Day 9: Ponte di Legno to Passo Mendola - Hotel Gran Baita (86.6km, 1620m)

Over the anemic and unsatisfying breakfast I surprised everyone by announcing that today would be an easy day. Though seriously, how could you top a day with Stelvio and Gavia in it?

After getting on the road I felt some itches on my skin that were indicative of bed bugs. At that time I thought it was just my bed that was infested, but later, Mike would tell me that he felt it too, just not as badly.

The climb up to Tonale pass (1883m) was easy, wide gentle turns easy grade that made Mike comment, "I could climb passes like this all day and not get tired." The top of Tonale was a ski resort that looked pretty dead to us, but had no groceries to speak of, so we descended rapidly to Vermiglio (1260m) which had a grocery store.

While Mike was buying bananas, I looked down at my rear tire and saw a bit of inner tube sticking out from the sidewall. Off came the wheel, and out came the folding spare from the saddlebag as I replaced the tire with the torn sidewall with a good one. We would later surmise that I had probably torn it on the bike path between Interlaken and Meiringen. But because it was a small tear, it took several days for it to work itself into a bigger tear. My flat yesterday was from stones from the dirt road scraping the exposed inner tube and puncturing it. I was happy that nothing like this happened on my descent on Gavia. It would have been a pain finding a flat spot to fix a flat tire on that road.

New tire mounted, we descended once again towards Male. By the town of Presson (780m), the grade had become gentle and the traffic annoying. I had been ignoring signs pointing to a bike path until then, but gave in at that point, and found a quiet, delightful bike path following the Noce river, with picnic areas, benches, and nice views of the river. We at lunch at 11:30 in one of the picnic areas, and found a map indicating that the path ended in Motizzolo (593m).

The path followed along the river valley, occasionally taking in a short steep hill or diving under a canopy of trees, but it was a delightful find, and we did not begrudge the additional climbing that came with it.

When the path ended, we followed the signs to Cis and Cagno, where we followed the signs along the main road to Fondo (988m), the afternoon had grown hot and muggy, but there was a new scent in the air, and while riding I read a few signs and realized that we were in the apple growing district of Italy. Signs indicating the type of apple being grown abounded.

At Fondo, we decided it was too early to stop for the day and that we would press on to at least Passo Mendola (1363m). Just before the town of Belvedere, however, Roberto spotted an ice-cream shop and we stopped for ice-cream. The cafe played American music as we ate ice cream, applied on more sunscreen, and popped endurolytes in the heat.

The last piece of Mendola pass felt really good, shade, and the beautiful houses along the town of Ruffles. We arrived at the pass without even ticking into the red at the early hour of 3:00pm. The cool temperature of Mendola pass made the idea of descending into Bolzano for the afternoon unappealing, so we waited for half an hour for the tourist office to open.

When it did, we inquired about places to stay. The man told me that crossing the pass would put us into a different region, which meant that the prices would be very high. But if we were willing to go back 1km, he could recommend Hotel Gran Baita to us. Mike and Roberto were working on their bikes, so I went on ahead to check out the place.

Hotel Gran Baita looked like a recently renovated hotel, with beautiful views out of its windows and very pretty rooms. It did not take long for me to agree to 50 Euros a person for dinner and breakfast. When Mike and Roberto arrived they were similarly pleased, and we took our time taking showers, washing clothes, chatting and planning.

That our luck was with us that day was further demonstrated later on that evening. Too hungry to wait for the 7:30pm dinner time, I walked into the dining area at 7:15. We were given permission to jump on the salad bar, and so we did. The quality of the salads and sundries were nothing short of amazing, and when the rest of the dinner showed up it was similarly impressive.

We went to bed with full stomachs and happy dreams.

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