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Friday, August 10, 2018

June 26th: Berghotel Franzenshohe to Arnoga

In the morning, we ate the generous buffet breakfast, loaded up the bike with our panniers, and headed out the door by 8:50am. Parked right at the 22nd turn was a Mapo Bike van, obviously there to support cyclists coming up the mountain. I asked the driver if he could take our panniers up to the top of the Stelvio, and he said, "It'll take an hour." "That's how long it'll take us to get there," so he agreed!
What a glorious way to climb Stelvio: bag free, in gorgeous weather, and with next to no traffic on the road, since even motorists starting at 8:30am at the foot of the mountain would take a while to get to where we were. Since we had a head start on the folks the Mapo bike van was supporting, we were under no serious time constraints, though as we approached the top we saw the Mapo bike van pass us as the slowest single bike in his group overtook us. But he provided no pressure, and in fact, stopped to take photos of us with his smart phone.
FotoStelvio was positioned in one of the late corners, and they snapped the only pictures we had of us climbing the mountain. Since there weren't too many other cyclists climbing in that early morning, we had no problems locating the photos of us. At the top, the entire group of cyclists accompanying the Mapo bike van were waiting to cheer us on, and helped us with our summit pass photo.
The Mapo bike van returned our panniers to us, we donned our helmets, and began the descent. I'd never had such optimal conditions down the Stelvio before, though we had to stop for Bowen to put on his mittens, the rest of the time we could barrel along at top speed.
I'd promised Bowen a video game descent, complete with galleries, tunnels, and waterfalls in the tunnels. When we got to the Swiss border, I contemplated briefly a descent of the Umbrail pass, but decided that Bowen had done so much on the climb that he deserved the full on Italian Stelvio descent experience, so what if it cost us another day and 2 passes to get to Livigno.
The clear conditions and the lack of traffic because it was early gave us gorgeous views, high speeds between corners, and at no point were we stuck behind some slow driver, though we were stopped once for a construction-driven traffic light. I was worried that conditions were so dry that the tunnels wouldn't have any water in them, but indeed, there was enough water for Bowen to see a waterfall inside one of the tunnels.
At the bottom of the pass, a group of French cycle tourists helped take a picture of us, with Bowen striking his "I'm asleep pose." Eschewing the turn off to Bormio, since we weren't about to climb (or descend the Gavia), which would lead us back to Bolzano, we turned right onto the Val'DiDentro road, which I last rode with Arturo in 2014. Back then, Arturo and I had stayed in Isolaccia, but it was much earlier in the day this time, and I entertained thoughts of maybe even making it over to Livigno that day, and at the very least, I wanted to be as high as possible so it wouldn't be too hot.
We had lunch at a mini-supermarket right before Pradelle, buying meat, bread, and bottled drinks. Cyclists came by in both directions, but in the shade it was actually cool. Nevertheless, once we got to Isolaccia where the climbing began, the afternoon began really heating up. I was sweating buckets and dipping my cycling cap into water fountains in an attempt to cool off. We'd stopped at the Mapo bike shop earlier before just to check it out, but I'd forgotten to buy a cycling cap for Bowen. Nevertheless, we persisted: "Every kilometer we ride today is one less kilometer we have to ride tomorrow," I told Bowen.
Yet, the thermometer continued to climb, and after a couple of switchbacks Bowen had had enough. "Let's stop at the next hotel," he suggested. The pass was  at 2300 meters and we were nearly at 1800 meters. I thought there was a good chance we could still make Pontresina the next day, so I agreed to stop. You're not going to get your son to go touring with you if he doesn't enjoy it.
The next hotel turned out to be Li Arnoga Hotel. The price was lower than the Berghotel Franzenshohe. I was learning that staying at hotels half-way up the mountain was actually a  pretty good idea. The bottom of the mountain tends to be expensive, because that's where the population is, and the top of the mountain is usually not cheap either, because of the expense of bringing materials up. But nobody stays in the middle of the mountain unless they're cycle touring, and in the summer these places don't get very many customers.
The place looked like it had a lot of hiking trails, but Bowen didn't like the half pension very much, and in retrospect we should have just eaten at the pizzeria down the street. But the rooms were big, the facilities were great, and it even had AC but by the evening had cooled down enough that we didn't need to turn it on.

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