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

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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

 

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy plying us with wine

Andy plying us with wine

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

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

...and softening us up via the view too

…and softening us up via the view too

Anyway. The “short” version:

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

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

The even longer version:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passo delle Erbe, or as I prefer, Grass Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

67.5 miles, 9,750 feet

67.5 miles, 9,700 feet

 

Dolomites 2015, the short version

Sure, it’s been a little while (fewer than 50 days is just a a little while, right?) since I got back from biking the the Dolomites with Cinghiale for the second time. But have no fear, I still plan to write my usual series of could-use-some-editing, overlong posts. Better late than never!

But first the summary post.

Really quick summary of how the trip went: I want to do it all over again next year.

I want to go back here

Slightly longer summary:

Day 0, Fri 8/28. A day on my own in Venice.. Galleria dell’Accademia, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, lots of walking, met some folks also on the Cinghiale trip who said “you’re the blog lady!” Enjoyed beautiful, quiet streets in peak tourist season by staying away from tourist centers. (Proof in my Venice photos.)

Day 1, Sat 8/29. Drive to Alleghe, then a warm up ride up into the hills. 23 miles, 2,450 feet elevation gain.

Day 2, Sun 8/30. Passo Duran, Passo Staulanza. 44 miles, 6,100 feet.

Day 3, Mon 8/31. Sella Ronda day, this year without wind! Rode the whole Fedaia climb! Passo Fedaia, Passo Sella, Passo Gardegna, Passo Campolongo. 60 miles, 8,150 feet.

The Serrai di Sottoguda before the Passo Fedaia, where last year I thought to myself “sign me up for next year.”

Day 4, Tue 9/1. Passo Giau and Falzarego. 41 miles, 6,150 feet.

Day 5, Wed 9/2. Transfer day, Passo Falzarego and Valparola into next hotel in Alta Badia. 26.3 miles, 4,100 feet.

Thu 9/3. Rest day, HOORAY!!!!

Day 6, Fri 9/4. Queen stage, Passo delle Erbe loop. 67.5 miles, 9,700 feet.

Partway through Passo delle Erbe day. Wore the Molteni jersey to be sure not to wimp out on one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done.

Day 7, Sat 9/5. Rain ride for those still upright after Friday. Down the valley, up some hills. 15.5 miles, 2,300 feet.

Day 8, Sun 9/6. Beautiful ride between two mountain ridges. 40 miles, 2,950 feet.

Not a bad way to close out the trip!

Trip total: 317 miles, 42,000 feet. Give or take a bit.

RAMROD and more

TLDR: Triple whammy. 7/20 Oregon Lakes Loop, 52 miles, 4,750′ elevation. 7/30 RAMROD, 146 miles, 8,950′ elevation. 8/2, Ride the Hurricane, 45 miles, 5,700′ elevation. Legs tired. Post too long.

Happy after finishing RAMROD! What you can’t see are my black helmet straps turned white with encrusted salt after riding in 90+ degree weather…

So, I’ll start in the middle and work my way out.

Thursday was RAMROD, which I had a guaranteed spot for after volunteering last year. Though for STP we lucked out with cool weather breaking the region’s record heat wave, no such luck here. The forecast was for the 90’s, and I’ve read enough blogs to know that Cayuse Pass is an unbelievable oven in the afternoon sun. Yikes.

The start line was open from 5:00AM to 7:00AM. I had originally though to take advantage of our hotel room in Enumclaw to get a bit more sleep, and start around 6:00AM. After all, shouldn’t one of the advantages of staying in Enumclaw be that you don’t have to get up super early in the morning?

Instead, I decided to take advantage of every cool minute of the day, so my alarm went off at 4:00 while Ian grumbled. (While I was riding, Ian would be volunteering at the Crystal Mountain stop–aka the wonderful place 110 miles in where they make you a sandwich. But at 110 miles in you have enough time before the cyclists get there that you can get up at a reasonable time.) (I would like to remind you that last year, I had to report for my volunteer assignment at 3:15AM…)

I rolled over to the start, choked down a little breakfast (eating before I’m used to, while also being a little nervous, is excruciatingly difficult for me) (note that my nerves are always only in anticipation–the moment I start, no more nerves. And I’m suddenly hungry…), and crossed the start line at 5:01AM. Deliciously, it was in the 50’s and I was a little chilly, even with my vest and arm warmers on. I told myself to enjoy it, because it wouldn’t last. I love being right.

