Thursday, October 2, 2014

For those of us that like to travel vicariously...

Riders and Associates of The Institute!
As a sailor on a concrete sea I noticed something of interest in Italy. When one sees the green 'Autostrada' signage one must prepare oneself for the fact that said Autostrada can be up to 50km away! When one does reach said motorway the journey is then swift and efficient - necessary when one is on a quest for glory.
So, mildly disappointed that The Grail did not appear to reside at Lago d'Iseo yet unfazed, after one last espresso and farewelling Carmel and Paul who were off to Venice, and jamming myself behind the wheel of The Lancia 'compact' I sought the Autostrada through the Val Camonica and up to Ponte di Legno, a ski town at the foot of the Passo Gavia and Passo del Tonale, two climbs featured in recent Giros d'Italia and possible residing places of you know what. Last time I rode in Italy the Passo Gavia was 'chiuso' due to bad weather so I had unfinished business there.
Well, there's nothing sadder than a ski village in the off season and the town appeared deserted as the sun lowered itself towards the mountain crests. After trying one hotel (closed), then another which was open but appeared to be operated by an Italian version of The Addams Family (my experience is that there are some hotels who actually don't want guests!) I rounded the corner and there was The Residence Club, looking very much like an enormous paddle steamer - and empty. 
Securing an apartment (big enough to house the entire FIS) for 80 Euro from the delightful front of house staff I laid out the kit for next day's assault on the Passo Gavia, put the bike in the ski locker and wandered down past the alpine river behind the hotel to the town square for an aperitif and dinner.

The aperitif went well at the local Gasthof, this part of the country being less like Italy than Austria, but with nary a restaurant open and having rapidly tired of pizza (anchovies on cardboard!) by this time, I felt I couldn't go wrong with dining in on local produce and a fine red from up the valley, so having plundered the Salumeria on the square I returned home to digs to have dinner and brush down the kit with EuroMTV throbbing in the background.
Next morning, at around 9.30 (quests start late in Europe!) I combed my hair, grabbed the bike and headed up the Passo Gavia in bright sunshine. As I rode the incline, through the pines and across crystal clear streams, my admiration for the Giro riders actually racing this pass grew in direct proportion to the gradient!
Narrowing sharply and at times hitting 17% the road seemed never ending and after reaching the bare slopes above the treeline at every switchback I half expected to see Hannibal and the Elephants camped on the tundra. Very few cyclists but lots of motorbikes.

Finally, through the pitch dark tunnel at 12% gradient, I reached the pass after three hours. A quick photo op followed by a brief search revealed no Grail shrine or similar, but the irony of the ride was that inside the Refugio Bonetta at the top there was a veritable party, the place crammed full of sharp German motorcyclists in and on the latest motorcycle gear all gathered around a roaring fire. The intention was to do the Valtellina circuit off the summit, a ride of 80kms but as I finished my apple strudel and second Cafe Americano the weather took a dramatic turn for the worse in less than ten minutes and hail and sleet peppered the Refugio windows. Mounting up with all haste I got off the Passo the way I came, a ride at least as difficult as the ascent. An hour and a half later I was taking a twenty minute shower and heading off to The Sporting Club restaurant over the river where a delectable pork shin and a tasty Rhine Moselle were the Specials of the Day!
To be Continued......
Cheers, Mick

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