We wake up early, as usual, and we prepare the tour: breakfast, clothes, water bottles, supplements, navigator, tires pumping. We start brushed by the last moments of fresh air, towards Valtellina, with our noses up that follow the white mountains crests. We go up at altitude facing the gentle slope of the Aprica mountain Pass, we are on the top without even realizing it; after the first week of trial stage we already feel properly trained. And even today the latecomers campers will eat our dust, since they’re lost in Camonica Valley working on their computers.
After passing on the other side of the mountain we enjoy the hot panoramic descent in Valtellina, a few weeks ago these roads were traveled by the Giro d'Italia; in a moment we are in Tirano in front of the basilica, two meters away there are the little railroad tracks. We get the tickets, offered by the Rhaetian Railway; there is the rest stop and we wait there for the camper, lying baking in the sun.
Finally Marco and Alessandro arrive on the Van Mac, they park looking for some shade. On the rest stop there are no bathrooms, we have to create a shower: wearing underwear we go at the point of discharge of waste water, we soap ourselves and we wash with tap water, like louts savages, how nice!
The camper makes its way through the traffic just outside the train station. The Rhaetian Railway is celebrating this year, 2010, the centenary of his birth. Since 1910 this small and powerful means used to go on the snow of Bernina mountain Pass even in winter, reaching 2,253 meters of altitude and it used to pass on the other side of the mountain, after many hairpin turns and tunnels, in the wide valley of St. Moritz, in Engadina.
It is amazing to think that even at the time the locomotive was with electric traction. Technology aside, the train has not changed much in a hundred years and, while the rails gently follow the mountainside on the way up, we leave the crowns of beeches and hornbeams, Lake Poschiavo and the Italian border. Spruces first and then larches observe our silent ascent.
We reach the first snow. The view is spectacular and ever-changing. The train proceeds without difficulty on the climbs that reach up to 7% gradient. At the top we go along the lake Bianco, an expanse of water that melts only few days a year. Outside we see the cold wind blowing hard against the thin bushes and undergrowth of the mountain pass. Inside, sit in our armchairs, at a constant temperature, and with the windows that separate us from that extreme environment, we watch - almost alienated - the show that it offers us.
In a short time we are in St. Moritz, in and out: after ten minutes we start to retrace the way back. Before returning in Valtellina, in Poschiavo, we stop for an interview with Paolo Sterli, director of the Rhaetian Railway, who explains us the many aspects that have brought this route to become UNESCO heritage site: pioneering technology, development, respect for the landscape, socio-cultural integration, respect for the locals.
On the way back we set our stuff inside the camper and we eat a lot, already enthusiastic for tomorrow’s challenge: climbing the Bernina mountain Pass, up to 2,253 meters of altitude; instead to fear we are already excited!
The Bernina, again! This time we are riding our bikes. The fearful Bernina, almost 1,900 meters of difference in height; the road gets even higher than the railroad, up to 2328 meters. This is the hardest test: the highest and the further north stage throughout the entire trip, one long stretch, with little rests and a constant slope, it’s exhausting. We start and we are cheerful, but the climb, immediately, strengthen our legs; we eat tons of energy bars to replenish carbohydrates and to avoid a crisis. The camper follows us, then it surpass us, then it waits for us; we do not know exactly who is struggling the most, if we or it, its baritone sound is unmistakable, it surpasses just faster than us, leaving in the air the typical Alpine smell of cooked engine.
The last kilometers are terrible, high altitude cold and wind freeze our legs and our arrogance, every ride is a conquest, slowly we get to that last hairpin turn up there, that minute by minute, is no longer a mirage.
A few meters from the top we reach two French stuck on the asphalt, we get to know each other between the spasms and triumphantly we pass on the other slope of the mountain together. Alessandro and Marco, in the rest stop, have turned the camper into a mountain hut; we celebrate with a hot tea to the French-Italian conquest of the Swiss mountain pass. They tell us about their journey: they took the train from Grenoble to Trieste, now they are going through the Alps with the aim to arrive in Cote d'Azur, in a few weeks. We say good bay you and we wish good luck to each other, "au revoir."
On the other slope of the mountain the fields are blooming, they are surrounded by woods and crowded with cows or sheep. We arrive at 1800 meters of altitude, between the five starts hotels pointed roofs, in the luxurious St Moritz. We are surrounded by very high and snowy mountains. We find the camping and we sit inside the Van Mac. The hardest challenge is done!
The ride towards Italy, from here, seems all downhill.
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