Interjection–in case I don’t remember to say it enough times, the organization and support on RAMROD is really impressive.  Thank you!

I have ridden almost the whole RAMROD course, except for the opening section from Enumclaw up to Inspiration Point. From the profile, I expected it to be a long, flattish slog before you get to the fun (=painful climbing) stuff. What I did not expect is how beautiful it would be.

The opening section sends you through fields and forests, and along lakes and rivers. Mist still hung over the fields, floating away into nothing as the light started to hit it. Mt Rainier shone, brightly lit up against a still-dark sky. The early-morning quiet was peaceful yet somehow energizing.

And I saw a horse with markings like a Holstein cow, so that was cool too.

The climb up to Inspiration Point from that direction is much more wooded than the other way, and really magical. You’re threading your way through the trees, and every once in a while, the peak of Rainier would burst through the gap made by the road, stretching out and over the trees like a cape.

Throughout the beginning, I was feeling pretty good, and so pushed a bit on the bike, and kept my stops short, in hopes of getting to Cayuse Pass as early as possible.

Inspiration Point summited, I rolled down to the second main food stop, the one with chocolate croissants and baby potatoes. They were as welcome and delicious as all the accounts I had read of them. A nice thing about RAMROD is that with a comparatively small rider count, the stops can be laid out pretty compactly, and you can get what you need and get out in very good time.

One benefit of climbing slowly was getting to spend a lot of time staring at this.

So, what with the whole keep-stops-short thing, I didn’t take photos. But it looked a lot like it did when I did ROMROD last year, just with more cyclists.

Backbone Ridge, if you know to expect it, really isn’t that bad. The descent from it in that direction is really fun and swoopy, and then… Then it’s the left turn to head you towards Cayuse Pass. Which is an oven in the afternoon.

But I made the turn at 11:30AM.

Here is where I was so glad I had pushed myself on the road and at the stops. Most of the way up Cayuse, I was able to ride in the shade, and while it was certainly hot, it was not extreme by any means. I did go through both my water bottles, but I didn’t need to stop and refill at the water station partway up.

(Have I mentioned how great the support and organization is on RAMROD? Thank you!)

The climb up Cayuse is really steady, and I was able to get into a good pedaling and breathing rhythm, and just keep it going. When I would start to flag a bit, I would just focus on the rhythm, rather than on how I was feeling (and I would eat a bite or drink a little), and found that I could keep the effort up.

Throughout RAMROD, and particularly here, I experienced a lot of tortoise-and-the-hare effect (hint, I was the tortoise). Since I just kept going (and earlier, kept my stops short), I kept on getting passed by the same people–they were faster than me on the road, but kept stopping. One guy in particular had a lovely Hampsten Cycles Maglia Rosa. I admired it, and mentioned that I had been thinking about a Hampsten Strada Bianca. About the 3rd or 4th time he passed me, he joked that he was being paid big money to ride the bike slowly past me…

At the top of Cayuse, I gratefully filled my water bottles, and then rolled down the fun descent(!) to the deli stop, where I did not yell any of the silly/embarrassing things at Ian that I had threatened to. As much as I had been working hard, he wasn’t having an easy day either–he and all the volunteers were constantly on the go at the stop keeping riders fed. Ian said he sat down once for about 5 minutes the entire day. The rest of the time he was trying to keep the stop stocked in sliced watermelon, tomatoes, nectarines, and basically anything else that needed to be sliced.

Anyway, I had a delicious sandwich, some very expertly sliced watermelon, an *ice-cold* Coke, and sat down on something not my bike saddle for the first time in the day. (Thanks to the cyclist next to me, who just after watching me painfully grunt my way down to sitting on the ground, got up to get me a Coke after I saw his and said, with wonder and joy, “they have Coke  here?!?!?!?!”)

At this point, since I had made it up Cayuse Pass before the worst heat of the day, I saw no reason any more to push like mad. I rode the last 35ish miles back at a relaxed pace, letting the usual headwind into Enumclaw slow me down, rather than fight it. I latched onto a couple pacelines for a bit, but for the most part found it easier to go my own pace and look around, rather than maintain the focus necessary to take advantage of drafting a group.

In fact, for the most part I rode RAMROD on my own. In the beginning, it was so beautiful that I wanted to look around at the scenery, rather than at the butt of the cyclist in front of me. And at the end, because I was tired enough, to me it was easier to just go slow.

