Dolomites 2016, rest on the Pordoi

On the original schedule, today was the official rest day. But we had an unscheduled rest day just a couple days prior. So what to do? The smart people on the trip stuck to the schedule. However, given that you were dealing with a population of people who elected to spend their vacation cycling up steep mountains, most people rode.

One of my goals before the trip was to ride the Passo Pordoi. Since it wasn’t part of our official itinerary, that meant either adding on to a day’s ride, or cycling on the rest day. And given my sub-optimal training for the trip, I wasn’t sure it would happen. Given that the next day would be Passo dell’Erbe day, taking some rest was probably the better course.

So I rode instead.

My recollection of the day was that I felt tired, but all considered, pretty good overall. Delusional? Perhaps.

From Badia, you get the easy part over with first–a nice warm up ride to Corvara, 5 miles and 750 feet of elevation gain. From Corvara, you then have to go over the Passo Campolongo to get to the start of the Passo Pordoi climb. A climb to get to the start of the climb is a specialty of the region.

But the Campolongo is not a steep climb–unlike something like the Passo Fedaia, it actually is possible to take it easy on the way up.  Partway up we did a stop and regroup for photos, to document how many foolhardy people were out on the rest day.

It’s the rest day, so naturally we’re on our way to the Passo Pordoi. Even Gerardo got roped into the insanity and drove the support van for us. Spoiled rotten on this trip!

Down a little ways into Arraba, and then–Pordoi! This is a storied climb, used frequently in the Giro d’Italia, and a favorite of the Italian cycling legend Fausto Coppi. He was so closely associated with the climb that there is a monument to him at the top of the pass, one of the great shrines of the church of cycling.

At the Coppi monument

To get to the Coppi monument, you climb 5.5 miles of laid-out-with-a-ruler 7% grade, switchbacking up the mountain with amazing views in every direction. I set myself a goal of expending as little energy as possible on this “rest day” and to that end, stopped frequently for photos on the way up.

A little ways up the Pordoi

It was a gorgeous day, in a gorgeous setting

Wonderful riding, with wonderful company

No wonder Fausto Coppi loved this climb so much. There is a glorious sense of being on top of the world as you progress up the Pordoi. It is the second-highest paved road in the Dolomites (just the Passo Sella rises higher). From early on in the climb, you already feel elevated above the surrounding terrain–which you can easily survey as the slope is treeless, views unobscured. The switchbacks serve to bring a kaleidoscope of views in front of one (no pesky turning of your head required!)

Once at the top, even more views open up

Climbing the Passo Pordoi, check!

(Of course, I’ve still only climbed it from one direction…)

Of course, even though I could now check this accomplishment off the list, I still had to make it back to the hotel. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, meant going back up and over the Passo Campolongo. I hadn’t ridden the Campolongo in this direction before, and despite my fatigue, it turned out to be really fun.

You see completely different things when going up than when descending, and in some cases, the difference is great enough that it would be easy to be oblivious to the fact of being on a road you’re ridden before. The ascent of the Campolongo from Arabba is an instance of that for me. And then it turns out that the “easy” slopes of the ascent from Corvara are a blast to go back down.

This “rest day” concluded with the traditional Cinghiale wine tasting. Andy regaled us with tales of wine-making in Italy, as we sipped the results. Very relaxing.

The tales

The wines

The view

Of course, as a Cinghiale veteran, I knew that the wine tasting just meant that tomorrow would be the hardest ride of the trip, but hey, I let myself be suckered into thinking that these Cinghiale folks had my best interests at heart anyway.

Rest day on the Pordoi: 34 miles, 4.800 feet elevation

 

 

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Dolomites 2015, Day 3

Well, that was an unintendedly long cliffhanger from the Day 2 write-up–my job got a bit all-consuming. Wonderful, but all-consuming.

Anyway, when I left off over a month ago, I was preparing for Sella Ronda day, and hoping that I would fare better with it than I had the previous year.

