As biking was not the only activity we made during the stay in Cortina,
this description will cover just six days. For those interested in
equipment side of the trip - I was using a custom built, Oria frame based
trekking bike with Sachs derailleurs, triple chainring (50/40/30) for the
front and 12/26 cassette for rear, Ambrosio 28'' rims and Polish D'bica
tires. Asia had Trek 820 ATB (CroMo frame & fork, Acera & Altus components,
26'' wheels, very relaxed geometry).
We have stopped at Rocchetta camping in Cortina - very sport - enthusiast friendly, without caravans that usually fulfill almost every camping site, with a nice bar and great owners instead.
After few more turns the road started to leave the woods below and I entered Pocol (1530 m.), a small village with some hotels closed at that time (first week of June), apparently having better times with skiers during winter. When one turns right from the main road just before the hotels, there are two paths - one leading to an old wooden house called (for the reasons unknown to me) the Belvedere, and another ending with series of stairs presenting a huge concrete block being a kind of cemetery monument for the soldiers killed during the lst WW. I saw this monument an evening before the ride from Cortina, illuminated in the evening, and I was wondering what that could be. By that time I felt pretty warm, so I took off my Polartec jacket and put it into a fiberglass trunk (similar to those used by motorcyclists) which I mounted to my rear rack on arrival to Cortina (very good solution for the short trips in wet areas). Thank God I took enough water in my bottle, as Pocol, being the last village before the pass had no bar opened where I could wet my mouth.
The rest of the road towards Falzarego pass was very nice running between the meadows, behind which I could sometimes see Tofane giants showing their majesty when the clouds permitted. Just at the end of the climb there were some ski lifts definitely not looking great in this surrounding. When I finally reached the top of the pass it started to snow a little bit. I wasn't very much surprised with that, as the day was rather cold and I felt great having climbed rather easily so far (but to be honest, Falzarego is one of the ampler passes in the area). I sat at the bar for the moment to drink a cup of chocolate and went out to take some obligatory pictures before continuing the ride. To my surprise I was greeted with "I know this bike from somewhere" from a man whom I recognized as my camping neighbour from Holland. He was also doing some cycling during the days before, but now was leaving Cortina for the warmer territory around Merano. So we said hello to each other and I prepared myself for the descent by putting everything I had on (including rain jacket and gloves). Descent itself was rather miserable due to pouring rain and strong headwind. But I was riding pretty fast and after several minutes I found myself at very nice looking small camping after which there was a turn left towards Selva di Cadore. I was lucky, because the rain stopped and few minutes of sun helped to dry my clothes as I stopped for pictures at beautiful panoramic point on the right side of the road. I decided to drink one more chocolate at the road bar where I bought "Gazetta dello Sport" just to find out that our Zenon Jaskula despite finishing third in Tour de Suisse would not compete in this year's TdF, as his AKI team was not qualified for the race (the decision was changed shortly before the start of the tour).
Sad and disappointed I turned left and started to climb the road leading to Passo di Giau. Right after few hundred meters I knew it would be completely different story than Falzarego. It is much more steep (map quotes 15%), and with the valley being narrower, the scenery is much wilder and even more beautiful. I had to stop few times to cool down and drink, then I was passed by a couple riding the road bikes (I was amazed by powerful performance from the girl). When I approached last few hairpins before the pass the story repeated itself - thick clouds covered the summit and it started to snow. I managed to see the marmot looking at me without particular interest and few minutes later I was sitting at empty restaurant at the top of the Giau. Another cup of chocolate and I was ready for the last part of that day's trip - continuous descent to Cortina. I could not even recall much from this, as I was freezing all the way down. The only memory I have is that I was trying to ride as fast as possible to finish thatnightmare. When I entered the camping site I was only able to creep into the tent where with stiff fingers I grabbed my emergency bottle of Stock brandy and pour it into my devastated throat. That enabled me to change the clothes and make it to the bar for a few glasses more...
