Back in the US, one of the first things I usually notice is the freaking roads are huge. It’s one symptom of reverse culture shock, to be sure and surreal is the key word. Then experiences like this happen which assure me yes, I have returned:
Two nights ago…
Benjamin (my gorgeous uncle): I think we left a bag of stuff at Walmart.
Me: Oh no! We should go back for it. But I’m in my pajamas…
Benjamin: So? It’s Walmart…
Me: Good point.
Dorothy, I am definitely not in Kansas (Italy) anymore, where leaving the house in PJs is socially uncouth. So where am I exactly? Colorado. “Home” but not home. If you haven’t seen Rudy Mancuso’s hilarious “Gosh Bless You” video please do so now so you understand the rest of this paragraph. Although I know there’s someone out there in particular who will appreciate this… it’s like I’m somewhere between Heck and Kevin. I am so grateful and excited to see friends and family but simultaneously, it’s a quasi-thank Gosh moment–mostly because I’m never, ever ready to depart Italy. So at least for now, it goes along with ping-pong balls that don’t bounce and having to stand pretty much all the time… 😉
Anyhow, I’m already on my next adventure before finishing my last. What a sin! So, let me redeem myself by catching us all up…
Day Five: Dobbiaco-Big Hike-Dobbiaco
Morning light shone on Tent City, illuminating the rare slivers of un-camped upon grass and a certain silver van housing the newest member of Operation Vacation: Loic! The door cracked, revealing a fancy black and red road bike. The morning sun glinted off three sharp butcher knives which came with their own set of jokes about Loic being either a Belgian master chef and/or a friendly murderer.
Either way, we welcomed him at our shanghai’d picnic table for breakfast. Finally the day broke chilly but with a promise of ample sun as the day progressed. Perfect set up for a long @$$ hike (for Lisa and I) and a million kilometer bike ride (for Loic).After parting ways, Lisa and I hopped on our steeds and rode several kilometers on dirt to the start of a trail that only climbed, oh, 2000 meters. However, it was swallowed heartily by the massive landslide like a college kid chugging beer. A big yellow bulldozer parked at the trailhead told us–in so many words–to figure something else out. We pulled out our well-worn map and located number 33, which also marched straight up a mountain like a bighorn sheep on crack. Done!On the trail, sweat began to swiftly collect and cascade down our bodies as if they were fast-melting Popsicles. We soon found ourselves teetering high above the valley floor, the sound of the roaring highway below lowering to a stubborn drone. After awhile we took a break at a high alpine spring to fill up and let things air out…After a couple hours of steep, steady climbing the trail finally attempted a semblance of flatness. At the end of the day, the undeniably steep route on Lisa’s GPS–named Garminio–resembled something like a Redwood tree.
Even higher up, above 2000 meters (6500 feet), we found the expansive, rocky beginnings of yet another landslide from the recent extreme storms. We picked our way through an uneven, alien landscape which briefly eclipsed the trail.After we picked it up again at a confluence, we popped over the first ridge, rewarded by a breathtaking expanse of alpeggi (high alpine pastures) and the piercing ridges of the mountains beyond. Behind us, a group of thick gray clouds gathered, like nosy old women peering through their blinds at the youths egging the house next door. We looked at each other; should we turn back, or press our luck?
Ha! Is there even a question? Besides, the skies didn’t feel menacing like they did on National Pressing Your Luck Repeatedly Day at Tre Cime. And just ahead, we were about to make a few new friends…
And then down, down, down we went like little rolling stones decked out in matching freaky light backpacks and a fine mist of dried sweat. By the end, we’d marched 20 kilometers (13 miles), climbed 1500 meters of elevation (4920 feet) and descended about the same. Near the end, uneven pavement was starting to look like somewhere I could sleep a solid eight hours…
We tried hitchhiking the handful of kilometers up the road to fetch our bikes but we had about as much luck as a nerdy, shy, acne-covered kid on prom night. Italians, it turns out, are not the pick-you-up-on-the-roadside type, even when you’re two cute girls with matching lightweight backpacks, a fine mist of dried sweat and big ol’ smiles. Resolutely, we tacked on a few more kilometers walking back to camp where Loic, bless his little creepily sharp-knife owning heart, saved the day. He left via van to rescue our bikes, leaving us to our own devices via Lisa’s tarp. We stretched and watched the clouds (and I devoured almost an entire package of cookies, which actually did semi-wreck my iron stomach for about six minutes).Afterwards–so as not to evoke the curious tempers of the weather gods, in particular His Highness Rain–we made pasta. With everyone else. And then waited in line for a shower –a lukewarm shower. With everyone else. And then waited in line to do freaking dishes. Dishes are often painful enough already, without having to wait around to do them. With everyone else. That was it for me: I’d rather do math for 48 hours straight then endure one more day of organized camping. With everyone else.
