Alps and Dolomites 2018, short version

Really short version: great trip, I felt strong, can’t wait to go back.

For my summer vacation, I got rained on biking up mountains. What else would I do for a summer vacation?

Slightly longer version:

Day 1: Shakedown ride up to Lake Cancano. Also known as the lake on top of a hill from the last day’s ride in 2014. Also known as the mini-Stelvio for all the switchbacks. 22.2 miles, 2,900 feet elevation gain.

Lake Cancano. Photos not yet edited for color/light balance. The lake was even more jewel-toned turquoise than this.

Some of the mini-Stelvio’s switchbacks

Day 2: Passo Gavia. I finally did it–I rode both sides of the Gavia! The second side is even harder than the first, but beautiful and so worth it! 53.7 miles, 9,300 feet.

Took the obligatory “Gavia with Andy Hampsten” photo *after* I had climbed the second side. I felt like I had earned it then.

Day 3: Transfer day over the Stelvio. This repeated last year’s ride, and continued to be awesome. 88.3 miles, 5,700 feet.

50 miles of bike path through orchards or alongside rivers or otherwise ridiculously scenic

Day 4: Second transfer day, entering the Dolomites!!! 61.4 miles, 11,800 feet.

Dolomites!!!

Then it was the rest day, and I was just fine with that.

Rest day in Alleghe. Not the best conditions for riding a bike up into the mountains anyway.

Day 5: Passo Pordoi. Well, it was supposed to be Sella Ronda day, but it was raining. At time, raining pretty hard. The plan was scratched. Some of us ended up doing the Pordoi and calling it good. 39.9 miles, 4,600 feet.

Despite getting drenched on the way to it, the climb up the Pordoi was dry and quite lovely

Day 6: Transfer to Vittorio Veneto. This was supposed to go over the Passo Duran (as Andy did in the ’88 Giro), but the continuing rain had us reroute to the less-treacherous Passo Staulanza. And then descending for ages! 56.4 miles, 4,000 feet.

For the first time in 4 tries, I went over the Passo Staulanza and got a photo

Did I mention we had some rain?

Day 7: The final time trial route (approximately) from Andy’s ’88 Giro. 26.6 miles, 1,500 feet.

The route took us through Prosecco vineyards…

Total: 350ish miles, 40,000ish feet.

As usual, I will write up the whole trip in excruciating detail some time within the next year or so.

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So what then?

It is nearly a year since last year’s Alps and Dolomites trip with Cinghiale Tours (and just a few days since I finished writing about the trip…) I am thrilled that in under a week I will departing for the 2018 trip, aka the 30th anniversary of Andy’s Giro win.

So what then? I can’t entirely blame how long it took me to write the trip up on work pressures. Turns out I’ve been out doing some bike riding this year too. What did that look like? I’m so glad you asked!

(Warning, overlong post ahead. But there will be pictures too.)

TLDR: Hired a coach, Eroica Nova, Mazama Weekend, STP, RAMROD (at least read this bit to find out about my dad’s ride), Ride the Hurricane, miscellaneous.

I like the sense of accomplishment of getting better at things. Over the last couple years, I’ve reached the point on the learning curve where getting better at cycling starts to require more work. Simultaneously, I’ve had less time to devote to cycling. When I would have time, I would often encounter of a decision paralysis of “should I do a long ride, or intervals? Should I ramble outdoors, or do a focused ride on the trainer?” etc, that would often result in no riding at all. My miles were down, and while my overall skill level was continuing to improve with experience, I wasn’t getting any stronger.

As a result, I had a good year in the Alps and Dolomites last year, but I also missed out on some of my goals, such as riding the other side of the Gavia.

In an effort to break myself out of a variety of funks, including a cycling funk, in January I hired a cycling coach. I’ve been working with Anne-Marije Rook, and have really appreciated the combination of challenge and encouragement she has given me throughout the year. Having her put workouts and rides on my calendar has eliminated the decision paralysis and kicked my butt. At this point, I almost have more miles ridden in the year than I did all of last year, and I have felt really good on my big rides of the year. Thanks AMR!

Big rides? What were they? I’m so glad you asked!

In February (aka, “I live in Seattle, so I haven’t seen the sun or been dry for months, and have no prospect of either for a couple more months at least.”) Andy Hampsten suggested that we pop down to Paso Robles in April to join him for the Eroica ride. Sunny California? Sign us up!

It was only later that I contemplated the fact that this ride features a fair amount of gravel adventure. And I’m scared of gravel adventure. Whoops.

I also don’t like giving in to being scared of things (within reason–I’m happy to stay scared of poisonous snakes, BASE jumping, etc), so I let Anne-Marije know what I had gotten myself into.

She took it upon herself to coach me through some gravel riding, so we headed to the Iron Horse Trail for some practice. As we started up the gravel trail, she gave me some helpful tips, and encouraged me along. And I was kinda doing ok. Then–it being early March–the mountain trail turned to snow. And she showed me by example that it was still rideable. So we kept riding. Ummm…

Riding gravel up a mountain in the snow–pretty much just like Andy in ’88, right?!?

