One day in the Dolomites

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MREJ
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One day in the Dolomites

Postby MREJ » Tue Aug 25, 2015 7:56 pm

(A story from the most memorable day of 3 weeks cycling in Europe. Location: Valsugana, south-east of Trento.)

Domani. That’s what he’d said, Stefano, when I called in at his bike shop earlier. Domani – tomorrow; it would rain tomorrow. Riding along the valley soon afterwards, fresh and optimistic, I was looking forward to the ride, but I had my doubts about the weather. The morning sun was bright and illuminated the corn fields, the villages and the lower slopes of the pale walls that run for 80 kilometres to the south-east, but it also revealed the gathering clouds, massing with solemn insistence to the right and to the left, as far as I could see. The rising humidity seemed to be seeping down from those shadowed heights, warning me of what might come.

I was certainly feeling it at that moment. After the easy 15k warm-up along the river, I’d turned north into unknown territory. The sketchy map I’d been given led to an improbable looking valley, hemmed in by steep, forested walls. Really, it was more of a cleft than a valley. There was no-one around to ask, so I put my faith in the map. Within a few hundred metres the climb began. It seemed as though I’d been thrown back to a simpler time. The road was little more than a vehicle’s width, rough-surfaced and shrouded in trees. It wound its way up into the dense green forest at a considerable gradient. On one corner, my Garmin reported later, it reached 43% for a brief, alarming moment. There were occasions where I felt that the front wheel might lift, but there was little to be done except to continue, as stopping seemed almost as precarious.

After several kilometres of grinding my way up this chute, the only sound my own laboured breathing, I came across a solitary old woman, inexplicably walking up the hill, destination impossible to guess. I suppose she may have had her doubts about me. We bade each other buon giorno, and I pressed on. Finally, a small settlement came into view, a hamlet really, with perhaps half a dozen buildings clinging to the slope. A dog barked; I tried to put aside the realisation that I could not outrun it, and passed through unassailed. There was no other sound, nor any other sign of life.

By this time, the temperature was well over 30, and the sun and the steaming fauna were talking their toll. My map showed that there was a restaurant just along the way. With another 9 kilometres to the top, up there somewhere in the clouds, I decided to call in for refreshment. I felt unsuited to sit at a laid table, in my bike clothes and with sweat pouring continuously from some apparently bottomless source, but I put aside the niceties when the two old boys propping up the bar confirmed that yes, the restaurant was open. I sat there for 40 minutes or so, the sole guest apart from the old boys, every surface of my body oozing the entire time. You could say it was humid. Eventually, after drinking 2 litres of water to replace what I’d left behind, I gathered my things and my energy, to set off upwards once again.

Pomeriggio (afternoon)
So I remounted the bike, and turned to the north once again. If anything, the road became more primitive, while the gradient changed little. The trees closed in, providing shade but enhancing the feeling of solitude. There were no vehicles along the way, save for one driven by a little old man who stopped just ahead of me and walked, without so much as a glance my way, into the forest. What he was after I can only guess: mushrooms, or truffles perhaps?

Looking back through the occasional breaks in the green curtain, I soon lost the view of the valley floor altogether. Instead, all I could see was directly across to the south side, to the ancient crags and their skirts of clammy grey. I could see nothing moving over there. It was me and the road and the forest, and my map.

Now and again I came to a split in the road. Some of these seemed to be marked on the map, but it was often unclear what one should do, particularly as neither choice seemed, by appearance, to be a more significant road than the other. If there were signs, they mostly pointed to places that were either not on the map, or so far away that the sign seemed more like a whimsical joke. I have to admit, I was nervous. It seemed ridiculous, to fear getting lost in a continent of 740 million people, but it seemed like a real prospect

Quite a few kilometres passed, and I don’t know how much time. The surreal sense of being disconnected intensified when the forest started to recede, to be replaced by thick fog. I entered this new unknown with some caution, but appreciating the fact that it might indicate that at least I was near the top of something. Although I could see no evidence of human occupation other than the tarmac in front of me, a faint sound began to breathe its way through the gloom. Cow bells. They chimed away at their own steady pace. It was impossible to tell from how far they called, but their sound was welcome, and almost cheerful.

