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Sunday
Jun262011

Alps Ride - Midway

Halfway through the riding days, feels like I've been here for a month, and that's good.  

Day ride from Villach over the Wurzen Pass into Slovenia, picnic at Vrsic Pass, that happened to be occupied by sheep.  'Think you've heard raunchy sheep jokes?  Try hanging out with Kiwi's...  Part of what makes New Zealander's so much fun is that all topics are on the table, even in mixed company.  Americans, we don't realize how prudish we are.  So I asked a few questions about using a bidet; they've been in some of the hotels, but I've shied away from using them, 'remembering the first time I turned one on full bore a few decades ago, got a facefull.  Now that I can approach a bidet with confidence, the next remodel or new construction (if or when I become less nomadic) will include one, or more. Very civilized. 

Beautiful weather, took off to explore. At Zaga, found a one-lane road that went up, entered Italy, rode over the pass, and after another hour, found my way into someone's back yard in a hillside village, then on to a paved road that led down the hill. Easy to get lost, but that's part of the fun, locals happy to point you in the right direction, unless you've ridden into their backyard. 

The ride from Villach to Arabba took us over Passo Stalle a one-way road where traffic changes direction every half-hour, scooted through the entrance at 90 km/h (a no-no) just as the stop gate was coming down.  

It poured, lightning and thunder, twice stopped in covered bus stops to ponder the map and shed some water.  Up over Passo di Campolongo - uh oh, motorcyclist down (not my group) ambulance on the way - and into Arabba, a cool ski village where we'll stay for two nights.  Most of the stops are for two nights, allowing us to do day rides and explore the surrounding area, not have to pack up every day. Drinks, dinner, raunchy jokes, cool hotel.  And wi-fi in the room!

Riding the next day was amazing. A couple of folks rode a carefully-orchestrated 19 passes (a long day). I  rode nine passes, and explored numerous hillside villages, some with only a few buildings, accessible only by narrow gravel roads.  Many have cemeteries, some military. This border region has been plagued with wars, fighting up here, particularly in the winter, must've been brutal.   The borders have moved north-south-east-west throughout history.  For example, many residents of nearby Cortina (hang-out for the rich and famous) consider themselves to be German, though they're [currently] in Italy.  It seems such an idyllic place to live, history says otherwise. 

Why didn't I ride all 19 passes?  It got so fast and crowded - someone passing me while I'm passing someone else on a narrow and steep road - that I finally opted for some culture and quiet in remote villages. I'm riding fast but safe, pushing it sometimes, but riding at 125% of my ability for hours on end was going to catch up with me.  The Swiss and Italians are exceptional riders, Germans and Austrians pretty good riders, but there were too many crazies packed into too small an area. 

You become accustomed to seeing others - bus, motorcycle, cow - in your own narrow lane. You simply move to the right edge, and ride in their lane as well when you need to. It just works, people here are competent on the roads.  The typical American would pop a forehead vein, I think.  I love riding here. 

Arabba to Trento, great weather, up Paso Manghen on a 2/3-of-a-lane road. Near the top, a swarm of perhaps 200 on-coming Vespa's descend on us, taking up the entire road.  All I can do is stop, while they flowed around me. The leader was waving a red flag, which I would've like to whack him across the head with. Hells Angels on mopeds. It was funny, like a scene from The Wizard of Oz, mobile munchkins.  No time to snap a photo, damnit. 

Lunch at Rifugio Crucolo Loc Val Campelle, a 200+ year old family business that supplies the locals with their home-made sausage, cheese, grappa and other libations.  Toured the cellars, where sausage hangs from the ceiling like bats, walls are lined with cheeses and wines, very cool. The meal was incredible, topped by their special Parampampoli, a combination of grappa, coffee, sugar, and gasoline, I think, served on fire.

Getting to the Rifugio was fun, including a 5 km gravel-big rocks-and-ruts road, with a few steep sections. Once at the restaurant, I rode on the back of another's bike back to the beginning of the gravel road to help ferry bikes and riders who weren't comfortable riding on the rocks. Crikey! [a Kiwi-ism].  I don't like riding on the back, regardless, but this guy rode balls-out, bouncing all over the road, bottomed the suspension several times, scared the sh*t out of me.  My fingerprints are pressed on to the frame where I hung on.  Another Parampampoli, please. 

Back on the road, I spy this impressive castle across the valley, looks worth investigating. It's way up on the hill, there's no road, just an amazingly steep footpath. 31 degrees C, I'm wearing leather riding gear. 45 minutes later, wheezing, I'm at the castle, greeted by a fence-I-can't-see-through, and a sign that says 'ATTENTI AL CANE' underneath a picture of a Doberman.  Well, I've gotten some much-needed exercise, though about ready to pass out from exposure. 

Arriving in Trento, I ride through the pedestrian-only Piazza del Duomo - twice- lost, looking for the hotel.  The whole city turns out for the annual Feste Vigiliane that night: music, fireworks and (probably) debauchery, lasts until the wee hours, very cool. I'll sleep tomorrow. 

 

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