Thinking about how long it had taken me to do earlier rides, and knowing that you can’t assume that you can do a ride twice as long in just twice the time, I had a goal time of 12 hours. And I thought that might be ambitious–I was hesitant to even mention my goal time to Ian or anyone else. And given that heat slows me down, well… At least it’s nice to have goals, even if they aren’t realistic.

I crossed the finish line at 3:40PM.

10:39 elapsed time.

That’s right, even without taking advantage of pacelines, and softpedaling to Enumclaw from the deli stop, I beat my stretch goal by 1 hour 21 minutes.

!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, I’m still pretty excited about that.

At the finish line, I was quite surprised to hear my dad call out my name. He had told me he would be away sailing. Instead he came to the RAMROD finish line to surprise me. He lied to me!

Lies aside, it was a really wonderful treat to see him at the end, and get to hang out until Ian finished volunteering. Between getting a shower and a massage at the finish line, Dad commented when Ian showed up that he looked more wiped out than I did! Slicing tomatoes all day in the heat is tough work!

It was a great ride (seriously, I can’t thank the volunteers and organizers enough–I felt the whole ride through that I had what I needed, when I needed it, to allow me to ride my best ride), and a fabulous finish. I can’t wait till next year!

Oh, I mentioned a couple other rides at the top of the post too, didn’t I…

The week before RAMROD, we were at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and met up with a cyclist who will be on the Dolomites trip also. She very generously took us on a great mountain loop in the area (note, we did it clockwise, not counterclockwise. This meant a steeper climb in the beginning, and an amazing fun twisty descent at the end.) She’s a fun person and a strong cyclist–I’m really looking forward to spending more time with her in Italy. Thanks again, M!

And then today, I rode the Ride the Hurricane event again. And since you asked, yes, my legs were still tired from RAMROD. So, why?

(A couple preliminary reasons:)

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Furthermore:

1) Riding up Hurricane Ridge car-free is WONDERFUL. This might be becoming one of my favorite cycling events.

2) I talked it up so much that I talked my dad into doing it to, so it was fun to ride and hang out with him.

3) Doing it after RAMROD, and then (here’s the important part) giving myself a few days of rest and recovery, should hopefully have a positive training effect–the idea is to freak my muscles out with what I might be crazy enough to throw at them next (like a trip to the Dolomites) and convince them to build themselves up a bit more…

Interestingly (at least to me), though my overall time was slower up Hurricane Ridge than the previous two times I’ve done it, I felt better as I went along, and actually rode the last part of it the fastest I ever have. (“Ever” being a sample size of three, but still…)

Anyway, it’s been a challenging and fun couple weeks, and on the calendar for the next few days is taking it easy.

Congrats to anyone who made it through to the end of this over-long post. Conceptual gold star to you!

Mt Rainier, finally!

After a cold derailed my plans to repeat last year’s Sunrise-Cayuse-Chinook ride on Mt Rainier before STP, I was trying to figure out when I could get that ride in. Both for the training benefit, and because it’s gorgeous.

Looking at my calendar, this past Wednesday was the only time I really had a chance to get it in, as long as I got up early enough. I really don’t like mornings. But at 5:45AM I bounded out of bed (or crawled) and was on the road by 6:15AM.

Oh, and if you’re counting, yes, I was heading off to ride up a mountain a couple times just 4 days after STP. Pushing yourself is how you build strength. And spoiler alert: my legs are now tired. And I am giving them a chance to rest.

The drive to the ride’s starting point (the parking lot at the turn-off for Crystal Mountain) was uneventful. Though there is a part, about 40 miles before you get to the parking lot, when Mt Rainier starts filling your field of vision. And it gets bigger. And bigger. And you’re not even close yet. And you start to wonder about your plans to bike up it today, and do RAMROD in a couple weeks.

Anyway.

After the heat wave we’ve been having, it was very bizarre to step out of the car into 48 degree weather. It was a cloudless and sunny day, but the morning can be chilly on a mountain! I was quite glad that I had grabbed my leg warmers at the last minute–they stayed on the entire ride. But since the road goes uphill immediately, I knew that being cold wouldn’t last long. I was right.

The nice thing about doing this ride on a weekday was that, as compared to a nice weekend day, there was hardly any traffic. No line at the booth to enter the National Park, very few cars going by me–and thank you to all of them who did for leaving lots of room when they passed me.

