Today was a day of happiness – sheer, unadulterated happiness over some of the finest roads I have ridden and the most magnificent mountains I had the good forture to see. As I write and sip my martini, I am surrounded by them – gigantic, massive, craggy peaks encircling the little town of San Vito di Cadore, where I am stopped for the night. The Dolomites are truly a thing of beauty. To think that I came so close to never seeing them at all. That I might have left Europe without ever knowing them!
And yet, I agonized all evening, most of the night and this morning when I woke up in Padova, as to what my route was going to be. The easy, short route would have been to go east towards Trieste and Piran, by the water. It would have been a quick ride, and then another short ride the next day to Ljubljana, where I could stop riding, and rest and sleep and call this journey to a close. I was so tired that it was beyond tempting. The other reason at the back of my mind of course was that this was the *Dolomites*, some of the tallest mountains in Europe, and me with my severe vertigo would be a very bad combination. I kept recollecting the moments of blind terror on the Swiss Alps a couple of days ago, and the one moment on Furka Pass when I was quite sure that I was going to die.
In spite of the terrifying few minutes though, I had to force myself to remember that the rest of the ride had been fantastic and the sights I had seen will forever remain in my memory. I also recalled the heart-thumping thrill at the end of the ride, when I rode the last few kilometers to my lodging, with the thought that yes, this had truly been an adventure. It had been challenging to my mind and body, it had kicked me out of my comfort zone, it had forced me to develop riding skills that I’ve needed for the roads I had ridden before, it had been difficult, but I had made it. Out of all the days of the past month that I rode, this was the one day that had felt like a real riding adventure. I could have that again if I could only swallow my fears and head north to the Dolomites. “But I’m scared”, said a tiny voice at the back of my head. Would I rather be scared and take the easy path, or push through the pain and do what I really wanted to do? I chose to do the thing that spelt doom. After hours upon hours of agonizing, the relief that came with a decision made was tremendous.
As it turned out, all my fears were a little laughable. The roads through the Dolomites were fantastic and not in the least bit scary. A big part of this was because even though they climbed as high as the Swiss Alps, they had more tree coverage and there were no unprotected cliff views of how far you could fall if you slipped and went down. (Thinking about that one narrow road on Furka Pass with a drop of 2000+ metres makes me want to throw up.) I was also now a lot more used to riding the switchbacks. I wasn’t fast by any means, and I ran wide way more often than I wanted, but I did fine. The downhill parts were sheer pleasure and I wonder whether the riders that passed me could see the big grin splitting my face in two.
The route that I did today was roughly north from Padova to Bassano del Grappa, which was sheer riding hell going slow through small towns in hot, muggy weather. Thank heavens for lane splitting! Oh and whoever complains about how bad the driving in Italy is, I really wonder where they’ve been riding. Agreed that their roads are arranged in a somewhat crazy manner and I had many WTF moments, but the drivers themselves aren’t at all bad, either on the Autostrade or the little towns. At no point did I feel afraid or unsafe.
I felt my spirits reviving only after I started seeing mountains in the distance. Finally I was upon them. The road surface was not as nice as the ones in Switzerland, but it was every bit as twisty as I had hoped for. Traffic had sped up and I kept passing cars unabashedly even on the solid lines now, taking point from the Italian motorcyclists on the road. On a tangent, I love that European motorcyclists are almost always in full leathers, no matter what the weather. I contrast that with the squids on American roads and I wish we could be more like them.
Further north no towards Feltre and Fiera de Primiero. I stopped somewhere near Mezzano to get lunch (I’d had an awful breakfast the past couple of days) and stepped into a restaurant which had a little boy at the reception. There was not another soul in the place. He took my order of panini with proschiutto and cheese, which turned out to be a hamburger bun with some meat and cheese. *sigh* I asked him if he would at least heat it up, which he did. Communication in Italy has been the most difficult in West Europe so far. Most other countries, folks spoke rudimentary English, especially the younger people, but here it’s been rather non-existent. My fault for not knowing any Italian at all, of course.
After that extremely bizarre lunch, which seemed more of a waste of time, I got on the road again. I went over Passo di Rolle, my first pass of the day. :) Then north to Canazei and the big pass – Passo di Giau. What a fantastic, panoramic view!! The place was crawling with motorcycles and mountains for as far as the eye could see.
From here, it was a short ride to Cortina D’Ampezzo, my final destination of the day. I wanted to find a place to stay at night, but I learned from the locals that it would very expensive and I should ride down 10km to San Vito di Cadore, which turned out to be good advice. I did get some tasty treats from a bakery in Cortino though. Mmmm… wish they made those in Seattle.
At San Vito, I stopped at Hotel Colli, the first one I saw, which looked the most appealing after I had ridden down the street to the end of town and back. The people who owned it were super-nice, the room was a mere 53 euros, they offered to let me park my bike in their garage, and I think they might have given me their best room, right at the top with a great view of the mountains. After days and days of living in hostels, the last few of which had been really crummy, I was delighted to have my own, private, luxurious room. Oh the small pleasures of life on the road. :)
After I had unpacked and cleaned up, I walked down to the tourist center, where they gave me a login and password for the town’s free wifi. (Pretty soon we will have internet considered to be a basic utility, I’m sure.) I had dinner which was a tasty ravioli called “casunciei”, considered to be a specialty of the Marmolada and Arabba regions.
After dinner, I went for a walk around town, aiming for the river behind the hotel which I reached via a narrow, crumbling, slippery path. It smelt so good and clean. I really needed the mountain air after the past couple of days in mainland Italy. The views of the mountains once again made my jaw drop. I know I keep talking about them, but you really have to see them to know what I mean. I could spend all day looking at them, watching the colors change and the shadows deepen. The last mountain town that I was in that can even begin to compare was Seward up in Alaska.
This is my idea of an ideal day – great riding in fantastic weather during the day and an interesting place to spend the evening with a warm, comfortable bed waiting for you at the end of the night. I like this town. I see old people gathering in the cafes and families walking by shops and calling out to the owners. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else by name. The neighborhood bakery and supermarket have cheeful and inviting. They have community here, and they have the mountains. What more could one want?
Tomorrow I start heading back towards Slovenia. I purposefully want to delay it, stay here for longer, roam the mountains some more, but I know that I have to go. Very soon the dream will be over and life will be back to normal. I feel happy though, for the first time this month, or this year. Happy and content and joyous. I think I finally found myself again.