Hurricane adventure!

Anyone who made it all the way to the end of my last post might be wondering how Ride the Hurricane went. (Or not, that’s ok too.)

TLDR version: we had a strong ride up, a cautious descent in pouring down rain, and the planned second trip up was unanimously vetoed.

Full version (with explanations or excuses, your choice): we arrived in Port Angeles Saturday evening to lovely weather with just enough picturesque clouds to hint that the next day’s forecast rain on Hurricane Ridge might actually materialize. Light scattered showers in the am, with heavier rain, possibly thunderstorms, after 11am.

Or so the forecast read.

Since we were planning to ascend twice, we got a pretty good start on the morning, though unlike RAMROD or STP, our alarm was not set for a time that began with a 3. That was nice. As we drove to the start, the rain started. Big, wet raindrops.

We started up the climb at 7:30, with a fair amount of our rain gear already on, rather than in the pockets and seatbags that we had so carefully packed them in. It was pretty balmy at the start, and given how much bicycling uphill warms you up, I was actually enjoying the rain–I would have been wet from sweating regardless. The rain felt refreshing to me, and made the air clean, cool, and damp, which is so much nicer to breathe than dusty, hot, and dry.

One of the great things about the Hurricane Ridge climb is the constantly evolving series of vistas–town, water, flowers, forests, hills, mountains. For example, a view from the ride:

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Our view on Ride the Hurricane 2016

Actually I jest. One, there was no way I was bringing out my phone or camera in the pouring down rain. Two, even though the blank whiteness of inside a cloud was all we could see at some viewpoints, there were a couple that had a really lovely impressionistic fading away of hill ridges receding into the mist.

The cloud bank that we rode up into also served to make a familiar climb new again. Without being able to see up the road, we’d get to a corner and exclaim “this section already?!?” One section towards the top that isn’t my favorite because you can see for a ways and it never feels to me like I am making much progress just flew by.

So yeah, I actually enjoyed doing the climb in the (earlier than forecasted) rain.

Then we got to go back down. Though the temperature at the start was a pleasant 60 degrees or so, it was low 40’s at the top. Between sweat and rain, I was thoroughly soaked. Luckily, much of what I was wearing was wool, which retains insulative capacity when wet–but still… I had a couple more layers that I put on, including the high-tech marvel of a free hotel shower-cap over my helmet–something I picked up from a certain Andy Hampsten who knows a little something about cycling in inclement weather.

But there was no way to get around the fact that the descent would be cold and wet. And despite our rain gear, it would be a bit colder and wetter than we had planned for.

We rode our brakes all the way down, going slower just so that the windchill factor would be less. We also stopped several times to restore feeling to our hands. And at the bottom, we were in agreement that there would not be a second ascent.

Actually, I should rephrase that, as a second ascent would have been welcome for the warmth it would provide. Rather, there would not be a second descent.

So, it feels a little silly to be wimping out in bad weather during our training to ride the Dolomites with Andy Hampsten, someone who has ridden through much worse than a little rain… But it was really quite wet out. And cold, with that heavy humidity that brings the chill right into your bones. And perhaps a 5,000′ climb still counts for something?

Plus, I figured that all the extra muscle engagement that I was doing on the descent to try to create some warmth was more work than I would usually get on this ride, so it was kinda like doing the climb more than just the once? Sure.

At any rate, after the fact I’m glad I did it. During the ride, I really did enjoy the climb, and now that I am warm again, the descent makes a good story and allows me to indulge in feeling a little badass for being out riding in such conditions at all. And it continues to be amazing to ride that road car-free. This year, the peaceful patter of raindrops was part of what made the ascent enjoyable–something you can’t enjoy in the same way when it’s constantly interrupted by the roar of the internal combustion engine.

Performance-wise, I felt pretty good on the ascent (seriously–I’ll take ascending in the cold and rain over ascending in sun and 90 degree heat any day.) The four times I’ve gone up that climb, my times have been very close to each other. This year was definitely the most weight I’ve ever carried up the climb, considering the amount of clothing I was wearing and its water-logged state (seriously, that was one amazingly heavy pile of laundry), so I’m pleased with having a time comparable to my summer-weather ascents. Despite fewer miles this year, I am at least hanging on to fitness, maybe even slightly improving? And I’ve got to figure a lot of character growth for riding up and down a mountain in the driving rain…

August in the Pacific Northwest. There’s nothing like it.

 

STP, RAMROD, ETC

Well, the year continues to be non-ideal in terms of enough time for bicycle training. That’s the bad news–but the good news is that I do at least seem to be maintaining fitness alright, and having occasional moments of strength that make me wonder what I could be doing if I actually were putting in some serious training.

The year being less than ideal for training has also made it less than ideal for blogging. (And don’t even ask my parents or friends if they’ve seen me recently.) At any rate, here’s some sort of something post.

STP

This was year number 6, and I’m starting to feel like I can really do this ride. Because I know when my lows are, it’s easier for me to ride through them, and know they’re a normal, temporary thing, rather than a sign of impending doom. Correspondingly, I know when my highs are, and look forward to going for broke in those sections.

