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 in 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.

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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.

 

Alps and Dolomites 2017, TLDR

It’s hard to believe that I’ve now done four years of bicycling in the Italian mountains with Cinghiale. When I started this blog before the first trip, in a panic that I had made a huge mistake in signing up for it, I did not remotely foresee this as the outcome.

It’s really an odd way to spend my summer vacation. This trip always pushes me to my edge at some point (or multiple points), exhausts me, fills me with self-doubt, makes me grumpy, and has me going to my dark place on the bike. Now I no longer have ignorance as an excuse, and yet I keep going back.

(And now that I’ve made Cinghiale’s trips sound so appealing, I’m sure they’re thrilled that I keep writing…)

The thing is, the exhaustion, the doubt, the dark moments, they are part of what make the sense of accomplishment and achievement so intense. The other part, and the much greater part? The beauty of the surroundings, the joy of being on a bicycle, the camaraderie, the endorphin rush, and just the sheer fun of it all. And even as I’m in the midst of one year’s trip, I’m already hoping to come back the next year.

Which is a pretty longwinded way of starting what I titled a “TLDR” post. At any rate, the short version is it was another great trip. Posts with details and more photos will be forthcoming. Here’s the summary:

Day 0, Fri 8/25. We figured out the local train from our suburban hotel into Venice proper (including looking foolish for quite a while trying to figure out a recalcitrant ticket validating machine…), walked around a lot, and went to the Ca’ Pesaro Gallery of Modern Art and the Natural History Museum.

Day 1, Sat 8/26. The shakedown ride. After a long bus ride to Bormio, we were ready to get the legs moving, but the epic thunderstorm downpours instituted a delay and route change.  12.2 miles, 2,274 feet.

In between the thunderstorms

Day 2, Sun 8/27.  Most of the Passo Stelvio, the Passo Umbrail, and back. I’ve now been to Switzerland! And the Umbrail is one crazy steep road! 42 miles, 7,904 feet.

Switzerland!

Day 3, Mon 8/28. Passo Gavia! This time I went down part of the other side. The entirety of the other side is still on the to-do-list. 35.1 miles, 5,456 feet.

 

Towards the top of Passo Gavia

Day 4, Tue 8/29. 1st transfer day–Passo Stelvio and an amazing bike path. By the numbers, a flat day! 84.4 mile, 5,348 feet.

Day 5, Wed 8/30. 2nd transfer day. Passo Costalunga, Passo Pordoi, Passo Campolongo. That does not even begin to get to the epicness of this day. 60.9 miles, 11,093 feet.

Day 6, Thu 8/31. Supposed to be a rest day, but weather forecast inspired riding. Out and back along Passo Gardena and Passo Sella. 36.2 miles, 5,000 feet.

Making new friends on the Passo Gardena

(Fri 9/1–rain day/rest day)

Day 7, Sat 9/2. Rain threatening (and carrying through on the threat) so we did a little ride in the valley. And up and down the valley slopes… 29.9 miles, 4,712 feet.

Ride directions on a Cinghiale tour: “Regroup at the castle.”

Day 8,  Sun 9/3. I rode my bike to the store. 4 miles, 397 feet.

Total: 305.2 miles, 42,929. Give or take.

I’m about to head back to the Dolomites–what have I been doing with myself?!?

Here I am, like last year, cringing about my lack of preparedness for the Alps and Dolomites, when it’s way past too late being able to do anything about it. And I’m also setting some “above and beyond” goals for myself. Because that makes sense.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing, it’s just… I guess I have a hard time even envisioning the situation where I have trained enough to feel prepared. But I won’t let that stand in the way of enjoying myself!

But what have I been doing? This was one of the things that I really wanted to know from other people when I was preparing for my first trip.  What sort of benchmarks that I could relate to my own experience were people doing before they cycled these awe-inspiring (and somewhat terrifying) climbs? So maybe this post is useful for someone, or maybe it’s a chance for me to ramble and post more pictures.

TLDR: Wet winter, Zwift, Santa Monica Mountains, Mazama weekend, STP, RAMROD, Ride the Hurricane, Mt Rainier, hope I’m ready.

Long version:

You may or may not be aware that the Pacific Northwet lived up to its moniker this winter in a “one for the record books” kind of way. Between that and some stressful and exhausting work things, I was having a really hard time getting on the bike. It got so bad that I bought an indoor turbo trainer to put my bike on, and signed up for Zwift and a couple other similar services.

