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 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


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…)