Passing through the Alps

Passing through the Alps
Italy, Dolomites

Just as we left lake Como, we came across a cycle path which turned out to be the right direction for us for a few days. Running along a river, it was surrounded by high peaks on both sides and was quite wide, with the river flowing lazily through the planes. We were led through big fields and small river forests, and the smell of the linden trees was covering everything. The weather was nice and warm, perfect for an easy ride, and we’ve met quite a few casual cyclist and touring bikers, more than any other in the last month. 

Easy days ahead
Some hills, but nothing major

And here we go

Since our plan was to go straight through Italy to Triglav in the Slovenian Alps, and the signed road led up to north to Bormio, we had to say goodbye to our easy stroll after the third day. The road toward the east was leading towards Trento, where we had potential for a warmshowers host. In order to get there, we climbed Passo Tonale, a mountain pass 1880m high, breaking our previous record quite a bit. As is the case with most of these passes in the Italian Alps, they go through resort towns and ski areas. This high up in April, you could still see a lot of snow around. Even a few slopes were open with a lift serving any late season comers, but the roads were mostly empty and the empty cafés and apartments made it look like a ghost town. It is quite earie up there, where all you can hear is your own breathing through the crisp air, and barely any car passes you.

Maybe because of the altitude change, or just our luck, but the weather changed and we finished our downhill in pouring rain. Arriving to a small town, we didn’t have too many options for cheap food, but at least we could wait out the rain a bit in the shop. We were soaked and just wanted to set up the tent in the shortest time possible, quickly finding a spot next to the river. Tomorrow morning however we realized that our hosts are in the next town instead of Trento, and as the bad weather continued and they replied pretty late, we decided to move on, not wanting to lose a day waiting. If we’re going to get wet, at least we should be doing something useful. It turned out to be a great decision.

Our first really big climb
My bike in danger of flooding

The apple orchards and good company

The next day we were mostly cycling in an area where every inch of ground was covered in apple orchards. It continued to rain and we barely managed to find a resting stop after it was already dark. We even had to climb a few hills in the pouring rain to get there. But as the saying goes, you can’t appreciate the good times if there are no bad ones in contrast. Not that I was thinking about that during the day, but I count myself lucky, as Alan is always there to lift my spirits. I can’t complain much. J And just like that, we woke up to a sunny, warm day the next morning, and reached another valley with a beautiful cycle path along a river. It was narrower than the previous one, with the peaks closing us more in, small little villages and even more apple orchards spotting the plane all around.  It was leading up all the way to Bolzano, so we’ve met with huge amounts of cycle tourists. Just as we were taking some pictures over a bridge, a cycling couple rode past us, and we’ve quickly rushed after them to say hi.

 

They were Italians called Elena and Andrea, and it turned out they left their home just 4 days ago to go around the world. However their plan was to go through Russia and Mongolia to South-East Asia, managing all that until the winter. It’s a bold plan to say the least, so I wish them lots of tailwind. J Eventually we decided to camp together for the night, and there were plenty of space along the river to do it. We even had them write in our reverse guest book, which we use for hosts and interesting people we meet on the road. We cycled with them the next day, all the way up to Bolzano, where they continued their way towards Austria. As we headed towards Cortina d’Ampezzo up in the mountains to the east, we bid them farewell and started climbing in dripping rain. 

Looks like a painting, but it was real 🙂
Finally some girly time 🙂
A bike tunnel!

Meeting with the mountains again

Since we were getting stronger by all this climbing, it was easy to tackle the first uphill, but just as we reached a small resort town a thunderstorm hit again. With steep mountains looming all around us, there was not much of a chance to find a wild camping spot, so it was the perfect opportunity to try asking for a garden space for the first time. After my unsuccessful first try we almost gave up, until we saw a lawn with the most perfect view onto the Dolomites at the edge of town, and we just couldn’t resist asking. An old lady opened the door and didn’t speak a word of English of course, only German and a bit of Italian. I already knew the phrase in Italian to ask about our tent, so at least we could get our intention across, and she immediately led us to the back where we could put our tent and bikes up. We even got some bread, butter, jam and coffee in the morning, so really great first experience of people’s generosity and hospitability for strangers. J But you need more than a few slices of bread with jam when you’re eating hills for breakfast, so we made our own oats porridge too. Then we said goodbye to our lovely lady and her daughter and set out to a day which turned out to be our longest climbing one, with breaking the 2000 m level for the first time. Passo Gardena was not an easy thing to reach, as it seemed that in the month of May, the gods of rain were having a huge party and drank a bit too much. Safe to say, it’s not so fun to cycle all the time, but these challenges make the whole thing even more memorable.

