Dolomites 2015, Day 2

So yes, I love bicycling in the Dolomites, but perhaps what I have talked about the most (in fact, it came up in conversation just a couple days ago) are the tomatoes that Gerardo brought from Tuscany. Heaven.

On most of our rides, there would be a stop where Gerardo would slice up a bunch of these Tuscan tomatoes, press them into pieces of bread so that their juices infused the bread, and then drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt over it all. This was one of the most delicious things I have had to eat, on or off of a bike.

I lead with this because Day 2, with Passo Duran and Passo Staulanza on the itinerary, was the first day that rated a food stop serious enough to bring out the tomatoes, and thus give us a pretty powerful incentive to get to the top of every remaining climb on the trip.

And yet–as significant as this event was, it was just one of the highlights of the day.

The day (pretty much the same ride as last year) started with an easy spin down the river valley out of Alleghe. It was a section of road that brings out the luxuriously glorious side of cycling–not so downhill as to require braking or lots of attentive caution, but enough downhill to flow with ease and delight around the many curves of the road.

It’s hard to beat the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment of reaching the top of a hard climb, but the intoxicating delight of roads like this comes pretty close.

So I was loving the motion and flow of the road, and the rhythm of leaning one way and another into the curves. I was also noticing that Andy was behind me, and that it was perhaps a good time not to do anything particularly boneheaded on my bike.

That’s when I heard “You look at one with your bicycle, in case you were wondering.” from behind me.

BWAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! ANDY I-WON-THE-GIRO-D’ITALIA HAMPSTEN COMPLIMENTED ME ON MY BICYCLING!!!!! AGAIN!!!!!

In a moment of complete genius, I managed not to fall off my bike or crash or do anything particularly boneheaded. I might have even managed to say “Thanks!” (But honestly, I don’t remember…)

So, anyway. There was that, which made the day nice.

And then we hit the climb to the Passo Duran, which was still hard. But this year I knew I could do it. And despite being familiar with it, I was pleasantly surprised by the part at the top that levels off a bit, and rolled up to the van feeling pretty good. Whereupon Gerardo promptly took charge of my bike as I was looking for a spot to lay it down, and gently leaned it up against a post. As for the van… There were tomatoes… Sigh.

Gerardo continues to like my bike and take good care of it!

The descent from the pass is really steep, with lots of tight turns–it’s a descent for caution (and hoping you don’t overheat your rims) rather than swooping joy. This year was at least made a bit more entertaining by Gianone splashing some water on his disc brakes at the bottom so we could hear them sizzle.

This descent ends (and ascent to Passo Staulanza begins) in the town of Dont. The jokes and wry comments never get old. It really is a moment that makes you reconsider/laugh at your decisions in life that led to you spending your vacation climbing mountain passes in the Dolomites.

I’ve heard that the beach can be nice in the summer, for example.

Like last year, my legs were not thrilled about starting a second climb, but this year I was ready for that. And, as it turns out, the start of the climb is steepish, so it’s not entirely me being a wuss that made it seem difficult.

Unlike last year, I knew when I got to the switchbacks that I was pretty near to the top, and felt pretty chipper about that fact.

Like last year, I neglected to get any photos of the Passo Staulanza. I’m pretty awesome that way.

It was a delightful day, and I enjoyed it all the more for having done it before.

Since I don’t have any of the Staulanza, here’s another of the Duran, with the road that will take us to the Staulanza stretching picturesquely away…

Two days in, and I was so happy to be back. I was also happy that the weather forecast looked really good for our return to the Sella Ronda the next day. After walking part of the Passo Fedaia last year, I had some unfinished business I wanted to take care of.

But first, the hotel, food (and more food), and more views!

More of the view from my room in Alleghe

44 miles, 6,100 feet

44 miles, 6,100 feet

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 1

Finally, here I was again, riding a bus up into the Dolomite mountains, just a few hours away from being on my bicycle.

