I’m about to head back to the Dolomites–what have I been doing with myself?!?

Here I am, like last year, cringing about my lack of preparedness for the Alps and Dolomites, when it’s way past too late being able to do anything about it. And I’m also setting some “above and beyond” goals for myself. Because that makes sense.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing, it’s just… I guess I have a hard time even envisioning the situation where I have trained enough to feel prepared. But I won’t let that stand in the way of enjoying myself!

But what have I been doing? This was one of the things that I really wanted to know from other people when I was preparing for my first trip.  What sort of benchmarks that I could relate to my own experience were people doing before they cycled these awe-inspiring (and somewhat terrifying) climbs? So maybe this post is useful for someone, or maybe it’s a chance for me to ramble and post more pictures.

TLDR: Wet winter, Zwift, Santa Monica Mountains, Mazama weekend, STP, RAMROD, Ride the Hurricane, Mt Rainier, hope I’m ready.

Long version:

You may or may not be aware that the Pacific Northwet lived up to its moniker this winter in a “one for the record books” kind of way. Between that and some stressful and exhausting work things, I was having a really hard time getting on the bike. It got so bad that I bought an indoor turbo trainer to put my bike on, and signed up for Zwift and a couple other similar services.

This had a twofold effect: one, I could do some hard riding with some structured training plans and not come home hypothermic and sodden. Two, if the weather was ok, I could have a pleasant ride outside and go as my whimsy took me, rather than having a voice in my head telling me I should make sure to get some training benefit out of the ride. With the way everything else was going, having outside rides as pure stress-relief enjoyment was golden.

Next up, in April we did Cycling Escapes’ Santa Monica Mountains Climbing Camp. Like two years ago, it was a week of excellent routes and ride support. I really like how Cycling Escapes puts together the week, and would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested. I will note that it’s probably a good idea to do a bit of training for the week.

Instead we used the week to kick off our training… Yeah, there was some sore and tiredness going on.

Unlike the last time I did this trip, this year I was the only woman (out of about 15 riders). Not only were the rest of the riders all men, there were a few of them who were super dude-bro’s. Amongst various dude-bro antics, the highlight was the ostentatiously loud conversation that took place on the first day’s lunch stop about how “compact cranksets are for amateur riders who don’t train a lot.” Yup, I totally agree. After all, I am an amateur rider who doesn’t train a lot. Love my compact. I know another person who rides a compact crankset who fits that description–as a *former* pro, Andy Hampsten is now an amateur rider. And though he rides a ton, I don’t think he really trains any more–he just goes out and has fun on his bike. Not sure that’s what dude-bro had in mind.

I did a shorter option for a couple of the rides, but over the 5 lovely days of riding, still managed to ride 250 miles with about 30,000 feet of elevation.

Thence, more Zwifting, commuting, and working too much.

Until the delights of Redmond Cycling Club’s Mazama Weekend.

The fun hairpin coming down from Washington Pass

Like last year, I was lucky enough to ride it with my dad. We had a blast, despite the record heat (which seemed especially unfair, given how the rest of the year to date had been unseasonably cold!) I had a good ride and felt strong on both days, though as I rode into the hair dryer-like headwind at the end of the second day, I will admit that there was a repetitive chorus of “you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me” going through my head.

We’re at 5400 feet, and it’s already toasty… At least I was still smiling at this point.

My dad also had a strong ride, though his first day was interrupted by a series of flats. Which then led to a series of the messiest, dirtiest flat changes known to man. Which then led to him being given the ironic nickname “Mr. Clean” by the very entertained people from the Redmond Cycling Club as they regarded his dirt and grease-covered person with awe and amazement.

Mr. Clean having an adventure in the snow

The astute observer might note that I am riding a different bike than my beloved Colnago…

Despite the heat, a great weekend!

A couple more training rides, and then it was time for STP! I could definitely tell that my next-longest ride of the year to date had been just half the miles, but it still went pretty well. We had mostly good weather, despite a cross wind that made us very nervous about whether the usual tailwind at the end would instead be a headwind. Thankfully, the tailwind on US 30 materialized, and we still had some pep in our legs as we rolled into Portland. It was neat to get my 7th patch–even neater for Ian as he collected his 10th!

