The Dolomites: Moos    July 2017    homepage pix 3493 Looking at our hiking areas from across the valley in which Moos is located.

“Oh, So That’s The Problem”
Great Hiking But Crummy Accommodations
Sesto-Moos are 2 merged villages at the end of the dramatic Sexten Tal, a valley encircled by in-your-face, massive, dolomitic peaks that shoot up from the earth like rockets. We hiked from there 7 years ago and took about the last room in town, which was a challenging bit of attic space. Bill was driven to return, recognizing that our now significantly improved hiking endurance would give us access to many stunning trails that were literally out of reach before.

Even booking months in advance, we again ended up with regrettable accommodations in Moos. This time an apartment, it was even worse than Bill had feared. The daylight basement apartment was frustratingly damp. Even our quick drying technical clothes didn’t dry overnight—nothing ever felt dry while we were there. 

Hiking up about 3500' from Moos (instead of our usual route from Cortina) to Drei Zinnen & its namesake hut.
Not surprisingly, the smell of ‘muffa’ (the cute Italian word for 'mold’) was constantly in the air. I felt extremely lucky that the muffa didn’t kick-off my allergies, but the penetrating smell beneath our headboard added to my restless first night’s sleep. In the morning, I managed to create a baffle with my duvet to isolate that one source of odor for the rest of our stay. 

Only after 3 nights of tepid to cold showers and 2 fruitless visits by the plumber, were we allowed to bathe in a spare shower room. Unfortunately, the motion sensitive light in the tiny, windowless room was erratic at best and I settled for showering with the door ajar. And why not put a proper bed instead of a folding couch in an apartment? And who would have thought a full kitchen wouldn’t have even a little freezer box in the frig? We loved the hikes, we loved the grand view from our apartment patio, but we were at war with life in our overpriced lodging.

On The Bright Side
In contrast, our first hike from Moos this year quickly vied for #1 on our all-time list of favorites and Bill immediately began visualizing a return visit. There were so many grand trails available to us now and he wanted to do them all but “Where to stay?” was the deal breaker. After 2 riding days and 2 long hiking days, we opted for a relative rest day in search of apartments for next time.

With a lodging booklet from the tourist bureau in hand, we began our quest for a significant upgrade. Our first door-knocking stop made the situation crystal clear: the hostess had 3 apartments in her building, with 1 being available for 1 week in July 2018 and a second that was open for 1 week in August of 2018. We were flabbergasted: she was almost fully booked more than a year in advance. 

The next place was already fully booked for summer 2018. The less desirable, third place, had openings for July only.  And yet another would only make reservations at the end of August after this summer’s guests got their first dibs. Another owner had 3 lovely new properties, all significantly more than double the price of first apartment we toured. After ruling out yet another, we returned to our first preview stop and paid the 100 Euro cash deposit for more than a year in advance and felt lucky to have it. A last name was all she put on her calendar: no first name, no phone number, no e-address, just a name in pencil.

Leaving Drei Zinnen behind: for scale, check out the people on the near trail.
Coincidentally, Bill had, for the first time ever, lacked the starting kernels for the next summer’s tour and instantly, they appeared. Within seconds of being given our scant looking receipt, he began roughing out a biking and hiking itinerary for August 2018 that pivoted around obscure, little, Moos. 

Knowing that we would finally have a pleasing, convenient place to stay on our 3rd visit to Moos made enduring the rest of the week in our icky apartment more tolerable. It was delightful to visualize riding into town knowing exactly where our apartment was and that we wouldn’t be pedaling or pushing our bikes up a steep hill. Being a couple of blocks from the market would be wonderful, as would having a proper refrigerator with a freezer compartment. And being on the 2nd story would guarantee that we wouldn’t feel damp or be sharing our space with muffa.

Even though it was our second hiking visit to Moos, every trail this year was new to us. Our exercise capacity had increased so much in the intervening years that it was like being at an entirely new venue. And no wonder we hadn’t done these routes before: they were wickedly steep. Several days we hiked for 6 to 8 hours and averaged only about 1 mile per hour. Via ferrata routes are always slow but the real time suck was the near-vertical drop nature of many of the trails. Deep step-downs or ups on jagged rocks just can’t be rushed. The image of doing a faceplant and then rolling endlessly downhill was never far from my mind. No matter how anxious we were to get off the trail, every step had to be right.

