Dolomites 2016, the “Flat Ride”

Today’s destination on our last official day of riding was the same as last year, the stunningly beautiful road up a valley between two mountain ridges.

(I know that I keep on calling the scenery some variation of “stunningly beautiful”–because it is–but believe me, on a trip where one could almost become jaded and numbed by the surfeit of scenic beauty, this day’s ride would still jolt one back to slack-jawed wonder.)

I made a rookie mistake though, thinking that the same destination would mean the same route. Roll down the highway, then pedal up the valley. Simple, nothing too challenging.

Instead, the powers that be had found a better route. There was a newly-opened bike path up the slope from the highway, and some spiffy quiet backroads leading into the valley.

And naturally, this better route involved more and steeper climbing. Because of course it did. I should have known. There is a slight chance that, expecting an easy day, and having tired legs, I was slightly grumpy about the extra climbing. And just a wee bit pissed off that dammit, I knew I had to admit that the tranquil path and winding backroads were a way better route. How dare the powers that be change the route to make it better when my legs were tired?!?!?

You know, sometimes really beautiful landscape can seem like it’s that way out of spite, to taunt you.

Yes, I’m having a really sad day at this point…

But hey, I got over it. Eventually. Even though a little corner of me then remained annoyed, its new cause for complaint being that I was enjoying myself…

At any rate, we rode on this fabulous bike path created by fixing up an old hillside road made redundant by the highway in the valley. It wound along the contours of the landscape, mostly hidden among the trees, but occasionally popping out into wider vistas. And despite the unexpected added elevation, it was a delight and marvel of a way to get from point A to point B.

We eventually had to go back to the road, but this time climbed up and around a section of the previous year’s route on a great car-lite road. (Ok, I was completely grumpy about the road going uphill, and wondering how much longer it could do that, and not really wanting to know the answer because in these parts, it could be for a long time, but in retrospect, it was a great car-lite road…)

After the trauma of having to do something different from what I expected, we rejoined the previous year’s route, the long gentle climb up the valley between these two wonderful ridges. I will admit that I started to feel better here. Then there was the part where I was riding along chatting with Andy, trying not to sound *too* out of breath, and pretending to be way cooler than I am (you know, like the kind of cool person who can ride a bike and talk at the same time…).

The end of the road remained as wonderful a place to stop as I had remembered from last year.

Having lunch in a land of magic

There’s a gravel path that keeps going off into the distance and up to the pass–it would be worth coming back with a mountain bike to ride it…

I’m just going to sit quietly for a minute and look at the photos and remember.

 

 

 

Eventually, it was time to turn back. At least this year I learned from the past (despite starting the day with a rookie mistake), and took advantage of the facilities. The 20 mile ride back to the hotel over some rough road surfaces was much better without a bladder full to the bursting point… Pro tip–always pee when you have the chance!

In the category of “I’ve improved a lot as a cyclist in the 6 years I’ve been doing this, but have barely scratched the surface”–on the way back, Kerri rolled by me and Ian, chatted with us a bit, then pulled out her camera. She then proceeded to ride along no-hands (not a super big deal, especially for a former pro, I know…), taking photos, including twisting around to take photos of things behind her, all while holding her line perfectly.

Ian and I agreed that this was something neither of us would be attempting any time soon. Or preferably, never.

It was a bittersweet day. It is so hard to say goodbye to the idyllic days of beauty and cycling, especially when the last ride is one of the most spectacular on a trip that is basically one continuous highlight reel. But we were also looking forward to being home–and ready for our legs to get a break! At the hotel, I swung my leg off my bike with regret and anticipation. And I was already thinking about being back the next year.

“Flat ride” day: 43 miles, 3,800 feet elevation.

 

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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

 

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, Rest Day

Oh the sweetness of the rest day!

After the previous five days, I was tired. In case I hadn’t made that previously clear…

There were a couple people who were in better shape/crazier than me and rode, but as I did last year, I made sure to have a very productive day of resting, with a gentle amble to stretch my legs and see the countryside.

As great as riding in the Dolomites is, the rest day has been a special, delightful day both years too. I had a lovely, relaxed time, and got to spend much of the day with a couple of my favorite people on the tour–thanks for the company, M and S!

