cycling adventures and beyond

Adventure report: Tuscany Trail

I’ve been on an adventure – all the way through Tuscany!
I first heard about the Tuscany Trail from Markus, the owner of ‘velorado’, a bike shop in Nuremberg. When I read the description of the ride, I thought to myself – why not? Sounds awesome. There was just a little problem: I didn’t own a Mountain Bike and this adventure could certainly not be done on a road bike.
A lot of consideration went into what kind of bike to buy and in the end, velorado decided to support my adventures which made it possible for me to get a very awesome Salsa Fargo.
My Fargo basically has two modes: MTB and road warrior. For the Tuscany Trail, it was set up with a RockShox Reba suspension fork and Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires (tubeless).

The next little problem was that I’d never actually ridden a Mountain Bike before. But not having any cycling experience hasn’t stopped me before, so I just went for it anyway.

The Plan 

The second edition of the Tuscany Trail was going to be 560km long with 11.000m of elevation gain. To put this into perspective: the Trans Am Bike Race has 66.000m of elevation gain over 6800km. In other words there was a buttload of climbing to be done.
My goal was to take around 4 days which translates to roughly 2750m of climbing per day.

The Adventure

Markus and I decided to drive down to Massa, the start of the trail, together to save money and keep each other company. After dropping off my dog at a friend’s house he picked me up on Thursday morning. In the late afternoon we arrived at the athletic complex where lots of people had already gathered and put their bikes together.
There was an impressive array of different types of bikes, from carbon Fat Bikes to Cyclocrossers, even a few more Fargos (but not as many as I’d thought).

Dinner was at a restaurant nearby with everyone else. Stories were being passed around and ideas exchanged – and I started to feel a little inadequate and intimidated. It reminded me of the final night before the Trans Am. It’s easy to feel intimidated with so many experienced people around but in the end, you just have to do your own thing and you’ll see that not all big talk is going to be followed up. So I tried to get back into my own head and concentrate on the fun ahead.

5:30am. People started getting up and pack their stuff together. Why so early? I had no idea. The start wasn’t until 8:30am and we were only a few kilometers from the starting line. I tried to squeeze my eyes shut and ignore the sound of air mattresses being deflated but it was useless. Time to brush my teeth and get into my new velorado jersey.

I stuffed down a pastry from the night before, packed my bivy bag back onto the bike and joined the convoy to the start at Plaza Aranci in Massa.
A cappuccino for the nerves, another pastry for energy. I tied my “Tuscany Trail” sign onto the bike and soon enough, we finally took off.

I got caught up in the commotion and pedaled fast to keep up with everyone. There’s this risk of going too fast right off the bat. I didn’t want to be alone right away plus for the first couple of kilometers it was reasonably flat and easy.
Once we hit the first ascent, I was on my own. Well, not completely. Obviously with 220 participants there are a lot of people faster than you and also some slower than you, plus depending on when people take breaks you keep passing each other. A couple of times I felt like I MUST be the last person but people kept coming up behind me.

Up we went. For a fairly long while it was just an asphalt road leading up a pass. I really started to feel the difference between my road bike and the Fargo – with the knobby tires and the suspension fork there’s a lot of energy not transferred onto the road.
I finally managed to settle into my own rhythm. A couple of bites of food, my first SaltStick capsule, a quick stop to take off my Berino jersey. Now the adventure was on. It felt like a race in the beginning, even though I knew I could never be competitive in this event having never trained on a Mountain Bike.

The road turned into a gravel path, still uphill. People started to ride a little further apart from each other. I started to concentrate on the path.

After a little while longer, a rideable gravel path became a steep hiking trail. Time to hike the bike. I had read up front that we were going to supposedly push the bike for about 45mins and to be honest I had no idea that it wasn’t going to be all that easy.
It started with a set of stairs. A couple of stairs became a rocky trail. Then a rocky trail eventually became something that I’d  have found hard in hiking boots. Pushing the bike became carrying the bike. Carrying the bike? Yep. Since I couldn’t shoulder it, I basically just lifted it low on the seat tube and was happy to have fairly strong arms.
Still it turned into a shuffle. Everyone suffered. One Italian guy offered to carry my bike, I wouldn’t have it obviously. I think they thought I was very strong to keep up with them. I felt the same way.

