Wednesday, September 14, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Grono to Campodolcino

One of the greatest pleasures when touring with folks new to cycle touring is to watch them grow and develop as cyclists during the trip. The changes are not minor. This was only the 4th day of cycle touring, and Pengtoh had already gotten so comfortable on the bike that he was now able to shoot with his phone camera while riding.

In the morning, Kathy showed up well before 6:30am to prepare breakfast: toast, juice, honey and jam from local farms, and of course, plenty of coffee. She then offered to drive us to the local market which was opened. Since it was a Sunday, there was a good chance that other grocery stores we'd otherwise encounter on the way up the mountain would be closed, we accepted and bought a picnic lunch: meat, cheese and bread. Chocolate wouldn't do as it would most likely melt given the heat we'd experienced.
The first 20km out of Grono towards San Bernardino pass were almost flat. In the cool morning air, we could make good time, but I was more ambitious than that. We initiated a paceline and started training Pengtoh to keep and maintain the paceline. Since we were touring cyclists, we went at a fairly leisurely pace, around 22kph or so, with 1-2 minutes at the front each. I was still stronger than the others, so I pulled for a little longer. It was Pengtoh's introduction to pacelining, as most of his riding in Singapore was by himself.
Past Mesocco where a ruined castle could be seen, the road turned upwards and we broke the paceline. Arturo was still suffering from the dehydration from the day before, and as the day warmed the effects got more pronounced. Pengtoh, however, had strengthened over the past few days and was able to stay with me through much of the climb. Just after the Pian San Giacomo, where I stayed in the 2010 tour, we found a water fountain outside the house and refilled. I'd given some water previously to Arturo, but he was empty by the time we got to the refill. The day was shaping up to be quite warm.
Past the village of San Bernardino itself, the switchbacks began and the air cooled considerably. The clouds built up convincingly, telling us that the forecast for thunderstorms in the afternoon was likely accurate. Pengtoh stayed with me for much of the climb, stopping and dropping back only for photos. "Still think this is harder than the army?" "No. See, if you're not the last one, the pressure's off and it doesn't feel so bad." He'd gotten very strong, and had learned the use of the cleats to pull back on the pedals. "I'm getting sore muscles in places where I didn't know I had muscles. That tells me that I'm using different muscles and recruiting more muscles into getting power to the pedals. I'm also slowing down the cadence because I noticed that Arturo pedals slower, and it seems to make the climbs easier."
By the time we'd hit the pass summit, the cloudiness had increased and the temperature had dropped to the point where we had to put on jackets and leg warmers. We ate a hurried lunch in the shelter of a little knoll, and started the descent quickly.

The San Bernardino descent is a uniquely unsatisfying descent after the first few kilometers. What happens is that you get a series of hairpin turns which were too short to gain any descent speed, and with sufficient traffic that you always had to keep a lookout for the slow car/motorbike in front of you.

At the bottom of the pass we had warm sunny weather again, and took off all our cool weather gear to ride further down into the town of Splurgen, where we refilled our water bottles and bought and ate a few snacks at the local supermarket, which was conveniently situated right before the pass.
The bottom of Splurgen was a steady 8% grade with hairpin turns every so often. After what, we entered a flattish valley with a tailwind that granted us a fast pace. There was steady traffic, being a weekend day, with Italians returning from Switzerland or Swiss visiting Italy. The final climb was a series of hairpins spaced about 100m apart.
Some idiot truck driver towing a trailer managed to get himself stuck on one of the hairpins, causing a traffic jam, but that was no problem for a bicycle to traverse --- I got past the traffic jam with no difficulty, as did Pengtoh, but Arturo apparently got yelled at. The summit featured Swiss and Italian flags. When Arturo and Pengtoh arrived there, I said: "Hey, I booked us the sport hotel at Pontresina we stayed at last time." He laughed and said, "You go ahead and ride there. There was no way you had enough time to make a reservation." Indeed, the cooler weather had allowed Arturo to recover most of his strength, along with his sense of humor.
We looked on booking.com for hotels. It was a Sunday, and I would have been fine playing it by ear. However, I also didn't want to ride all the way into Chiavenna because that was at a low elevation and likely to be too hot to sleep. We settled on a decently priced hotel, Ca de Val in Campodolcino. The descent there was exciting, going through tunnels dripping with water inside, sharp hairpin turn galleries, and views of mountain lakes interspersed with ugly ramshackle buildings that looked hastily put up. But it was too exciting to stop for pictures, so I didn't bother.

When we got to Campodolcino, we had a Google maps fail that fortunately we were able to overcome and found the hotel. Arturo went in to check, and indeed, it was well appointed, and as usual, we were sent to the top floor. They didn't have a half pension for late reservations, so we walked a few hundred meters to another restaurant to have a meal.

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