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.
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.