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 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, Giau day

Since the previous day was supposed to be a riding day, then was declared a rest day when the weather looked lousy, but I went riding anyway, I don’t know what day of the trip it is anymore.

So let’s settle for Giau Day.

The oft-photographed peak at the top of the Passo Giau was being atmospheric this year

Earlier in the year, I was excited to watch the Giro d’Italia go over the Passo Giau in stage 14. They showed me problems I didn’t even know a person could encounter while cycling, such as going so fast up the 10% grade of the Giau that they were forced to stop pedaling and coast around the hairpin bends.

Richard encourages us with the thumbs up while going past some of the road paint left over from encouraging the Giro riders

It’s always nice to be able to exclude something from the list of things one will ever have to worry about.

It was also nice to hear the Giro announcers go on and on about what a beast of a climb the Giau is. Sure, I think that nearly 10 miles pegged at 10% nearly the whole time is tough. But what do I know? I don’t have to coast around corners going up it… But apparently the pros agree–this is one tough climb.

And I’ve really enjoyed it each time I’ve ridden it. The challenge it presented me the first year, when at first I thought I wasn’t going to keep my breakfast down, turned to joy as my stomach settled, and by the top I felt on top of the world. The climb became a symbol of perseverance and success–and even fun.

So after two years of climbing it pretty solidly, I decided this year that I didn’t have a ton I felt I needed to prove. I dawdled up, stopping for pictures as I went. (Clicking on a picture will take you to my Flickr photostream if you need to see even more…)

Did I mention the Giau is steep? The road gets up to the level of the house pretty soon after turning the corner…

The road engineers had to coil the road like a snake to get up the mountain

Even when you can start to see the peak at the top, you are a long, long, long way from being done…

The flowers are pretty…

The way the view opens up towards the top is pretty nice too…

Photo time with Andy! Aren’t we cute in our matching jerseys… Or something…

Victory! We were atop the Passo Giau!

But the day was not done, not by any means. There was some Very Important Business left, namely, lunch! Like last year, we proceeded to the Rifugio Cinque Torri (via the super-fun descent off the other side of the Passo Giau, and a climb partway up the Passo Falzarego). After changing into non-sweaty non-cycling clothes in the parking lot, up we went on the cable car to a lunch site that stands out for scenic beauty in a region stuffed silly for scenic beauty. And ate some really delicious food–so hard to come by in Italy…

Non-sweaty, non-cycling clothes, and Gerardo! It doesn’t get any better than this!

Sheep and scenery on the chairlift ride

It’s even greener and more lush than this. Seriously. No wonder there are so many sheep.

Instead of including all the photos from the top, just click on this one and look through my photostream, if you think this is remotely scenic.

After lunch, we clambered over the rocks, paths, and sobering WW1 bunkers. As beautiful as the region is, the idea of being huddled up there in winter with people shooting at you from the hill opposite is indescribably awful. What the reality must have been… And for what?

Once on the road again, it was up and over the rest of the Passo Falzarego, plus the little extra bump of the Passo Valparola, and then down to Badia, where we would be based for the rest of the trip.

To Badia!

This year we all had the good luck of staying the Gran Ander, last year’s hotel of the awesome breakfast and the bonus climbing. Yay?

This was before dinner. Andy was enthusing. Ian was hungry. He was in his best McKayla Maroney Not Impressed mode.

This is what Ian was looking at while being Not Impressed

Between stopping for photos up the Giau and stopping for lunch up the Falzarego, it was a pretty relaxed day. And then I look at the ride stats and realize what a ridiculous statement that is!

Giau Day: 37 miles, 6,700 feet elevation.

 

 

 

Dolomites 2016, Day 4 (I guess)

Today was supposed to involve riding up mountain passes and such, with a rest day planned later. But instead, the weather forecast looked threatening (not the end of the world, given the neoprene gloves, rain pants, and other such winter clothing one packs for this trip) but also looked fabulous for the rest of the trip.

It stayed nice in Alleghe, but if you look off in the distance, it’s raining in the mountains

So Andy of the “I’ve biked in bad weather, and have nothing further to proves as regards that” fame suggested moving the rest day to today. Since I figure that one of the things that I’m paying for is to follow the advice of a Giro d’Italia-winning pro cyclist as regards my cycling, I had my orders. Rest day it was.

