Today the plan was to head west and south into Italy and ride the Dolomites down to Arabba, a skiing-related town set amidst mountain pass roads 50km due west of Bolzano. Things started smoothly enough — it was another beautiful day, and the roads alternated between wide sweepers and occasional straight sections and hairpinned ascents and descents from minor passes. On the Austrian side the roads were a bit thinner than yesterday but still in excellent condition. Once again cars and other vehicles were quickly left in the rear view mirrors, and only buses presented any serious problems. But once we crossed over to the Italian side a nuisance that had been present but minor in Austria became a major one — cyclists.
Yes, there were three species inhabiting these Alpine roads: motorcyclists, drivers of cars, trucks, and buses (collectively, “cagers”), and finally, the cyclists. The latter were complete animals, physically powering their way up these grades of 10% or more that lasted for miles, all with just a pair of water bottles on their bikes and perhaps a couple of energy bars in their shirts. I have no idea how they made it even a few kilometers on that amount of provisions — the calories burned and the amount of water sweated must have been prodigious. I don’t know what they must have thought of us motorcyclists blasting loudly by them with just a twist of our wrists, but to my unending surprise not a one gave us the finger or even so much as a dirty look. In turn we riders did our best to give them a comfortable berth, which was much easier for us than it was for cars. The only problem was we were busy trying to watch out for cars ourselves, especially ones coming the other way and sliding out into our lane — perhaps due to passing some cyclists. But we couldn’t simply hug the right side either since there could be cyclists just around the next bend.
Some areas were populated by a fourth species as well — hikers. Obviously for the most part we probably didn’t see these, but there were various transits between trails, and parking lots and trails, where they would need to walk along the road. They also amazingly did not shout or shake their fists at us, even when they were obviously standing waiting to cross the road as we were blowing past. In any case, it was good that everyone got along harmoniously, because when some cyclists were weaving through side pedestrian traffic, cars were stopped or waiting, and a bus was coming in the other direction things were close to getting out of hand.
Around 1pm Päivi and I stopped to decide whether to take a shortcut to the hotel. So far the weather and been beautiful and the riding not too taxing. So we decided to take the long way, which was still only an extra 70 or so kilometers on the map. Wrong move though. Hardly had we gotten going when clouds started looking ominous above the peaks to our left. They moved in steadily until finally they started opening up. We stopped to wait the rain out in a restaurant, but after a coffee and a snack it became apparent that waiting wasn’t going to do much good. We just had to press on and push through. Heavier and heavier the rain came down until at one point it started hailing like mad as well. We stopped again, then resumed during a respite. The rain soon returned, without the hail, thankfully, but now we continued. Supposedly only a few kilometers more. Finally we hit the town of Arabba, but our hotel was apparently out on the other side. Soon we came to some stopped cars and pulled into the left lane to go around them. Only to run smack into a black rushing torrent coming down from the hillside that had thrown black mud, stones, and logs a meter high and several wide across the road. Game over.
We retreated back to the closest building and collected ourselves under the overhang. There was basically no practical way around at this point, only long, soaking wet pass roads. Eventually an SUV from the Carabinieri came rushing through, then an ambulance, and, finally, a bulldozer. At that we started to have some hope that we might get through after all. Around an hour later, we did, and pulled in in wet and bedraggled state to the Hotel Alforte, where kind though excessively talkative staff greeted us with Italian warmth.