Dolomites 2015, Day 8

And here it was already, the last day of riding. It’s a day of mixed emotions–regret that, despite some climbs feeling like they had stopped the forward progress of time, the trip was so quickly over–and joyful anticipation of being home. And of resting my legs.

The day dawned sunny and clear, the air particularly fresh after the previous day’s rain. The summer sun was misleading–it was cold! The hills were quite lovely with their fresh dusting of snow…

We headed down the river valley for about 10 miles, and then turned up another valley that ran between two ridges. This valley was a little wider, and the ridges clearly defined. It created a beautiful vista that was open enough to see a long ways, yet closed in enough to fit perfectly in your field of vision.

Valley and ridges

And after a bit of a noticeably uphill bit, it became a very gentle slope, astonishingly effortless riding compared to the previous 7 days.  And for whatever reason, my legs felt good, just in time for the ride that made it feel like riding a bike is easy!

Ridge

We supposedly had a deadline of when we needed to turn around in order to get back to the hotel and pack our bikes for the drive back to the last night’s hotel outside of Venice. And that time had passed us by–but so had Gerardo with the van and snacks, and we hadn’t caught up to him yet.

I was starting to get a little anxious, feeling like, as a responsible person, I should be trying to stay on schedule. But upon consideration, I decided that if Andy hadn’t turned us around yet, it was no business of mine, and I should just relax and enjoy the scenery.

So I did.

Some of the scenery available for the enjoying

And, behind schedule but still too soon, we came to the end of the (paved) road where Gerardo had the final spread set out. I miss Gerardo.

Some of the trip’s women–Gerardo kindly offered to help with the photo!

My bike gets a rest while I snack

The ride back down the valley was great. I was floating along the slight downhill, lightly pedaling and going well over 20mph, when one of the guys I had pulled at the end of the Passo delle Erbe ride came whizzing by. His greater mass was an advantage on the downhill, and he invited me to hop on his wheel. The joyride continued, now even faster!

Like last year, I was enjoying my birthday.

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Can you tell that I’m enjoying my birthday?

Claiming the birthday girl’s prerogative of a photo with Andy

The final ride up the river valley went quickly viewed objectively–the day was warming up, my legs felt good, it had been a relatively easy, short ride–so I was riding faster up the valley than I had the previous two days. However, I really had to pee, so there were times that the road seemed unending. (And unnecessarily bumpy…) But thankfully, it was more an annoyance than an emergency.

Back at the hotel, we got our bikes packed up, ate lunch, and loaded ourselves and our luggage onto the bus. The route back towards Venice took us first back through Alleghe via Corvara. I was studying the map, trying to figure out the reasonable route for the tour bus to take that wasn’t one of the narrow, hairpin-filled roads that we had ridden on. It didn’t exist. The ride back was an impressive display of skill by the bus driver, as he maneuvered his way down roads that I had found challenging to negotiate on an agile bicycle.

My view from the bus

My view from the bus

It was another wonderful trip. Though I was delighted to get to ride the Stelvio and Gavia last year–it felt like cycling’s equivalent of a religious pilgrimage–I keep on coming back to how much I love the Dolomites. Getting to explore them a bit more this year was beautiful, challenging, and fulfilling.

Again, I highly recommend checking out Cinghiale Cycling Tours with Andy Hampsten. Andy and Elaine are wonderful people, and they assemble a great team. Gerardo is a national treasure, and Kerri, Richard, and Gianone were both perpetually fun, and extremely hardworking. And the food… So much delicious food!

Kerry and Gianone

Like last year, I hope to return–the finger-crossing has begun.

40 miles, 2,950'

40 miles, 2,950′

 

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Dolomites 2015, Day 7

So far, we had been lucky in the weather–sun and warmth predominated, with only a couple rain drops. Today’s forecast was different–cold and wet.

There was much discussion over breakfast about whether to ride, where to, and when. A lot of people made the sensible decision to have a relaxed warm day inside and recover from their strenuous efforts of the previous day.

But Andy’s always up for a ride, so while the sensible people stayed home, the rest of us gathered for a late-starting easy, casual ride. No mountain passes.

We headed down the river valley from Badia (we had worked so hard to ascend it the previous day… All that work for naught!) and turned off at Pidro to head towards La Val.

Then we started heading up the valley walls. And I mean walls! It really is astonishing the places some people built towns. The road would switchback between buildings that were practically completely underground on the uphill side, and above ground level on the downhill side. Gradients in the teens were the new normal.

I took no photos this day, so borrowed this from Cinghiale's facebook page.

I took no photos, so borrowed this from Cinghiale’s facebook page. Richard and Gianone (mid-conversation) are leading the charge up the hill! Gianone is probably mis-pronouncing some Italian…

We biked for a while, though not very far, until we ran out of pavement. The guide Richard, whose neighborhood this was, also does a lot of mountain biking, and said there were great rides up here on the dirt paths, that took you all over the valley. He seemed a bit disappointed at our lame road bikes that weren’t going to venture further.

I believed him that the additional riding was fabulous, though I’ll admit to being a wee bit relieved that I could blame it on my lame road bike that I couldn’t do any more hard riding at that point…

The foolhardy few!

