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…

 

 

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 4

Following the intense effort of Sella Ronda day, it was really nice to have a day off.

Oh, ha ha, just kidding. We recovered from our previous day’s efforts by biking up the Passo Giau, with its long stretches of 10% or higher grade. It’s a Really. Hard. Climb. (Yes, the whole trip was full of Really. Hard. Climbs. but the Giau still sticks out.)

I am not naturally suited to sharp sustained pitches like the Giau, but I’m getting better at them. And I really like the Giau for some reason. Last year I started the climb with an upset stomach, and as I got higher, my stomach got better, until I was suffering from euphoria at how wonderful and easy it was to bicycle up steep grades. Completely deluded, but I had fun.

This year, I started the day feeling good (meaning exhausted, stiff, sore, but not about to hurl), and so was suffering from the euphoria of how wonderful the opening sections of the climb felt when I didn’t feel in imminent danger of losing my breakfast.

And for the second year in a row, at the top the Giau was a climb that I felt awesome about, in complete disregard for the actual facts of the situation. It’s really hard, and I suspect I was annoyingly cheerful.

See, annoyingly cheerful!

To be fair, like all the climbs on the trip, the Giau is really scenic. There are wooded sections, streams and bridges, switchbacks that allow you to peer down to your previous location and admire your progress, and then an open grassy expanse to the top. This last section is just as unrelentingly steep as the rest, except that you can see farther, and it keeps looking like the roadway just a little ahead lets up. But it doesn’t. It’s just cruel–but yet I have loved it both times I climbed it.

The view

More of the view

The delightful thing this year was that I knew the next climb, the Passo Falzarego, would be almost laughably easy in comparison to the Giau. And though there was no extra credit offering this year (something I had particularly enjoyed last year), there was a very good reason for it: food.

Specifically, halfway up the Falzarego climb, we took a chair lift up to the Rifugio Scoiattoli in the middle of the Cinque Torri (Five Towers–named for the rock formations) for lunch. Because where else would you expect to find a gourmet restaurant than in the middle of the mountains in a place accessible either by hiking or taking a chairlift?!?

Seriously, Italy is amazing.

(Side note: as much as I love bicycling on Mt Rainier and other places, it is a serious bummer to get back home, cycle up a mountain pass, and then look around wistfully for the friendly rifugio with espresso, food, even a bed to sleep in. The Italian system of a rifugio at the top of every pass, and then also sprinkled through the mountain linked only by hiking trails, is one of the great achievements of civilization.)

The chair lift from the top

So we got to the chair lift, where–luxury of luxuries–we even changed out of our sweaty bike clothes and into the street clothes that we had stashed with Gerardo in the van, rode up (just stopping to ride the chair lift would have been worth it–it was a beautiful ride), and proceeded to eat a huge, delicious lunch. I have been lucky enough to have had many delicious meals in my lifetime, but I have never had one that combined the meal with such natural beauty. It was an amazing experience.

Some of the lunch environs

Lunch view in a different direction

Then we had a little time for some exploration of the area, including the open air World War I Museum. Because the terrain is so dramatic and rugged, the views are breathtaking (and rock climbers flock to the spot). It is astonishing and horrifying that this was also a battle front–they had cannons trained on the Austrian emplacements on the next hills over.

A restored WWI bunker

In WWI, this was a view across to the Austrian army

Eventually we rode the chair lift back down to the van, our sweaty bike clothes, and our bikes. Just a little uphill, then a really fun descent was all that stood between our very mellow wined-and-dined selves and a post-prandial nap at the hotel. Though last year’s extra credit on this day was a fabulous experience, this year’s lunch was a trip highlight too.

One last note–I was taking it easy down the descent, when Andy zipped by in order to get to an upcoming turn before the rest of us, to point us the correct direction. I have followed his wheel before down a descent, and marveled at how much faster I could go with ease when following his line and body language. But that was Andy in “keep it mellow” mode. This was Andy in “I’m a former pro cyclist who wants to get somewhere in a hurry” mode. I kept up for a couple turns, kept him in sight for a couple more, and then he was gone. That was cool.

41 miles, 6,250 feet

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 3

Well, that was an unintendedly long cliffhanger from the Day 2 write-up–my job got a bit all-consuming. Wonderful, but all-consuming.

Anyway, when I left off over a month ago, I was preparing for Sella Ronda day, and hoping that I would fare better with it than I had the previous year.

The weather was much more auspicious–a decent temperature, and more importantly, no insane wind. We got to the Serrai di Sottoguda, the path through the narrow gorge that is now a park, where last year I thought to myself “sign me up for next year.” This time I was prepared, though all I can say is that the pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice.

Serrai di Sottoguda

I wasn’t the only one stopping for photos

Many sections of the Serrai are double digit gradients, but you don’t notice–you’re too busy gawking and exclaiming over the beauty of it.

It’s Italy–there are shrines everywhere. I really love that.

But, nothing lasts forever (even if some climbs feel like it), and we eventually emerged onto the main road to start the Fedaia climb proper (as opposed to all of the other climbing we had done to get there, which apparently didn’t count.)

To my initial delight, the wind was not blowing like mad! I was able to stay on my bike without fear of suddenly being blown to the other side of the road, or even blown right over! But as I rode, I was noticing “this part is really hard, I don’t remember it being this hard… Oh right, I was walking this section last year.”

