Saturday morning saw us walk out of the Hotel (after a suitably large breakfast) into a cloudy sky with a bit of wind. A bit of climbing quickly put an end to any chill in our bodies and we arrived at Passo Stelvio (2758m) warm but with an immediate desire to put on everything we brought with us. Though we had been passed by no more than a dozen motorcycles on this final stretch in the morning, the summit saw more motor-vehicles than we could count, indicating that the climb from Bormio was more popular, at least with the dead-dinosaur burning types.
Roberto and Mike decided to ride on the dirt road to the hostel/cafe known as Tibet, and I followed but upon hitting the dirt immediately got a flat. So I pushed the bike to the cafe, took a few pictures, and began fixing it. I found no foreign matter in the tire, so put in a new tube and attributed the flat to a piece of glass that exited the tire. Unfortunately, while levering the tire back onto the rim, I broke one of my steel core tire levers. The stress marks on the plastic indicated that I had fatigued the piece in previous use.
The descent from Stelvio was into a bleak landscape, the cloudy sky lending a bit of depression to my mood. We descended quickly after taking pictures of a few waterfalls, and zipped down the many tunnels and gallery as quickly as we dared, arriving in Bormio (1217m) at 11:00am. Traffic in Bormio was dense and heavy, with many of the usual behavior patterns commonly exhibited by Italian drivers in vogue, forcing a dismount to cross the road at pedestrian crossings to find the tourist information center, where I inquired as to lodging on Gavia if we weren't up to the ask of conquering it in the same day.
The tourist information helper gave me a sheet with the topographical profile of Gavia (2621m), and indicated the lodging available on it, one of which was Rifugio Bonetta which I would learn later has a poster of Jobst from the 1970s hanging on its wall on the inside. At that time, however, it seemed like all the hotels were past the steep part on Gavia, so they wouldn't do us any good since if we could get there, we could push on to the summit as well.
Since Mike was at this point obviously fastest on the climbs, I asked him to get to Ponte di Legno (1258m) first to look for lodging. We then ate a grocery store lunch, where Mike also found some drink mixes that would supplement our rapidly dwindling supply of electrolyte mixes. The climb up Gavia from the North side was a steady 8% grade, with a few patches of 10% climbs that were not noticeably harder. The views were not dramatic, so there was little indication of what was to come.
Past the summit, however, the situation changed dramtically. The cloudy and misty sky took on a dramatic dark color, while the steepness of the descent made you feel like you were falling out of the sky like Lucifer being cast from heaven. All around us were high mountains, and with the haze of the afternoon we could get just a glimpse of the valley below. The road was rough and narrow, single lane wide. In Switzerland, this road would have been designated one way on alternate hours, but of course for Italians this is a two way road with cars, motorcycles, mini vans, and bicycles all vying for supremacy. I saw several signs saying 16% grades and the descent definitely felt like it, with drainage gullies every so often to keep you alert.
I have avoided putting a drum brake on my tandem for as long as I have been riding tandems, but I will say that if I were to contemplate the descent of the South side of Gavia I would not hesitate but would immediately mount one on the bike.
When we reached Ponte di Legno, Mike had found us lodging, a bike hotel at 29 Euros a person. Dinner was at the local pizza joint, where the waitress must have been 13, since she practically jumped to the ceiling for joy after figuring out that we were asking for tap water over dinner.