Expanding Our Minds
In May, Bill took the leap and bought us the pricey, audio, Pimsleur Italian language course. He was apprehensive that it won't be good fit for us but we were both frustrated by our inability to take our self-directed studies to the conversational level. To his amazement, it was an instant, stunning success for both of us.

From Moos: Ladders provide a welcome rest on a via ferrata.
I am severely handicapped and am nearly incapable of learning anything solely through my auditory channel. I’m almost exclusively a visual learner and have always done poorly with foreign languages. When learning brand new material, I literally must write it out or see it in my mind. So, when listening to Pimsleur’s Italian, I’m busy spelling out every sound and writing it on my mental blackboard. I see conjugation tables as well. 

One letter at a time is a painfully slow way to learn. Of course, once I have reasonable command of the material, I no longer look to my blackboard—well, maybe a peek now and then. Pimsleur’s course worked for me because I already knew how to spell almost all of the words used and for the unfamiliar ones, I could sound them out well enough to find them in our electronic dictionary. Bill, in contrast, is at his best when learning by listening.

The timing was perfect for introducing Pimsleur into our lives. We were ‘in residence’ at our apartment in May and we listened while on the floor in the morning doing our exercises and during our 30 minute climbs to nowhere on our vertical climber. We listened to every lesson 2 to 3 times and did as many as 5 run-throughs on the most difficult material.

Predictably, our SW Coast Path experience weeks later in England lacked the level of intellectual stimulation we needed, so we listened to multiple repetitions of the 30 minute sessions a day. Like in New Zealand years ago, where the lack of cultural contrast to our own had us longing for more for our minds to latch onto, our Italian studies again soared.

Interestingly, once in the Dolomites, we’d neglect our studies for days on end. Some days we were so fully engaged with the magnificent panoramas that the language study was an intrusive distraction. And we quickly learned that we lacked the brain power and ability to vocalize on steep ascents, so our studies were largely limited to easier going access trails at the beginning and end of each hike.

Bill had diligently studied German almost every night for more than 10 of our travel years but dropped the practice a couple of years ago. He kindly switched to only studying Italian so we had more shared activity time. But the thought of doing the Pimsleur German course delighted him. Doing so would keep his language skills alive, would allow him to refine them further, and it wouldn’t be at all taxing for him, unlike the Italian studies. 

Off the wire & into the cold clouds for a long descent - dinner was late that night.
To keep himself from straying, Bill vowed to put the German studies off until he’d gotten farther through what would be at least a 6 month course of Italian. But after our second week in Italian valleys where our hosts and merchants were insistent upon speaking German, the plan changed. (When I ordered chicken breasts from the Moos butcher in Italian, she came around from behind the counter to instruct me in the proper German pronunciation.) I suggested he jump on the German now while he was actually using it. 

The simultaneous, bilingual study project was intended for Bill, but I decided to join in, at least for a while. I knew that my hopelessly visual-only learning style would quickly grind my German studies to a halt, but at least I could start. I knew enough German words and enough about the pronunciation issues so as not to be overwhelmed on Day 1. I also counted on Bill to control my frustration by providing spelling tips for my visual blackboard.

Lucky for me, Pimsleur Deutsch was very slow, precise, and methodical with the difficult German pronunciation of common words. That kept the performance pressure much lower than with the Italian course, at least in the beginning. I found I actually liked the way my brain felt from the challenge of the careful repetitions of the guttural sounds. My 50 word vocabulary and years of hearing the odd sounds helped too. We were instantly off and running, challenging our brains with both Italian and German lessons almost every day.

Almost all of the Dolomites are bilingual with Italian and German and by studying both languages at the same time, we’d demand that our brains be more nimble like the locals that we envied. I always have loved the fact that I could mix the German and Italian words that I knew in a sentence when in the Dolomites and no one would bat an eye—anything was tolerated to communicate in this region. Our Moos plumber even went a step further when describing our shower faucet as “kaputt-o”—it was the German “kaputt” with a typical Italian vowel on the end.