The short version is that, after getting used to (by which I mean being constantly freaked out by) how much my bike could move around under me in the snow even as I stayed upright, the return to gravel felt like coming home. Riding in gravel is easy!

Sun in April?!? Who knew this was possible!
Fun trivia–I was number 892. The rider in the background wearing number 891 was also riding a Hampsten bike. We spent a lot of the ride being entertained by that coincidence.

The Eroica was challenging (I was taking part in the Nova Eroica–in which they allowed modern bicycles to ride the Coastal Route, carefully segregated from the vintage bikes by a different start time), and its 25 miles of gravel roads were more than I had done, combined, in my cycling life up to that point. And it was great! There were a couple sketchy descent sections that I wasn’t overjoyed about, but I did it! I was thrilled both during and after the ride that I could ride so much better that I thought I could (i.e., I could ride at all) on gravel/dirt roads, and those roads opened up access to some amazing scenery that I couldn’t have seen otherwise. I’d be willing to go back next year…

Well if they’re going to route the ride through a winery…

Then it was a couple more months of working a lot, and trying to train a little, and I went back for my 3rd Mazama Weekend, put on by Redmond Cycling Club. Like the previous two years, my dad did the ride too, which always makes the trip more fun. Ian was finally able to join us too–3rd time’s the charm! That ride over the North Cascades Highway is such a gem. I love the constant unfolding of views, and how they shift from western to eastern Washington. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

Atop… Well, you can probably figure out where we are…

In addition to the joy of doing such a beautiful ride, I had a little extra bit of enjoyment in how I rode it. I was definitely faster on the climbs than the previous two years, and I also felt like I recovered from the efforts faster, both in the moment, and how I felt later in the day and the following days. It’s almost as if putting in more training and work produces results!

Then I was travelling (awesome trip to Ireland with my mom!) and got back just a little before STP.  Because jet lag is the perfect preparation for biking 200 miles, right? It actually worked out ok, because I was awake and alert in the early hours of the morning, making the 3:45am wake up for STP not so horrendous as it usually is. On the other hand, I didn’t yet have any ride over 100 miles yet on the year, so I really wasn’t sure how things would go.

Ireland with my mom!

It was another hot year, but went really well. Ian kept complaining of having nothing in the tank, yet we did close to if not our fastest first half ever, and made really good time overall to Portland. This despite not finding a good train to latch on to on Highway 30, so riding most of it by ourselves.

My post-STP sweat-caked jersey

(There was this one year… A team of muscular giants with very broad shoulders–all of them, the men and the women–went by, we latched on, and they pulled us most of the 30 miles from St Helens to Portland. We offered to buy them beer, but they declined for whatever reason. That was a great year…)

Again, one of the things that I found encouraging about STP was that I didn’t feel desperate to have a break and recover at each rest stop. I needed to cool down and fuel up, but was mostly raring to go pretty quickly. (I’ll admit that on the ride home from the train station the next day, I felt pretty cooked–but given my lack of long rides so far, that was to be expected.) It’s almost as if putting in more training and work produces results!

A while ago, my dad unwisely made the jest “I’m not going to do RAMROD until I’m in my 70’s!” Since he turned turned 70 this year, I decided to call his bluff and bluster, and–thanks to someone willing to donate their lottery bypass–for Christmas gave him an entry to RAMROD (plus an all-expenses-paid trip to Enumclaw!)

For context, this would be the longest ride he had ever done in his life, and he was doing it as the 20th-oldest person out of the 800-some riders.

Not only did writing this on my number spark a lot of fun conversations for me, but also had a lot of people greeting my dad with “hey, I saw your daughter!”

He told me to go ahead and ride my own ride, so that he wouldn’t feel pressured to keep up, or to not hold me back, so I can’t narrate his ride. But from reports of other riders, he was riding strongly, and the proof was at the finish line. He had a sub-12 hour ride (153ish miles)–which is a great time, especially on a hot day–and judging by the finish line photos, he was solidly in the top half of riders, and likely even in the top third. And he is still talking to me!

Victorious!

For myself, I was thrilled with how my ride went. I wasn’t really any faster on the road than I’ve been in past years, but I felt strong the whole way, and–broken record alert–didn’t feel the need to take time at the rest stops to recover. I just grabbed food and water and went. For the first time, I saw hardly anyone on the last 38 mile segment into Enumclaw (aka the headwind section…), and rode it solo in under 2 hours. I didn’t know I could do that.

I finished in 10:30, bettering my previous best by 9 minutes, on a course that, due to a changed start location, was about 7 miles longer than my previous best. (And for the record, what I said in that post about what a beautiful ride it is, and how well organized, still stands. Thank you, Redmond Cycling Club!)

Silly as it seems, it has taken trying to get all this stuff written up, rather than experiencing things a couple weeks or months apart from each other to really have a sense that it’s not a fluke or an isolated incidence–I really have gotten stronger on the bike.