The passage itself rewarded any bitterness of the climb - going through the meadows, then dark woods, and pastures again. There was particularly nice piece of the road - long, straight section with woods not very close to each other, just enough to let some sun in. And suddenly we noticed that the sun dissapeared behind thick clouds which didn't wait too long to greet us with chilly rain. And such was the state of affairs when we scaled the pass. We hid ourselves under the roof of huge hotel complex. I don't need to mention that both hotel and restaurant were closed, so faced with sheer cold that started to trouble us more and more we debated whether we should continue the trip or turn back and descend to Cortina. No - said the spirit of true bikers and we went down with a series of hairpins until the place called Bivio Dogana Vecchia where the road divided - with its left fork taking a short climb toward Misurina lake. Right after we left the woods to open meadows, the sun came out and presented famous peaks of Tre Cime di Lavaredo in front of us.
Of course, we stopped at the bank of Misurina to drink something warm and take some pictures. There were only few buses and cars parked at the side (I can imagine what's going on there at the peak of the season) when we set out for a very short route around the lake. At its northern end one can start two interesting ascents - one to the right leads to Rifugio Auronzo at the feet of Tre Cime - very demanding, rated at 18% max., but paved all along to the end. The left fork is a spiral to Monte Piana - legendary natural monument recalling fierce battles between Austrians and Italians during Ist World War. The road is paved only until some 2/3 of its length, then becoming a gravel path. Not for vertigo sufferers.
Back to our trip - we left Misurina going down amidst fresh green trees, until we reached Carbonin - tiny village at the split of two valleys. Our destination was to the left - to Cimabanche, an ample pass,but still getting a bit tiring for Asia's first day of climbing. Almost at the top there was an old house, apparently empty, which probably had served as a guarding station in the past (I saw more of them along other roads as well). We took a rest there, eating apples, very happy for the right decision to continue the trip from Passo Tre Croci. It was easy to relax with a perspective of some 12 kilometers of descent. And it was great - nothing to write about, just bombing down that road right to the outskirts of Cortina, passing by imposing wall of Pomagagnon on the left and then winding through the city streets to the camping.
That was my fastest section during all those days - my computer showed 73 km/h and during the descent we were overtaken by a motocycle, whose owner had some incredible stereo system playing Wagner's music out loud among the woods. The route was winding between the trees, then along a dried river before it finally reached Auronzo di Cadore. The city was interesting mainly due to the presence of artificial lake on which there was some sport event going on. They must love sports in this town - we even saw the posters announcing Huskies Races World Championships. Since the sun was at its peak, we decided to take a half-an-hour break under the trees before we relaunch the ride. It actually made me tired, so I didn't turn pedals quite well when we left Auronzo. Therefore I accepted willingly the proposal of making short photograph session at the Auronzo dam. That gave another fifteen minutes of rest and once back on the saddles we had to enter the tunnel starting the road to San Stefano di Cadore. For anyone willing to repeat the route - there is an optional connection to Monte Croce - right after Auronzo one can turn left to Passo del Zovo making a short cut. We did not want to use it as this section looked very steep on the map. But then we had to regret this decision as the tunnel section was rather dangerous (cars) and long (some four kilometers). We felt a great relief when we finally saw the light at its end.
During the next section the obvious truth that on the route like this (starting and finishing in the same place) each descent had to be paid for by the same length or steepness of the ascent, recalled about itself bitterly. It wasn't a steep path, but for no particular reason very tiring. It seemed to continue forever, and the fact that I saw Asia huffing heavily at 5 kms/h did not help me either, as I felt a bit guilty for this. We still had few nice stops, though - particularly nice one was at the waterfall located not very far from the Monte Croce.
The pass itself was very pleasant - a wide saddle surronded by the meadows and rocks on one side and the woods on the other, at that particular time completely lacking human presence.
A drop into the valley started with a winding road through the forest, then going through open land to reach Sesto. This town made us realize that the pass was once dividing two countries and cultures. On this side everything was Austrian - like: houses, flowers, churches...with that feeling of crossing the border we were almost flying through the valley until we entered San Candido, highly recommended to visit by our camping owner. And I must admit it had something peculiar in itself, although difficult to describe.