Lucifer Had His Way With Us
Despite the BBC's TV weather map indicating persistent clouds and rain over the eastern Italian Alps where we were located the first week in August, we were wilting under the continent’s current heat wave nicknamed Lucifer. While we read reports of the extraordinary 100+ degree days back home in the Pacific NW, Rome was topping them with 113 degrees and water shortages. Sleep was eluding the heat-weary on both continents with overnight lows staying above 80 degrees. As best we could determine, our highs weren't much over  90 degrees but unusually, the midday humidity was almost as high, even in the mountains.

WWI barracks timbers at a via ferrata trailhead on a high saddle.
Our latest 5 day cycling stint between hiking venues coincided with the peak of the heat wave. We survived the first day, which was only in the 80’s, but Bill briefly succumbed to Lucifer’s perils on the second day. He was overheating without realizing it. 

Bill rather abruptly started complaining about being too hot but it was the “I don’t want to pedal any faster” that got my attention. He thought if we pedaled slowly that he could carry on and finish the last few miles for the day without any trouble. In the lead, I had picked up the speed a tad for the welcome, cooling breeze it created but it was overwhelming him. That was flashing neon alert for me because I have significantly less heat tolerance with exertion than Bill does. 

I insisted that we stop in our tracks, which luckily, was at a place likely to have a public spigot and it did.  He chugged a quart of cold water and splashed some on his head and saturated his socks with it for prolonged cooling. Bill recovered quite quickly and immediately understood he’d underestimated the extent of his overheating and dehydration. I activated a neck cooler I had handy, which he wore for the remainder of the ride. 

The conditions were far worse the next day and I barely finished under (mostly) my own power. That day, we stopped for groceries in the late morning and I was alarmed that it took me 15-20 minutes to cool down in the shade after only about 40 minutes of riding. I’d become overheated on the 10% grades on the last of it in the soaring heat and humidity. I took my slow recovery as a shot across the bow and knew I needed to be careful the remainder of the short day.

After my glowing success in charging up Passo Gardena like never before 3 weeks prior, this time, I was a mess. My leg muscles had cooled down too much during the shopping stop, which also added pounds to both of our bikes, and I immediately began overheating with the resumed climbing effort. Minutes into this, our second pedaling session of the day, I was drooped over my handlebars at a brief rest stop, wondering if I’d make it. My core was overheated before my leg muscles had warmed up. It was less than 4 miles to the pass, but it was posted at 10% grades. 

Had the grades truly only been 10%, it would have been a different story. But digging deep to power up even brief stretches of 15% or more grade is always a gargantuan effort and one that produces a massive surge in internal heat. 

Civetta from Zoldo Alto: soon we'd be hiking up to the saddles between these peaks.
We’d pedal for perhaps 2 minutes and then I’d have to stop again to catch my breath and cool a tad. I pushed myself to my limit over and over again to make it to a slice of shade or a more favorable bit of banking on a curve that would prevent completely sapping my energy reserves on the next start. I used all of my hard won tricks to motivate, steady, and cool myself so as to keep going.

Bill cheerfully announced that we had about a half mile to go to the pass. I organized myself to remount after yet another pause in the shade, looked over to what surely was surely more 10+% grades, and then did another internal assessment. I’d been carefully monitoring myself when pedaling and knew that I was approaching an edge where it didn’t feel safe to be on the bike. I noted I was still sweating, which was a good indicator of not being in heat stroke, but I was still concerned. When I rallied to kick my leg up and over the back of my bike, I announced that it was over and replaced my foot on the ground. I didn’t feel safe to be on my bike—it was a sensation pattern I’d never felt before.

I had some validation that something new was amiss when I began pushing my bike because I still had enough strength to push, which is actually harder than riding. Bill helped me push and was also surprised that weakness and weariness wasn’t the issue but regardless, Lucifer had ground me.

We were both astonished that after I and we had pushed my bike to a rare flat spot, that I was then able to pedal the last bit to the pass. Amazingly, I was steady and confident and pedaled with my customary ability on a final segment of 10% grades. It had taken us, because of my distress, 2 hours to travel less than 4 miles.

Mt Pelmo: another day, another saddle.
Within minutes of arriving at the pass, I recognized that my ‘fever’ had broken. It took another hour or 2 to fully make sense of it: it was the combination of extreme heat, extreme humidity, and high-output, demanding grades that had sunk me. We’d had to cope with one or 2 of those elements many, many times but this was likely a first for all 3 concurrently being so extreme and it was the humidity that was really unusual in the Dolomites.  In hindsight, it seemed that somewhere along the stretch of road where I was again able to ride, that all 3 of the depleting elements had probably diminished just enough to revive me and I almost instantly felt nearly normal.