Lousy photo of one of the amazing views from the bus ride

Lousy photo of one of the amazing views from the bus ride

I spent a lot less time this year worrying about whether I would be able to do the riding (though I still worried plenty about whether I was well-enough prepared and in shape for the trip). I replaced that worrying with worrying that I shouldn’t be there at all, given that Ian’s work schedule had prevented him from doing the trip this year. Was it wrong and selfish of me to jaunt off on another awesome Italian vacation, blithely leaving him behind?

The bus ride from Venice to Alleghe put my worries to rest. As the foothills rose around us, I felt even worse that Ian couldn’t be there, knowing how much he would have enjoyed the trip. But I felt even better that I had decided to go anyway.

There was a group of guys from Kansas on the trip this year. Looking at the sheer hillsides surrounding us, the self-control was killing me, but I wasn’t saying it… To my great relief and delight, one of them finally did: “We’re not in Kansas any more!”

Indeed, we weren’t. For all the people who have declared me crazy for biking in the Dolomites (and I’ll admit, you have a point)–a few days in, one of the other riders who had read this blog before the trip told me “Despite your photos and descriptions, I just wasn’t prepared for how visually stunning it would be.” It’s one of the most astonishing, beautiful places I’ve been. And yet, that’s still understating the impact of being there.

And then, arrival, check in, lunch, bike assembly, and the peleton was off!

I guess this hotel room is acceptable.

Bike building time was a little crazier than last year–there were a lot more people on the trip this time around. I was happily cruising along by myself, when I noticed that my rear wheel wouldn’t turn. Oh silly me, the brakes were off-center and rubbing. But it still wouldn’t turn… Turns out the wheel was quite warped–probably got a good bump in transit. Gerardo seemed very busy at the time, so I asked Andy if he could ask Gerardo to look at it when he got free.

Silly me. Turns out that Andy Hampsten knows a few things about bicycles, and, spoke wrench in hand, he soon had the situation straightened out. Literally and figuratively. (Ha ha–see what I did there!) So, I owe him an apology–sorry Andy, for having any doubt about your bicycle skills…

The route was the same as last year, a really fabulous ride up the valley slopes, around a bit, and back down. There’s a fun point where you can look back and catch a glimpse of the lake far below, and think “wow! I started down there?!?!” It’s a “short” ride, but with challenging enough climbs that you can really put some hurt in your legs if you want to. But it’s just the easy, first-day, “does my bike work?” ride.

I, as I now knew I would, loved the first day ride–not only did I now know I could do it, I was just so happy to be back! As other people exclaimed over the view, or the awesomeness of the riding, I couldn’t help chiming in with variations of “I know–see why I came back!!!” I probably became a very annoying broken record over the course of the trip. Sorry folks! But I was just so happy to be back!

The ride was also very sobering. A rider had a serious crash towards the end of it. I don’t feel that it’s my story to tell–just because I’m writing up my experience of the trip doesn’t mean that I can assume others on the trip signed up to be characters in my blog. From what I saw though, the professionalism of all the Cinghiale people was really reassuring, both in the immediate emergency, and in later support for the rider. I can say that the person who crashed is a fabulous person I hope to have the pleasure of riding with again.

It does seem appropriate here to send some appreciation the way of the Cinghiale staff. I have talked a lot about how wonderful Gerardo, Elaine, and Andy are–and they continued their streak of fabulousness on this year’s trip. Also back from last year were the stellar Richard and Kerri. Last year Richard was a guide for the Dolomites portion, and Kerri was a guide for the Alps portion. Because we were a larger group this year, they both guided the whole trip (yay!), and were joined by the very capable but very goofy Jonathan, better known as Gianone.

With Kerri and Gianone! (Aka “who’s the midget?”)

At the end of the day, I missed Ian, was thinking carefully about risk vs. reward, and still absolutely thrilled that I was there. It was also nice to enjoy the company of a couple of returnees from last year, as well as a couple people I had gotten to know a bit before the trip. Oh, and the food. Lots of delicious, fresh food.

23 miles, 2,450 feet

23 miles, 2,450 feet