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It’s important to stay fueled on a ride like STP!

This year I especially enjoyed getting to Highway 30 in Oregon. I did a (for me) monster pull into St Helens–20 miles at about 20mph. (Note that for some of the really big muscular guys who excel at riding on the flat, this would not be impressive. But for me, 150 miles into the day, it’s darn tootling awesome.) By the time we got to St Helens, I had acquired some grateful passengers, and was feeling pretty good about myself. And also feeling ready to softpedal for a while. The ice-cold Coca Cola I had at that rest stop was one of the most delicious things I have had in a while.

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Off-the-bike stretching feels so good…

One thing that has morphed over the years on STP is that I have gone from resenting every time the road turns uphill, to being grateful for it. Especially if we’re in a group, I usually have to work way harder to stay with them on the flat than on the hills. This year, every time the road turned uphill, I had a sense of “thank goodness, this is something I can do.” Too bad the ride is so flat…

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The post-ride shower is about as awesome as life gets!

(As a side note, that has been one of the great things about this Dolomites journey. In the course of my daily cycling–or things like STP–I’m just no longer intimidated by hills. I no longer have the voice inside my head doubting whether I can do it. Sure, I still often have a voice complaining about having to do it when I’m feeling lazy or tired, but the debilitating moments of doubt and fear are gone. It’s a really delightful feeling to have lost that voice.)

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Being diligent about hydrating post-ride.

I have little ticklings in my mind of future goals for STP–Ian and I would make one hell of a tandem team, for one. And at the other end of the spectrum, gosh, I really like riding my single speed. Of all the double centuries out there, STP is probably the most doable… Hmmm.

We’ll see–but suffice to say, I’m already looking forward to next year!

RAMROD

My second RAMROD, and this year, made better by riding it with Ian. His work schedule has been even more difficult for bike training than mine has this year, so he spent a lot of time grumbling about how he wasn’t trained up enough, wouldn’t be able to do the ride, etc. What that translated to is that he didn’t pull so impossibly far away from me on the climbs, and we were able to ride most of the ride together. Alas, doing things like RAMROD will wake his cycling fitness right up, and we will return to the usual situation of me watching him rapidly disappear up the mountain.

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RAMROD *with* Ian!

It was pretty toasty again this year, but not as bad as last year–for example, last year I had enough water to make up the Cayuse Pass climb, but was dry before the top. This year, I still had a little water sloshing around in one of my bottles. But the slightly reduced heat did not seem to reduce the headwind into Enumclaw. Oh well.

RAMROD is an odd beast–if you look at the overall climbing per mile, it’s not really that hilly of a ride. Much of it is more STPish in quality–long (essentially) flat sections. And then there are a couple mountain passes stuck in the middle. Despite the mountains, it’s not what I would call a mountainous ride. (Of course, with the Dolomites as my reference point, not much really counts as a mountainous ride in comparison…)

The end result is that it challenges every type of rider. The lightweight climber who flies up the mountains is batted around like a feather in the headwinds of the end section. The sort of strong muscular rider whose physique excels on the flats, is at a disadvantage on the climbs.

(I really saw the latter when a group of super muscular guys powered past me up the easy grade to Inspiration Point. When we got to the steeper grade of Cayuse Pass, they were really suffering, while I went by them easily. And guess who flew by us in a blur on the final essentially flat stretch into Enumclaw…)

And RAMROD continues to be amazingly beautiful. This year I especially appreciated this point towards the top of Cayuse Pass where the view opens up, and you can look down on a rugged landscape of seemingly endless undulating hills. They go down and down and down, and it seems incredible (literally: “not believable”) that you could have been propelling yourself up through that landscape.

ETC

And from here, what next?

Next weekend we’re doing the Ride the Hurricane event again. Riding a mountain climb car-free is about as good as it gets. So good that this year, for training purposes, we’re planning to ascend twice. Sigh. I mean, Yay!

(Flashback–on the hottest day of the year so far, June 5, I found myself riding the road up to Sunrise on Mt Rainier, one of my favorite climbs. Pretty brilliant plan on my part to be up in the mountains, escaping the heat. Even brillianter, the road was not yet open to cars. SO. MUCH. FUN!!!)

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Despite the snow, it was TOASTY up here!

I’m going to see if I can get away for some more mountain riding before or after that. Also some sad-but-good-for-me things like hill repeat intervals. Then we’ll do some riding down in Ashland when we go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and then, it’s pretty much Dolomite time… Yikes, where has the summer gone?!?

 

 

Mazama Ride, aka Here We Go Again

It’s happening! I’m doing the Dolomites trip with Cinghiale again–3rd time’s the charm, or something?

So that means I have some riding to do before I get to Italy. Should probably include a hill or two in that riding…

In accordance with the above, I just did the Mazama Ride, an event organized by the Redmond Cycling Club (the same people who do RAMROD. They seem to like mountains. I may have found my people.)

