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.


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.


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 and Alps, Day 7

Short version: Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birth–wait, what do you mean I have to bike up the Stelvio? Didn’t I already do that 2 days ago?

Long version: Up till this point, riding came first, and photos, souvenirs, etc came second. If the group was stopped, and I happened to think of it after taking care of all my biking needs (feed me!!!), I took some photos. But there are a lot of photos that didn’t happen. And there were a lot of souvenirs that were not shopped for (sorry, friends and family–no fun stuff for you…)

Today was different. Going up the Stelvio from the Bormio direction was on the schedule–and I had seen something on our descent two days prior that gave me an idea for a photo I wanted to make happen. And that made me think, if I was stopping for that photo, I might as well stop for other photos.

And it was my birthday–couldn’t I goof off, take breaks, and be generally lazy and louche on the bike–or as much as one can be when biking up the Stelvio after a week of difficult riding?

So up I started. And then I stopped.

Nice weather on the Stelvio for my birthday

Nice weather on the Stelvio for my birthday

Ooooh, look over there--pretty!

Ooooh, look over there–pretty!

Yeah, this is an ok way to spend the day

Yeah, this is an ok way to spend the day

I hopscotched a British guy for a while, riding past, then stopping to take photos, rinse, repeat. We had fun chatting, in agreement that this was a pretty crazy, and pretty crazy awesome thing to do.

I've come a ways uphill already

I’ve come a ways uphill already

More enjoying my accomplishments so far

More enjoying my accomplishments so far

Earlier on, one of the faster guys of our group went by, and kindly invited me on the extra-credit plan he and a couple others had cooked up: to descend down the other side to Prato allo Stelvio, then swing into Switzerland, and ascend the Stelvio via the Passo Umbrail, the third approach to the top of the Stelvio.

I considered, and while it would have been a cool adventure (and I’ve never been to Switzerland), I ended up declining. It would have been a day of pushing myself not to hold the fast guys back too much, and wringing the utmost out of myself. Maybe on a different day… But I was having fun with my birthday lollygagging plan, so Switzerland and the third approach to the Stelvio remain untouched by me.

Meanwhile, I took more pictures:

Can you make out the line zig-zagging up the slope? That's a tiny section of the road yet to be climbed.

Can you make out the line zig-zagging up the slope? That’s a tiny section of the road yet to be climbed.

Yup, that's uphill...

Yup, that’s uphill… And there’s more uphill around that peak…

By this point in the trip, I was finding myself thinking thoughts like “hey, just 300 meters of climbing left to the pass–that’s nothing–I’m basically there already!” Of course, pre-trip some of my “tough” training hills gained around 300 meters… (Zoo Hill, Montreaux, Squak Mountain…)

Maybe that is just funny to me, but I cracked myself up with that observation several times.

At the top, I positively lingered, lollygagged, loitered, and lazed. (Side notes–why do so many time-wasting words start with “l”?) I’d start to think that maybe I was about ready to head down, when another person would show up, and why yes, now that you mention it, I would like to join you over an espresso.

I also was either incredibly foolhardy, or incredibly brave and used the bathroom at the rifugio. I went in with the full knowledge, from earlier experience, that the sink’s water was the most painfully searingly cold water I have ever encountered.

Eventually, the ones who were doing extra credit rolled on, and the remaining of us started to head towards departure. As they took care of last-minute things, I explained my photo plan to one of the guys, he agreed, and we got a head start on the descent.


  • Andy used to race for the La Vie Claire team
  • The La Vie Claire team had a Mondrian-inspired jersey that was considered one of the classiest in the peleton
  • Andy Hampsten had a designer approach him and offer to design a La Vie Claire/Mondrian-inspired Hampsten jersey
  • I bought one of these jerseys
  • On the way down the Stelvio into Bormio two days before, I noticed a Mondrianesque-painted set of doors in the hillside

Today I had worn my Hampsten jersey, and my kind fellow cyclist proved to be an enthusiastic photographer too.

