2. The planning of the tour

The idea is to see a new place. On a site of mountain bike trails I am enchanted by the Monti della Duchessa and I find this dirt path, around the Sibillini mountains, easy (for MTB) that connects Borgorose with Rosciolo through the plateau of rocks. The tour ends with a ring inside a valley that leads back to the starting point. Meanwhile somewhat curiously, it begins to cause interest and the travellers seem to want to get dirty boots.

3. The tour’s first dirt road and the first difficulties

The motorbike is ready, and the brave few willing to be photographed present themselves for the appointment in the shade of the Sirente. 90km of highway are a hell with the enduro helmet, it seems that you want to remove my head from the neck, but obviously it is a no brainer for globetrotting travellers, and so we take the dirt road towards Cartore just off the Valle del Salto.

This land originally belonged to the Equicoli, proud and violent people, says Tito Livio, who crushed between the Romans and the Marsi were soon forgotten. Although this territory has gentle hills and a mild climate all year round, the people who lived here had no luck even after the fall of the empire. During the Middle Ages continuous raids by the Saracen Turks forced them to retreat, concentrating wealth in a few families that will change name to power, leaving for the people always the same face of proud poverty.

An easy dirt road leads to the first inhabited village: Cartore. In this wonderful village only one family remains. The good luck is that it has become a natural park so some of these homes have been renovated for tourism; there are some guys who are preparing for a hike. This view has not changed for centuries and now coming back to it is like reviving it. Of course, if our ancestors had had the maxi-enduro, their life would have been easier. I chuckle turning up the gas, while we take the path indicated by the GPS.

The easy dirt road after Cartore begins to present elements of interest, it goes up with a certain slope and stones too large procure some falls without consequences, so it continues.

The plateau of the Passo le Forche opens a view of the forest on Velino. The forest above is lost in a breath-taking landscape with green mountains as far as the eye can see where we meet a shepherd with his 208 sheep that accompany us along the ridge. A small digression to a mountain path shows us the view of the valley below. We stop, a few pictures, and we fill the eyes and lungs. We talk, joking, but softly. The Sirente is the boss. It is watching us from above, threatening and mighty, commander of its clouds. It seems to want to let us pass.

4. The church and constancy and oak

A descent of stones to do with the engine off, with your feet on the ground, it ends on a short strip of asphalt that leads to the church of Santa Maria in Valle Porclaneta. This beautiful building dating from the year one thousand is normally accessible to visitors by reservation only. Motorcycles parked in the yard to give us a little rest, when a voice calls us: “Guys, if you want to hear the story of the church, Ms Costanza has just begun.” No point looking to see that it was an opportunity not to be missed. We get off the bike and cross the stone cloister of this ancient abbey. A petite lady, very kind, with the bright eyes and shiny teeth smiles and shows the naiveté of a child: “My name is Costanza”.

Ms Costanza is the guardian of the church. She possesses huge iron keys that open the door and to visit the church you must go and pick them up for her in the village and bring them for her. She is excited to open the old wooden door, which has withstood the centuries and tell the fascinating stories that lie behind these walls.

We discover that the church is all that remains of a larger convent, that the Templars going from here to embark in Vasto have left their mark and that the pope Razinger came to visit and she is also asking Francis do the same.

The church is made of light rock, bright, a beam carved in wooden, the iconostasis is unique in the world. It is said to be the representation of the Temple of King Solomon with the two columns representing the master and the apprentice to support the temple itself. Reliefs made with the perfection of a miniature on the pulpit tell the biblical story of Jonah, and adorn the monumental ciborium which was carved from a single piece of stone. We turn pale in the face of so much beauty.

Ms Costanza enchants us with its history and we feel like time travellers through her words. She concludes by telling us that behind the church, along the way, there is an oak, whose diameter is over 6 metres and that it is the same age as the church.

We help Ms Costanza to close. I could not resist the urge to handle those huge keys to lock the door. With a CLANK we leave this church and the beautiful old woman who has filled our hearts with joy. We move in search of the thousand year old living being that through the centuries has kept these walls company.

Going down the narrow road on the left after the portico, we find it. Large and wrinkled she looks at us and impresses us we think of when it was just a shrub and the first stones of the church were being laid.

I take off the gloves and touch it with my hands. Centuries of history through this cortex and for it time spent is just another ring, completely indifferent to human events, watching these curious looking beings who search for some kind of response from it. A little dazed by this journey through time, we turn the bikes in a clearing ahead and continue our road.

5. The ride is no longer viable and the restaurant

Bicycles lend themselves more easily to exploring a new trail. I learned to stop before a too steep descent to make sure of a safe return in case of problems.

A source in the valley is the place where we met the horses grazing just before they go to drink. We go down on foot. The small group of travellers follow me, the path does not bode well, easy for a bike, but not for one weighing 200 kg. The decision to turn round is unanimous circled, an operation that still is not easy given the slope. We wander under the vellum, in what was Lake Fucino before the Torlonia dried it up. Here over 100 years ago the population survived the earthquake and was forced to mutate from fishermen to farmers and influxes of families from Emilia and Marche have distorted the languages, customs and traditions. Of all this there is no recollection.

The doors to Rosciolo welcome us between the spaces left between the stone houses where it is a pleasure to wriggle with our bikes. The inn that Ms Costanza told us about is easy to find, very welcoming and we restore our strength with a liquorice and saffron risotto worthy of the best European tables. We are tired but in our eyes there is joy for the journey we faced, an unexpected trip, through time rather than space, which has transformed this first outing of MAT into an adventure.

6. Homecoming and considerations

The miles to get home go by quickly. Everything begins to transform into a memory, and the numbers that run on the speedometer are additional to those that in this modern world make a motorcyclist a traveller. The silence in which our helmets enclose us, says to each of us, that in spite of all distances, the 100 metres between Ms Costanza and our 1000 year old oak are too many to be understood by a human being. We found that our luck is behind the house, we say goodbye you and we look forward to meeting again to turn the next MAT outing into our new adventure.