The Mazama Ride goes over the North Cascades Highway from Marblemount to Mazama, where we spent the night at the lovely Mazama Country Inn. (Which was a great place, by the way–I’d gladly stay there again.) The next day–you guessed it–we rode from Mazama back to Marblemount.

The North Cascades Highway has been on my to-do list for a while, and is one of the treasures of Washington, yet I’ve never been over it, not even in a car. Until last weekend–and about time!

One of the things that has kept me from doing this ride on my own is logistics laziness. There are a lot of beautiful mountain rides within a couple hours’ drive of Seattle, and they don’t require the same forethought re: food and water (i.e., the lack thereof on the route) as the North Cascades Highway does.

There’s a good 60 mile stretch (of strenuous riding) between Newhalem and Mazama that has essentially nothing in the way of services. You’re probably ok on water, if you pack a water filtration device or similar, as there are roadside waterfalls and such. (Yeah, I just described a bunch of the amazing scenery as “and such.” One of the dangers of cycling around here is becoming jaded to the natural beauty of the area. It is a burden I must bear…)

Lake Diablo, some of the stunning scenery along the North Cascades Highway

Lake Diablo, an example of the stunning scenery along the North Cascades Highway

Redmond Cycling Club caters to lazy people like me by putting on a supported ride. So instead of having to figure out how to carry 4 water bottles, a lot of food, and so on with me, I just had to carry enough to get me to the lunch stop. And then to the water/snack stop. And then to the water stop. And then I was at the Mazama Country Inn, wearing clean clothes from my bag that RCC had helpfully brought for me.

Yes, this was a lovely way to enjoy the North Cascades Highway, and it involved carrying a lot less stuff (and weight) on my bike than I would have had to carry on my own.

This mattered, because there was a wee little bit of climbing involved in the day. The first day, after a few bumps we had a long climb up to the 4800′ Rainy Pass, then a too-short downhill, and a climb up to Washington Pass at 5400′. By the numbers: 74 miles and 6600′ of climbing. The return trip was also 74 miles (weird, I know!) but just 5100′. Easy day.

I guess I could have done it loaded down with panniers full of food, water, and clothes, but this was way more fun!

Also making things fun was that my dad was crazy enough to sign up for the ride with me. I got an email about it, and forwarded it to him, saying “This should be fun!” He foolishly took me at my word, and signed up too. He then spent a lot of time moaning about being roped into doing the ride–until he proceeded to emphatically show the ride who was boss.

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Day 2 at the lunch stop with Dad–he’s still smiling and willing to stand next to me!

The RCC support made the ride utterly enjoyable (amidst the pain and difficulty that is the attraction of any mountain ride). There is nothing that steep, which means the climbing is eminently doable, and the descending is joyfully relaxing and non-technical. If I had not stopped for lunch and water on Day 2, I don’t think I would have needed to use my brakes until I got to my car.

Watching the ruggedness of the terrain, I was trying to imagine encountering it before the road, and being told “figure out a way to get through that.” The engineering and ingenuity behind the road just boggles my mind.

But miracle of the gentle-grade, not-very-twisty route through convoluted mountain ridges aside, it still isn’t an easy ride. The trade-off of a gentler gradient is a longer climb. After the initial bumps, the eastbound climb up to Rainy Pass is 18 miles of uphill. Not always a lot uphill, but constantly, steadily uphill. That is (for me) a couple hours of constant effort, no chance to coast/rest/catch my breath.

On a related note, one of the people at the Mazama Country Inn who was managing our dinner buffet seemed quite taken aback at how much food we were consuming, and how rapidly we were doing so…

Having not done mountains on back-to-back days yet this year, and having fewer hours on the bike than I would like (that all-consuming new job strikes again), I wasn’t sure how the trip would go. Sure enough, I woke up the second day really not excited about doing a big bicycle ride. Or going up and down stairs. Or getting out of bed, really.

But about 5 miles into the ride, something flipped on–it was like my body said “mountains two days in a row? Oh yeah, I know how to do that” and I started feeling better and better. Interestingly, my dad also felt stronger on the second day, much to his surprise and delight.

A view from the bike on Day 2. Crater Peak off in the distance.

A view from the bike on Day 2. Crater Peak off in the distance.

I’ve done a couple big, challenging rides this year, but this was definitely the biggest and most challenging. I still have a fair amount of training to go before the Dolomites trip (will get to the summer’s plans in another post) but it was reassuring that I could ride pretty strongly through both the days, and more importantly, enjoy myself while doing so. I also have to give credit where credit is due–if I haven’t made it clear enough yet, the ride organizers and volunteers of the Redmond Cycling Club were wonderful, and were instrumental in making the ride so enjoyable. Thank you!

To finish, here’s the only “technical” bit of riding–a fun swoopy turn descending eastbound from Washington Pass.

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 8

And here it was already, the last day of riding. It’s a day of mixed emotions–regret that, despite some climbs feeling like they had stopped the forward progress of time, the trip was so quickly over–and joyful anticipation of being home. And of resting my legs.

