Day 7: Zernez to Hotel Franzenshoehe (79.8km, 2141m)

At breakfast, my brother announced that he was abandoning the tour --- he wasn't having fun, and he was sore. "I'm developing 6-pack abs," he said, "That's not a good thing." This comment prompted Roberto to say, "I'll have whatever he's smoking." We weren't happy to see him go, but his decision made a few things easier: his saddlebag went to Mike, who could abandon his backpack. A ton of equipment got redistributed, and my brother headed over to train station with his bike as we headed back to town to the Ofenpass turnoff.

I had optimistically thought that we might make Bormio today, as from the map it looked like Ofenpass was an easy climb of only 600m. There was a false summit at Il Fuorn as the road turns into Switzerland's first National Park. The descent was gentle and beautiful, as was the road surroundings, but by the time we got to the summit we had made well over 900m of climbing.

At the top of the pass, Roberto and Mike saw cowbells that said Ofenpass on them, and each bought one, tying the bells to their bikes, making a tinkling sound any time they stood up or pedalled hard. With the sound cowbells ringing in our ears, we crossed over the border to Italy at Taufers, an unremarkable event only punctuated by Italian officers waving us through.

Both the OCD guide and other individuals had emphasized to us the importance of approaching Stelvio from the East, so rather than make a beeline for it via Umbrialpass, we headed for Glorenza for lunch, stopping only at an ATM to pick up Euros. At Glorenza, we ate at a modern hotel, and then picked up a bike path signed for Merano and Prato Allo Stelvio. After about 20 minutes of riding, the signs for Prato Allo Stelvio disappeared and I became suspicious. Heading off the bike path for the main road, I asked for directions to Stelvio, and was pointed in a different direction for the bike path. It turned out that we turned off the bike path just in time to avoid a lengthy detour.

Past Prato Allo Stelvio, the pass road is a straight gentle grade along a roaring river, which provided welcome cooling in the warm afternoon sun. Mike, without the burden of wearing a backpack became 2mph faster on the climb and quickly went ahead. We knew we were in cycling territory when an unloaded woman cyclist passed us saying "Hi." I knew better than to chase an unloaded cyclist, but when her companion came by at a slower pace I matched my pace with her and started a conversation.

Inga and her friends were from the Netherlands on a cycling vacation. Their base camp was at the bottom of their hill, along with their 1 year old kids. Inga worked at a science publication company, and apparently she and her girlfriends took a week a year for cycling, camping out at various places and doing day rides. "We're not so fast any more now that we have kids," she said. I told her we were going to the Dolomites and asked for recommendations. She thought for a bit and said, "Passo Pordoi for its beauty." We were heading in that direction, so I informed her we would give it a try.

Just before the town of Trafoi (1543m), the famous fifty hairpins of Stelvio started up, with signs denoting the turn number at each corner. This was the turnaround point for Inga and her friend, so we waved goodbye and went on. I had had trouble with the ATM earlier, and opted to try again at Trafoi, this time successfully extracting a few notes from the machine. The OCD guide had mentioned a hotel at the 22nd hairpin of Stelvio, and Inga had assured me that the tourist season had not started yet, so that gave us courage to ride higher up the mountain.

Past Trafoi it became obvious why everyone told us to approach Stelvio from the East. Views of the overhanging glaciers and the Ortles made this a delightful climb. Unfortunately, this beauty also seemed very popular with motorcyclists as well, as the incessant buzz of engines indicated all through the afternoon. Nevertheless, it is more pleasurable to share the road with motorcyclists than with SUVs and monster trucks, despite the appalling number of "Don't kill yourself on a motorcycle signs" that seemed to decorate the mountain pass roads of Italy.

As we counted down the hairpins, the sun disappeared behind clouds and the wind picked up. By the time I got to hairpin 22, Mike had already gone in to check the price for a room: 45 Euros a night. I was going to comment on that being expensive when Mike said, "Oh yeah, that includes dinner." That seemed like a really good deal to me, so I told him to take it if the rooms looked decent.

The rooms looked more than decent. Clean, with a shower each, a sauna, and a swimming pool. Mike & Roberto decided to put me into an isolation chamber where I wouldn't disturb anyone with my snoring. Dinner was served at an unusually late 7:30pm, so after showers and washing we killed time a bit by playing a few board games in the lounge. I tried to go around back to use the clothes lines to dry my clothes but when the hotel manager saw me attempt that she took my clothes and assigned them to the hotel's washer. They would hang dry my clothes and finish it off with some time in a drying machine before returning them to me.

Dinner was excellent as well, a fixed price four-course meal that delighted us all with the exception of the fish. I retired almost immediately to a deep sleep, though the high altitude meant that I would wake up less rested than in the recent past.

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