Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Bormio to Brez

The morning looked gorgeous, with fresh snow all around outside the hotel window. It was gorgeous and I had slept well. I was motivated to ride! Our first order of business was to lubricate the chains on our bikes, which had rusted overnight. I used up all my lube, and asked the hotel owner (a cyclist himself) if he had any to spare, he said, "No, but if you go down to the mechanic 3 houses down he'll help you." Sure enough, the car mechanic had a whole spray can of lubricant which he generously let us use, and I even sprayed some into my syringe of oil to recharge it.
Gavia has always been a gorgeous climb, but with fresh snow around us it was nothing short of spectacular. I made it up to Santa Catarina at speed, and had time to stop in a grocery store to buy chocolate and bananas, and ate some bananas before Arturo and Pengtoh showed up. I handed them chocolate and said I'd wait for them at the top.

They were both similarly motivated, however, and caught me as the climb came out of the treeline. This was all good, as the spectacular scenery around us gave us nothing but beautiful pictures. Most cyclists were based out of Bormio, since Bormio had multiple loops you could do in the area. Many would just do one climb a day. Despite that, they were all carrying backpacks approximately the size of our saddlebags! Granted, most of them looked like they were filled with lightweight down jackets rather than touring gear, but I can't imagine wanting to carry something on my back when I can have the bike carry it!
Surprisingly enough, the low clouds had lifted and the sun had come out by the time we reached the summit. I showed Pengtoh the poster of Jobst Brandt climbing the Gavia in the 1960s when it was an unpaved road at Rifugio Bonetta, and then we proceeded to descend.
This was my first time riding down the Gavia in excellent weather and dry roads, and I found myself stopping at various corners to capture action shots of my companions bombing down the pass. In many places the pass hits 16% grade making some of the experience more like sky-diving than like cycling. At the bottom, we ate at the same pizza stand that we ate in 2014, and then proceeded to bypass Ponte de Legno to climb Passo Tonale.

Passo Tonale is an easy climb, with nice views of the valley behind us. It's only at the top that the ugly character of the pass is revealed: the place is a ski resort that spares no effort to look pretty.
Once on the top of Tonale pass, there's really only one direction to go: down. I could see storm clouds in front of us, and so told Arturo and Pengtoh to look for the bike path entrance on the left in Piano. The descent is fast with a smooth road, almost no braking needed. But once past a few galleries I noticed that rain drops had gone from being wet to being painful, which meant that I'd encountered some hail. Rather than stop and wait I pressed on, hoping that I could punch through any rain and come out on the other side into better weather.

Italian drivers are misery on roads like SS42. Like their American counter-parts, they don't give you much room to pass, and seem to delight in passing you with as few inches of distance between their fender and your handlebars as possible. Statistically, they're no worse than American drivers, but that's no comfort whatsoever when you've been used to a week of cycling with Swiss drivers, and the 25th driver who buzzes you is even more annoying than than the 15th.
Fortunately, just as I was getting fed up, I saw the road sign for Piano and pulled over to the left side of the road to wait for the others. They were just as relieved to find the bike path as I did, though upon descending to th e bike path I realized that it actually started earlier, in the village of Mezzana, which I should have a look at in the future.

We zipped along at a good clip along the bike path, but by the time we got to Tozzaga, Pengtoh looked a little ragged. "I'd like to stop and find a hotel." Arturo didn't look any better, but he was game for more. "Well, I'd like to make it to Fondo." "I hate Fondo," said Arturo. "Why?" "Last time we stayed there the food was no good and the lodging was nothing special. I don't know why you like that place." I thought about it. "Hm.. you're right. We'll look for a place that's better, then. Let's stop for ice cream next place we see."

We made it back onto the main road, and road past the Lago di Santa Giustina, part of the apple-growing district in Italy, with the smell of Apple blossoms everywhere, and signs telling you (in Italian) which Apples were being grown. It wasn't until we got to Cagno that we found a hotel with a Veranda and had Gelato. "This is great!" declared Pengtoh, "Now I'm ready to go to Fondo!"
We pulled out our smart phones and looked for places with great food. The one place that stood out was Locanda Alpina in Brez. It wasn't cheap, but the reviews were great, and I was asking my friends to do more than 100km with 2 major passes that day, so off we went. The ride took longer than I expected, since Cagno was basically at the bottom of the hill, but we arrived there just at about the same time the owner of the hotel showed up.

He showed us the place and gave us locally grown apples, which were delicious. The dinner was indeed excellent. We started making plans. "I think I should just take the train to Innsbruck tomorrow from Bolzano," said Pengtoh. "Do you really need 2 days in Innsbruck?" "Wait, what day is today?" "Today is Thursday the 14th." "Oh. I thought for some reason that today was Friday the 15th. In that case, I can ride to Canazei with you folks tomorrow, and head over Passo Sella to Ponte Gardena on Saturday to catch the train to Innsbruck." It's a sure sign that you're having a good vacation when you start forgetting which day it is!

Since the next day was Friday, we knew it was prudent to pre-book lodging. We booked Hotel Aurora in Alba. Saturday was more of a problem. The plan was to head over to Cortina D'Ampezzo, but that place was expensive! I looked at the map and realized that my goal was to actually head over Staller pass into Austria, and there was a more direct way to do it which would enable us to ride with Pengtoh over Sella pass. So we ended up booking Hotel Scherer in Niederolang. I hate booking places two days in advanced because you never know what could happen in 2 days, but I figured that with the decent weather forecast and by being a little bit more conservative with the distances we should easily be able to make both hotels.
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