Seriously, I don't know what these doors are doing randomly set into the hillside, or why they're painted like this, but I'm glad they're there!

Seriously, I don’t know what these doors are doing randomly set into the hillside, or why they’re painted like this, but I’m glad they’re there!

A closer look, so you can really admire how well my jersey and bike coordinate with the doors.

A closer look, so you can really admire how well my jersey and bike coordinate with the doors.

We had fun taking pictures, and then Elaine caught up to us with a few others, and we started down the rest of the mountain.

I was following Elaine’s wheel–though she has only been cycling since she met Andy several years ago, it’s obvious that she’s had someone good to model her riding on. She’s a strong rider, and like Andy, inspires confidence when following her down a descent. I was having a great time rolling down after her, admiring her smooth ease on the bike and good lines around the corners, when she stopped. We had apparently dropped the others, and being a responsible Team Cinghiale member, she waited up for them while I played my way down the mountain.

Playing really is the word, because that’s what it felt like. The road surface was great, I knew from the descent two days ago that there were no surprising tricks to the descent like off-camber corners, and I grinned and swooped my way down.

So yes, I had to bike up a really big mountain on my birthday, and at the top you’d have a hard time convincing me that it was summer (the phrase “just think, we could be in Hawaii” was pulled out on more than one occasion during the trip…), and yes, this was a pretty insane way to spend my time and money. To an extent, I agree with the people who heard about our trip plans and said “you’re crazy!”

But it was also one of the best birthdays I have had.

It was another short day: 27 miles and 5,100 feet of elevation. But seriously, when you’re calling climbing the Stelvio an easy short day, well… Something.

My GPS got a little lost on the way--I didn't actually do any off-roading--but you get the general idea.

My GPS got a little lost on the way–I didn’t actually do any off-roading–but you get the general idea.

Dolomites and Alps, Day 6


Long version: Erm. Uhhh, excuse the all-caps outburst there. And to be fair, I only rode with him briefly as he worked his way from the back of the group to the front. The actual story of the day is I RODE UP THE GAVIA WITH ELAINE HAMPSTEN!!!! I had a blast riding with her, and it was a super-duper awesome time.

But still, it was Gavia day, and however you cut it, it was a red letter kind of day. Upon reflection, I think that wasn’t an all-caps outburst so much as a calm, deliberate description of the day.

In case you haven’t hung on every single word I have written, Andy’s win of the Giro and place in the cycling pantheon and in the bosom of Italy, come of course from his performance over his whole career. But they also come from one brutal day on the Gavia. It’s known as “the day the big men cried.” (Read Andy’s account here. Read a long Sports Illustrated account here. A shorter account by here. See Bob Roll put people into hysterics talking about it here.)

So riding the Gavia with Andy Hampsten is kinda a big deal.

I might have had some nerves associated with the day. It’s kinda a hard climb. And then you turn around and have to come down a technical descent, with some steep downhill corners on rough pavement. And after the previous day, I wouldn’t describe my legs as fresh. But hey, this is what I was here for, right? Or something?

Andy pulls out his Giro-tribute jersey for the Gavia day

Andy pulls out his Giro-tribute jersey for Gavia day

We had a brief pre-ride talk–not much in the way of direction to give, just take the road from in front of the hotel all the way up to the top–but Andy did go into some discussion of extra-credit options we would have once at the top.

"Just go this way straight up the road, the Passo Gavia will be right there, you can't miss it."

“Just go this way straight up the road, the Passo Gavia will be right there, you can’t miss it.”

And then we were off.

After a bit of sorting out, people going ahead, then falling back, or vice versa, I found myself alongside Elaine, and we seemed to be at the same pace. For the most part we chatted our way up the Gavia–though there were some sections that I had to save all my oxygen for bicycling. It was a really lovely climb, through a few towns, then it got into the trees, the road narrowed, and it felt like your own private bicycling road. The illusion was very occasionally shattered by a car or motorcycle, but only occasionally.

