Our XPDTN3 trips are (usually tough) mini expeditions that fit in 3 days. They are meant to inspire everybody to go out and ride. Their stories (as well as expeditions that don’t fit into the 3 day timeframe) can be found in MY-XPDTN.
Paul Errington was back from his trip to Norway’s Eventyret (see his latest post here) when he “felt the need” to embark himself on another mini-adventure with his Exploro! Read his story here below:
The event is a self-supported bikepacking challenge, importantly there is no racing element here as the promoters felt it reduced people’s ability to enjoy the route if they were simply trying to cover it in the shortest amount of time. Instead, you devise your own timetable, hopefully, one that would offer a balance of it being both a challenge and fun… my thinking these days is to always err on the side of fun though. At 550km the route is achievable by most. However, the nature of the terrain ensures a challenge for all with numerous short punchy climbs amongst some notable lengthy ones.
I planned to tackle this route in 3 parts. 2 long days of 200km followed by a final 150km to the finish, this was thinking that even after 2 days the legs would be tired and I had heard how tough the final sections of riding around the island through the towns of Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole were. The only thing left in my initial planning was to find someone to share the experience with. Some people love the solitude of riding over many days (though with near 700 riders this would not be the event for that) but for me having someone to share the experience with is paramount to my own enjoyment. A quick shout out on social media and Mate Horvath answered the call, an acquaintance from meeting at events but we had never turned a pedal together… more unknown to add to the mix.
The preceding days to the event in the town of Massa were spent enjoying the sunshine, a few beers with friends and some final last-minute packing. A snapped tubeless valve adding a little drama but nothing a drive around the town scouting bike shops couldn’t fix… even if the one we bought was the last in stock. Bikes were packed as light as possible as we knew supplies were plentiful along the route and at least in part, we aimed as a trade-off for longer distance days to find some real accommodation along the way.
Gathering in the piazza in the center of Massa an hour before the official start gave an indication of just how big this event has become. Near 700 riders with all manner of different setups and approaches to the challenge, it was some sight. Immediately after the start we bottleneck filtering into a side street and some patience is needed to get everyone underway. The first few hours of the riding are almost a procession as even the initial long tarmac climb failed to string out riders sufficiently. However, this was an opportunity to talk to fellow riders about their expectations for the ride.
I was leaving Mate briefly on the climb’s, but we would regroup when possible and conversation, as well as trails, was flowing, we were both enjoying the terrain. As is best with this style of distance riding at times you need your own rhythm and pace, so we never worried when we separated briefly. By midday, the gaps had opened up and though we were still seeing riders it was not in the numbers we did at the start. The riding was not disappointing.
The weather perfection and initially we seemed to be making good time. The highlight of the first day had to be the beauty of Florence, but maybe the gelato enjoyed there holds a fonder memory than weaving through the many distracted tourists enjoying the stunning architecture.
As we neared the 150km mark for the day, the hour was later than anticipated, perhaps the consistent climbing was underestimated when first planning the goals.
Our 200km target seemed unlikely so we began to scan for earlier opportunities to stop. At 180km we chanced upon a pizza place right around the time we were really needing to eat. Unsurprisingly we were not the only riders there. We ate well and with the help of satellite view on Komoot we identified a field on a route a few km away perfect for a night sleeping out.
Under the cover of darkness, we arrived at the field and got far enough away from the trail so as we would not be discovered nor disturbed. Sleeping in a bivi bag is the simplest form of sleeping outdoors … in only a few minutes you can be ready to enjoy a well-earned rest. This was good as we knew the next day we would have an additional 20km to cover as well as the planned 200km to reach our pre-booked accommodation.
Part 1 – https://www.komoot.com/tour/70199773
Part 2 -https://www.komoot.com/tour/70489636
The benefit of sleeping out is that you don’t linger when you rise. Bags are packed, you quickly change, maybe a bite to eat if you were mindful to grab something the day before and then you are back turning pedals. Often your start coincides with first light as beyond this trying to sleep exposed to the direct sunlight is futile. Within an hour or so we had already passed the 200km we were shooting for the day prior and had started to make progress into the planned days’ distance. We caught another pair of riders we had seen a few times the day prior, turned out we had all slept within a few hundred meters of each other the night before but in the darkness had not realized our proximity.
Now the disparity in riding style between myself and Mate started to show more frequently. It seemed again less likely we would achieve the proposed 200km we had aimed for, especially with the previous day falling short and us making up ground. However, unlike the day before we had a room booked at km 400 on the route… a comfortable bed and a shower was my motivator. By midday, Mate decided to readjust his schedule and add an extra day. My follow-on plans from this event meant this was not an option for me so we parted ways and I set off in pursuit of the pair of riders we had met earlier looking to form a new group.