This had a twofold effect: one, I could do some hard riding with some structured training plans and not come home hypothermic and sodden. Two, if the weather was ok, I could have a pleasant ride outside and go as my whimsy took me, rather than having a voice in my head telling me I should make sure to get some training benefit out of the ride. With the way everything else was going, having outside rides as pure stress-relief enjoyment was golden.

Next up, in April we did Cycling Escapes’ Santa Monica Mountains Climbing Camp. Like two years ago, it was a week of excellent routes and ride support. I really like how Cycling Escapes puts together the week, and would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested. I will note that it’s probably a good idea to do a bit of training for the week.

Instead we used the week to kick off our training… Yeah, there was some sore and tiredness going on.

Unlike the last time I did this trip, this year I was the only woman (out of about 15 riders). Not only were the rest of the riders all men, there were a few of them who were super dude-bro’s. Amongst various dude-bro antics, the highlight was the ostentatiously loud conversation that took place on the first day’s lunch stop about how “compact cranksets are for amateur riders who don’t train a lot.” Yup, I totally agree. After all, I am an amateur rider who doesn’t train a lot. Love my compact. I know another person who rides a compact crankset who fits that description–as a *former* pro, Andy Hampsten is now an amateur rider. And though he rides a ton, I don’t think he really trains any more–he just goes out and has fun on his bike. Not sure that’s what dude-bro had in mind.

I did a shorter option for a couple of the rides, but over the 5 lovely days of riding, still managed to ride 250 miles with about 30,000 feet of elevation.

Thence, more Zwifting, commuting, and working too much.

Until the delights of Redmond Cycling Club’s Mazama Weekend.

The fun hairpin coming down from Washington Pass

Like last year, I was lucky enough to ride it with my dad. We had a blast, despite the record heat (which seemed especially unfair, given how the rest of the year to date had been unseasonably cold!) I had a good ride and felt strong on both days, though as I rode into the hair dryer-like headwind at the end of the second day, I will admit that there was a repetitive chorus of “you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me” going through my head.

We’re at 5400 feet, and it’s already toasty… At least I was still smiling at this point.

My dad also had a strong ride, though his first day was interrupted by a series of flats. Which then led to a series of the messiest, dirtiest flat changes known to man. Which then led to him being given the ironic nickname “Mr. Clean” by the very entertained people from the Redmond Cycling Club as they regarded his dirt and grease-covered person with awe and amazement.

Mr. Clean having an adventure in the snow

The astute observer might note that I am riding a different bike than my beloved Colnago…

Despite the heat, a great weekend!

A couple more training rides, and then it was time for STP! I could definitely tell that my next-longest ride of the year to date had been just half the miles, but it still went pretty well. We had mostly good weather, despite a cross wind that made us very nervous about whether the usual tailwind at the end would instead be a headwind. Thankfully, the tailwind on US 30 materialized, and we still had some pep in our legs as we rolled into Portland. It was neat to get my 7th patch–even neater for Ian as he collected his 10th!

As if to make up for the previous two years of torrid temperatures, this year’s RAMROD was delightful. The day started with heavy marine layer that was just on the edge of being rain, but it was also quite warm (for 6AM). Just as I was starting to worry that it could be a bit chilly on the descents if this kept up, the clouds parted, right on time for the peek-a-boo views of the summit that make the climb up to Inspiration Point such a delight. And going up Cayuse was a positively civilized experience–I summited with plenty of water left, and without any threat of heat rash.

I call this “I’m happy about a successful RAMROD, Ian’s worried I’ll make him do it again some day”

This year, the Ride the Hurricane event advertised that “it surely couldn’t be as cold and wet as last year!” which was correct. For next year they should advertise “surely this year there will be a view!” Though it was a warm sunny day, smoke from the BC wildfires was pretty thick, so for a second year in a row, there was no view from the top. But my dad and I had a good time anyway. I was really pleased, because for the first time ever, I felt quite good all they way up the climb, and never had to go to my dark place. My time was pretty consistent with previous years’ but it felt easier, more doable, less daunting.

Interesting… Still not on my Colnago…

The “view” from the top. At least it’s dry!

The horrible, wet winter has meant a spectacular summer of wildflowers in the mountains!

I still can’t even begin to express how amazing it is to do that climb without cars. I felt like a little kid on a playground as I descended, thinking “all this space, just for us to have fun in?!?!” So we took advantage of every car-free minute, and climbed halfway back up, to the point that the smoke started getting thicker. A fun chat with some ride volunteers, and then it was time to head down, and let the cars take over again. A huge thank you to the organizers and to the National Park for making this happen!

