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Thursday, August 09, 2018

June 25th: Prato Allo Stelvio to Berghotel Franzenshohe

When I looked out the window in the morning, it was cloudy, but the forecast still called for good weather. Breakfast was generous, but when we rode downtown to the supermarket to pick up snacks (there are no grocery stores all the way up the Stelvio, except for the hotel/restaurants that might sell the occasional snack), I felt raindrops.
Nevertheless, we proceeded to climb the Stelvio, since I didn't actually think we would make it up to summit that day, despite a fairly early start. As we left town, I started to warm up, and could shed my arm and leg warmers. The initial parts of the Stelvio climb from the East are fairly easy.
Indeed, we soon had to put on sunscreen, since once past the initial gallery, there actually wasn't a lot of shade. In Trafoi, we passed a dirt parking lot, and we pulled into it to rest. There was a woman there, standing by her car, but she didn't look like she was in a hurry to go anywhere. "Are you going up the Mountain?" I asked, "Because if you are, maybe we can trouble you to carry our bags?" "Sure, of course! I'm waiting for my boyfriend, because he's cycling up the hill!" This was great. I gave her the name of our hotel, and told her that there were 48 numbered turns on the road, and the hotel was at the 22nd. I gave her 2 business cards, one for the hotel, and one for her in case she needed to call or text me.
"We're from the Netherlands, and we're doing this big trip in between jobs." "Wow, that sounds great! I always thought Europeans had lots of vacation..." "But yeah, we wanted an even longer one. One that would let us drive across Europe to Morroco."At this point, I had finally caught my breath and we gave her our panniers. Resuming our upward path, the bike immediately felt lighter. I decided that this meant we could easily go over the Stelvio today.
At 1800m, however, at Rocca Bianca, we saw our trail angel standing by the side of the road, looking very distressed. She waved us over to the restaurant parking lot. "I'm so very sorry. I have to give you back your bags. I tried calling you, but I had no cell signal. I am too terrified to go up the mountain any further. I will go down and wait for my boyfriend at the bottom." "Oh, no problem! You saved us 400m of vertical gain having to carry our bags!" She was very apologetic and I didn't want her to feel bad --- if you'd never driven in the mountains, Stelvio is downright scary, with tour buses making 3 point turns at every hairpin turn, and if she had a stick shift she would risk stalling out each time she had to come to a stop. In many other countries Stelvio would be a one way road or restricted to smaller vehicles, but this was Italy and the road was a "free-for-all." We took the panniers and mounted them back on the bike. We were only 400m  of elevation gain from the hotel, but of course, you always immediately feel the additional 20 pounds of load on the bike, no matter how strong you are, and we were definitely  not that strong. Pass Rocca Bianca, the road begins a series of switchbacks as it climbs steeply up the mountain.
We started to see the hotel, and got there at a very healthy time of 1:00pm. We stopped for lunch at the hotel, but over lunch Bowen lobbied for staying at the hotel. We'd only gone 12 miles but had climbed 4000' in that time, 3000' of which was carrying a load. With adults, I would never settle for staying at the hotel, but I reflected that Bowen at 6 years  old had just spent 4 hours crawling along at 3mph. The forecast for the next day was good weather as well, and the hotel was reasonably priced. After making him eat every morsel of food he ordered for lunch to make sure he was serious about wanting to stay here, I assented to his request and booked a room.
I'd last stayed at Berghotel Franzenshohe in 2007, in inclement weather that precluded any exploration. But this time, checking in at 2:00pm meant we could go outside for a walk in the hiking trails behind the hotel. And boy, what a view!
We never wandered more than about 15 minutes from the hotel, but in that time I'd found scenery to match or exceed the other places I'd seen in the Alps. I began to think that all those times when I'd just zipped past the hotel on the way to Bormio or Livigno, I maybe should have stopped and tarried a little. When I tell adults that I'm taking Bowen on this massive (unplanned) journey through the Alps, they have a tendency to say things like: "What a wonderful learning experience for your child!" In reality, however, Bowen was teaching me as much as I was teaching him. There's certainly a value in tarrying and slowing down, and there aren't many 6-year old children who've had the desire (or opportunity) to tour like this and yet would choose to climb high passes. As we walked along, Bowen would sing his Stelvio song:

I considered how lucky I was, that my son loved the mountains as much as I did, and appreciated scenery, something that many adults tell me that children don't care about. I wrote a short poem in my head:
Two souls, one bike, across the alps they went,
One brought his strength, but the other his heart he lent,
Day by day they traveled, until the father learned,
The wisdom of the child cannot be earned,
But must through attention be heard,
And his heart's eyes and ears bestirred.

Dinner at the Berghotel is a half-pension: you don't get a menu, just what's being cooked that night. This was Bowen's first formal western dinner, so I explained the placement of the utensils and plate, how you use the outside utensils first, then the insider ones and the spoon furthest away was for dessert. Service isn't American style: they take away your first dish and then you get your second one. To my surprise, Bowen liked the Gnocchi and soup, and of course the Salad buffett.
By the time the main course came, he was quite finished with dinner, and only picked at it, but I was hungry enough to eat his portion. To my surprise, he didn't want the ice cream dessert. (He couldn't have the regular dessert because it had nuts that he was allergic to) I ran out after dinner and snapped one last shot of the moonrise with Alpenglow.
There was no question in my mind that bringing a large sensor point and shoot camera was the right move for this trip. I would have cried bitter tears having to shoot today's scenery with a smartphone camera.

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