As if to make up for the previous two years of torrid temperatures, this year’s RAMROD was delightful. The day started with heavy marine layer that was just on the edge of being rain, but it was also quite warm (for 6AM). Just as I was starting to worry that it could be a bit chilly on the descents if this kept up, the clouds parted, right on time for the peek-a-boo views of the summit that make the climb up to Inspiration Point such a delight. And going up Cayuse was a positively civilized experience–I summited with plenty of water left, and without any threat of heat rash.

I call this “I’m happy about a successful RAMROD, Ian’s worried I’ll make him do it again some day”

This year, the Ride the Hurricane event advertised that “it surely couldn’t be as cold and wet as last year!” which was correct. For next year they should advertise “surely this year there will be a view!” Though it was a warm sunny day, smoke from the BC wildfires was pretty thick, so for a second year in a row, there was no view from the top. But my dad and I had a good time anyway. I was really pleased, because for the first time ever, I felt quite good all they way up the climb, and never had to go to my dark place. My time was pretty consistent with previous years’ but it felt easier, more doable, less daunting.

Interesting… Still not on my Colnago…

The “view” from the top. At least it’s dry!

The horrible, wet winter has meant a spectacular summer of wildflowers in the mountains!

I still can’t even begin to express how amazing it is to do that climb without cars. I felt like a little kid on a playground as I descended, thinking “all this space, just for us to have fun in?!?!” So we took advantage of every car-free minute, and climbed halfway back up, to the point that the smoke started getting thicker. A fun chat with some ride volunteers, and then it was time to head down, and let the cars take over again. A huge thank you to the organizers and to the National Park for making this happen!

After Hurricane Ridge, I had a couple weeks with just commutes, errands by bike, and a couple indoor trainer workouts. Instead, I focused on cross-training via teaching and taking ballet and modern dance classes. In other words, work got busy. But seriously–you take a ballet class, and tell me how your legs feel after. It’s actually quite brilliant cross-training for cycling.

This last weekend, we did one of my favorite training rides. We parked at the turn off for Crystal Mountain, and rode up to Sunrise, back down, and then up Cayuse to Chinook Pass. Hurricane Ridge had been good, but the wildflowers on the way up to Sunrise were more profuse and more colorful than I have ever seen–between the grand vistas and the close up details of the flowers, there was impossibly much to gawk at. Naturally, I didn’t take any photos of this section.

Demonstrating questionable selfie skills atop Chinook Pass

This ride has made me feel cautiously optimistic about how I will fare on this year’s Cinghiale trip. I wasn’t really faster than I have been on this ride in the past, but at the end, I didn’t feel nearly as drained or beat up as I have in the past. (Well, I might have napped on the car ride home, but I think that had more to do with how little sleep I got during the week before…)

This has more and more been the theme of my riding this year. I am doing less than I did in 2014, but on a lot of the same rides, I feel much better, much more capable of carrying on, and not like it is taking every physical and mental resource I have to complete the ride.

Which is good, because the Cinghiale trip will be challenging enough in itself, and I have some goals of my own that aren’t going to make it any easier. And in the spirit of the original purpose of this blog–to keep me honest and accountable in my training for the Alps and Dolomites–I’m going to reluctantly commit to them publicly. Before I’ve done them. Meaning I might have to come back here and eat crow…

  1. I want to ride both sides of the Gavia this year. I made the right decision when I decided not to my first year, but I understand my limits and capabilities better now, and want to ride it the Giro ’88 direction!
  2. I want to ride up the 3rd side of the Stelvio, the Switzerland side. Again, it worked well for my goals not to do so in 2014, but now I want to do it.
  3. So, I’ve done one side of the Pordoi… Yup, now I’d like to do the other.

At any rate, that’s some of what I’ve been up to this year in preparation for the Alps and Dolomites. I wish it were more, but I’m also heartened that, especially as the summer has progressed, these rides have felt so… doable. It was not long ago that they were pretty intimidating. In fact, it was not long ago that some moderate 1 or 2 block rises were intimidating. Now, the question for me is not whether I can get up something, but how much I do or don’t want it to hurt. So, fingers crossed, Alps and Dolomites–here I come!