And I might have been a wee bit sore from the brief experimentation with not keeping the rubber side down the day before.

Unfortunately, I can also be a sucker for peer pressure, especially as regards things that are probably stupid ideas (see the VOV incident of the year before…)

So when I wandered through the lobby area of the hotel, and Kerry started twisting my arm to go ride up the gradients-in-the-teens Serrai di Sottaguda with some folks (“everybody’s doing it!”), I naturally caved. Because nothing says “Rest Day” like biking up an 18% slope.

And as is usually the case when I let myself get talked into something I know better than to do, it was a lot of fun. The group of us dawdled along, took photos, stopped to admire the view, and somehow really did manage to make a rest day out of 18%.

They take their wood stacking seriously in the Dolomites

Time for us all to stop and take a picture of the waterfall

After ascending through the Serrai di Sottoguda, we had to take to the road to come back (for some reason, they don’t want bicyclists zooming downhill through crowds of gawking pedestrians on a path that is sometimes just a few feet wide!). Though it’s always a little sad to leave a car-free paradise, the road was one heck of a fun descent! Some folks decided to stop at a café, but I decided to just keep it rolling gently back to the hotel.

And then I did what I had originally planned to do, and took a slow, feeble rest day amble around Alleghe.

They also take their flowers seriously in the Dolomites

It’s the Dolomites. Even a rest day amble involves a lot of elevation gain

Day 4/Rest Day: 15.3 miles, 1,600 feet.

Ignore the bit where my GPS got lost and thought I was scaling the mountain…

Dolomites 2016, Day 3

Sella Ronda day.

I almost ended the post right there. What more is there to say? I’ve tried for the last two years to put this day into words, and not succeeded. And this year will be no different.

As before, we started by wending our way up through the Serrai di Sottoguda which is much steeper than the main road, but feels like an easy stroll through the park because you are taking so many breaks to goggle at the scenery around you.

How about I shut up for a while, and just show some pictures

Clicking on any photo will take you to my flickr where you can see more.

And then you start climbing up the Passo Fedaia. At least I knew from last year that I could actually ride it. And I also knew how tough riding the whole thing would be. Not sure if that helped or hurt as I stared up the long, straight, brutally steep section that starts the climb.

It’s such a relief to hit the switchbacks higher up. It’s still long and brutally steep, but at least it’s not straight!

Oddly enough, despite there being a distance countdown painted onto the road, I remembered the top as being further away that it was. So in a reverse of the day before, I was cheery and delighted at the top. Still, I don’t know if this climb and I will ever be friends. Uff da.

For the second year in a row, we completely lucked out on the weather, and enjoyed sunshine and warmth at the top. I didn’t do much more than put on my arm warmers for the descent, but it’s a good thing I did that much.

See, there was a wee little incident on the descent when I might have come off my bike a little bit. (Sorry Mom and Dad, I think I neglected to mention this before…) Spoiler alert: everyone was fine. Oddly enough for a descent, it was a slow-motion topple over. It occurred when slowing for a stopped group of riders just as a close-passing motorbike distracted a rider behind me, who then was forced to decide between bumping into me, or swerving out into the path of the moto.

The other rider and I both sported some impressive, colorful bruises for a few days, but nothing worse. The worst of the damage was the hole torn into my favorite (but completely replaceable) arm warmers. And the heart attack that Ian nearly had when he came around the bend and saw me momentarily on the pavement. But if you’re going to come off your bike, it’s handy to do so when Gerardo is around–my front wheel was knocked slightly out of true, something I only realized as a new front wheel was being placed on my bike. And the next day, there was my own wheel, trued back up, on my bike. Because the folks at Cinghiale are awesome.

(Also, thank you to the person who noticed my cycling glasses with prescription lenses by the side of the road. In the moment, I didn’t notice I no longer had them on, but I couldn’t have continued the ride very far without them!)

Still–me and Sella Ronda day! Falling into a rider the first year, and falling off my bike this year. This ride kicks my butt–this time around pretty literally!

Despite all that, I still love this day. Of the four climbs, it’s hard to pick a favorite. The love-hate relationship I have with Passo Fedaia is pretty intense on both parts. Meanwhile the top half of the Sella climb is really neat, and the descent off of it one of my favorites. The Gardena is a delight for how comparatively easy it is. And the Campolongo has a great section rising out of Corvara where you get an immense sense of progress, transitioning into an easy traverse, and then the mother of all lengthy, delightful descents into the hotel, beer, shower, and food (yes, in that order.)