It’s a good steady climb up to Sunrise–in fact, pretty much the same as when I wrote about it last year… The wildflowers were in riotous full bloom, and made a beautiful contrast of bright color against the dark evergreen of the trees. This is one of the things I really enjoy about biking up mountains–not only can you enjoy grand vistas (which I did), but you can also see the small details of a flower’s petals.

Rainier

I didn’t stop to take pictures, because I had to get back home in time to get to work. But here’s a photo from the Mt Rainier page on wildflowers. Click on the photo to get to the page, with links to info about the gazillion different wildflowers up there.

About a third of the way up to Sunrise, I noticed a car up ahead, pulled over with its hazards flashing. I slowed a bit and looked around, and just then a bear wandered onto the road ahead of the car.

I stopped.

I stayed stopped.

The bear meandered across the road, taking its time, and eventually got to the other side. (Q. Why did the bear cross the road? A. It’s a bear, it can do whatever it wants.)

I stayed stopped.

And sure enough, two little bear cubs bounded onto the road, bouncing their way across. I think that bears are pretty cute, and bear cubs are even cuter, but I was really glad that I did not have a closer view of them!

Bear family hung out on the side of the road for a bit, then continued up the mountainside, and I finally resumed pedaling. Given that I saw what was going on and stopped in time, it was a really neat experience–I was far enough away that they didn’t even bother glancing in my direction, not when there were yummy plant bits to nibble on the side of the road (apparently). But it was still a little closer than I felt I needed to be to a mother bear and her cubs!

The rest of the ride up to Sunrise continued without incident. As soon after STP as it was, I was pleased at how good my legs felt–my time from the car up to the top of Sunrise was about 12 minutes faster than last year.

I had really been looking forward to chocolate milk and a hot dog at the cafeteria (why a hot dog? I don’t know–it just sounded really good.) Alas, the kitchen didn’t open until 11:00AM, and it was only 10:15. That’s what I get for getting out of bed so early in the morning. So I had chocolate milk and some snacks from their cooler, and 15 minutes later, was rolling back downhill.

Besides my improved time up to Sunrise, I was also pleased by how ready to go I felt–when I got to the top, I didn’t need to rest and recover for a long time. I just wanted to fuel up and keep going. When I did this ride last year, I definitely appreciated taking some long breaks along the way.

Up to Cayuse Pass, and then the switchbacks to Chinook Pass. This continues to be a really fun part for me–the grade lessens considerably for a while, and you suddenly feel like you’re going so fast! Uphill! And then a last little push, and you’re there! No need to pedal from this point onwards, unless you feel like it.

After the great descent, I got back to the car, just 4:15 after I left it. Not bad for a 55 mile, 6,000′ elevation gain ride. After feeling strong on STP, and not feeling like I needed tons of recovery time between climbs on this ride, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic for RAMROD.

This is a pretty great ride to do–but you know what’s really awesome? Sitting on the couch. That’s pretty much the bee’s knees.

STP #5

Five 1-day STP's in a row!

Five 1-day STP’s in a row!

Really, it is amazing that a person can get from Seattle to Portland completely under her own power in a single day. The bicycle is a marvel of mechanical efficiency. Which is to say that Saturday was my fifth STP ride in a row. Each year it gets easier in certain respects, yet each year I look back the next day and think “really?!?! I did that?!?! Wow!”

And even more impressive than the fact that I got to Portland under my own power, is that about 10,000 people did the same thing, spread between one and two-day riders. It’s pretty neat.

Anyway, the annual endurance tradition went well. You may recall that last year saw us dealing with temperatures well into the 90’s. With the heat wave that we’ve been having, I was worried about a repeat. But it was cloudy with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s–my power weather.

The flip side was that we did not have the usual tailwind (last year’s was especially impressive), but instead had a slight headwind. We grumbled quite a bit about it, but I’ll still take this year’s weather over last year’s. And despite the big difference in wind, we got to Portland at about the same time as last year–that’s how much extra time the heat took out of us in longer rest stops, and having to keep our effort level low while riding.

This year was an interesting experience for me in the differing fitnesses on the bike.

After doing this four times, I didn’t have any doubt about my ability to finish, barring freak accidents. But it is true that this year, I have fewer long (80 mile plus) rides under my belt that in previous years. But I’ve also been feeling really strong, and have smashed some personal best times on hills that I have ridden up dozens of times.