The last of the summer’s pre-Italy “event” rides is also one of my favorites, Ride the Hurricane. It’s such a beautiful climb (and fun descent!) already, and to do it car-free is about as good as bike riding gets. To see if I was just fooling myself to think I had made some gains on the bike, I decided to go for it up the climb.

Even though the effort was definitely hurting me by the time I got to the top, I was feeling good all the way up–I never had to go to my dark place. And I have been there more than once on this climb. Feeling strong and hoping to accomplish something made it easier to push myself, such that the pain and fatigue in my legs didn’t bother me at much. I’ve definitely had times when I don’t feel great and the pain and fatigue in my legs is just proof to me of how weakly I’m riding, which makes it harder to put an effort in. At any rate the effort showed I wasn’t just fooling myself about my gains, as I bested my previous best time by several minutes.

Partway back down one of the best descents around. I had just verified that, despite not fully closing up my saddlebag at the top, I did indeed still have the car key…

Throughout the year, there have been other jewels of moments, such as setting a personal best time on a hill I’ve ridden up dozens if not hundreds of times. Or the day after RAMROD, riding up Zoo Hill as slowly as I ever have, yet feeling like I’d be fine to keep riding all day, as long as I could keep taking it slow. Or just getting better at negotiating this really annoying chicane on the bike path.

IMG_20180725_1538286

The ride up to Sunrise on Mt Rainier is always one of the highlights of the year

Which gets me to my goals for Italy. I was glad last year to knock off two and a bit of my three goals. For this year?

  1. Unsurprisingly, I want to finish the unfinished one, and ride all of the other side of the Gavia.
  2. My other two goals get more vague: I want to go for it if there is a day/days where there is an option to throw good sense to the winds and go big, and
  3. I want to ride well.

Arrivederci!

 

 

Alps and Dolomites 2017, Day 7 (we got a rest day) and 8

The odd thing about doing a vacation focused around how much you love riding your bike, is how good a day of not-riding can feel. After six days in a row of beautiful, I-can’t-believe-I’m-this-lucky, joy-producing riding–and with that sixth day falling on what was supposed to be our rest day–I was cooked.

Think “waiter, take this steak back, I ordered medium-rare, not this lump of charcoal” level of cooked.

So the rest day felt great, and to make us feel extra smug about how brilliant we were to ride on what was supposed to be the rest day and then take the next day off, the skies turned black, and then proceeded to empty themselves of all the world’s water. At least, it certainly seemed that way.

Rest day activities included a cycling board game, and wine

The next day dawned…well, pretty damp-looking. But having *two* rest days in a row would be unthinkable. After all, who wants to relax on their vacation?

One of the things that I enjoy about how Cinghiale runs their tours is that they have an awesome plan for what they’re going to do each day, and they are perfectly willing to throw it out the window if that is the better thing to do.

There was some sort of mountain craziness planned for the day–Falzarego perhaps?–but the thick low clouds and occasional showers meant no mountaintop views would be on offer, and descending would be cold and miserable. So instead of sticking to the plan and suffering for suffering’s sake (and here’s the difference–unlike some tour companies, at Cinghiale, we only suffer for enjoyment’s sake), the powers-that-be changed the plan.

An example of the low clouds, as evening fell on the rest day

One of the guides, Richard, lives in the Badia area, and he suggested a relaxed valley ride that would stay below the clouds, and go on some quiet gems of backroads in the area. Perfect!

We rolled a few miles down the valley highway, and then turned off onto a delightful untrafficked road that scaled the valley walls. It was the sort of road that made you ask “what sort of *#!&@! of a drunken, incompetent engineer built a road here?” It was steep. You’ve got to be joking kind of steep. Except the joke was on us, because we were spending our summer vacation in our winter cycling rain gear attempting to ride up a wall.

We regrouped where the road intersected a main road (incidentally, the one we came down from the Passo dell’Erbe in the two previous years). We stopped to discuss the options for the rest of the ride, and perhaps to reconsider our life choices.

One choice was to continue down this main road to the valley highway and thence to the hotel. The smart people did that.

Andy and Richard consider the route options, while we consider our life choices

Another choice was to go a little ways down this road, and then turn right at the castle.

You gotta love a trip where the ride directions are “turn right at the castle!”

Kerri making sure we turn right at the castle

Richard described the right turn as being onto a delightful, quiet, flat road that dead-ended into a café. His description was, strictly speaking, accurate. It was delightful and quiet, and it did dead-end into a café.

However, it was flat only if one considered that definition to include surfaces on an incline. After a brief bit of rolling hills, the road trended distinctly and consistently uphill for almost 3 1/2 miles. But I guess it was uphill in a flat manner?

Side note: Richard is a wonderful person. Do not trust him.

But the café did us proud in the items of coffee and apple strudel and countryside views, so it was all good.

The strudel at the end of the road

As we enjoyed the strudel, I noticed that the grey sky had darkened considerably. Most people showed no signs of moving from the strudel, but I knew the way back to the hotel, and decided to bid folks a hasty adieu. I coasted down the “flat” road for almost 3 1/2 miles, pedaled a bit to get to the main road and then to the valley highway just as a few drops started to fall. But I got back to the hotel only slightly dampened.

