Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy: Back in action following a five-week hiatus, the past two days of Alpine cycling have been among the best, if not the best, of my Euro cycle. I feel renewed and interested, once again, in Europe’s charm. In contrast to the start of my tour in Portugal, when I faced days of frustrating teething pains, just about everything has gone right at the start of this second leg.
When I hopped onto the saddle of Bubba Too it was awkward controlling a heavy bike for about ten seconds before habit and familiarity took over. It wasn’t long before I was even enjoying the ride. The bike is in fine form after a skilled tune-up — and new tires, brake pads, and rear cassette — in Innsbruck from the affable and capable mechanic Charly. It’s hard to get lost cycling through tight mountain valleys, so there have been minimal navigational issues. The weather has been almost perfect, as have the meals.
I departed Innsbruck yesterday morning and had all of 2.5 km to warm up on flat terrain before the climbing started — and continued for the next 27 kilometers — until I made it over Brenner pass and rolled into Italy. I had heard much about Brenner Pass and was anxious about having to ascend this mountain on my first morning back in action. Brenner Pass is definitely more bark than bite, and once I was at the top I just kept going, especially past the huge outlet mall in the center of town.
After discussing route possibilities through the Alps with my Innsbruck host Josef, an avid mountaineer, he suggested I go straight through the rugged Dolomite range. It has been an excellent recommendation. I have climbed more than two kilometers in vertical elevation gain over the past two days. The journey to Cortina has been visually stunning and I have seen more cyclists of all denominations — on road bikes, mountain bikes, and touring bikes — than perhaps I have seen in all of Leg I. There are well-marked and highly panoramic rad wegs, or bike paths, running through the valleys. Most of the cyclists are uber friendly, including a group of fifteen Slovakians whom I have seen on several occasions. They all yell “America” when we pass each other.
What’s striking about the trip though, is only in arriving in the fashionable mountain resort of Cortina (and beating a rain shower by less than five minutes!) have I finally left the Germanic world. The past two days of cycling have been through the South Tyrol province of Italy, where German is the dominant tongue. I have cycled through the Germanic zone for 800 kilometers, ever since Biel, Switzerland, and today I crossed an invisible linguistic border into the world of Italian. At last I am completely in Italy. Prego.
30 years ago I was in Cortina D’Ampezzo on my first visit to Europe. I hardly remember anything about the place. This visit has made an indelible impression, especially today’s ride from Muhlbach to Cortina, enveloped by mountains and passing through pretty little town after pretty little town, with glacial lakes and the Pusteria river punctuating the scenery.
Days 47 – 48: Innsbruck, Austria – Muhlback, Italy — Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy
Distance: 89.13 km (Day 47) and 80.42 km (Day 48)
Ascent: 1,090 meters (Day 47) and 1,057 meters (Day 48)
Weather: close to perfect
TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:
Distance: 3,450.32 kilometers
Ascent: 25,440.28 meters.
Countries: 8: Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy
Incidents: 2: flat tire on Day 45; police reprimand on Day 2