Two, three steps – pause. Repeat.
This was cruel. A couple of times I twisted my ankle and shuddered from the thought of breaking bones or tearing tendons up here. It would have been easy to get stuck between rocks or slip on your cleats. And then what? I felt comforted by the fact that I wasn’t alone up here and that I still had cell phone reception. This was Italy after all! Still, the dangerous concoction of exhaustion, unsuitable shoes and a heavy object to carry was a recipe for disaster. Fortunately I haven’t heard of any disasters on this part of the trail.

Once we had made it up to the top of the first summit, I actually though it would get easier from there on. After all we’d just done about 1000m of climbing!
Well.. off I went, to carry my bike downhill.
Downhills are supposed to be your compensation for the uphill struggle, but apparently in Mountain Biking that isn’t really so.
People around me were moaning and groaning and I couldn’t blame them. Sometime you could roll down for a couple hundred meters until there was yet again something unrideable. A few people on Fullies gave it a go but had to get off eventually, too.
For me it was so surreal that I didn’t really have time to think about how crazy this was. I was on a hike! I though I’d signed up for a bike ride!

Alas, asphalt reappeared at some point. A bit of nice downhill did follow. I spent my first rest stop at a cafe close to Bagni di Lucca – filled up my water, ate a sandwich, drank some Coke and stashed a small can of Coke for later (good idea!).
After Bagni di Lucca, the second long climb of the day started. Basically it follow the scheme of the first one – ride up on asphalt for a while, then turn off onto a gravel path.

I was pretty much by myself at that point, but at least this meant I was consistently going my own pace. I put some music on and started up the pass.
I don’t remember much about that part. I was lost in a rhythm of pushing up steep slopes, trying to ride for a bit, getting off again, and so on. It topped out at a summit cross with a good looking shelter which would have made a good place to bivy – if only it hadn’t been so early into the day.

A bit of pushing downhill, too, but mostly just standing on the brakes navigating a way between the rocks. I learned a lot about riding my Fargo on this first day. I’m pretty sure that I lost a lot of time and energy on the descents, most people descended much faster than me – I didn’t yet trust my bike and my ability to stop it without crashing onto those rocks.
Pontito, a mountain village, was next to be navigated on steep and slippery cobbles. I met some other riders and we stood around puzzled about the track, trying to find our way. I was silly enough to follow them as they went down the wrong path – a very steep, grassy path next to the village – but I figured out that it was wrong after a couple hundred meters. They merrily bombed down that trail. I’ve no idea who it was but I’m assuming they had a bout of yelling and swearing when they discovered that they went the wrong way.
With a grunt of disapproval I started up the trail again. What a penalty.
Once through Pontito, the gravel paths gave way to asphalt again and I kept on seeing other riders. For a while I had felt like I HAD to be last but that wasn’t actually true.
We came through a couple of villages that didn’t have much and I started to get hungry. One rider hung out with me for a little while and we talked. I asked him where he was intending to sleep tonight and he told me they’d made plans to go all the way to Prato because they didn’t want to be stuck in the mountains for the night.
Prato was quite far away at that point. Luckily he also told me that Prunetta would be the last chance for a meal before dropping back into the mountains proper.

I stopped at the first restaurant in Prunetta, walked in and, in extremely shaky “Italian”, asked if they were open for dinner. I tried asking whether there was a hotel in town and the lady told me about a hotel in another town that also had a restaurant, but since I didn’t really know what I was going to do yet I decided to eat first and then see about that hotel.

Having purchased a 3G plan for abroad I was able to check out possible accommodations. Unfortunately there seemed to be nothing in Prunetta.
The waitress didn’t speak a work of English, but all hail modern technology – with the help of Google Translate I managed to ask her what the closest hotel was, whether it was an up- or downhill road there and even badgered her into calling the hotel to ask whether they still had a room. I wasn’t up for riding off route only to find that the hotel was closed or full.
There was a room and I was told to eat up and get a move on, aspetta! She’s waiting for you!