Other days were longer, with more epic mountain views scenery. But the smaller-scale intimacy of the valley roads was beautiful, and the ride included some of the most challenging riding of the trip. It was yet another wonderful day on the bike.

Bikes and countryside views–a good day

The following day was the last riding day, with a little time in the morning before an afternoon transfer back to the Venice-area hotel. The weather continued to be sketchy, bikes needed to be disassembled and packed, and people’s legs were tired. In flexible Cinghiale way, people splintered off to do their own thing. I soft-pedaled up to the store for a couple things, and called it a day. I mention this only because by this point, gaining almost 400 feet in the 2 miles to the store felt like a flat ride.

And there we were, another year done. The quick version of how I felt about it: we signed up for the 2018 trip while we were still on the 2017 trip.

Day 7, the “flat” ride: 30 miles, 4,700 feet.

(Day 8, to the store: 4 miles, 400 feet.)

Days 1-8: 305.2 miles, 42,929 feet. Give or take.

 

 

Alps and Dolomites 2017, Day 6 (or, this was supposed to be the rest day…)

After the carefully unadvertised challenge of yesterday’s ride, today was very sensibly scheduled as a rest day in the lovely Hotel Gran Ander (worth staying there for the breakfast alone–and that’s not even considering the views you have while eating breakfast!)

Naturally, the weather did not cooperate. It looked to be a lovely day, with an ominous change the following day. It was suggested that anyone who was interested might do a rest day ride, and then a ride day rest.

The smart thing would have been to rest. So I compromised. Instead of riding the whole Sella Ronda route that some were doing, I just rode over the Passo Gardena, up the Passo Sella, and then back.

Three passes in the Dolomites does not make for a restful ride–and yet, they do. The ride up the Gardena from the direction of Corvara is wonderful. Once you make it through the traffic of Colfosco, you start a marvelous series of switchbacks. The way they are nestled in the curve of the mountains, the moments of respite they give to the climb, and the views that unroll from them, are all sublime. I feel like just about everything in the Dolomites is a favorite of mine, but this ascent of the Gardena is a more favorite among favorites.

Gardena switchbacks, views, and cow. Clicking on any of the photos will take you to my flickr photostream with many more photos…

Then the ascent up the Sella from Passo Gardena is one that I hadn’t done yet. I was looking forward to it, because the same road can present very different views and experiences just by being ridden in the opposite direction. And I knew that climbing up would be worth it if only to be able to descend that stretch of road again, which is–you guessed it–one of my favorite descents.

From the top of the Passo Sella

Descending the Sella

The climb back up the Gardena from that side really isn’t much–just a few hundred feet of non-steep elevation gain, a flat section, a little more non-steep climbing, then done. From the top of the Gardena it’s 11 miles downhill to Badia, with just the briefest moments when touching the pedals becomes necessary.

In light of how these separate pieces of the ride just entice one on (or at least, me), the ride really does start to seem like a rest day. Physically, it’s not, but mentally, the beauty and enjoyment do provide refreshment. (As did the post-ride shower, beer, food, and lying prone…)

On the way back, I stopped in Corvara with Kerri for coffee and a little cycling glove shopping. It is always great to spend time with her, but I was especially glad of the company when we started rolling toward Badia again, and a bee flew into my helmet and stung me! First bee sting I’ve ever had! I much appreciated her kindly pulling the stinger out of my forehead for me, seeing as how I couldn’t see it.

And you never know what vocabulary might come in handy–back at the hotel, I was very pleased with myself to know the Italian for “ice” and spent the afternoon looking rather dramatic with an icepack to my head.

Day 6, Gardena, Sella, Gardena: 36.4 miles, 5,000 feet.

Ignore the asymmetry of the route profile. My bike computer battery gave out, and I recorded the end of the ride separately on my phone.

 

Alps and Dolomites 2017, Day 5

This day…

If someone glosses over, redirects, and obfuscates whenever a subject comes up, your spidey senses should start tingling. Such as when the powers-that-be at Cinghiale are giving the first day talk running through the trip’s planned rides, and say things like “the first transfer day will be a really fabulous and big day; we go over the Stelvio and then on an awesome bike path! On the second transfer day,  *mumble* little climb out of town *mumble* new pass *mumble* Passo Pordoi *mumble* we get to the next hotel in Badia!”

So in a way, I really wasn’t surprised when, almost immediately upon leaving the hotel, we popped onto a lovely, quiet, scenic road that was flirting with 10%. A couple miles later it stopped flirting, and settled in on a pretty solid 11%. And then went steeper.

After about 6 miles (or, for me, just over an hour) of “a road this steep surely doesn’t go on much further–perhaps around that next corner?” we reached a turn at which our angel Gerardo was parked with the van and a very welcome spread of snacks. We hung out for a bit, laughing about the ridiculous climb we had just done, and commiserating with people as they arrived with a slightly shell-shocked look on their faces, in between stuffing delicious things into our mouths.