Advertisements

Dolomites 2016, wrap up

It was the last day, time to get in the bus and head back to Venice, and thence home. But the bus wouldn’t be leaving until early afternoon, so…

So some of us decided to go shopping in Corvara, the bigger town up the road a few miles. Because when in Italy!

This ended up being my actual last ride of the trip–a lazy roll in street clothes, trying not to sweat before shopping in Italian clothing stores. I wasn’t entirely successful, as even this lazy roll gained 800 feet in the 5 miles to Corvara.

Shopping in Italian clothing stores is a blast. The people in the store are really into their job of making you look good, so you basically end up in a dressing room being showered with clothes and having them tell you how fabulous they are on you. And the thing is, they’re always right–they bring things that fit and coordinate, and they show you exactly how to drape the fancy scarf or arrange the long belt, and you suddenly find out that you can be a pretty stellar looking person. If you have a team of Italians keeping you together.

So I left with a great pair of pants, a belt, and a scarf that has made several people mad when they ask where I got it and I disappoint them by telling them “Italy.” I regretfully left behind a number of other items. Sigh.

It may have been a bit different than the highlights of the other days’ rides, but it still was biking in the Dolomites–and something I’d recommend doing if you do go biking in the Dolomites.

The bus ride back was an opportunity to reflect. I came into the trip with less training–and less focused training–than I had my first trip in 2014, when I was so worried I wouldn’t even be able to make it up the climbs at all. In a way, I had no right to expect the trip to go really well, much less think I’d be able to achieve my goal of adding to the scheduled riding to do the Passo Pordoi.

Yet, the trip did go really well. I wasn’t any faster than in the previous years, but I wasn’t any slower either. It wasn’t like I had done no riding at all in preparation for the trip. After all, a lot of people train for RAMROD, rather than consider RAMROD a training ride! I’m no longer on the steepest part of the learning curve, but as someone who picked up cycling in the summer of 2010, I’m definitely still on a steepish part of it. Each year, I feel like my technique has gotten smoother, and I have gotten better at pacing myself. So I’m a better cyclist than I was in 2014, even if I haven’t put in the training to be any faster.

Still, it’s a really hard trip, and I’d advise doing some training for it. If you happen to be doing less than you think is optimal, it helps to have a very physically active job that intensively works many of the same muscle groups one uses cycling. And enjoying the peculiar suffering we willingly inflict on ourselves to bike uphill for a long, long time is definitely a must. Then, spending your summer vacation bicycling the Dolomites goes swimmingly!

Dolomites 2016, the final tally: around 335 miles, 45,000 feet elevation.

Some random photos:

The river path in Badia

The valley from the “flat ride”

Cinque Torri area

Alleghe

More from Cinque Torri

Dolomites 2016, the “Flat Ride”

Today’s destination on our last official day of riding was the same as last year, the stunningly beautiful road up a valley between two mountain ridges.

(I know that I keep on calling the scenery some variation of “stunningly beautiful”–because it is–but believe me, on a trip where one could almost become jaded and numbed by the surfeit of scenic beauty, this day’s ride would still jolt one back to slack-jawed wonder.)

I made a rookie mistake though, thinking that the same destination would mean the same route. Roll down the highway, then pedal up the valley. Simple, nothing too challenging.

Instead, the powers that be had found a better route. There was a newly-opened bike path up the slope from the highway, and some spiffy quiet backroads leading into the valley.

And naturally, this better route involved more and steeper climbing. Because of course it did. I should have known. There is a slight chance that, expecting an easy day, and having tired legs, I was slightly grumpy about the extra climbing. And just a wee bit pissed off that dammit, I knew I had to admit that the tranquil path and winding backroads were a way better route. How dare the powers that be change the route to make it better when my legs were tired?!?!?

You know, sometimes really beautiful landscape can seem like it’s that way out of spite, to taunt you.