The day dawned sunny and clear, the air particularly fresh after the previous day’s rain. The summer sun was misleading–it was cold! The hills were quite lovely with their fresh dusting of snow…

We headed down the river valley for about 10 miles, and then turned up another valley that ran between two ridges. This valley was a little wider, and the ridges clearly defined. It created a beautiful vista that was open enough to see a long ways, yet closed in enough to fit perfectly in your field of vision.

Valley and ridges

And after a bit of a noticeably uphill bit, it became a very gentle slope, astonishingly effortless riding compared to the previous 7 days.  And for whatever reason, my legs felt good, just in time for the ride that made it feel like riding a bike is easy!

Ridge

We supposedly had a deadline of when we needed to turn around in order to get back to the hotel and pack our bikes for the drive back to the last night’s hotel outside of Venice. And that time had passed us by–but so had Gerardo with the van and snacks, and we hadn’t caught up to him yet.

I was starting to get a little anxious, feeling like, as a responsible person, I should be trying to stay on schedule. But upon consideration, I decided that if Andy hadn’t turned us around yet, it was no business of mine, and I should just relax and enjoy the scenery.

So I did.

Some of the scenery available for the enjoying

And, behind schedule but still too soon, we came to the end of the (paved) road where Gerardo had the final spread set out. I miss Gerardo.

Some of the trip’s women–Gerardo kindly offered to help with the photo!

My bike gets a rest while I snack

The ride back down the valley was great. I was floating along the slight downhill, lightly pedaling and going well over 20mph, when one of the guys I had pulled at the end of the Passo delle Erbe ride came whizzing by. His greater mass was an advantage on the downhill, and he invited me to hop on his wheel. The joyride continued, now even faster!

Like last year, I was enjoying my birthday.

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Can you tell that I’m enjoying my birthday?

Claiming the birthday girl’s prerogative of a photo with Andy

The final ride up the river valley went quickly viewed objectively–the day was warming up, my legs felt good, it had been a relatively easy, short ride–so I was riding faster up the valley than I had the previous two days. However, I really had to pee, so there were times that the road seemed unending. (And unnecessarily bumpy…) But thankfully, it was more an annoyance than an emergency.

Back at the hotel, we got our bikes packed up, ate lunch, and loaded ourselves and our luggage onto the bus. The route back towards Venice took us first back through Alleghe via Corvara. I was studying the map, trying to figure out the reasonable route for the tour bus to take that wasn’t one of the narrow, hairpin-filled roads that we had ridden on. It didn’t exist. The ride back was an impressive display of skill by the bus driver, as he maneuvered his way down roads that I had found challenging to negotiate on an agile bicycle.

My view from the bus

My view from the bus

It was another wonderful trip. Though I was delighted to get to ride the Stelvio and Gavia last year–it felt like cycling’s equivalent of a religious pilgrimage–I keep on coming back to how much I love the Dolomites. Getting to explore them a bit more this year was beautiful, challenging, and fulfilling.

Again, I highly recommend checking out Cinghiale Cycling Tours with Andy Hampsten. Andy and Elaine are wonderful people, and they assemble a great team. Gerardo is a national treasure, and Kerri, Richard, and Gianone were both perpetually fun, and extremely hardworking. And the food… So much delicious food!

Kerry and Gianone

Like last year, I hope to return–the finger-crossing has begun.

40 miles, 2,950'

40 miles, 2,950′

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 7

So far, we had been lucky in the weather–sun and warmth predominated, with only a couple rain drops. Today’s forecast was different–cold and wet.

There was much discussion over breakfast about whether to ride, where to, and when. A lot of people made the sensible decision to have a relaxed warm day inside and recover from their strenuous efforts of the previous day.

But Andy’s always up for a ride, so while the sensible people stayed home, the rest of us gathered for a late-starting easy, casual ride. No mountain passes.

We headed down the river valley from Badia (we had worked so hard to ascend it the previous day… All that work for naught!) and turned off at Pidro to head towards La Val.

Then we started heading up the valley walls. And I mean walls! It really is astonishing the places some people built towns. The road would switchback between buildings that were practically completely underground on the uphill side, and above ground level on the downhill side. Gradients in the teens were the new normal.

I took no photos this day, so borrowed this from Cinghiale's facebook page.

I took no photos, so borrowed this from Cinghiale’s facebook page. Richard and Gianone (mid-conversation) are leading the charge up the hill! Gianone is probably mis-pronouncing some Italian…

We biked for a while, though not very far, until we ran out of pavement. The guide Richard, whose neighborhood this was, also does a lot of mountain biking, and said there were great rides up here on the dirt paths, that took you all over the valley. He seemed a bit disappointed at our lame road bikes that weren’t going to venture further.

I believed him that the additional riding was fabulous, though I’ll admit to being a wee bit relieved that I could blame it on my lame road bike that I couldn’t do any more hard riding at that point…

The foolhardy few!

The foolhardy few!