The weather was much more auspicious–a decent temperature, and more importantly, no insane wind. We got to the Serrai di Sottoguda, the path through the narrow gorge that is now a park, where last year I thought to myself “sign me up for next year.” This time I was prepared, though all I can say is that the pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice.

Serrai di Sottoguda

I wasn’t the only one stopping for photos

Many sections of the Serrai are double digit gradients, but you don’t notice–you’re too busy gawking and exclaiming over the beauty of it.

It’s Italy–there are shrines everywhere. I really love that.

But, nothing lasts forever (even if some climbs feel like it), and we eventually emerged onto the main road to start the Fedaia climb proper (as opposed to all of the other climbing we had done to get there, which apparently didn’t count.)

To my initial delight, the wind was not blowing like mad! I was able to stay on my bike without fear of suddenly being blown to the other side of the road, or even blown right over! But as I rode, I was noticing “this part is really hard, I don’t remember it being this hard… Oh right, I was walking this section last year.”

So the improved weather was a mixed blessing. I did what I knew I was capable of, ride the whole climb, but boy was that an even harder climb than I thought it was!

At any rate, as difficult as it was, it was an improvement on the previous year when I thought I was in over my head and didn’t know, given the wind conditions, whether I’d make it through the day. My mental state this year was also improved by the fact that the pass wasn’t freezing cold–last year I thought I’d never be warm again.

See how happy and not-cold I was at the top of the Fedaia! Shorts and short sleeves!

After some snacks–including the Tuscan tomatoes–I was feeling pretty chipper and ready to go. And this time I made sure to actually look at the lake and glacier on my way down.

Lago di Fedaia

Getting arty with the Ghiacciaio della Marmolada

At this point, I don’t have tons to add about the ride from last year’s two part write up. This year, we had lunch partway up the second climb (Passo Sella), instead of partway up the third (Passo Gardegna), which changed the rhythm of the day a little. But the day is still a magical experience of an incredibly hard climb, and then everything getting progressively easier from there, until you think you’re pretty awesome at this bicycling uphill thing.

The view behind me is pretty spectacular, but the food is the other direction. Notice which way most people are facing…

I rode different parts alone or with people than last year, which made the same ride new. The comradery up a climb when you find someone of a similar pace can be really special–yet being alone to look around and wonder at the beauty that surrounds you while riding at your own whim is also its own delightful experience.

From Passo Sella

“The Road goes ever on and on…”

Sella Ronda day is really special–it holds so much of why I love this trip and love cycling: challenge, fun, beauty, food, freedom, accomplishment, fellowship–the List goes ever on and on…

60 miles, 8,150 feet

60 miles, 8,150 feet

 

Dolomites and Alps, Day 4

A preview of the day's sights!

A preview of the day’s sights!

Short version: another four pass day, and extra smugness because I didn’t get covered in sheep shit!

Long version: one of the joys of being in Italy is the delicious food. One of the joys of bicycling is how fabulously tasty food tastes after a hard ride. One of the joys of cycling in Italy is… Well, you’ve figured it out, I’m sure.

Unfortunately, food was also one of the perils. I was burning calories at an unaccustomed rate, and my stomach was pretty fixated on GETTING THOSE CALORIES REPLACED NOW!!! So the gap between dinner (that usually lasted late into the evening) and breakfast felt amazingly long. And come breakfast, I was faced with a dilemma: eat a much larger breakfast than I was used to in order to calm my ravenous hunger and fuel up for the day’s ride, and then jump on my bike and potentially not feel so great; or, eat my usual small breakfast, be underfuelled, and then jump on my bike and potentially not feel so great.

Each day I decided to do the smart thing, and eat enough food at breakfast. But day 4 is when it caught up with me. For whatever reason, my breakfast refused to settle down in my stomach. And then we started biking up a mountain.