Yes, I’m having a really sad day at this point…

But hey, I got over it. Eventually. Even though a little corner of me then remained annoyed, its new cause for complaint being that I was enjoying myself…

At any rate, we rode on this fabulous bike path created by fixing up an old hillside road made redundant by the highway in the valley. It wound along the contours of the landscape, mostly hidden among the trees, but occasionally popping out into wider vistas. And despite the unexpected added elevation, it was a delight and marvel of a way to get from point A to point B.

We eventually had to go back to the road, but this time climbed up and around a section of the previous year’s route on a great car-lite road. (Ok, I was completely grumpy about the road going uphill, and wondering how much longer it could do that, and not really wanting to know the answer because in these parts, it could be for a long time, but in retrospect, it was a great car-lite road…)

After the trauma of having to do something different from what I expected, we rejoined the previous year’s route, the long gentle climb up the valley between these two wonderful ridges. I will admit that I started to feel better here. Then there was the part where I was riding along chatting with Andy, trying not to sound *too* out of breath, and pretending to be way cooler than I am (you know, like the kind of cool person who can ride a bike and talk at the same time…).

The end of the road remained as wonderful a place to stop as I had remembered from last year.

Having lunch in a land of magic

There’s a gravel path that keeps going off into the distance and up to the pass–it would be worth coming back with a mountain bike to ride it…

I’m just going to sit quietly for a minute and look at the photos and remember.

 

 

 

Eventually, it was time to turn back. At least this year I learned from the past (despite starting the day with a rookie mistake), and took advantage of the facilities. The 20 mile ride back to the hotel over some rough road surfaces was much better without a bladder full to the bursting point… Pro tip–always pee when you have the chance!

In the category of “I’ve improved a lot as a cyclist in the 6 years I’ve been doing this, but have barely scratched the surface”–on the way back, Kerri rolled by me and Ian, chatted with us a bit, then pulled out her camera. She then proceeded to ride along no-hands (not a super big deal, especially for a former pro, I know…), taking photos, including twisting around to take photos of things behind her, all while holding her line perfectly.

Ian and I agreed that this was something neither of us would be attempting any time soon. Or preferably, never.

It was a bittersweet day. It is so hard to say goodbye to the idyllic days of beauty and cycling, especially when the last ride is one of the most spectacular on a trip that is basically one continuous highlight reel. But we were also looking forward to being home–and ready for our legs to get a break! At the hotel, I swung my leg off my bike with regret and anticipation. And I was already thinking about being back the next year.

“Flat ride” day: 43 miles, 3,800 feet elevation.

 

Dolomites 2016, Passo dell’Erbe!

This day…

I wrote at length about it last year, and the essentials of that post have not changed. There are other rides that have been subjectively more difficult for me because of the challenge they offered in relation to the amount of experience I had at the time.

But objectively, considering climbing per mile, the steepness of much of the climbing, and the rhythm of the route that makes you work until you are a few feet from the hotel, this is the hardest ride I have done. Subjectively, it’s pretty high on the list too.

Last year, I came into Passo dell’Erbe day with a lot of trepidation. I had done my homework, and knew it would be a huge challenge. Some descriptions of the ride made me really nervous about my ability to get through it without being a shattered, demoralized wreck by the end.

(Yes, this is what I do for vacation.)

This year, I was still a bundle of nerves heading into the day. Now I had no illusions about just how a huge challenge the day would be. But some of my nerves were jitters of anticipation and excitement, because I also knew how rewarding the day would be, the beauty of the ride, and the sense of accomplishment at its end.

I also knew that Ian would love this day, had spent a year telling him so, and couldn’t wait for his end-of-day reaction.

But first things first–before we could get to the end-of-day, we had to start the day. The Passo Gardena descent into Corvara is wonderful–but is almost even better on the way up. The road is in great shape, the climb is challenging but eminently doable, and this hillside looks like it is gathering you in and cradling you on your way up.

Atop the Passo Gardena. See how happy we still are!

The descent (which we came up on Sella Ronda day) is gentle and mostly non-technical, so you can just let it rip. And then you keep going down. And further down. And even having done this the year before, I was still getting anxious about how far down we were descending. It feels like you must have missed a turn–you surely couldn’t have as much as that to climb back up again?!?!