The foolhardy few!

It was the shortest day of the trip, but in the cold and damp (despite the dire weather forecast, there never was a sustained downpour–just general dampness), and after the Passo delle Erbe, it felt like we were being pretty intrepid and hardcore to be out on our bikes at all. It was a fun day!

Just 15.5 miles and 2,300'

Just 15.5 miles and 2,300′

Dolomites 2015, Day 6

I am still so awed by this ride. It was one of those accomplishments that I think I will always be able to look back on and feel pride and wonder and joy about. Five years ago, I was still having to psych myself up to bike block-long gentle rises. I never would have dreamed I could do something like this day’s ride.

Dressing for success again with my Molteni jersey. By association with what I have accomplished in it, it has quickly become my favorite piece of bike apparel.

Honestly, I start to choke up a little when I think about it for a while–like when I’m trying to find a way to put into words what it meant and means to me.

This was the first ride from our new Dolomites location of Badia, and fully justified my long anticipation of the all-Dolomites tour. This was Passo delle Erbe day.

But first–I think I’m starting to catch on to how they do things at Cinghiale. If Andy starts plying you with wine, be wary. Be very wary.

You may recall that the previous day was the rest day. In my recap, I neglected to mention that before dinner, Andy led his customary wine tasting. I wish I could remember the details, but in my defense, I was seduced by the many delicious Italian wines, then staggered over to dinner, where I stuffed my belly and, yes, drank more wine. It was really great, but my memory of the evening is slightly hazy for some reason…

Andy plying us with wine

Andy plying us with wine

Last year, Andy softened us up with the wine tasting, then the next day kicked out of the van and told us no dinner until we biked over the Stelvio. Even forewarned this year, I trustingly imbibed, thinking what a nice guy he was to share such bounty. And this year the next day’s ride was even harder. Yes, harder than the Stelvio.

Now I’m on to Andy’s tricks. Should I be lucky enough to go back, I’ll know. Not that it will change anything.

...and softening us up via the view too

…and softening us up via the view too

Anyway. The “short” version:

The day started with us cycling up the river valley, then ascending the Passo Gardegna (going up what we descended on Sella Ronda day). This was the easy, minor, hardly-worth-mentioning climb of the day. We then descended, and descended, and descended, and… It was a long ways.

For variety, we briefly dispensed with mountains in favor of some rolling hills that made up for their brevity with their slope. After some of this, we regained the mountains with a sustained climb that took us to the foot of “the” climb–the Passo delle Erbe. Epicness ensued, and once summited and down, there was a final 12 kilometers up the river valley to the hotel (and some of us got to then add 50 more feet of elevation up to the hotel for awesome people).

The even longer version:

Coming into this ride, I had already been having a great time crossing paths with the guide Gianone (aka Jonathon). He is the best purposeful-mispronouncer of Italian that I have heard–it was funny and painful (you try laughing when you’re biking up a Dolomite) to hear the inventive glee he brought to mangling the language.

And our senses of humor otherwise meshed–he found my glasses mirror, and the way it reflected my eyeball back to him, hilariously entertaining. As he would come up behind me, the dialog would usually go something like “I see you” “I see you seeing me” “I see you seeing me seeing you”–and so on. We could entertain ourselves that way for a while. And the fact that we both found this funny, every single time, probably tells you all you need to know about both of us.

Which is all preface to say that if somebody suggested doing something stupid, I’d refuse. But if Gianone suggested doing something stupid… Well, in that case, there’s a good chance I’d find it pretty entertaining, so…

So when we had climbed the minor blip of the Gardegna (because passes in the Dolomites are *so* inconsequential), and reached the bottom of a huge descent, and stopped at the Albergo Pontives to regroup and refuel, and still had the major part of the day ahead of us…

Well, if anybody else had suggested throwing back a double espresso with a shot of VOV at 11AM, there’s no way. But since it was Gianone, it seemed like a very entertaining thing to do. And fair’s fair, he had one too.

And you know, maybe it wasn’t such a stupid thing after all. It settled my nerves right down–not so much from the alcohol content (not a high-proof liqueur), as from the feeling of “what the hell, why not–be a little crazy!” Given my penchant for getting a wee bit worked up over a looming challenge that I’m worried about, sometimes it’s good to have an attitude check and just let go.

The jolt of caffeine and sugar might also have helped a bit as we departed and immediately headed up the afore-mentioned rolling hills. The steep rolling hills. (Well, there was just one really stiff bit, but it came right away, so that’s how I choose to remember the whole section. Makes for more epicness.)

This took us to a wonderful quiet road that clung partway up the hillside, with great views across the valley. The road was almost too quiet. We turned on to it (I could see cyclists ahead of me and behind me), I stopped to adjust something, and when I resumed riding there was no one in sight.

And after a couple kilometers, there was still no one in sight. The trees thinned and I could see greater stretches of the road ahead–still no one.

And I started to get a little nervous. My experience had been that the Cinghiale personnel were really good at stationing themselves at all but the most obvious turns, and/or letting us know about upcoming route-finding. And I hadn’t noticed any possible routes to take after the last turn other than the one I was on.

