Alps and Dolomites 2017, Day 6 (or, this was supposed to be the rest day…)

After the carefully unadvertised challenge of yesterday’s ride, today was very sensibly scheduled as a rest day in the lovely Hotel Gran Ander (worth staying there for the breakfast alone–and that’s not even considering the views you have while eating breakfast!)

Naturally, the weather did not cooperate. It looked to be a lovely day, with an ominous change the following day. It was suggested that anyone who was interested might do a rest day ride, and then a ride day rest.

The smart thing would have been to rest. So I compromised. Instead of riding the whole Sella Ronda route that some were doing, I just rode over the Passo Gardena, up the Passo Sella, and then back.

Three passes in the Dolomites does not make for a restful ride–and yet, they do. The ride up the Gardena from the direction of Corvara is wonderful. Once you make it through the traffic of Colfosco, you start a marvelous series of switchbacks. The way they are nestled in the curve of the mountains, the moments of respite they give to the climb, and the views that unroll from them, are all sublime. I feel like just about everything in the Dolomites is a favorite of mine, but this ascent of the Gardena is a more favorite among favorites.

Gardena switchbacks, views, and cow. Clicking on any of the photos will take you to my flickr photostream with many more photos…

Then the ascent up the Sella from Passo Gardena is one that I hadn’t done yet. I was looking forward to it, because the same road can present very different views and experiences just by being ridden in the opposite direction. And I knew that climbing up would be worth it if only to be able to descend that stretch of road again, which is–you guessed it–one of my favorite descents.

From the top of the Passo Sella

Descending the Sella

The climb back up the Gardena from that side really isn’t much–just a few hundred feet of non-steep elevation gain, a flat section, a little more non-steep climbing, then done. From the top of the Gardena it’s 11 miles downhill to Badia, with just the briefest moments when touching the pedals becomes necessary.

In light of how these separate pieces of the ride just entice one on (or at least, me), the ride really does start to seem like a rest day. Physically, it’s not, but mentally, the beauty and enjoyment do provide refreshment. (As did the post-ride shower, beer, food, and lying prone…)

On the way back, I stopped in Corvara with Kerri for coffee and a little cycling glove shopping. It is always great to spend time with her, but I was especially glad of the company when we started rolling toward Badia again, and a bee flew into my helmet and stung me! First bee sting I’ve ever had! I much appreciated her kindly pulling the stinger out of my forehead for me, seeing as how I couldn’t see it.

And you never know what vocabulary might come in handy–back at the hotel, I was very pleased with myself to know the Italian for “ice” and spent the afternoon looking rather dramatic with an icepack to my head.

Day 6, Gardena, Sella, Gardena: 36.4 miles, 5,000 feet.

Ignore the asymmetry of the route profile. My bike computer battery gave out, and I recorded the end of the ride separately on my phone.

 

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Alps and Dolomites 2017, Day 3

Gavia Day!

Ian with Elaine and Andy. Oddly, the only one to have worn the pink jersey isn’t in the pink jersey…

Several years ago, the prospect of riding the Gavia with Andy Hampsten was one of the things that started this whole mess for me. After that first trip, the next two years skipped the Alps in favor of more Dolomite riding, which I absolutely loved. Even as I was sorry to miss some of those rides this year, I was pretty excited to go back to the Gavia.

This year I had a goal of riding the other side of the Gavia–you know, the side that the Giro went up in ’88 when Andy won. Spoiler–I didn’t. At least, not entirely.

Three reasons: I was still feeling the effort of the Umbrail from the day before; jet lag had hit me hard and I was pretty sleep-deprived; and my training before the trip was not enough to give me the reserves to overcome the previous two things.

Still, the day started off well enough. Despite sleepiness and fatigue, I was feeling alright, not pushing too hard, and enjoying the climb. I was even verging into the realm of feeling confident that I’d have a strong ascent to feel proud of.

Peekaboo view from the lower slopes of the Gavia

Wide open view from the upper slopes of the Gavia

Then, towards the top, when I was starting to feel hopeful (whoops!), I hit a steep part. About a mile that hovered around 12 or 13%. I’m pretty sure it was new. It’s definitely not possible that I erased that part from my memory. Must have been new.

This coincided with my blood sugar getting a little lower than is ideal–I was really ready to see Gerardo, the van, and a lovely spread of food… But instead, the road stayed stubbornly pitched up. I ended up huddling in my dark place for a while, very glad that I was riding alone.