Eventually, we dragged the truth out of Andy et al.: that was not the first pass of the day, but merely the climb to get to the first pass of the day. Next we would traverse the hillside for a while, and then the “actual” climb would start.

Ahem.

It’s always nice to find out that a giant climb you just did wasn’t actually a climb.

Even better, this pass that we had not yet been climbing was named “Passo Costalunga” and of course was immediately dubbed “Passo Cost a Lung.”

The hillside traverse was refreshingly flat (=constantly undulating hills), and then we arrived to the real climb, the climb of the Passo Cost a Lung. Which (and did you see this coming?) was shorter and easier that what we had climbed to get there.

It was another lovely road, and towards the top, you started to get glimpses of the Dolomites. Even though they are squished right up against the Alps, they are a distinct geological formation. Riding our way into them and watching the terrain change was an utterly magnificent experience.

In the distance? That’s a Dolomite!

Lunch was at the top of the pass, on the edge of the Alps with a view out to the Dolomites that would soon surround us. It wasn’t only tired legs that had me reluctant to remount my bike.

From there, a lovely descent took us to a gentle valley floor ascent to Canazei and the foot of the Passo Pordoi. Climbing the Pordoi from this direction (having climbed it from the other the previous year) was one of the goals that I had stated for this year’s trip. Since it lay between me and the hotel (=shower, food, beer, not necessarily in that order), it looked pretty solid that I would get to check this one off of the list, unlike the other side of the Gavia.

Here we have one of the delights of how Cinghiale runs their trips. We had already done two challenging climbs. But we also had a snack stop, and then a leisurely lunch stop, in which we were encourage to relax, enjoy the view, eat delicious food, and enjoy life. Then at the foot of the Passo Pordoi, Andy encouraged us to pop into the café for espresso. Because Italy!

So I started the climb feeling much better than I had any right to, given the previous few days and my lack of training for the trip. I was excited to accomplish this goal, and to experience the beauty of a corner of the Dolomites that I had not yet experienced. I was not disappointed.

At the top of the Passo Pordoi, at the Fausto Coppi monument. He loved this climb, and I can see why.

By the time I descended off the top of the Pordoi, I was both in familiar terrain and starting to get antsy for sweaty chamois time to be over. I rolled down the Pordoi into Arraba, turned up the steepish-feeling-but-short climb of the Passo Campolongo (just a minor bump in the road compared to what had come before), right past the van/directions/regrouping at the top of the Campolongo, down that super-fun descent, and on to the hotel.

Ahhhh, shower, bliss.

It was a long, wonderful day, both really difficult, and really relaxed. Then I looked at the ride stats for the day, and burst out laughing that a day that even surpassed the Passo dell’Erbe loop could have felt as accomplishable as it did.

Day 5, Costalunga, Pordoi, and Campolongo: 61 miles, 11,100 feet (!!!!).

day 5

Alps and Dolomites 2017, Day 4

One of the reasons that I decided not to blow myself up doing the other side of the Gavia on the previous day, was knowing what was coming today. We had an 85-mile transfer to Bolzano, starting out by going over the Stelvio. And as a measure of the difficulty of the trip, this was one of the less demanding days. (Yes, Stelvio day was the easy day.) Even so, the higher ups at Cinghiale Inc had reminded us several times that it would be a long day, and start with a tough climb.

If you’re racing up it, or have bad weather, the Stelvio can be a brutal, destructive climb. But if you’re just joyriding on a beautiful day, it’s “merely” challenging. The gradient out of Bormio isn’t too bad, for the most part. (Supposedly there is a sign advertising a section of 10 or 12% at one point, but I’ve managed never to see it–or to block it out if I did…) The many switchbacks offer brief moments of respite, and the views constantly spur one on. It’s pretty great!

This time around, I didn’t stop for many photos on the way up (see this post for more), but Ian and I did stop at the Mondrian door in our matching Mondrian-inspired jerseys!

Panorama view from the Mondrian door

It was about as perfect a day for riding a bicycle up a mountain as one could have asked for. It wasn’t even soul-killingly cold at the summit. ?!?!?

Regrouping in the sun at the top of the Stelvio

After watching the 2017 Giro d’Italia, I was a little nervous about descending the other side of the Stelvio for the first time. Even the pro’s took those hairpins s l o w l y . . . And they had the whole width of the (very narrow) road to work with.

It ended up being a non-issue, as I got stuck behind a VW van whose driver was even more alarmed than I was. There was enough oncoming traffic that I didn’t feel like taking an unnecessary risk to pass, just in case. The driver finally figured it out and pulled over to let the considerable accumulated peleton behind go past–once nearly at the bottom. Which actually was ok, because a couple hairpins later (that I didn’t feel the need to take that fast, VW van or no VW van), the road transitioned up into the open straight aways and easily swooping curves of the end of the descent.

That part was fun.

