Dolomites 2016, Day 3

Sella Ronda day.

I almost ended the post right there. What more is there to say? I’ve tried for the last two years to put this day into words, and not succeeded. And this year will be no different.

As before, we started by wending our way up through the Serrai di Sottoguda which is much steeper than the main road, but feels like an easy stroll through the park because you are taking so many breaks to goggle at the scenery around you.

How about I shut up for a while, and just show some pictures

Clicking on any photo will take you to my flickr where you can see more.

And then you start climbing up the Passo Fedaia. At least I knew from last year that I could actually ride it. And I also knew how tough riding the whole thing would be. Not sure if that helped or hurt as I stared up the long, straight, brutally steep section that starts the climb.

It’s such a relief to hit the switchbacks higher up. It’s still long and brutally steep, but at least it’s not straight!

Oddly enough, despite there being a distance countdown painted onto the road, I remembered the top as being further away that it was. So in a reverse of the day before, I was cheery and delighted at the top. Still, I don’t know if this climb and I will ever be friends. Uff da.

For the second year in a row, we completely lucked out on the weather, and enjoyed sunshine and warmth at the top. I didn’t do much more than put on my arm warmers for the descent, but it’s a good thing I did that much.

See, there was a wee little incident on the descent when I might have come off my bike a little bit. (Sorry Mom and Dad, I think I neglected to mention this before…) Spoiler alert: everyone was fine. Oddly enough for a descent, it was a slow-motion topple over. It occurred when slowing for a stopped group of riders just as a close-passing motorbike distracted a rider behind me, who then was forced to decide between bumping into me, or swerving out into the path of the moto.

The other rider and I both sported some impressive, colorful bruises for a few days, but nothing worse. The worst of the damage was the hole torn into my favorite (but completely replaceable) arm warmers. And the heart attack that Ian nearly had when he came around the bend and saw me momentarily on the pavement. But if you’re going to come off your bike, it’s handy to do so when Gerardo is around–my front wheel was knocked slightly out of true, something I only realized as a new front wheel was being placed on my bike. And the next day, there was my own wheel, trued back up, on my bike. Because the folks at Cinghiale are awesome.

(Also, thank you to the person who noticed my cycling glasses with prescription lenses by the side of the road. In the moment, I didn’t notice I no longer had them on, but I couldn’t have continued the ride very far without them!)

Still–me and Sella Ronda day! Falling into a rider the first year, and falling off my bike this year. This ride kicks my butt–this time around pretty literally!

Despite all that, I still love this day. Of the four climbs, it’s hard to pick a favorite. The love-hate relationship I have with Passo Fedaia is pretty intense on both parts. Meanwhile the top half of the Sella climb is really neat, and the descent off of it one of my favorites. The Gardena is a delight for how comparatively easy it is. And the Campolongo has a great section rising out of Corvara where you get an immense sense of progress, transitioning into an easy traverse, and then the mother of all lengthy, delightful descents into the hotel, beer, shower, and food (yes, in that order.)

It’s also funny how different parts of the ride stand out different years. Maybe it was a change in the weather and light, but this year the upper part of climbing up the Gardena stands out in my mind. I felt pretty strong, and the road surface was wonderful (as it usually is throughout the Dolomites). Something about the openness of the view, and the sense of progress up the climb made a strong impression on me in a way that it hadn’t before. I have a sense of deep satisfaction with life associated with the memory of it from this trip that is different from the general “this is amazing” that I have for all of the trip, every year.

This ride also takes you past both sides of the Passo Pordoi climb, which is supposed to be beautiful, but which hadn’t been part of the route on the times I’ve been on this trip. Climbing the Pordoi on this year’s trip was one of my goals. And I’d like to say that I eyeballed the start of the climb as I descended the Campolongo to the hotel. But let’s be honest–there was no way I was going to add a fifth pass to Sella Ronda day! I will leave it to people more awesome (more stupid?) than myself. Instead, I contented myself with:

Day 3: 64 miles, 8,400 feet elevation.

Dolomites 2016, Days 1 and 2

(Yes, I’m combining days in a post. It’s 8 months after the fact, I’m writing about rides that I’ve already written about 2 years in a row, and my work schedule makes writing a bit of a “little or nothing at all” prospect.) (In other words Dad, deal with it. She said lovingly.)

It’s funny how quickly you can become passively attached to how you think things are to be done, based on how they were done in the past. Or at least, how quickly I can…

At any rate, based on a grand total of two previous Day 1’s, I was a bit astonished to find out that the Italians were doing road work, necessitating a change from what I considered as the first day route. Inconceivable!

A little-known fact about me: I very occasionally have a teensy difficulty dealing with change. One appeal of getting to do this trip year after year is revisiting the beauty and challenge of it, while having some of it be familiar.

So instead, we did a slightly different route that was also delightful and scenic and a good way to shake out the legs, and I had a good time despite myself.

And to be fair, much had not changed. Gerardo was still a divine angel of delicious food and skillful support, Andy and Elaine were still wonderful, welcoming, and fun, Oscar was still delightful and cute, and Kerry and Roberto were still models of great riding buddies combined with skillful professionalism.

