Jerry’s 7-days Bicycling Trip in the Dolomites 2000 – Day Six

Chienes — Vipiteno — Jaufenpass — Merano — Stelvio — Bormio (205 km)
Breakfast and then out in the sunny morning for another day of interesting places to go to. It was very easy and went rather fast up to Vipiteno/Sterzing. At first I had thought to stop in Vipiteno as I have heard they should have good cafés there, but as I cycled together with an italian the last stretch up to Vipiteno and he turned off in the direction of the Jaufenpass/Pso di Mte Giovo, I followed him, but he was apparently off to work nearby, so I had to continue alone.

JaufenpassSoon another italian came up by my side and we cycled together up the most part of the climb to the Jaufenpass. This italian was actually good on english for once and we could talk on all kinds of things. He had also participated in a famous amateur race recently up in the mountains close to and into France (I think – I did not know of it and forgot the name). I told him that I did not intend to go very fast up the road as I was also going to go up the Pso della Stelvio/Stilfserjoch pass later that day. So he after while decided to get up to the Jaufenpass alone and told me he would say hello on his way down again. He got a few hundreds meters ahead of me, but well up at the pass height he had only just stepped off his bicycle before I was there. So we talked a bit more and took the photo here (click the photo for a zoom out view). It was rather easy to get up to this pass (esp. if you have someone to talk to while going there). The Jaufenpass is at 2094 meters and thus ”only” 1150 meters above Vipiteno.

Now I was going down to Merano (323 m) (it was so good weather that I did not even have to put on the yellow wind jacket). A lot of using the brakes in the beginning as usual and I really had begun to get a bit of ache in my hands, but it all went very nicely and fast down to Merano. In Merano I was fooling around for a long time before I decided where to eat lunch. I was looking for a bicycle shop, which I, the day before, also had looked for in Lienz, but in Austria many shops were closed on Monday (at least on the afternoon), but did not find one here either (did not really ask anyone). (It was only that I had missed a screw in one of my shoe cleats since I fell in the slopes down to Pontebba.) I finally had a pasta (for a change) which was okay, but I should have tried to find a better restaurant. Merano was obviously a very nice and sweet little city. A very green city (”thickly foliaged” my dictionary suggests for the word I was having in mind). Somehow the clock seemed to be running too fast to my liking. I realized at last that I had better hurry on if I wanted to reach the Stelvio pass that day.

So I went away up through the Vinschgau valley, where they have a very big apple industry (I bought a Vinschgau apple in Forno di Zoldo, I think it was) and it was huge and good. The road through the Vinschgau valley is rather big and trafficked – I had read about that and knew that there were apparently nicer roads through the Vinschgau valley to take, but I had no time for this now and at first it was rather nice anyway. There is a problem in going on these more flat roads after having bicycled up and down mountains most of the time – one feels the accumulated pain in the back and feet more (as I noticed earlier). Now things went rather well and I had a constant speed of around 30 km/h, but suddenly I got more and more wind against me and the last part up to Spondigna/Spondinig (where I turned left). – It was very annoying. When I was in Prato allo Stelvio (the little village just before the road starts to go up the Stelvio pass) I had gotten a bit irritated and was feeling somewhat stressed. I was shopping some sodas and fruit and it all seemed to take ages in the overfilled (with people) Despar shop. I had to go into yet another place to get some water also. It was nearly 19 p.m. when I was finally able to leave this place and begin to go up to the Stelvio pass. I had read that this was also a very popular tourist road, but at this late time I was almost alone, and most other cyclists would probably not even think of going up there so late. I just hoped not to meet anyone who would suggest to me that I would never be able to get over to Bormio safely before the dark. ;-)

