Wednesday, September 5, 2007


The morning was cloudy and cold and I was very nervous before the big climb to the Stelvio. I was worried that it might be too cold near the top, it could be raining and there was a possibility that I would had to turn back before the summit. The story about the St. Gotthard climb was just about to repeat. I started off at 9:00. At 950 m it was about 14 degrees and I realized it will probably be quite cold further up, so I stopped to put on overshoes and neoprene gloves. At the start of the turns, the 48th is the first one, I was already at the lowest gear. The chain had a strange sound as if it tried to skip from the largest cog, so I stopped and loosend the cable - that seemed to have helped. The signs with turn numbers appeared agonizinly slowly, it was ages before the first digit lowered to 3 - and even then it was still 39. The gradient was fairly constant, about 9% as I remembered from the graph of the pofile, and I was pleasantly surprized that I could cycle in the lowest 36/25 gear without stopping, slowly but steadily, standing at pedals here and there - more to rest lower-back muscles than to overcome difficult parts. At about 1700 m first snow flakes were flying around. At about 2000 m there is a turn off to a guesthouse from where I had a sight of last 20 turns - like a rope twisted on a steep mountain wall with the top disappearing in snow mist. The cold wind picked up and I stopped to put on a wind jacket and to take a picture. The critical element are my hands. They are freezing again - a common phenomenon that happens no matter what kind of handwear I use. I have 5 mm neoprene gloves this time and to the contrary to some good reviews that I got, for me they are pure s***e. I spend the last turns on wet road on which ice is starting to form, by puffing in my fingers. At the top the snow whirles in the wind while I pluck all my strenght to push down the trigger for a summit photo. Fortunately, the restaurant at the top is opened. I spend an hour there to warm up and chat to other cyclists, who are far better equipped then me but are still complaining about the "schwein kalt -3 grad".

The dread of the freezing descent makes me postpone a ride, but the weather shows no sign of emprovement, and eventually I must go. But it isn't so bad. The first 300 altitude meters are still painfull as I crowll down on icy road with frequent stops to warm the fingers, but from there on it's quite bearable. The subsequent turn numbers are flying like in a black-jack mashine and in no time I am at the Spar store in Prato, from where I started about 4 hours ago, but now richer for an amazing experience that MasterCard can not buy.

On the way back to Merano the Gods congratulated me with huge tailwind which lead me for 50 km with minimal pedaling. Just a little climb away from the town I found an excelent little pension, and following the advice of the landlady I went for a half-hour walk uphill to see the "Dorf". Sitting at the winter terrace overlooking the valley, sipping a "trocken Burgunder" after a good dinner, with a smile that just couldn't get off my face, I revived this day's amazing experience until it got dark and the valley below filled with a thousand of little lights.

Day 4: 106 km. Total 519 km.


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