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.

Advertisements

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 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.