Ok setting for the neighborhood backyard soccer game

Looking down the valley that Badia is in

Artsy flowers shot

Artsy sky shot

Pathside shrine, because it’s Italy

Tiny frog

Pathside stream

–Clicking on any of these photos should take you to my flickr album with even more (and believe it or not, my flickr album represents a heavily edited-down set of photos…)

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, the short version

Sure, it’s been a little while (fewer than 50 days is just a a little while, right?) since I got back from biking the the Dolomites with Cinghiale for the second time. But have no fear, I still plan to write my usual series of could-use-some-editing, overlong posts. Better late than never!

But first the summary post.

Really quick summary of how the trip went: I want to do it all over again next year.

I want to go back here

Slightly longer summary:

Day 0, Fri 8/28. A day on my own in Venice.. Galleria dell’Accademia, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, lots of walking, met some folks also on the Cinghiale trip who said “you’re the blog lady!” Enjoyed beautiful, quiet streets in peak tourist season by staying away from tourist centers. (Proof in my Venice photos.)

Day 1, Sat 8/29. Drive to Alleghe, then a warm up ride up into the hills. 23 miles, 2,450 feet elevation gain.

Day 2, Sun 8/30. Passo Duran, Passo Staulanza. 44 miles, 6,100 feet.

Day 3, Mon 8/31. Sella Ronda day, this year without wind! Rode the whole Fedaia climb! Passo Fedaia, Passo Sella, Passo Gardegna, Passo Campolongo. 60 miles, 8,150 feet.

The Serrai di Sottoguda before the Passo Fedaia, where last year I thought to myself “sign me up for next year.”

Day 4, Tue 9/1. Passo Giau and Falzarego. 41 miles, 6,150 feet.

Day 5, Wed 9/2. Transfer day, Passo Falzarego and Valparola into next hotel in Alta Badia. 26.3 miles, 4,100 feet.

Thu 9/3. Rest day, HOORAY!!!!

Day 6, Fri 9/4. Queen stage, Passo delle Erbe loop. 67.5 miles, 9,700 feet.

Partway through Passo delle Erbe day. Wore the Molteni jersey to be sure not to wimp out on one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done.

Day 7, Sat 9/5. Rain ride for those still upright after Friday. Down the valley, up some hills. 15.5 miles, 2,300 feet.

Day 8, Sun 9/6. Beautiful ride between two mountain ridges. 40 miles, 2,950 feet.

Not a bad way to close out the trip!

Trip total: 317 miles, 42,000 feet. Give or take a bit.

STP #5

Five 1-day STP's in a row!

Five 1-day STP’s in a row!

Really, it is amazing that a person can get from Seattle to Portland completely under her own power in a single day. The bicycle is a marvel of mechanical efficiency. Which is to say that Saturday was my fifth STP ride in a row. Each year it gets easier in certain respects, yet each year I look back the next day and think “really?!?! I did that?!?! Wow!”

And even more impressive than the fact that I got to Portland under my own power, is that about 10,000 people did the same thing, spread between one and two-day riders. It’s pretty neat.

Anyway, the annual endurance tradition went well. You may recall that last year saw us dealing with temperatures well into the 90’s. With the heat wave that we’ve been having, I was worried about a repeat. But it was cloudy with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s–my power weather.

The flip side was that we did not have the usual tailwind (last year’s was especially impressive), but instead had a slight headwind. We grumbled quite a bit about it, but I’ll still take this year’s weather over last year’s. And despite the big difference in wind, we got to Portland at about the same time as last year–that’s how much extra time the heat took out of us in longer rest stops, and having to keep our effort level low while riding.

This year was an interesting experience for me in the differing fitnesses on the bike.

After doing this four times, I didn’t have any doubt about my ability to finish, barring freak accidents. But it is true that this year, I have fewer long (80 mile plus) rides under my belt that in previous years. But I’ve also been feeling really strong, and have smashed some personal best times on hills that I have ridden up dozens of times.

So STP turned out pretty much how one might expect. The things on the bike that are more durational fitness-related were barking at me a little–for me, my wrists and neck, mostly. Yet I was overall riding really strongly. For example, I went up “The Hill” in Puyallup about 15% faster than before, without feeling like I was working any harder. And 140 miles in, I felt like I was flying, and collected quite a paceline of people happy to draft me–but later on, I looked back and they were gone. I wasn’t trying to ride them off my wheel, I just felt good and was going.

There are a couple sections that tend to be lows for me, and they were again. But I overall felt better and stronger on the ride–enough so that I didn’t mind that my neck and wrists were a little annoyed with me.

