Thursday, September 22, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Brez to Alba

I'd been riding in the dark for 20 minutes. I still couldn't see the end of the tunnel. The air was dark, musty, and even the smallest car sounded like a giant truck. I cursed myself for picking the route, but we were committed. Then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. My elation lasted all of 2 minutes when I saw that 50m past the end of the tunnel was the start of another tunnel!

The breakfast was very impressive, confirming the excellent reviews of the hotel from We ate up, reorganized ourselves, and rode off towards Fondo. The main road bypasses Fondo, but I'd  only ridden it once before, because we'd always ended up staying at Fondo on previous trips except on the 2007 tour.

The ride up to Passo Mendola was easy and straightforward, though this time Arturo was more impressed, since his last visit was in the rain.  Descending the numbered hairpins down towards Bolzano, I was once again impressed by how narrow the road was. It was windy as well, but that didn't affect us very much. Right at the bottom, we gathered together and I gave instructions. "We're going to make the left turn and less than 100m later, we're going to head right onto a bike path. Follow closely because it's going to come suddenly!"

Well, experience helps a lot, because this time, I found the bike path less than 30m from the intersection, by hopping a curb and riding down a little dirt trail. We were at the point of the tour where I had sufficient confidence in everyone's bike handling skills that at no point was I even concerned that anyone would even hesitate to make the jump.

Riding into Bolzano along the bike path was straightforward, but we had to hesitate a bit before leaving town, since we wanted to have lunch. We found a supermarket in a very untouristed neighborhood, bought bread and meat at a bakery, and then ate outside in the coffee shop next to it. I remember being very disappointed when I ordered 3 coffees and got espressos. "If you want coffee in Italy, you have to ask for Americano!" Arturo told me. Lunch was pretty good, and I couldn't get enough of the priosciutto.  We then loaded up with chocolate at the local Spar, and headed off searching for the way to Nova Levante.

During the 2014 tour, we rode up there the hard way, via Collepietra Steinegg with its 22% grades. I remembered from my 2007 tour that there was a tunnel route without nearly as much steep climbing, but upon riding into the tunnel I'd realized that my memory had deceived me: the tunnel riding was worse than I remembered.

After the first two very long tunnels, however, we found a beautiful bike path that had no traffic and by passed the remaining tunnels. After that, most of the ride became pleasant until we got to Nova Levante, where suddenly traffic picked up as we reentered the main road. Nevertheless, I had fun climbing --- the road to Karrersee was steep, but it was shaded and the temperature noticeably cooled as we rose.
At the lake, we walked and took pictures, but both Pengtoh and Arturo declined the visit to the gift shop for snacks. After a longish rest and pictures, we left and headed up to Costalunga. The road had gotten gentler and traffic was no longer hellish, but my companions were nowhere to be seen. At the pass I waited and waited, but only later got the text message, "Had to stop for water."

After the dramatic climb to Karrersee, Passo Costalunga was anti-climatic, with a short descent to Viggo di Fassa, where we only had to ride a kilometer or so before finding the bike path to Canazei. That bike path had been under construction in 2014, so we were pleased to find that it had been completed, and we could ride the entire valley without dealing with traffic all the way to Canazei. The ride was gently uphill, so it wasn't fast going, but no traffic and the pleasant temperatures made the ride fun.

At Hotel Aurora, we entered the lobby and the receptionist, upon seeing my passport, said, "I'm from San Jose!" We were given a room on the top floor (as demanded by the curse), The place felt a little bit more like a hostel than a hotel. At 6:00pm sharp when the doors to the dining room was unlocked, there would be a mad rush for dinner. We figured out why in a hurry --- the early diners would grab all the good stuff from the salad buffet, leaving late comers the dregs. The hotel did not refill the buffet, so we made a note to arrive at breakfast exactly when the door opened as well!
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