“well how far is it?” Is always a difficult question for a ride that I’ve never done before, but my enthusiasm prevented me from outright admitting I hadn’t the faintest idea. Instead I answered with “the map says…” And we set off to ride around the towering hulk that it Monte Baldo. Luckily for me, Christa doesn’t complain when riding a bike; its like she knows we’ll be riding til we’re done, and that’s when we’ll finish.
On my last trip to Garda, I’d attempted to ride the loop, but got turned around when I realised the torrential rain was not letting up. I was glad of my decision the day after when the clouds parted and I could see the fresh snow at the top. This time we had not a breeze or a wisp of cloud in the sky, and we cruised through the tunnels on the main road south. Riding along the shore gives a much better appreciation of how big the lake actually is, and it took us a good hour to get from Torbole to our first food stop in Torri del Benaco. We’d assumed that just like every other town in Italy, we would easily find a small Spa supermarket to stock up some food, but after a search around town, all we found was a tiny little shop with the worst selection of instant sugar I’ve ever seen. Much to Christa’s dismay, we couldn’t even pick up any Haribo! Instead, we took a moment to enjoy the lake, before climbing away from it.
The road from the lake up in to the hills is a gentle progression of switchbacks through open olive groves and Italian mansions. Unlike the immediate shore, the houses look homely and lived in, and we see plenty of people tending to the fields. We get passed by an old Italian guy late for his group ride. Helmet free and riding $10,000 worth of bike, he cruises by just slow enough for me to catch his wheel, and we ride together up the last stretch of the first climb. I look behind and find that Christa is only 30 seconds back, and we part ways with our new friend to start our cruising descent into wine country. Only 20 minutes from the lake, its a completely different world of bigger square houses surrounded by miles of dead straight vines.
Within 15 minutes we’ve moved up through the geographical strata, and the architecture returns to the north Italian alpine style. The town of Ferrara is the top of the second climb, and from here we can see the road snaking its way up the flanks of the mountain ahead. I reassure Christa that we’re halfway done with climbing for the day, and anyway we only have 25 miles til we’ll be home. False.
We’re still climbing. The road has got narrower, quieter, and the congregating grey clouds hanging over the tops of the peaks seem to get much closer with every corner we turn. My GPS tells me we’ve almost climbed as much as we’re supposed to today, and something doesn’t feel right. I don’t bother telling Christa, as she is climbing strongly and it looks like the top is just around the corner. The road zig zags sharply up the hill and the trees become sporadic around us. We can feel the alpine breeze cooling against our skin, and before long we reach the first ‘top’ to see the road snaking another 1000 feet up.
The road is now cutting precariously along the flank of the mountain, and successive ledges of deep green meadows drop in steps down to the Adige river some 5000 feet below. The wind is whipping at us, and its with much haste that we don our extra layers, have some final food and tuck into a 45 mph crouch. It doesn’t last long, though, and we come to a junction. I ask some stopped riders in my best German-Italian combo the way back to Riva, and they point confidently in the direction that seemed most obvious. We have no reason to doubt them, and as we follow the suspiciously un-downhill road, we corner through the trees to be faced with not-the-top #3. Its only the saddle with a glimpse of the lake that saves the situation.
This last climb is a struggle. I’m tired, and Christa hasn’t said anything for a few minutes. I wonder whether she’s secretly cursing my very existence in her head, or whether she’s just resigned herself to the fact that the quickest way to not be climbing this hill is to climb it faster. I guess its the latter, as the pace barely drops as the grade begins to level off. This time we’re less optimistic, and we begin the descent with fear that we’ll find another climb.
We don’t. The 22 km descent is freshly paved, and later we discover the Giro will be TT’ing up it in a couple days. We make the most of the fresh surface, and hardly brake around the multiple 180 degree bends. The grade is just right, and I savour the picture of Christa poised over her bike looking balanced and in control. Beauty in motion. A few turns make us doubt our direction, and as the road keep pointing the wrong way, we begin to loose our nerve as to whether we took the right path down. We have no choice but to continue; we finally find the bottom, and the road to the lake, we debate whether sugar is needed. As we cruise past a supermarket, there was no hesitation, and we provided the locals with some entertain; Christa assumed a prone position in the car park whilst I hurried into the shop to find sugar. I do a great Bambi impression right by the checkout, and throw haribo and coke around the shop, before quietly departing and pouring gummy bears directly into Christa’s mouth; still lying flat on the ground!
We decide that in our delirium, it would be wise to heed the ‘no bikes’ sign on the highway, and we take the bike path the final few miles back to the lake. Within a mile though, we’re confused; the bike path stopped suddenly, there are construction signs, and we end up climbing over a wall before re-joining the busy main road. Christa tucks in behind a Mercedes going 55 mph, and I realise at this point she really wants her pizza!