The Oberalp pass has a long broad summit that it shares with the FO railway inside an avalanche shed along the Summit lake. There were a group of motorcyclists pushing off the summit just as I started down, so I joined them only to notice after a few turns that my back wheel wasn't tracking well around the curves. As I looked down I saw that my back tire was not soft but that the wheel was steering in the curve as I applied the rear brake. Then I saw that the right chainstay had separated about 30mm ahead of the dropout. This faulty tube had broken at midspan about two years ago, and was splinted and brazed.
I rode on to Sedrun, where I got a good lunch at the grocery store before looking around for a "welder" because it was noon, just before the stores close till 2:30PM or 14:30 as it is called everywhere but in the USA. Just down the street, in this small mountain town, I found a gas station-auto-repair-blacksmith-MTB sales shop. The owner would be back from lunch in an hour because he was in the process of replacing the underground fuel tanks, and this fortunately required his presence. I lay down in the meadow and slept for about an hour before, promptly at 13:30, the man returned and everything was abuzz.
He said he wasn't equipped for brazing, but that he could weld it with his big MIG welder. After looking at my bicycle he said "but not today". Sensing his problem I became "super mechanic" and yanked my touring bag off, removed the rear derailleur and chain, and without the rear wheel, held the stripped rear triangle in his face and said I didn't care how it looked but it had to hold. "This is not a beauty contest!". Now he and I were speaking the same language.
Even though "pickles and sauerkraut" was literally flying around our ears in the construction scene, he turned on his heavy industrial equipment MIG welder, that was able to eat a whole frame tube in a single blast of an unskilled hand, and welded with reassuring short bursts. I recognized immediately that he understood the frailty of thin walled bicycle tubing and its incompatibility with this welding machine. He was a real craftsman and in about 10 minutes I put my bike together, paid SFr15, thanked him and was on my way. I think he knew that I understood the significance of his abilities and accommodation.
The road slowly descends the upper reaches of the Vorderrhein past Disentis (1142m) where the Lukmanier Pass (1916m) heads south and on to Ilanz (699m) where the scenic route takes the south side of the valley through Carrera climbing to Verasam (908m), in contrast to the main route through Flims (1081m), that is longer, less scenic, and full of traffic. I was glad to see that the last km's into Vesam were still not paved and would probably never be widened to a full two lanes if the locals can keep it that way. There is no skiing here, that's the big difference.
The descent from Vesam to Bonaduz (655m) crosses a deep gorge and clings to the wall 300m above the Rhine river before a long gradual descent to the Hinterrhein valley. Turning south, I passed through Rhaezuens, the mineral water town, and to Thusis along the Rhein. From here, the road climbs through long tunnels up the Schyn valley and the Albula river through Tiefencastel (851m), where the Julier pass (2284m) heads south. Farther up the valley near Filisur the famed Landwasser viaduct carries the RhB railway across the gorge into a vertical granite wall. From Filisur the Albula road climbs up a 10% section to Berguen (1367m) where I found a comfortable place to stay. That evening the rains came after dinner and I slept well even without fireworks for the fourth.
I stopped at the famed Montebello railway curve/crossing an waited until a train appeared for my photo op. With a dull overcast, not much happened but I got a picture of trains in both directions. The stiff wind from the south put me in lower gears to the summit of the Bernina (2328m) where I stopped just long enough to have a couple from Leipzig take my picture, and me to take theirs. The descent was less than swift into the wind, but most of the road was dry in spite of recent showers. I was interested to see that the RhB was replacing rail in the narrow street sections in two villages instead of getting entirely away from this slippery contentious right of way. Bicyclists beware! Around Lago di Poschiavo and down to Brusio for a hearty meal and a big dish of home made ice cream at Hotel Bettoni. As I finished eating it started raining and I helped take the Cinzano umbrellas indoors before rolling on down the hill where I discovered that it had only rained in town. The road was dry just around the corner on the way down to Campocologno and Tirano. It was pleasantly cool for the time of day as I started up from Stazzona (396m) out of the Valtellina and the Adda river to the Aprica pass (1176m).
The view down the valley was pretty good considering the humidity, and it became even better as I rounded the mountain up to the summit at Aprica. It was a pleasant roll all the way down to Edolo (675m). It's a mild climb from here to Temu' (1144m) where I stopped to say hello to Silvano Macculotti at his new hotel. It was early enough for me to use the time of day as an excuse to not stay. I can't stand the beds and "motel" furnishings made for the ski crowd. The old hotel across the street had been far more comfortable and about 2/3 as expensive.
I rode up through Ponte di Legno (1258m) where the Pso Tonale (1258m) heads south, as I turned up the road that climbs along the Frigidolfo river up through a forest of Larch to San Apollonia (1585m). Here the river suddenly loses its bite in a high valley where it only meanders through meadows. Across from the hotel S. Apollonia, a small pagoda has spigots of two flavors of Apollonia water that apparently is heavy in minerals and some fizz. A swig of this stuff is a good start for the Gavia. I got a swig of each and crossed the Frigidolfo to the hotel run by two old bachelors. I stashed the bike among the old farm machinery in the spacious barn and cleaned up for dinner. Apparently their season had not yet started. I was the only guest to appreciate their fine menu and cold Birra Spluga in the customary 0.6l size. I took a large cold bottle of aqua minerale to my room for a night and with the Frigidolfo gurgling directly beneath my window, I got a good night's sleep.