Just like our hand washed laundry that hadn’t dried on the warm night before because of the extraordinarily high humidity, my sweat wasn’t drying fast enough to cool me on the ride. While we enjoyed our late lunch before a magnificent panorama of peaks in the shade, it was clear that I had indeed maintained my hydration and electrolyte replacement but I just couldn't self-cool under the combined stresses.

Despite my miserable athletic performance, I was pleased with myself. More important than the ‘failure’ of having been reduced to pushing, I’d managed myself as best as could be done under the conditions and had correctly interpreted my first-ever “time to get off the bike” sensations. With that realization, I declared it a draw between Lucifer and me.

Bang! And It Was Over.
The 5th of our 5 riding days in Lucifer’s heat wave ended with a bang. We rode the 5th morning like the previous 4, immediately drenched from sweaty rivulets on our heads and under our sun protective clothes and then Lucifer morphed. Lucifer's heat wave became a massive thunderstorm, complete with thunder rumbling continuously for minutes at a time.

The thick, dark clouds looked ready to soak us in an instant while we furiously pedaled up the last rise to our holiday apartment in the Pecol village of Zoldo Alto. Past experience told us that we’d be pitifully wet by the time we unloaded our bikes. Arriving at 12:45 pm and reading that the office was closed until 4 or 4:30, depending upon which sign you read, didn’t help matters. 

Trying to deflect us, the non-English speaking housekeeper who wandered through the lobby and pointed out the opening hours, shrugged her shoulders when I said in rough Italian “We are on bikes, we have no car.” Totally unexpectedly, she quickly reversed her position when I asked “Is there a toilet we can use?” She pointed to the toilet and then checked us in. We were both thrilled and in shock by her instantaneous flip-flop.

Safely down off the difficult saddle for lunch & reminiscing about favorite Dolomite peaks in the distance.
The roiling black clouds over Civetta, the 10,500’ peak in the nearby mountain cluster, made it even more imposing and yet there still was no rain. We quickly unloaded the bikes, tucked them away in a ski room, and hauled our wooden dining table onto the planked patio beneath Civetta. Yes! Another picnic in an “auspicious” place, which is our daily aspiration.

We’d finished eating when the first giant raindrops landed on us and we promptly scooted our heavy furniture inside. Minutes later, sheeting rain and strong wind was flashing the lighter colored, undersides of the deciduous tree leaves; giant conifers were bending in perilous angles with their spindly branches looking like they were caught in a blender; and we again and again cheered our good fortune in watching the violent storm from indoors.

Bill had planned seemingly ridiculously low mileage days for the last 3 of our 5 biking days but they again turned out to be perfect distances, especially because of the heat wave. Day #5 was a mere 4.5 miles. We both wince with embarrassment when he plans these mini-rides into our itinerary but we have learned the hard way that they can be inspired looking when actually on the road. Bill errs on the short side when lodging opportunities are sparse and then there are the wild cards, like my broken ribs last summer and this summer's heat wave.

Our original criteria 17 years ago was to get 2 hours of exercise a day and we finished those 4.5 miles in a little under 2 hours on the last riding day to Pecol. But on the road this day I reframed it: it wasn’t just cycling for 2 hours, it was 2 hours of interval training. Riding a loaded bike on 10% grades continuously, or in a series of start-stops as we did, qualifies as an intense cardio workout.

On To San Martino
After exploring the high trails on the big mountains Civetta and Pelmo from Pecol in Zoldo Alto, we’d be in transit for 4 days by bike, including 1 rest day. San Martino would be our next hiking venue. Like Moos, we’d hiked there once before, but we were different animals now and so it would effectively be a new hiking venue for us.

The heat and humidity were enough lower for this riding binge to make a difference. A few clouds one day, higher winds on another, and having the only thunderstorm occur on our 1 day off the bikes kept our distress levels down. The final riding day however, turn out to be a challenging “multi-sport” day of pedaling on asphalt, then gravel; pushing up 25+% grades; and then pushing with 2-to-a-bike, without panniers. But of course, we had no choice but to make it and we did in reasonable style.