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Thursday, September 15, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Campodolcino to Gasthaus Berninahaus

We had made it to Volg in Silvaplana. The supermarket did not close for lunch, and there was a fountain right behind it, making it an ideal lunch spot. There were even restrooms and shade, though at 1800m, the weather was cool enough that we did not really need it. "So, Arturo, what do you think: Bernina pass or ride all the way to Zernez and Ofenpass?"

He looked at me and said, "Piaw, if you're asking me now, Conrad's Mountain Lodge looks like a great alternative." He pointed at the hotel across the street.

It rained the night before, but I'd slept so soundly that I did not hear it, only observing it when I saw wet railings on the fence outside the hotel. The road, however, was already drying by the time we got on the road, with a fast descent into Chiavenna.
The clouds looked threatening as we headed towards Maloja pass, but interestingly enough as the day passed the weather cleared. The little villages that we passed while climbing looked pretty enough: waterfalls,but the grim-looking weather and the Italian drivers meant that we were in no mood to loiter.

Surprisingly, we hit the Swiss border in very short order after the initial set of villages. This was unusual because borders are usually set at mountain passes, not half way or one quarter of the way up one. But it was a welcome change, because not only did the road surface get better at the border, the drivers' behaviors got better as well. At the same time, the low clouds dogging us lifted and blue skies emerged. The day warmed up rapidly, becoming hot by the time we reached the first water fountain. We filled up rapidly, and then rode on to the next to fill up again. By then, we were once again in a sauna.

"I thought you would stop at the supermarket, but you didn't," said Arturo when he caught up to us at the last fountain before the hairpin turns started in earnest. "That was a furniture store, not a supermarket." "Noooo! There was a store next to the furniture store!" "Oops."
The ride up the Maloja pass, once we got to the hairpins was not very difficult. For one, the weather started cooling down and we got a breeze off the pass. Secondly, the hairpins actually meant that the grade was never difficult. In California, hairpins are usually where the road is steepest, but in the Alps where it snows, motor vehicles cannot be expected to both turn and climb so at the hairpins the roads are nearly flat.
At the summit sign, the scenery was anti-climatic. That was because there's no steep descent down the Engadin valley. Instead, the road just descends gently all the way to Zernez. We rode first along the Silsersee, then along the Silvaplanersee. The road along both lakes were nearly flat, but granted us great views.

Arturo and I had visited Silvaplana on the way to Julierpass last time, and I remembered a grocery store right at the turn-off in Silvaplana. I was thinking that I'd passed the town completely when I saw it and turned off the main highway, jogged up the street 100m, and there was the Volg supermarket. We were famished, so Arturo's comment about staying at Conrad's had to be taken seriously. "OK, we don't have to make a decision now. Let's just eat," I said. We bought bread, meat, and cheese and ate it. Then we bought chocolate and ate it. It was satisfying.

From St. Moritz, we had a choice: to go up Pontresina and then the Bernina pass, and then visit Livigno on the way to Ofenpass via the Livigno tunnel, or we could ride over to Zernez and then climb Ofenpass directly. While the clouds were looking ominous, I thought we had a good chance of making it up the Bernina pass and into Livigno. Moreover, the idea of a long flat traverse to Zernez didn't appeal to me, despite the tailwind. I'd already climbed Ofenpass a couple of times, and it was unlikely we'd make the hotel inside the national park that day, so we'd be forced to stay in Zernez. The 2007 tour stayed in Zernez and not only was it expensive, I suspected the hotel of giving me a serious case of bed bugs. Fortunately, the food had worked its magic and my companions were persuaded to give the Bernina a try.
It turned out that there was a dirt bike path from the Celerina intersection to Pontresina. Going downhill last time we'd ignored the bike path since the road was faster, but on a climb the dirt didn't slow us down substantially and we got to bypass the town. Once at the foot of the forest, the road started climbing steeply, but the Swiss highway service would occasionally cut a swath through the trees to give us a glimpse of the Bernina glacier.
I started feeling raindrops and then a headwind as we crossed the railroad tracks upon which the Bernina express ran. Past the tracks the road flattened out, and I saw across the street the Gasthaus Berninahaus. It looked freshly renovated, and at this point I didn't think we'd make Livigno. I stopped and waited for Arturo, who was skeptical. Then he looked on and saw that yes, there wasn't anything until Livgno, and while the Hospiz Bernina was 100CHF per person, it was for dormitory accommodations while what we had across the street had much better potential. We rode across the street, looked at the double-level 3 person suite, and were sold!

Dinner was sumptuous and expensive, but when we heard the rain pour down after dinner denying us our usual evening walk, we knew we'd made the right decision. That night, as the rain came down I made Pengtoh replace his OEM brake pads with Kool-Stop Salmon pads in anticipation of more rain ahead.

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