So STP turned out pretty much how one might expect. The things on the bike that are more durational fitness-related were barking at me a little–for me, my wrists and neck, mostly. Yet I was overall riding really strongly. For example, I went up “The Hill” in Puyallup about 15% faster than before, without feeling like I was working any harder. And 140 miles in, I felt like I was flying, and collected quite a paceline of people happy to draft me–but later on, I looked back and they were gone. I wasn’t trying to ride them off my wheel, I just felt good and was going.

There are a couple sections that tend to be lows for me, and they were again. But I overall felt better and stronger on the ride–enough so that I didn’t mind that my neck and wrists were a little annoyed with me.

A piece of information that I got at the finish line was that I was the 44th woman to cross the line. Now, mind you, I don’t know how many women do the ride in one day, so I don’t exactly know what that number means–but my hunch is that it’s something to feel good about!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

In other news, a cold derailed me from my plans to ride on Mt Rainier last weekend, which I’m still bummed about. I’m going to see if I can squeeze that in this week. And the tail end of the cold also interrupted my Tenth of the Tour run–I was doing ok, but woke up the day before STP feeling not so great again, and decided that I was better off getting as much rest as I could. Luckily I felt good again on Saturday for STP. I’m bummed about all of that, but I made the right decisions. I’m going to keep as much of the Tenth of the Tour going as I can, just as a way to keep me biking, even if I won’t get “credit” for having done the whole thing.

And I’m going to try to get rid of this lingering congestion and cough!

Hello, Haleakala!

Short Version: We continued the tradition of freezing our butts off on vacation, and rode up Mt Haleakala in Maui. Because who goes to Hawaii to be warm?!?! 36 miles riding continuously up, to 10,023 feet, where the air is very thin. Then roll back down to sea level and breathe again. Some photos (as usual, if you click to embiggen, they’re embetter):

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At the top of Haleakala, with the crater (or, more properly, erosional valley…) in the background. We figured our jerseys from the Cinghiale trip were appropriate for such a ride.

 

Another view, the Big Island in the background. You really feel on top of the world up there.

Another view, the Big Island in the background. You really feel on top of the world up there.

 

Obligatory elevation sign photo. We really did it!

Obligatory elevation sign photo. We did it!

 

Better shot of the moon-scape crater without us in the way messing up the view.

Better shot of the moon-scape crater without us in the way messing up the view.

 

Long version:

During a cold snap around Thanksgiving, Ian couldn’t take it any more. He looked at our gobs of frequent flyer miles, and started researching flight options to Maui. So, post-Christmas, we headed out for four days in tropical warmth. To our amusement, another cold snap settled in to Seattle right as we left…

Beaches and tropical paradise are nice and all, but we wouldn’t want to enjoy ourselves too much on vacation, so we looked into the options for bicycling up Mt Haleakala. It’s supposedly the longest paved, continuous climb in the world.

The climb goes from sea level to 10,023 feet with just a couple flat or downhill sections so brief if you blinked you’d miss them. I quibbled with the “continuous” label for the climb because of these, but Ian said I was being silly.

At any rate, it looked like the good options were to rent road bikes from Maui Cyclery, or sign up to do a supported ride with them, their schedule permitting. Their schedule did permit, so we opted for the latter, meaning that an angel named Ed drove up, periodically stopping and offering us and a couple others food, water, and encouragement.

It also meant we could pack all sorts of “just in case” gear for the descent, and then choose what the conditions merited once we got up to 6500′ (Ed had to leave off there because commercial operations aren’t allowed past the National Park entrance, after some people on downhill-only bike tours died…)

Sure, we could have done the ride on our own, lots of people do, but it sure was nice to have the support of someone else taking care of our water and food and gear. The less you have to carry on your bike uphill, the better. Not to mention that Ed was nice, fun, and encouraging. Thanks Ed and Maui Cyclery!

Pre-trip, as usual I dealt with my anxiety about this epic and difficult ride by reading as many accounts as I could of it. The ride sounded really hard–but also like something that I could do. There are a couple brief steep sections (best of all is the final steep kicker at the very end when there is no air to breathe, and you are so ready to be done. That’s a fun little treat…) but the grade overall isn’t that steep. It certainly wasn’t as steep as a bunch of the climbs we did this summer. The trick is that it just keeps going.

For 36 miles.