As I stepped out of the restaurant it started to rain. I took that as a sign from the Universe to rest. 3km (downhill) later I was safely inside a cozy hotel with a sweet Italian lady who showed me where to put my bike, asked me whether I wanted to eat something and when I would leave in the morning.
I thought that with speaking French and Spanish fairly decently I’d get along in Italy, but to be honest, I just blurted out Spanish phrases and tried to Italian-ize them. Embarrassing.

The shower was hot, there were extra blankets and I settled in for the night.

Day number two. I had set my alarm to 7am, wanting to leave by 8am. It was odd to get into this bikepacking routine again, not having done it for almost a year. Putting your dirty clothes back on in the morning, greasing up your “seat area”, brushing your hair with your fingers – all fine by me, I just needed to get the routine back. My shirt was still white.

I ambled downstairs, stuffed my things back onto the bike and then my hostess asked me whether I wanted to have breakfast. Well, of course!
Unfortunately in Italy breakfast means coffee and a pastry. Now, I love their coffee, and I loved being able to get a really great cappuccino for 1,20 EUR, but the pastries all sort of taste the same, they are all sickeningly sweet and yeasty. I’ll choose something savory over something sweet any time and a pastry is quick energy that burns off almost instantly, not great.
Not having any other options I stuffed down two different pastries and a cappuccino, chose some whole-nut chocolate and a couple of nougat pieces for later and set off – into the rain.
Even though I knew I’d be hot, I put on my rain pants, jacket and waterproof socks since it looked positively awful outside.

There aren’t many pictures of Day 2. It rained and it was so foggy you could barely see anything. Which was just as well.
I hiked my bike a lot that day. A lot more than I like to do. It wasn’t a whole lot of fun to be honest. Climb after climb, and so steep that I simply didn’t stand a chance.
What added to the “fun” was the mud and rain.
The trail passed by a great spring and in addition to drinking my fill of fresh, cold mountain spring water I sprayed down my bike a little bit. Not that it made a noticeable difference.

What I was really grateful for were my waterproof socks. I had just gotten them a day before the event and I had no idea how great they were! My feet were basically the only dry and clean part of my body. Even going through two streams didn’t worry me – at least my feet would be dry. Lovely!

It felt amazing to get out of the mountains. As I descended it became gradually warmer and right before the asphalt started again I finally took off my rain jacket and pants. Two guys passed me while I did that – I wasn’t last yet?! Nope.

A few hours on asphalt later and I was in Firenze.
It was early afternoon and sunny. Getting through the city was a pain in the ass. The route took me right past the major tourist attractions and I didn’t even try to ride my bike. I leisurely pushed it past the Duomo, the Uffizi and across the Ponte Vecchio. What a mental choice of route. I get it – you’re supposed to see what Tuscany is made of, and Firenze is a huge part of that. Had I not been to the city several times I think I would have appreciated it more. Now, still in a bikepacking race mindset it just annoyed me to lose so much time.
When I got into the city I had already anticipated that we’d have to climb up to the Piazza Michelangelo. It is actually a great choice since you get a panoramic view over Firenze, but it’s a pain to climb and the Piazza was home to some sort of ice cream festival – packed full of people.

I took a small break and pondered my options. Only 4pm and I was already pretty toast. Getting over those mountains had been exhausting and now the heat didn’t make it any better. Briefly I considered looking for a place to stay in Firenze but that would have put me at far too few kilometers to stay within my 4-day goal.
A couple kilometers further I happened upon a McDonald’s.
Now, I’m certainly not the biggest fan of that establishment, but it has everything a bikepacker needs: cheap, quick food, bathrooms, power outlets, Wifi, air conditioning – and no one cares if you hang around for a little while.
Devouring a couple of cheeseburgers and getting my water bottles filled up motivated me to pick a goal for the day and I found one: Certaldo. I had thought in the morning that Certaldo or even San Gimignano would be awesome for the day. Alas, I made a booking for a cheap hotel in Certaldo and got a move on.

