We were up bright and early again today for another 85 kilometer day of cycling, this time mostly downhill to the top of Lake Como. We had only two kilometers of uphill riding and a grocery stop to complete before we summitted Aprica Pass and headed down the other side.
As we rode through the lively ski-town of Aprica, I couldn’t help but be surprised at how quickly the feeling of a city changes. Our campsite, only a kilometer or so outside of town, had an incredibly rural feel, feeling a little as though most of the buildings had been a DIY project. We felt like we were clearly in the middle of nowhere and there were even very few other campers aside from us. As we entered Aprica, though, I could only think that we had entered “somewhere”. There were dozens of hotels, shops, an restaurants lining the streets, all of which were decorated with something relating to “giro”. We learned later today that the past day or two we actually followed, almost in entirety, one of the mountain stages of Giro d’Italia! Between Passo Dello Tonale, Passo Aprica, and the many small towns in between, we were following the same roads that only 2 months early the famous bike tour passed through.
Bree: The views from the other side of the pass were lovely as we overlooked pretty Italian towns dotting the sides of the enormous mountains and we made a few stops for some pictures and to keep our brakes from getting too hot. After flying down 13 kilometers of steep switchbacks, we had descended 700 meters and with that, the best of the coasting was over.
Unfortunately, so was the best stretch of quiet roads we would see all day. As we pedaled along the mostly flat highway, the traffic picked up to proportions nearly equal to that which we saw in Hungary.
Busy traffic seems to be one of Ben’s biggest annoyances on this trip and after only a few kilometers of riding on the two lane road with absolutely no shoulder, he was looking pretty agitated. Gratefully, we were able to bail off onto a carelessly paved cycling path along the river which carried us for quiet a few kilometers. We had essentially traded the intense traffic for some pretty serious bumps in the road and plenty of bugs, but we didn’t mind too much.
To soon, the path ended, and after a bit of winding through some side roads, it was back to the highways for the remaining stretch of our ride toward the lake. The roads weren’t in much better condition than the path had been, so now we were rattling along the rough pavement as trucks zoomed by far too close to our shoulders for comfort.
While in the mountains, we encountered surprisingly considerate Italian drivers, with a few exceptions. Today, the crazy, fast Italian traffic had made a return. While there were a few drivers that passed us in the polite French style, most cars was were passing fast and far too close. We were grateful when a large truck would slow an entire slew of cars behind it, as it meant that the traffic would pass us a little more slowly and consciously than it otherwise would.
As we approached the lake, the same headwinds that make Lake Como famous for windsurfing famous also made for some tricky riding. It was downhill, though, and in spite of the headwind we made good time to the lake.
I don’t know what I expected by Lake Como, but I have been pleasantly surprised. The traffic weaving around the lake is thick, but the narrow lines and resorts dotting the coast keep it slow and not too bad on the bike. The mountains that surround the lake are massive, which surprised both of us. They are also not in short supply, either, giving the entire lake a wide fjord-like appearance.
Arriving at the lake fairly early and after a nice afternoon nap, we headed down to the grassy shore to watch the world go by. The lake, in spite of all of the traffic, doesn’t feel too busy, and we enjoyed watching the novice windsurfers make a losing attempt at wrangling their large sails into submission, ending up in the water time after time. It makes me want to learn to windsurf, perhaps when we are a little less tired. Afterward, we had a wonderful dinner of tortellini tossed with fresh tomatoes, some kind of hard cheese, and a noci-based cream sauce.
Bree: Sometimes I think we have been here for so long that we occasionally lose sight of just how awesome our days are. As we sat on the grass watching swans float by on the glassy evening water, I had a bit of a reality check. Today we are in Italy… This morning we rode our bikes to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world where we spent the evening eating fresh tortellini and gelato. I don’t know what more we ever could have hoped for, but it was good just to sit and reflect on how lucky we really are to be here right now.
Ben: Dinner complete, we headed back down to the shore so that I could register for fall graduate school classes, and finish up some route planning for our road trip through Europe, all while watching the mountains and towns turn pink against the hazy mountains as the sun sets on this beautiful lake.