The next stage in front of us was the section of Val Pusteria leading to Dobbiaco. I could only imagine how delightful this valley must had been before the times of omnipresent traffic. But we had to share the road with hoards of cars and buses, so we rushed ourselves to leave the route 49 as quick as posible. The only stop was to make a picture of very beautiful, round-shape chapel on the right side of the road just before Dobbiaco. The last part of the route which started there could again be described as very charming, provided one does not meet too heavy traffic (which is rather difficult). It climbs at very moderate rate among pine and larch woods, behind which we could spot monumental rock walls. The last accent of the trip was a nice lake of almost green colour laying on the left side of the road. Then there were only few turns and we saw the hotels of Carbonin where we left the car.
It started with a car again, taking us through Falzarego Pass to Arabba, which almost like Cortina lays at the beginning of three passes: Pordoi, Campolongo and, more remotely, Falzarego. We took direction to the west following the signs "Pordoi" and we entered the road accompanied by stone markers announcing the number of hairpins left to the top (or from the top, I don't remember quite well). I recalled that road from my very first trip abroad, back in 1990, which we had covered in 10 years old Fiat 126. That was also a bit of adventure - and the views were so astonishing then...So we were following that memory lane, this time bathing in the sun and breathing fresh air. Some stops were necessary on the way up when Asia was running out of steam. It would have been easier for her if she rode on my back wheel, but strangely, she preferred to stay in the front and I was following her having a great time shouting the number of kilometers (meters) left to the next stop agreed in advance. We made the last pause at exactly the same place as five years ago. I talked for a while with German morcyclist, who also stopped for a picture, I took it and we rushed along last kilometers of Pordoi.
The pass itself - great views to both sides, but a bit too crowded with hotels, bars and street vendors. But they had a nice selection of postcards there, so we bought several of them, then put the wind jackets on and started the first leg of downhill that day. At one moment I almost crashed, as there was some sand left after roadworks and I slipped on the transition from asphalt to sand. Luckily I was able to balance that out, and then the next surprise - fresh asphalt which spattered from under the wheels. Right after this section I saw two riders, who passed me few minutes before on some absolutely state-of-the-art racing bikes, removing thoroughly the tar from tyres and frames. I felt sorry, but couldn't help and continued the descent.
The next stage was the climb to Passo di Sella. It started with a forest to reveal, after several minutes, the giant walls of Sella massif. The picture that I took, although not bad, do not reflect the feeling of magnificence of this mountain that I had standing in front of it.
The ride there was a pure pleasure, we made the stops mainly not because we had to, but because we wanted to look at the views and take the pictures. From some point the Marmolada massif started to show its glaciers, then we found ourselves above the tree line where people enjoyed a lunch with wine in front of small cabins and cheered us. About 2 kilometers before the top I asked Asia if she would make it with no problem to the pass, and given a positive answer I made the final sprint. Then - the same routine: pictures, a glass of Coke at the bar, windproofs on and left / right, left / right ... until the next fork to the right marked "Passo di Gardena". At this turn there was a delightful, old fuel distributor probably remembering pioneer times of motor civilization.
The way up to Passo di Gardena was probably the best of entire circuit, at first climbing not very steeply through single larch trees, with meadows stretching towards Sella base and contrasting boulders laying everywhere on grassy slopes. Then, in about half the way up, the road levels for few hundred meters, giving just enogh time to take deeper breath and look to the right to Sella waterfalls and back into Gardena valley and needles of Sassolungo. Just as we restarted the ride we were overtaken by a girl on mountain bike, who was doing this really fast ! Again, given permission I took the last kilometer and half in rather fast pace but I was not able to catch that quick princess.
And here we were - on the top of delightful Gardena pass, less wild and rocky (despite presence of the Sella) than two previous ones, giving traveller's eyes more of a green, pasture image. From the perspective of few months that passed since that time I believe that was the climax of the day, as far as the feeling of satisfaction and joy was concerned. We were not able to restart the ride for about an hour, spent on admiration of the views of surrounding mountains and valleys and recording them with our camera.
On the way down, steeper than the ones following Pordoi and Sella passes and previous climbs (that's why it is probably better to ride the circuit clockwise) there was at least one point worth mentioning - an old, rustical house on the outskirts of Colfosco, some half way down to the next crossroads at Corvara. This is a bit bigger town, seemingly skiing resort, and I believe the most prominent community in Badia valley. We refreshed ourselves with orange juice and biscuits from local shop and commenced the last climb of the day -up to Campolongo pass. First part of it was a pain - poor surface quality, burning sun and some 2000 meters of climbing in our legs were the landmarks for that section. Then it became much better - the steepness decreased, and we were able to admire the beauty of the meadows and woods that we were passing by. If there was no sign with Campolongo name we wouldn't probably notice crossing the pass at all.
