Bike-aholic
Rides in Italy.
Dances with wolves - a camping ride in Piemonte.
This is a ride I have done twice, both times on the trike. The first time I did the whole circuit in one day, starting from Nava, going anti-clockwise. This I did in late Spring, when there was still snow on the mountains. The second time was in September, and I did it in two halves, camping overnight at Ponti Giairetto, just south of Upega. It was on this ride I had a close encounter with a wolf.......
It is quite a stiff climb up from Ponti di Nava to the summit, a little over 1,600 meters, or a mile high for our imperial cousins. It was harder when I was hauling about 20 kilos of camping gear on the second ride!
Ponti di Nava is a very small village, with, surprise surprise, a bridge! The route follows the course of the Nava river up the valley.

The whole valley is "alive" with water. Even at the end of a dry summer, there is plenty of water in the river and literally dozens of springs beside the road, so no shortage of places to top up the water bottles.

The water coming out of the springs is icy cold; cold enough to give you a headache if you drink too much too quickly. Is there a better tasting drink anywhere, than cold water straight from the ground?

Many of the springs have small shrines set up beside them. Somebody takes good care of them, as they are well looked after and immaculately clean.
As the road climbs its way up the valley, it clings to the side of the cliffs. Often there is no protective barrier, just a drop of the few hundred meters to the river below.
You can see the road ahead on the side of the valley.
The biggest town in the valley is Viozene, and that is not very big! It is very alpine in appearance, looking more like a Swiss village than an Italian one. This was on the first trip when there was still plenty of snow on the mountains.
In Viozene, there is a water wheel that is still turning. It takes surprisingly little water to make the big wheel turn.
The road wends its way between high mountains, going ever upwards.
On the springtime ride there was plenty of snow.
Just above the village of Upega, there is a tiny chapel built in the 13th century. It is appropriately named Madonna della Neve - Madonna of the snow.

I was planning to camp at Ponte del Giairetto. There are regular signs on this road, specially for bikers. This sign is saying just 1.6 kms to go, but with an average ascent of 9.85%. That is quite steep when you have about 20 kilos of luggage on the back, especially as there are a couple of short ramps of close to 20%.

I was "in the zone", pedaling up the hill, looking forward to reaching the top, when a wolf found me. He was on the bank above the road and gave a sudden and very loud "bwah". Wolves do not bark like dogs, they make a curious, very guttural sound instead of barking, and then they also of course "howl" when they are communicating over long distances or just wanting to make a noise.

So this wolf, gave a big "bwah" and it made me jump, to say the least.

This is not the wolf that "bwahed" at me - I did not have time to take a picture. This picture is one I took a couple of years ago in Andalucia. It was very similar though.

For a while I wondered if I was making a mistake even of thinking about camping so near to the wolf's territory. I decided to keep going. The wolf had not jumped off the bank to rip out my throat, which it was perfectly poised to do, so I felt he was not feeling too hungry or aggressive, so would most likely not bother me. Wolves, unless they have rabies, will very rarely attack people, except when they feel threatened or cornered.

The wolf followed me for a short time, then he took off to the east, still "bwahing". I could hear him for a long time going off into the distance. I thought he was probably marking his territory for the night.

The temperature was falling quickly. By the time I had pitched the tent, it was down to 6 degrees - it fell to just 3 degrees by dawn.

I claimed my territory by peeing in a circle around the tent. I had taken the precaution of peeing into a bottle on the way up the hill, to make sure I had enough "fuel" to complete the circle. I wanted the wolf to know that this was my territory, should he come this way. I did not eat in or even near the tent, and put breakfast into a bag that I hung high up in a tree. Nobody came to visit me in the night.

"Stealth" camping is technically illegal in Italy, but in practice not many people seem too bothered. I am careful to not carry any kind of fire-making equipment or a stove. The authorities seem most concerned, rightly, of the possibility of fire. If I cannot make fire, then if I get caught, there is little they can do but tell me to move on.

I pitched the tent just as it was getting dark and I tried to get far enough off the road to not be seen - can you spot the tent?

The trees are similar to "pinapso" pines, which have very fine needles designed to trap and collect the dew. Although I was not beneath any of the trees, there was enough wind to blow the falling dew onto the tent. The first few "plops" onto the tent made me jump. Eventually I got used to the sound of the falling dew and the noise of the river, and settled down for the night.

The stars were so bright, as there was no light pollution and no moon. As the sun began to rise, it turned the peaks of the mountains a wonderful golden colour. Moments like these make the camping worth while.............
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