Dolomites 2016, Day 3

Sella Ronda day.

I almost ended the post right there. What more is there to say? I’ve tried for the last two years to put this day into words, and not succeeded. And this year will be no different.

As before, we started by wending our way up through the Serrai di Sottoguda which is much steeper than the main road, but feels like an easy stroll through the park because you are taking so many breaks to goggle at the scenery around you.

How about I shut up for a while, and just show some pictures

Clicking on any photo will take you to my flickr where you can see more.

And then you start climbing up the Passo Fedaia. At least I knew from last year that I could actually ride it. And I also knew how tough riding the whole thing would be. Not sure if that helped or hurt as I stared up the long, straight, brutally steep section that starts the climb.

It’s such a relief to hit the switchbacks higher up. It’s still long and brutally steep, but at least it’s not straight!

Oddly enough, despite there being a distance countdown painted onto the road, I remembered the top as being further away that it was. So in a reverse of the day before, I was cheery and delighted at the top. Still, I don’t know if this climb and I will ever be friends. Uff da.

For the second year in a row, we completely lucked out on the weather, and enjoyed sunshine and warmth at the top. I didn’t do much more than put on my arm warmers for the descent, but it’s a good thing I did that much.

See, there was a wee little incident on the descent when I might have come off my bike a little bit. (Sorry Mom and Dad, I think I neglected to mention this before…) Spoiler alert: everyone was fine. Oddly enough for a descent, it was a slow-motion topple over. It occurred when slowing for a stopped group of riders just as a close-passing motorbike distracted a rider behind me, who then was forced to decide between bumping into me, or swerving out into the path of the moto.

The other rider and I both sported some impressive, colorful bruises for a few days, but nothing worse. The worst of the damage was the hole torn into my favorite (but completely replaceable) arm warmers. And the heart attack that Ian nearly had when he came around the bend and saw me momentarily on the pavement. But if you’re going to come off your bike, it’s handy to do so when Gerardo is around–my front wheel was knocked slightly out of true, something I only realized as a new front wheel was being placed on my bike. And the next day, there was my own wheel, trued back up, on my bike. Because the folks at Cinghiale are awesome.

(Also, thank you to the person who noticed my cycling glasses with prescription lenses by the side of the road. In the moment, I didn’t notice I no longer had them on, but I couldn’t have continued the ride very far without them!)

Still–me and Sella Ronda day! Falling into a rider the first year, and falling off my bike this year. This ride kicks my butt–this time around pretty literally!

Despite all that, I still love this day. Of the four climbs, it’s hard to pick a favorite. The love-hate relationship I have with Passo Fedaia is pretty intense on both parts. Meanwhile the top half of the Sella climb is really neat, and the descent off of it one of my favorites. The Gardena is a delight for how comparatively easy it is. And the Campolongo has a great section rising out of Corvara where you get an immense sense of progress, transitioning into an easy traverse, and then the mother of all lengthy, delightful descents into the hotel, beer, shower, and food (yes, in that order.)

It’s also funny how different parts of the ride stand out different years. Maybe it was a change in the weather and light, but this year the upper part of climbing up the Gardena stands out in my mind. I felt pretty strong, and the road surface was wonderful (as it usually is throughout the Dolomites). Something about the openness of the view, and the sense of progress up the climb made a strong impression on me in a way that it hadn’t before. I have a sense of deep satisfaction with life associated with the memory of it from this trip that is different from the general “this is amazing” that I have for all of the trip, every year.

This ride also takes you past both sides of the Passo Pordoi climb, which is supposed to be beautiful, but which hadn’t been part of the route on the times I’ve been on this trip. Climbing the Pordoi on this year’s trip was one of my goals. And I’d like to say that I eyeballed the start of the climb as I descended the Campolongo to the hotel. But let’s be honest–there was no way I was going to add a fifth pass to Sella Ronda day! I will leave it to people more awesome (more stupid?) than myself. Instead, I contented myself with:

Day 3: 64 miles, 8,400 feet elevation.

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Dolomites 2016, Days 1 and 2

(Yes, I’m combining days in a post. It’s 8 months after the fact, I’m writing about rides that I’ve already written about 2 years in a row, and my work schedule makes writing a bit of a “little or nothing at all” prospect.) (In other words Dad, deal with it. She said lovingly.)

It’s funny how quickly you can become passively attached to how you think things are to be done, based on how they were done in the past. Or at least, how quickly I can…

At any rate, based on a grand total of two previous Day 1’s, I was a bit astonished to find out that the Italians were doing road work, necessitating a change from what I considered as the first day route. Inconceivable!

A little-known fact about me: I very occasionally have a teensy difficulty dealing with change. One appeal of getting to do this trip year after year is revisiting the beauty and challenge of it, while having some of it be familiar.

So instead, we did a slightly different route that was also delightful and scenic and a good way to shake out the legs, and I had a good time despite myself.

And to be fair, much had not changed. Gerardo was still a divine angel of delicious food and skillful support, Andy and Elaine were still wonderful, welcoming, and fun, Oscar was still delightful and cute, and Kerry and Roberto were still models of great riding buddies combined with skillful professionalism.

Another thing that hadn’t changed is that what counts as an easy ride on this trip is something with merely 100′ of climbing per mile. Practically flat!

The delight of watching other people discover how astonishing this area is just doesn’t get old. As wonderful as it was to do the first day ride for the first time, I think I’ve almost enjoyed it more the last two years, when I knew that the great view of Lake Alleghe was just coming up, or some other viewpoint (really, the whole ride is a viewpoint), and could anticipate the astonishment and joy of other people as they were bowled over by the next thing around the next bend in the road.

A view of Lake Alleghe from our hotel. It looks lovely from the hills way above too.

Day 2 was again Passo Duran and Passo Staulanza.  You can read in full detail here and here if you so desire.

One would think that from one year to the next, the roads couldn’t change that much. And that certainly seemed the case on the Duran. The climb was hard to start, and then eased off towards the top, and Gerardo greeted us with delicious food. See previous years’ posts if you want photos.

After the steep descent, and after ignoring the life advice offered by passing through the town Dont, we started up the Staulanza. I remembered that it was steep to start, with more traffic than most of the roads we would ride on. I remembered correctly.

I also remembered that after the switchbacks, the cars thinned out a lot, and you were nearly to the top.

About that memory…

The cars did thin out, but I swear, they added a huge long stretch of road before the top of the pass. Once we were on it, I went from “yay, I’m practically at the top” to “oh no, I completely forgot about this interminable, never going to get there, part of the ride.”

Judging by the steepness of the slope, it was an easier section than the start of the climb. Judging by my disappointed expectations of being nearly done, it was the hardest part of the whole day.

And as I tried to sulk in my dark place, Ian pedaled along easily beside me, chatting merrily away (someone wasn’t out of breath…) and completely oblivious to the unfolding tragedy (someone hadn’t had unreasonable expectations of the climb based upon incorrect memory…)

The problem was, the views from that (forgotten) upper part are really wonderful, and they were totally spoiling my effort to achieve complete misery.

For the third year in a row, I failed to get photos at the top of the Staulanza, because that’s the kind of thinking-ahead person that I am.

At the end of the day, it was another amazing, pinch-me-I’m-dreaming experience. Even if Ian dared be cheery and talkative when I… Wasn’t. I was also pleased that, despite my lower base of miles going into the trip, I still seemed to be able to go up the mountains. Not really any faster than the previous year (oh well), but not really any slower either. Which all considering, I had no reason to expect to be the case.

And I just love riding these roads.

Day 1: 22 miles, 2,300 feet

Day 2: 43 miles, 6,300 feet