I had the opportunity to leave with a group of enduro riders to do the sheep track Celano-Foggia, where I also had to go for a reason that you will discover at the end of the story.
It is a path that, 100 years ago, was 110 metres wide and served to bring the sheep from the plain of Puglia to the pastures in the Apennines in summer and in winter the opposite. Today it is a dirt road, in some places very technical, where you have the impression of travelling back in time.
In fact, the journey of my sheep track began three years ago when I met the person who taught me what I can do today, my first thanks go to him: Orso, a big man from Marsicano two and a half metres tall, rides a BMW, with a heart as big as the mountains that he knows by heart.
Three years ago I was absolutely good for nothing. The first time I went out with him off road, he told me that it would take two weeks to complete the journey. I did not lose heart. For three years I practised but you can never be quite ready for such an amazing venture!
Prepare just means finding the courage to leave.
That day arrived. We are joined by 4 single cylinders, quite advanced in years, with as many riders that the story will transform into dear friends.
It starts from Celano. We pass under all the bridges, small swamps, the curves and the service paths and we carry on after Pescina to the plateau Cinquemiglia.
I’m excited and scared. I had long waited for the day that I was driving that morning in such a clumsy manner, my BMW F800GS, Gisella, seemed like a boulder. I open the throttle when I should not, I get nervous thinking that I would be a burden to the group, but no one made me feel like that. The journey is just beginning.
Along the way we begin to see the stones, labelled RT, that mark the 111 metres of the original cattle track. The considerable size is due to the fact that the sheep were marching at a “killer pace” that allowed them to graze while walking the 25-day trip.
The first lunch break gives us an unexpected experience. Orso had prepared a dish that he said was the one his parents brought from the country when he was a child. It is a loaf stuffed with sausage, peppers and omelette in three layers … lunch of a champion.
On the trail of the route marked on the GPS, we continue to Sulmona and we leave behind the hills of Abruzzo going directly down a steep grassy path in the rain. After a fall and some hesitation, we set off among the vegetation, even I can pass. I was not the last; strangely, some of the group had fallen behind. We stop waiting for them in the pouring rain in this dense jungle. Minutes pass without anyone arriving. After a while, we see the laggards, stopped by … physiological needs. We breathed a sigh of relief.
The rain still blocks the rest of the path. There are at least 20 cm of water and mud and we wander under bridges and overpasses for the exit. A red bar stops our navigation and forces us to get back on the asphalt. Time for a souvenir photo and we leave again, this time in search of a little rest.
For sleeping, Il Molise is fantastic: 35 Euro, room + gourmet dinner + breakfast, but no heating. We are soaked and it is about 7 or 8 degrees.
In fact, it’s true what they say about me, I’m capable, but I need to be prodded. I admired my fellow travellers a lot, so eager to resume the drive. I am always a little slowed by fatigue and fear but their enthusiasm and their strength dragged me on.
First stop at Pietrabbondante, visiting the Sannita theatre. Not without the Marsi, not against the Marsi, Rome never won a war. Without my fellow travellers from Abruzzo, I would have never passed all these difficulties. Seeing in these ruins the pride of Sannita still alive immerses me in a distant time in which there was pride in belonging to a people and these lands were trampled for survival or for conquest. Right now, in my mind I had become transhumant. I brought the flock that is in me to drink at the source of the story that stood behind every curve of this sheep track.
We begin to climb the heights of Molise, we are on the Vastogirardi side. We begin to find traces of the historic sheep track. A pagan temple is propitious of our trip and provides us with some pictures in marble poses. Morale is high, but the climb continues. I fall again, I think that I was not completely sure of myself. In other situations I do not make such errors. But both I and Gisella have become accustomed, we sustained no damage and continue to climb.
The errors in the route I found to be the greatest danger. Before you go down a wet field of grass or flowers, you must be sure to have an exit, and never stop when climbing. This first route error stopped me and two mates with a large blow got me out of trouble. The journey continues. The incidents are increasing but the moral and the harmony between us grows.
