Once we had arrived in Italy we really wanted to travel the Dolomiti region for Via Ferrata. With multiple high passes over 2000m, we decided to put the bikes in a rental car for a few days and head east from Bolzano. The added advantage in having a car was that we could lie the front seats down and each have a bed for the night. Particularly useful for avoiding cold alpine nights in a tent.
Our first night we freedom camped in the Cortina d’Ampezzo carpark. There were several campervans there and another car, so we assumed it was fine. The Polizi came at 11pm, shinning a torch in through the frond windscreen. Startled, we went to make an exit, but they just walked off unfazed. Again, at 2am, the Cabaneriri (another name for police, not sure if we are still speaking both German and Italian in this part) came and did the same, waking us from our sleep.
Having enough of the intrusions and the lack of facilities you would expect in a town, we opted for a secluded spot near the end of the ski run at Rifugio XXX XXX. Hidden behind a row of trees, a stack of blue pipes and a few campervans we struck gold. In the morning the camper offered us tea and coffee. We even had access to free Wi-Fi from the refuge!
Returning the next night after a hard 8 hours of climbing, we drove into our new favourite spot. However, tonight the convoy of campers was not there. We set up camp all the same, took the bikes out to make space and locked them to the blue pipes.
A rude awakening
I woke at 2am to a low groan. It sounded a lot like a cow at first, but only the first part of a deep moo. With no high pitch and no follow through. Trying to get back asleep, I listened a bit more. Shit! No. That’s a bear! I woke Tamson. “There is a bear outside”. Tam rolled over. Mumbled a few words and largely ignored the noise. I gave her a prod. “Tam, there is a bear outside!”. That got her attention. She sat up. “That’s just a cow. You’re being too scared of noises again”. Then, the bear let out a big throaty growl followed by a few grunts. That got her attention.
“Shit, that is a bear! I didn’t know they had them here!” Tam took to the web, quickly searching if there were any bears in the Dolomites, if they were dangerous and what they ate. For the record, there are bears here; about 50 odd, they have mauled a few runners and largely they eat berries and insects. Unless hungry, then they eat small animals. Small must be a relative term…
The bear continued to roar. Was it mating season? It is Autumn. That’s when the stags usually roar. I wound down the window and answered the call with a roar of my own. I’m not usually an animal ventriloquist, but I was surprised with my own vocals. Not sure if I made the noise of an angry rival, a wounded friend, or a mate on heat. Regardless, I got a direct response.
There was a roar a lot louder and the bear came a lot closer. We couldn’t see through the treeline, but our best guess was about 30 metres. It must have been huge too!!! Tam was in hysterics – telling me to toot the horn, hit the hazard lights, start the engine. Anything to scare the bear away. I was pretty confident in the car being bear proof (not roadworthy, but that is another story) and had a good laugh at Tam being in a petrified state. It kept getting closer and we couldn’t see through the dark and fogged up mirrors. It continued to talk to us until around 4am, when I managed to get back to sleep and Tam eventually did too…
At first light Tam was inspecting the gravel for bear prints. We never got close enough for a photo, but happy that it never got to that (especially for car insurance purposes). We watched a few retiree hikers prepare and amble off along the path and into the woods. We considered advising them of the bear, but ended up just hoping they made the right noises…