Another thing that hadn’t changed is that what counts as an easy ride on this trip is something with merely 100′ of climbing per mile. Practically flat!

The delight of watching other people discover how astonishing this area is just doesn’t get old. As wonderful as it was to do the first day ride for the first time, I think I’ve almost enjoyed it more the last two years, when I knew that the great view of Lake Alleghe was just coming up, or some other viewpoint (really, the whole ride is a viewpoint), and could anticipate the astonishment and joy of other people as they were bowled over by the next thing around the next bend in the road.

A view of Lake Alleghe from our hotel. It looks lovely from the hills way above too.

Day 2 was again Passo Duran and Passo Staulanza.  You can read in full detail here and here if you so desire.

One would think that from one year to the next, the roads couldn’t change that much. And that certainly seemed the case on the Duran. The climb was hard to start, and then eased off towards the top, and Gerardo greeted us with delicious food. See previous years’ posts if you want photos.

After the steep descent, and after ignoring the life advice offered by passing through the town Dont, we started up the Staulanza. I remembered that it was steep to start, with more traffic than most of the roads we would ride on. I remembered correctly.

I also remembered that after the switchbacks, the cars thinned out a lot, and you were nearly to the top.

About that memory…

The cars did thin out, but I swear, they added a huge long stretch of road before the top of the pass. Once we were on it, I went from “yay, I’m practically at the top” to “oh no, I completely forgot about this interminable, never going to get there, part of the ride.”

Judging by the steepness of the slope, it was an easier section than the start of the climb. Judging by my disappointed expectations of being nearly done, it was the hardest part of the whole day.

And as I tried to sulk in my dark place, Ian pedaled along easily beside me, chatting merrily away (someone wasn’t out of breath…) and completely oblivious to the unfolding tragedy (someone hadn’t had unreasonable expectations of the climb based upon incorrect memory…)

The problem was, the views from that (forgotten) upper part are really wonderful, and they were totally spoiling my effort to achieve complete misery.

For the third year in a row, I failed to get photos at the top of the Staulanza, because that’s the kind of thinking-ahead person that I am.

At the end of the day, it was another amazing, pinch-me-I’m-dreaming experience. Even if Ian dared be cheery and talkative when I… Wasn’t. I was also pleased that, despite my lower base of miles going into the trip, I still seemed to be able to go up the mountains. Not really any faster than the previous year (oh well), but not really any slower either. Which all considering, I had no reason to expect to be the case.

And I just love riding these roads.

Day 1: 22 miles, 2,300 feet

Day 2: 43 miles, 6,300 feet

 

Dolomites 2016, non-bike post

Alert–the following post is not about biking in the Dolomites!

Both 2015 and 2016, I flew in a day early. By arriving some time on Thursday, I had all of Friday to start the process of acclimating to the time zone, and to shake out the effects of trans-Atlantic travel. Then Saturday, mean people would start flogging me up steep hills 😦

Which is a story for future posts.

Walking around in daylight and fresh air is the best way for me to try to convince myself that 3AM at home really is a perfectly reasonable time to be awake and eating lunch. How fortunate then, that I was spending the day in the ultimate pedestrian city, Venice.

Seriously–no cars, despite jet lag-induced idiocy can only get so lost because it’s a small island-perfect!

When I visited a couple museums in 2015, I brilliantly left my camera in my bag at the bag check both times. And then instantly regretted it. I’m blaming the jet lag. But at least I didn’t make the same mistake two years in a row. Rather than photograph the best, most important pieces, I mostly took pictures of the things that tickled my funny bone, with a couple goes at an “arty” shot. Old stuff is from the Galleria dell’Accademia, modern stuff from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

So with no further ado:

Some pre- and Renaissance art can be so stylized as to almost seem modern, which I love. And then there's just the whole

Some pre- and Renaissance art can be so stylized as to almost seem modern, which I love. And then there’s just the whole “what an incredibly bizarre-looking Christ Child” thing going on… Seriously, I know that hands are hard to paint, but those hands!!! See also “Christ Child of the Abs” in my previous post.

The detail work on this 15th century cross was pretty amazing.

The detail work on this 15th century cross was pretty amazing.

Love the skull!

Love the skull!

WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THOSE TOES?!?!?! Seriously, can anybody explain them to me?

WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THOSE TOES?!?!?! Seriously, can anybody explain them to me?

The dog and cat fighting in the corner of this painting was pretty entertaining.

The dog and cat fighting in the corner of this painting was pretty entertaining.

Angry horse!

Angry horse!

Apparently no matter the era, rich people liked to tote around little fluffy dogs.

Apparently no matter the era, rich people liked to tote around little fluffy dogs.

The more angles you looked at it by, the cooler this piece got

The more angles you looked at it by, the cooler this piece got

I really liked this one. Beguilingly simple, and full of motion.

I really liked this one. Beguilingly simple, and full of motion.

Despite what you may have first thought, this is not a pre-Renaissance Christ Child, but rather a 20th century painting of a cyclist!