But I made it, and all was well. The top of the Gavia is a great place–just being there in general, and even more so being there when Gerardo is working his magic, and the owners of the rifugio are enthusiastically greeting Andy. They watched him ride by in ’88, and they remain excited to see him bicycling up there.

Pro tip: the rifugio serves a very thick, very potent hot chocolate. It is a wonderful thing on a nice cold summer day.

Proof that I made it

And then was the moment of truth–who was going to go down the other side? I had to admit to myself that I was pretty cooked. Even if I could make it back up the other side, it wouldn’t be fun (or fun for anyone to be around me), and might not be the best way to set up the rest of the trip.

I was disappointed.

But I did ride down the other side as far as the new tunnel, which was built to replace a notoriously treacherous stretch of road. The old road still clings to the side of the mountain, now a minefield of jagged rocks more appropriate to mountain biking–or to walking along after dismounting your road bike, which is what a number of us did.

Between the boulder and the modern road gallery is a remnant of the old road. In the background, you can just make out the road zig-zagging up the mountain to the pass. It’s really steep.

Looking the other way down the old “road”

It was a quick 3 km ride down to the tunnel, but it sure took a while to come back up. I stopped partway to take a photo–more for the opportunity to rest my legs than for the photo… Even though I didn’t do the full descent and ascent of the other side, the little bit that I did certainly represented way more work that I had done the first trip!

Bundled up for the 2-mile descent to the tunnel–and I was still cold–vs partway back up the same stretch of road–and I was still overheating. Did I mention it was steep?

So that goal gets a partial checkmark, and sits out there tantalizingly, goading me along for this year. Because of course in 2018, 30-year anniversary of Andy’s win, the Cinghiale trip is returning to the Gavia.

For every photo I took, there were 100’s of amazing views that I did not stop to photograph. Clicking on this photo will take you to my Flickr where you can see some more Gavia pictures.

I had a blast on the descent, stopping for photos and just trying to appreciate the view and the experience as much as I could. It’s still a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming experience to get to ride these roads in Italy.

Day 3, Gavia (!!!): 35 miles, 5400 feet.

Interlude: how to get a custom Hampsten bike

[We interrupt your regular Dolomites/Alps programming to bring you this special feature]

The more observant of my rabid followers might have noticed in a couple recent posts that my beloved old Colnago was not in frame. Those who have cared enough to click on a photo to embiggen (which I think has been no one) will have figured out that I now have a beautiful custom Hampsten bicycle.

I still blush a little when I say that.

So, the curious reader asks, how does one obtain one of these? Here is my handy, step-by-step guide:

  1. Spend a couple years visiting the website and drooling over the pretty pictures
  2. Make puppy dog eyes at your husband while looking at the website
  3. Read obsessively about people’s Hampsten bikes and how happy they are with them
  4. Think that you’ll never have something that nice
  5. Go on a couple Cinghiale trips, and notice that whenever you think “wow, nice looking bike!” it’s one of the people with a Hampsten bike
  6. Start to think maybe you could have something that nice
  7. Sketchily plan out what your dream Hampsten machine would be
  8. Make really really big puppy dog eyes at your husband
  9. Mention to your husband that you’re kinda thinking you’d like a Hampsten bike, and would it be ok if you perhaps maybe sent a preliminary feeler Steve Hampsten’s way
  10. Have your husband quash the dream by saying things about budget and $ and adult responsibility
  11. Go on another Hampsten trip, on which your husband sneakily gets together with Andy Hampsten to measure your bike
  12. Have your husband and Andy start an email conversation with Steve with measurements, fit notes, frame suggestions, and the like
  13. Go on a bike ride with your husband, taking a different route home that just happens to pass by Steve’s workshop, and stop in to go over the details of the surprise bike that Steve has already sketched out for you
  14. Suffer major agonies over what color to have it painted
  15. Wait impatiently for 6 weeks

Voilà, you have a custom Hampsten bicycle in just Fifteen Easy Steps!

So, there are all sorts of rules about how to photograph a bike, basically none of which I’ve followed. I’d rather be riding it than fussing about getting perfect shot. And my photography reflects that attitude. But here are some pictures!

Shortly after receipt, about as shiny and unburdened as it will ever be

Mental health break, Pacific Northwest-style

In its natural habitat–being ridden up mountains in good company

Some would say I have way too much crap on my bike. Some people photograph their bikes rather than ride up the Passo Gavia on their bikes.