After Hurricane Ridge, I had a couple weeks with just commutes, errands by bike, and a couple indoor trainer workouts. Instead, I focused on cross-training via teaching and taking ballet and modern dance classes. In other words, work got busy. But seriously–you take a ballet class, and tell me how your legs feel after. It’s actually quite brilliant cross-training for cycling.

This last weekend, we did one of my favorite training rides. We parked at the turn off for Crystal Mountain, and rode up to Sunrise, back down, and then up Cayuse to Chinook Pass. Hurricane Ridge had been good, but the wildflowers on the way up to Sunrise were more profuse and more colorful than I have ever seen–between the grand vistas and the close up details of the flowers, there was impossibly much to gawk at. Naturally, I didn’t take any photos of this section.

Demonstrating questionable selfie skills atop Chinook Pass

This ride has made me feel cautiously optimistic about how I will fare on this year’s Cinghiale trip. I wasn’t really faster than I have been on this ride in the past, but at the end, I didn’t feel nearly as drained or beat up as I have in the past. (Well, I might have napped on the car ride home, but I think that had more to do with how little sleep I got during the week before…)

This has more and more been the theme of my riding this year. I am doing less than I did in 2014, but on a lot of the same rides, I feel much better, much more capable of carrying on, and not like it is taking every physical and mental resource I have to complete the ride.

Which is good, because the Cinghiale trip will be challenging enough in itself, and I have some goals of my own that aren’t going to make it any easier. And in the spirit of the original purpose of this blog–to keep me honest and accountable in my training for the Alps and Dolomites–I’m going to reluctantly commit to them publicly. Before I’ve done them. Meaning I might have to come back here and eat crow…

  1. I want to ride both sides of the Gavia this year. I made the right decision when I decided not to my first year, but I understand my limits and capabilities better now, and want to ride it the Giro ’88 direction!
  2. I want to ride up the 3rd side of the Stelvio, the Switzerland side. Again, it worked well for my goals not to do so in 2014, but now I want to do it.
  3. So, I’ve done one side of the Pordoi… Yup, now I’d like to do the other.

At any rate, that’s some of what I’ve been up to this year in preparation for the Alps and Dolomites. I wish it were more, but I’m also heartened that, especially as the summer has progressed, these rides have felt so… doable. It was not long ago that they were pretty intimidating. In fact, it was not long ago that some moderate 1 or 2 block rises were intimidating. Now, the question for me is not whether I can get up something, but how much I do or don’t want it to hurt. So, fingers crossed, Alps and Dolomites–here I come!

Dolomites 2016, wrap up

It was the last day, time to get in the bus and head back to Venice, and thence home. But the bus wouldn’t be leaving until early afternoon, so…

So some of us decided to go shopping in Corvara, the bigger town up the road a few miles. Because when in Italy!

This ended up being my actual last ride of the trip–a lazy roll in street clothes, trying not to sweat before shopping in Italian clothing stores. I wasn’t entirely successful, as even this lazy roll gained 800 feet in the 5 miles to Corvara.

Shopping in Italian clothing stores is a blast. The people in the store are really into their job of making you look good, so you basically end up in a dressing room being showered with clothes and having them tell you how fabulous they are on you. And the thing is, they’re always right–they bring things that fit and coordinate, and they show you exactly how to drape the fancy scarf or arrange the long belt, and you suddenly find out that you can be a pretty stellar looking person. If you have a team of Italians keeping you together.

So I left with a great pair of pants, a belt, and a scarf that has made several people mad when they ask where I got it and I disappoint them by telling them “Italy.” I regretfully left behind a number of other items. Sigh.

It may have been a bit different than the highlights of the other days’ rides, but it still was biking in the Dolomites–and something I’d recommend doing if you do go biking in the Dolomites.

The bus ride back was an opportunity to reflect. I came into the trip with less training–and less focused training–than I had my first trip in 2014, when I was so worried I wouldn’t even be able to make it up the climbs at all. In a way, I had no right to expect the trip to go really well, much less think I’d be able to achieve my goal of adding to the scheduled riding to do the Passo Pordoi.

Yet, the trip did go really well. I wasn’t any faster than in the previous years, but I wasn’t any slower either. It wasn’t like I had done no riding at all in preparation for the trip. After all, a lot of people train for RAMROD, rather than consider RAMROD a training ride! I’m no longer on the steepest part of the learning curve, but as someone who picked up cycling in the summer of 2010, I’m definitely still on a steepish part of it. Each year, I feel like my technique has gotten smoother, and I have gotten better at pacing myself. So I’m a better cyclist than I was in 2014, even if I haven’t put in the training to be any faster.