Despite what you may have first thought, this is not a pre-Renaissance Christ Child, but rather a 20th century painting of a cyclist!

There are more photos in my Venice album here. I promise that the next post will have actual cycling content!

 

Dolomites 2016, pre-story, post-story, and TLDR

So… Yeah, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted. For a lot of reasons, none of which I feel like going into detail on. But I like writing this blog (and there are apparently a couple odd people who like reading it) (and who aren’t even related to me by blood, so have no obligation to pretend to like it), so here goes.

View from partway up the Passo Pordoi. I hadn’t done this climb before, and fitting it in somehow was one of my goals for Cinghiale 2016. I did it!

To provide extra challenge to those who claim to like what I’m doing, I’m going to skip forward in time, then backward in time, and probably not really cover much more of Dolomites 2016 than the bare stats in this post. Once I’ve driven all 3 of my readers away, then I’ll consider posting something interesting about the Dolomites 2016.

Forward: Cinghiale is returning to the Alps along with the Dolomites in 2017, and we’re going! In preparation for that trip, as well as for sheer enjoyment, we have a number of other cycling plans for the year. In no particular order, they include STP, RAMROD, Mazama Weekend, and most immediately, the Santa Monica Mountains Climbing Camp in April with Cycling Escapes, a trip I did 2 years ago and really enjoyed.

Backward: When I left off, I was complaining of being undertrained, and proceeded to do less riding than planned on one of my last training events. So yeah, that was pretty brilliant.

I had a little more riding before the Dolomites though, most notably a return to Ashland and a ride with our cycling friend there.

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The delicious food stop would have been the best part of the ride–if the rest of the ride (and the company) weren’t so amazing!

We repeated the ride up into the mountains that we had done the previous year–with a fun alternate road that had some very Dolomitesque pitches–and then a few days later did a delightful ride through the region’s orchards. It was one of those rides that has so many inscrutable twists and turns that you’d have to be with a local to do it, and we felt lucky to be given such a wonderful backroads glimpse into the area. Thanks again, M!

But no matter how I crumbled the cookie, I was heading into Dolomites 2016 with less training and fewer miles than the previous 2 years. Not an ideal situation.

On the other hand, as someone who didn’t start cycling until July 2010, each additional year of cycling is still adding noticeably to my ability on the bike. Perhaps that would count for something?

Lest I risk creating any sort of suspense or incentive to read to the end, the trip went great! Even with less training, I wasn’t going up the mountains any slower. And I think this was because I made up for it with slightly better technique, ability to pace myself, confidence, etc. Kerry (the awesome guide) commented to a surprised me that I was looking really strong and good on the bike… And then I heard via Elaine that Gerardo had said something to the effect of “every year she gets stronger/better!”

(So, to jump forward again, a goal for this year is to go in with the improvement of another year on the bike AND a non-embarrassing number of miles…)

At any rate, here is your Dolomites 2016 TLDR version:

Essential info–we’re signed up for 2017.

More info–

Day 0, Fri 8/26. We hung out in Venice. Successfully took public transit from Mestre hotel, walked a lot, went to Galleria dell’Accademia and Peggy Guggenheim Collection, where I took photos of things I liked or things I thought were entertainingly bizarre (Venice album here).

I called him the

I called him the “Christ Child of the Abs”

Day 1, Sat 8/27. Shakedown ride, a little different than previous years because of construction. (Sadly, this meant one of my favorite descents, one I got to follow Andy down, was not on the menu this year). 21.7mi, 2,283ft.

Day 2, Sun 8/28. Passo Duran and Passo Staulanza. After three years of doing this ride, I still have no photographic evidence of myself on the Staulanza. 43.0mi, 6,086ft.

Day 3, Mon 8/29. Sella Ronda day. Passo Fedaia still kicks my butt, but I got to the top when I thought I still had further to go, so that was nice. 64.0mi, 8,442ft.

Day 4, Tue 8/30. Unscheduled Rest Day because of predicted crappy weather. Instead got talked into riding Serrai di Sottoguda again by Kerry. 15.3mi 1,598ft.

Not bad for an unofficial rest day

Not bad for an unofficial rest day

Day 5, Wed 8/31. Transfer day. Passo Giau, Passo Valparola and lunch at Cinque Torri, Passo Falzarego. 36.8mi, 6,722ft.

Partway up Passo Giau

Partway up Passo Giau

Day 6, Thu 9/1. Official Rest Day. Rode the Passo Campolongo and the Passo Pordoi(!) instead. 34.3mi, 4,859ft.

Day 7, Fri 9/2. Passo dell’ Erbe Day! Spent a year telling Ian he would love this, and I was so right!!! 66.3mi, 10,000ft.

Day 8, Sat 9/3. Beautiful flat valley ride from last year–but this time, found some hills. 42.6mi, 3,848ft.

Love this valley

Day 9, Sun 9/4. Transfer day back to Venice. But first, did some shopping in Corvara. 10.8mi, 902ft.

Total: 334.8mi, 44,740ft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

Hurricane white out

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.

ramrod16

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′