After another regrouping in Prato allo Stelvio, we set out on the part B of the day, with about as abrupt a change to our riding as if we had changed channels mid-show. We picked up a miracle of a bike path that took us over 50 scenic miles to Bolzano, winding through orchards and other such Italian picturesqueness, trending imperceptibly downwards. It was the kind of path you just effortlessly go fast on, the kind that tricks you into thinking you’re a fantastically talented cyclist.

Italian picturesqueness from the path

And the obligatory path-side giant chairs. ???

Not only was the path a joy to ride (and an almost car-free route!), our 50 mile jaunt was just a small segment of a regional network that must span hundreds of miles. Go here and click “see map” to get a sense of it. If you wanted to have a fun, easy cycling vacation (recognizing that not everybody thinks suffering up a steep mountain sounds like a fun summer vacation) you could stay in the area and ride for days. It looks amazing.

And then there we were, in Bolzano. The climbing, descending, and path joyriding made Bormio seem like it must have been at least a couple days distant. It was a really fun day that, despite the dire warnings about difficulty and length, was actually quite chill and relaxing.

Which ended up being a good thing, given what was in store for us the next day. A ride that Cinghiale Inc studiously avoided going into detail on, until it was too late.

Day 4, Stelvio and Bolzano: 84.5 miles, 5350 feet (a veritably flat ride…)

Alps and Dolomites 2017, Day 3

Gavia Day!

Ian with Elaine and Andy. Oddly, the only one to have worn the pink jersey isn’t wearing the pink jersey…

Several years ago, the prospect of riding the Gavia with Andy Hampsten was one of the things that started this whole mess for me. After that first trip, the next two years skipped the Alps in favor of more Dolomite riding, which I absolutely loved. Even as I was sorry to miss some of those rides this year, I was pretty excited to go back to the Gavia.

This year I had a goal of riding the other side of the Gavia–you know, the side that the Giro went up in ’88 when Andy won. Spoiler–I didn’t. At least, not entirely.

Three reasons: I was still feeling the effort of the Umbrail from the day before; jet lag had hit me hard and I was pretty sleep-deprived; and my training before the trip was not enough to give me the reserves to overcome the previous two things.

Still, the day started off well enough. Despite sleepiness and fatigue, I was feeling alright, not pushing too hard, and enjoying the climb. I was even verging into the realm of feeling confident that I’d have a strong ascent to feel proud of.

Peekaboo view from the lower slopes of the Gavia

Wide open view from the upper slopes of the Gavia

Then, towards the top, when I was starting to feel hopeful (whoops!), I hit a steep part. About a mile that hovered around 12 or 13%. I’m pretty sure it was new. It’s definitely not possible that I erased that part from my memory. Must have been new.

This coincided with my blood sugar getting a little lower than is ideal–I was really ready to see Gerardo, the van, and a lovely spread of food… But instead, the road stayed stubbornly pitched up. I ended up huddling in my dark place for a while, very glad that I was riding alone.

But I made it, and all was well. The top of the Gavia is a great place–just being there in general, and even more so being there when Gerardo is working his magic, and the owners of the rifugio are enthusiastically greeting Andy. They watched him ride by in ’88, and they remain excited to see him bicycling up there.

Pro tip: the rifugio serves a very thick, very potent hot chocolate. It is a wonderful thing on a nice cold summer day.

Proof that I made it

And then was the moment of truth–who was going to go down the other side? I had to admit to myself that I was pretty cooked. Even if I could make it back up the other side, it wouldn’t be fun (or fun for anyone to be around me), and might not be the best way to set up the rest of the trip.

I was disappointed.

But I did ride down the other side as far as the new tunnel, which was built to replace a notoriously treacherous stretch of road. The old road still clings to the side of the mountain, now a minefield of jagged rocks more appropriate to mountain biking–or to walking along after dismounting your road bike, which is what a number of us did.

Between the boulder and the modern road gallery is a remnant of the old road. In the background, you can just make out the road zig-zagging up the mountain to the pass. It’s really steep.

Looking the other way down the old “road”

It was a quick 3 km ride down to the tunnel, but it sure took a while to come back up. I stopped partway to take a photo–more for the opportunity to rest my legs than for the photo… Even though I didn’t do the full descent and ascent of the other side, the little bit that I did certainly represented way more work that I had done the first trip!

Bundled up for the 2-mile descent to the tunnel–and I was still cold–vs partway back up the same stretch of road–and I was still overheating. Did I mention it was steep?

So that goal gets a partial checkmark, and sits out there tantalizingly, goading me along for this year. Because of course in 2018, 30-year anniversary of Andy’s win, the Cinghiale trip is returning to the Gavia.

For every photo I took, there were 100’s of amazing views that I did not stop to photograph. Clicking on this photo will take you to my Flickr where you can see some more Gavia pictures.

I had a blast on the descent, stopping for photos and just trying to appreciate the view and the experience as much as I could. It’s still a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming experience to get to ride these roads in Italy.

Day 3, Gavia (!!!): 35 miles, 5400 feet.

