First task for any road trip is to buy a map, but normally this is preceded by working out where on earth we might be going. To cover all eventualities we headed over to the book shop and had a browse around until we walked out with ‘central Europe’ plastered over a huge piece of multi coloured paper. With not-so-detailed roads all the way from Haute-savoie in Alpine France to the Croatian-Italian border, we were pretty covered. That still didn’t change the fact of not knowing where we were headed.
We’d spent the previous day not picking up a campervan, after I had inadvertently not responded to the confirmation email. I had assumed that a pick up time, location, price, and deposit on my credit card would have been sufficient, but I will from now on never fail to read the small print, even if it is in German. As such, we’d felt a bit like we’d lost a day of the trip, and I was struggling to play catch up for the months we’d been apart already. Five hours of spending money going nowhere in the pouring rain certainly didn’t help, but by the end of the day, we had a VW golf, and a vague direction planned. I’m an admitted Strava addict, and our first concern regarding a destination was ‘where can we find the most sinuous stretch of snaking tarmac’, of which the ride-finder tool provided particularly useful. With the option of bringing just one bike to this continent, we would be on pavement for the entirety of the trip, but that was something I would not be resenting, as riding bikes together beats riding bikes apart, no matter what kind of bikes they are. Strava told us that we should drive an hour south to Bruneck, where we could circumvent the ski area of the Kronplatz, before dropping into Val Badia for a scenic cruise back down the valley.
Bikes in car. Coffee in hand. Freshly baked, hastily consumed croissants sitting comfortably in our stomachs, we jumped onto the motorway and immediately found traffic. Lots of it, all going the same way: south. We sat, I remembered what a manual transmission was like in stop start traffic, and we got frustrated. Our drive doubled in time, our wallets lightened with the Italian tolls, and we finally pulled in the centre of Bruneck to pay our first of many car park fees. We hustled our bikes together as quickly as possible, and within little time the world was a much better place. We spun out of the cobbled pedestrian streets and onto a small bike path that paralleled the busy road, and followed that all the way to the base of the climb.
Less than 30 minutes into the ride, and at the base of the very first hill, Christa pulls up in pain, and is off her bike with shooting pains in her knee. Not ideal. A week long riding trip should never begin with knee pain. We stop and stretch, and its obvious things aren’t quite right, but an insistence to continue means we pedal trepidatiously up the remaining slopes of the Furkelpass.
Its hard to recount a story when every place has two names. The Alpine scenery in this part of Italy is Germanic in more than just architecture, and the majority of the population is German speaking, and thus is seems appropriate to use Deutsch names here. We greet fellow riders in German, and get buzzed by troops of middle aged and overweight men on expensive and loud motorbikes. Their identities would have remained more of a mystery if they hadn’t have stopped at the top of the pass to marvel at the same view we did.
We cruised down a couple of switchbacks, but couldn’t resist the views and had to stop for more photos. Its such a hard decision when you have to choose between railing amazing alpine descents, or breathing in huge mountains of the dolomites. Again, we stopped another couple of turns down as we saw a hoard of motorbikes approaching. A local centenarian took the chance to talk to us, by which I mean he made a number of sounds which could have been interpreted as language, and I responded with things like ‘we’re riding to Bruneck’. Whatever he was actually trying to say, he seemed happy! We carried on through winding lanes and villages perched on the hills in between meadows of long grass flowing in the afternoon breeze.
Back in town, we decided to christen the first day in Italy with a proper pizza. We made ourselves look a little less like cyclists and wandered along the small streets, under the shadow of the castle. Our mid-afternoon mealtime meant that most of the restaurants were closed, but we found a deserted place at the far end of the street, and tucked into the first of many delicious treats. With sustenance, we headed on our way, again further south, and up into the high dolomites.
After the mornings drive through horrendous traffic, we chose the scenic route. The downside of our map covering most of Europe was that we weren’t really sure of how long it would take to get to lake Garda, but we knew the roads would be small. Time wasn’t really an issue, so our drive was relaxed and winding. Through the magnificent Alta Badia, over Passo Gardena and directly into the heart of the biggest rock faces I have ever seen. After watching a magnificent sunset, we drove on and down and down, and down. We reached the Trento-Adige valley in the dark, with huge blobs of rain hitting the windscreen, and drove the final 45 minutes hoping we’d make it to the lake before our hotel check in closed.
We made it. Just.