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Alps - Day 10 : Stelvio

When we got up it was light out. My phone had gotten wet at night and didn't work anymore.

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View from our 'campsite'

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Bram is waking up
 

We went to find food in the village's center. I felt there was something soft in my shoe. It would probably be a slug, as those had been on our bivy bags in the morning. While we were eating I had a look, unfortunately I was right. The Stelvio started right away, which is a quite famous climb. It had been a cold night so our muscles felt stiff and not well rested. We started meandering up the mountain. Then followed a long straight section, that still was pretty steep. We looked out over a series of hairpin turns going up the mountain. In total the climb has 48.

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The first set of of hairpin turns

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View from halfway up the Stelvio

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Bram's view for three weeks

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Climbing the Stelvio

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Waterfall
 

After two hours we reached a less steep plateau, by then we were also pretty tired. It started to rain harder and became cold.

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The mountain plateau wasn't level either

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This was the direction we were going

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This is where we came from

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Clouds above the Stelvio

 

After the endless straight section we reached another set of hairpin turns. Four hours after we had started we arrived at the top.

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The sign indicating the Passo dello Stelvio
 

There were a lot of souvenir shops at the summit. As soon as we would get near them a sales person started to talk to us. They also had those plastic birds that start to whistle when you pass them. In France they also had those annoying things. Bram bought a hat for his collection and I bought a small cow bell. We asked someone to take a picture of us.

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At the top of the Stelvio in the rain
 

There was also something about Fausto Coppi, a well known Italian professional cyclist.

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On the stage with Fausto Coppi
 

To also eat some warm food for a change we had a hotdog, which tasted good in the cold.

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View of the descent

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Endless hairpin turns

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The way down

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Snow covered mountains
 

During our descent it was still raining. Some cyclist going up only wore shorts and a t-shirt. The further we descended the more we pitied the people going up. There was one boy on cycling vacation with his dad, he started to smile when I waived.

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At the bottom of the descent

After the Stelvio we only needed to go downhill. The sun started to come out and I was really exhausted. There was a campsite 80 kilometers away. I told Bram I wanted to spend the night there as otherwise we needed to climb another pass at the end of the day and I already couldn't cycle anymore. Bram wanted to go farther because he still felt fine.

First we rode over a large road. Bram was way ahead of me, I just couldn't go faster. Then we followed a cycling road along a river to Merano. Bram went increasingly far ahead. At one moment I hadn't seen him for 10 minutes. So I thought 'fine, I will just cycle to Merano, he will likely be waiting there on a bench'. It was still 20 kilometers away. Even then I was thinking 'if i would accidentally got off the cycling route, I wouldn't end up in the same spot as Bram and would be unable to find him'. Indeed, when I reached the town Bram was nowhere to be seen, despite me following the cycling path. Bram didn't cary a map, just a sheet of paper with names of the towns we needed to pass. The next town would be Bolzano, where I had wanted to spend the night. Calling Bram wasn't an option as my phone had gotten wet and I didn't have his number elsewhere. He also kept his phone in his panniers. We probably should have prepared for these type of situations a bit better..

I decided to follow the bicycle path to Bolzano, hoping to find Bram there. It was still 30 kilometers away. Quickly I bought some food and drinks which I ate while cycling. Since breakfast I had only eaten a hotdog on the top of the Stelvio, while now it was 4 o'clock. The sun was coming out and the route went gradually downhill, so within one and a half hour I reached the city. Meanwhile I had been thinking about whether I would keep following our planned route or stay in the area if I was unable to find Bram. In Bolzano there was no bicycle path leading to the town's center so by then I was certain I had lost Bram. 

I thought Bram had simply continued cycling because he was too stubborn to stop at the campsite, so I was angry. As it was 6 o'clock I bought a lot of food so I could at least get some rest and eat. I got some buns, desserts, fruit and drinks. I also saw some signs indicating the campsite.

Completely covered in sweat (one of the few days it was sunny enough to sweat) I arrived at the campsite. The first thing I saw was the people in front of me got sent away because the campsite was full. I thought 'why does this happen to me, now I also have to deviate from the route to find a place to sleep'. If it was actually full I would have to cycle over an hour to reach the next campsite and would therefore also have to wait longer before I could try to contact Bram. Fortunately they had an area for tents that still had room left.