Bonus part of the whole process is that in addition to having a wonderful new bike, I also have–in writing–Andy “I won the Giro d’Italia” Hampsten calling me “strong and flexible” and my pedal stroke “convincing.” !!! I’d be cool with that going on my tombstone, in case you’re planning ahead.

I’ve had the bike just over a year now, and beyond delighted now to be one of the people in #3 above. And Ian has been duly nominated for Husband of the Decade honors. Lying and deceit–the ingredients of a wonderful marriage!

 

I’m about to head back to the Dolomites–what have I been doing with myself?!?

Here I am, like last year, cringing about my lack of preparedness for the Alps and Dolomites, when it’s way past too late being able to do anything about it. And I’m also setting some “above and beyond” goals for myself. Because that makes sense.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing, it’s just… I guess I have a hard time even envisioning the situation where I have trained enough to feel prepared. But I won’t let that stand in the way of enjoying myself!

But what have I been doing? This was one of the things that I really wanted to know from other people when I was preparing for my first trip.  What sort of benchmarks that I could relate to my own experience were people doing before they cycled these awe-inspiring (and somewhat terrifying) climbs? So maybe this post is useful for someone, or maybe it’s a chance for me to ramble and post more pictures.

TLDR: Wet winter, Zwift, Santa Monica Mountains, Mazama weekend, STP, RAMROD, Ride the Hurricane, Mt Rainier, hope I’m ready.

Long version:

You may or may not be aware that the Pacific Northwet lived up to its moniker this winter in a “one for the record books” kind of way. Between that and some stressful and exhausting work things, I was having a really hard time getting on the bike. It got so bad that I bought an indoor turbo trainer to put my bike on, and signed up for Zwift and a couple other similar services.

This had a twofold effect: one, I could do some hard riding with some structured training plans and not come home hypothermic and sodden. Two, if the weather was ok, I could have a pleasant ride outside and go as my whimsy took me, rather than having a voice in my head telling me I should make sure to get some training benefit out of the ride. With the way everything else was going, having outside rides as pure stress-relief enjoyment was golden.

Next up, in April we did Cycling Escapes’ Santa Monica Mountains Climbing Camp. Like two years ago, it was a week of excellent routes and ride support. I really like how Cycling Escapes puts together the week, and would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested. I will note that it’s probably a good idea to do a bit of training for the week.

Instead we used the week to kick off our training… Yeah, there was some sore and tiredness going on.

Unlike the last time I did this trip, this year I was the only woman (out of about 15 riders). Not only were the rest of the riders all men, there were a few of them who were super dude-bro’s. Amongst various dude-bro antics, the highlight was the ostentatiously loud conversation that took place on the first day’s lunch stop about how “compact cranksets are for amateur riders who don’t train a lot.” Yup, I totally agree. After all, I am an amateur rider who doesn’t train a lot. Love my compact. I know another person who rides a compact crankset who fits that description–as a *former* pro, Andy Hampsten is now an amateur rider. And though he rides a ton, I don’t think he really trains any more–he just goes out and has fun on his bike. Not sure that’s what dude-bro had in mind.

I did a shorter option for a couple of the rides, but over the 5 lovely days of riding, still managed to ride 250 miles with about 30,000 feet of elevation.

Thence, more Zwifting, commuting, and working too much.

Until the delights of Redmond Cycling Club’s Mazama Weekend.

The fun hairpin coming down from Washington Pass

Like last year, I was lucky enough to ride it with my dad. We had a blast, despite the record heat (which seemed especially unfair, given how the rest of the year to date had been unseasonably cold!) I had a good ride and felt strong on both days, though as I rode into the hair dryer-like headwind at the end of the second day, I will admit that there was a repetitive chorus of “you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me” going through my head.

We’re at 5400 feet, and it’s already toasty… At least I was still smiling at this point.

My dad also had a strong ride, though his first day was interrupted by a series of flats. Which then led to a series of the messiest, dirtiest flat changes known to man. Which then led to him being given the ironic nickname “Mr. Clean” by the very entertained people from the Redmond Cycling Club as they regarded his dirt and grease-covered person with awe and amazement.

Mr. Clean having an adventure in the snow

The astute observer might note that I am riding a different bike than my beloved Colnago…

Despite the heat, a great weekend!

