Day 9: Leaving Como and starting the ascent

Matt cycling on Lake Como

We awoke in Como to a very different picture: it was pouring rain! I’m not talking about a drizzle or even a normal rainfall; the heavens had opened up and were pounding down upon our tent, with strong winds to match.

Rain over Lake Como

Eventually, I needed to empty my bladder and brave the storm. I ran to the bathroom and quickly surveyed the situation along the way. Biking wasn’t happening any time soon. We were short on supplies and decided to go into town, in search of a bakery or cafe. Since it was Sunday, most places were closed. Wet and cold, we continued through the small town of Menaggio, until we finally found an open cafe with sandwiches and, more importantly, shelter.

Rain in Menaggio

The sandwiches didn’t turn out to be too great and everything was overpriced but we weren’t complaining. We dried ourselves as much as possible using the hand dryer in the bathroom, before paying and moving on. While we had been sheltering, we noticed the rain had finally stopped! Until then, we were working out how to pack up all our gear without getting it wet, preparing our minds for the wet ride ahead. Now, the possibility existed that we’d at least be able to pack under dry conditions. Great!

Although the rain had stopped, the wind was pretty strong. At the camp, which was quite close to the lake itself, the wind was pretty nuts. But wind is only wind. Cycling would be harder but it’s better than being wet.

Bert discovered the wind was actually a great way to dry the tent.

Bert drying the tent

We also met a Belgian couple in the morning and talked to them for a bit, while we dried and packed our things. They had a weather app with local projections, which actually showed the rain was over – and that it wouldn’t rain tomorrow either! They asked where we were going and when they found out we were going up and over the Alps, they thought we were a little crazy. They asked why we didn’t just go through the tunnels – turns out they were the crazy ones! The Alps had to be crossed! They were the raison d’être.

Belgian couple in Menaggio

We also talked some more with Manfried, the German from the night before. He seemd pretty bummed about the weather while it was raining but even though it was only wind now, he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get moving. I think he was trying to dry off in the sunlight. His plan was to go to the next lake over and see some things there. Maybe he wasn’t in any kind of hurry and just wanted to relax. We didn’t understand him either. The road was calling.

Manfried in Menaggio

Bikes packed in Menaggio

We got on the bikes and departed with our course laid in – straight to the Splügen Pass. We’d need to follow along the lake, cross over, and then continue up into the mountains. Progress was slow at first, as we fought the wind, but as the day went on, the weather turned beautiful and our pace quickened.

Menaggio to Campodolcino

Matt cycling on Lake Como

Along the way, nature called (as it always does before long) and we pulled over at a cafe. Bert took the opportunity to have a morning coffee and I grabbed an inappropriate-for-this-weather gelato.

Ice cream break

Not too long after, we crossed the bridge to the other side and began the journey deeper into the mountains. Lake Como was behind us and we were now fully enveloped by the Alps.

On the road to the Alps

Alps all around

Bertster and Mattster

The scenery was just incredible and, after filling our eyes with its beauty, we decided to look for a place with a view and somewhere to sit, so we could fill our stomachs before starting the day’s portion of the ascent.

Bert and bread

Bert and the Alps

By now, the weather was great and we were ready to take on the world. Despite the wind, it had been a relatively easy day of cycling so far and we had no doubt we could make some good progress on the mountain. Finally, we made it to the start of the climb to the Splügen Pass. Everything had led up to this moment: from our start in Marseille to the breakdown outside of Monaco to our amazing tour through Italy, we had finally arrived at our biggest challenge.

Splügen entrance

Splügen sign

The climbs were not bad at all. Sure, they got steep at the curves and the uphill never relented, but I really feel all our preparation had paid off big. This pass couldn’t defeat us and we passed each vertical metre with confidence and determination. Our early days of doubts were as far behind us as the Mediterranean.

Matt and the view of the Alps

Bert stopping for water

Bert on the road

We made it to the half-way point, where the camp in Campodolcino was located and proceeded through the small village to the other side, where the camp was located. At the entrance to the camp, a note was posted that said to go to the restaurant if reception was closed. We proceeded to the restaraunt, only to find another note: call this number if nobody is at the restaurant. An Italian couple (the only sign of life we had seen thus far) appeared and confirmed that nobody was in the camp to receive us. Luckily, a combination of English and broken Italian was enough to arrange our stay via the phone number. The camp owner told us to pitch our tent near the restaurant and that he’d come by tomorrow to collect the money.

The next priority was food. We asked the Italian couple for advice and they told us that we could find some restaurants if we travelled back into town – but they weren’t sure if the restaurants were open this late on a Sunday evening. Uh oh!

After a few minutes, they returned with an unexpected offer – they invited us to their trailer, to eat a warm meal with them!! Wow. I can’t think of finer reward for traveling all this way and climbing half a mountain than to experience a homecooked meal from some real Italians. We were blown away. They told us to shower first (we wondered if we smelled but probably they were just nice) and set up the tent and, after failing to agree amongst themselves upon how long it would take them to prepare the meal, they simply said they’d call us when the food was ready.

They invited us in to their small holiday home, which looked to us, after so many days of camping, like a palace. The main event was a simple pasta dish of spaghetti with tomatoes, topped with oil and cheese (of course). It was excellent. But they knew we weren’t full, so they offered up some bread with olive oil from Tuscany (their son-in-law worked in that field somehow). They also offered some tinned fish, which Bert ate up. Then he made us a salad with vegetables from his own garden at home! Everything was great, as you might expect from a nation of food masters.

The conversation was also great. Through a mix of broken English and broken Italian, we stumbled our way through a range of topics, mostly centred on travel. The man was retired and his wife, who worked at the Italian post office, was retiring in three years. They were somewhere around 60. He offered us some wine (one of those jugs in a basket), which Bert also happily accepted. I told him – to his horror – that I don’t drink alcohol. Bert calmed him down by promising to drink enough for the two of us. The Italian man then informed us that there are three important things in Italy: spaghetti, wine, and women. I tried to tell him that I make my own homemade pasta and that I am married but he seemed fixated on the lack of drinking.

Later, the conversation turned to sports. Bert started going on about football (soccer) and asked him some things too boring to remember. Eventually, the man asked me what I thought about football. Disappointing him again, I informed him I don’t know anything. “What? No alcohol? No sports? No women?” I don’t know where the no women thing came from but everyone had a good laugh at my expense.

Finally, the food was all finished and the evening was coming to a close. Some would say it might be time for sleep but, for Italians, it’s time for coffee (this is where my mom shows her Italian side). Bert was afraid to accept at first, until he realised they also planned to have coffee. As for me, it was time to disappoint our host once again. “What? No alcohol, no sports, no women, and no coffee???” I really feel like my homemade pasta skills and Sicilian ancestry should have scored me more points but it seems my reputation on this mountain is ruined forever.

We thanked our hosts profusely and wished them good night. Before we left, they recommended that we buy a local alpine meat from the village for breakfast. Outside, it was dark and much colder than we had gotten used to from within the palatial residence of our most recent Italian guardian angels. We quickly did our chores, brushed our teeth, and curled up in all our layers, to get some sleep for the final climb.

Did you miss a previous day’s tales or are you looking for an easy overview? Then check out the European Biking Tour 2019 page to get a list of all the days and reports from me and Bert!

2 thoughts on “Day 9: Leaving Como and starting the ascent

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