It’s also funny how different parts of the ride stand out different years. Maybe it was a change in the weather and light, but this year the upper part of climbing up the Gardena stands out in my mind. I felt pretty strong, and the road surface was wonderful (as it usually is throughout the Dolomites). Something about the openness of the view, and the sense of progress up the climb made a strong impression on me in a way that it hadn’t before. I have a sense of deep satisfaction with life associated with the memory of it from this trip that is different from the general “this is amazing” that I have for all of the trip, every year.

This ride also takes you past both sides of the Passo Pordoi climb, which is supposed to be beautiful, but which hadn’t been part of the route on the times I’ve been on this trip. Climbing the Pordoi on this year’s trip was one of my goals. And I’d like to say that I eyeballed the start of the climb as I descended the Campolongo to the hotel. But let’s be honest–there was no way I was going to add a fifth pass to Sella Ronda day! I will leave it to people more awesome (more stupid?) than myself. Instead, I contented myself with:

Day 3: 64 miles, 8,400 feet elevation.

Dolomites 2016, Days 1 and 2

(Yes, I’m combining days in a post. It’s 8 months after the fact, I’m writing about rides that I’ve already written about 2 years in a row, and my work schedule makes writing a bit of a “little or nothing at all” prospect.) (In other words Dad, deal with it. She said lovingly.)

It’s funny how quickly you can become passively attached to how you think things are to be done, based on how they were done in the past. Or at least, how quickly I can…

At any rate, based on a grand total of two previous Day 1’s, I was a bit astonished to find out that the Italians were doing road work, necessitating a change from what I considered as the first day route. Inconceivable!

A little-known fact about me: I very occasionally have a teensy difficulty dealing with change. One appeal of getting to do this trip year after year is revisiting the beauty and challenge of it, while having some of it be familiar.

So instead, we did a slightly different route that was also delightful and scenic and a good way to shake out the legs, and I had a good time despite myself.

And to be fair, much had not changed. Gerardo was still a divine angel of delicious food and skillful support, Andy and Elaine were still wonderful, welcoming, and fun, Oscar was still delightful and cute, and Kerry and Roberto were still models of great riding buddies combined with skillful professionalism.

Another thing that hadn’t changed is that what counts as an easy ride on this trip is something with merely 100′ of climbing per mile. Practically flat!

The delight of watching other people discover how astonishing this area is just doesn’t get old. As wonderful as it was to do the first day ride for the first time, I think I’ve almost enjoyed it more the last two years, when I knew that the great view of Lake Alleghe was just coming up, or some other viewpoint (really, the whole ride is a viewpoint), and could anticipate the astonishment and joy of other people as they were bowled over by the next thing around the next bend in the road.

A view of Lake Alleghe from our hotel. It looks lovely from the hills way above too.

Day 2 was again Passo Duran and Passo Staulanza.  You can read in full detail here and here if you so desire.

One would think that from one year to the next, the roads couldn’t change that much. And that certainly seemed the case on the Duran. The climb was hard to start, and then eased off towards the top, and Gerardo greeted us with delicious food. See previous years’ posts if you want photos.

After the steep descent, and after ignoring the life advice offered by passing through the town Dont, we started up the Staulanza. I remembered that it was steep to start, with more traffic than most of the roads we would ride on. I remembered correctly.

I also remembered that after the switchbacks, the cars thinned out a lot, and you were nearly to the top.

About that memory…

The cars did thin out, but I swear, they added a huge long stretch of road before the top of the pass. Once we were on it, I went from “yay, I’m practically at the top” to “oh no, I completely forgot about this interminable, never going to get there, part of the ride.”

Judging by the steepness of the slope, it was an easier section than the start of the climb. Judging by my disappointed expectations of being nearly done, it was the hardest part of the whole day.

And as I tried to sulk in my dark place, Ian pedaled along easily beside me, chatting merrily away (someone wasn’t out of breath…) and completely oblivious to the unfolding tragedy (someone hadn’t had unreasonable expectations of the climb based upon incorrect memory…)

The problem was, the views from that (forgotten) upper part are really wonderful, and they were totally spoiling my effort to achieve complete misery.