But it had been a while since I had seen anyone, and I was starting to get less joy out of cycling on this gorgeous, deserted road.

But I knew I was at least going in the right direction, because there were signs for the next town we’d go through, Goofytown. (Well, the town was actually called “Gufidaun” but I and someone else immediately renamed it…)

And then, ahead I saw cyclists, and more importantly, Gerardo, the van, and lunch! Once I knew I wasn’t lost, that road retroactively became one of the highlights of the trip. And our lunch location was on the side of it.

Our lunch setting, on the fabulous deserted (except for the cows) road above the valley.

Once through Goofytown, we started a steady climb, gaining 1200′ over 4 miles to get to the official start of the 11-mile Passo delle Erbe climb. (Love it when you climb to get to the climb.) You knew you were on the “real” climb when you turned left in San Pietro, and found yourself attempting to scale what felt and looked like a vertical wall.

And the wall kept going. At first I had a “you have got to be $@#%ing kidding me” reaction. But then I thought about it–I knew how long the overall climb lasted, and the elevation of the pass, and I knew it couldn’t go this way for forever. And that in fact, every moment of double-digit gradient meant an easier moment later.

I won’t go as far as to say this realization made the wall my friend, but we at least made it to frenemies. I think that not everyone had made this calculation though, as some people had the “11 miles of this?!?!” look on their faces. Though a number of folks went past me, I also passed quite a few people, some of whom I was normally slower than. The mental can count for a lot sometimes.

And I was right. The slope did eventually ease up–there was even a downhill section. From steep exposed hillside, we transitioned into a delicious evergreen forest. I really mean “delicious” too–the air was fragrant and refreshing, to the point of being a flavor on the tongue. It was actually a lot like biking through some of my favorite Pacific Northwest roads.

At the top, Passo delle Erbe lived up to its name–there was an expanse of grass and herbaceous plants. The land had a gentler, less craggy profile than some of the other Dolomites we had ridden–it was interesting to see how much variation there was even within the same geologic formation.

Passo delle Erbe, or as I prefer, Grass Pass

One of my favorite pictures from the trip–getting my photo taken on one of the most amazing rides of my life with Elaine and Gerardo, who did so much to make it possible–and fun! (Oh, those tomatoes that Gerardo brought…)

But even at the top, our day wasn’t done. I can sometimes get a wee bit worked up about a looming challenge that I’m worried about, and often deal with my nerves by trying to hyper-prepare. So I had read up on the Passo delle Erbe, and knew that the descent contained a not-negligible uphill section, and that we would then have to bike *up* the river valley to get to Badia. (This came as an unwelcome surprise to some people–other people were blithely happy to ride their bike wherever. For the former people, I’d say that if you don’t like surprises, I recommend being neurotic like me and researching routes ahead of time…)

One of the things that I am learning I’m good at is pacing myself. I won’t set blazing landspeed records, but on the other hand, I won’t flame out before the ride is over. Despite the difficulty of the part of the day already completed, I had ridden well within myself the whole day, and wasn’t daunted by the prospect of the remaining uphill section. (Ok, maybe I was just a little daunted…)

The interruption to the descent was, as promised, not-negligible. But it was ok. Once to the river valley, I had one of my shining moments of the trip. I just set out at what felt like a comfortable, sustainable pace. After a while, I noticed that I had collected a significant train of people behind me–many of whom were usually faster than me. I later received many expressions of gratitude from people who had been pretty cooked by that point and who really appreciated being able to draft behind me.

I hadn’t set out to be the hotshot who pulled everyone back to the hotel. But I’ll admit that it felt pretty good to be someone who, on the hardest day of the trip, still had some gas left in the tank at the end. It was no skin off my back to ride at the pace that was comfortable for me, and the fact that I helped out some other people in the process was fun. (And, ya know, one moment of relative strength, and all these riders faster than me suddenly think I’m way more kickass than I actually am–I’m learning to just nod and smile…)

“Relative strength” is the key term here. I was knackered at the end of the day! I barely made it through dinner without falling asleep, was in bed shortly after 9, and according to my text exchange with Ian, slept like an “exhausted log.”

This day was objectively the hardest ride I’ve done; I recorded 9,700′ of climbing in just 67.5 miles. For comparison, I “only” recorded 8,950′ of climbing on RAMROD–but had 146 miles to get there. And the monster Sella Ronda day was “only” 8,150′ in 60 miles.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. On Sella Ronda day, we started with the hardest climb, and then things got progressively easier, finishing with a long, fun descent to the hotel. On this ride, the big climb of the day came later, after we already had a mountain pass and some hills in our legs. And when you had made it up the big climb, you still weren’t done, what with the uphill in the descent and the last climb to the hotel. This changed the rhythm of the day to make it challenging until the very last time you got off your bike.

And it was fantastic. Even knowing I did it, it’s still hard for me to believe that I was able to do it. And I really want to go back and do it again.

67.5 miles, 9,750 feet

67.5 miles, 9,700 feet