Day 14: Sottoguda to Sterzing (81km, 1813m)

The morning found me with a sore left knee, probably from a combination of trauma from the hail two days ago and the hard efforts of the day before. So rather than attempt Passo di Giau (2233m), I proposed we take the OCD recommended route through Digonera to pick up Passo di Falzerego (2105m) on the way to Cortina (1237m).

After breakfast we headed down the hill, and even in the last stretches Fedaia impressed me with its speed, and for more than the first time on the trip wished I had a touring bike with dual pivot sidepulls instead of the disastrous design decision that cantilevers were.

At the bottom, we turned left towards Digonera and started up a gentle grade through a well-lit tunnel before the road eased off and wound along the mountain side, giving us good views of the surrounding towns: Larzonei, Caprile, and Pian. I have yet to be disappointed by an OCD-recommended route and this was no exception. There was additional climbing but it was quite gentle and suitable for someone nursing a knee along.

When we merged with the Falzerego highway, I was pleasant surprised by the relative scarcity of traffic, compared with that of the Sella Circuit the day before. The views were no less beautiful, and in my gentle spinning mode I had plenty of time to enjoy them. I arrived at the summit long after Roberto and Mike, and we initiated the descent into Cortina.

The first parts were gentle and made for suitably fast going, but the views got dramatically better right after a couple of tunnels and the road soars down to Cortina, granting views of the Val D'Ampezzo and the Boite River. I stopped a couple of times for pictures and then followed the others down to Cortina, where after weaving around old town a bit found a restaurant that served an ample lunch. At lunch, we ran into an American woman who was in the Dolomites for some rock climbing. She told us about couch surfing, a web-site where you could find people to stay with in foreign countries. The concept sounded interesting, but I thought it would be much easier for women than for men to find places to stay. In any case, she identified the tops the mountains in the Dolomites as being limestone, and apparently is great climbing.

After lunch we weaved around town and followed the signs up Tre Croci (1805m). My knee had recovered with the return of warm weather, and I spun up the mountain at a reasonable pace. The grade, at 12% was reasonably steady as we passed Gondolas and mountain restaurants. At the top we found an ice-cream parlor and ate some ice-cream. The kilometer signs, I noticed, however, were signed for Lake Misurina (1716m), which apparently is the site of Col S'Angelo, apparently a true Col recognized by the OCD despite the fact that the descent from Tre Croci was to a mere 1641m before climbing up to the Lake. Mike found it amusing, and said, "I can climb between these passes all day."

Lake Misurina was pretty, but overrun by tourists, so we started the descent down to Hohlenstein valley had a few turns at first that we could stay ahead of traffic, but at the junction with Highway 51 the road flattened out and the traffic became annoying. There was a bike path along the road, but it was a gravel one, slow and unusable for a road bike on a fast descent. Mike and Roberto took off at a fast pace towards Tobach (1241m), and I slowly made my way down the valley to the town, where Roberto had found the train station.

Italian trains have one major feature, which is that they are cheap (5 Euros to go from Tobach to Sterzing). In all other respects, there's not much to recommend them. The train station had no one selling tickets. I first asked a man in military fatigues for help interpreting the train schedule, but he was not local so recommended that we went next door to the bike rental place to ask for help figuring out the train schedule, whereupon we were told that any train in the direction of Fortezza would work, where upon we could switch to any train headed for Sterzing (948m). By that time, we had missed the train for the hour.

It took more time to figure out the machine, but by the time we were done, we had resigned to waiting an hour in what looked like a decaying train station. We ate the remains of our bananas and chocolate, and then others started to join us in waiting for the train. My friend Jennie Chen called to say that she would be somewhere in the Dolomites that weekend with her boyfriend, possibly in Bolzano. I told her we were only 60km from where she would be, and she promised to call when her plans firmed up.

The train showed up and we were shown by the conductor to the bike car, which had ceiling hooks to allow us to store bikes vertically. Sitting in the bike car, we could see bike paths alongside the train tracks in the valley, so despite OCD admonitions to the contrary, it is possible you can use these bike paths to make your way from one site of the Dolomites to the other, though many would still consider even these bike paths to be "junk miles."

Italian trains don't run nearly as accurately on time as Swiss trains, but we arrived in Sterzing at 6:30, only 15 minutes behind projections. The train station in Sterzing was across the street from a grocery store, so I went in and bought up supplies for the next day: bananas and chocolate.

Then it was into town to find lodging. We came to a corner with 2 hotels. I checked out one and Mike checked the other. Mine was closed but Mike's was opened. I asked him how the rooms looked and he thought they were OK, better than the bed-bug hotel. I accepted his word for it, but when I saw the room he was shown, my heart sank. I resolved to spend more money at the next hotel, if I survived the night.

Dinner was at a reasonably good restaurant in town, but still nothing that impressed us like Rosenlaui or Hotel Gran Baita, and we talked over tomorrow's route. We had good weather forecast for tomorrow and the day after, but after that rain was projected for a few days. So while I wanted to explore more of Austria that rain nixed that. We would ride over to Austria tomorrow, and attempt Silvretta on Sunday before the rains came.

That night, Jennie called me to say that her train was several hours late (yes, it was Italian) so she'd likely not join us in the morning after all.

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