as I still had a long way to go down this track and there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t face another similar sketchy stretch either.
As I got on the bike I took a deep breath and composed myself for what I was about to face and I needed it too.
The rocks got bigger and more jagged, the gravel, rocks and sand became even more loose and the trail in places was the steepest I had seen. Nothing I was doing was working to maintain traction. I was inching my way down, engine at idle, squeezing front brakes to slow my descent and pressurising the rear brakes to try to add some stability but it was not much help either.
All of my years of riding bikes off road on all surfaces with all types of tyres had taught me one crucial thing. If you don’t want to fall off the bike you need to slow everything to a crawl pace and the front tyre traction in key. Once that goes out of control then it’s game over, and on this track any kind of fall would be exactly that as there would be no one to hear my screams or come to my assistance…or that’s how it appeared to be at the time too.
Eventually after much work, sweat and heavy breathing I made it down the mountain and into one of the single track mountain roads. I had no idea where I was as all of my concentration had been on simply getting down. In truth I hadn’t even admired much of the view whilst I was up there as I was purely focussed on what the front tyre was about to ride over and to keep the bike upright.
After gathering my senses and located my position, I knew I still had more trails to go explore and still had time before heading back. And that is how I spent the rest of the afternoon, more rocky tracks, more mountain climbs and descents but nothing as treacherous as what I had just been on.
It was an amazing end to the week and the ride back to the rental shop was again made in stunning scenery. Even the fact that I had a managed to bend the gear selector 180 degrees didn’t phase me. I got off the mountain, I made it to a bike mechanic in the next town and he managed to bent it back…kind of.
As I said at the start I am not necessarily a thrill seeker but there are challenges that we must all face when there are limited options. This is the thrill I suppose of riding trails and never quite sure what they’ll be like. I got myself into a situation that I was able to get myself out of, but the option to take the trail in the first place was questionable at best too…but it was a glorious victory in the end and I was chuffed to bits, although the chap from the rental was less so but honesty prevails in my book.
After I explained how I merely clipped the small rock but the bike went really well, I offered to pay for the replacement part and I was on my way, safe in the knowledge that I would return to this area and this rental shop to hire another bike and go ride more mountain trails. This had been a ride on the edge…but what a rush! What a feeling and what a way to spend your day!