After a while, an obscenely chipper Andy caught up with us, boisterous and talkative. He apparently hadn’t noticed the 10% + grade that we were grinding up… After riding together for a while, he shot up ahead, quickly out of sight. I asked Elaine if she’s ever seen him sweat while riding a bicycle. She said no.


She also said that on Gavia day, it is his habit to start at the back of the group, and then cycle through the whole group, and get to the top first to greet everyone as they arrive. And I can only imagine how much fun it must be for him to be able to ride this road easily, recreationally, and not in blizzard conditions with the Giro d’Italia on the line… No wonder he was so disgustingly chipper!

Partway up I was shocked to see Ian–I never see him on a climb. He was taking pictures of me and Elaine as we went by, and later I found out that his knee was hurting, which is why he had stopped. But thinking he was just being a tourist, I blithely went by with Elaine.

I actually passed Ian on a climb!

I actually passed Ian on a climb!

Note the shorts, and sweat dampening my jersey. Also note the dampness of the road, and cloudy sky.

Note the shorts, and sweat dampening my jersey (click to embiggen). Also note the dampness of the road, and cloudy sky.

Towards the top we had a little adventure threading our way through a herd of cows who appeared not to have heard the phrase “share the road.” However the cows did not seem to be as productive as the sheep, and our bikes exited from the cow field as clean as they entered it (which in my case was not very–but at least it was merely dirt…)

Also towards the top, the temperature started dropping noticeably. What had been a humid warm day was becoming a humid cool day. Then the humid became wet. And then we got to the van!

There I completely changed clothes, into a long sleeve jersey, and 3/4 length wool tights–clothes that were warm and dry. Yay! And of course there was the usual gourmet spread that we were becoming accustomed to. Rides since the trip have been a bit of a let down–no one meeting me halfway through with food, fresh clothing, mechanical assistance, and good cheer…

Anyway–we were at the top of the Gavia, with Andy Hampsten!

Ian limped in a bit later, his knee really bothering him in the cold, but he still had enough left to jump in on some photos.

I had a great time riding up the Gavia with Elaine! And now we're cold!

I had a great time riding up the Gavia with Elaine! And now we’re cold!

Have I mentioned that we went up the Gavia with Andy Hampsten?

Have I mentioned that we went up the Gavia with Andy Hampsten?

The rifugio was a welcome refuge indeed. Warmth. Espresso. I sort of had to pee, but upon hearing that the bathroom was like an icebox, I decided that actually, I was doing just fine. Though not the merchandising madhouse that the Stelvio was, there were a number of souvenirs for sale, and I wear my Gavia jacket with pride. The people running the place greeted Andy warmly–I think that the proprietors might have been there watching when he summited in 1988.

Up on the wall at the rifugio, memorable Gavia moments. Click to embiggen to see the awful conditions that Andy rode through.

Up on the wall at the rifugio, memorable Gavia moments. Click to embiggen to see the awful conditions that Andy rode through.

It was now decision time: roll back down to the hotel, or descend the other side of the pass, ascend in the direction that Andy raced the Giro, and then descend to the hotel.

I decided to go back to the hotel. I was already nervous about descending the rough, broken pavement that we had ascended, and I was even more so as the weather appeared to be trending from sprinkles to a rainstorm. I didn’t want to be at my limit, exhausted, perhaps shivering, and dealing with a technical AND wet descent.

At the time, it was the right decision. But now I know that the descent was not nearly as challenging as I had worried it might be, and so knowing what I do now, I would probably go for the extra credit. But I’m glad that on the entire trip, aside from a few moments on the Passo Fedaia (which I solved by getting off my bike), I never felt like I was putting myself in a situation where I was over my head, or taking undue risks. I felt very challenged on the trip–but never unsafe.

Like I say, the descent really wasn’t all I had scared myself into thinking it would be. I took it really slow on the top, partly because the pavement was rough, often damp or outright wet, and I was worried about traction and braking effectiveness. It was also warmer to go slow than descend like a rocket. But I gained confidence, the pavement improved, and it got warmer, so I started to let it fly a bit. My ride data shows that in one 6-mile stretch, I didn’t pedal at all… Whee!!!! It still makes me nervous, but descending mountains is so unbelievably fun. Especially when you have earned every inch of the descent.

