Short version: another four pass day, and extra smugness because I didn’t get covered in sheep shit!
Long version: one of the joys of being in Italy is the delicious food. One of the joys of bicycling is how fabulously tasty food tastes after a hard ride. One of the joys of cycling in Italy is… Well, you’ve figured it out, I’m sure.
Unfortunately, food was also one of the perils. I was burning calories at an unaccustomed rate, and my stomach was pretty fixated on GETTING THOSE CALORIES REPLACED NOW!!! So the gap between dinner (that usually lasted late into the evening) and breakfast felt amazingly long. And come breakfast, I was faced with a dilemma: eat a much larger breakfast than I was used to in order to calm my ravenous hunger and fuel up for the day’s ride, and then jump on my bike and potentially not feel so great; or, eat my usual small breakfast, be underfuelled, and then jump on my bike and potentially not feel so great.
Each day I decided to do the smart thing, and eat enough food at breakfast. But day 4 is when it caught up with me. For whatever reason, my breakfast refused to settle down in my stomach. And then we started biking up a mountain.
The schedule for the day was the Passo Giau, and the Passo Falzerego, with possibility for some extra-credit riding. One of my goals in my training was to arrive in good enough shape that I could handle all the riding, and even opt for some extra credit riding if I wanted to. This was my first chance–and my legs were tired (no surprise there), and if I couldn’t keep my breakfast down, I wasn’t going to be doing much riding at all.
The climb up the Giau started right away (to be fair, there were about two flat miles before we started uphill), and I managed to drop a lot of people from my front wheel fast. I was going backwards through the peleton, with leaden legs and a molten lead stomach.
On the plus side, it was a beautiful day, and a beautiful road. Except for the part where someone had spray-painted bad jokes on the road. (What do you call a deer without eyes? …a mile later… No ideer.) I was resigned to a pitiful crawl up the mountain side, swallowing my pride (except the idea of swallowing anything made me feel worse…)
And then, my stomach settled down, and my legs woke up. I felt fabulous! Next thing I knew, I was pedaling easily past some people that I had watched disappear off into the distance, exchanging a cheery remark as I went by, and then secretly wondering how they ended up so far behind me so quickly. Why didn’t they just come with?!?! It’s so easy to bicycle up a mountain!
The Giau ended up being this amazing experience where the further up the climb I got, the better I felt. My legs seemed to get less, not more tired, the air never felt like it was thinning out, and the switchbacks stretching out above me encouraged rather than oppressed me.
For the record, the Giau averages 10% grade for several miles, and tops out at 7,400 feet or so (our hotel was at 3,200)–it’s a hard climb. I had no business having as much fun on it as I did, or feeling like it got easier and easier as I went (it didn’t). But whatever delusions I was suffering, I’ll take it, because by the top I was in a great mood, and almost laughing at what child’s play it was to cycle up a mountain.
At the summit, there was the usual paradise of views (beautiful!!! seriously–no Photoshop harmed in the making of this?!?!), Gerardo (van with warm clothes in it! food! –what sort of silly person would have their stomach turn at the thought of food?!?), and a rifugio (warm! espresso!). So, pretty much all that is needed to be deliriously happy.
At this point we had to commit to the original plan (descend, climb Passo Falzerego, and back down into Alleghe) or to the extra credit option (turn aside at Falzarego and descend into Corvara–where we had stopped at the bike gallery the day before–then up over Passo Campolongo, and then down into Alleghe). Why not wait to decide till we were at the Falzerego? Because we neded to let the hotel know how many people would be back for lunch, and how many wouldn’t. And keeping the people in the hotel kitchen happy with us was a cause I could get behind.
Since I was now feeling great, I signed up for the extra-credit option. After all, the day before, I had been enjoying how easy the Campolongo was, compared to other climbs we had done, and the descent from it into Alleghe was more fun than should be allowed, so why pass that opportunity up?