A couple more training rides, and then it was time for STP! I could definitely tell that my next-longest ride of the year to date had been just half the miles, but it still went pretty well. We had mostly good weather, despite a cross wind that made us very nervous about whether the usual tailwind at the end would instead be a headwind. Thankfully, the tailwind on US 30 materialized, and we still had some pep in our legs as we rolled into Portland. It was neat to get my 7th patch–even neater for Ian as he collected his 10th!

As if to make up for the previous two years of torrid temperatures, this year’s RAMROD was delightful. The day started with heavy marine layer that was just on the edge of being rain, but it was also quite warm (for 6AM). Just as I was starting to worry that it could be a bit chilly on the descents if this kept up, the clouds parted, right on time for the peek-a-boo views of the summit that make the climb up to Inspiration Point such a delight. And going up Cayuse was a positively civilized experience–I summited with plenty of water left, and without any threat of heat rash.

I call this “I’m happy about a successful RAMROD, Ian’s worried I’ll make him do it again some day”

This year, the Ride the Hurricane event advertised that “it surely couldn’t be as cold and wet as last year!” which was correct. For next year they should advertise “surely this year there will be a view!” Though it was a warm sunny day, smoke from the BC wildfires was pretty thick, so for a second year in a row, there was no view from the top. But my dad and I had a good time anyway. I was really pleased, because for the first time ever, I felt quite good all they way up the climb, and never had to go to my dark place. My time was pretty consistent with previous years’ but it felt easier, more doable, less daunting.

Interesting… Still not on my Colnago…

The “view” from the top. At least it’s dry!

The horrible, wet winter has meant a spectacular summer of wildflowers in the mountains!

I still can’t even begin to express how amazing it is to do that climb without cars. I felt like a little kid on a playground as I descended, thinking “all this space, just for us to have fun in?!?!” So we took advantage of every car-free minute, and climbed halfway back up, to the point that the smoke started getting thicker. A fun chat with some ride volunteers, and then it was time to head down, and let the cars take over again. A huge thank you to the organizers and to the National Park for making this happen!

After Hurricane Ridge, I had a couple weeks with just commutes, errands by bike, and a couple indoor trainer workouts. Instead, I focused on cross-training via teaching and taking ballet and modern dance classes. In other words, work got busy. But seriously–you take a ballet class, and tell me how your legs feel after. It’s actually quite brilliant cross-training for cycling.

This last weekend, we did one of my favorite training rides. We parked at the turn off for Crystal Mountain, and rode up to Sunrise, back down, and then up Cayuse to Chinook Pass. Hurricane Ridge had been good, but the wildflowers on the way up to Sunrise were more profuse and more colorful than I have ever seen–between the grand vistas and the close up details of the flowers, there was impossibly much to gawk at. Naturally, I didn’t take any photos of this section.

Demonstrating questionable selfie skills atop Chinook Pass

This ride has made me feel cautiously optimistic about how I will fare on this year’s Cinghiale trip. I wasn’t really faster than I have been on this ride in the past, but at the end, I didn’t feel nearly as drained or beat up as I have in the past. (Well, I might have napped on the car ride home, but I think that had more to do with how little sleep I got during the week before…)

This has more and more been the theme of my riding this year. I am doing less than I did in 2014, but on a lot of the same rides, I feel much better, much more capable of carrying on, and not like it is taking every physical and mental resource I have to complete the ride.

Which is good, because the Cinghiale trip will be challenging enough in itself, and I have some goals of my own that aren’t going to make it any easier. And in the spirit of the original purpose of this blog–to keep me honest and accountable in my training for the Alps and Dolomites–I’m going to reluctantly commit to them publicly. Before I’ve done them. Meaning I might have to come back here and eat crow…

  1. I want to ride both sides of the Gavia this year. I made the right decision when I decided not to my first year, but I understand my limits and capabilities better now, and want to ride it the Giro ’88 direction!
  2. I want to ride up the 3rd side of the Stelvio, the Switzerland side. Again, it worked well for my goals not to do so in 2014, but now I want to do it.
  3. So, I’ve done one side of the Pordoi… Yup, now I’d like to do the other.

At any rate, that’s some of what I’ve been up to this year in preparation for the Alps and Dolomites. I wish it were more, but I’m also heartened that, especially as the summer has progressed, these rides have felt so… doable. It was not long ago that they were pretty intimidating. In fact, it was not long ago that some moderate 1 or 2 block rises were intimidating. Now, the question for me is not whether I can get up something, but how much I do or don’t want it to hurt. So, fingers crossed, Alps and Dolomites–here I come!

