Last fall, photographer Bartłomiej Pawlikowski and enduro racer Mariusz Bryja traveled from their homes in Poland to Italy for a late-season alpine adventure. Their mission: to explore the Val Gardena in the Dolomites. Their tools: a Reign 29 enduro bike for Mariusz and a Reign E+ Pro E-bike for Bartłomiej.
My phone rings and it's Mariusz on the other end of the line.
"Hi Bartek, how do you fancy getting on your bike and heading to the Dolomites to take a few snaps?"
It’s a question like that sounds like a fully formed plan. The destination is Val Gardena and the little town of Santa Cristina – a place we know from last year’s Enduro World Series in Canazei. This place has exactly what we’re looking for: trails for the bikes and landscapes for the camera. The weather forecast gives three days of sunshine. Let's make the most of this!
I knew this would be exciting. We climb slowly – Mariusz on his Reign 29, me on its electric counterpart, the Reign E+ Pro. It’s a gravel road leading to the wall and the views are breathtaking. Finally, the start of the trail comes into sight: dwarf pines, sharp rocks and a narrow path.
As we ascend, the terrain gets steeper. There are more rocks and snow. After a while, our bikes become useless – even the E-bike. That’s the life of a cycling photographer: the backpack is always a burden and there is often a risk of falling. And I don’t really fancy picking the pieces of my broken lenses out of the rocks. With that in mind, we agree that I’ll continue on foot, leaving my E-bike in the shrubs. Mariusz hauls his bike onto his back and we march on towards Passo Cir. Surrounded by soaring peaks, we let out the odd word or two of pure astonishment. It’s like a fairy tale!
9 am – Toast and Italian coffee. The weather is perfect. Mariusz knows of a mountain called Pic from his secret sources. It’s a gentle peak compared to those surrounding it, and it seems possible to ride down from the top without stopping to carry the bike. What’s more, there’s a trail leading to it that starts virtually at our doorstep. It leads us through the heart of Santa Cristina and through a former railway tunnel. There’s a little museum there that’s open to everyone.
After that we toil along narrow singletracks, alternating with wide gravel and asphalt roads. We reach a place that we joke reminds us of the lower cable car station at Hala Gąsienicowa at the foot of Kasprowy Wierch in the Polish Tatra Mountains, but with higher peaks surrounding it. The panorama unfolds as follows: 12 o’clock – the famous Seceda; 3 o’clock – Passo Cir, where we went yesterday; 6 o’clock – the town of Santa Cristina; 9 o’clock – Pic, today’s destination.
There’s hardly anything left of yesterday’s snow, so the photos will look more autumnal than wintry. Soon the trail starts to get tough, and we have to get off our bikes. Mariusz keeps joking that an E-bike is great until you have to get off and push it. I get the joke.
Despite the early hour, there is no shortage of laughter along the way. We reach the peak and watch as the ridge of Seceda emerges in the light of the dawn from the mist flowing in the valleys. To put it mildly, we can’t believe our eyes.
The first rays of sunlight break between the peaks, and we use the morning light to capture several gigabytes of photographs. A short nap among the grazing cows and then we traverse from the Seceda ridge toward Pieralongia on our bikes. Along the way, we pass a farm of donkeys, carefree and surrounded by the vertical walls of the mountains.