July 1, 2004: Bormio - Prato Isarco
Make sure to read to Max's story about this day!
For the past few days, Max had been trying to scare me about what was to come today (Passo Stelvio). The worst part of the day, however, turned out to be breakfast. The croissants weren't baked through, the orange juice was an opaque version of water, and the chocolate milk was, well, who knows what it was... The rest of the day was great. If only because I felt so much better because of my wonderful "rest", the day before.
After a brief technical inspection in front of the hotel and a brake replacement for Max (or rather, his bike), we started our 1500m climb of Passo Stelvio or Stilfserjoch (2757m). After being passed by a few sturdy looking women, I decided to try to keep up with the Buddha of Infinite Smoothness (Chip). He went at a pleasant pace that I managed to keep up with for a long time.
Passo Stelvio is a dramatic example of how quickly a landscape can change. In Bormio it had been warm and pleasant, with trees and lots of shadow, but as we got higher and higher, the temperature dropped, the trees disappeared, and it got cloudy, windy, and snow was lining the road.
The last bit of Passo Stelvio is very steep; the desolate landscape and snowbanks by the side of the road only added to the dramatic atmosphere of the climb. Finally we all reached the summit.
The descent of Passo Stelvio comes with no less than 48 switchbacks! And, to add to the fun, they've all been numbered by the Italians for the benefit of mathematically inclined chauffeurs and cyclists. On our way down we saw a young man riding up Passo Stelvio in the other direction with, hooked to his bike, a trailer with a baby in it. Needless to say, this was source of a lot of amusement. Get a child to make your bike trips even more challenging! We eventually dropped a stunning 1850m all the way into Pratto Stelvio, but not before I made my dumbest move in this entire trip---I didn't even think about it. I passed Max at high speed in a curve but almost veered onto the other side of the road. If there had been a vehicle, things would have been unpleasant. This little event startled both Max and me, and I apologized both to myself (sort of) and to him when we later came to a standstill at a restaurant.
For historical reasons, this part of Italy refuses to speak Italian. (It used to be a part of Austria, but was given to Italy after WWI.) In fact, Max, an Italian, tactically refrained from speaking Italian, but not for historical reasons: he just feared animosity and bad service. We had a wonderful lunch and a pleasant conversation with the waitress before hopping back on our bikes.
We continued the next 80km towards Bolzano in a very fast paceline, almost all of it slightly downhill. It was thrilling to zoom past the traffic jams in the various towns we raced through. As we got closer to Bolzano, the rain started pouring down, heavier and heavier. And every time I thought it couldn't possibly rain any harder, it would get worse and worse. By the time we reached Bolzano, the streets were flooded and so were we.
In Bolzano we met Bernie, Max's friend who cheerfully agreed to ride with us to Prato Isarco (Blumau an der Eisack) where Max had made a reservation in a lovely hotel. I was less cheerful about continuing the ride in the rain, but I was quite easily convinced to ride those last few kilometers. We arrived in the warm hotel, where we could dry our thoroughly wet clothes in the basement, and where we could eat until we were no longer hungry---the waitress insisted. Amused by the rowdy trucker crowd (this hotel was right off the Brennerpass), we watched some soccer and then went to bed.