Day 10: Passo Mendola - Hotel Gran Baita to Karrersee (63.4km, 1571m)

The morning air that greeted my nose when I opened my window in the morning was tangy, as though someone had scrubbed the air. I looked outside and indeed, it had rained overnight, making the entire place much cooler.

The impressive dinner last night was matched by an equally impressive breakfast and we ate our fill, as though we had skipped dinner the night before, before paying our bills and retracing the last kilometer over Mendola pass.

The descent towards Bolzano was lined with green on the map, indicating a scenic route, but with the haze in the air, there was not much to see. Nevetheless, the sweeping corners of the smooth road provided much satisfaction.

At the bottom of the hill, we headed towards Bolzano and found a bike path that appeared to be temporarily blocked for construction. As we turned around to use the main road, I noticed that Mike had a flat tire. I told him so and he acknowledged it. This was a mysterious flat, we suspected a manufacturing defect in the tube before replacig the tube. Unfortunately, the replacement tube also went flat. An examination of the tire levers, however, indicated that I had broken the second of our steel core tire levers.

We patched both tubes and put in a third one, and this one held. We headed towards Bolzano (266m) and after a while finally found a bike path that took us along the Adige river, across the bank from an old castle, and into the city itself. The city has bike paths that while convenient, weren't very well signed and occasionally disappeared in use. After a while, we found the exit to Bolzano and headed out along a busy throughfare signed for Bressanone.

The traffic and Italian drivers were extremely annoying, so rather than ride further along the road to the entrance to Nigerpass (1688m), I took the first exit towards Val D'Egg for Costalunga Pass (1745m). The road started first with a long lit tunnel followed by several shorter tunnels all narrow with a lot of construction. At the first major intersection I looked at the map again, and found that the road leading to the left went to what looked like a small town of Gummer, by passing an upcoming long tunnel. We got off the main road in a hurry and started climbing steeply along several hairpins. The views started improving and we soon felt very good about this decision. Once in Gummer, which took the better part of a half hour, we followed the signs towards Nova Levante (1182m), which entailed a couple of hundred meters of descending before climbging again.

The right thing to do in the future would be eat at the hotel-restaurant that you run into, as when we headed into town we found nothing open. Eventually at the town center we found a restaurant that was open, and ate there.

By the time lunch was over clouds were thickened but it was not actually raining. Roberto started climbing out of town, and as I followed slowly, I started to hear thunder. After I sighted my first lightning I began to give chase. I finally caught up to him at the edge of town and said, "It might not be a smart thing to ride out of town during an approaching thunderstorm." "I was just thinking the same thing. What do you want to do?" We were just about to pass the last house in town when the door opened and a woman walked out. She saw us, took in the weather, and beckoned us under her awning. We took up her offer, rapidly moved our bikes over her fence and jumped in under her roof. Mike saw us and quickly followed suit, and this was how we came to meet Sylvia and her family.

Not a moment too soon as a deluge came down, literally sheets of water, accompanied by thunder and lightning. After introducing us to her children, we sat down while Sylvia made tea and her children played monopoly. This was a German speaking Italian family, and we were warmly accepted. Sylvia, for instance, told us that her family had been in Bolzano for generations, and this home on the hill was their summer home, while they have another home in Bolzano. We exchanged stories for an hour or so while neighbors and extended family came and met us and were also introduced. When the rain finally died down enough so we could ride, we left and waved goodbye reluctantly.

The aftermath of the storm was gorgeous, wispy thin clouds floating along mountain sides, rising out of the trees, giving the whole place a misty look. We climbed for another 400 meters and had just reached the Karersee (1609m) when the next storm hit. We were fortunately just around the corner from a tourist stop with shelter and commercial stands, so we quickly rode into one of them and Mike ordered hot chocolate. This time, it was a cold storm and I put on every jacket I owned (3 layers) but still couldn't help shivering when the wind blew.

The rain came down hard, in waves that made their impression on momentary puddles spread out along the parking lot. We wondered how much further we could get that day. Tour busses loaded with tourists drove up, disgorged a volley of Japanese tourists, who walked around in rain gear and umbrellas, and then promptly gave up in disgust and went back to the bus. We contemplated for a brief moment asking for a ride from the tourist bus, but the moment, along with the bus left before we could act.

Eventually, the rain let up a bit, and we went another kilometer up the road before I started seeing B&B signs. Mike rode past all of them before stopping at a condominium/resort, where we rented an apartment for 25 Euros a person, without breakfast. We took the room after seeing it, and then the rain came down again, ending any regrets we might have had about stopping so early in the day.

Dinner was downstairs in the restaurant next door, and in the dying light of the day, between bouts of rain, we caught our first sight of the limestone tops characteristic of the Dolomites. We ate heartily, then grabbed leftover bread and brought it up to the room so we could have a nominal breakfast.

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