It was the shortest day of the trip, but in the cold and damp (despite the dire weather forecast, there never was a sustained downpour–just general dampness), and after the Passo delle Erbe, it felt like we were being pretty intrepid and hardcore to be out on our bikes at all. It was a fun day!

Just 15.5 miles and 2,300'

Just 15.5 miles and 2,300′

Dolomites 2015, Day 6

I am still so awed by this ride. It was one of those accomplishments that I think I will always be able to look back on and feel pride and wonder and joy about. Five years ago, I was still having to psych myself up to bike block-long gentle rises. I never would have dreamed I could do something like this day’s ride.

Dressing for success again with my Molteni jersey. By association with what I have accomplished in it, it has quickly become my favorite piece of bike apparel.

Honestly, I start to choke up a little when I think about it for a while–like when I’m trying to find a way to put into words what it meant and means to me.

This was the first ride from our new Dolomites location of Badia, and fully justified my long anticipation of the all-Dolomites tour. This was Passo delle Erbe day.

But first–I think I’m starting to catch on to how they do things at Cinghiale. If Andy starts plying you with wine, be wary. Be very wary.

You may recall that the previous day was the rest day. In my recap, I neglected to mention that before dinner, Andy led his customary wine tasting. I wish I could remember the details, but in my defense, I was seduced by the many delicious Italian wines, then staggered over to dinner, where I stuffed my belly and, yes, drank more wine. It was really great, but my memory of the evening is slightly hazy for some reason…

Andy plying us with wine

Andy plying us with wine

Last year, Andy softened us up with the wine tasting, then the next day kicked out of the van and told us no dinner until we biked over the Stelvio. Even forewarned this year, I trustingly imbibed, thinking what a nice guy he was to share such bounty. And this year the next day’s ride was even harder. Yes, harder than the Stelvio.

Now I’m on to Andy’s tricks. Should I be lucky enough to go back, I’ll know. Not that it will change anything.

...and softening us up via the view too

…and softening us up via the view too

Anyway. The “short” version:

The day started with us cycling up the river valley, then ascending the Passo Gardegna (going up what we descended on Sella Ronda day). This was the easy, minor, hardly-worth-mentioning climb of the day. We then descended, and descended, and descended, and… It was a long ways.

For variety, we briefly dispensed with mountains in favor of some rolling hills that made up for their brevity with their slope. After some of this, we regained the mountains with a sustained climb that took us to the foot of “the” climb–the Passo delle Erbe. Epicness ensued, and once summited and down, there was a final 12 kilometers up the river valley to the hotel (and some of us got to then add 50 more feet of elevation up to the hotel for awesome people).

The even longer version:

Coming into this ride, I had already been having a great time crossing paths with the guide Gianone (aka Jonathon). He is the best purposeful-mispronouncer of Italian that I have heard–it was funny and painful (you try laughing when you’re biking up a Dolomite) to hear the inventive glee he brought to mangling the language.

And our senses of humor otherwise meshed–he found my glasses mirror, and the way it reflected my eyeball back to him, hilariously entertaining. As he would come up behind me, the dialog would usually go something like “I see you” “I see you seeing me” “I see you seeing me seeing you”–and so on. We could entertain ourselves that way for a while. And the fact that we both found this funny, every single time, probably tells you all you need to know about both of us.

Which is all preface to say that if somebody suggested doing something stupid, I’d refuse. But if Gianone suggested doing something stupid… Well, in that case, there’s a good chance I’d find it pretty entertaining, so…

So when we had climbed the minor blip of the Gardegna (because passes in the Dolomites are *so* inconsequential), and reached the bottom of a huge descent, and stopped at the Albergo Pontives to regroup and refuel, and still had the major part of the day ahead of us…

Well, if anybody else had suggested throwing back a double espresso with a shot of VOV at 11AM, there’s no way. But since it was Gianone, it seemed like a very entertaining thing to do. And fair’s fair, he had one too.

And you know, maybe it wasn’t such a stupid thing after all. It settled my nerves right down–not so much from the alcohol content (not a high-proof liqueur), as from the feeling of “what the hell, why not–be a little crazy!” Given my penchant for getting a wee bit worked up over a looming challenge that I’m worried about, sometimes it’s good to have an attitude check and just let go.

The jolt of caffeine and sugar might also have helped a bit as we departed and immediately headed up the afore-mentioned rolling hills. The steep rolling hills. (Well, there was just one really stiff bit, but it came right away, so that’s how I choose to remember the whole section. Makes for more epicness.)

This took us to a wonderful quiet road that clung partway up the hillside, with great views across the valley. The road was almost too quiet. We turned on to it (I could see cyclists ahead of me and behind me), I stopped to adjust something, and when I resumed riding there was no one in sight.

And after a couple kilometers, there was still no one in sight. The trees thinned and I could see greater stretches of the road ahead–still no one.

And I started to get a little nervous. My experience had been that the Cinghiale personnel were really good at stationing themselves at all but the most obvious turns, and/or letting us know about upcoming route-finding. And I hadn’t noticed any possible routes to take after the last turn other than the one I was on.