The afternoon went by in a blur, from village to village, getting off to push up steep hills from time to time.
At 10:05pm, I rolled up in front of my hotel in Certaldo. I was so happy to have made it there, so looking forward to a shower, a bed, just time to relax. Dinner would have to be found somewhere, too.

But it wasn’t meant to be. The hotel was closed up already, so I called the provided telephone number. The man on the other end of the line explained to me that the online booking had gone through by accident and that he didn’t have any rooms. All hotels in town were supposedly full. And that was that. I asked whether I could just sleep in the lobby, but he didn’t really understand English. I hung up. And hung my head.
Then I called my husband and broke down crying. He knows better by now than to suggest options right away and instead just listened to me cry and complain. I’m like that – I first have to get my feeling out of the way before I can do anything constructive. Some people chose to interpret that as weak, I just find it honest. I felt really shitty after all.

Well, nothing would happen from standing around, but if I had to go on through the night, I’d have to eat dinner first. Most everything was closed so I asked someone who looked young enough to speak a little bit of English. He referred me to an Irish pub which was, ironically, almost next door to “my” hotel.
There, I once again hung my head, ordered a Coke and a pasta dish and tried to enlist my waiter to help. He was eager to do something and started calling hotels, but they were all full. Soon enough his boss told him to get back to work.
Luckily, a trio of guys had witnessed the whole thing and must’ve seen me sit there in a corner, miserable. They told me not to worry, they would find a hotel.

And they did. They ended up talking to the guy from “my” hotel who told them there was a hotel in Castelfiorentino – 10km off route in the completely wrong direction. 10km? At 11pm? Would anyone there even wait for me? I made them call the hotel and the guys decided to bring the car around and drive me to the hotel.
Normally, I would’ve denied the offer, but it was off route and I would have to do ten extra kilometers in the morning to make up for it.
I was amazed that they would be happy to put my dirty, muddy bike in their clean car – those guys were my heroes!

Off to bed. Finally.

Day three started a little later than I’d liked. I just couldn’t get moving, having gone to bed way too late. I also hadn’t eaten enough the night before, so my body was running on fumes. The hotel didn’t have breakfast, so I just went to the next open coffee bar I found and forced down another two pastries. YUCK!
Let the penalty miles begin.
Luckily it was fairly level and after a short while I had made it back to Certaldo. First order of the day: raid the supermarket that I just happened to pass.

Then past Certaldo it became ridiculous. Instead of riding a perfectly good road I’d have to turn off it and then push up a ridiculously steep hill. Maybe my gears don’t go low enough, maybe my quads aren’t steely enough, but in any case, I pushed until my heels bled – literally.
The worst always happened when the route took me on the Via Francigena, which is a pilgrim’s path. I do not like this path.
At least there were pretty flowers along the way.

At some point I climbed up a hill slow enough to pick flowers along the way. Here, I picked a little bouquet for all of you!

Well, most of the feelings that I remember about this day are negative. First came the mountain village of San Gimignano, extremely pretty, but extremely annoying to go through – more tourist hordes. As with so many of the villages of this region I had been there already and impatiently pushed through the masses to get out on the other side and enjoy a steep descent.
By this time I had decided to give up and stop the adventure in Siena. Incredibly enough, this made me a little more energetic and with the thought of being finished soon I pedaled on. I stopped to take some pictures from time to time – the landscape really is spectacular. The first time you come to Tuscany, the sight of those mountaintop villages stops you in your tracks. It didn’t quite have that effect on me anymore but I really enjoyed it.