The schedule for the day was the Passo Giau, and the Passo Falzerego, with possibility for some extra-credit riding. One of my goals in my training was to arrive in good enough shape that I could handle all the riding, and even opt for some extra credit riding if I wanted to. This was my first chance–and my legs were tired (no surprise there), and if I couldn’t keep my breakfast down, I wasn’t going to be doing much riding at all.

The climb up the Giau started right away (to be fair, there were about two flat miles before we started uphill), and I managed to drop a lot of people from my front wheel fast. I was going backwards through the peleton, with leaden legs and a molten lead stomach.

On the plus side, it was a beautiful day, and a beautiful road. Except for the part where someone had spray-painted bad jokes on the road. (What do you call a deer without eyes? …a mile later… No ideer.) I was resigned to a pitiful crawl up the mountain side, swallowing my pride (except the idea of swallowing anything made me feel worse…)

And then, my stomach settled down, and my legs woke up. I felt fabulous! Next thing I knew, I was pedaling easily past some people that I had watched disappear off into the distance, exchanging a cheery remark as I went by, and then secretly wondering how they ended up so far behind me so quickly. Why didn’t they just come with?!?! It’s so easy to bicycle up a mountain!

The Giau ended up being this amazing experience where the further up the climb I got, the better I felt. My legs seemed to get less, not more tired, the air never felt like it was thinning out, and the switchbacks stretching out above me encouraged rather than oppressed me.

For the record, the Giau averages 10% grade for several miles, and tops out at 7,400 feet or so (our hotel was at 3,200)–it’s a hard climb. I had no business having as much fun on it as I did, or feeling like it got easier and easier as I went (it didn’t). But whatever delusions I was suffering, I’ll take it, because by the top I was in a great mood, and almost laughing at what child’s play it was to cycle up a mountain.

At the summit, there was the usual paradise of views (beautiful!!! seriously–no Photoshop harmed in the making of this?!?!), Gerardo (van with warm clothes in it! food! –what sort of silly person would have their stomach turn at the thought of food?!?), and a rifugio (warm! espresso!). So, pretty much all that is needed to be deliriously happy.

Proof that Ian and I made it up the Passo Giau!

Proof that Ian and I made it up the Passo Giau! That’s the rifugio in the background. I had a delicious espresso there.

At this point we had to commit to the original plan (descend, climb Passo Falzerego, and back down into Alleghe) or to the extra credit option (turn aside at Falzarego and descend into Corvara–where we had stopped at the bike gallery the day before–then up over Passo Campolongo, and then down into Alleghe). Why not wait to decide till we were at the Falzerego? Because we neded to let the hotel know how many people would be back for lunch, and how many wouldn’t. And keeping the people in the hotel kitchen happy with us was a cause I could get behind.

Since I was now feeling great, I signed up for the extra-credit option. After all, the day before, I had been enjoying how easy the Campolongo was, compared to other climbs we had done, and the descent from it into Alleghe was more fun than should be allowed, so why pass that opportunity up?

More Giau-ness

More Giau-ness

After another great descent, we started up the Falzerego, which was a laid back sort of ascent. The slope wasn’t that steep, there were even flattish sections, the landscape was open, allowing for admiration of the changing view as you gained altitude. It was also a fun ascent because Ian (usually one of the first, if not the first, up most of the climbs so far) declared he was starting his rest day a day early, and would ride up with me–at my glacially slow tempo, apparently… He then spent a lot of the ascent complaining that I was going too fast… At any rate, it was fun riding together, even if Ian can’t decide whether I bike too slow or too fast for his taste.

At Passo Falzerego

At Passo Falzerego

What I didn’t know is that from the Falzerego, we didn’t descend straight into Corvara, but instead continued up a negligible amount to the Passo Valparola. Though it wasn’t very far uphill, it was another thing called Passo, so (once we ascended the Campolongo) it would be the second four-pass day in a row. And though it wasn’t far, it was into a headwind (just so unfair when you’re going uphill). And then we descended into a headwind. And then we rode further into La Villa and Badia into a headwind.

By now I was a little sick of wind.