To over 10,000 feet.

But though I’m not the fastest person on a bike around, I am decent at pacing myself so that I can keep going. That seemed like one of the keys to this ride–calm and steady.

The other key was what I couldn’t control: the weather. At any time of the year, you can encounter gale-force winds, freezing rain, impenetrable fog, or sunshine and warmth. We got the latter. We had about as good weather as one could possibly have for this: sunny, warm, and barely any wind.

To contrast, here is us at the summit two days later (the overnight gusts to 70mph had calmed down, but even the people who work there were noting that it was a pretty windy day):

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A slightly breezy day.

It was hard to stand up in the wind that day. Much less walk into it. Much less bike into it. As we drove up, we passed several cyclists making the ascent that day–I have huge respect for them. This was an unbelievably difficult ride in calm weather, and I don’t think I would have made it had we been riding up that day.

Meanwhile, two days earlier in calm weather, we picked up bikes at Maui Cyclery (titanium Litespeeds, if you’re curious. In an instance of epic unfairness, my bike had a compact double with great low end gearing, but Ian’s had a triple crankset with even better low end gearing. I really could have used those couple extra gears he had…) and after some time getting set up, headed uphill at around 8:45AM.

And about 5 minutes later, Ian decided his saddle was too low, rode a little longer, decided it really was too too low, and turned around for the shop to get it raised and get a multi-tool in case he needed to adjust it again. The bikes were really nice, but a rental just isn’t the same as your own.

Also, I know that if I rent a bike again in the future for a ride of any length, I need to bring my own saddle. I’ll save you the details.

It’s Maui–it seems a little ridiculous to state that the ride was beautiful. Duh. You go through a variety of landscapes–small town, farmland, forest, grassland, volcanic moonscape, and so on.

Not only is the landscape around you beautiful, but pretty soon, so are the views out over the landscape. The beginning of the ride is a pretty gentle ascent (most of the ride is a pretty gentle ascent–but in the beginning, it still feels like a gentle ascent too), but it’s steady.

Before you’ve really even done much of the ride, you’ve already ascended a long ways, and can see northwest out past Paia to the ocean, the view already looking like an aerial photograph. Whatever tropical magic it is, the angle of the light, the temperature of the water, whatever, the ocean is that magical tropical blue, and the breaking waves that are so impressive close up are just a pencil line of white outlining the coast.

And a little bit further on, you can see across the isthmus connecting the older mountains of West Maui and the newer mass formed by Haleakala, all the way to the ocean on the southwest. And the peaks of West Maui start to look about eye-level.

Looking out towards West Maui from near the summit. (Taken on the day we drove up. Because there wasn't much extra fiddle-fiddle going on the day we biked.)

Looking out towards West Maui from near the summit. (Taken on the day we drove up. Because there wasn’t much extra fiddle-faddle going on the day we biked.)

Another fun part about the ascent was that, until the 6,500 foot mark, you can wave at all the groups of downhill cyclists, and feel pretty bad-ass that you’re biking in the other direction. This downhill Haleakala cycling is a big tourist attraction on Maui.

Some outfits pick you up at your resort at 2AM, drive you up to the summit to watch the sunrise (and nearly freeze to death), then drive back out of the park to 6,500 feet, and put you on some sort of upright cruiser or mountain bike with squealing brakes and a full-face motorcycle helmet, and follow a guide back down to sea-level. Other tours omit the sunrise, and just let you off at 6,500 feet at a more reasonable time of day.

Some people love it. Some people have gotten seriously injured or killed doing it (hence the Park not letting them start their rides from the summit any more). Instead of completely bad-mouthing the experience, I’ll just say it’s not my thing.

But thanks to these tours, there’s a lot of awareness of cyclists on the road to Haleakala. And the guides know what it means when you’re biking the other way–they cheer you on as they lead their group down, as do some of the people on the tour. Occasionally I gave in to the impulse, and cheerfully called out to them “you’re going the wrong way!”

But scenery, views, and other cyclists aside, it’s a daunting climb. Normally when I get to the half-way point of a climb, I start to feel a sense of accomplishment, and get more optimistic about it, as I can start telling myself that I’ve already completed more than I have left to do.

But when I passed the 5,000 foot mark, I had a hard time convincing myself that there wasn’t so much left, comparatively speaking. After all, the remaining 5,000 feet still counted as a REALLY BIG CLIMB!