Then came Siena. I had been looking forward to Siena from the beginning – one of my favorite towns anywhere! Having relayed my plans of stopping there to both my husband and Markus they’d both told me to think about it. And I did. Markus told me that it got a lot nicer past Siena. A lot of strade bianche to ride, the white roads of Tuscany. No more technical trails [he was wrong, but he couldn’t know yet].
I thought about it long and hard while eating cheeseburgers and putting my feet up at McDonald’s right outside Siena. After studying the map for a while I decided on a goal for the night – Buonconvento – and called a hotel there. I had learned my lesson about online booking.
If I still wasn’t having any fun by the end of the day, I could still find a train station later on.

Unfortunately, there was some sort of church-y celebration on the Piazza del Campo. I had planned on sitting there for a little bit but it was packed. So packed in fact that I couldn’t follow the GPS track and had to improvise a little bit.

Past Siena it did indeed become a little nicer – until, after an hour, I got to a street sign that said “Siena” again. For a moment I thought this was a cruel joke. I had been going around in circles! The center of Siena was again just a mere kilometer away and all I could do was laugh.
Luckily, right after this the route turned onto the roads of “L’Eroica” which had incidentally been going on that Sunday.
Rolling more than steep, nice views along the way and the spirit of this classical bike route embedded in it, I did enjoy myself for a while there.

Buonconvento was reached in the early evening – before it was dark – and I found my hotel right away. An extremely nice woman who spoke English (!) checked me in, made sure to find me a spacious room where I could wheel my bike in with me, explained my dining options and gave me a free Wifi code. Now that’s what I call a good end to the day.
I went on to dinner and ate not one, but two pasta dishes. Pasta in Italy is considered a “first course” and mostly the portions aren’t actually that big. Well in this restaurant the portions were quite generous and by the time I finished my tortellini in cream sauce I felt like the waiters were starting a bet whether I would be able to finish the next dish, too. Spaghetti all’ amatriciana, one of my favorites.
I managed to stuff all of it down and by the end of it I quite frankly felt sick – but I knew I’d feel great in the morning with my glycogen storages replenished.

Day Four took me on a lot of climbing again. As I started going towards what seemed to be Montalcino, I looked onto my map and was extremely relieved to see that we wouldn’t have to climb into Montalcino. It’s a very nice town and great for wine tasting but high up on the mountain. Instead, the road turned left towards San Quirico d’Orcia and then Pienza.

Right before San Quirico I actually overtook a group of Italian guys – I STILL wasn’t last! The weather was beautiful but I had lost my sunscreen while going down some rocky slope (presumably). My arms started to become a little red but I wasn’t worried yet. Of course I had forgotten my sun sleeves back home. Who needs sun sleeves in May… in Italy? Well, fair colored blond girls.
Pienza looked beautiful from afar and for once I got there faster than I’d thought.

Past Pienza, the day’s longest climb began towards Radicofani. For once this was a climb I could deal with: on the road, not too steep, going on forever. I had gotten used to this kind of climbing last year, though this one was steeper than most passes in the Rocky Mountains and the MTB tires didn’t help. I stopped for a quick stretch next to Castiglione, another village we didn’t have to go through. It did look beautiful with the olive trees in front of it.

Once into Radicofani, I made for the public fountain and drank my fill. It was time to find something to eat and to plan the rest of the day. In the early afternoon, everything was closed, the village looked positively deserted – finally, no tourist hordes, which was mostly because it wasn’t the weekend anymore.
One bar was open and had some very basic pizza slices available. I ate three of them.

I met an Italian couple there that I’d been leapfrogging with for the last few days. The group of guys I had met earlier in the day passed there just as I set off again, too. Downhill we went, but not on the asphalt for long – there’s always some sort of turnoff onto a gravel road. This annoyed me most when going downhill. Alas, this one was steep and I stood on my brakes again.
All in all, the riding wasn’t bad that day. I rarely (not never) had to get off and push. My heels were thankful. They were raw by now.
My skin was starting to suffer. My arms had turned alarmingly red and I started to really feel it. Sunburn is a dangerous thing and not to be taken too lightly, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t wear my long sleeve jersey, I would have gone up in flames from the heat – so I tried my best to ignore it.
More mountain villages were on the agenda today. I’d been to all of them before. Sorano, in a spectacular setting built right into the mountainside, was first, and I lay down near the fountain for a little while to cool down and think about everything.