But then we stopped for lunch at a place whose chef was a cyclist and a friend of our guide Ricardo (another awesome part of the Cinghiale team, even though I haven’t mentioned him so far). Unfortunately, we were too late for lunch, and he had already left. So instead we “settled” for some snacks that the kitchen could throw together for us. In Italy, what that means is that they bring you out a luxurious spread of fresh veggies, salad, cheeses, meats, and breads (and of course, the ubiquitous olive oil and balsalmic vinegar), and as you’re gleefully devouring the food, apologize for not having anything better to feed you.

Have I mentioned how much I love Italy? And the food there?

From there we retraced a bit of our route, and then continued on into Corvara. Since we had turned around, the annoying headwind was now a tailwind. Wind is awesome!

Andy was riding behind me for part of this, and as we were pushing along, I start hearing a plaintive cry behind me “Are we there yet? This is uphill–who made me eat that big lunch?” I pointed out that this whole thing was his idea.

Once in Corvara (not that far from our lunch stop) Andy stopped the group, and pointed out a few different places we could go if we wished–a cafe for espresso, a chocolate shop, etc–and suggested taking some time to explore the town a little, and let lunch settle before setting off up the Campolongo. At this point, I was starting to hear the siren call of a shower, and being not in bicycle clothes, as were a couple others, so Ian, myself, and two other guys ended up continuing on instead of stopping.

We took it easy up the Campolongo, and again I enjoyed just how effortless it could be to bag a mountain pass. Then I got elected to lead the descent down, a couple of the others not being as sure of the way (one was the guy who wasn’t feeling well the day before, so he hadn’t ridden this way before).

This was the descent I had followed Andy down, and it was so fun to get to go down it again, knowing that I could go for it–great road surface, well-banked corners, all that one could desire. A couple times we went by large herds of sheep up on the slope of the hill next to us–one sheep kicked a branch down towards me right as I rode by, and I’m pretty sure it was with malicious intent…

Back at the hotel, and after a shower I joined a few other folks downstairs for a beer, relaxed, enjoyed the sense of accomplishment for the day, and waited for the rest of the group to come in. And then the day got even better.

As the people who had lingered in Corvara with Andy came in, their stunned looks foretold the tragic tale they would tell. The herds of sheep on the hill that we rode by? They were being herded on the road when the later group rode by (and through). And with sheep… Come sheep byproducts…

Apparently the road was covered with sheep excreta, and pretty soon, so were their bikes. I guess the stuff is messy. And slippery. All things that I wouldn’t know, because I didn’t have to ride through it. Nor did I have to spend a good amount of time washing it off of my bike. Or digging it out of my brakes and gears.

Not that those of us who missed the sheep shit were smug or anything.

It was an awesome day.

Final numbers on the day–61 miles, 8,700 feet elevation gain, 0 sheep turds ridden through.

day 4

day 4 profile

(Side note: it wasn’t until after this day’s ride that, looking at the map, I realized that the latter part of the descent into Alleghe from the Campolongo is the same road we climbed up on the the first day’s ride. Things look very different on the way up versus on the way down. And when you’re really jetlagged…)

Dolomites and Alps, Day 3, Part 2

(When we left off, our heroine was relaxing in the sun partway up the Passo Gardegna after a challenging morning on the bike that saw her tempted to pack it in…)

I’ll admit, it was pretty nice for a while to have no more difficult physical exertion than having to stand up and walk over to the food table a remarkable number of times. And when I could keep my eyes open, the view was pretty great.

More lunch view on Sella Ronda day

More lunch view on Sella Ronda day

Eventually we hefted ourselves and our full bellies back onto our bicycles to finish the ascent of the Passo Gardegna. I almost feel it was cheating to count this as a pass–the descent from the Passo Sella didn’t go down very far, and the total ascent up the Gardegna was less than 1,000′, with lunch and then a flat section in the middle. Really, it was like climbing a couple Seattle-area hills with an extended siesta in between. But hey, it’s called “Passo” so it goes in the book as the 3rd pass of 4 on the day.