So the improved weather was a mixed blessing. I did what I knew I was capable of, ride the whole climb, but boy was that an even harder climb than I thought it was!

At any rate, as difficult as it was, it was an improvement on the previous year when I thought I was in over my head and didn’t know, given the wind conditions, whether I’d make it through the day. My mental state this year was also improved by the fact that the pass wasn’t freezing cold–last year I thought I’d never be warm again.

See how happy and not-cold I was at the top of the Fedaia! Shorts and short sleeves!

After some snacks–including the Tuscan tomatoes–I was feeling pretty chipper and ready to go. And this time I made sure to actually look at the lake and glacier on my way down.

Lago di Fedaia

Getting arty with the Ghiacciaio della Marmolada

At this point, I don’t have tons to add about the ride from last year’s two part write up. This year, we had lunch partway up the second climb (Passo Sella), instead of partway up the third (Passo Gardegna), which changed the rhythm of the day a little. But the day is still a magical experience of an incredibly hard climb, and then everything getting progressively easier from there, until you think you’re pretty awesome at this bicycling uphill thing.

The view behind me is pretty spectacular, but the food is the other direction. Notice which way most people are facing…

I rode different parts alone or with people than last year, which made the same ride new. The comradery up a climb when you find someone of a similar pace can be really special–yet being alone to look around and wonder at the beauty that surrounds you while riding at your own whim is also its own delightful experience.

From Passo Sella

“The Road goes ever on and on…”

Sella Ronda day is really special–it holds so much of why I love this trip and love cycling: challenge, fun, beauty, food, freedom, accomplishment, fellowship–the List goes ever on and on…

60 miles, 8,150 feet

60 miles, 8,150 feet

 

Dolomites 2015, Day 2

So yes, I love bicycling in the Dolomites, but perhaps what I have talked about the most (in fact, it came up in conversation just a couple days ago) are the tomatoes that Gerardo brought from Tuscany. Heaven.

On most of our rides, there would be a stop where Gerardo would slice up a bunch of these Tuscan tomatoes, press them into pieces of bread so that their juices infused the bread, and then drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt over it all. This was one of the most delicious things I have had to eat, on or off of a bike.

I lead with this because Day 2, with Passo Duran and Passo Staulanza on the itinerary, was the first day that rated a food stop serious enough to bring out the tomatoes, and thus give us a pretty powerful incentive to get to the top of every remaining climb on the trip.

And yet–as significant as this event was, it was just one of the highlights of the day.

The day (pretty much the same ride as last year) started with an easy spin down the river valley out of Alleghe. It was a section of road that brings out the luxuriously glorious side of cycling–not so downhill as to require braking or lots of attentive caution, but enough downhill to flow with ease and delight around the many curves of the road.

It’s hard to beat the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment of reaching the top of a hard climb, but the intoxicating delight of roads like this comes pretty close.

So I was loving the motion and flow of the road, and the rhythm of leaning one way and another into the curves. I was also noticing that Andy was behind me, and that it was perhaps a good time not to do anything particularly boneheaded on my bike.

That’s when I heard “You look at one with your bicycle, in case you were wondering.” from behind me.

BWAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! ANDY I-WON-THE-GIRO-D’ITALIA HAMPSTEN COMPLIMENTED ME ON MY BICYCLING!!!!! AGAIN!!!!!

In a moment of complete genius, I managed not to fall off my bike or crash or do anything particularly boneheaded. I might have even managed to say “Thanks!” (But honestly, I don’t remember…)

So, anyway. There was that, which made the day nice.

And then we hit the climb to the Passo Duran, which was still hard. But this year I knew I could do it. And despite being familiar with it, I was pleasantly surprised by the part at the top that levels off a bit, and rolled up to the van feeling pretty good. Whereupon Gerardo promptly took charge of my bike as I was looking for a spot to lay it down, and gently leaned it up against a post. As for the van… There were tomatoes… Sigh.

Gerardo continues to like my bike and take good care of it!

The descent from the pass is really steep, with lots of tight turns–it’s a descent for caution (and hoping you don’t overheat your rims) rather than swooping joy. This year was at least made a bit more entertaining by Gianone splashing some water on his disc brakes at the bottom so we could hear them sizzle.

This descent ends (and ascent to Passo Staulanza begins) in the town of Dont. The jokes and wry comments never get old. It really is a moment that makes you reconsider/laugh at your decisions in life that led to you spending your vacation climbing mountain passes in the Dolomites.

I’ve heard that the beach can be nice in the summer, for example.

Like last year, my legs were not thrilled about starting a second climb, but this year I was ready for that. And, as it turns out, the start of the climb is steepish, so it’s not entirely me being a wuss that made it seem difficult.

Unlike last year, I knew when I got to the switchbacks that I was pretty near to the top, and felt pretty chipper about that fact.

Like last year, I neglected to get any photos of the Passo Staulanza. I’m pretty awesome that way.

It was a delightful day, and I enjoyed it all the more for having done it before.

Since I don’t have any of the Staulanza, here’s another of the Duran, with the road that will take us to the Staulanza stretching picturesquely away…

Two days in, and I was so happy to be back. I was also happy that the weather forecast looked really good for our return to the Sella Ronda the next day. After walking part of the Passo Fedaia last year, I had some unfinished business I wanted to take care of.

But first, the hotel, food (and more food), and more views!

More of the view from my room in Alleghe

44 miles, 6,100 feet

44 miles, 6,100 feet