By the time I had reached Siena early afternoon, I still had not caught anyone so I decided to grab food … as I sat at the restaurant table I ordered a coke, a beer, a coffee, and a water … I had no idea in which order I would take them but with the heat, I was sure I needed them all. Adding another pizza to my tally for the week and I was set to go. Back on the bike and just leaving the outskirts of Siena I was caught by a rider … Jip… one of the two riders we had met earlier. As fate would have it Jip’s riding partner had also called it a day so we made a new alliance. I outlined to Jip that accommodation had been booked and if we could cover another 120km that day comfort awaited us. GAME ON!
This partnership seemed to be more evenly matched if anything I was the weaker rider but Jip’s turn of pace motivated me to push on and as we reached the last big climb of the day we tore up it like we had just started our days ride there. As we arrived at our booked accommodation, a self-catering chalet on a farm, it was late and the owners had given up on us arriving. Even still we were able to negotiate the purchase of some beer before a well-earned bed.
Only 150km lay between us and the finish. Not an easy 150km though and we measured our effort that day in preparation for the final climb and circumnavigation of the island. The weather had been consistent the whole ride, hot and energy-sapping. Northern Europeans are not well versed in these sunny hot climbs and we were in need of frequent hydration to aid progress.
As we rode across the large sand spit on top of which the road sat that allowed road access to the island we braced for the last big push. The climb started and was initially fairly civilized on the tarmac. We then transitioned to dirt then chunky gravel with the occasional push-up singletrack hidden under thick vegetation. After every steep incline, there seemed to be a reprieve in the form of some flatter ground only for us to be delivered onto the next steep incline.
The sun baked us as we made this seemingly relentless slog around the cliffs. Even when the Wahoo indicated the climb was done the downhill still delivered sporadic steep climbs, I was forced to walk a particularly steep tarmac climb as Jip made it look easy. I was now willing the finish to come. It had been a while since we had been able to fill our bottles and the sapping climb had seen me drink my bottles dry. As we came on to a fast tarmac portion of the descent we flashed passed a café… brakes were locked up and we backtracked to enjoy an ice-cold drink whilst taking in the sea views. My desire to be finished subsided.
Our run into the finish was mostly flat and upon arriving the mandatory celebratory beer was consumed closely followed by food. Around 2.5 days start to finish, even though the plan had frequently been altered the desired outcome was the same.
The Tuscany Trail experience did not disappoint, many changes to our original plan had been made but that is the charm of this style of riding and the ability to adapt and change should always add to the experience. Given the opportunity, I would certainly return.
The 3T Exploro proved again to be such a versatile machine. Set up with this time a double chainset (46/36) and Di2 shifting, there was never cause for any adjustment. Often riding for such long days the smallest niggle can play on your mind but the bike took the distance in its stride delivering me in relative comfort and at speed to the finish. My set up choices I could not fault. The WTB Venture tires saved me a number of times when I thought I was out of grip, not to mention the inherent comfort of the 47c width. The PedalEd clothing was fantastic, also my Buff accessories… riding for long distances and long days really highlights how good (or not) products can be and I was not left wanting. Finally, my Wahoo GPS didn’t deliver a single wrong turn which I was thankful for as I was not seeking any bonus miles in what was already a fair distance.
Total Trip Distance
The event route changes annually but plan for 550km
Ascent in Metres
Expect over 8500m
The event takes in the classic scenery of Tuscany, expect vineyards and beautiful white gravel roads. The riding is mostly on gravel roads so plan your set up accordingly.
Best time to Travel
If you want to participate in the event itself then it is the last weekend in May or the first weekend in June usually. This timing seems to offer the best chance of sun without it being too hot.
Type of Terrain
Rolling hills in general with the occasional long stretch.
As outlined you can expect sun and heat, however as always prepare for some wetter days just in case.
The event is long and if ridden over 3 days you will be cramming a lot of climbing into each day plus the weight of your overnight kit. Gear low so to allow an easier time on the climbs.
Fast and light. The going is fast though at times can still be rough, high-volume offers flexibility on pressures… 650×47 or 700×40. The WTB Venture proved the perfect partner for this event, rolling fast but still offering sure-footed grip on the loose gravel corners.
A waterproof and some warmer clothing as always prepare for a sudden and sharp shift in conditions.
Fly into Pisa Airport and then take the train to Massa where the event start is. Remember you will finish far from where you start to research your return journey. It is easy enough to catch a train back to Massa or wherever your homeward flight is from.
You will find the opportunity to sleep under the stars and doing so offers the ability to tailor your days’ ride. However, if you plan to sleep in a bed then it is wise to try and plan ahead and book early as with 700 riders out there accommodation can fill quickly.