Still, it’s a really hard trip, and I’d advise doing some training for it. If you happen to be doing less than you think is optimal, it helps to have a very physically active job that intensively works many of the same muscle groups one uses cycling. And enjoying the peculiar suffering we willingly inflict on ourselves to bike uphill for a long, long time is definitely a must. Then, spending your summer vacation bicycling the Dolomites goes swimmingly!

Dolomites 2016, the final tally: around 335 miles, 45,000 feet elevation.

Some random photos:

The river path in Badia

The valley from the “flat ride”

Cinque Torri area

Alleghe

More from Cinque Torri

Dolomites 2016, the “Flat Ride”

Today’s destination on our last official day of riding was the same as last year, the stunningly beautiful road up a valley between two mountain ridges.

(I know that I keep on calling the scenery some variation of “stunningly beautiful”–because it is–but believe me, on a trip where one could almost become jaded and numbed by the surfeit of scenic beauty, this day’s ride would still jolt one back to slack-jawed wonder.)

I made a rookie mistake though, thinking that the same destination would mean the same route. Roll down the highway, then pedal up the valley. Simple, nothing too challenging.

Instead, the powers that be had found a better route. There was a newly-opened bike path up the slope from the highway, and some spiffy quiet backroads leading into the valley.

And naturally, this better route involved more and steeper climbing. Because of course it did. I should have known. There is a slight chance that, expecting an easy day, and having tired legs, I was slightly grumpy about the extra climbing. And just a wee bit pissed off that dammit, I knew I had to admit that the tranquil path and winding backroads were a way better route. How dare the powers that be change the route to make it better when my legs were tired?!?!?

You know, sometimes really beautiful landscape can seem like it’s that way out of spite, to taunt you.

Yes, I’m having a really sad day at this point…

But hey, I got over it. Eventually. Even though a little corner of me then remained annoyed, its new cause for complaint being that I was enjoying myself…

At any rate, we rode on this fabulous bike path created by fixing up an old hillside road made redundant by the highway in the valley. It wound along the contours of the landscape, mostly hidden among the trees, but occasionally popping out into wider vistas. And despite the unexpected added elevation, it was a delight and marvel of a way to get from point A to point B.

We eventually had to go back to the road, but this time climbed up and around a section of the previous year’s route on a great car-lite road. (Ok, I was completely grumpy about the road going uphill, and wondering how much longer it could do that, and not really wanting to know the answer because in these parts, it could be for a long time, but in retrospect, it was a great car-lite road…)

After the trauma of having to do something different from what I expected, we rejoined the previous year’s route, the long gentle climb up the valley between these two wonderful ridges. I will admit that I started to feel better here. Then there was the part where I was riding along chatting with Andy, trying not to sound *too* out of breath, and pretending to be way cooler than I am (you know, like the kind of cool person who can ride a bike and talk at the same time…).

The end of the road remained as wonderful a place to stop as I had remembered from last year.

Having lunch in a land of magic

There’s a gravel path that keeps going off into the distance and up to the pass–it would be worth coming back with a mountain bike to ride it…

I’m just going to sit quietly for a minute and look at the photos and remember.

 

 

 

Eventually, it was time to turn back. At least this year I learned from the past (despite starting the day with a rookie mistake), and took advantage of the facilities. The 20 mile ride back to the hotel over some rough road surfaces was much better without a bladder full to the bursting point… Pro tip–always pee when you have the chance!

In the category of “I’ve improved a lot as a cyclist in the 6 years I’ve been doing this, but have barely scratched the surface”–on the way back, Kerri rolled by me and Ian, chatted with us a bit, then pulled out her camera. She then proceeded to ride along no-hands (not a super big deal, especially for a former pro, I know…), taking photos, including twisting around to take photos of things behind her, all while holding her line perfectly.

Ian and I agreed that this was something neither of us would be attempting any time soon. Or preferably, never.

It was a bittersweet day. It is so hard to say goodbye to the idyllic days of beauty and cycling, especially when the last ride is one of the most spectacular on a trip that is basically one continuous highlight reel. But we were also looking forward to being home–and ready for our legs to get a break! At the hotel, I swung my leg off my bike with regret and anticipation. And I was already thinking about being back the next year.

“Flat ride” day: 43 miles, 3,800 feet elevation.

 

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.

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