Interlude: how to get a custom Hampsten bike

[We interrupt your regular Dolomites/Alps programming to bring you this special feature]

The more observant of my rabid followers might have noticed in a couple recent posts that my beloved old Colnago was not in frame. Those who have cared enough to click on a photo to embiggen (which I think has been no one) will have figured out that I now have a beautiful custom Hampsten bicycle.

I still blush a little when I say that.

So, the curious reader asks, how does one obtain one of these? Here is my handy, step-by-step guide:

  1. Spend a couple years visiting the website and drooling over the pretty pictures
  2. Make puppy dog eyes at your husband while looking at the website
  3. Read obsessively about people’s Hampsten bikes and how happy they are with them
  4. Think that you’ll never have something that nice
  5. Go on a couple Cinghiale trips, and notice that whenever you think “wow, nice looking bike!” it’s one of the people with a Hampsten bike
  6. Start to think maybe you could have something that nice
  7. Sketchily plan out what your dream Hampsten machine would be
  8. Make really really big puppy dog eyes at your husband
  9. Mention to your husband that you’re kinda thinking you’d like a Hampsten bike, and would it be ok if you perhaps maybe sent a preliminary feeler Steve Hampsten’s way
  10. Have your husband quash the dream by saying things about budget and $ and adult responsibility
  11. Go on another Hampsten trip, on which your husband sneakily gets together with Andy Hampsten to measure your bike
  12. Have your husband and Andy start an email conversation with Steve with measurements, fit notes, frame suggestions, and the like
  13. Go on a bike ride with your husband, taking a different route home that just happens to pass by Steve’s workshop, and stop in to go over the details of the surprise bike that Steve has already sketched out for you
  14. Suffer major agonies over what color to have it painted
  15. Wait impatiently for 6 weeks

Voilà, you have a custom Hampsten bicycle in just Fifteen Easy Steps!

So, there are all sorts of rules about how to photograph a bike, basically none of which I’ve followed. I’d rather be riding it than fussing about getting perfect shot. And my photography reflects that attitude. But here are some pictures!

Shortly after receipt, about as shiny and unburdened as it will ever be

Mental health break, Pacific Northwest-style

In its natural habitat–being ridden up mountains in good company

Some would say I have way too much crap on my bike. Some people photograph their bikes rather than ride up the Passo Gavia on their bikes.

Bonus part of the whole process is that in addition to having a wonderful new bike, I also have–in writing–Andy “I won the Giro d’Italia” Hampsten calling me “strong and flexible” and my pedal stroke “convincing.” !!! I’d be cool with that going on my tombstone, in case you’re planning ahead.

I’ve had the bike just over a year now, and beyond delighted now to be one of the people in #3 above. And Ian has been duly nominated for Husband of the Decade honors. Lying and deceit–the ingredients of a wonderful marriage!

 

Alps and Dolomites 2017, Day 2

Just the second day in, and it was already Stelvio day. This very quickly brought me face-to-face with one of my pre-trip stated goals–to ride the 3rd side of the Stelvio. Three years ago, we had gone up the classic, 48 switchbacks, side out of Prato allo Stelvio. Then we went up it from Bormio two days later. But that year I did not add on the approach from Switzerland, up the Umbrail pass. It’s been nagging at me ever since.

And I would have wanted to ride up it even before it featured so famously in the 2017 Giro d’Italia. Tom Dumoulin ignominiously dumping time (among other things) before heading up the Umbrail is one of those moments that won’t be forgotten. It was a very popular topic of discussion on the trip, perhaps even the No. 2 topic of discussion. Great for whenever we needed to relax and take a load off.

People were all over the map with what they wanted to do on this day. Some were happy doing a bit of the Stelvio and easing their legs into the trip, others were gently talked down off the ledge of burning all their matches at once riding all three ascents. Ian and I decided to ride up as far as the turn off for the Umbrail (a little short of the summit of the Stelvio), descend the Umbrail and come back up, and call it good.

The Stelvio was…pretty darn similar to last time. Global warming did not magically melt the road down to half its former height, but one can keep hoping.

Gerardo parked at the turnoff to the Umbrail, where we refueled and stocked ourselves for the various routes people were doing. Gerardo is amazing and talented, but even he can’t support riders on completely different sides of a mountain at the same time.

Ian and I took off for Switzerland, passports in hand! (Well, they were in our jersey pockets, but…) To our disappointment, the border crossing was in its usual unmanned state, so we were not able to get our passports stamped, and really, didn’t need to have them along at all.

We’re in Switzerland!

The Umbrail is not as famous as the Prato side of the Stelvio, but it pales only in comparison. It is another engineering marvel of route-finding switchbacks. In a way it’s almost more impressive than its more famous sibling, as it’s steeper, and the switchbacks pile upon themselves, many almost to the point of overhanging the one below.

If you look closely, you might think that these switchbacks overlap each other pretty steeply. Trust me, it was steeper than that.

The descent earned every penny we have spent on our brakes.

