What a difference a day or two and some sunshine makes. And the mountains, of course.
Thursday was the last of the flat, straight roads for a while. Constantly harassed by showers and big black clouds. But I realised halfway through the day that my diversion plan must actually be working. Despite missing the north of Slovenia and a little bit of Austria, I was still moving. I was beating the big storms.
And yesterday morning (Friday), I awoke at the entrance to the mountains. The sun was out. And I was ready to get my exploring head back on. No more whining about being nearly home. Or the weather, if I can help it.
The nice thing about the Alps (and the Dolomites, to which they are joined with no obvious boundary – I think I’m in the Dolomites at the moment, but will apparently be climbing in the Alps tomorrow) is that, although the mountains are big, the valleys in-between tend to be wide and quite flat.
There is the odd place where you have to climb, and then drop, a few hundred metres to cross to another valley, which can be quite spectacular:
But, if you hit the right valley, you can make quite a lot of progress without too much climbing. The flip side of this, of course, is that when you do hit a proper climb, it’s likely to be massive.
Anyway, this part of Italy is a mixed area. There are German speakers as well as Italian speakers here, and many of the towns have two names. It’s probably the only place in the world where a frankfurter pizza is actually an authentic local dish. Or at least, that’s what they told me… Which suits my healthy touring cyclist’s diet perfectly.
It’s also an area with more fairytale castles than you can shake a stick at (one pictured above). And as you roll up the valleys, you hardly notice that you’re gaining height, as the mountains on either side just open up more and more astonishingly beautiful vistas.
But there are definitely easier ways to climb in the mountains than by pedalling. I’ve always fancied having a go at paramotoring (essentially flying around on a parachute with a propeller attached to your back), and the guy below was having a great time dive-bombing cyclists in the valley this morning:
Maybe that’s the next challenge; it’s certainly a lot less sweaty than cycle touring, but possibly more dangerous in thunderstorms…
My musings about how I could attach a bike to a parachute were, however, rudely interrupted by the tunnels. As you can see from the rugged landscape, there’s a lot of call for them, and the Italians seem to love building them. This is the entrance to the second of three on the drop down to Trento:
The last of the three tunnels was by far the longest I’ve done on the trip so far, at over 3km. And it was pretty steeply downhill.
Downhill tunnels on a touring bike are a bit like a theme-park ride. Italian tunnels are well-lit, and I remembered to take my shades off this time (I’ve done a few nearly blind due to dark glasses), but the inside is still dark enough compared to the bright sunshine to to be disorientating. Then there’s the noise, with every engine echoing and amplified by the tunnel walls.
And then there’s the wind, as every truck, bus and car creates a pressure-wave of air which has nowhere to go. So it pushes you about. And pushes you forward. Faster and faster and faster. The Italians have electronic speed warnings on a lot of their roads. I hit the speed trap in tunnel three at 77 kph (48 mph). And still accelerating. If you want to know the speed limit, I’ll refer you back to the photo above. Oops…
I exploded out of the end of the last tunnel like a cork out of a bottle, and, after a little break to let the adrenaline subside, headed up the valley through Trento. I was on a short day today, which ultimately joined me up with my original intended route, after the longish detour of the last few days.
Returning to the original plan made me happy, and I began looking at the slightly menacing clouds over the valley walls (above) as just a spectacular landscape feature rather than anything to worry about.
This was nearly a mistake, as there was a rogue downpour lurking, which almost pinged me before I got to shelter:
The benefit of that shower is that it stopped me getting too intimidated by being able to see much of tomorrow’s climb. It’s the only hill I’d class as a ‘monster’ before I get to the French border (I’m using the valleys to good effect), but it’s unavoidable if I want to get further west.
Nearly 1900 metres (or nearly 6200 ft). Gulp…
Here’s how much my attitude to the weather has adjusted itself. There’s a chance of heavy rain tomorrow afternoon. Just for a few hours. I’m thinking that I might be glad of an excuse to break that climb into two manageable chunks.
It’s just possible that I’ll actually be wishing for rain…