It happens to everyone, sooner or later, to feel on a dead-end road. At the beginning, it’s pure pain and suffering. Then, as soon as you accept what has happened, a window opens and you suddenly realise that it’s not a tragedy – eventually. The sorrow and the aftermath remain, but a new perspective has opened up: despite difficulties, you find yourself in a world you would never have imagined before. Every cloud has a silver lining, they say, and the future is even more pleasant than the past.
«I am from Cuneo, Morozzo to be precise – a small village with only a few inhabitants. I don't really know what drove me and friends of mine to look for work just over the border, in Tenda. We are nurses, technical or kitchen staff and we crossed the Colle di Tenda a few years ago where many people wonder how it is possible that there is a hospital».
Giulia has a typical job with a standard daily routine: waking up early in the morning, jumping into the car, driving through the tunnel to cross the border and off to the hospital. Nothing strange, nothing that doesn't happen to most people. «However, on 2nd October 2020 our quiet life of cross-borders was disrupted.»
La Tempête (storm) Alex arrived unexpectedly, sweeping away entire mountain slopes, bridges and the road up to the Col, preventing anyone from travelling between home and work. In just a few hours, it rained like never before. The valley that had been a second home over the years drastically changed and became more isolated than it already was. Discouragement, tears, despair.
«It was clear from the start that, in order not to lose our jobs, we would have to find a way to get there.» After a few weeks, the railway line was partly restored, but the train schedule never matched the working hours. The arrival of winter certainly wasn't a godsend, on the contrary: the generous and frequent snowfall blocked travel even more. But with the thaw, something changed and spring really proved to be the season of rebirth. Let's find a path and bike to work!»
It is called Route des 46 lacets, a road that is partly unpaved, bumpy, but in good condition for cycling. Before the tunnel was built in 1882, it was the most direct route over the pass and down into the Roya Valley. In recent years it was only used by locals on Sunday rides or to reach the pastures. In less than 8 kilometres there are 46 switchbacks – at first wide and scenic, then dizzyingly dense, before arriving at what remains of the Colle di Tenda road. From here you continue through potholes, gravel and construction sites to the hospital, for a route of 17 kilometres.
Often Giulia drives over the pass and bikes downhill to Tenda. It might sound like an easy ride, but it is not. «On the way back it's more than 1,000 metres of elevation gain which, after 12-hour shifts, is no joke.»
Not everyone was a cyclist. «I am a sports lover and the mountains are my natural habitat. But honestly I have never been a dedicated cyclist. A few rides over the year, but nothing more. Slowly, however, I have felt more and more comfortable and found greater pleasure when riding my bike.»
Following the enthusiasm and the stories of more adventurous colleagues, more and more people started cycling to work during the summer – heedless of the scepticism of family members about preparation or equipment and unaware that it would soon become a fundamental part of their daily routine.
«For some people commuting is just pure stress that starts early in the morning with traffic lights, queues and honking horns. Instead, my bike-to-work has become my daily journey – alone or in company, no matter the weather. Cycling has given me another point of view – my own two hours.»
Today Giulia has also got a flat a few kilometres from the hospital. This no longer means cycling to work – but on the other hand she has more time to ride during the lunch break or after work. «Since cycling has become a part of my life, I can no longer live without it. As soon as I have two hours, I jump on the saddle and off I go. Sometimes a few km is enough to unplug my mind and feel better. I am sure that my patients have also benefited from my experience. If you are happy and are able to pick up the right vibrations in what you are doing, you can pass them on to someone else, taking care of them.»
The flood disaster could have prompted anyone to take a step back and re-evaluate a comfortable job on their doorstep, but this was not the case for Giulia. «From what could have been a disaster for our professional life, a new opportunity was born – to get in the saddle more and see things from a different perspective.»
One might ask why – why embracing the unexpected of a life between two countries; why not find an alternative, more comfortable solution; why persevere despite the discouraging evidence. «For us who live in the mountains, mountains are not an obstacle – but a reason for union. And in the saddle we have found, once again, the answer.»