For the first time since Day One, I felt like I could do this. In my head I was doing calculations. Depending on how far I got today, I could surely finish tomorrow, staying within 4 days and a couple of hours.
Right now it would still be possible to finish in under 4 days. I wasn’t more than 150km or so from the finish. It looked like there was going to be a lot of downhill riding on that last stretch.
I decided to go on to Pitigliano, have dinner, and then decide what to do.

Despite a spell of climbing, I made it into Pitigliano before sunset – 120km into my day – but getting there was a cruel joke again. I could envision Andrea thinking “How can we make this a little less enjoyable?”. The road would’ve taken me into the town, but instead the route turned off onto a steep, winding, narrow path that was unrideable (for me, at least) and went past many caves that looked like good bivy spots if you weren’t scared of the dark.
After the winding path came the stairs, and once again I found myself lifting my bike up stairs. I couldn’t even be mad anymore, I just laughed. It was so ridiculous that I literally burst out laughing.
Sweat was running down my burned arms that had become so hot and red you could’ve fried an egg on ’em.
I filled up at the fountain and then just walked through the empty down. It was too early for dinner yet and many restaurants were occupied by couples having a sundowner.
Finally I did find a restaurant that looked way too nice for the way I was dressed, but I didn’t care. The prices were touristy but it looked great.
I thoroughly enjoyed crostini, tagliatelle with wild boar sauce and tiramisu (for the first time on this trip!). It felt like a king’s dinner.
The only problem was – my arms were REALLY hurting now and I didn’t know whether to go on into the night, find a bivy spot past town or find accommodation in Pitigliano.

It took me a long while to decide. I wandered around looking for hotels. By now it was almost 10pm and most receptions close around 9pm.
On the one hand, I had enough energy to keep on riding. It wouldn’t have been a problem to ride for a couple more hours. But then what? I didn’t have any food left in my bags except for a little bit of chocolate and there wasn’t anything open to buy food. Markus had said something about not finding a bivy spot on his final night which was somewhere past Pitigliano. I wasn’t too optimistic about climbing a lot more.
In the end, I found an Albergo and managed to get the hostess out of bed. She sounded a little upset over the intercom but once she saw that I was a girl, alone, with a bicycle, she immediately softened, gave a key to a room, collected my passport and went back to bed.

Honestly – I felt stupid. I was sitting in a hotel room when I could’ve gone on. In fact, I didn’t even feel like sleeping right away. Yes, I hadn’t seen the Tuscany Trail as a race from the start, but obviously I wanted to do it as well as I could and that night, I didn’t.
I had no idea yet that it would become clear on the next day that staying was a pretty good choice. I would have never made it to the finish at night.

In a feeble attempt to ease the pain I wrapped soaked towels around my arms, but it didn’t really do anything.
As I drifted off to sleep they were ablaze with pain.
During the night I woke up multiple times, feeling like I was on fire. That was a horrible pain. A sunburn like this is basically a first-degree burn wound and to have it all over your arms is just painful like hell. I’d try to re-wrap the towels and go back to sleep – there was nothing else I could do. I didn’t even have any moisturizer to calm the skin.

But enough – the night ended at some point and I thought I’d set off at 7am to make good use of my last day.
That wasn’t going to happen. The reception didn’t open until 8am, a detail I hadn’t asked for the night before. It’s standard procedure in Italy for the hotel to keep your passport, in the morning you pay and get it back.
So after having gotten ready to leave, I wandered around town looking for breakfast and at 8am sharp I badgered the receptionist into letting me pay right away so I could leave.