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At the campsite in Bolzano.
 

I pitched everything on the grass field. Then I wanted to take a shower, so I would be ready to sit down and think things over. I walked to the bathroom with my towel when I saw Bram standing at the front desk. I didn't understand how he could have arrived at the campsite after me, it looked like he was just getting of his bike. I said 'hey Bram, you also here?'. He replied 'Hey Bart, nice to see you again'.

Bram told me how he arrived here, and why he was later than me, here is that story:

[Bram: While I was cycling about 100 meters ahead of Bart and kept looking back once in a while I happened to notice Bart taking a side road while I had taken the main road. Because I wasn't sure in which direction both roads went I turned around to follow him. As it was cycling-vacation nothing could go easy so there happened to be railroad in between and the barriers were just closing. First a long goods-train passed from right to left, then another one from left to right, which also stopped right at the overpass. After more than 10 minutes the barriers opened and I could try to catch up with Bart. There turned out to be two bicycle paths to Merona, the one I had taken and the one he was on.

 

Because Bart likely still thought I was ahead of him I decided to cycle as fast as possible. The next 20 km I constantly cycled 30-35 km/h. That way I quickly reached Merano but found not sign of Bart. As I didn't have a map with me I cycled to the city center, but Bart wasn't there either.

 

I started thinking 'what would Bart do?'. Finding each other in such a big city would be an extreme coincidence. Going to the police also wouldn't work unless we both did it. That left two options: either he went to a campsite in Merona, or like he wanted, would cycle 20 km further to Bolzano. Because the cycling vacation doesn't stop for anything I decided to continue to Bolzano. If he did stay in Merano I only had to wait a while in the morning (that is if we could find a way to contact each other).
 

Although Bart had told me his phone had drowned I tried to call him. As expected, I didn't get a response. Because I had no idea which way to go I first decided to cycle to the edge of Merano, so I might find some signs of a ring road. Half an hour later I found a highway going to Bolzano, which I tried to follow. Even later my only option was to get on the highway itself. I can cycle pretty fast but 120 km/h is a bit too much, so I turned around. Finally I found a normal road leading to Bolzano. After the first three signs the signs suddenly stopped, but I managed to find the right road again. Now I just needed to find Bart as well.

I stopped along the way to buy food and was wondering what I would do if I couldn't find Bart. Continuing along the route was not really an option without a map. Maybe I could cycle to France by myself to enjoy the weather. Nonetheless, I didn't mind finding Bart again. After cycling for an hour I arrived in Bolzano where I stopped at a campsite, hoping that Bart was there or had found a phone somewhere.

 

At the front desk I doubted whether I would register right away or first, through my parents, call Bart's parents to ask if they had heard something. Then a man and his son came up to talk to me in German. Because I was thinking about finding Bart I didn't understand what they wanted, I also thought I had heard them speak Dutch just before. Because I looked so confused he asked if I was actually from German, to which I answered in German that I was Dutch. Now he looked confused and continued in Dutch.

 

Apparently he had the same bike as me and asked if I had cycled all the way there from the Netherlands. I had just started telling him that I was actually cycling with someone else and what our plans were when I heard someone call my name. Out of nowhere Bart came walking up to me and I told him I was happy to see him. The man I was talking to became even more confused. I explained everything and asked if he also went on cycling vacation, as he had such a good bike. He replied 'you clearly don't have children'.

After the man had left Bart and I explained each other what we had been doing for the past 70 km. Bart also mentioned he had seen a phone on the campsite but hadn't felt like calling.]

 

I went to tell the front desk that Bram had arrived. The campsite was the first 'educational campsite' in Europe. There were posters of landscapes on the inside of all showers. On the doors were stories and myths about the area. Every toilet had its own theme. There was one about wood carving, barrel making, and more. Before we left the next morning I had seen every one. There was also explained, on the mirrors, that during the second world war all Italian town names had been translated to German within 40 days. After showering we both let our clothes dry in the sun. We ate fries without mayonnaise and a sour, way too expensive schnitzel.

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Sunset in the mountains
 

According to the route description there were 'plam trees' in Bolzano. We didn't see that exotic tree species, but did find a palm tree.

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The palm tree
 

Distance cycled : Bram 143 km, Bart 136 km