The answer is that yes, you do have as much as that to climb back up again. It’s quite alarming.

After the preliminaries of Passo Gardena and some rolling hills, we started towards San Pietro, the foot of the climb. Ian made the rookie mistake of thinking we were on the climb already–no, the steady 7-8% grade was not yet the climb.

He admitted later that he was wondering why I was going so slow on the climb–then when we actually got to the real climb he figured it out–I was just taking it easy in preparation for the actual challenge of the day.

The wall that the road goes up out of San Pietro has gotten no less steep. This year at least I was prepared. And I was very proud of myself for, in lowest gear of 34-29, being able to keep my pedaling calm and my breathing steady, despite the high level of effort I was putting out. Just going up that sustained stretch of 15% in a non-flailing way is a victory in my book.

For added entertainment this year, this was one of the sections that Andy wafted by me on. If you have ever pedaled lazily on a flat route, choosing to bike a few blocks rather than walk because you’re feeling lazy, barely aware of even having to put pressure into the pedals–well then you probably looked about how Andy did in this moment. He had at least three lower gears left, and was giving absolutely no visible signs of exertion as he shot past me. 15% grade!

I would have laughed at the absurdity of the moment, but I didn’t have the breath or muscular engagement to spare.

As I got towards the flat and even downhill section towards the top, Andy reappeared (having stopped to take photos, and possibly re-ride the “fun” parts of the climb for all I know), and we rode along together, chatting. This was fun, and it’s always a treat to get to study Andy’s flowing style on the bike. But boy does it make you aware of the lines you’re taking around a corner as you’re riding shoulder-to-shoulder and really hoping not to be *that person* who did a boneheaded thing and took out a Giro d’Italia winner…

I told myself that he’s such an experienced, talented, solid rider that I probably couldn’t take him out if I tried, and kept enjoying the ride. And kept trying not to be an utter spaz around the corners.

Trees, flowers, fields, mountains–Passo dell’Erbe

I will admit that as enjoyable as the climb was, especially the wonderful section through the forest that seems like a ride in the Pacific Northwest, with an evergreen-y tang to the air, I was pretty darn tootling happy to see the van at the top. And eat. And sit in the sun (it was a hot day at the bottom of the climb, but the air becomes more refreshing several thousand feet higher up).

At the end of the day, the best part of all–Ian saying “you were right, I loved that! That was amazing!”

Passo dell’Erbe keeps its special place for me,–challenging, beautiful, and a cause for celebration.

Which is a thought that I can reflect on now–in the moment, I was just so tired, so hungry, so sweaty, that I was nearly paralyzed by the crisis of what need to address first. Yay for summer vacation!

Passo dell’Erbe day: 67ish miles (really, forgot to start my Garmin again?!), 10,000 feet elevation.

Dolomites 2016, rest on the Pordoi

On the original schedule, today was the official rest day. But we had an unscheduled rest day just a couple days prior. So what to do? The smart people on the trip stuck to the schedule. However, given that you were dealing with a population of people who elected to spend their vacation cycling up steep mountains, most people rode.

One of my goals before the trip was to ride the Passo Pordoi. Since it wasn’t part of our official itinerary, that meant either adding on to a day’s ride, or cycling on the rest day. And given my sub-optimal training for the trip, I wasn’t sure it would happen. Given that the next day would be Passo dell’Erbe day, taking some rest was probably the better course.

So I rode instead.

My recollection of the day was that I felt tired, but all considered, pretty good overall. Delusional? Perhaps.

From Badia, you get the easy part over with first–a nice warm up ride to Corvara, 5 miles and 750 feet of elevation gain. From Corvara, you then have to go over the Passo Campolongo to get to the start of the Passo Pordoi climb. A climb to get to the start of the climb is a specialty of the region.

But the Campolongo is not a steep climb–unlike something like the Passo Fedaia, it actually is possible to take it easy on the way up.  Partway up we did a stop and regroup for photos, to document how many foolhardy people were out on the rest day.

