Friday, July 2 (68Km, 2364m)

It was raining lightly when we awoke in Blumau, but we set off despite Thomer's misgivings. Our initiative was rewarded: as we climbed out of the Isarco valley we moved above the clouds and were treated to expansive views of meadows and wooded cliffs interspersed with Alto Adige's famous white grape vineyards. We made good time and enjoyed the fine scenery and warm temperature.

In Siusi a sign with a red light warned us that the road to Alpe di Siusi, the high plateau above the town, was closed. At first we thought that there was snow or some other obstacle, but as it turned out the road is closed routinely to limit auto access. So up we went to the summit, on a well-paved and semi-deserted road that intersects the Alpe di Siusi cable car several times. You know you're climbing when you keep passing gondolas overhead.

Bernie and I reached the plateau (1950m) first, followed by Chip a few minutes later, and then Thomer. Thomer's knees were in serious pain, so much so that he decided to not go on, but rather roll back downhill to Bolzano and take a train to Zurich. So we all ate lunch together, and then, after a group portrait, we headed our separate ways: Thomer back down the mountain, and Chip, Bernie, and I east across the Alpe di Siusi plateau.

I had never ridden on the plateau before, and I was struck by how peacefully beautiful it was, mellow and pastoral and utterly different from the dramatic glacial landscapes of Stelvio or Furka. Where those mountains might have deserved musical accompaniment by Wagner or Mahler, here we were definitely in the land of the Mozart violin sonata.

Our paved one-lane road eventually deteriorated into a gravel fire road. We stopped seeing cyclists, and only met a handful of hikers. Chip and I fared ok on the increasingly rutted surface, but this was not the right place for Bernie's triathlon bike and its 20mm tires. He suffered two pinch flats in the space of a few miles, and it was a long time before we reached the other side of Monte Pana and regained pavement. We dropped into Santa Cristina along a narrow 16% grade just as rain began to fall.

The rain became a heavy downpour. We tried to wait it out under a roof in Santa Cristina, but it became clear that this was no brief summer thunderstorm. So off we went, up the hill towards Passo Gardena (2121m). The scenery was spectacular despite the low overcast, as massive waterfalls formed on the vertical walls of the Sella group to our right. The grade remained easy, but falling temperatures made this a tough climb: on the summit I shivered uncontrollably as I put on rain gear for the descent. Chip and I shared some clothes with Bernie, who had come prepared for a weekend jaunt and had no real rain gear.

When we reached La Villa (1390m), at the intersection of the roads to Passo Gardena and Passo Valparola (2190m), Bernie's lips were blue and he was shaking so hard that he could not steer straight. He assured us that he would be ok, but Chip and I both had some doubts, and personally I was not looking forward to another climb and descent in that weather. We stopped at the Pensione Astro, which provided a hearty meal, comfortable beds, and—most importantly—a clothes dryer.

The rain stopped after dinner, so I went for a brief walk. La Villa, was abuzz with cyclists. Bicycles hung on hotel balconies, leaned against walls, and lay inside minivans with license plates of places as far away as Holland and Spain. They were all there for Sunday's Dolomite Marathon, a famous annual amateur race that visits some of the most renowned climbs in the area. For once, we were definitely not the only cyclists in town.

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