Day Six: Dobbiaco-Val Visdende-Danta-Wild Camping
In the morning, it was time for another lovely, leisurely, sun-soaked cruise from Dobbiaco to Val Visdende. Although we didn’t plan it–we didn’t so much plan as let things evolve–the ride was beyond pleasant. Bike paths first, through the valley:Then a really dope lunch at a Konditorei (German/Austrian confectionary/cake shop) with a view of the Tre Cime’s shapely backside:And one small climb to the top of Monte Croce pass.The rest was a literal bomb downhill. We zipped through a quaint villages and passed tons of road bikers heading up what we were going down (I was jealous–what a climb!).
We lingered in one village for a time after Lisa’s steed Wanda got a flat. Tortured by the tantalizing aromas oozing out of the bakery on which Lisa’s limping steed leaned, we ogled the tiny, antique spike she pulled out of her tire. And then an entire, large family from Romania materialized from the pastry-laden air and proceeded to pump up Lisa’s tire. The dad literally dispatched his teenage army to help and they did so gladly as we grinned. So sweet and unexpected, these instances while traveling by bike!
At the riverside campground in Val Visdende, we decided against camping with everyone else (again). Our decision was cemented by egregious, suspicious glares from the odd proprietor, based on what exactly? He was overheard saying “Where is their car?” as we walked over and sat in the late afternoon sunlight enjoying a 2.5 euro Spritz at the campground bar (aka giving him our money). Although in retrospect, suspicions could have been exacerbated by Lisa and I grunting and cussing through dozens of push-ups by the big yellow Caterpillar (the heavy equipment, not the pre-butterfly) in the corner of the campground parking lot…
So we utilized the river just as you would expect a few vagrants would (please note Loic showering in the background):Then we packed up, stashed and locked the bikes in a clandestine location and moved on in van to the tiny town of Danta, located on a steep hillside overlooking the majesty of the Alps. Loic–bless his murderous, beer-chugging heart–spotted a poster for a town festival there. Turned out to be a very, very good decision because of:
- The views.
- The cheap, delicious food and drink (two euro Spritz and three euro, generously portioned grilled sausage and veal sandwiches).
- The entertainment–starting with Lisa’s slightly drunken renditions of Italy’s pop darling Ligabue, courtesy of a cover band. Sorry Italy, but every single one of those songs sounds the same to me 😀 But the lead singer, wearing an ACDC shirt and belting out one cookie cutter tune after another with an unlit cigarette in his hand was literally priceless.
- The antics–starting with the enthusiasm of the drunk crowd, particularly one fella who danced with airplane arms for hours on end and the time I had to pee and managed to do so in a pile of nettles. The pinnacle was a really drunk dude who looked like Adam from HBO’s Girls and who decided doing a buttload of pull-ups on the tent was a fine idea. He chose a spot front and center in front of the band, his face a picture of determination, like a baby pooping. He knocked over a beer and the tent looked like it was in an earthquake before a good Samaritan managed to pry him off of it.
- The company 🙂And then–with way too many Spritz still rattling around in our systems, particularly Lisa’s and mine–we popped up the road to find a “wild” camping spot. WITHOUT everyone else. In Italy, there’s just one small problem: camping outside of campgrounds is, well, illegal. Illegal… oh no 😉 Obviously we didn’t care as we located a sufficiently quiet, dark field off the top off the pass. Loic parked the van and we deployed our tent in the perfect, hidden spot. To say we pitched it would be a stretch… we kind of threw it up, staked the doors and passed out.
Day Seven: Wild Camping-M. Aiarnola Hike-Sappada
In the morning, we got a very good laugh out of our floppy, crooked tent. And the perfect, hidden spot? Not exactly. From the road, the bright saucer of a tent stood out on the green, soft grass like a Democrat at a Trump rally. In the morning, in fact, Lisa heard an older couple speaking in Italian (as they cruised by on the trail just across the road… oops), “They can’t camp there.” Of course I didn’t hear a single thing because I once slept through a fire alarm in college and nothing has changed since.