But it had been a while since I had seen anyone, and I was starting to get less joy out of cycling on this gorgeous, deserted road.

But I knew I was at least going in the right direction, because there were signs for the next town we’d go through, Goofytown. (Well, the town was actually called “Gufidaun” but I and someone else immediately renamed it…)

And then, ahead I saw cyclists, and more importantly, Gerardo, the van, and lunch! Once I knew I wasn’t lost, that road retroactively became one of the highlights of the trip. And our lunch location was on the side of it.

Our lunch setting, on the fabulous deserted (except for the cows) road above the valley.

Once through Goofytown, we started a steady climb, gaining 1200′ over 4 miles to get to the official start of the 11-mile Passo delle Erbe climb. (Love it when you climb to get to the climb.) You knew you were on the “real” climb when you turned left in San Pietro, and found yourself attempting to scale what felt and looked like a vertical wall.

And the wall kept going. At first I had a “you have got to be $@#%ing kidding me” reaction. But then I thought about it–I knew how long the overall climb lasted, and the elevation of the pass, and I knew it couldn’t go this way for forever. And that in fact, every moment of double-digit gradient meant an easier moment later.

I won’t go as far as to say this realization made the wall my friend, but we at least made it to frenemies. I think that not everyone had made this calculation though, as some people had the “11 miles of this?!?!” look on their faces. Though a number of folks went past me, I also passed quite a few people, some of whom I was normally slower than. The mental can count for a lot sometimes.

And I was right. The slope did eventually ease up–there was even a downhill section. From steep exposed hillside, we transitioned into a delicious evergreen forest. I really mean “delicious” too–the air was fragrant and refreshing, to the point of being a flavor on the tongue. It was actually a lot like biking through some of my favorite Pacific Northwest roads.

At the top, Passo delle Erbe lived up to its name–there was an expanse of grass and herbaceous plants. The land had a gentler, less craggy profile than some of the other Dolomites we had ridden–it was interesting to see how much variation there was even within the same geologic formation.

Passo delle Erbe, or as I prefer, Grass Pass

One of my favorite pictures from the trip–getting my photo taken on one of the most amazing rides of my life with Elaine and Gerardo, who did so much to make it possible–and fun! (Oh, those tomatoes that Gerardo brought…)

But even at the top, our day wasn’t done. I can sometimes get a wee bit worked up about a looming challenge that I’m worried about, and often deal with my nerves by trying to hyper-prepare. So I had read up on the Passo delle Erbe, and knew that the descent contained a not-negligible uphill section, and that we would then have to bike *up* the river valley to get to Badia. (This came as an unwelcome surprise to some people–other people were blithely happy to ride their bike wherever. For the former people, I’d say that if you don’t like surprises, I recommend being neurotic like me and researching routes ahead of time…)

One of the things that I am learning I’m good at is pacing myself. I won’t set blazing landspeed records, but on the other hand, I won’t flame out before the ride is over. Despite the difficulty of the part of the day already completed, I had ridden well within myself the whole day, and wasn’t daunted by the prospect of the remaining uphill section. (Ok, maybe I was just a little daunted…)

The interruption to the descent was, as promised, not-negligible. But it was ok. Once to the river valley, I had one of my shining moments of the trip. I just set out at what felt like a comfortable, sustainable pace. After a while, I noticed that I had collected a significant train of people behind me–many of whom were usually faster than me. I later received many expressions of gratitude from people who had been pretty cooked by that point and who really appreciated being able to draft behind me.

I hadn’t set out to be the hotshot who pulled everyone back to the hotel. But I’ll admit that it felt pretty good to be someone who, on the hardest day of the trip, still had some gas left in the tank at the end. It was no skin off my back to ride at the pace that was comfortable for me, and the fact that I helped out some other people in the process was fun. (And, ya know, one moment of relative strength, and all these riders faster than me suddenly think I’m way more kickass than I actually am–I’m learning to just nod and smile…)

“Relative strength” is the key term here. I was knackered at the end of the day! I barely made it through dinner without falling asleep, was in bed shortly after 9, and according to my text exchange with Ian, slept like an “exhausted log.”

This day was objectively the hardest ride I’ve done; I recorded 9,700′ of climbing in just 67.5 miles. For comparison, I “only” recorded 8,950′ of climbing on RAMROD–but had 146 miles to get there. And the monster Sella Ronda day was “only” 8,150′ in 60 miles.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. On Sella Ronda day, we started with the hardest climb, and then things got progressively easier, finishing with a long, fun descent to the hotel. On this ride, the big climb of the day came later, after we already had a mountain pass and some hills in our legs. And when you had made it up the big climb, you still weren’t done, what with the uphill in the descent and the last climb to the hotel. This changed the rhythm of the day to make it challenging until the very last time you got off your bike.

And it was fantastic. Even knowing I did it, it’s still hard for me to believe that I was able to do it. And I really want to go back and do it again.

