A funny story

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

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

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

I just… I can’t even… I…

Sigh.

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

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

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Dolomites 2015, Rest Day

Oh the sweetness of the rest day!

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

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

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

Ok setting for the neighborhood backyard soccer game

Looking down the valley that Badia is in

Artsy flowers shot

Artsy sky shot

Pathside shrine, because it’s Italy

Tiny frog

Pathside stream

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

Dolomites 2015, Day 5

Subtitled “Last Year This Was the Rest Day.”

Expressed mathematically, Sella Ronda + Giau = Tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprisingly, it was quite scenic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 4

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

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

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

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

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

See, annoyingly cheerful!

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

The view

More of the view

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

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

Seriously, Italy is amazing.

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

The chair lift from the top

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

Some of the lunch environs

Lunch view in a different direction

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

A restored WWI bunker

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

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

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

41 miles, 6,250 feet

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 3

Well, that was an unintendedly long cliffhanger from the Day 2 write-up–my job got a bit all-consuming. Wonderful, but all-consuming.

Anyway, when I left off over a month ago, I was preparing for Sella Ronda day, and hoping that I would fare better with it than I had the previous year.

The weather was much more auspicious–a decent temperature, and more importantly, no insane wind. We got to the Serrai di Sottoguda, the path through the narrow gorge that is now a park, where last year I thought to myself “sign me up for next year.” This time I was prepared, though all I can say is that the pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice.

Serrai di Sottoguda

I wasn’t the only one stopping for photos

Many sections of the Serrai are double digit gradients, but you don’t notice–you’re too busy gawking and exclaiming over the beauty of it.

It’s Italy–there are shrines everywhere. I really love that.

But, nothing lasts forever (even if some climbs feel like it), and we eventually emerged onto the main road to start the Fedaia climb proper (as opposed to all of the other climbing we had done to get there, which apparently didn’t count.)

To my initial delight, the wind was not blowing like mad! I was able to stay on my bike without fear of suddenly being blown to the other side of the road, or even blown right over! But as I rode, I was noticing “this part is really hard, I don’t remember it being this hard… Oh right, I was walking this section last year.”

So the improved weather was a mixed blessing. I did what I knew I was capable of, ride the whole climb, but boy was that an even harder climb than I thought it was!

At any rate, as difficult as it was, it was an improvement on the previous year when I thought I was in over my head and didn’t know, given the wind conditions, whether I’d make it through the day. My mental state this year was also improved by the fact that the pass wasn’t freezing cold–last year I thought I’d never be warm again.

See how happy and not-cold I was at the top of the Fedaia! Shorts and short sleeves!

After some snacks–including the Tuscan tomatoes–I was feeling pretty chipper and ready to go. And this time I made sure to actually look at the lake and glacier on my way down.

Lago di Fedaia

Getting arty with the Ghiacciaio della Marmolada

At this point, I don’t have tons to add about the ride from last year’s two part write up. This year, we had lunch partway up the second climb (Passo Sella), instead of partway up the third (Passo Gardegna), which changed the rhythm of the day a little. But the day is still a magical experience of an incredibly hard climb, and then everything getting progressively easier from there, until you think you’re pretty awesome at this bicycling uphill thing.

The view behind me is pretty spectacular, but the food is the other direction. Notice which way most people are facing…

I rode different parts alone or with people than last year, which made the same ride new. The comradery up a climb when you find someone of a similar pace can be really special–yet being alone to look around and wonder at the beauty that surrounds you while riding at your own whim is also its own delightful experience.

From Passo Sella

“The Road goes ever on and on…”

Sella Ronda day is really special–it holds so much of why I love this trip and love cycling: challenge, fun, beauty, food, freedom, accomplishment, fellowship–the List goes ever on and on…

60 miles, 8,150 feet

60 miles, 8,150 feet