I was just starting to wonder about this when a young woman appeared from around the corner. She was walking down the hill, without any apparent purpose or destination. For the second time that day, I greeted the passing stranger, as she did me, and we continued on our solitary ways. I took some comfort from this evidence of life, and also, from what I could make out peering through the mist.

Indeed, the road was finally relaxing its grip. I found new energy, and clicked up a few gears. The now gentle, swaying curves seemed to lure me on, so differently from the taunts strung out before me over the previous hours. Soon the shape of a building appeared on the left; sure enough, it was the old refuge that was marked on my map. Just as it had succoured centuries of pilgrims, so I felt welcomed, like a sailor arriving at a safe harbour. Of course, my home port lay at a distance, so I did not linger.

Soon enough I was surfing the curves back down towards the light. The air cleared, warmth returned and I began to get glimpses of the little towns below, strung out along the valley floor. I glided through several, then rode the riverside back home.

Sera (Evening)
Over dinner, we watched as the clouds started grumbling and sparking. From the balcony we saw the dark peaks and the valley lit briefly, before the rain began. I sat and rested, feeling the new air and thinking about the day that had passed, and what awaited me tomorrow.
2016 S-Works Tarmac, 2014 Wabi Lightning SE, 2012 Felt F75, 2011 Genesis Equilibrium 20, ancient Avanti Pista track bike

beanbiken
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Joined: Wed Jun 04, 2014 8:12 am

Re: One day in the Dolomites

Postby beanbiken » Wed Aug 26, 2015 9:21 am

Thanks, enjoyed the read

redrover3
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Joined: Fri Nov 11, 2011 8:23 pm

Re: One day in the Dolomites

Postby redrover3 » Sat Aug 29, 2015 7:14 am

Enjoyed. Very descriptive writing.
Tony

Chris249
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Re: One day in the Dolomites

Postby Chris249 » Fri Sep 18, 2015 6:42 pm

Great stuff, MR!

What was the climb? I rolled through the Valsugana last week, but I was with my wife and her sister and I'd written off the bike in a crash a few days before (ironically, it was just after doing the French Alps) so all I could do was roll it gently through the valleys, ignoring the climbs around us because there was no way I'd ride the bent and bashed frame down them.

The Valsugana trail is a lovely little ride, and those bike cafes are perfect. I think I will have to do the climb you wrote about so evocatively if I go back there.
Kestrel Talon road 2007
Como Vivente road 2009
Principia track track 2014
Cervelo P2K TT 2003
Merida CX4 2010
Concaeio road

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MREJ
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Re: One day in the Dolomites

Postby MREJ » Fri Apr 14, 2017 7:02 pm

Hi Chris. Sorry I didn't reply earlier! I didn't realise you'd posted, and just saw now when I went back to re-read my story as I'm planning to re-visit the area.

It's called Passo Dosso. The road starts near Borgo Valsugana and goes up via Bosco, Ganai and Canarini to the refuge. On Strava the relevant segments for the climb are called Borgo - Ronchi (da Onea alternative dura) and Trenca (da Canai). The first one starts on Rue Tabossi, just NW of BV. I made it a loop by descending via Montebelleri to the main road. Note that most of these places seem no more than names on a map. The restaurant I visited was between Canai and Torcegno. It's an excellent, very quiet, slightly unnerving climb. Hard too - 13k at about 10%.
2016 S-Works Tarmac, 2014 Wabi Lightning SE, 2012 Felt F75, 2011 Genesis Equilibrium 20, ancient Avanti Pista track bike

Arlberg
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Joined: Mon Oct 03, 2011 6:43 pm

Re: One day in the Dolomites

Postby Arlberg » Sat May 13, 2017 8:59 am

A great story MREJ and very well written. It's nice to see that some of us still know how to spell properly too.

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