The day begins with a bit of light pedalling up through the Val Venoster/Vinchgau valley towards the Resia/Reschen pass. This is another historical route called the Via Claudia Augusta. The locals are Italian by law but they are trilingual, German, Italian and English. Tourists are cycling down the valley to Merano in droves. They whizz down then catch the train back up to their hotels.
This fabulous cycle track winds through vast plantations of apple and pear orchards. Following the now chalky blue Adige river to her source. The second longest river in Italy. Stone peaks break the skyline high above, patches of ice lie on the upper slopes. The temperature down in the valley is around 30 degrees, the hottest day ever recorded here.
A huge apple packing shed is covered with solar panels. Farmers spray clouds of chemicals on the emerging apples, forcing me to speed up to avoid getting caught in it. Perfect little apples hang on their stalks like green beads. Petals carpet the ground in snowy white.
My little computer shows 999,99 kms for a while until I realise it needs to be reset to zero. Hallelujah 1000 kms exactly at the apple store. You can pour yourself a glass of fresh apple juice, or bite an apple, just pop some money in the box and off you go. One hopes the chemical spray is not too harmful. In Italy, genetically modified crops are not permitted, forcing farmers to use more chemicals instead. Wonder which is better?
A young Italian couple stop their bikes next to me at the apple store. I raise my cup of apple juice towards them and say “cin-cin! Can you believe it, I have cycled one thousand kilometres from Rome to this very spot?” The couple say “Auguri” and offer to take a photo of me standing next to my bike. Pride comes before a fall warns the inner voice.
A man on a racing bike stops to tell us about cycling 800 kms in Siberia and raves on about something which I can’t quite follow. The couple tell him that “this Signora” nodding at me, “has just completed 1000 kms from Rome”.
The man changes direction and says he is going my way. He rides off ahead of me shouting about all his cycling accomplishments. He stinks. Following in his wake leaves me wafting through a cloud of body odour. I do my best to overtake and shake him off by surging forward when the track is clear, but he hangs at my side. E-bikes are fabulous but the battery only assists you up to 24 kms per hour. Beyond that it’s up to your own pedal power. Eventually I get ahead and pump away at my pedals.
A beer garden packed with cyclists looks likes a good place to hide. I hurriedly park my bike amongst the hundreds of others and run inside. The bombastic man miraculously appears and offers me a drink. I gabble something about friends and plonk myself down on a bench next to a German couple who are eating lunch. They immediately understand the situation and play along. The man vanishes.
After nice lunch with the Germans, I turn out of the gate onto the road without checking. A speed-biker almost collides with me. We both swerve, but he screams curses at me. Quite demoralizing curses. Shaken up at first but then realise how lucky I was, what an important lesson without having to learn it the hard way. Negotiating speeding cyclists is another skill I must learn on these crowded cycle tracks. Gone are the long dreamy days on the dykes.
Soon I see ‘the man’ again, washing his shirt in the river.
He waves. I speed away.
The cycle path takes me into a thickly wooded area. I’m crunching along on the grit, nobody in sight, happily looking into the depths of the woods for a glimpse of an animal or bird. Suddenly the bombastic voice booms over my shoulder and I wobble with fright “Non devi preoccupare – don’t worry it is only another 4 kms of dirt before we get back on the tarred road”. He jabbers on and on. He says “Germans are harder than Carrera marble, I worked in Germany for five long years and never made a single friend.” No bloody wonder, I think.
I put my bike in turbo mode, rudely overtake him and go as fast as I can to the next town Prato Allo Stelvio. Turning in my seat to check behind me and nervously look in my rear-view mirror at intervals. Seem to have shaken him off.
A little way beyond Latsch, a pretty lake-side cafe beckons, set in a green garden just the type of place I like. Afternoon sun glimmering on the water. The perfect spot for a delicious Apfel Kuchen with a bowl of hot custard and an Einspänner coffee piled with whipped cream. Calories galore. A weeping willow tree gently trails her leaves in the breeze next to my table. I take a leisurely stroll along the lake shore and photograph some yellow poppies. Sit down on a bench in the sun for a while and smile at the children feeding the fish, enjoying thoughts of my grandchildren. Feeling a bit lonely about my one thousandth kilometre, so call Simon tell him, and also mention the man.
When I go back to my bike, up jumps bombastic man who was lying on the grass. He continues his vaunting. He wants to know if I’m married and where I’ll be staying tonight. It may be harmless goodwill, but he is intolerable and ruining my day with his smell and verbal diarrhea. I take a photo of him and send it to Simon. As I ride off he is at my side again, hovering like a fly. The pepper spray and a knife are in the handle-bar bag. I wonder if I should I take them out and keep them handy in my pocket?
Annoyance and anxiety tarnish what should be a glorious ride. The wind is coming down hard from the pass and it is difficult going head first into it. I ride off as fast as I can with bike on full power. It’s getting late and there are no riders on the track but I seem to have lost the bombast.
Coming up the hill into a quaint village called Clusio he rushes out from a side road across my path shouting “Ecco La”…. there she is!
“Oh no! Va via!” I shout… GO AWAY!
Switch the bike turbo mode again. Going as fast as I can up the swerving path. The track leads steeply up into a dark wood. Totally alone, my fibrillating heart makes me giddy.
I have booked a room for the night at Burgusio. The next village comes into view but relief is short-lived when I see the sign – Malles. Then I miss a turn which is hard to imagine considering the number of bike route signs. A woman with a pitchfork tells me to go back. Panic floods me when I realise my battery will run out before I reach the safety of Burgusio. The hideous man is hunting me down like a rabbit on this Alpine pass.
I pound desperately at my pedals, panting heavily with strain. The battery is set to ‘eco’ the lowest setting with only 1 km of battery power remaining. Will I make it? Probably not.
Miraculously a tower appears at the top of the slope, a sign of civilization. I can see the town ahead now as my battery runs out. Luckily it’s only a couple of hundred meters to go.
I rush into town to find the Garni apartment hotel with the help of the Google girl voice on my phone. Hoping the man isn’t watching me as I push the bike around to the back of the house to hide while I get my breath back. Then sneak around to ring the front door bell. Nobody answers. I call the number, and a young person answers “I will phone my mother, she is at the hotel but obviously did not hear the bell”. My nerves are on edge waiting like this in full view of the street. A few minutes later the door opens and a small dark woman allows me to scamper in.
71 kms today…uphill all the way.
See the route map here (not 100% accurate)