The final day in the Alps was definitely a two banana day. I spent a solid five hours crossing checkpoint 2 by passing over the Strada dell’Assietta, an old military road that leads over a few peaks and along a mountain ridge for 30 miles of dirt, rocks, and gravel. As luck would have it, a stinging cold rain came through and fell throughout much of the day during what had already promised to be one of the hardest legs of the race.
Shivering and sniffeling my way up muddy gravel slopes, I often had to dismount after losing traction on steeper sections. At one point a group of three mountain bikers passed me in the opposite direction, exclaiming something in Italian while staring wide eyed and pointing at the skinny 25mm road tires kicking up mud beneath my bike. Miraculously, I avoided even a single flat, converting me into a lifelong advocate of H Plus Son Rims and Specialized Armadillo tires. No doubt the decision to drop tire pressure by 20 PSI for traction and flat-protection also helped.
The only other person I saw for the duration of the crossing was a weathered old man who had somehow hauled a small RV up one section of the road. Unfortunately, I met his dogs first. I’d been trundling along for well over an hour when two oversized mountain dogs came bounding toward me out of the fog. It was surreal enough to wonder whether I could trust my eyes, but by then the leader of the two had closed in with a menacing growl. My lungs were already wheezing from the thin air at elevation, but I forced myself to accelerate. This was little use, as I immediately lost control riding over the uneven terrain. Fortunately the dogs’ owner shouted out in the distance and the beasts receded back into the fog. I checked my speed and continued on my way.
After 30 miles, the Strada ends by dropping you down the Colle delle Finestre, an iconic winding dirt track that switchbacks into a valley as far as the eye can see (on a clear day, when fog isn’t limiting the view to 10 feet ahead). Though the poor weather meant I missed the ideal photo opportunity, I did get a couple of shots when the fog cleared for a moment.
Eventually the Colle delle Finestre joins a paved road that whips you through a series of turns in a thick forest. Occasional gaps in the trees offer glimpses of distant Italian towns in the valley below:
20+ consecutive switchbacks lead you down to the town of Susa:
By evening I’d dropped out of the rainy Alps and logged 40 more miles for dinner in Turin, the temperature rising a couple of degrees every few miles along the way. I’m relieved to be finished with that challenging stage of the trip but already missing the alpine scenery. My ride across Northern Italy continues tomorrow…