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

 

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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 2

So yes, I love bicycling in the Dolomites, but perhaps what I have talked about the most (in fact, it came up in conversation just a couple days ago) are the tomatoes that Gerardo brought from Tuscany. Heaven.

On most of our rides, there would be a stop where Gerardo would slice up a bunch of these Tuscan tomatoes, press them into pieces of bread so that their juices infused the bread, and then drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt over it all. This was one of the most delicious things I have had to eat, on or off of a bike.

I lead with this because Day 2, with Passo Duran and Passo Staulanza on the itinerary, was the first day that rated a food stop serious enough to bring out the tomatoes, and thus give us a pretty powerful incentive to get to the top of every remaining climb on the trip.

And yet–as significant as this event was, it was just one of the highlights of the day.

The day (pretty much the same ride as last year) started with an easy spin down the river valley out of Alleghe. It was a section of road that brings out the luxuriously glorious side of cycling–not so downhill as to require braking or lots of attentive caution, but enough downhill to flow with ease and delight around the many curves of the road.

It’s hard to beat the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment of reaching the top of a hard climb, but the intoxicating delight of roads like this comes pretty close.

So I was loving the motion and flow of the road, and the rhythm of leaning one way and another into the curves. I was also noticing that Andy was behind me, and that it was perhaps a good time not to do anything particularly boneheaded on my bike.

That’s when I heard “You look at one with your bicycle, in case you were wondering.” from behind me.

BWAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! ANDY I-WON-THE-GIRO-D’ITALIA HAMPSTEN COMPLIMENTED ME ON MY BICYCLING!!!!! AGAIN!!!!!

In a moment of complete genius, I managed not to fall off my bike or crash or do anything particularly boneheaded. I might have even managed to say “Thanks!” (But honestly, I don’t remember…)

So, anyway. There was that, which made the day nice.

And then we hit the climb to the Passo Duran, which was still hard. But this year I knew I could do it. And despite being familiar with it, I was pleasantly surprised by the part at the top that levels off a bit, and rolled up to the van feeling pretty good. Whereupon Gerardo promptly took charge of my bike as I was looking for a spot to lay it down, and gently leaned it up against a post. As for the van… There were tomatoes… Sigh.

Gerardo continues to like my bike and take good care of it!

The descent from the pass is really steep, with lots of tight turns–it’s a descent for caution (and hoping you don’t overheat your rims) rather than swooping joy. This year was at least made a bit more entertaining by Gianone splashing some water on his disc brakes at the bottom so we could hear them sizzle.

This descent ends (and ascent to Passo Staulanza begins) in the town of Dont. The jokes and wry comments never get old. It really is a moment that makes you reconsider/laugh at your decisions in life that led to you spending your vacation climbing mountain passes in the Dolomites.

I’ve heard that the beach can be nice in the summer, for example.

Like last year, my legs were not thrilled about starting a second climb, but this year I was ready for that. And, as it turns out, the start of the climb is steepish, so it’s not entirely me being a wuss that made it seem difficult.

Unlike last year, I knew when I got to the switchbacks that I was pretty near to the top, and felt pretty chipper about that fact.

Like last year, I neglected to get any photos of the Passo Staulanza. I’m pretty awesome that way.

It was a delightful day, and I enjoyed it all the more for having done it before.

Since I don’t have any of the Staulanza, here’s another of the Duran, with the road that will take us to the Staulanza stretching picturesquely away…

Two days in, and I was so happy to be back. I was also happy that the weather forecast looked really good for our return to the Sella Ronda the next day. After walking part of the Passo Fedaia last year, I had some unfinished business I wanted to take care of.

But first, the hotel, food (and more food), and more views!

More of the view from my room in Alleghe

44 miles, 6,100 feet

44 miles, 6,100 feet

 

Dolomites and Alps, Day 2

The first pass we summited on the trip, Passo Duran.

The first pass we summited on the trip, Passo Duran.

This was the first “real” ride–there were two mountain passes on the menu, Passo Duran and Passo Staulanza. Short version: we biked uphill a lot, flew downhill a lot, it was beautiful, I had a great time.

