“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac
The group's first time together on the bus took us south to the small town of Castelrotto in the Dolomite region of Italy. I remember nicknaming this drive, "How many times can we pass over the Austrian border in one day?".
Castelrotto at a Glance:
Location: Northeast Italy
What It's Known For:
Castelrotto quickly proved to be a small and close knit town, full of friendly locals. As I walked around the town during the first afternoon, I stopped in at this Eurospar grocery store (left) for a few snacks. Checking out, the cashier began speaking to me in a fast German dialect. Not knowing what she said, I paused. Thinking back to the little German I learned in high school, I let out, "Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch" (I speak a little German). She laughed and then started speaking in English. Phew! I guess I fit in as a European!
The dramatic Italian Dolomites overlooking Castelrotto.
My Dolomite Adventure:
As the next morning rolled around, the weather was not looking promising. Regardless, I took a local bus to the next town over, Seis Am, in hopes of heading up into the mountains. Knowing that mountain weather can change quickly, I purchased a gondola ticket and began to make my way up to Compatsch.
This weather was not looking good for the day...
After an hour, the clouds began to subside and I decided to rent a mountain bike for the day. I ended up choosing this fat-tire e-bike. I had never ridden an e-bike before, but figured this would be a great time to try it out! You still have to pedal, but depending on the mode (Off, Eco, Sport, or Turbo), the electric motor provides an assist.
The barns up in these alpine meadows all had grated roofs with large round rocks over top. Asking about this later, I found out that the rocks break up the snow/ice as it begins to melt in the spring, and prevents large sheets of snow/ice from sliding off at once.
For lunch, I stopped in at an alpine hut for some delicious spinach dumplings.
After lunch, I continued along the trail, gaining elevation. Eventually I made my way onto the snow and ice patches which had not melted yet. Unfortunately this ended my journey on that trail, and so I turned back around and headed down the mountain.
With plenty of time left in the afternoon, I wasn't ready to return this bike yet, and so I found a series of trails on the map which connected over to the nearby village of Saltria.
After not seeing another person for miles and miles, I was fortunate to cross paths with a couple of french tourists, who were kind enough to take my picture (below).
Now at the small village of Saltria, I came to a large intersection. Looking at the map, it appeared as if I needed to take the road that veered down to the right. Heading off on this road led me into an old, dense, forest, with sharp cliffs off to the right. Below the road was a raging river, 300 feet below the edge of the cliff. As I began to question my navigation skills, the skies suddenly turned dark. Eventually the forest opened up and I pulled out my map. The town that I could see in the distance was St. Christina, and I had clearly taken a wrong turn at Saltria.
At a deficit of several hundred feet in elevation and the rain beginning to come down, I needed to turn around and get back to Saltria, QUICK. Luckily, I had chosen the e-bike. I put it in Turbo mode and pedalled my heart out, back up the mountain. By the time I saw the forest open up again and the village in the distance, it was absolutely pouring. I pulled under this bus shelter (right) for some dry relief and waited about 30 minutes for the rain to calm down.
After leaving the bus shelter, I found the correct road and made my way back to Compatsch. At the end of the day, I really have to give that e-bike some credit. I covered singletrack, doubletrack, and everything in between. After talking with the other tour members that night, it was clear that I covered at least 2-3 times the amount of ground as anyone else, and when I returned the bike, it still had over 1/2 of its battery life remaining. The weather may have been iffy to begin, but it turned out to be an absolutely epic day in the Dolomites. On the left you can see my muddy pants on the bus ride back to Castelrotto. Good thing I wore waterproof pants and lined my sneakers with plastic bags!
One Last Thrill:
On the morning before departing and heading up north to Füssen, there was a regional competition going on in town. Skilled jockeys would race around a rink on their horses and throw wooden poles through rings hung in the air, before catching them on the other side. Scores were based on accuracy and time. What a treat!