Sunday, July 4 (190Km, 2517m)

Over breakfast, the hotel dining room's television was tuned to live RAI2 coverage of the Dolomite Marathon. I was impressed that national television would cover an amateur cycling race live (albeit on a slow summer Sunday morning). Bernie dismissed the whole hoopla with a laconic, "We had that live yesterday." Indeed. And we had more of it today, as we set off towards Passo Duran (1605m) under sunny skies a little before 9am. The road climbs gently to Dont (900m), where, after a sharp left turn, it suddenly soars above the village's roofs at grades over 15%. The ascent eases somewhat after the hamlet of Chiesa, climbing to the pass through a thick forest.

Just after Chiesa I noticed a cyclist up ahead and decided to try to reel him in. He was faster than most, riding out of the saddle in a high gear on an unsuspended mountain bike. It took me several switchbacks to catch him, and I was not strong enough to pass. Eventually he turned off the road onto a dirt trail and disappeared among the trees. I reached the summit at my own pace and sat down in the flower-covered meadow to wait for Bernie.

We took it easy on the long descent to Agordo (611m), stopping occasionally to admire the views. These were the last few kilometers of our ride together before we parted ways in Agordo. From Agordo, Bernie headed northwest over Passo San Pellegrino towards Bolzano, where he took a train home to Rosenheim. For the first time on this trip I cycled alone, south into the Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi. The highlight was a derelict old section of road that follows the river through a narrow gorge, while the new road descends in a tunnel that is forbidden to bicycles. Even though the old road is now closed to cars, the old ANAS casa cantoniera once used by road crews is still inhabited, and an old woman and her cats looked down from the second floor window as I rode by.

I arrived in Feltre shortly after noon. The historic center is a handsome place, but it seemed completely deserted, and it took me a while to find a place to eat. I settled on the Trattoria Al Cappello, where I was treated to ravioli and a large sampler of local cheeses. Thus refreshed, I headed out of town behind a local amateur racer who was going for a ride to Bassano. Near Seren del Grappa (400m) I thanked him for the pull and turned left towards Monte Grappa. At first I had flashbacks of Mortirolo: the same hot summer air, the same sleepy village scene at the bottom, the same steep climb through thick vegetation. In reality, though, this climb was a lot easier. After gaining about 500m via hot, sunny switchbacks, the road enters cool deciduous forests. It rises and falls countless times as it climbs the sides of Monte Cismon and Monte Grappa, exposing vast panoramas of the Altopiano di Asiago (the high plateau where Asiago cheese is made) to the west.

The last few kilometers to the top of Monte Grappa (1760m) were a real holiday area: people sunbathed on lawn chairs set out in the grassy meadows, old couples played cards, and families ate picnics by the side of the road. Something about it reminded me of 1950s car ads: checkered tablecloths and bucolic bliss in the shadow of the family station wagon. More spectacularly, Monte Grappa has a huge paragliding and hang-gliding scene, and countless sails circled in the air beneath me as I climbed to the top.

The summit of Monte Grappa is a national war monument. The mountain and the surrounding area saw some of the fiercest World War I fighting between Italy and Austria, and today the results of those battles are visible in the giant Italian and Austrian military cemeteries. Unfortunately, the monuments were built by the Fascist government in the '20s and '30s, and I wonder whether giant inscriptions of Mussolini's words are the best way to memorialize all those war dead today.

I left the war memorial and explored the high plateau, admiring the paragliders and the views of the Po valley 1600 meters below. After fixing a flat tire—my only mechanical problem on this trip—caused by a sharp rock on the road, I decided to head down. The descent was memorable: first sunny meadow, then cool fir forest, then lots of beech trees, all the way down to a monumental stand of cypress trees where cicadas sang in the hot dusty air.

Now my remaining goal was to reach my cousin Marco's home near Padova. I cycled west to Bassano and picked up SS47, a busy but direct road that heads straight to Padova. The land here is flat as a billiard table and I benefited from a slight tailwind, so I pedaled briskly in a 50x14 and held a steady pace of 34-36Km/h. Near Padova things got a bit confusing because my map showed none of the local roads and signage was very poor. Fortunately I found a friendly gentleman on a motor scooter who was going my way and essentially motor-paced me for several miles. I arrived at my cousin's place in Teolo around 7.30pm, grimy but happy and very hungry. Marco and his wife Simona had been hosting a backyard cookout for some friends, and I made short work of the leftovers.

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