Dolomites 2016, Passo dell’Erbe!

This day…

I wrote at length about it last year, and the essentials of that post have not changed. There are other rides that have been subjectively more difficult for me because of the challenge they offered in relation to the amount of experience I had at the time.

But objectively, considering climbing per mile, the steepness of much of the climbing, and the rhythm of the route that makes you work until you are a few feet from the hotel, this is the hardest ride I have done. Subjectively, it’s pretty high on the list too.

Last year, I came into Passo dell’Erbe day with a lot of trepidation. I had done my homework, and knew it would be a huge challenge. Some descriptions of the ride made me really nervous about my ability to get through it without being a shattered, demoralized wreck by the end.

(Yes, this is what I do for vacation.)

This year, I was still a bundle of nerves heading into the day. Now I had no illusions about just how a huge challenge the day would be. But some of my nerves were jitters of anticipation and excitement, because I also knew how rewarding the day would be, the beauty of the ride, and the sense of accomplishment at its end.

I also knew that Ian would love this day, had spent a year telling him so, and couldn’t wait for his end-of-day reaction.

But first things first–before we could get to the end-of-day, we had to start the day. The Passo Gardena descent into Corvara is wonderful–but is almost even better on the way up. The road is in great shape, the climb is challenging but eminently doable, and this hillside looks like it is gathering you in and cradling you on your way up.

Atop the Passo Gardena. See how happy we still are!

The descent (which we came up on Sella Ronda day) is gentle and mostly non-technical, so you can just let it rip. And then you keep going down. And further down. And even having done this the year before, I was still getting anxious about how far down we were descending. It feels like you must have missed a turn–you surely couldn’t have as much as that to climb back up again?!?!

The answer is that yes, you do have as much as that to climb back up again. It’s quite alarming.

After the preliminaries of Passo Gardena and some rolling hills, we started towards San Pietro, the foot of the climb. Ian made the rookie mistake of thinking we were on the climb already–no, the steady 7-8% grade was not yet the climb.

He admitted later that he was wondering why I was going so slow on the climb–then when we actually got to the real climb he figured it out–I was just taking it easy in preparation for the actual challenge of the day.

The wall that the road goes up out of San Pietro has gotten no less steep. This year at least I was prepared. And I was very proud of myself for, in lowest gear of 34-29, being able to keep my pedaling calm and my breathing steady, despite the high level of effort I was putting out. Just going up that sustained stretch of 15% in a non-flailing way is a victory in my book.

For added entertainment this year, this was one of the sections that Andy wafted by me on. If you have ever pedaled lazily on a flat route, choosing to bike a few blocks rather than walk because you’re feeling lazy, barely aware of even having to put pressure into the pedals–well then you probably looked about how Andy did in this moment. He had at least three lower gears left, and was giving absolutely no visible signs of exertion as he shot past me. 15% grade!

I would have laughed at the absurdity of the moment, but I didn’t have the breath or muscular engagement to spare.

As I got towards the flat and even downhill section towards the top, Andy reappeared (having stopped to take photos, and possibly re-ride the “fun” parts of the climb for all I know), and we rode along together, chatting. This was fun, and it’s always a treat to get to study Andy’s flowing style on the bike. But boy does it make you aware of the lines you’re taking around a corner as you’re riding shoulder-to-shoulder and really hoping not to be *that person* who did a boneheaded thing and took out a Giro d’Italia winner…

I told myself that he’s such an experienced, talented, solid rider that I probably couldn’t take him out if I tried, and kept enjoying the ride. And kept trying not to be an utter spaz around the corners.

Trees, flowers, fields, mountains–Passo dell’Erbe

I will admit that as enjoyable as the climb was, especially the wonderful section through the forest that seems like a ride in the Pacific Northwest, with an evergreen-y tang to the air, I was pretty darn tootling happy to see the van at the top. And eat. And sit in the sun (it was a hot day at the bottom of the climb, but the air becomes more refreshing several thousand feet higher up).

At the end of the day, the best part of all–Ian saying “you were right, I loved that! That was amazing!”