It’s the rest day, so naturally we’re on our way to the Passo Pordoi. Even Gerardo got roped into the insanity and drove the support van for us. Spoiled rotten on this trip!

Down a little ways into Arraba, and then–Pordoi! This is a storied climb, used frequently in the Giro d’Italia, and a favorite of the Italian cycling legend Fausto Coppi. He was so closely associated with the climb that there is a monument to him at the top of the pass, one of the great shrines of the church of cycling.

At the Coppi monument

To get to the Coppi monument, you climb 5.5 miles of laid-out-with-a-ruler 7% grade, switchbacking up the mountain with amazing views in every direction. I set myself a goal of expending as little energy as possible on this “rest day” and to that end, stopped frequently for photos on the way up.

A little ways up the Pordoi

It was a gorgeous day, in a gorgeous setting

Wonderful riding, with wonderful company

No wonder Fausto Coppi loved this climb so much. There is a glorious sense of being on top of the world as you progress up the Pordoi. It is the second-highest paved road in the Dolomites (just the Passo Sella rises higher). From early on in the climb, you already feel elevated above the surrounding terrain–which you can easily survey as the slope is treeless, views unobscured. The switchbacks serve to bring a kaleidoscope of views in front of one (no pesky turning of your head required!)

Once at the top, even more views open up

Climbing the Passo Pordoi, check!

(Of course, I’ve still only climbed it from one direction…)

Of course, even though I could now check this accomplishment off the list, I still had to make it back to the hotel. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, meant going back up and over the Passo Campolongo. I hadn’t ridden the Campolongo in this direction before, and despite my fatigue, it turned out to be really fun.

You see completely different things when going up than when descending, and in some cases, the difference is great enough that it would be easy to be oblivious to the fact of being on a road you’re ridden before. The ascent of the Campolongo from Arabba is an instance of that for me. And then it turns out that the “easy” slopes of the ascent from Corvara are a blast to go back down.

This “rest day” concluded with the traditional Cinghiale wine tasting. Andy regaled us with tales of wine-making in Italy, as we sipped the results. Very relaxing.

The tales

The wines

The view

Of course, as a Cinghiale veteran, I knew that the wine tasting just meant that tomorrow would be the hardest ride of the trip, but hey, I let myself be suckered into thinking that these Cinghiale folks had my best interests at heart anyway.

Rest day on the Pordoi: 34 miles, 4.800 feet elevation

 

 

Dolomites 2016, Giau day

Since the previous day was supposed to be a riding day, then was declared a rest day when the weather looked lousy, but I went riding anyway, I don’t know what day of the trip it is anymore.

So let’s settle for Giau Day.

The oft-photographed peak at the top of the Passo Giau was being atmospheric this year

Earlier in the year, I was excited to watch the Giro d’Italia go over the Passo Giau in stage 14. They showed me problems I didn’t even know a person could encounter while cycling, such as going so fast up the 10% grade of the Giau that they were forced to stop pedaling and coast around the hairpin bends.

Richard encourages us with the thumbs up while going past some of the road paint left over from encouraging the Giro riders

It’s always nice to be able to exclude something from the list of things one will ever have to worry about.

It was also nice to hear the Giro announcers go on and on about what a beast of a climb the Giau is. Sure, I think that nearly 10 miles pegged at 10% nearly the whole time is tough. But what do I know? I don’t have to coast around corners going up it… But apparently the pros agree–this is one tough climb.

And I’ve really enjoyed it each time I’ve ridden it. The challenge it presented me the first year, when at first I thought I wasn’t going to keep my breakfast down, turned to joy as my stomach settled, and by the top I felt on top of the world. The climb became a symbol of perseverance and success–and even fun.

So after two years of climbing it pretty solidly, I decided this year that I didn’t have a ton I felt I needed to prove. I dawdled up, stopping for pictures as I went. (Clicking on a picture will take you to my Flickr photostream if you need to see even more…)

Did I mention the Giau is steep? The road gets up to the level of the house pretty soon after turning the corner…

The road engineers had to coil the road like a snake to get up the mountain

Even when you can start to see the peak at the top, you are a long, long, long way from being done…

The flowers are pretty…

The way the view opens up towards the top is pretty nice too…

Photo time with Andy! Aren’t we cute in our matching jerseys… Or something…

Victory! We were atop the Passo Giau!