Tracciato Tortuoso e Stretto Privo di protezioni Marginate Possibile Piano Viabile Ghiacciato SS n300 del Passo Gavia dal Km 13+000 al Km 37+000 Dal 1 Settembre al 15 Luglio Obbligo di Catena a BordoSo it's a tortuous and narrow road with little protection from going over the side. The roadway may be covered with snow and chains are obligatory all but six weeks of the year. On top of that there is another sign with a "fill in the blanks" avalanche road closure:
Chiuso al Transito Dal Km____ al Km ____ Pericolo di ValangheWell that's a lot better than in years past when there was a barrier across the road that one had to drive around to proceed, absolving the highway department of liability. The road isn't all that tough, but with foul weather, it could be because there isn't much up there. It was a great Gavia day, with cool climbing air and clear visibility under high overcast. I stopped to take a picture where the road goes abruptly from wide two lane pavement to the old one way dirt road with more warning signs and the 16% sign that appeared in the poster and on Bike World magazine in 1975.
It is an amazingly pleasant climb because it seems to be traction and picking a course through the rocks that occupies the mind, so the steepness of the climb is masked. Soon the larch forest was left behind as the road climbs above tree line where there are only steep meadows strewn with rock from the walls above. Apollonia and Ponte di Legno, so far below, looked like the view from an aircraft.
I rode around the outside at the tunnel, to once more take a picture at "the cliff" for which the road was famous. A rock slide blocks the upper end of the section so I carried the bicycle over the pile of angular slate like rock to get back on the road. From here the road is paved the last three steep kilometers to the top. I dropped in at the Rifugio Bonetta, said hello, saw that my poster was in good condition on the wall and headed into the cool descent after zipping up my rain jacket and closing the hood around my face. It was crisp up here, next to the frozen lake and the snowfields.
I can't complain that the descent to Santa Caterina (1780m) is paved, there aren't any points for bumping over rocks. Besides, the road wasn't widened, only paved. Santa Caterina is a buffed up ski town with posh chalets, in contrast to its former sleepy village self, with summer youth camps of the Catholic Church. The road from here down to Bormio through the Valfurva, along the torrente Frodolfo, is a series of smooth fast, almost but not quite, straight sections, interrupted by a couple of towns. As I reached Bormio (1217m) the sun was mostly out, so I put away my jacket and ate lunch in the central park near the large Coop market, hidden in an ancient windowless stone building.
From Bormio the grade up Rt.N38 heads into the Val Braulio and up the Stelvio with Rt.N301 heading south to the Foscagno (2291m) and Eira (2208m) to connect to Livigno. Traffic was light except for some manner of car rally going the other way that included about any car you can imagine. There was everything from Alfa Romeos to 1958 Corvettes with California plates sporting big rally numbers. As I climbed, the whole canyon was filled with sunshine at times and then it was dark again. Just the same it was refreshingly cool with only a light breeze.
At the Swiss border and Umbrail summit (2498m), a few Motos were headed up the last 3.2 km to the top as I looked up there, 262m higher. I climbed the last ten sweeping hairpins recalling other times when it was snowing, and when it was stinking hot. Today it was pleasant and I felt good for a long ride. I took the usual pictures of the amazing road down the east side, below the towering Ortler (3905m) and its glacier dome that was just visible through the clouds. I bought a bunch of the famous postcard that is a colorized version of the one I first bought years ago in B&W, and headed down the 48 hairpin turns to Prato (913m).
As I descended, I saw more than twenty people pushing MTB's up the hill as far as 15 km below the summit. They apparently had no experience and had been talked into this by someone who told them that 24 gears would make it easy. I stopped in Prato for a bit of freewheel maintenance because something had broken in there and had to come out. After removing the chips of steel from the seal ring, I put all the balls back in and this time made sure the cone was securely screwed down. A couple of drops of oil at the gas station and I was off down the Val Venosta and the Adige river to Merano (302m).
As I rode down the valley I caught up to a couple of old bikies, who didn't look like pushovers, with shaved legs and light baggage, so I tagged along behind for awhile. Unfortunately they had "middle of the road" syndrome and caused all sorts of problems for passing cars so I got away down the hill into Silandro (722m) but they teamed up to close the gap again and sit on. I moved to the rear and waited for another chance. That chance came at a traffic jam in a town where I took to the sidewalk, past some lane blocking trucks, and got away.
I coasted down the long hill, past the huge Forst brewery, and into Merano, the center of this beautiful region. Other than the Italian signs the architecture, dress, and language would lead one to believe it was Austria, not Italy. In Merano, the pedestrian mall in the old town was nearly finished and the 30cm wide flat granite water slide down the middle of the cobbled street had smooth laminar water running its length.