Long version: we started out with a fast ride through the valley, on a road that trended downhill but looked flat enough that you could pretend you really were that awesome and fast of a cyclist… We were able to detour off the main road a couple times onto a beautiful, almost deserted older road, and what I saw of it was pretty amazing. However, we were in loose paceline for a lot of this section, and so a lot of my brain was occupied with watching the wheels around me, and trying not to be the idiot who crashed out half the group on the second day…

I made it through the beginning of the ride without being that idiot–phew! And then the climb started. The road up to Passo Duran was uphill. Noticeably so. Over several miles, it averaged about 10% grade. There were some flatter bits of road, which meant there were also some bonus sections. Whee!

But this is what I signed up for, right? And what accompanies a very uphill road, or at least this one (and road after road throughout the trip) was peaceful forest scenery, beautiful views, light (and considerate) traffic, and great road surface conditions.

Also, what accompanies a very uphill road, was the growing sense of accomplishment, as the narrative in my head stopped worrying about the steepness of the road, and started realizing “I can do this, I’m doing this, I’m doing this and enjoying myself!”

And then the summit, the first of the trip!

One of the views from the summit of Passo Duran.

One of the views from the summit of Passo Duran.

I enjoyed some of the delicious food that Gerardo had ready for us at the van, and went into the rifugio for an espresso–such was the pampered life we led.

I also set about getting some photos–first up, the important personnel–no, not that famous Andy Hampsten guy, or my patient and accommodating husband…

Me and Gerardo at the top of the Passo Duran!

Me and Gerardo at the top of the Passo Duran!

The descent was fabulously fun (I’ll start to sound like a broken record on that topic), and at the town of Dont (really) we turned left to head up the Staulanza.

The climb up the Staulanza was less steep than up the Duran, but my legs took a while to get back into the whole pedaling thing after getting to slack off during the descent, and even when they did remember what they were supposed to do, they were a titch tired.

Add in that the first part of the climb went through several towns, so that there were actually cars and motorcycles going by more often than once every few minutes, and I was feeling a little put upon. Then I had to laugh at myself–I was on a beautiful road, enjoying great scenery on what was still a lightly-trafficked route. How spoiled had I already gotten to feel put out about having to deal with tired legs and traffic?!?

And at about that point, the towns were left behind anyway, and there was a great series of switchbacks stretching away above me to look forward to. A number of cyclists were coming down the road, and it was fun to greet them. I was particularly happy to see another woman coming down the mountain, and she called out a particularly effusive greeting. It wasn’t until later that I realized that the woman was Elaine Hampsten!

Elaine is, with Gerardo, part of the Cinghiale magic. Andy’s wife, she handles a lot of the logistical side of the business, and is a huge reason behind everything going so smoothly for us from before the trip even started. During the planning stage, she was always there to answer questions and provide information, and during the trip, she was constantly cheerful and helpful and super fun to hang out with. She had found childcare for their super-sweet 2 year-old son Oscar, and decided to catch up with us on the ride by biking it in the opposite direction. She went up the Staulanza, down part of the other side (where she gave me such a nice greeting) then back up to hang out with us at the top (at which point it eventually dawned on me who that had been).

Because I’m brilliant, I took no photos at the top of the Staulanza, but it was kinda more of the same–Gerardo, van, great food, great views. Such was our lot in life for the next week.

After another fantastic descent, we arrived back at the hotel in time for a late lunch. Here was another advantage of doing the trip with Cinghiale–since the hotel knows (and likes) Andy, they would do things for us like serving a late lunch even if the restaurant was officially closed… I ate a huge amount, and then rolled away from the table thinking that dinner (not very far away) might not be very necessary. Except that my stomach was growling again two hours before dinner.

Oh yes–a lunchtime bonus was watching the rain pelt down, after another day of perfect riding weather!

In the afternoon, Andy did a Q&A/storytime, and regaled us with tales of the pro peleton. I felt too self-conscious to bring paper and pen and take notes, though now I wish I had. One of the stories that came up was how in those days, during some races, the tv helicopter didn’t show up until well into the day’s stage. Up till that point, the Europeans would bike along painfully slowly, lollygagging their way down the route. Then the whup-whup-whup of helicopter blades, and it was like the starting gun at the 100 meter dash–suddenly the race was full speed and fierce. Meanwhile, the Americans, unused to this, would be dying of boredom in the beginning, eat all their food in the first 45 minutes for something to do, then become bloated and sluggish from all the sudden calories–just in time for the helicopter to show up and major suffering to begin.

It felt really good to have not just survived, but enjoyed the first day of mountain passes. I recorded 45 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain.

day 2