Day two of my trek to Mugello was the highlight of the trip, when seen from the comfort of the desk in my office. From southern Germany through Austria, taking in a pass or two, then on into Italy and a choice of options, depending on my mood and the time I would need to find lodgings.
Unfortunately, I had not reckoned with two things: the first was the weather; the second was my own stupidity. I had drawn up a back up route in case of poor weather, but it was different in only one aspect. I had intended on riding the Hahntennjoch in Austria, a slightly less well-known pass, but one with a reputation for being a great ride. After reading that the pass is infamous for mud and rock slides, I added a back up route in case it rained. And boy did it rain.
Rain. There was a lot of it
It was dry as I loaded up the bike this morning, stopping to chat with a local journalist who regaled me with tales of his Triumph TR5 and BSA Gold Star. As I left Memmingen, the first drops of rain started to fall, and they continued all the way through Austria and over the Fernpass until I reached the bottom of the Reschenpass, the low mountain pass past Nauders and into Italy. My trusty BMW R1200GS displays the ambient air temperature (or rather, a wildly inaccurate version of the air temperature, usually three or more degrees centigrade out) which I use as a makeshift weather gauge. If the temperature drops then I know it's likely to rain.
The temperature did not drop. It stayed cold, and wet, for most of the day. At one point, as the A12 turned north to join the B180 at Landeck, I was overjoyed to find myself in a tunnel for 8 kilometers or so. Normally, I avoid tunnels, but the chance to be dry for a few minutes, and to warm up – ambient temperature jumped by about 10 degrees – was something I was very glad of indeed.
At the bottom of the Reschenpass, near Mals (or Malles Venosta – South Tyrol, the northern part of Italy, is still German speaking, as the area was taken from Austria and handed to Italy after the First World War) I ran into another miscalculation. Just as I reached the roundabout where I could choose to head west over the Stelvio or east towards Merano and over the Gampenpass, a police car blocked the route. Tuesday was the day that the Giro d'Italia crossed the Stelvio pass, before heading on to the Val Martello. I happened to arrive at the bottom of the Reschenpass just as the first preparations were taking place to clear the roads for the world's elite cyclists.
It proved to be a long wait, fortunately in front of a restaurant serving coffee. It was a very damp and bedraggled lot who had made it over the Stelvio (preceded by the Gavia, both passes well over 2600 meters), and passed in front of us. The field was very strung out, taking the best part of 40 minutes to pass. Never have I admired human determination more than seeing the faces of those riders in the face of such miserable conditions. When I found out that it had been snowing up on both the Gavia and Stelvio, I found it was possible to admire them more.
Their passing made my decision easy. If I was to make it to my hotel before the reception closed and left me stranded – it has happened to me once before, at Brno, and I was only saved by the good graces of the ever-generous Andrew Wheeler – there was no time for me to make it over the Stelvio. Given the prevailing conditions, of which I had no idea at that time, it was probably a good thing.
The peloton took the rain clouds with them to the west, and the sun broke out just as I started on the final leg of my journey to Lake Garda. Two hours riding in the sunshine feels an awful lot better when you spent the first four or so in the pouring rain...
Tomorrow, I head to Florence, and the last leg of my journey, for the moment at least.