But the day was not done, not by any means. There was some Very Important Business left, namely, lunch! Like last year, we proceeded to the Rifugio Cinque Torri (via the super-fun descent off the other side of the Passo Giau, and a climb partway up the Passo Falzarego). After changing into non-sweaty non-cycling clothes in the parking lot, up we went on the cable car to a lunch site that stands out for scenic beauty in a region stuffed silly for scenic beauty. And ate some really delicious food–so hard to come by in Italy…

Non-sweaty, non-cycling clothes, and Gerardo! It doesn’t get any better than this!

Sheep and scenery on the chairlift ride

It’s even greener and more lush than this. Seriously. No wonder there are so many sheep.

Instead of including all the photos from the top, just click on this one and look through my photostream, if you think this is remotely scenic.

After lunch, we clambered over the rocks, paths, and sobering WW1 bunkers. As beautiful as the region is, the idea of being huddled up there in winter with people shooting at you from the hill opposite is indescribably awful. What the reality must have been… And for what?

Once on the road again, it was up and over the rest of the Passo Falzarego, plus the little extra bump of the Passo Valparola, and then down to Badia, where we would be based for the rest of the trip.

To Badia!

This year we all had the good luck of staying the Gran Ander, last year’s hotel of the awesome breakfast and the bonus climbing. Yay?

This was before dinner. Andy was enthusing. Ian was hungry. He was in his best McKayla Maroney Not Impressed mode.

This is what Ian was looking at while being Not Impressed

Between stopping for photos up the Giau and stopping for lunch up the Falzarego, it was a pretty relaxed day. And then I look at the ride stats and realize what a ridiculous statement that is!

Giau Day: 37 miles, 6,700 feet elevation.

 

 

 

Dolomites 2016, Day 4 (I guess)

Today was supposed to involve riding up mountain passes and such, with a rest day planned later. But instead, the weather forecast looked threatening (not the end of the world, given the neoprene gloves, rain pants, and other such winter clothing one packs for this trip) but also looked fabulous for the rest of the trip.

It stayed nice in Alleghe, but if you look off in the distance, it’s raining in the mountains

So Andy of the “I’ve biked in bad weather, and have nothing further to proves as regards that” fame suggested moving the rest day to today. Since I figure that one of the things that I’m paying for is to follow the advice of a Giro d’Italia-winning pro cyclist as regards my cycling, I had my orders. Rest day it was.

And I might have been a wee bit sore from the brief experimentation with not keeping the rubber side down the day before.

Unfortunately, I can also be a sucker for peer pressure, especially as regards things that are probably stupid ideas (see the VOV incident of the year before…)

So when I wandered through the lobby area of the hotel, and Kerry started twisting my arm to go ride up the gradients-in-the-teens Serrai di Sottaguda with some folks (“everybody’s doing it!”), I naturally caved. Because nothing says “Rest Day” like biking up an 18% slope.

And as is usually the case when I let myself get talked into something I know better than to do, it was a lot of fun. The group of us dawdled along, took photos, stopped to admire the view, and somehow really did manage to make a rest day out of 18%.

They take their wood stacking seriously in the Dolomites

Time for us all to stop and take a picture of the waterfall

After ascending through the Serrai di Sottoguda, we had to take to the road to come back (for some reason, they don’t want bicyclists zooming downhill through crowds of gawking pedestrians on a path that is sometimes just a few feet wide!). Though it’s always a little sad to leave a car-free paradise, the road was one heck of a fun descent! Some folks decided to stop at a café, but I decided to just keep it rolling gently back to the hotel.

And then I did what I had originally planned to do, and took a slow, feeble rest day amble around Alleghe.

They also take their flowers seriously in the Dolomites

It’s the Dolomites. Even a rest day amble involves a lot of elevation gain

Day 4/Rest Day: 15.3 miles, 1,600 feet.

Ignore the bit where my GPS got lost and thought I was scaling the mountain…

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