For the third year in a row, I failed to get photos at the top of the Staulanza, because that’s the kind of thinking-ahead person that I am.

At the end of the day, it was another amazing, pinch-me-I’m-dreaming experience. Even if Ian dared be cheery and talkative when I… Wasn’t. I was also pleased that, despite my lower base of miles going into the trip, I still seemed to be able to go up the mountains. Not really any faster than the previous year (oh well), but not really any slower either. Which all considering, I had no reason to expect to be the case.

And I just love riding these roads.

Day 1: 22 miles, 2,300 feet

Day 2: 43 miles, 6,300 feet

 

Dolomites 2016, pre-story, post-story, and TLDR

So… Yeah, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted. For a lot of reasons, none of which I feel like going into detail on. But I like writing this blog (and there are apparently a couple odd people who like reading it) (and who aren’t even related to me by blood, so have no obligation to pretend to like it), so here goes.

View from partway up the Passo Pordoi. I hadn’t done this climb before, and fitting it in somehow was one of my goals for Cinghiale 2016. I did it!

To provide extra challenge to those who claim to like what I’m doing, I’m going to skip forward in time, then backward in time, and probably not really cover much more of Dolomites 2016 than the bare stats in this post. Once I’ve driven all 3 of my readers away, then I’ll consider posting something interesting about the Dolomites 2016.

Forward: Cinghiale is returning to the Alps along with the Dolomites in 2017, and we’re going! In preparation for that trip, as well as for sheer enjoyment, we have a number of other cycling plans for the year. In no particular order, they include STP, RAMROD, Mazama Weekend, and most immediately, the Santa Monica Mountains Climbing Camp in April with Cycling Escapes, a trip I did 2 years ago and really enjoyed.

Backward: When I left off, I was complaining of being undertrained, and proceeded to do less riding than planned on one of my last training events. So yeah, that was pretty brilliant.

I had a little more riding before the Dolomites though, most notably a return to Ashland and a ride with our cycling friend there.

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The delicious food stop would have been the best part of the ride–if the rest of the ride (and the company) weren’t so amazing!

We repeated the ride up into the mountains that we had done the previous year–with a fun alternate road that had some very Dolomitesque pitches–and then a few days later did a delightful ride through the region’s orchards. It was one of those rides that has so many inscrutable twists and turns that you’d have to be with a local to do it, and we felt lucky to be given such a wonderful backroads glimpse into the area. Thanks again, M!

But no matter how I crumbled the cookie, I was heading into Dolomites 2016 with less training and fewer miles than the previous 2 years. Not an ideal situation.

On the other hand, as someone who didn’t start cycling until July 2010, each additional year of cycling is still adding noticeably to my ability on the bike. Perhaps that would count for something?

Lest I risk creating any sort of suspense or incentive to read to the end, the trip went great! Even with less training, I wasn’t going up the mountains any slower. And I think this was because I made up for it with slightly better technique, ability to pace myself, confidence, etc. Kerry (the awesome guide) commented to a surprised me that I was looking really strong and good on the bike… And then I heard via Elaine that Gerardo had said something to the effect of “every year she gets stronger/better!”

(So, to jump forward again, a goal for this year is to go in with the improvement of another year on the bike AND a non-embarrassing number of miles…)

At any rate, here is your Dolomites 2016 TLDR version:

Essential info–we’re signed up for 2017.

More info–

Day 0, Fri 8/26. We hung out in Venice. Successfully took public transit from Mestre hotel, walked a lot, went to Galleria dell’Accademia and Peggy Guggenheim Collection, where I took photos of things I liked or things I thought were entertainingly bizarre (Venice album here).

I called him the

I called him the “Christ Child of the Abs”

Day 1, Sat 8/27. Shakedown ride, a little different than previous years because of construction. (Sadly, this meant one of my favorite descents, one I got to follow Andy down, was not on the menu this year). 21.7mi, 2,283ft.

Day 2, Sun 8/28. Passo Duran and Passo Staulanza. After three years of doing this ride, I still have no photographic evidence of myself on the Staulanza. 43.0mi, 6,086ft.

Day 3, Mon 8/29. Sella Ronda day. Passo Fedaia still kicks my butt, but I got to the top when I thought I still had further to go, so that was nice. 64.0mi, 8,442ft.