At the bottom is a cute Swiss town, Santa Maria. I’m sure it’s a lovely place, and that there would have been many fun things to do there, like have an espresso, or seek out Dumoulin’s roadside pit stop (guess which of those two things another group of riders did… Including Andy. Yes, there is photographic evidence of a Giro reenactment, no I’m not going to include it.)

So this is what Switzerland looks like.

However, I had my eyes on something even better: lunch back at the hotel. Word was that if we got back there by 2, they would still serve us. It is vital on these trips to stay focused on what is truly important.

On the way back up the Umbrail, I stopped to take some photos, but not as many as I would have liked. Have I mentioned that the road was steep?!?! My photo-taking was determined not so much by impressiveness of views, as by the road dipping enough under 10% gradient that I thought I could restart my bike after stopping.

Early in the climb–lush growth, and picturesque Swiss town views

Even Ian agreed that this was a pretty stiff climb. In fact, he shared that Andy, upon hearing that we planned to descend then ascend the Umbrail, had said “that’s a steep climb!”

Yeah, when two people who tend not to notice that a road is headed uphill comment on the steepness of a climb, I know I’m in for a tough day.

Still, it was a pretty amazing (and amazingly challenging) ride. The lush landscape at the bottom gradually transforms to a high altitude harsh, rocky landscape filled with scrubby vegetation that appears to barely be keeping a toehold on the slopes.

Still some greenery

Barely hanging on

And it was steep. Did I mention that yet?

Still, it was a success of a day! The third side of the Stelvio climbed, AND we got back to the hotel in time for (late) lunch!

Day 2, Stelvio and Umbrail: 42 miles, 7900 feet.

Ignore the parts where my gps device got lost. I didn’t actually go off-roading.

 

Alps and Dolomites 2017, Day 1

Sometimes thunderstorms don’t even produce any rain. Or just a little sprinkle. More often a reasonably respectable downpour.

We were lucky. As we prepared to go out for the trip’s first ride, we got to experience the rare “so unbelievably much water it’s either funny or the world is ending.” For bonus fun, the walls of water were moving sideways. All of which, somewhat understandably, dampened (ha ha, see what I did there?) people’s enthusiasm for immediately jumping on their bikes.

At the same time, people (ok, me) were a little antsy. We had been on a bus for several hours, transporting us from Venice to Bormio, and this was a bicycling vacation, darn it!

The weather teased, the sun emerging for moments of brilliance. We’d start grabbing helmets and heading towards our bikes, just in time for the next wave of black clouds and walls of water to roll in.

One of the teases between downpours

Finally, just about the time that we would have given up, there was a decent window for an abbreviated ride. Instead of the original plan to ride out to a lake (which is, naturally enough, located on top of a steep hill–because water flows uphill here?), a ride that had closed out our first year, some of us did a modified ride up to a nearby ski area. Others opted to relax and not risk getting caught in the epic weather (just because they were the smart ones on the trip didn’t mean they had to show off like that).

Even though the ride to the lake was fabulous, I was excited that we were doing the ski area ride instead. On our first trip, one of the hardcore overachievers liked to pop over to do the ski area ride before breakfast, or after the Stelvio, just to have something to do. I was curious to see what he had been up to.

Unsurprisingly, the road went up right away, and then kept going up. It switchbacked through the woods, and then revealed great views of Bormio and the hills opposite. These views were made even better by having massed dark clouds over them, while were were enjoying being not rained on (for the most part).

There had been a wedding in town, with the party apparently scheduled for the ski lodge. This meant that for a while, there was a steady stream of cars going by, honking enthusiastically, and lots of screaming and excitement. Apparently Italians get exuberant about marriage. Some of the guys on the ride were given unsteady pushes and even “offered” (=made to accept) cups of beer. I escaped all this, and though gender-based misplaced chivalry is not usually my thing, I was ok with missing out on some extreme sketchiness.

It was starting to get to be dusk, dinnertime (the best time!) was approaching, and I still wasn’t at the ski area. People kept peeling off and heading back. I finally decided that I would do so too at the next switchback, but once I got there, it was clear that the end of the road was just around another corner or two… And I couldn’t resist making it “official.” (Official with whom? Don’t ask questions.)

Just before I got there, Andy went past me and told me to turn around–past time to be headed back. But… The top was just ahead, so I made to myself the excuse that it would be a better locale for turning my bike around. Sorry Andy!

There was another cyclist up there, and Andy supervised us back down the road. It was now sprinkling a bit, and the road was that treacherous semi-damp that can be unpredictable. I ended up in front, swallowed my pride, and descended in the most cautious, excessive-braking, ginger tiptoeing around switchbacks manner possible. It was the first day, I was on my pretty new Hampsten bike, and I was NOT going to go down in a stupid rush to get to dinner!

But I felt bad for Andy, having to follow this sorry display, forced to stick with us because we were the last ones on the road. Sorry Andy!

At any rate, all got home safely, and dinner was delicious. No photos from the ride though, because it was damp and I was riding against the clock.

Day 1 shakedown ride: 12.2 miles, 2,274 feet.