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The Wolf’s Lair

03 Oct 2020, Posted by Claudio Vecellio in Bicycle
Rocca Calascio

What is the “The Wolf’s Lair”? An idea for wandering in Abruzzo region, a track to visit national and regional parks, a journey into the Italian Middle Ages, a personal challenge to be faced by bicycle.

The Wolf's Lair: Rocca Calascio
Rocca Calascio at dawn. Several films were shot here, above all “Ladyhawk” with the beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer.

2020 was a strange year, it forced us to change a little bit both our habits and our way of life, for example we stayed at home a lot and we cleaned and polished the windows, we met people with whom we presented ourselves with shaking the … elbows. A period of change is perfect for renewing our knowledge and skills. This year I added a more pedalable bike to my faithful MTB (some ideas): a gravel bike.

Gravel bike on Monte Specie
Gravel bike in the Dolomites, a World Heritage Site. On the background the ridge of Monte Cristallo and the pyramids of the Tofane massif.

The Wolf’s Lair

The name

The National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise is one of the oldest in Italy, it was established in 1923; its presence has allowed the survival of some large mammals, such as the Abruzzo chamois, the Marsican bear and the Italic wolf. The latter began to expand its range towards the nearby national parks and subsequently to all the Apennines and then to the Alps. It is an animal of great symbolic value, both positive and negative: in Roman mythology Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf, on the other hand, wolfs have always been a danger to the flocks. Hence the reason why the tour of the Abruzzo mountains has been called “the Wolf’s Lair”.

The logo of The Wolf's Lair
The logo of: The Wolf’s Lair. The head of the wolf is taken from a medieval manuscript, a star for each national park crossed. Click to buy the patch.

Unfortunately I haven’t even seen any wolf, I have instead come across numerous Abruzzese shepherds, large white-haired dogs that protect the flocks; sometimes I had to take unexpected detours.

The places

The conventional starting point is among the Roman ruins of Amitenum, water supply is made using medieval fountains, the first night was passed (almost) in a castle surrounded by the mountains of the Gran Sasso National Park. Cheese, arrosticini, glasses of wine and lentils. All this in the first (half) day!

And the other days? You never get bored: in Campo Imperatore you are fascinated by the plateau worthy of the best western films, a stop at the board dedicated to Bud Spencer and Terence Hill is mandatory. After the Voltigno plain, a blue ribbon suddenly appears on the horizon, you can do as Xenophon’s 10,000 and shout Thalassa, Thalassa (the sea, the sea)!

The Wolf's Lair: Epic double trak
La strada percorsa

The first day the Majella looks like a very distant wall, the second is a wide distant wall, the third the bicycle rolls at the foot of the bastion. You cross the Majella National Park from North to South and then “sail” in the Piana Cinque Miglia (5 Miles Plain, but it seems much longer).

From the Lake of Barrea you enter the woods of the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, where the signs remind cars to slow down, you pass through abandoned villages after the earthquake of 1915 and, after the hottest and sunniest of days, you find a fountain built 676 years ago.

The Sirente-Velino Regional Park, from a landscape point of view, has nothing to envy to the “bigger brothers”. You cross two plateaus, that of the Rocche and that of Campo Felice, then a very long descent leads to the L’Aquila basin and soon to the starting point.

Infos

Where

The Wolf’s Lair was invented by the Montanus Wild duo, it is not a race, not even an  “unsupported” one, you pay nothing to do it and you don’t win anything. It is a permanent route in the mountains of the Abruzzo region, just download the track and go, official information is available at the following link.

The conventional starting point is among the ruins of the city of Amiternum, but it’s possible to start from any another point. There are no fixed stops, everyone will decide how many kilometres to grind each day, so you can choose where to spend the nights, you can sleep outdoors, or have a tent and a sleeping bag, or stay overnight in a B&B or in hotels.

How

It is about 400 km and 8600 m up and down, about 30% of the route is along asphalted roads, there are short sections on the single tracks, mainly the time is spent on dirt roads, sometimes with smooth gravel, sometimes with coarse gravel. Consider 4 to 6 days of travel, it depends on how lucky you are with the weather, how long you want to stop and visit the villages, monuments and natural uniqueness that you encounter.

What bicycle to use? A gravel bike with 40 mm tires or a MTB front with fast-rolling tires, the important thing is the reliability: you go pedaling for hours away from towns and bike shops, the old bicycle with dust and cobwebs that you have in garage and it was not used for years … it could be fine, but have it overhauled by a good mechanic.

When

From May to September every day is fine, in July and August the temperatures could be hardly bearable, on the other hand in June and September it could be cold. The sun beats down much more than in the Dolomites, however the altitude is just as high and the perturbations can cause the temperature to drop in a few hours. Just get lucky 🙂

Do you want to experience a cycling adventure? Are you looking for some suggestions on where to go and how to tackle the route? Write to us (link), we are always ready to help you!

What is a gravel bike

A gravel bike looks similar to a road bike, but it is designed to afford gravel roads; what are the differences? The road bike is aimed at maximum efficiency, with an aerodynamic position and very smooth wheels, the gravel bikes allow you to have a more relaxed and comfortable position, the wheels are wider to have control even on gravel and to dampen vibrations, the brakes are more powerful.

What are the differences compared to a light and fast MTB? MTBs are designed with the mountain in mind (MounTain Bike), off-road routes, with steep and bumpy climbs and fast and / or technical descents. The gravel bikes, on the other hand, give their best in hilly areas, with milder slopes, asphalted or dirt roads, and long distances.

A gravel bike is a good choice in Abruzzo? Well, the mountains of Abruzzo are not hills at all, the slopes and the bottom are challenging, but … the Montanus Wild team managed to create “The Wolfs’ Lair” by linking some symbolic places of the Abruzzo region through asphalted and dirt roads, paths and sheep tracks that can always be tackled on the saddle (I tell all the truth, I had to push the bike sometimes, but for really short sections).

Bikepacking

When cycling for several days, how do you transport the material? There are several solutions:

  • – The most comfortable one is certainly to have a van in tow with the necessary for the night, spare parts, and possibly for when you are too tired.
  • – You can load everything in your backpack, an economic and acceptable solution if you walk a lot, pushing or carrying the bicycle, but uncomfortable when pedalling.
  • – You can use the panniers, the biggest advantage is the capacity, in fact it is the method used by cycle-tourists, however on dirt roads the bags bang, move and get caught. The load tends to unbalance the bicycle.
  • – Bikepacking consists of the use of soft bags tied with Velcro bands to the frame, saddle and handlebar. You have to be minimalist and carry the bare minimum, so the bike remains light, easy to ride and with a neutral behaviour. It adapts a lot to the style of gravel: faster than a cycle-touring, many hours in the saddle, independent of external supports.

The Wolf’s Lair: the “emotional” video

I have seen the Montauns Wild video and i decided: MUST GO.

Look at it, start dreaming and get ready, very soon the desire to leave will hit you too.

Stay wild!

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