Day 4, Tue 8/30. Unscheduled Rest Day because of predicted crappy weather. Instead got talked into riding Serrai di Sottoguda again by Kerry. 15.3mi 1,598ft.

Not bad for an unofficial rest day

Not bad for an unofficial rest day

Day 5, Wed 8/31. Transfer day. Passo Giau, Passo Valparola and lunch at Cinque Torri, Passo Falzarego. 36.8mi, 6,722ft.

Partway up Passo Giau

Partway up Passo Giau

Day 6, Thu 9/1. Official Rest Day. Rode the Passo Campolongo and the Passo Pordoi(!) instead. 34.3mi, 4,859ft.

Day 7, Fri 9/2. Passo dell’ Erbe Day! Spent a year telling Ian he would love this, and I was so right!!! 66.3mi, 10,000ft.

Day 8, Sat 9/3. Beautiful flat valley ride from last year–but this time, found some hills. 42.6mi, 3,848ft.

Love this valley

Day 9, Sun 9/4. Transfer day back to Venice. But first, did some shopping in Corvara. 10.8mi, 902ft.

Total: 334.8mi, 44,740ft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 8

And here it was already, the last day of riding. It’s a day of mixed emotions–regret that, despite some climbs feeling like they had stopped the forward progress of time, the trip was so quickly over–and joyful anticipation of being home. And of resting my legs.

The day dawned sunny and clear, the air particularly fresh after the previous day’s rain. The summer sun was misleading–it was cold! The hills were quite lovely with their fresh dusting of snow…

We headed down the river valley for about 10 miles, and then turned up another valley that ran between two ridges. This valley was a little wider, and the ridges clearly defined. It created a beautiful vista that was open enough to see a long ways, yet closed in enough to fit perfectly in your field of vision.

Valley and ridges

And after a bit of a noticeably uphill bit, it became a very gentle slope, astonishingly effortless riding compared to the previous 7 days.  And for whatever reason, my legs felt good, just in time for the ride that made it feel like riding a bike is easy!

Ridge

We supposedly had a deadline of when we needed to turn around in order to get back to the hotel and pack our bikes for the drive back to the last night’s hotel outside of Venice. And that time had passed us by–but so had Gerardo with the van and snacks, and we hadn’t caught up to him yet.

I was starting to get a little anxious, feeling like, as a responsible person, I should be trying to stay on schedule. But upon consideration, I decided that if Andy hadn’t turned us around yet, it was no business of mine, and I should just relax and enjoy the scenery.

So I did.

Some of the scenery available for the enjoying

And, behind schedule but still too soon, we came to the end of the (paved) road where Gerardo had the final spread set out. I miss Gerardo.

Some of the trip’s women–Gerardo kindly offered to help with the photo!

My bike gets a rest while I snack

The ride back down the valley was great. I was floating along the slight downhill, lightly pedaling and going well over 20mph, when one of the guys I had pulled at the end of the Passo delle Erbe ride came whizzing by. His greater mass was an advantage on the downhill, and he invited me to hop on his wheel. The joyride continued, now even faster!

Like last year, I was enjoying my birthday.

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Can you tell that I’m enjoying my birthday?

Claiming the birthday girl’s prerogative of a photo with Andy

The final ride up the river valley went quickly viewed objectively–the day was warming up, my legs felt good, it had been a relatively easy, short ride–so I was riding faster up the valley than I had the previous two days. However, I really had to pee, so there were times that the road seemed unending. (And unnecessarily bumpy…) But thankfully, it was more an annoyance than an emergency.

Back at the hotel, we got our bikes packed up, ate lunch, and loaded ourselves and our luggage onto the bus. The route back towards Venice took us first back through Alleghe via Corvara. I was studying the map, trying to figure out the reasonable route for the tour bus to take that wasn’t one of the narrow, hairpin-filled roads that we had ridden on. It didn’t exist. The ride back was an impressive display of skill by the bus driver, as he maneuvered his way down roads that I had found challenging to negotiate on an agile bicycle.

My view from the bus

My view from the bus

It was another wonderful trip. Though I was delighted to get to ride the Stelvio and Gavia last year–it felt like cycling’s equivalent of a religious pilgrimage–I keep on coming back to how much I love the Dolomites. Getting to explore them a bit more this year was beautiful, challenging, and fulfilling.

