This story originally appeared on komoot.
To the next corner. Just until the next corner. Right foot down. Left foot down. Breathe. And again. Pedal stroke by pedal stroke I am moving towards the next switchback, slowly, knowing there are many more to come, even though my body would like to lie down and rest in the grass next to the asphalt. I know it would only be harder to keep on riding later, so I keep on moving my legs. Meter by meter, my bike is moving forwards – and upwards. My breath is going deep and fast as if I am sprinting on flat terrain. Except, that I am probably going slower than any hiker would walk. At least it feels like it. I put my head down and tell myself, “Keep pedaling. Just keep pedaling,” while watching the grey of the asphalt below me move endlessly towards the back of my bike.
When I reach the switchback I steer towards the outside curve in the road, where the gradient is less steep. Once the curve is over, I let my eyes wander to the left, down to the valley, to the houses and streets that now look so tiny. “I’ve come all this way, I might as well ride up those last 14 switchbacks,” I am telling myself – and everything is on repeat. Right foot down. Left foot down. Breathe.
“I’ve come all this way, I might as well ride up those last 14 switchbacks”
For the past four days we’ve been exploring the infamous passes of the Dolomites on our road bikes. With nothing but the essential extra clothing stuffed inside our handlebar bags, our days quickly fell into a routine: Riding upwards for hours, challenging our leg muscles and lungs, just to enjoy a quick and fast downhill ride back into the valley. We buy snacks and drinks at any opportunity on the way, until we reach our hotel at night. There we wash our one set of clothing in the shower, go out for dinner in our longjohns and hotel slippers, check the weather, decide on a final route for the next day, then hope our gear will dry overnight. Then sleep, wake up and repeat.
Now, at the end of the road, on top of the pass, I see Rifugio Auronzo. Based at the foot of South Tyrol’s famous three rock pillars, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the hut is famous for its views. Most people ride up here in their car or one of the public buses, to start a 60-minute stroll which takes you even closer to the famous sight. Even from a distance, I can see hundreds of metallic boxes, parked along the road — glittering in the sunlight.
Getting to those cars will take another good chunk of energy – I should eat. While my legs keep moving like they are controlled by some external force, my right hand lets go of the handlebar and reaches back towards my jersey pocket. After a little bit of fiddling with the plastic bag, I close my hand and shove ten gummy bears into my mouth and can’t help but grin. Putting gummy bears in my jersey pocket is the best idea I’ve had since getting bored of the never-changing bars and gels. Yesterday, on the first gummy bear day, I didn’t leave them inside their bag but put them straight into my jersey. An hour later, they had formed a party with my sweat and the whole thing turned into a very sticky maneuver. Today, keeping them in their bag, I feel much smarter. And while I try to keep my breath under control while chewing, I am thankful for the energy they will give my legs.
It feels like the road is never-ending. Turn by turn, I move myself and my bike further up the mountain with nothing but the power of my muscles (and gummy bears), but it just doesn’t end. Right foot down. Left foot down. Breathe. And then, finally, I reach the top. Suddenly, I am entering another world. There are lots of people; hikers, some pro-looking road cyclists who passed me on the way, confused tourists and a long line in front of the toilet. I carry my bike up the stairs to the terrace, take off my GPS, grab my water bottle and—just stand there. The view is incredible. The famous mountain range of the Dolomites, as far as I can see. There’s a cold breeze, but with the sun shining, I feel like it’s okay to let my sweat dry off and not put on another layer for now.
“Best view of the trip, right?” says a familiar voice next to me. Marius, my riding buddy, stands next to me smiling, with a tray of espresso and cake for both of us. Judging by the extra windbreaker and buff he is wearing, he must have gotten here some good minutes before me. Which is not surprising, the man is a machine. But he doesn’t seem to mind chasing me up one, but preferably two 1000-meter-passes a day.
Experiencing this Unesco World Heritage site up close, day on day, our respect for the Dolomites grows by infinity during the final days of our Tour. How long have these mountains been here like this? How many people have ridden these streets on two wheels before us? Did they go through the same rollercoaster of emotions? What made them continue?
Once our plates and cups are empty, we put on all the extra layers we brought, and start rolling downhill. Holding onto the handlebars tightly, my wheels are turning faster and faster. I sail down the same slopes that made me experience what my body is capable of if I put a big smile on my face and just keep pedaling. With the air pulling on the extra fabric of my jacket and the wind howling in my ears, the pain of the ascent is quickly forgotten. And even though I really need a shower, my legs are tired and my bum feels like I’ve been sitting on a saddle for four days straight (which I have been) – every cell in my body feels great. And I feel very alive, right there, in that moment.
Photos: Marius Scheel
Words: Stephanie Dietze