I turned north up the Passeiertal on Rt.N44 toward St. Leonard (688m) at the base of the Pso Rombo (2491m) and the Pso Giovo (2099m). It was still cherry season so I bought a big bag of fat ones and rode up the gradual slope, riding no-hands and munching big sweet cherries. The lush green valley is a string of fruit orchards and vineyards, and is a favorite vacation area for northerners. I rode through St. Leonard and up to a hotel at 1000m elevation, where I had stopped last year, just as it started to rain.
I went into town because I had infected my right hand in the crotch of the thumb and needed a suitable antibiotic to fight the swelling of the whole hand that wasn't getting better. I found the Doctor and he went through a nonsense routine before he gave me some sample pills and charged me an arm and a leg for nothing. Over the next days the infection receded and I couldn't complain except that it was blackmail at Lit56000 ($30). Sterzing was getting a beautiful facelift at the expense of driving out the old merchants in exchange for glossy pricey tourist oriented stores. I recall when the downtown was the main highway and it was a local economy. It's hard to say that it isn't better because the real stores are still there but not on the mall.
I rode south on the old and deserted main highway, while the traffic was on the Brenner Autostrada and going fast. It's a pleasant ride down the Eisack (Isarco) to Franzensfeste (Fortezza) (742m), a great fortress that spans the narrows of the valley. The fortress was carefully preserved when the rail line to Lienz was built through it, and when the Highway and Autostrada were enlarged. I cut over to the road toward Bruneck, and headed south at St. Lorenzen (Loronzo) (818m) up the Val Badia to Zwischenwasser (Lonega) (1005m).
Here, above Zwischenwasser the Ennetal (val di Merebbe) has a short steep spot to Enneberg (Marebbe) (1193m) after which the road rises pleasantly at a mild grade to the end of the valley at Rifugio Pederu' (1540m). This is a lovely smooth road that passes through manicured parkland with burbling brooks and mowed grass between the sparse but lush forest. A fantastic backdrop of cathedral spires of the Dolomites rises to all sides as the road ends in the large parking lot around a hotel.
I heard turbine like sounds coming from the rock walls of Dolomite above and after parking my bicycle I saw them. Four wheel drive Landrover like vehicles climbing horrendously steep roads in the rock walls. Now I understood why the map said "strada privata". I got myself a tall half liter Coca Cola for Lit5000 and headed up the steeper of the two roads. Most of the hikers were using ski poles to prevent falling on their faces in the event of a slip. The road zigzagged up the in the wall in short traverses at more than 30% grade. The inside of the turns were 100% grade and it was apparent that inexperienced jeep drivers could make only one mistake, their last, because a slip could not be corrected and the car would tumble to the valley floor. This was serious grade with loose rock.
With my right hand over the back of my saddle and my left on the bars in front of my nose, I leaned into the grade, the front wheel was so light that it wouldn't steer. I lifted it easily back into line when it strayed off. I met some MTB'ers who assured me it could not be ridden, even down, except under ideal conditions such as when it was wet. Although it wasn't hot, I was running with sweat as if someone had hosed me down. I could move at about 3 km/h which was as fast as I could go. After about two km's, the grade let up and I could ride for short bursts before reaching Fodara Vedla (1966m) a small livestock village with no facilities.
I had passed up a shortcut because I had hoped to ride some of the way to the Rifugio Sennes (2116m). Although most of it was too steep, I was glad I took the road because the view south to le Tofane (3243m) and to the east to Monte Cristallo (3221m) and Crodo Rossa (3146m) were so overwhelming I was moved to tears. I just stood there for a long while. It is a fantastic mountain panorama, the Dolomites with their million spires in white and shades of orange and grey reaching into the clouds are more than the imagination could ask.
At the rifugio, I got another ice cold half liter Lit5000 Coke and sized the place up for lodging. Some day I'll stay here for the night and experience sunset and sunrise. Many happy hikers were relaxing on the old military airstrip that was the only boulder free area. It was covered by grass, picnickers, and wildflowers. I headed down the "road" to Cortina d'Ampezzo only to find that it seldom, if ever, was used by vehicles. It was a gulch of baseball to volleyball sized roundish rough rock. I rode where I could but walked most of it. It is not the side to come up, because it is less steep, and therefore, a longer walk. I met some MTB'ers who were pushing and who told me I couldn't go there with "that kind of bike". I asked them whether it made any difference how wide the tires were when walking.
A ways down at Stua (1965m), the grade got milder and the road smoother. I could ride along the rushing river whose water had an azure, south sea color as it rushed down its bed of white dolomite. It was so clear that it was almost invisible except for the froth in the rapids. Cuckoos reminded me to look at my watch and notice it was getting late as I reached the gate at the end of pavement. From here the road got steeper and descended at about 18% the rest of the way to Schloss Hubertus (1450m), where I got on Rt.N51 to Cortina (1211m). From here it was a pleasant roll to a good hotel just before city limits. Everything in Cortina is winter sport oriented but they give the summer a good try.