Again, I highly recommend checking out Cinghiale Cycling Tours with Andy Hampsten. Andy and Elaine are wonderful people, and they assemble a great team. Gerardo is a national treasure, and Kerri, Richard, and Gianone were both perpetually fun, and extremely hardworking. And the food… So much delicious food!

Kerry and Gianone

Like last year, I hope to return–the finger-crossing has begun.

40 miles, 2,950'

40 miles, 2,950′

 

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, Day 5

Subtitled “Last Year This Was the Rest Day.”

Expressed mathematically, Sella Ronda + Giau = Tired.

No way around it, this, was a tough day. Good day, but tough. Though the tour stayed in the Dolomites the whole time this year, we still had an on-bike transfer day from one location to another, and this was the day.

(Bonus extraneous bit: I absolutely loved riding in the Dolomites and Alps last year. Getting to the Alps and riding the Passo Gavia with Andy Hampsten is about as bucket list as you can get. And the Alps were incredible. And yet… I was so excited that this year stayed in the Dolomites. Hard as it is to put the Alps second to something, they “only” get the First Prize in my book, while the Dolomites get the Grand Prize.)

The transfer ride wasn’t that hard (comparatively speaking… It still involved climbing mountain passes in the Dolomites…) We went back up the Passo Falzarego the way we had descended the previous day, continued over the little added bump of the Passo Valparola, then down into the valley to Badia. Certainly easier than last year’s transfer ride over the Stelvio!

Of course, last year we had had a day off (and a wine tasting) to help us recover and prepare.

It was interesting to ride up the Falzarego–something I didn’t do last year. Even though I had been down the same stretch of road less than 24 hours previous, a road can look completely different going down from going up. Last year it took studying the map after the fact to realize that one ride had retraced part of another day’s ride in the other direction. (To be fair, you are facing a different direction, so something that is a big defining landmark in one direction might not be visible the other, etc.)

I have no sense of whether the Falzarego was a difficult climb in this direction–it sure felt like one heck of a slog up the mountain, but I think that was more my legs than the climb. But after being laser focused on the road ahead as I descended, it was nice to get to look around and check out the scenery a bit.

Surprisingly, it was quite scenic.

Partway up there was an area of road work with just one direction of traffic allowed through at the time. Even though it meant getting a bit chilly, I’ll readily admit that I did not mind missing the light and having to stop and wait for a bit.

The weather on the trip had been phenomenal so far (compare my summit photos from last year to this–not nearly as bundled up!) This was the first day that was cool with a threat of rain. With a superb sense of timing, I made it to Gerardo and the van at the top of the Valparola, and into my change of warm, dry clothing just as the drops started coming down.

And then I took a little trip down nostalgia lane by spending my summer vacation shivering at the top of a mountain pass.

It didn’t rain that hard, just spit out enough moisture to make the road slick, and make me into a very cautious descender. But we all got down safely, and to the hotel in Badia.

Ahhh, time for a shower, food, and a beer (not necessarily in that order), right?

Nope–the hotel was small enough we were actually split into two hotels–so like contestants on a reality tv show, we anxiously awaited the announcement of which team we were on. Conveniently, you could see the other hotel, just across the street. And 50 feet straight up.

You guessed it–I got to venture up a road that gained those 50 feet in an alarmingly short distance. I was in the other hotel. Because apparently I needed more uphill in my life.

This turned out to be awesome, mainly for two reasons:

1) Those of us in the uphill hotel decided that we were chosen to be there because the Cinghiale powers-that-be felt we were complete badasses and overall awesome people who could handle the extra climbing.

2) The restaurant at this hotel was better. Everyone ate lunch together at the downhill hotel, and dinner together at the uphill hotel. But breakfast was separate, and the breakfast at this hotel was So. Very. Delicious. Homemade yoghurt and jam, flaky pastries, flavorful breads baked on-site, a wide variety of cheeses–it was so disappointing to get full. I could have stayed there all day eating breakfast.

This being Italy, I bet I would have happily scarfed down the breakfast at the other hotel too. But ours was better. And there were the badass points collected every time we went up the hill to the hotel. I’m still holding those in reserve for when I really need to redeem them.

No photos from this day, as I was tired and goal focused–gaining the refuge of the hotel took priority over gallivanting around with my camera. But here’s a photo from my hotel room on another day–just imagine wet pavement and low clouds obscuring the hills, and you’ll know the grateful view my weary eyes admired this day.

