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Alps - Day 10 : Stelvio

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

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The 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 figured it was 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 quite a famous climb. It had been a cold night, so our muscles felt stiff and not well rested. We started meandering up the mountain. We 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 many souvenir shops at the summit. As soon as we got near them a salesperson started to talk to us. They also had plastic birds that began to whistle when we passed them. In France they also had those annoying things. Bram bought a hat for his collection and I purchased a small cowbell. 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 cyclists 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 a cycling vacation with his dad. He smiled 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 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 get 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 carry a map, just a sheet of paper with the 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 those types of situations a bit better.

I decided to follow the bicycle path to Bolzano, hoping to find Bram there. The town 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, and now it was 4 o'clock. The sun was coming out and the route went gradually downhill, so within one and a half hours 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 could not find Bram. There was no bicycle path in Bolzano leading to the town's center, so by then I was sure I had lost Bram. 

I was angry because I thought Bram had simply continued cycling because he was too stubborn to stop at the campsite, so I was angry. As it was six 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.

I arrived at the campsite completely covered in sweat (one of the few days it was sunny enough to sweat). The first thing I saw was that the people in front of me were 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 full, I would have to cycle over an hour to reach the next campsite and 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 off his bike. I said 'hey Bram, you also here?'. He replied 'Hey Bart, nice to see you again'.

Bram told me how he arrived at the campsite, and how he go there after 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 where both roads went, I turned around to follow him. Of course, there happened to be a railroad in between us and the barriers were closing. First, a long freight train passed from right to left, then another from left to right, stopping right at the overpass. After more than 10 minutes, the barriers opened and I could try to catch up with Bart. There were 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. For the next 20 km I constantly cycled 30-35 km/h. That way, I quickly reached Merano but found no 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 would only work if we both did the same. 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 that I might find some signs of a ring road. Half an hour later, I found a highway 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 too much, so I turned around. Finally, I found a normal road leading to Bolzano. After the first three signs, the signs suddenly stopped. Yet, 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 wondered what I would do if I couldn't find Bart. Continuing along the route was not really an option without a map. I could cycle to France by myself to enjoy the weather. Still, 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.

 

At the front desk I wondered whether I would register right away or first, with the help of my parents, call Bart's parents and 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.

 

He apparently had the same bike as me and asked if I had cycled there from the Netherlands. I had just started telling him that I was 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 glad to see him. The man I was talking with got even more confused. I explained everything and asked if he had ever been on a 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 told 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 following day I had seen each 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.

Bolzano

Sunset in the mountains
 

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

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The palm tree
 

Distance cycled : Bram 143 km, Bart 136 km

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