A piece of information that I got at the finish line was that I was the 44th woman to cross the line. Now, mind you, I don’t know how many women do the ride in one day, so I don’t exactly know what that number means–but my hunch is that it’s something to feel good about!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

In other news, a cold derailed me from my plans to ride on Mt Rainier last weekend, which I’m still bummed about. I’m going to see if I can squeeze that in this week. And the tail end of the cold also interrupted my Tenth of the Tour run–I was doing ok, but woke up the day before STP feeling not so great again, and decided that I was better off getting as much rest as I could. Luckily I felt good again on Saturday for STP. I’m bummed about all of that, but I made the right decisions. I’m going to keep as much of the Tenth of the Tour going as I can, just as a way to keep me biking, even if I won’t get “credit” for having done the whole thing.

And I’m going to try to get rid of this lingering congestion and cough!

Hello, Haleakala!

Short Version: We continued the tradition of freezing our butts off on vacation, and rode up Mt Haleakala in Maui. Because who goes to Hawaii to be warm?!?! 36 miles riding continuously up, to 10,023 feet, where the air is very thin. Then roll back down to sea level and breathe again. Some photos (as usual, if you click to embiggen, they’re embetter):

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At the top of Haleakala, with the crater (or, more properly, erosional valley…) in the background. We figured our jerseys from the Cinghiale trip were appropriate for such a ride.

 

Another view, the Big Island in the background. You really feel on top of the world up there.

Another view, the Big Island in the background. You really feel on top of the world up there.

 

Obligatory elevation sign photo. We really did it!

Obligatory elevation sign photo. We did it!

 

Better shot of the moon-scape crater without us in the way messing up the view.

Better shot of the moon-scape crater without us in the way messing up the view.

 

Long version:

During a cold snap around Thanksgiving, Ian couldn’t take it any more. He looked at our gobs of frequent flyer miles, and started researching flight options to Maui. So, post-Christmas, we headed out for four days in tropical warmth. To our amusement, another cold snap settled in to Seattle right as we left…

Beaches and tropical paradise are nice and all, but we wouldn’t want to enjoy ourselves too much on vacation, so we looked into the options for bicycling up Mt Haleakala. It’s supposedly the longest paved, continuous climb in the world.

The climb goes from sea level to 10,023 feet with just a couple flat or downhill sections so brief if you blinked you’d miss them. I quibbled with the “continuous” label for the climb because of these, but Ian said I was being silly.

At any rate, it looked like the good options were to rent road bikes from Maui Cyclery, or sign up to do a supported ride with them, their schedule permitting. Their schedule did permit, so we opted for the latter, meaning that an angel named Ed drove up, periodically stopping and offering us and a couple others food, water, and encouragement.

It also meant we could pack all sorts of “just in case” gear for the descent, and then choose what the conditions merited once we got up to 6500′ (Ed had to leave off there because commercial operations aren’t allowed past the National Park entrance, after some people on downhill-only bike tours died…)

Sure, we could have done the ride on our own, lots of people do, but it sure was nice to have the support of someone else taking care of our water and food and gear. The less you have to carry on your bike uphill, the better. Not to mention that Ed was nice, fun, and encouraging. Thanks Ed and Maui Cyclery!

Pre-trip, as usual I dealt with my anxiety about this epic and difficult ride by reading as many accounts as I could of it. The ride sounded really hard–but also like something that I could do. There are a couple brief steep sections (best of all is the final steep kicker at the very end when there is no air to breathe, and you are so ready to be done. That’s a fun little treat…) but the grade overall isn’t that steep. It certainly wasn’t as steep as a bunch of the climbs we did this summer. The trick is that it just keeps going.

For 36 miles.

To over 10,000 feet.

But though I’m not the fastest person on a bike around, I am decent at pacing myself so that I can keep going. That seemed like one of the keys to this ride–calm and steady.

The other key was what I couldn’t control: the weather. At any time of the year, you can encounter gale-force winds, freezing rain, impenetrable fog, or sunshine and warmth. We got the latter. We had about as good weather as one could possibly have for this: sunny, warm, and barely any wind.

To contrast, here is us at the summit two days later (the overnight gusts to 70mph had calmed down, but even the people who work there were noting that it was a pretty windy day):

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A slightly breezy day.

It was hard to stand up in the wind that day. Much less walk into it. Much less bike into it. As we drove up, we passed several cyclists making the ascent that day–I have huge respect for them. This was an unbelievably difficult ride in calm weather, and I don’t think I would have made it had we been riding up that day.