From the "Passo" Gardegna

From the “Passo” Gardegna

More Passo Gardegna

More Passo Gardegna

The descent took us into the town of Corvara, where we stopped in at a little Pinarello-brand bike gallery/museum attached to a hotel/bar/cafe. They had one of Bradley Wiggins’ yellow Pinarello’s from the year he won the Tour de France, and other such historic bicycles and items from throughout the years. One of the bikes was Miguel Indurain’s fantastic hour record aero track bike (from before the UCI outlawed such cool space-agey bikes…) Andy leaned in to get a closer look at the monster gearing on it, and joked “sure, I could turn that gear over, no problem… On a downhill…” Then, continuing the jest, he pretended to be not impressed by Indurain and his bike… In being too slow to get a picture of the former, I managed to get a photo of the latter:

Meh! Andy is not impressed!

Meh! Andy is not impressed!

After we had been there for a little bit, the proprietor realized who was there–not some schmuck cyclist named Andy, but THE ANDY HAMPSTEN!!! In shock and apology and awe and delight, he dropped to his knees at Andy’s feet, torn between begging forgiveness and uttering effusive praise!

I love Italians!

A little later, we were sitting in the bar area, enjoying espressos and such, when the proprietor came up again, and deeply and sincerely thanked Andy for stopping by. He expressed how much he had always appreciated Andy, that he was a great champion, a “campionissime di bicicletta e gentilezza”–a great bicyclist and a great person. Which is all true.

View from our stop in Corvara

View from our stop in Corvara

So to recap, since lunch, we had bicycled a negligible amount uphill, hung out at the Passo Gardegna for a bit (it would be a shame to go by a rifugio and *not* get espresso…), rolled ourselves downhill into Corvara, and hung out some more, consuming more espresso, and enjoying more sunshine and great views. The day was suddenly about as easy and laid back of a day as I’ve had on a bike in a long time.

But, the more astute readers may also remember that we had only done 3 of the 4 passes–still remaining was the Passo Campolongo. (Cue ominous music…)

But in the most satisfying anticlimax ever, the Passo Campolongo was mild both in terms of elevation gain, and in terms of slope. I thought it was the easiest of the day, and I was laughing at times with the delight of biking uphill and it feeling easy! I didn’t set any land speed records up the Campolongo, but I had a lot of fun reveling in the delight of cycling up it.

Soon enough, we were regrouping at the top, and then just had 17 miles left to Alleghe (and showers! and beer! and dinner!), over the course of which we would drop from about 6,200′ to 3,200′.

If you are unsure what that means, it means FUN!!!!!

Somehow, I ended up behind Andy as we descended, and this is when the day went from wonderful to I-must-be-dreaming deliriously amazing. Not only is he skilled beyond my ability to even understand how much better than me he is (I can only analogize by thinking about how my beginning dance students don’t even have the experience to know how beginning they are and how much more is involved with getting to a barely competent level of professional ability, much less an exceptional level) (seriously, the pro level of ability is way higher than you think it is. If you’re pretty fast on a bike, and wondering if you could maybe hang with the pro’s on a stage of the Tour or something, just stop. They’re faster and better than you.), he was on a road he’s ridden countless times.

(Really. They’re way better. It’s not just being faster–it’s things like riding along at a good clip, and reaching down to grab a branch off the road and toss it aside so that it doesn’t impede the people behind you. Or riding no-hands down a winding descent, doing airplane arms, as I heard he’s done.) (And I’ve asked around–no one has seen Andy sweat. Or breathe hard. Including when he whizzed past some of the fast guys, going uphill past them like they were standing still, when they were at their limit. And he’s on the record as saying he’s not near his level of fitness he had as a pro.) (So seriously, people on the internet bike forums who like to speculate from the couch about being as good as a pro if they just trained a bit more. Stop it.)