JaufenpassIt was indeed not an easy pass road, just as the italian earlier in the day had told me. The real trouble begins when the numbered curves appears. There are 44 of them on the way up (and apparently 42 down to Bormio). Part of the road had disappeared on one place too (where I, of course, met a car) and some curves were very steep also, which forced me to be careful so I did not have to stop on the way up (which I thought only a ”loser” would …). It was quite a bit between the curves, especially at first down in the wooded landscape, where the road was also most steep. I think it was a ”tournante 20” (curve no. 20) that I suddenly came out of the forest and could see the pass height just a bit up in the mountain. Here is where you have the magnificent view of the serpentine road up to Stelvio – maybe this is the foremost example of a real serpentine road! It was amazing and somewhat comforting to see the pass height. However, when I looked into the ground I saw it painted on the road that it was now ”only” 10 kilometers left to the top!! I think it was around curve 14 that I almost fell off my bicycle as I heard a sound that sounded as if someone was whistling at me – apparently it was some animal as I heard it again and saw something move in the hillside. At curve 10 or 9 and up to the top it was snow by the roadside and it was beginning to get a bit cold even though I had been exerting quite some effort on the way up. I saw the sun all the time in the mountain tops and wondered if I could possibly reach the top to see the sun before it went down. Around curve 14-12 I noticed someone yelling something down the serpentine road (which was rather odd, since there only occasionally passed by a car and it was otherwise quiet). – it was a mountainbike cyclist who had caught sight of me and wanted to try and get up to the top before me. Well – ”let him try” – I thought. It turned out that he was serious and actually did his best to catch up with me. As I noticed how he got closer and closer, I slowly raised my own speed a little, but he anyway managed to come up by my side when it was 100 meters left to the top! I said I was not competing so, but when it was 50 meters left I raced away from him and he had no chance to follow. ;-) I knew this guy had not exactly been cycling from where I came from that day and apparently he had just been starting from behind the first curves down the road and his wife and kid was waiting up at the pass height with their car (which could be seen on the photo). I talked some with his wife that understood english much better and saw the sun just before it went down (almost at 20.30, I think). She took the photo of me –I must have forgotten to clean dry the lens, that I had to do at times as I had it my back pocket of the cycling shirt. The photo thus looks very unclear. Just after she had taken the photo the sun was gone and I noticed how terribly cold it was up there at 2757 meters. The Stelvio pass was the highest pass in Europe for over hundred years, I read, and now there is only one higher, but I still do not know where that higher one is located and if it is possible to reach with a road bike bicycle.

My original plan was supposed to be like this: start in Merano (not quite where I was starting the day); then go up to the Stelvio pass and thereafter turn right to Switzerland (Sta Maria); then down to St. Moritz; then up to the Bernina pass and turn left to Livigno; and then to Bormio for the night. By not reaching Austria one day earlier, I had realized that I would probably have to drop this plan and I surely did. This original trip would probably had been very tough even if I had started in Merano. I also had to be back in Milano the next day and thus had to go straight to Bormio.

It was really cold and not very pleasant to go down from the Stelvio pass to Bormio. For the first time I went slower down than I had to because my hands got so cold (and I had to keep them on the brakes almost all the time). I saw the road going to Sta Maria (and I wondered if that road had been good to go – my map had suggested that that road was unpaved for a tiny stretch, which I did not see indicated in other maps). I also had to go down as fast as possible to avoid having to cycle on the road at dark, which was not really my idea of safe cycling. There were also a few unlit tunnels on the way down, but they had holes in the sides to let some light in – just enough for me now to find my way. After 20 minutes it had became acceptably warm outside again and soon I was down in Bormio, at which point it just became totally dark so ”just in time”!) I took in at the second place I noticed on the road I was coming down to Bormio on and the hotel had a somewhat shabby look with only some drunken older locals hanging out there – which was kind of sad as it later noticed that this had been a really charming hotel (and maybe it got that way in the winter season again, I do not know). There seemed to be only two other guests and those were also cyclists (they had their bikes securely locked in the cellar, which I thought was odd, since I had not even bothered to take a locker with me due to its weight). This place was actually quite good – I had a large double bed room with a magnificent balcony from were I took the first picture in the morning.

I went down to the city and got advice from a Moroccan (who had lived there for 10 years but mostly spoke french) of where to eat my pizza. I then walked into a busy pub full of the hippest kids in town (I suppose) in my odd outfit and ordered a few good beers and then had to ask my way back to the hotel.

This day I cycled around 205 kilometers. Next day is Day 7.

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