Finally, here I was again, riding a bus up into the Dolomite mountains, just a few hours away from being on my bicycle.
I spent a lot less time this year worrying about whether I would be able to do the riding (though I still worried plenty about whether I was well-enough prepared and in shape for the trip). I replaced that worrying with worrying that I shouldn’t be there at all, given that Ian’s work schedule had prevented him from doing the trip this year. Was it wrong and selfish of me to jaunt off on another awesome Italian vacation, blithely leaving him behind?
The bus ride from Venice to Alleghe put my worries to rest. As the foothills rose around us, I felt even worse that Ian couldn’t be there, knowing how much he would have enjoyed the trip. But I felt even better that I had decided to go anyway.
There was a group of guys from Kansas on the trip this year. Looking at the sheer hillsides surrounding us, the self-control was killing me, but I wasn’t saying it… To my great relief and delight, one of them finally did: “We’re not in Kansas any more!”
Indeed, we weren’t. For all the people who have declared me crazy for biking in the Dolomites (and I’ll admit, you have a point)–a few days in, one of the other riders who had read this blog before the trip told me “Despite your photos and descriptions, I just wasn’t prepared for how visually stunning it would be.” It’s one of the most astonishing, beautiful places I’ve been. And yet, that’s still understating the impact of being there.
And then, arrival, check in, lunch, bike assembly, and the peleton was off!
Bike building time was a little crazier than last year–there were a lot more people on the trip this time around. I was happily cruising along by myself, when I noticed that my rear wheel wouldn’t turn. Oh silly me, the brakes were off-center and rubbing. But it still wouldn’t turn… Turns out the wheel was quite warped–probably got a good bump in transit. Gerardo seemed very busy at the time, so I asked Andy if he could ask Gerardo to look at it when he got free.
Silly me. Turns out that Andy Hampsten knows a few things about bicycles, and, spoke wrench in hand, he soon had the situation straightened out. Literally and figuratively. (Ha ha–see what I did there!) So, I owe him an apology–sorry Andy, for having any doubt about your bicycle skills…
The route was the same as last year, a really fabulous ride up the valley slopes, around a bit, and back down. There’s a fun point where you can look back and catch a glimpse of the lake far below, and think “wow! I started down there?!?!” It’s a “short” ride, but with challenging enough climbs that you can really put some hurt in your legs if you want to. But it’s just the easy, first-day, “does my bike work?” ride.
I, as I now knew I would, loved the first day ride–not only did I now know I could do it, I was just so happy to be back! As other people exclaimed over the view, or the awesomeness of the riding, I couldn’t help chiming in with variations of “I know–see why I came back!!!” I probably became a very annoying broken record over the course of the trip. Sorry folks! But I was just so happy to be back!
The ride was also very sobering. A rider had a serious crash towards the end of it. I don’t feel that it’s my story to tell–just because I’m writing up my experience of the trip doesn’t mean that I can assume others on the trip signed up to be characters in my blog. From what I saw though, the professionalism of all the Cinghiale people was really reassuring, both in the immediate emergency, and in later support for the rider. I can say that the person who crashed is a fabulous person I hope to have the pleasure of riding with again.
It does seem appropriate here to send some appreciation the way of the Cinghiale staff. I have talked a lot about how wonderful Gerardo, Elaine, and Andy are–and they continued their streak of fabulousness on this year’s trip. Also back from last year were the stellar Richard and Kerri. Last year Richard was a guide for the Dolomites portion, and Kerri was a guide for the Alps portion. Because we were a larger group this year, they both guided the whole trip (yay!), and were joined by the very capable but very goofy Jonathan, better known as Gianone.
At the end of the day, I missed Ian, was thinking carefully about risk vs. reward, and still absolutely thrilled that I was there. It was also nice to enjoy the company of a couple of returnees from last year, as well as a couple people I had gotten to know a bit before the trip. Oh, and the food. Lots of delicious, fresh food.