Anyway. As the road twisted its way around sharp hairpins, while sometimes simultaneously dropping precipitously down, Andy just flowed around the corners, smoothly, effortlessly, the picture of delight. I had to push myself a bit to keep up with his lollygagging his way down the mountain, but by just following his approaches to corners, trying to copy his body language, the descent became secure and full of ease for me too. (To an extent.)

I was going way faster than I could have gone on my own, yet felt like I was much more within my limits, taking on way less risk than I would have been (descending slower) on my own. I was essentially getting a private lesson on descending–from a winner of the Giro d’Italia!!!!–and felt like I was a better cyclist by the time I reached the bottom of the mountain.

As I’ve mentioned, I love descending, and am alarmed by descending. Getting to do such a fun descent, and feel that in the course of it, I became a safer, better descender, was almost too much awesomeness for one day to contain.

I finished the day feeling how I did at the start of the day–I’m ready to sign up for next year’s trip.

I also finished the day with more delicious food–are we detecting a theme here? The hotel’s restaurant was legitimately really good (Andy and Elaine reportedly have the hotel restaurant’s quality as their top criterion for picking tour hotels), but pretty much any food at all tastes amazing on days like we were doing. That we got to eat delicious, fresh, nutritive, flavorful, variety-filled food just made the constant “find more food” drumbeat in my brain all the more enjoyable of a quest.

At the end of the day, I had ridden about 60 miles (I forgot to turn my bike computer on until a few miles in, so the exact number is a mystery) and almost 8,900 feet of elevation gain. The only ride I’ve done with more elevation gain was 190 miles long…

day 3

Dolomites and Alps, Day 3, Part 1

Oh my… This day.

It will take more than one post to get through this day that felt like several days, several worlds.

Short version: up and down, literally and figuratively. Best of times, worst of times, best of times. So glad I didn’t wimp out on the ride like I really wanted to.

Long version: Day 3 was a really big day. We were doing the Sella Ronda, a four-pass circumnavigation of the Sella massif, a giant seat-like block of a mountain. The traditional route would be the Passo Pordoi, Passo Sella, Passo Gardegna, and Passo Campolongo. Instead of Pordoi, we started our loop with the Passo Fedaia, also known as the Marmolada, for the towering peak and glacier of the Marmolada looming over the pass. However you do it, you have 4 passes in an epic loop.

The beginning was innocuous enough, an easy warm up spin, gradually working our way upwards until we reached the most fabulous detour of the trip. Instead of staying on the main road all the way up the pass, we went on this old road that is now a park–the Riserva Naturale Serrai di Sottoguda–open only to hikers and bicyclists (and to a little “train” that drives people through).

Waiting for the little "train" to exit so we can enter the was-a-road-now-a-park

Waiting for the little “train” to exit so we can enter the was-a-road-now-a-park

The road/park wound its way through a narrow gorge–at times so narrow that the rock seemed to have been carved out to allow passage of the road, and nearly met above our heads. Crevices would open off to the side, revealing waterfalls, and each corner promised something wonderful around it. It was fabulous and breathtaking–and not only because we were going uphill. Just a few miles into the day’s ride, and I was thinking “I’m ready to sign up for next year’s trip.”

Eventually we had to rejoin the main road, and I tried not to be too disappointed about being back on a beautifully built road with occasional cars–it was only disappointing compared to where we had just been. And anyway, it was much more productive to spend my energy bicycling up the hill. Mountain. The Passo Fedaia is no joke–it is steep and tall.

I was just starting to enjoy my internal narrative of “I’m doing this, this is great” when I got high enough up that the surrounding hills no longer provided protection from the wind. Not only was the wind extremely strong, it was also gusty and unpredictable. You couldn’t just lean into it, because it would disappear, or suddenly buffet you from the opposite direction.

I felt that here was one of the places that my lack of experience on the bike really showed. Some of the people on the trip had been cycling for decades. Though I’m reasonably fit on the bike, I’ve only been bicycling for the last four years (excepting learning to ride as a kid). That’s a lot of decades that I don’t yet have in terms of bike handling experience and instincts.

