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Monday, August 13, 2018

June 27th: Arnoga to Pontresina

Hoping for a repeat of our ride into Italy, I told Bowen that today, we had a chance to have breakfast in Italy, lunch in Livigno, and dinner in Switzerland. "Wait, is Livigno its own country?" "No, it's part of Italy, but it's got it's own tax autonomy, so sometimes it can feel like a different country." The night before, I even found the Sporthotel Arturo and I had stayed at the last time we were in Pontresina, and it offered free cancellation even on the day we were scheduled to arrive, so I booked it!
On the menu today were four passes, Passo di Foscagno, Passo Eira, Forcola di Livigno, and Bernina pass. In the direction we were riding, each pass was only about 500m at most, and my notes from 2014 was that when I got to Pontresina I was happy to ride further, but Arturo wanted an easy day. An easy day on the single day would make for a challenging ride on the tandem, and so it proved.
I had forgotten that the route was full of galleries, and so on the first gallery we encountered we had to pull over and turn on our flashing lights. While stopped, we found a pack of AA batteries still sealed in their packaging that I mistakenly thought were AAA batteries, and stuck them into Bowen's Camelbak. We would later leave them at the hotel, since we had no use for AA batteries, but at the time I thought it was a lucky omen.
At the top of Foscagno, it was 10:00am, and cool enough that Bowen asked to put on everything he brought, layering his rain jacket and rain pants over his regular clothing, and putting on his mittens. We had also worn out the batteries on our cadence sensor, and took the opportunity to replace it on the top of the pass. On the tandem on this tour, we spent so much time in our lowest gear that our cadence sensor was getting many more turns than our speed sensor. From there, it was a 200m descent into one of the communities that were officially part of the tax-free zone, and while the descent was somewhat chilly, I knew it would be over quickly.
I remembered buying lunch somewhere between Foscagno and Eira, but on the climb through the community, I noticed that the supermarket was closed. In many European towns, Wednesday is sort of the mid-week holiday for certain supermarkets and stores, though the schedules are usually coordinated in such a way that there's at least one store that's open in any given town, but I wasn't about to go search for an open supermarket on an uphill climb. A man drove his car up ahead of us and pulled over, got out, and started taking pictures of us with his smartphone. "I saw you yesterday on the Stelvio, and here you are again!" He had asked me about my choice of caliper brakes the day before, when I asserted that with Bowen at 40 pounds, myself at 130, and the bike at 45 pounds with 20 pounds of luggage, we weren't anywhere close to needing brakes other than caliper brakes. When I configured that bike, I reasoned that by the time my two sons were heavy enough that I needed disk brakes, they would also likely prefer riding their single bikes over the tandem.
Passo Eira wasn't a particularly pretty pass, so we stopped for only a short time for a pass photo, and then went for the 500m descent down to Livigno. Livigno's full of cyclists, and we found ourselves overtaking a few on the straight sections but when it came to the corners I was much more conservative than the typical single cyclist and they caught up and then passed us with their superior knowledge of the road. I remembered that there was a bike path through the valley with many picnic areas and even some playgrounds, so we stopped at a duty free supermarket to buy a picnic lunch and then rode off in search of a picnic area off the bike path.
Soon enough, we found one which had a choice of sun or shade, a water fountain nearby, and even a stone hammock, which we did not use. As we ate lunch, a cycle tourist came by and stopped to check out our bike. He was from Germany, and was very proud of his steel frame. "Steel is real!" he declared. I myself wasn't fully enamored of the amount of weight I was carrying, but my mouth was full of supermarket sandwich, and I had chocolate to look forward to.
After lunch, it was time to climbed Forcola di Livigno. I remembered that it was an easy climb on a single bike, but of course, on a tandem after 800m of climbing on the bike, it was a different story. The climb was slow, and the tailwind didn't help, since it wasn't strong enough to provide assistant but gave me still air which allowed the sun to cook me on the climb.
It was a relief to reach the final galleries near the top of the pass, since we were protected from the sun. At the summit, a group of motorcyclists had arrived from the other direction and happily took photos of us.
Looking back from where we came, it was amazing to see how much climbing we'd done, but the hardest part was still to come!
From Forcola di Livigno, the road descends just 100m to the Swiss border, but then intersects with the Bernina pass climb in the difficult direction, with grades north of 10-12%. Coming at the end of the day, and with a cold headwind to boot, a contrast to the Forcola, it turned out to be harder than either day of the Stelvio climb! At the top, the wind grew and Bowen got so cold that rather than show up at the summit photo, he chose to hide behind the tandem (You can see his helmet right behind the tandem).

The top of the Bernina was a fun descent as usual, but once it flattened out, it became a pedaling descent because of the headwind! At this point, however, we knew that Pontresina was easily within reach, and other than a stop to relieve ourselves we had no obstacles on the descent other than a construction traffic light.
Once in Pontresina, I didn't need a GPS to find the Sporthotel, for it was right on the main drag and easy to find. Upon checking in, the friendly staff gave me a laundry bag for our sports clothes, and showed us where the electrolyte drinks and free water bottles were. We were down to just a couple of Nuun tablets now, so it was welcome. It was a luxury not having to do laundry for a change, and I bought some snacks at the local supermarket that turned out to be superfluous because the lobby had free snacks! I didn't remember such nice facilities the last time we were here. We also took advantage of the jaccuzi, the rooftop viewing, and it was Bowen's first experience in a Sauna.
For dinner, I eschewed the 10 course meal Arturo and I had last time while in town, and just went for the half-pension dinner, which was a good deal. We had shrimp, salad, and a main course that would have been skimpy without the unlimited salad buffet. Looking at the forecast, it looked like we were running out of dry weather, since the forecast was for thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon, but I still hoped to get in Albulapass and if the weather looked good, Lenzerheide the day after was also a possibility.


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