Meanwhile, two days earlier in calm weather, we picked up bikes at Maui Cyclery (titanium Litespeeds, if you’re curious. In an instance of epic unfairness, my bike had a compact double with great low end gearing, but Ian’s had a triple crankset with even better low end gearing. I really could have used those couple extra gears he had…) and after some time getting set up, headed uphill at around 8:45AM.

And about 5 minutes later, Ian decided his saddle was too low, rode a little longer, decided it really was too too low, and turned around for the shop to get it raised and get a multi-tool in case he needed to adjust it again. The bikes were really nice, but a rental just isn’t the same as your own.

Also, I know that if I rent a bike again in the future for a ride of any length, I need to bring my own saddle. I’ll save you the details.

It’s Maui–it seems a little ridiculous to state that the ride was beautiful. Duh. You go through a variety of landscapes–small town, farmland, forest, grassland, volcanic moonscape, and so on.

Not only is the landscape around you beautiful, but pretty soon, so are the views out over the landscape. The beginning of the ride is a pretty gentle ascent (most of the ride is a pretty gentle ascent–but in the beginning, it still feels like a gentle ascent too), but it’s steady.

Before you’ve really even done much of the ride, you’ve already ascended a long ways, and can see northwest out past Paia to the ocean, the view already looking like an aerial photograph. Whatever tropical magic it is, the angle of the light, the temperature of the water, whatever, the ocean is that magical tropical blue, and the breaking waves that are so impressive close up are just a pencil line of white outlining the coast.

And a little bit further on, you can see across the isthmus connecting the older mountains of West Maui and the newer mass formed by Haleakala, all the way to the ocean on the southwest. And the peaks of West Maui start to look about eye-level.

Looking out towards West Maui from near the summit. (Taken on the day we drove up. Because there wasn't much extra fiddle-fiddle going on the day we biked.)

Looking out towards West Maui from near the summit. (Taken on the day we drove up. Because there wasn’t much extra fiddle-faddle going on the day we biked.)

Another fun part about the ascent was that, until the 6,500 foot mark, you can wave at all the groups of downhill cyclists, and feel pretty bad-ass that you’re biking in the other direction. This downhill Haleakala cycling is a big tourist attraction on Maui.

Some outfits pick you up at your resort at 2AM, drive you up to the summit to watch the sunrise (and nearly freeze to death), then drive back out of the park to 6,500 feet, and put you on some sort of upright cruiser or mountain bike with squealing brakes and a full-face motorcycle helmet, and follow a guide back down to sea-level. Other tours omit the sunrise, and just let you off at 6,500 feet at a more reasonable time of day.

Some people love it. Some people have gotten seriously injured or killed doing it (hence the Park not letting them start their rides from the summit any more). Instead of completely bad-mouthing the experience, I’ll just say it’s not my thing.

But thanks to these tours, there’s a lot of awareness of cyclists on the road to Haleakala. And the guides know what it means when you’re biking the other way–they cheer you on as they lead their group down, as do some of the people on the tour. Occasionally I gave in to the impulse, and cheerfully called out to them “you’re going the wrong way!”

But scenery, views, and other cyclists aside, it’s a daunting climb. Normally when I get to the half-way point of a climb, I start to feel a sense of accomplishment, and get more optimistic about it, as I can start telling myself that I’ve already completed more than I have left to do.

But when I passed the 5,000 foot mark, I had a hard time convincing myself that there wasn’t so much left, comparatively speaking. After all, the remaining 5,000 feet still counted as a REALLY BIG CLIMB!

For perspective, Haleakala is somewhat comparable to climbing Hurricane Ridge, one of my big rides of the summer, twice. Without any break in the middle for descending back to the bottom. And the second time, you’re already really tired, and now you can’t breathe either.

This post is too long, so here's a nice random bit of West Maui from another day.

This post is too long, so here’s a nice random bit of West Maui from another day.

From about 5,500 feet to the Visitor Center at 7,000 feet, I was really feeling the magnitude of what I still had left to do, and not feeling like I was making much progress. And the switchbacks in that section are a bit steeper overall than most of the rest of the ride. I never went to my dark place on this ride, but this was the hardest section for me.

At 7,000 feet, something flipped for me. I only had three 1,000-foot climbs remaining, which seemed completely doable. 1,000 feet is still a chunk of climbing, but it’s a chunk that is conceptually manageable–and only three of them. That I could do!

