I knew nothing about Passo Gavia beforehands. I thought it was just another mountain pass I had to cross to get to my real destination, Stelvio Pass. That’s why I preferred to hitchhike. On the way up my driver Augustin told me it was a legendary Giro d’Italia climb. When the route goes through Gavia, it’s usually the highest point of the race.
As the van climbed the narrow road to above the treeline, I gasped at the views. Near the top the landscape was a combination of grey rock and green moss and grass. Nothing else growed there. It reminded me a lot of the mountain above Geiranger. At the top I took my bike out of the van and went to explore the foggy evening. Almost right away a mountain goat appeared, casually crossing the road.
I didn’t know camping wasn’t allowed, so I put my tent near a mountain biking path behind the beautiful Lake Nero, 220 meters down from the top. No one else was around, I had the entire mountain to myself. For the first time in a long, long time I felt the peace and freedom that only seems available in places like these. I had almost forgotten just how important this kind of wilderness is to me. Why do I spend so little time in locations that feed my imagination? Cycling through all those densely populated areas in Europe seemed like a bad idea in retrospect.
The next morning I met an Austrian hiker called Andi. He had previously done a long bike trip in South America, and spoke highly of Patagonia. There’s another place I would love to spend a lot of time in. We shared similar views on trekking and life, and ended up talking for some time. Later after a lunch I pushed my bike back onto the road, and Andi appeared with his car. He offered to take my bags up to the bar on Gavia so I could cycle the tough last hairpins with a lighter load. I agreed gladly.
At the bar I got quite a welcome from the staff. “Finlandia! Around the world bicycle! Five years!” My new friend had told everyone I was coming. The owner took a photo of me for Facebook and even went to fetch his old mother to see me. I just laughed somewhat uncomfortably, as I tend to do when faced with too much sudden attention.
A thunderstorm engulfed the mountain as soon as I arrived, with very heavy rain that morphed into hail. Without Andi’s help I would’ve been stuck outside during the worst of it. Lucky again!
I spent another night at Gavia, then freewheeled all the way down to restock and rest in a camping ground for a night. When I tried to come back up from Ponte di Legno, I discovered that it was the first day ever that the mountain was closed for motor traffic! So much for hitchhiking. This time I had to get up on my own. I cycled maybe 10% of the way and pushed the rest. Passing road cyclists showed a lot of respect for someone crazy enough to attempt the climb with so much luggage. Yet probably every single one of them was in better shape than me.
It took all day, but at 2620 meters there was a great sense of achievement. I learned I was capable of more than I thought. This was good to know, and useful practice for future climbs. The Pamir Highway goes up to 4500m for example, if I end up going that way.
After three days on Gavia, I finally went over to the north side of the pass. I descended a few hundred meters to an Agriturismo (a kind of farmhouse B&B), where I asked for a place to camp without high hopes. But the family running the place was extremely friendly. Furthermore, they had plenty of private land that wasn’t a part of the national park, so I finally had a safe and legal place to sleep.
I stayed another two nights just enjoying the mountain views and doing a little bit of hiking. This is another way in which I’m incredibly lucky. To have so much free time and the ability to spend it in locations like this. That is something I should never forget to be grateful for.
PS: There's a few more photos in my article about Gavia for bicycle tourers.