For perspective, Haleakala is somewhat comparable to climbing Hurricane Ridge, one of my big rides of the summer, twice. Without any break in the middle for descending back to the bottom. And the second time, you’re already really tired, and now you can’t breathe either.

This post is too long, so here's a nice random bit of West Maui from another day.

This post is too long, so here’s a nice random bit of West Maui from another day.

From about 5,500 feet to the Visitor Center at 7,000 feet, I was really feeling the magnitude of what I still had left to do, and not feeling like I was making much progress. And the switchbacks in that section are a bit steeper overall than most of the rest of the ride. I never went to my dark place on this ride, but this was the hardest section for me.

At 7,000 feet, something flipped for me. I only had three 1,000-foot climbs remaining, which seemed completely doable. 1,000 feet is still a chunk of climbing, but it’s a chunk that is conceptually manageable–and only three of them. That I could do!

And I did. One key for me to those last 3,000 feet was focusing on a couple hundred feet at a time. That’s not much climbing, and it makes a measurable dent in each 1,000-foot chunk.

Another key was never to push so hard that I needed to take a deep breath. Because the air just wasn’t there. Which wasn’t a problem–as long as I didn’t need to breathe that hard.

So, yeah, I didn’t set any land speed records over those last 3,000 feet…

Through all of this, I could also look out and down onto mountains of West Maui, and even the clouds. It was an incredible sensation. Mind-blowing doesn’t even get there.

More West Maui :)

More West Maui 🙂

So yes, biking up Haleakala is a pretty insane thing to do, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a reason to do it. It’s not the same in a car–as I know because we drove up two days later. You get the same views, but not the same opportunity to study them and their evolution, nor the sense of ownership and accomplishment.

At any rate, we made the summit. The last little kicker of steepness wasn’t as bad as I worried. I won’t say it was pretty getting up it, but it was more of the same slog of just-keep-going, but even slower.

I almost had a tragic tale to tell, as negotiating the turn from the poorly placed curb cut to the path to the very top exceeded my bike-handling skills at the moment. But all’s well that ends well, or so they say.

One fun part of biking to the summit is that you become a minor celebrity up there. People gawk and ask about the ride and act generally impressed with you. One nice woman–another athlete who does (I believe) trail running and other such extreme things, and so could really understand the effort we had just put in–insisted on taking lots of photos for us, with different parts of the view as backgrounds. Thanks, nice woman whose name we didn’t get!

Great as all that is, the prospect of a shower and real food beckons seductively. But at 10,023 feet, even a fast descent will still take a while. So we didn’t linger too much at the top, somewhat anxious to be done with the day.

The descent was really spectacular. At first I was pretty cautious, as I was on an unfamiliar bike (and my lower back was cramping up, the brakes didn’t feel as grippy as mine, and my wrists were fatigued and sore).

But, especially after a stop to stretch out our backs and other bits at the Visitor’s Center, at which point I was able to adjust the brakes a bit too, my confidence grew. The rental bikes actually handled great on the descent, and the road was beautifully constructed and banked for descending. Even getting a flat tire around 4,500 feet couldn’t put much of a damper in the fun of the descent. (Also, thanks to the guy in the Castelli kit who stopped to make sure we had everything we needed, and helped us committed pump-users with the CO2 cartridge the rental bike had in case of a flat.)

Afterward, Ian commented that he would come back to do that ride again just to do the descent–and this from someone who doesn’t always consider descending to be very fun. It really was that good. Or, I should say, it really was that good on well-handling road bikes, after earning every inch of the descent by climbing it.

I found a better shot of the view out to West Maui. I'm too lazy to rearrange the photos in the post, so I'm just adding this one in here.

I found a better shot of the view out to West Maui. I’m too lazy to rearrange the photos in the post, so I’m just adding this one in here.

Nope, those downhill tours really aren’t my thing.

We made it in to town, happily rolling past several blocks of backed up car traffic (I will own the gleeful cackle I let out when we went past a car that had refused to go around us for quite a while–when we were biking on the shoulder–and then after turning onto a road without a shoulder, got upset and zoomed by in a huff, veering out into oncoming traffic unnecessarily to get around us…)

And then one of the best parts of a ride like this–a life-affirming shower, clean clothes, and DINNER!

We spent most of the rest of the evening discussing what a crazy, amazing, difficult, fun, crazy thing that had been to do. The phrase “I can’t believe we just did that!!!” was uttered more than once.