I had never biked before in wind conditions like that. I’ve biked into pretty obnoxious headwinds that slowed my progress to a crawl, and dealt with swirly, gusting wind. But I had never experienced wind of this strength and degree of unpredictability. And frankly, it was scary.

After being nearly blown over a couple times, and then blown such that I was traveling perpendicularly to the road, and it was just luck that no cars or bicyclists were coming down the mountain, I decided that my pride didn’t need to get me hurt. So I got off the bike and started walking. It was steep enough that I was barely going any slower walking anyway.

I had pulled a bit ahead of one rider, and as I walked, he pulled past me. The wind seemed to be a bit better, so I remounted, and had pulled up with him again, commiserating about the wind, when a gust blew me right into him, and we did a slow motion topple into the guardrail. Sigh. After all that effort the previous day not to be that idiot who crashed out someone else, I was that idiot.

Luckily, our bikes were both fine, as were we, and he was unreasonably good humored about the whole thing, and we proceeded up the mountain. I went back to walking for a while though…

At the top, it was freezing (maybe not literally, but at 6,700 feet, it was cold!), and the wind was howling through the pass. Thank goodness for the ubiquitous rifugio at the top of the pass! This is such a civilized establishment! Gerardo had our food set up in an enclosed porch area, and we also went inside for some espresso–and some heat.

From here, there was discussion about what to do–push on, despite the conditions? Take a shortcut back? Get in the van?

One rider opted to take a “shortcut” over the Passo Pordoi back to Alleghe, and Elaine volunteered to accompany her. One rider who wasn’t feeling well got a ride back down in the van of another tour company. For a moment I couldn’t believe I had let that opportunity slip out of my hands. I was really nervous about descending in those wind conditions, and was pretty shattered from the physical and mental effort of the climb, and wasn’t sure I could get through the rest of the day. As happens on a challenging ride sometimes, I was having to spend some time in my dark place.

But I also didn’t want to wimp out–though there was no pressure, I let the peer pressure keep me from dropping out. I also figured that I didn’t know the area as well as Andy did, and if he wasn’t concerned about the conditions ahead, I shouldn’t be either. (Though given our comparative skill levels, he had much less to worry about than I potentially did…)

At any rate, I continued on with the reduced group. I was so focused on staying on my bike as we rode along the lake at the top of the pass, and then started to descend, that I completely forgot to look up at the Marmolada glacier. Also, no photos–I was too cold and demoralized to take photos for a while.

As we descended, the conditions quickly improved. It was still windy, but less so, and without the gusts that had so unnerved me. The descent did not go down nearly as far as the climb up had gone, so that meant that when we started ascending to the 7,200′ Passo Sella, we had much less climbing to do than we had to the shorter Passo Fedaia. We were in the trees for much of the ascent, so well sheltered, and though it was a hard climb, with steep sections, it seemed shockingly easy after the Fedaia.

I caught Andy and a few other people at the top who were about to descend, so got a couple layers back on as quickly as I could, and went down with them. Then we started up the Passo Gardegna. This was out in the open, and by now, the cold cloudy day had turned sunny, and beautiful.

Moreover, I only had to make it partway up the Gardegna, and then there was promise of Gerardo with lunch laid out for us. Before I even knew it, I was there. There was a great little parking area where our guardian angel had set up a beautiful array of food in a spot slightly sheltered from the wind. I ate, lazed in the sun with my eyes sometimes closed, relaxed, ate some more, admired the view, ate some more, then ate some more… You get the idea.

View from lunch, partway up the Passo Gardegna

View from lunch, partway up the Passo Gardegna

More lunch view. The van with the bike wheels on top is Gerardo's vehicle of magic and happiness.

More lunch view. The van with the bike wheels on top is Gerardo’s vehicle of magic and happiness. This is a good photo to click to embiggen. (I think.)

I felt a new person, and it seemed a new day. So that is where the next post will pick up.