Passo dell’Erbe keeps its special place for me,–challenging, beautiful, and a cause for celebration.

Which is a thought that I can reflect on now–in the moment, I was just so tired, so hungry, so sweaty, that I was nearly paralyzed by the crisis of what need to address first. Yay for summer vacation!

Passo dell’Erbe day: 67ish miles (really, forgot to start my Garmin again?!), 10,000 feet elevation.

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Dolomites 2016, rest on the Pordoi

On the original schedule, today was the official rest day. But we had an unscheduled rest day just a couple days prior. So what to do? The smart people on the trip stuck to the schedule. However, given that you were dealing with a population of people who elected to spend their vacation cycling up steep mountains, most people rode.

One of my goals before the trip was to ride the Passo Pordoi. Since it wasn’t part of our official itinerary, that meant either adding on to a day’s ride, or cycling on the rest day. And given my sub-optimal training for the trip, I wasn’t sure it would happen. Given that the next day would be Passo dell’Erbe day, taking some rest was probably the better course.

So I rode instead.

My recollection of the day was that I felt tired, but all considered, pretty good overall. Delusional? Perhaps.

From Badia, you get the easy part over with first–a nice warm up ride to Corvara, 5 miles and 750 feet of elevation gain. From Corvara, you then have to go over the Passo Campolongo to get to the start of the Passo Pordoi climb. A climb to get to the start of the climb is a specialty of the region.

But the Campolongo is not a steep climb–unlike something like the Passo Fedaia, it actually is possible to take it easy on the way up.  Partway up we did a stop and regroup for photos, to document how many foolhardy people were out on the rest day.

It’s the rest day, so naturally we’re on our way to the Passo Pordoi. Even Gerardo got roped into the insanity and drove the support van for us. Spoiled rotten on this trip!

Down a little ways into Arraba, and then–Pordoi! This is a storied climb, used frequently in the Giro d’Italia, and a favorite of the Italian cycling legend Fausto Coppi. He was so closely associated with the climb that there is a monument to him at the top of the pass, one of the great shrines of the church of cycling.

At the Coppi monument

To get to the Coppi monument, you climb 5.5 miles of laid-out-with-a-ruler 7% grade, switchbacking up the mountain with amazing views in every direction. I set myself a goal of expending as little energy as possible on this “rest day” and to that end, stopped frequently for photos on the way up.

A little ways up the Pordoi

It was a gorgeous day, in a gorgeous setting

Wonderful riding, with wonderful company

No wonder Fausto Coppi loved this climb so much. There is a glorious sense of being on top of the world as you progress up the Pordoi. It is the second-highest paved road in the Dolomites (just the Passo Sella rises higher). From early on in the climb, you already feel elevated above the surrounding terrain–which you can easily survey as the slope is treeless, views unobscured. The switchbacks serve to bring a kaleidoscope of views in front of one (no pesky turning of your head required!)

Once at the top, even more views open up

Climbing the Passo Pordoi, check!

(Of course, I’ve still only climbed it from one direction…)

Of course, even though I could now check this accomplishment off the list, I still had to make it back to the hotel. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, meant going back up and over the Passo Campolongo. I hadn’t ridden the Campolongo in this direction before, and despite my fatigue, it turned out to be really fun.

You see completely different things when going up than when descending, and in some cases, the difference is great enough that it would be easy to be oblivious to the fact of being on a road you’re ridden before. The ascent of the Campolongo from Arabba is an instance of that for me. And then it turns out that the “easy” slopes of the ascent from Corvara are a blast to go back down.

This “rest day” concluded with the traditional Cinghiale wine tasting. Andy regaled us with tales of wine-making in Italy, as we sipped the results. Very relaxing.

The tales

The wines

The view

Of course, as a Cinghiale veteran, I knew that the wine tasting just meant that tomorrow would be the hardest ride of the trip, but hey, I let myself be suckered into thinking that these Cinghiale folks had my best interests at heart anyway.

Rest day on the Pordoi: 34 miles, 4.800 feet elevation