The rest was all downhill - with zig - zags on the slope exposed to the south towards Arabba, where after descending a very steep street I was surprised to see our car - much earlier than I expected. I just finished tying my bike to the rack, when Asia joined with a laugh of satisfaction and we drove back to Cortina.
I stopped at the top to look for the marmots, since I heard their whistles coming from the slope of Sasso di Stria (left side of the road), but didn't spot even one of them. I asked one of the soldiers from the group having a mountain excursion to make me a picture, and rode down the first part of Badia valley until san Cassiano, where I stopped for a self - made breakfast. There I noticed that the language spoken by inhabitants was very strange, a bit similar to Retoromanisch used in Swiss Engadin (later I found out that this dialect was called Ladin).
I continued the descent among silent villages, then entering the woods where I stopped for a moment at the river to wet my hair. Not very much later I realized that I was approaching Brunico. 40 kilometers of descent made the Badia section very quick indeed!
I was in good mood for further ride, therefore deciding not to turn off the main road to visit Brunico (perhaps a shame) but to go up Pusteria valley route 49 towards Dobbiaco. Luckily, at that time of the day traffic was very moderate, so I had the chance to devote more attention to the beauty of valley fields, adorned with huge sheafs laying on them like sleeping cows.
One of the villages on the way, called Villabassa was particularly delightful with pretty multi - colour roof on the hotel in the center.
Then there was Dobbiaco which I already knew from the day 3 and familiar ride up to Cimabanche. This time I noticed that someone had hung a huge banner directed against the construction of a highway along this valley on the rock wall shortly before Carbonin. At the Cimabanche I took a short break and read on my cyclocomputer that I was close to 20 km/h average for the day, which (being a good result for myself) encouraged me to rush at the quickest possible gears down to Cortina to break through that barrier. And when I reached the camping the computer read 20.30, so I punched the air and fully satisfied rolled into the tent.
The next stage, leading to Agordo, started with a surprise - we had to wait for about forty minutes before the road, closed due to some serious loose rock avalanche, was reopened for the traffic. Then - nice and smooth ride to Agordo, which we reached at noon. That meant - we would have the hottest sun during ascent. The road to Passo Duran starts with a turn left in Agordo, quickly reaching a steep grade. The path was deserted and of rather wild character. After few kilometers the surface became very poor and it was difficult to maintain steady pace on the bumps. Asia had very rough time doing her personal best of 3 km/h and stopping every kilometer. During one of the stops we saw giant ants - they were of almost cockroach size!
As the time passed by I started to realize that with one more pass in front of us we might not be able to reach Selva before darkness if maintaining present pace. After a short conference held under the sign announcing 15% grade we decided to split - I would go alone in the front and when I got to the car I would drive back and collect Asia. As it occured the top of Duran pass was not very far from that place and the road became smoother. I didn't spend too much time there (views were already obscured by clouds) and went down along narrow road to Dont (fortunately the surface on this side of the pass was much better). At Dont the route splits - the left fork was my way to Forcella Staulanza and the right one turns to Passo Cibiana and Cibiana di Cadore - an exceptional village with its famous "murales" - paintings on the walls of villagers' houses.
The ascent of Staulanza was very demanding, either, at least in the beginning. Then the surrounding became delightful and not very far from the pass I stopped at beautifully located camping to buy some drinks at their store. Refreshed, I restarted the climb and soon reached the top. On the descent when I turned back I saw the giant face of Pelmo - very impressive. The rest of the trip was easy, descending back to the civilization, at one moment the hills opened an excellent view of distant Marmolada glaciers.
I had the opportunity to admire Pelmo beauty once again driving up to meet Asia and surprisingly saw her just few hundred meters before Staulanza top. Considering the rest of the route was downhill, she was not that far behind me.
And that was it - our last circuit in the Dolomites was over, we got into the car, went over stormy Giau pass back to the camping and two days later - to Poland.