And the shower at the hotel was pretty amazing too.

The people who went on down the other side of the Gavia had a pretty neat personal Giro d’Italia highlights tour. But they also returned in a drenching rainstorm. We watched them come in as others of us relaxed with beer in the hotel… Missing out on the extra credit was really not too bad of a decision.

Before dinner, Andy gathered us around and told the story of *that day* on the Gavia. It was pretty similar to the accounts I linked to above–but being there in person, watching his body language, and hearing his vocal inflections as he relived the experience, was really special.

One of the things he mentioned was that it was a good thing he didn’t know where the team hotel was, otherwise he might have gone straight to it instead of crossing the finish line. He was consumed with thoughts of a hot bath or shower, but instead had to go through all the ceremonies associated with becoming the race leader (what a hardship!). And when he got to the hotel… Lukewarm water. And tiny uncomfortable cots that were billed as beds.

The upside to this, as he was shivering away in his cot, was anticipating dinner. Apparently the hotels along the Giro route could be hit or miss as regards showers, beds, and food–but they never missed all three. So given the miserableness of the first two, the team figured that dinner ought to be pretty amazing. And they were right.

One of the regional specialties is a hearty buckwheat pasta dish called pizzoccheri, and the team emerged into the dining room to be greeted with essentially troughs of delicious food, notably including pizzoccheri. Andy swears that the dish’s delicious heartiness recovered them after the brutal day, and saved the Giro for the team.

Coincidentally (or maybe not), pizzoccheri was one of the featured dishes at the hotel. I had it more than one night, and it was as fabulous as advertised.

It was a short day for me: only 31 miles and 5,700 feet of elevation gain. Only!


Biking the Italian Alps and Dolomites: TLDR version

Dolomites. AKA a portion of the lunch-break view on Sella Ronda day.

Dolomites. AKA a portion of the lunch-break view on Sella Ronda day.

A long (too long?) post, and many photos, are coming, but until then, here’s the TLDR version of the trip.

Day 1, Sat 8/30. Van to Alleghe and warmup ride into the hills. 23 miles, 2,490 feet elevation gain.

Day 2, Sun 8/31. Passo Duran, Passo Staulanza. 45.8 miles, 6,050 feet.

Day 3, Mon 9/1. Sella Ronda (Passo Fedaia, Passo Sella, Passo Gardegna, Passo Campolongo). 59 miles, 8,850 feet.

Day 4, Tue 9/2. Passo Giau, Passo Falzarego, plus extra-credit ride to Passo Valparola, Passo Campolongo. 61.7 miles, 8,690 feet.

Wed, 9/3, rest day. Necessary.

Day 5, Thu 9/4, van to Castelbello, ride to Bormio hotel via Passo Stelvio. 45.9 miles, 7,280 feet.

Day 6, Fri 9/5, Passo Gavia. 31.3 miles, 5,700 feet.

Day 7, Sat 9/6, Passo Stelvio. 27 miles, 5,110 feet.

Day 8, Sun 9/7, small ride into hills, then van to Verona. 17 miles, 2,540 feet.

Trip total: 310.7 miles, 46,710 feet.*

I’d turn around and go do the whole trip again tomorrow if I could. It was difficult, beautiful, and fun, and the organization and support from Cinghiale was out of this world amazing.



At the top of Passo Gavia with Andy Hampsten! (And yes, it is cold. Why do you ask?)

At the top of Passo Gavia with Andy Hampsten! (And yes, it is cold. Why do you ask?)

More Dolomites.

More Dolomites.

*FYI, 100 feet elevation gain/mile is considered Officially Very Hilly. Even in hilly Seattle, I have to route plan to get as much climbing as that in. So, even taking into account that measuring elevation gain is an inexact science, this trip was day-in, day-out, kinda silly crazy on the climbing scale…