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Chris Benchetler getting it good. photo - Peter Morning
Team Clif Bar Blog
Oct 26, 2009
Gary’s Adventure in the Dolomites: Day 7

Another mountain pass and another white-road adventure, straight from Gary himself. The cycling adventure continues…

DAY SEVEN
30 something! Not my age and not the television series from the 80s.

Rather, “30 something” was the temperature we woke up to. Not only that, it was snowing on the Passo Stelvio which was to be our first pass of the day as our plan was to head north, over the Stelvio, skirt around the boarder of Switzerland and cross into Austria.


And yet another bike trail...

These trips are always such a lesson in adaptability. And with no support vehicles we need to continually tweak the plan and call audibles even as we reach the line of scrimmage.

We actually suited up in all our cold-weather cycling gear and headed out of Bormio to see if it was possible to climb the Stelvio. We didn’t get far-literally several hundred meters. The wind was blowing like crazy, we could see the snow level was just above the town, and cars were coming down from the pass with 3-5 inches of fresh snow on top of their roofs.

It was actually quite funny as we are riding one way and in one second we just whipped a “U” turn saying to each other, “change of plans.” No discussion needed.

Headed back to the center of Bormio to look for a map. We needed to head south and we only had maps going north from here. Couldn’t find the type of maps I like, scale at least the detail of 1:200,000 is needed to find the right roads. As I say in my book, Raising the Bar, the white roads on the map are the smallest, least traveled and always more adventurous. I also like maps that are 1:25,000; those are the best but one would need to carry a few dozen for a ride as far as we’re going.

Our new plan took us south, to Tirano, over the Passo Aprica, and down to another pass I have never ridden called Passo Croce Dominii. It was still very cold and windy, but going south it was clear. Over the Aprica and down to the base of the Passo Croce to a alimentari (food market) for a very late lunch. It was 4:00 PM by the time we started up the pass.

We both knew how risky this was. It appeared from the map that the first town we would hit was on the other side of the pass, about 38 kilometers away with over 5,500 feet of climbing. But we didn’t want to stay in Breno where we had lunch, not a bad town but we wanted to ride at least two more hours and hope for the best.

As we climbed, neither of us talked; we just kept the pedals turning. If we did talk, the discussion would have been something like, “hmmm...wonder if this was the right decision....wow this thing just keeps climbing....very steep....never lets up....I hope we can find a place to stay somewhere on this side of the pass.”


Getting a little help from a new friend over Passo Croce Dominii

About 3,200 feet of climbing later and with at least 12 kilometers to the top I started getting a little nervous. We were so tired; it was day 7 and late in the day. So I pulled out an old trick I’ve used maybe 3 or 4 times over the 30-plus trips I’ve done here. I started listening for any vehicle coming from behind. So far, there had been maybe 3 in over an hour and a half. Gregg had no idea what I was up to, he just looked as nervous as I did and was unusually quiet. The sun was starting to set and it was still very cold. 

Not 60-seconds later I hear a car, turned around and waved it down. And in the most simple and desperate Italian that I could perform, I let the driver “Marco” know that we are very tired and would like to hang on to his car for awhile to help us up the pass. Of course if we were in the Tour de France, we would be disqualified from the race....this was not a race. This was an adventure.

In America people would think we were crazy and never let us do this; in Italy and much of the Alps it was not that big of a deal. Marco, put his windows down, had me on the passenger side, (I have a bad right shoulder) and Gregg on the driver side.

He pulled us for almost 4 kilometers as our arms we falling off and Gregg making sure he didn’t get hit by on-coming cars on his side, (remember, I have a bad right shoulder, no really I do). 

He then pulls over. We think he’s giving us a break. He then gets out and points about a kilometer up the hill to a few houses and says there is an Albergo (hotel) that we can stay at. I ask “is it for sure aperto?” He assured us it was open. Gregg and I are now all high fives and ready to settle into a warm room, shower and another celebratory cold beer. Marco drops us off at the Albergo Belvedere. Photo of Marco and me hanging on to his car is a re-enactment of hanging on.


Albergo Belvedere

The owner of the hotel, Mario, is not around, but it does appear open, so we wait. Ask his neighbor, she says he may be hunting for funghi, (sorry I spelled funghi wrong the other day). Finally he arrives; his wife and child are visiting family for the night. He was off rescuing a large tire and now was loading gravel in a friend’s tractor trailer, acknowledging we’re there but our plans to get a shower and beer will have to wait until his chores are complete.


Mario, the owner of Belvedere, does everything...

The rest of the evening was like a reality show into Mario’s life. His hotel and restaurant is the only game in town, (a town of maybe 30 people) and he seems to be a master of all kinds of other trades as well as cooking, wine making, and hotel manager. Although, one could see that he was a little lost without his wife.


Mario cooks us tagliatelli with fresh funghi: best ever...


After fixing the plumbing in my room and showing Gregg how to use his heater, mine didn’t work, we settled down to an evening of incredible food and drink. Mario made us a tagliatelle con funghi fresca that blew us away, fresh salad, home-made desert, and wine-his special vino della casa.


Mario (center) with two of his buds

We were the only outside folks except for his buddies who sat down at a community-style table where they ate all the things we did and I know they appreciated it just as much.


Mario and his wife’s creations

I know we were only 16 kilometers from the town at the base of the Passo Croce but it felt like we in the outback of Italy. It was the best cultural experience of the trip. Mario would do anything for us and was so busy with all his other duties. True hospitality.

I slept so well, even without heat in my room…



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