67.5 miles, 9,750 feet

67.5 miles, 9,700 feet

 

A funny story

During some off-bike time on the trip, I was chatting with Elaine a bit, because she’s awesome and getting to hang out with her is one of the bonuses of doing a Cinghiale tour. She told me the following story:

“In preparation for the Dolomites trip, Andy and I did a ride that went up all the hard hills by our place in Tuscany. I was feeling really good about how well I was riding, since I actually was able to keep him in sight going up one of the hills.

“Until I realized that he was pedaling with only one leg. For fun.”

I just… I can’t even… I…

Sigh.

Husbands have been throttled for lesser offences–and yet, he’s such a nice guy, we were both cracking up instead.

Armed with this story, I did try to heckle him into pedaling one legged up a climb (Passo Sella? Passo Giau? Can’t remember now) but he didn’t rise to the bait. I’ll keep trying.

Dolomites 2015, Rest Day

Oh the sweetness of the rest day!

After the previous five days, I was tired. In case I hadn’t made that previously clear…

There were a couple people who were in better shape/crazier than me and rode, but as I did last year, I made sure to have a very productive day of resting, with a gentle amble to stretch my legs and see the countryside.

As great as riding in the Dolomites is, the rest day has been a special, delightful day both years too. I had a lovely, relaxed time, and got to spend much of the day with a couple of my favorite people on the tour–thanks for the company, M and S!

Ok setting for the neighborhood backyard soccer game

Looking down the valley that Badia is in

Artsy flowers shot

Artsy sky shot

Pathside shrine, because it’s Italy

Tiny frog

Pathside stream

–Clicking on any of these photos should take you to my flickr album with even more (and believe it or not, my flickr album represents a heavily edited-down set of photos…)

Dolomites 2015, Day 5

Subtitled “Last Year This Was the Rest Day.”

Expressed mathematically, Sella Ronda + Giau = Tired.

No way around it, this, was a tough day. Good day, but tough. Though the tour stayed in the Dolomites the whole time this year, we still had an on-bike transfer day from one location to another, and this was the day.

(Bonus extraneous bit: I absolutely loved riding in the Dolomites and Alps last year. Getting to the Alps and riding the Passo Gavia with Andy Hampsten is about as bucket list as you can get. And the Alps were incredible. And yet… I was so excited that this year stayed in the Dolomites. Hard as it is to put the Alps second to something, they “only” get the First Prize in my book, while the Dolomites get the Grand Prize.)

The transfer ride wasn’t that hard (comparatively speaking… It still involved climbing mountain passes in the Dolomites…) We went back up the Passo Falzarego the way we had descended the previous day, continued over the little added bump of the Passo Valparola, then down into the valley to Badia. Certainly easier than last year’s transfer ride over the Stelvio!

Of course, last year we had had a day off (and a wine tasting) to help us recover and prepare.

It was interesting to ride up the Falzarego–something I didn’t do last year. Even though I had been down the same stretch of road less than 24 hours previous, a road can look completely different going down from going up. Last year it took studying the map after the fact to realize that one ride had retraced part of another day’s ride in the other direction. (To be fair, you are facing a different direction, so something that is a big defining landmark in one direction might not be visible the other, etc.)

I have no sense of whether the Falzarego was a difficult climb in this direction–it sure felt like one heck of a slog up the mountain, but I think that was more my legs than the climb. But after being laser focused on the road ahead as I descended, it was nice to get to look around and check out the scenery a bit.

Surprisingly, it was quite scenic.

Partway up there was an area of road work with just one direction of traffic allowed through at the time. Even though it meant getting a bit chilly, I’ll readily admit that I did not mind missing the light and having to stop and wait for a bit.

The weather on the trip had been phenomenal so far (compare my summit photos from last year to this–not nearly as bundled up!) This was the first day that was cool with a threat of rain. With a superb sense of timing, I made it to Gerardo and the van at the top of the Valparola, and into my change of warm, dry clothing just as the drops started coming down.

And then I took a little trip down nostalgia lane by spending my summer vacation shivering at the top of a mountain pass.

It didn’t rain that hard, just spit out enough moisture to make the road slick, and make me into a very cautious descender. But we all got down safely, and to the hotel in Badia.

Ahhh, time for a shower, food, and a beer (not necessarily in that order), right?

Nope–the hotel was small enough we were actually split into two hotels–so like contestants on a reality tv show, we anxiously awaited the announcement of which team we were on. Conveniently, you could see the other hotel, just across the street. And 50 feet straight up.

You guessed it–I got to venture up a road that gained those 50 feet in an alarmingly short distance. I was in the other hotel. Because apparently I needed more uphill in my life.

This turned out to be awesome, mainly for two reasons:

1) Those of us in the uphill hotel decided that we were chosen to be there because the Cinghiale powers-that-be felt we were complete badasses and overall awesome people who could handle the extra climbing.