And I did. One key for me to those last 3,000 feet was focusing on a couple hundred feet at a time. That’s not much climbing, and it makes a measurable dent in each 1,000-foot chunk.

Another key was never to push so hard that I needed to take a deep breath. Because the air just wasn’t there. Which wasn’t a problem–as long as I didn’t need to breathe that hard.

So, yeah, I didn’t set any land speed records over those last 3,000 feet…

Through all of this, I could also look out and down onto mountains of West Maui, and even the clouds. It was an incredible sensation. Mind-blowing doesn’t even get there.

More West Maui :)

More West Maui 🙂

So yes, biking up Haleakala is a pretty insane thing to do, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a reason to do it. It’s not the same in a car–as I know because we drove up two days later. You get the same views, but not the same opportunity to study them and their evolution, nor the sense of ownership and accomplishment.

At any rate, we made the summit. The last little kicker of steepness wasn’t as bad as I worried. I won’t say it was pretty getting up it, but it was more of the same slog of just-keep-going, but even slower.

I almost had a tragic tale to tell, as negotiating the turn from the poorly placed curb cut to the path to the very top exceeded my bike-handling skills at the moment. But all’s well that ends well, or so they say.

One fun part of biking to the summit is that you become a minor celebrity up there. People gawk and ask about the ride and act generally impressed with you. One nice woman–another athlete who does (I believe) trail running and other such extreme things, and so could really understand the effort we had just put in–insisted on taking lots of photos for us, with different parts of the view as backgrounds. Thanks, nice woman whose name we didn’t get!

Great as all that is, the prospect of a shower and real food beckons seductively. But at 10,023 feet, even a fast descent will still take a while. So we didn’t linger too much at the top, somewhat anxious to be done with the day.

The descent was really spectacular. At first I was pretty cautious, as I was on an unfamiliar bike (and my lower back was cramping up, the brakes didn’t feel as grippy as mine, and my wrists were fatigued and sore).

But, especially after a stop to stretch out our backs and other bits at the Visitor’s Center, at which point I was able to adjust the brakes a bit too, my confidence grew. The rental bikes actually handled great on the descent, and the road was beautifully constructed and banked for descending. Even getting a flat tire around 4,500 feet couldn’t put much of a damper in the fun of the descent. (Also, thanks to the guy in the Castelli kit who stopped to make sure we had everything we needed, and helped us committed pump-users with the CO2 cartridge the rental bike had in case of a flat.)

Afterward, Ian commented that he would come back to do that ride again just to do the descent–and this from someone who doesn’t always consider descending to be very fun. It really was that good. Or, I should say, it really was that good on well-handling road bikes, after earning every inch of the descent by climbing it.

I found a better shot of the view out to West Maui. I'm too lazy to rearrange the photos in the post, so I'm just adding this one in here.

I found a better shot of the view out to West Maui. I’m too lazy to rearrange the photos in the post, so I’m just adding this one in here.

Nope, those downhill tours really aren’t my thing.

We made it in to town, happily rolling past several blocks of backed up car traffic (I will own the gleeful cackle I let out when we went past a car that had refused to go around us for quite a while–when we were biking on the shoulder–and then after turning onto a road without a shoulder, got upset and zoomed by in a huff, veering out into oncoming traffic unnecessarily to get around us…)

And then one of the best parts of a ride like this–a life-affirming shower, clean clothes, and DINNER!

We spent most of the rest of the evening discussing what a crazy, amazing, difficult, fun, crazy thing that had been to do. The phrase “I can’t believe we just did that!!!” was uttered more than once.

Riding up Mt Haleakala is definitely the most difficult ride I’ve done–but as far as personal challenge, much easier rides have been much harder for me.

This was a ride I felt that I had the tools to be able to do. The first time I rode up Zoo Hill, I spent the whole two days before with waves of adrenaline and cold sweats sweeping over me, not even knowing if I could make it. I started this blog to help deal with my anxiety that, in signing up for the Cinghiale Dolomites trip, I had gotten in way over my head.

One of the great things about the last couple years of cycling has been not so much the growth in my abilities on the bike, but the growth in my confidence in my abilities and what I can accomplish on the bike.

After all, there has to be some reason that I keep on doing stupid things like shivering with cold on top of a mountain when visiting Hawaii to get away from the cold.

In all seriousness, it was an amazing day. Challenging, fun, and really really astonishingly beautiful. I’m not exactly sure I would recommend doing it… But it was so worth doing.

