After a jet lagged day wandering the streets of Venice with all the other tourists, we arrived at our hotel in Badia. The mountain landscape is jaw dropping beautiful with the mowed green pastures stretching up to rock faces of the peaks. It is a Kodachrome holiday and a feast for the eyes every where we look. The immaculate chalets dotted around the hillsides, the plump cows asleep in their fields. It is almost too perfect and feels like a euro mountain disneyland. We watch in awe as the locals cut the grass on 35 degree slopes and collect it for hay. The weather is perfect, warm in the sun and cool under the trees. We are not really used to this level of organized perfection.
We are here for a week of gravel riding and head out on a 30 kilometer loop. The first thing we discover is that the roads and trails are incredibly steep, with Karen using the right tool, an e mountain bike. I grind slowly up behind her and wish for lower gears. We find out rapidly that the kilometers and altitude are hard won, and there are no easy gravel rides. The trails get rougher near the top but we are rewarded for our efforts with pasta and beer at the refugio. There is a place like this on every ride and we quickly grow used to the rhythm of riding for a while and stopping for coffee, pasta and lounging in the sun.
Our hotel is an international bikers mecca, largely populated with skinny butted roadies here to tick off the famous passes of the Dolomites. There are mountain bikers too, but not many fellow gravelleurs. I can see why, as the gravel routes tend to include sections that are full mountain bike terrain and are as demanding as they are beautiful. On one of our rides we encounter a Canadian couple on gravel bikes. She says that the last 5 k was the hardest climb of her life.
I kind of agree and here is my view from the top as I try to recover. The downhills are often steep as well and the loose gravel demands your attention.
It is way more fun to access the high country with an e bike and Karen and I do some longer tours that way. Most everyone in the high country is riding an electric bike and some of the rest stops even have charging stations. We take a day off to ride the lifts and hike the mountains. Our hotel provides four course meals every night and it is almost too much for us, as we stagger into bed with over full bellies late at night. Such are the perils and perks of luxury biking.
Luckily for us, our last ride serves up a helping of adversity. Our planned route back to the hotel ends in a logging operation and we are forced to ride many kilometers around. My e bike battery dies with 10 kilometers to go and facing a long climb on a crowded highway. We try the bus and have a surly encounter with a driver who won’t let us bring our bikes on his empty bus. We eventually have to call a taxi. So not all is perfect here in the Dolomites.
Philosophically speaking, we can only see this mountain landscape through our tourist lenses. It seems awfully rosy and we are deeply grateful to be here and alive to enjoy it. We miss our friends Nancy and Dave, who wound up unable to join us.
We know that there is more to this place than the surface we are seeing, filtered through friendly Italians and credit cards. The real challenge for us is to bring the right attitude, just like the focus on the loose gravel as we roll downhil. On to Tuscany next.