We breakfasted roadside (to many an amused glance at us smearing on sunscreen by a van strung with various tent pieces and bike apparel). And then, a hike. It began oddly mellow. I relaxed into an off-day pace, ambling past countless quaint and/or kitschy holiday cabins. I should’ve known then something was off…An hour later:Not that I wasn’t stoked to be dominating yet another steep, Dolomite ridge, with eye-popping views as far as the eye could pop. But there was a tired devil and a tired angel on either shoulder, in rare agreement: it was time to rest. Even my blood hurt. But of course by then we were here:We had a couple more hours stomping around above treeline, watching the swirling clouds and chatting with the bazillion krummholz trees (German for “twisted, crooked or bent,” and appearing exactly thus, thanks to harsh, high elevation weather). And then there was the time we decided not to take the detour…
What goes doggedly up must come tiredly down and that meant us–but on a relatively nice trail with actual turns, this time.
And then–and then!–we rested in the best way possible by locating a truly delectable restaurant at the base of a nearby ski slope. We gorged ourselves on local grub like canederli with cheese and speck, pizza, giant ravioli (casunziei), tiramisu…Food coma settled in quickly; Lisa was quietly freaking out all night/day about leaving Wanda (her kick@$$ touring bike) in a hiding spot and we barely made it there to check on it and the GD Musing before succumbing to a nap. Loic enjoyed the undeniable comfort of a mattress in his van. Lisa and I enjoyed the questionable comfort of the tarp atop a cement landing near the river, smattered generously with rocks the size of walnuts. Screw the Princess and the Pea (or the Princesses and the Pebbles)–we passed out immediately.
Post-nap, we had enough go juice to ride up and over into the long, picturesque valley that housed the town of Sappada. Loic parked his van down by the river and we scoped out a sufficient illegal camping spot in the woods on the other side.Before we rode, we stocked up on groceries for a campsite dinner, after which we would set up our tent in the cover of darkness. We also scoped out a nearby “beerfest” but didn’t stay long: Loic the Belgian Beer Boss was nonplussed by Forst beer, the only chugging choice. Food prices were a bit high and inside it was hotter than the inside of a sweaty biker thigh. So off we went for dinner under the stars.
All of us were whooped, so we didn’t last long post-grub. But my excitement to lay down and pass out was dampened by two elements:
- The terrible and terribly loud rock music resonating from the sweaty beerfest. Somehow, the farther we got, the louder the Metallica covers became. It was almost like the guitarist was playing in my ear, his long, straggly 80s rock hair tickling my ear. But no… that was just the…
- Ants. Lots and lots of ants. Over the last days and as we scoped out our campsite by the river, we spotted anthills the size of small Mayan ruins. None of these ant-thropological wonders was within Forst beer can-throwing distance, so we figured we’d be safe. As soon as I stood outside in the dark, with ants racing up my legs like they were enrolled in the world’s largest ant marathon, I saw the error of our ways. Later on in the night, when I sat up to use the bathroom that is the forest, a flurry of ants dominated the tent’s mesh like a computer screen of binary code. When I opened the mesh hastily–with more than a little trepidation–a wave of ants crested the bottom of the tent like an army of peppercorns on legs. Lisa’s side of the tent wasn’t so bad–but I was screwed.
Day Seven: Sappada-Ovara
Convening at the van after reclaiming our tent from The Ants (the ground literally moved under the vastness of their army), we had some breakfast. Loic was itching to road ride so he took off shortly after, leaving Lisa and I to our own devices. Our devices included a whole lot more downhill–we couldn’t have planned our route better if we actually planned it. And it was gorgeous, twisting like a piece of licorice through a lush, wooded canyon containing a river and any number of ivy-laden, whitewashed, tile-roofed fairytale villages.In quiet, scenic Ovara, home to the infamous Zoncolan climb (another thigh-busting Giro d’Italia classic, which Loic was currently dominating), we pulled off the main road. And went straight uphill. For a moment, Lisa and I wondered if we hadn’t accidentally landed ourselves on the Zoncolan–but the views from our camp were well worth it.Finally, this camp was just our speed: simple, cheap and deserted. Once Loic returned, tired but exuberant after punishing himself on the Zoncolan, we set up shop. Soon, we were sipping Spritz before walking into down for dinner:Across the way, a certain green roof enchanted us, appearing clothed in dragon scales.
“How are those tiles so green?” Lisa said, sucking down a block of cheese.
“I wanna go up there,” I said, sucking down a Spritz.
“Mmmmm,” said Loic, sucking down half a bag of potato chips.
The next day, we’d get a closer look at the mysterious green roof, and much, much more… but of course, we hadn’t gotten that far yet. Until then bye-bye–or mandi mandi (pronounced mahn-dee mahn-dee) in Friulano dialect!