In ancient times it was believed that the river was a god and that a priest or a pontiff was required to propitiate the event when crossing it. None of us had the favour of the gods that day, evidently. Another error of the GPS reading, the path is unrecognisable. We go down in a long gorge, a rainwater drain. The sky opens its floodgates and from the gorge there is no exit. I start reading the shock in the faces of my companions. The bikes do not go up alone. One by one we have to pull and push them to try to get them out. We send Orso to look for a tractor. Meanwhile we use up our strength pushing the bikes in the pouring rain. At that moment, my mood was strangely serene. I thought it was a difficult situation, but in the end we were all well and there was a village not far away, so we had nothing to fear.
Later I was told:
“Evan, congratulations for having kept cool at the time, none of us did. But for sure if we’d had it too, we would still be there looking at the bikes”.
With an incredible effort we managed to save all the bikes at the same time as the tractor arrived. We were exhausted. In silence, like a nocturnal animal, our line of bikes moves in search of rest. Here I discover the strange sensation of slipping clutch. But I was too tired to care. A hot meal and a soft bed lull us until tomorrow.
The next morning the sun peeps out and tells us that it will be easier an easier day than the previous one. Today we leave the Sannio and let the hills of Molise slip away to move quickly along the dirt roads of the plain.
We cross the paths marked by wind power plants. I go as hard as I can but it is not enough to overcome my companions and I have to make them stop and wait for me while I take some pictures. They acquiesce with patience and I hope that the result will appease the waiting.
The speedometer marks 80 km / h along these ups and downs that give the impression of being on a roller coaster ride. Puglia was approaching and I feel part of the pack, a goal achieved. A mill on our journey stops our run. Puglia has arrived. From here on, we leave the asphalt to the cars. Location “Ponte rotto” and I hoped and prayed that we didn’t have to cross this “broken bridge”. I realized that my courage for this journey was almost over!
The return started at that moment. Obviously it was also on the ancient sheep track Pescasseroli Candela. Nothing was left to chance.
Dirt roads, rivers and docile plateaus are easily tamed and lead us to the gates of a city in ruins: Altilia. The city is beautiful. Everything is kept in excellent condition, and inside some houses are inhabited. Here everything was operated for sheep: Shops for the exchange of goods, knife blades and equipment for the processing of wool and a complicated system of aqueducts for filling the tanks to facilitate the staining of the fabric. We rest on the steps of an amphitheatre and we indulge in a few jokes. After a few days of travel we have turned into old friends as much as those ruins. This is the magic of the bike.
The “noisy” rest of some of us disturbs the sleep of others even through walls. Imagine the jokes the next day. But nothing can stop us.
Abruzzo is just another stop on this trip with new friends now that life has put us on the path, and we know it will lead to many other meetings.
If the findings of Molise left us spellbound, the transition to altitude in Abruzzo left us breathless. Going through the clouds above the world leaving behind the miles of travel spent together is the reward for all the hard work. A story ends and another begins it, it will be the gorges of Sagittario that establish this link and let us promise to reinforce it soon.
I head to Foggia, this time I take the motorway. There’s my girlfriend waiting for me, she greets me as a war veteran, dirty, smelly and muddy and still wearing the enduro equipment. But her smile tells me that that was my goal. I wash, I rest and I do what I came for. There is a church, near the sea, very ancient, Romanesque. It is beautiful. A skylight gives a ray of sunlight that illuminates the altar. Its simplicity leaves you speechless and I understand that this is the place to begin my next trip.
I thank all my fellow travellers. You are wonderful. Orso Antonello, stray heart of gold. If you are thinking about driving this road, do not try to learn how to do enduro like I did, you will become poets. You will need to find the words that I did not have to describe all of these emotions.
Ringrazio tutti i miei compagni, meravigliosi randagi dal cuore d’oro. Se pensate di ripercorre questa strada, non cercate di imparare a fare enduro come ho fatto io, diventate dei poeti. Avrete bisogno di trovare le parole che io non ho avuto per descrivere tutte queste emozioni.