2) The restaurant at this hotel was better. Everyone ate lunch together at the downhill hotel, and dinner together at the uphill hotel. But breakfast was separate, and the breakfast at this hotel was So. Very. Delicious. Homemade yoghurt and jam, flaky pastries, flavorful breads baked on-site, a wide variety of cheeses–it was so disappointing to get full. I could have stayed there all day eating breakfast.

This being Italy, I bet I would have happily scarfed down the breakfast at the other hotel too. But ours was better. And there were the badass points collected every time we went up the hill to the hotel. I’m still holding those in reserve for when I really need to redeem them.

No photos from this day, as I was tired and goal focused–gaining the refuge of the hotel took priority over gallivanting around with my camera. But here’s a photo from my hotel room on another day–just imagine wet pavement and low clouds obscuring the hills, and you’ll know the grateful view my weary eyes admired this day.

One of the "easy" days. Just 26 miles and 4,100 feet...

One of the “easy” days. Just 26 miles and 4,100 feet…

 

 

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 4

Following the intense effort of Sella Ronda day, it was really nice to have a day off.

Oh, ha ha, just kidding. We recovered from our previous day’s efforts by biking up the Passo Giau, with its long stretches of 10% or higher grade. It’s a Really. Hard. Climb. (Yes, the whole trip was full of Really. Hard. Climbs. but the Giau still sticks out.)

I am not naturally suited to sharp sustained pitches like the Giau, but I’m getting better at them. And I really like the Giau for some reason. Last year I started the climb with an upset stomach, and as I got higher, my stomach got better, until I was suffering from euphoria at how wonderful and easy it was to bicycle up steep grades. Completely deluded, but I had fun.

This year, I started the day feeling good (meaning exhausted, stiff, sore, but not about to hurl), and so was suffering from the euphoria of how wonderful the opening sections of the climb felt when I didn’t feel in imminent danger of losing my breakfast.

And for the second year in a row, at the top the Giau was a climb that I felt awesome about, in complete disregard for the actual facts of the situation. It’s really hard, and I suspect I was annoyingly cheerful.

See, annoyingly cheerful!

To be fair, like all the climbs on the trip, the Giau is really scenic. There are wooded sections, streams and bridges, switchbacks that allow you to peer down to your previous location and admire your progress, and then an open grassy expanse to the top. This last section is just as unrelentingly steep as the rest, except that you can see farther, and it keeps looking like the roadway just a little ahead lets up. But it doesn’t. It’s just cruel–but yet I have loved it both times I climbed it.

The view

More of the view

The delightful thing this year was that I knew the next climb, the Passo Falzarego, would be almost laughably easy in comparison to the Giau. And though there was no extra credit offering this year (something I had particularly enjoyed last year), there was a very good reason for it: food.

Specifically, halfway up the Falzarego climb, we took a chair lift up to the Rifugio Scoiattoli in the middle of the Cinque Torri (Five Towers–named for the rock formations) for lunch. Because where else would you expect to find a gourmet restaurant than in the middle of the mountains in a place accessible either by hiking or taking a chairlift?!?

Seriously, Italy is amazing.

(Side note: as much as I love bicycling on Mt Rainier and other places, it is a serious bummer to get back home, cycle up a mountain pass, and then look around wistfully for the friendly rifugio with espresso, food, even a bed to sleep in. The Italian system of a rifugio at the top of every pass, and then also sprinkled through the mountain linked only by hiking trails, is one of the great achievements of civilization.)

The chair lift from the top

So we got to the chair lift, where–luxury of luxuries–we even changed out of our sweaty bike clothes and into the street clothes that we had stashed with Gerardo in the van, rode up (just stopping to ride the chair lift would have been worth it–it was a beautiful ride), and proceeded to eat a huge, delicious lunch. I have been lucky enough to have had many delicious meals in my lifetime, but I have never had one that combined the meal with such natural beauty. It was an amazing experience.

Some of the lunch environs

Lunch view in a different direction

Then we had a little time for some exploration of the area, including the open air World War I Museum. Because the terrain is so dramatic and rugged, the views are breathtaking (and rock climbers flock to the spot). It is astonishing and horrifying that this was also a battle front–they had cannons trained on the Austrian emplacements on the next hills over.

A restored WWI bunker

In WWI, this was a view across to the Austrian army

Eventually we rode the chair lift back down to the van, our sweaty bike clothes, and our bikes. Just a little uphill, then a really fun descent was all that stood between our very mellow wined-and-dined selves and a post-prandial nap at the hotel. Though last year’s extra credit on this day was a fabulous experience, this year’s lunch was a trip highlight too.

One last note–I was taking it easy down the descent, when Andy zipped by in order to get to an upcoming turn before the rest of us, to point us the correct direction. I have followed his wheel before down a descent, and marveled at how much faster I could go with ease when following his line and body language. But that was Andy in “keep it mellow” mode. This was Andy in “I’m a former pro cyclist who wants to get somewhere in a hurry” mode. I kept up for a couple turns, kept him in sight for a couple more, and then he was gone. That was cool.

41 miles, 6,250 feet