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Mazama Ride, aka Here We Go Again

It’s happening! I’m doing the Dolomites trip with Cinghiale again–3rd time’s the charm, or something?

So that means I have some riding to do before I get to Italy. Should probably include a hill or two in that riding…

In accordance with the above, I just did the Mazama Ride, an event organized by the Redmond Cycling Club (the same people who do RAMROD. They seem to like mountains. I may have found my people.)

The Mazama Ride goes over the North Cascades Highway from Marblemount to Mazama, where we spent the night at the lovely Mazama Country Inn. (Which was a great place, by the way–I’d gladly stay there again.) The next day–you guessed it–we rode from Mazama back to Marblemount.

The North Cascades Highway has been on my to-do list for a while, and is one of the treasures of Washington, yet I’ve never been over it, not even in a car. Until last weekend–and about time!

One of the things that has kept me from doing this ride on my own is logistics laziness. There are a lot of beautiful mountain rides within a couple hours’ drive of Seattle, and they don’t require the same forethought re: food and water (i.e., the lack thereof on the route) as the North Cascades Highway does.

There’s a good 60 mile stretch (of strenuous riding) between Newhalem and Mazama that has essentially nothing in the way of services. You’re probably ok on water, if you pack a water filtration device or similar, as there are roadside waterfalls and such. (Yeah, I just described a bunch of the amazing scenery as “and such.” One of the dangers of cycling around here is becoming jaded to the natural beauty of the area. It is a burden I must bear…)

Lake Diablo, some of the stunning scenery along the North Cascades Highway

Lake Diablo, an example of the stunning scenery along the North Cascades Highway

Redmond Cycling Club caters to lazy people like me by putting on a supported ride. So instead of having to figure out how to carry 4 water bottles, a lot of food, and so on with me, I just had to carry enough to get me to the lunch stop. And then to the water/snack stop. And then to the water stop. And then I was at the Mazama Country Inn, wearing clean clothes from my bag that RCC had helpfully brought for me.

Yes, this was a lovely way to enjoy the North Cascades Highway, and it involved carrying a lot less stuff (and weight) on my bike than I would have had to carry on my own.

This mattered, because there was a wee little bit of climbing involved in the day. The first day, after a few bumps we had a long climb up to the 4800′ Rainy Pass, then a too-short downhill, and a climb up to Washington Pass at 5400′. By the numbers: 74 miles and 6600′ of climbing. The return trip was also 74 miles (weird, I know!) but just 5100′. Easy day.

I guess I could have done it loaded down with panniers full of food, water, and clothes, but this was way more fun!

Also making things fun was that my dad was crazy enough to sign up for the ride with me. I got an email about it, and forwarded it to him, saying “This should be fun!” He foolishly took me at my word, and signed up too. He then spent a lot of time moaning about being roped into doing the ride–until he proceeded to emphatically show the ride who was boss.

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Day 2 at the lunch stop with Dad–he’s still smiling and willing to stand next to me!

The RCC support made the ride utterly enjoyable (amidst the pain and difficulty that is the attraction of any mountain ride). There is nothing that steep, which means the climbing is eminently doable, and the descending is joyfully relaxing and non-technical. If I had not stopped for lunch and water on Day 2, I don’t think I would have needed to use my brakes until I got to my car.

Watching the ruggedness of the terrain, I was trying to imagine encountering it before the road, and being told “figure out a way to get through that.” The engineering and ingenuity behind the road just boggles my mind.

But miracle of the gentle-grade, not-very-twisty route through convoluted mountain ridges aside, it still isn’t an easy ride. The trade-off of a gentler gradient is a longer climb. After the initial bumps, the eastbound climb up to Rainy Pass is 18 miles of uphill. Not always a lot uphill, but constantly, steadily uphill. That is (for me) a couple hours of constant effort, no chance to coast/rest/catch my breath.

On a related note, one of the people at the Mazama Country Inn who was managing our dinner buffet seemed quite taken aback at how much food we were consuming, and how rapidly we were doing so…

Having not done mountains on back-to-back days yet this year, and having fewer hours on the bike than I would like (that all-consuming new job strikes again), I wasn’t sure how the trip would go. Sure enough, I woke up the second day really not excited about doing a big bicycle ride. Or going up and down stairs. Or getting out of bed, really.

But about 5 miles into the ride, something flipped on–it was like my body said “mountains two days in a row? Oh yeah, I know how to do that” and I started feeling better and better. Interestingly, my dad also felt stronger on the second day, much to his surprise and delight.