One of the "easy" days. Just 26 miles and 4,100 feet...

One of the “easy” days. Just 26 miles and 4,100 feet…

 

 

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 4

Following the intense effort of Sella Ronda day, it was really nice to have a day off.

Oh, ha ha, just kidding. We recovered from our previous day’s efforts by biking up the Passo Giau, with its long stretches of 10% or higher grade. It’s a Really. Hard. Climb. (Yes, the whole trip was full of Really. Hard. Climbs. but the Giau still sticks out.)

I am not naturally suited to sharp sustained pitches like the Giau, but I’m getting better at them. And I really like the Giau for some reason. Last year I started the climb with an upset stomach, and as I got higher, my stomach got better, until I was suffering from euphoria at how wonderful and easy it was to bicycle up steep grades. Completely deluded, but I had fun.

This year, I started the day feeling good (meaning exhausted, stiff, sore, but not about to hurl), and so was suffering from the euphoria of how wonderful the opening sections of the climb felt when I didn’t feel in imminent danger of losing my breakfast.

And for the second year in a row, at the top the Giau was a climb that I felt awesome about, in complete disregard for the actual facts of the situation. It’s really hard, and I suspect I was annoyingly cheerful.

See, annoyingly cheerful!

To be fair, like all the climbs on the trip, the Giau is really scenic. There are wooded sections, streams and bridges, switchbacks that allow you to peer down to your previous location and admire your progress, and then an open grassy expanse to the top. This last section is just as unrelentingly steep as the rest, except that you can see farther, and it keeps looking like the roadway just a little ahead lets up. But it doesn’t. It’s just cruel–but yet I have loved it both times I climbed it.

The view

More of the view

The delightful thing this year was that I knew the next climb, the Passo Falzarego, would be almost laughably easy in comparison to the Giau. And though there was no extra credit offering this year (something I had particularly enjoyed last year), there was a very good reason for it: food.

Specifically, halfway up the Falzarego climb, we took a chair lift up to the Rifugio Scoiattoli in the middle of the Cinque Torri (Five Towers–named for the rock formations) for lunch. Because where else would you expect to find a gourmet restaurant than in the middle of the mountains in a place accessible either by hiking or taking a chairlift?!?

Seriously, Italy is amazing.

(Side note: as much as I love bicycling on Mt Rainier and other places, it is a serious bummer to get back home, cycle up a mountain pass, and then look around wistfully for the friendly rifugio with espresso, food, even a bed to sleep in. The Italian system of a rifugio at the top of every pass, and then also sprinkled through the mountain linked only by hiking trails, is one of the great achievements of civilization.)

The chair lift from the top

So we got to the chair lift, where–luxury of luxuries–we even changed out of our sweaty bike clothes and into the street clothes that we had stashed with Gerardo in the van, rode up (just stopping to ride the chair lift would have been worth it–it was a beautiful ride), and proceeded to eat a huge, delicious lunch. I have been lucky enough to have had many delicious meals in my lifetime, but I have never had one that combined the meal with such natural beauty. It was an amazing experience.

Some of the lunch environs

Lunch view in a different direction

Then we had a little time for some exploration of the area, including the open air World War I Museum. Because the terrain is so dramatic and rugged, the views are breathtaking (and rock climbers flock to the spot). It is astonishing and horrifying that this was also a battle front–they had cannons trained on the Austrian emplacements on the next hills over.

A restored WWI bunker

In WWI, this was a view across to the Austrian army

Eventually we rode the chair lift back down to the van, our sweaty bike clothes, and our bikes. Just a little uphill, then a really fun descent was all that stood between our very mellow wined-and-dined selves and a post-prandial nap at the hotel. Though last year’s extra credit on this day was a fabulous experience, this year’s lunch was a trip highlight too.

One last note–I was taking it easy down the descent, when Andy zipped by in order to get to an upcoming turn before the rest of us, to point us the correct direction. I have followed his wheel before down a descent, and marveled at how much faster I could go with ease when following his line and body language. But that was Andy in “keep it mellow” mode. This was Andy in “I’m a former pro cyclist who wants to get somewhere in a hurry” mode. I kept up for a couple turns, kept him in sight for a couple more, and then he was gone. That was cool.

41 miles, 6,250 feet