Not from the ride, but a representative sample of beautiful Maui-ness

Not from the ride, but a representative sample of beautiful Maui-ness

 

The biggest single climb I've ever done, to the highest altitude I've ever been at not in an airplane.

The biggest single climb I’ve ever done, to the highest altitude I’ve ever been at not in an airplane.

Dolomites and Alps, Day 8

Short version: a short easy ride (that would be a hard, hilly ride in normal life), then into the vans and to Verona for our farewell dinner.

Last chance to look out of our Bormio hotel room and see this.

Last chance to look out of our Bormio hotel room and see this.

Long version: it was hard to believe that the trip was already coming to an end. Well, my legs could believe it (they could have believed it 7 days ago…)

But as challenging as the trip was, in a way it was incredibly easy too–in some ways, the easiest trip I’ve made to Europe. There were hardly any decisions required–just get up, ride my bike where I’m told to, eat food when it’s put in front of me, and otherwise sleep, shower, or drink beer. Not all at the same time though–my hardest decisions often involved which of the three to do first…

Since we had to drive to Verona, the day’s ride was short, akin to the first day’s ride. Not even any mountain passes involved. Inconceivable!

It was described as a nice little ride out to a lake. The weather was perfect, sunny, warm but not too warm, and we rolled along an essentially flat road (flat!!!) through scenic Italian countryside. Pretty nice!

I was sort of looking around for a lake, and didn’t really know how far it would be, other than the description of it being a short easy ride. I noticed a road switchbacking steeply up a hillside, but sure that wasn’t where we were going, right?

It turns out that in this part of Italy, they put their lakes ON TOP of the hills. ?!?!?

I should have known, since the default answer on this trip was “yes we are going up that hill”–but really, who could have predicted that?

So yes, we did go up that hill, and I got to go “whee!” around the switchbacks. We saw the lake, and then Andy looked at the time, and hustled us right back down again.

At the top

At the top

Looking back down

Looking back down

A beautiful view on a beautiful day in the middle of a beautiful ride

A beautiful view on a beautiful day in the middle of a beautiful ride

The group split into two vans for the drive back to Verona, and I ended up in Gerardo’s van. By then I was completely accustomed to the gorgeous Italian scenery, so the highlight of the drive was when our calm, cheerful, imperturbable guardian angel lost it and swore at the toll booth machine. The van was in stitches for a while after that…

We had some time at the Verona hotel to get situated, and pack our bikes back into their travel cases, and then one last dinner together. Though I have not mentioned the other people on the tour very much, that does not reflect their centrality to the success of the trip. I figure they did not necessarily sign up to be characters in my blog–but if any of you are reading, I can’t say enough how much fun I had riding and hanging out with you. And if you’re ever in Seattle, let me know!

Just writing this last post recreates for me the same “I can’t believe it’s over”–both regarding the trip, and the writing. Signing up for, preparing for, and going on the trip challenged me and pushed my comfort zone in so many different ways. The riding was amazing, and it also felt really amazing to show myself I could do something that I spent a lot of time thinking I couldn’t.

And seriously–check them out: Cinghiale Cycling Tours with Andy Hampsten  –and here’s hoping that I’m in the Dolomites again next year.

For the day, 17 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Looking at my ride data, I realized that there was a 4.4 mile stretch that averaged 9%–and I just thought that my legs felt slow because I was tired. Huh. Turns out that the climb had a bit of a kick to it.

day8

Dolomites and Alps, Rest Day!

After four days of spectacular but challenging riding, our tired legs had a day off. For lunch, Ian and I took the two gondola ride up out of Alleghe to the ski-area-in-winter Col dei Baldi (elevation, 6,300 feet). Turns out there is an easier way to get up a mountain than riding your bike up it…

Here is some of the trip:

Just got on the first gondola, heading up out of town.

Just got on the first gondola, heading up out of town.

Looking back at Alleghe

Looking back at Alleghe

Some of the ride was really steep!

Some of the ride was really steep!

Ahhh, the views...

Ahhh, the views…

On the second gondola--we're really starting to get up there!

On the second gondola–we’re really starting to get up there!

At the top--ok setting to have lunch in.

At the top–ok setting to have lunch in.

Love the light up here

Love the light up here

Close up of the previous view

Close up of the previous view

In the gondola heading back down, when we realized that peak is the summit of the Marmolada

In the gondola heading back down, when we realized that peak is the summit of the Marmolada