How to describe the final day?
Misery. Utter and complete misery. I’m really not complaining, I’m just telling it as it is. I’ve had plenty of cycling days that were miserable but still enjoyable in their own cruel way. This wasn’t one of them. I was just yearning to be done.
Since the last train to Massa would leave before 6pm I really needed to get a move on. For the most part, this wasn’t too hard – there were, in fact, quite a few downhills, even though those were often along steep paths that you couldn’t bomb down. Bummer.
Until Marsiliana I rode with my Berino jersey on – a crazy thing to do given the day’s heat but I could not bear the sunlight on my bare arms. It was only 11am or so when I made it to Marsiliana and found a store to buy sunscreen. Unfortunately I was stupid enough to buy factor 50 kid’s sunscreen which had mineral filters. Needless to say I slathered it on, and it hurt. The minerals hurt my skin so bad.
There wasn’t anything to do but grit my teeth and go on. Thanks to a tailwind for a couple of kilometers I was in Albinia, the last town before the lap of the island, in no time.
Another cruel joke almost made me break down: I passed a sign saying “Capalbio: 13km”… Capalbio was the finish. I could have been there in half an hour.

Instead, I went straight into cycling hell.

Even getting onto the peninsula was arduous. A never-ending road with plenty of traffic. Then, the sea appeared and I briefly felt happy to be there.
That feeling didn’t last for very long.
It’s a beautiful peninsula and the road wound its way through villages. I talked to Markus on the phone who decided to drive down from Massa and pick me up – that was a relief for sure, now at least I wouldn’t have to worry about not making the train. Still I had to hurry. He would take about three hours to drive. When he said “oh, you’re still on the asphalt?” I had this sense of foreboding.
Had he told me what lay ahead, I think I would’ve just turned around.

We weren’t actually going to go around the peninsula per se, we were going through the peninsula and apparently summiting every peak it had in store – on the steepest, rockiest paths on all of the trip.
I don’t have many words to describe these hours in the mountains. The wind was so strong it pushed me down a couple of times (and once into a road barrier, I had to dismount and walk into the wind). I not only had to push uphill but downhill, too.
The vistas were amazing, but I had a hard time appreciating them.
Once the highest point was done with, I felt incredibly strong. Then it just went downhill from there.. no, not literally, just my feelings.
Push down, push up, sometimes so steep my cleats would slip on the rocks and all that kept me from falling was grabbing my bike’s brakes.
I didn’t take many pictures. There was no time for it. I texted my husband telling him that my water was empty and that according to the map I had a long way to get out of these mountains yet.
This was true. I hadn’t filled up my water in a long time in an attempt to stop as little as possible. In hindsight, it was stupid not to stack up on everything because getting onto the peninsula, but I hadn’t done my route research and didn’t know what the last kilometers were going to be like.

Fortunately, at a point where I’d already began to stumble and feel weak and slightly disoriented, a spring appeared out of nowhere. I’m glad I didn’t miss it. At that point I couldn’t have cared less about the water quality. The water was flowing, I hadn’t seen any livestock, there was a bottle next to it and it tasted great.

I drank as much as I could get down, filled up my bottles and continued the struggle.

The feeling of relief when I finally made it out of the mountains and onto a paved road (…to then push up a 25% ascent) was huge. I was going to make it.

After that, I just bit down and gave it everything that was left in me.
At 5:45pm, I rolled up to the finish line where Markus and Alan were waiting for me. I had texted Markus a “5km-warning” so he knew when I would roll in. He took a couple of pictures and I dismounted my Fargo for the last time.
He bought me a beer and I sat down. Reveled in the feeling of accomplishment.

4 days and 8 hours. This was my Tuscany Trail.


  1. Great write up! I hope when you get more MTB miles under your belt that you look back on this as a great first experience and a stepping stone into a a very fun way to experience this world on two wheels. Cheers to you for persevering!

    Can’t wait for TABR!!! 28 days!!!

  2. Wow, what an adventure Fran! Great story and pics. Should help you prepare mentally and physically for your next big challenge.

  3. Thankyou so much for writing this report. We’re about to start on the route and have not found any guide in words so your report v informative. I’m now about to go to the map and modify my route!! Thanks again tough chick!

  4. You’re welcome Emily! Happy trails! Maybe plan a little detour to Saturnia to soak in the public hot springs. It’s a waterfall that flows into a stream, with natural bathtubs. Pretty special place.

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