A view from the bike on Day 2. Crater Peak off in the distance.

A view from the bike on Day 2. Crater Peak off in the distance.

I’ve done a couple big, challenging rides this year, but this was definitely the biggest and most challenging. I still have a fair amount of training to go before the Dolomites trip (will get to the summer’s plans in another post) but it was reassuring that I could ride pretty strongly through both the days, and more importantly, enjoy myself while doing so. I also have to give credit where credit is due–if I haven’t made it clear enough yet, the ride organizers and volunteers of the Redmond Cycling Club were wonderful, and were instrumental in making the ride so enjoyable. Thank you!

To finish, here’s the only “technical” bit of riding–a fun swoopy turn descending eastbound from Washington Pass.

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 8

And here it was already, the last day of riding. It’s a day of mixed emotions–regret that, despite some climbs feeling like they had stopped the forward progress of time, the trip was so quickly over–and joyful anticipation of being home. And of resting my legs.

The day dawned sunny and clear, the air particularly fresh after the previous day’s rain. The summer sun was misleading–it was cold! The hills were quite lovely with their fresh dusting of snow…

We headed down the river valley for about 10 miles, and then turned up another valley that ran between two ridges. This valley was a little wider, and the ridges clearly defined. It created a beautiful vista that was open enough to see a long ways, yet closed in enough to fit perfectly in your field of vision.

Valley and ridges

And after a bit of a noticeably uphill bit, it became a very gentle slope, astonishingly effortless riding compared to the previous 7 days.  And for whatever reason, my legs felt good, just in time for the ride that made it feel like riding a bike is easy!

Ridge

We supposedly had a deadline of when we needed to turn around in order to get back to the hotel and pack our bikes for the drive back to the last night’s hotel outside of Venice. And that time had passed us by–but so had Gerardo with the van and snacks, and we hadn’t caught up to him yet.

I was starting to get a little anxious, feeling like, as a responsible person, I should be trying to stay on schedule. But upon consideration, I decided that if Andy hadn’t turned us around yet, it was no business of mine, and I should just relax and enjoy the scenery.

So I did.

Some of the scenery available for the enjoying

And, behind schedule but still too soon, we came to the end of the (paved) road where Gerardo had the final spread set out. I miss Gerardo.

Some of the trip’s women–Gerardo kindly offered to help with the photo!

My bike gets a rest while I snack

The ride back down the valley was great. I was floating along the slight downhill, lightly pedaling and going well over 20mph, when one of the guys I had pulled at the end of the Passo delle Erbe ride came whizzing by. His greater mass was an advantage on the downhill, and he invited me to hop on his wheel. The joyride continued, now even faster!

Like last year, I was enjoying my birthday.

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Can you tell that I’m enjoying my birthday?

Claiming the birthday girl’s prerogative of a photo with Andy

The final ride up the river valley went quickly viewed objectively–the day was warming up, my legs felt good, it had been a relatively easy, short ride–so I was riding faster up the valley than I had the previous two days. However, I really had to pee, so there were times that the road seemed unending. (And unnecessarily bumpy…) But thankfully, it was more an annoyance than an emergency.

Back at the hotel, we got our bikes packed up, ate lunch, and loaded ourselves and our luggage onto the bus. The route back towards Venice took us first back through Alleghe via Corvara. I was studying the map, trying to figure out the reasonable route for the tour bus to take that wasn’t one of the narrow, hairpin-filled roads that we had ridden on. It didn’t exist. The ride back was an impressive display of skill by the bus driver, as he maneuvered his way down roads that I had found challenging to negotiate on an agile bicycle.

My view from the bus

My view from the bus

It was another wonderful trip. Though I was delighted to get to ride the Stelvio and Gavia last year–it felt like cycling’s equivalent of a religious pilgrimage–I keep on coming back to how much I love the Dolomites. Getting to explore them a bit more this year was beautiful, challenging, and fulfilling.

Again, I highly recommend checking out Cinghiale Cycling Tours with Andy Hampsten. Andy and Elaine are wonderful people, and they assemble a great team. Gerardo is a national treasure, and Kerri, Richard, and Gianone were both perpetually fun, and extremely hardworking. And the food… So much delicious food!

Kerry and Gianone

Like last year, I hope to return–the finger-crossing has begun.

40 miles, 2,950'

40 miles, 2,950′

 

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…