Our next problem presented itself on the same evening, as we reached a small town in the pouring rain with almost no food in our bags, and had 5 minutes to spare in the only shop still open. Sometimes it comes handy that we don’t really try to whip up some gourmet food on the road, and usually buy the same stuff all the time, so we could quickly grab the essentials. There will be a separate post about buying and making food, so just stay tuned if you want details J Anyway, after getting something to survive on for a few days, we still had to figure out our sleeping place. But the opportunity actually was staring us in the face, while we waited for the sky to turn off the tap. The shop had a quite big underground garage and as the next day was Sunday when everything is closed here, nobody would notice us in the morning. We didn’t have to think long to agree taking the chance, and we had a nice, dry night on 1400 m high. Maybe not the most picturesque spot, but that’s not always the top priority when you’re subject to the elements out there. 

No, we didn't try going up
Who needs a five star hotel?
Breakfast included
Yes, that's 2137m high 🙂
Sometimes you need the rain to enjoy the view

Saved by God, and a hard decision

As the rainclouds seemed a bit terrifying in the morning, we were unsure of what to do, or how much should we dare to go further. The original plan would have taken us to our highest point ever to Passo Valparola, which stands on 2200m. The switchback road leading up to it was pretty abandoned, with no options for a shelter for who knows how long. Alan put the decision to continue or not on me, and as I like to play with fire sometimes, I jumped on the bike. It was dripping most of the late morning, sometimes getting a bit heavier, in which case we just moved under a roof of a summer house’s terrace we’ve found on the road, but it didn’t look too serious. So we continued uphill, until we were only around a few kilometres away from the top. Suddenly we felt huge raindrops on our arms, and before we realized, they turned into ice and we were standing in the middle of a heavy, scary hail storm. As we long past the last option for shelters, we were standing on the side of the road, just taking it in. Honestly we thought we gonna die, looking desperately at each other. 

I can safely say that it was almost like a miracle when Alan found a small graveyard with a chapel on the map, which seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere in a forest, along a hiking trail. Being our only option, we took little care about the snow and mud we had to push through, until we found a small military graveyard with a wooden chapel standing on a small hilltop. It was surrounded by knee-deep snow and bushes, but we’re quite stubborn and Alan can carry the bikes through almost everything, so there was no turning back. Trying to navigate through this minefield of snowy potholes led to some funny jumps and sudden sinking – especially for me, thanks to shorter legs – but eventually we reached the shore and our mattresses and bags could just fit into the small wooden house. Not long after we got some dry clothes on and finally felt the catastrophe diverted, the rain stopped and the sun started shining like crazy. 

All our stuff was already laying all around, so we were reluctant to go on. Instead decided to hike up to the peak nearby, which we estimated we could be able to be done with before sundown. It was a bit tricky with the snow still laying around on a big percentage of the trail, but that just made it more technical. J When we reached 2300 m and looked around, we spotted the mountain pass we were trying to reach earlier below us, and realized how close we were to it. It was a stunning view, with a clear sight down to the valley below us, which was surrounded by high, sharp peaks, some of them lost in the clouds. No, we totally not regret missing the chance to have a nice, sunny descent down from the mountain pass with the bikes, and that we had to suffer through snow, rain and 6 degrees the next day.

Small, but perfect for us
This view totally worth it
Just realized how close we were to the top
Nah, it's not cold
Inside the clouds
Not a bad place to say goodby to the mountains

Even though we originally took this route through the Alps to check our Cortina d’Ampezzo, we couldn’t see a thing when we finally got to the town, as the weather continued to be rainy and foggy. This meant just rushing through all the land which offers a mind-blowing view on better days. Because we have been fed up with the rainy weeks we had to suffer through, and forecast was not really telling us that it will turn around, we took a deep breath and decided to change our route. It’s one thing to get some rain when the weather is around 20-25 or god forbid; 30 degrees. But continuously exposed to it on 10-15 degrees is no fun. And no good rain gear can take that many hours without getting soaked through the bone at the end. So instead of going back to Slovenia to check out Triglav and Lake Bled, we started heading down to the coast towards Croatia. And even though our hearts bled for Bled (pun intended), we knew it was the right decision.