After another great descent, we started up the Falzerego, which was a laid back sort of ascent. The slope wasn’t that steep, there were even flattish sections, the landscape was open, allowing for admiration of the changing view as you gained altitude. It was also a fun ascent because Ian (usually one of the first, if not the first, up most of the climbs so far) declared he was starting his rest day a day early, and would ride up with me–at my glacially slow tempo, apparently… He then spent a lot of the ascent complaining that I was going too fast… At any rate, it was fun riding together, even if Ian can’t decide whether I bike too slow or too fast for his taste.
What I didn’t know is that from the Falzerego, we didn’t descend straight into Corvara, but instead continued up a negligible amount to the Passo Valparola. Though it wasn’t very far uphill, it was another thing called Passo, so (once we ascended the Campolongo) it would be the second four-pass day in a row. And though it wasn’t far, it was into a headwind (just so unfair when you’re going uphill). And then we descended into a headwind. And then we rode further into La Villa and Badia into a headwind.
By now I was a little sick of wind.
But then we stopped for lunch at a place whose chef was a cyclist and a friend of our guide Ricardo (another awesome part of the Cinghiale team, even though I haven’t mentioned him so far). Unfortunately, we were too late for lunch, and he had already left. So instead we “settled” for some snacks that the kitchen could throw together for us. In Italy, what that means is that they bring you out a luxurious spread of fresh veggies, salad, cheeses, meats, and breads (and of course, the ubiquitous olive oil and balsalmic vinegar), and as you’re gleefully devouring the food, apologize for not having anything better to feed you.
Have I mentioned how much I love Italy? And the food there?
From there we retraced a bit of our route, and then continued on into Corvara. Since we had turned around, the annoying headwind was now a tailwind. Wind is awesome!
Andy was riding behind me for part of this, and as we were pushing along, I start hearing a plaintive cry behind me “Are we there yet? This is uphill–who made me eat that big lunch?” I pointed out that this whole thing was his idea.
Once in Corvara (not that far from our lunch stop) Andy stopped the group, and pointed out a few different places we could go if we wished–a cafe for espresso, a chocolate shop, etc–and suggested taking some time to explore the town a little, and let lunch settle before setting off up the Campolongo. At this point, I was starting to hear the siren call of a shower, and being not in bicycle clothes, as were a couple others, so Ian, myself, and two other guys ended up continuing on instead of stopping.
We took it easy up the Campolongo, and again I enjoyed just how effortless it could be to bag a mountain pass. Then I got elected to lead the descent down, a couple of the others not being as sure of the way (one was the guy who wasn’t feeling well the day before, so he hadn’t ridden this way before).
This was the descent I had followed Andy down, and it was so fun to get to go down it again, knowing that I could go for it–great road surface, well-banked corners, all that one could desire. A couple times we went by large herds of sheep up on the slope of the hill next to us–one sheep kicked a branch down towards me right as I rode by, and I’m pretty sure it was with malicious intent…
Back at the hotel, and after a shower I joined a few other folks downstairs for a beer, relaxed, enjoyed the sense of accomplishment for the day, and waited for the rest of the group to come in. And then the day got even better.
As the people who had lingered in Corvara with Andy came in, their stunned looks foretold the tragic tale they would tell. The herds of sheep on the hill that we rode by? They were being herded on the road when the later group rode by (and through). And with sheep… Come sheep byproducts…
Apparently the road was covered with sheep excreta, and pretty soon, so were their bikes. I guess the stuff is messy. And slippery. All things that I wouldn’t know, because I didn’t have to ride through it. Nor did I have to spend a good amount of time washing it off of my bike. Or digging it out of my brakes and gears.
Not that those of us who missed the sheep shit were smug or anything.
It was an awesome day.
Final numbers on the day–61 miles, 8,700 feet elevation gain, 0 sheep turds ridden through.
(Side note: it wasn’t until after this day’s ride that, looking at the map, I realized that the latter part of the descent into Alleghe from the Campolongo is the same road we climbed up on the the first day’s ride. Things look very different on the way up versus on the way down. And when you’re really jetlagged…)