Riding up Mt Haleakala is definitely the most difficult ride I’ve done–but as far as personal challenge, much easier rides have been much harder for me.

This was a ride I felt that I had the tools to be able to do. The first time I rode up Zoo Hill, I spent the whole two days before with waves of adrenaline and cold sweats sweeping over me, not even knowing if I could make it. I started this blog to help deal with my anxiety that, in signing up for the Cinghiale Dolomites trip, I had gotten in way over my head.

One of the great things about the last couple years of cycling has been not so much the growth in my abilities on the bike, but the growth in my confidence in my abilities and what I can accomplish on the bike.

After all, there has to be some reason that I keep on doing stupid things like shivering with cold on top of a mountain when visiting Hawaii to get away from the cold.

In all seriousness, it was an amazing day. Challenging, fun, and really really astonishingly beautiful. I’m not exactly sure I would recommend doing it… But it was so worth doing.

Not from the ride, but a representative sample of beautiful Maui-ness

Not from the ride, but a representative sample of beautiful Maui-ness

 

The biggest single climb I've ever done, to the highest altitude I've ever been at not in an airplane.

The biggest single climb I’ve ever done, to the highest altitude I’ve ever been at not in an airplane.

Dolomites and Alps, Day 8

Short version: a short easy ride (that would be a hard, hilly ride in normal life), then into the vans and to Verona for our farewell dinner.

Last chance to look out of our Bormio hotel room and see this.

Last chance to look out of our Bormio hotel room and see this.

Long version: it was hard to believe that the trip was already coming to an end. Well, my legs could believe it (they could have believed it 7 days ago…)

But as challenging as the trip was, in a way it was incredibly easy too–in some ways, the easiest trip I’ve made to Europe. There were hardly any decisions required–just get up, ride my bike where I’m told to, eat food when it’s put in front of me, and otherwise sleep, shower, or drink beer. Not all at the same time though–my hardest decisions often involved which of the three to do first…

Since we had to drive to Verona, the day’s ride was short, akin to the first day’s ride. Not even any mountain passes involved. Inconceivable!

It was described as a nice little ride out to a lake. The weather was perfect, sunny, warm but not too warm, and we rolled along an essentially flat road (flat!!!) through scenic Italian countryside. Pretty nice!

I was sort of looking around for a lake, and didn’t really know how far it would be, other than the description of it being a short easy ride. I noticed a road switchbacking steeply up a hillside, but sure that wasn’t where we were going, right?

It turns out that in this part of Italy, they put their lakes ON TOP of the hills. ?!?!?

I should have known, since the default answer on this trip was “yes we are going up that hill”–but really, who could have predicted that?

So yes, we did go up that hill, and I got to go “whee!” around the switchbacks. We saw the lake, and then Andy looked at the time, and hustled us right back down again.

At the top

At the top

Looking back down

Looking back down

A beautiful view on a beautiful day in the middle of a beautiful ride

A beautiful view on a beautiful day in the middle of a beautiful ride

The group split into two vans for the drive back to Verona, and I ended up in Gerardo’s van. By then I was completely accustomed to the gorgeous Italian scenery, so the highlight of the drive was when our calm, cheerful, imperturbable guardian angel lost it and swore at the toll booth machine. The van was in stitches for a while after that…

We had some time at the Verona hotel to get situated, and pack our bikes back into their travel cases, and then one last dinner together. Though I have not mentioned the other people on the tour very much, that does not reflect their centrality to the success of the trip. I figure they did not necessarily sign up to be characters in my blog–but if any of you are reading, I can’t say enough how much fun I had riding and hanging out with you. And if you’re ever in Seattle, let me know!

Just writing this last post recreates for me the same “I can’t believe it’s over”–both regarding the trip, and the writing. Signing up for, preparing for, and going on the trip challenged me and pushed my comfort zone in so many different ways. The riding was amazing, and it also felt really amazing to show myself I could do something that I spent a lot of time thinking I couldn’t.

And seriously–check them out: Cinghiale Cycling Tours with Andy Hampsten  –and here’s hoping that I’m in the Dolomites again next year.

For the day, 17 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Looking at my ride data, I realized that there was a 4.4 mile stretch that averaged 9%–and I just thought that my legs felt slow because I was tired. Huh. Turns out that the climb had a bit of a kick to it.

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