Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September 10 Epilogue

It has now been 3 days since returning to my real life. Enough time to post a few final reflections.

The return bus trip from Alleghe to Verona was relatively quiet. I presume most were a bit saddened that the week was so abruptly completed. A bit of a shock to get out of the bus in the industrial park neighborhood of the West Point Hotel. We did, though, eventually manage to taxi into Verona for one final best Italian meals of the trip. The proscuto con meloni (sp?) with fig was extraordinarily good. Mark from Chicago, an accomplished foodie, insisted that the waiter bring out the 'good' balsamic vinegar, and when dripped on the fig, I wanted to savor every molecule of taste for as long as possible. However, others at the table were already moving into their pasta course and, if nothing else, the Dolomites taught me that I am certainly not one to be left behind.

As I was abruptly forced back into reality on Monday morning there were many questions from local non-cyclists. Or maybe not the completely non-cyclists, but those that could not fathom why I would ever consider the past week in Italy as a holiday. I mean, all that talk of suffering. I consider this a very legitimate question and one whose answer is not easily described. Firstly, I explain that there is a difference between pain and suffering. When Mark from Chicago crashed in a corner of one of the descents it was painful. When I climb from switch to switch it is not painful, but rather suffering at the upper levels of the possibility scale. I've pondered the question and come up with nothing that is explainable to the uninitiated. I do not claim to understand the draw that the suffering on a bicycle offers but maybe it's simply the sense of physical accomplishment. The achievement of reaching the summit of these Dolomiti passes is concrete. It is certainly not at all about how fast you arrive at the summit, but rather that you arrive at all. Upon cresting, the achievement is not vague or misunderstood. It is right in front of you as you summit. Either you completed the climb or you did not. And maybe that in itself is all there is to understand...

And finally, many who read the blog asked about the numerous references to the 50/34 or 25 or 23. For those readers interested check this link

The trip was all about the superlatives, nothing mediocre, best cappucino, best gelato, best figs, best meal, best climb, best suffering, best friends, all the very best. The blog was an enjoyable effort to chronicle the adventure and to share what I could share.

The compact crank is already off the bike and back in the box, waiting for the next big mountain adventure. It's a bit anticlimatic getting on the bike here in the relative flatlands of Connecticut at elevation 800 ft. The suffering will be familiar, the scenery will again be familiar, but my knowledge and cycling core is forever changed...

Happy trails.

Friday, September 5, 2008

September 05

It's happened. The dream is over. We awoke today to an appropriately overcast sky, more threatening than most. The "B" group left about 9am, planned "A" group departure +/-9:30am. At 9:25am the sky opened and it rained harder than any day of the trip. Andy called the B group back and we would regroup throughout the morning. 11am, still raining too hard, noon, and a bit of brightening, so off to pasta for lunch and 2pm ride. By 2pm the sun was shining. A vaguely organized ride with Andy to the Marmolada. But, Marcella the guide had ridden the Marmolada (the east side of the Fedia) on the rest day and had suggested that he would rather throw his bike from the road than ride the "widow maker" again. Bill and I, along with Ian from Windsor CA, opted for a ride to the Passo Falzerego. A perfectly manageable ride with just shy of 4,000 feet of climbing. Please note how "merely" 4,000 feet of climbing has so easily slipped into to page. This was a great pass to finish the week on, again mostly 8 - 12% climbs with accelerating moments in the 34/23 and 21 and I had good legs. Topped the summit with the obligatory cappuccino and then one final decent. 25K (10 or 11 miles) of fantastic final descent. The Parlee was in it's element carving the final turns chasing some red BMW down the mountain. The last moments were certainly bittersweet, hanging outside the bike garage at the hotel, not wanting to quit the week or the dream. I must have stood with the bike between my legs for half an hour. It was over. We had climbed 42,000 feet vertical and probably a bit over 200 (or 300) miles horizontal, maybe more, in the past 7 days. In retrospect, my imagination was completely inadequate to have considered the scale of the week. I am satisfied. The itch has been scratched.

Now, what about bon jour to the Alps next year?


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sep 4. Quattro passo

OK. Yesterday was the rest day. Just like the grand tours we cyclistos need a rest day. But, following the rest day is to be the hardest day of the tour. I'll give the stats up top. In order, Passo Campolongo, Passo Gardena, Passo Sella and Passo Pordoi. 8,750 feet vertical, 65 miles horizontal and +5 hours in the saddle. This was another fantastico day. The weather was variable, cold and windy at the tops of the passes, which made the cappucino taste that much better. Maybe not the best cappucino ever, but certainly very close. As we climb the passes we dress in straight kit, jersey and shorts, but at the summits we change quickly into whatever we can find, knee and arm warmers, hats, long fingered gloves, windbreaker, etc. because the descents are long and the tops are cold. Today at the summits we sought shelter behind whatever wind breaks we could find. But, this was all part of the 100% climbing the Dolomites. No other way would be expected. The mountains surrounding these climbs are stark, Mars comes to mind, but intensely beautiful. The climbs are tough and long, mostly 5 - 6 miles at 8 - 12%, Heidi's instruction to look up a bit more difficult, but the descents provide an opportunity, if taken, to better marvel at where I am. I am desperately trying to soak all of this experience into my memory. The tops of the passes have become a bit bittersweet, relief to have completed the climb combined with sadness that I have completed the climb. As much fun as the descents are, and they are a blast, it is more difficult to leave the summits this day. Today was hard, without any doubt, maybe not the hardest, but quite possibly. Back to the hotel, dragged myself to my room on the first floor, please, no stairs, just the elevator, and lay on the bed completely spent. I don't think that I napped as much as passed out for 20 minutes. Unbelievably, I awoke with an immediate craving for gelato. Showered and headed for the gelateria, where I met John the guide, thankfully he was equally spent. And the gelato, you guessed, the best ever!

Tomorrow I will complete this adventure. It seems so long ago that we exited the bus at the base of the Stelvio. We'll likely cross the 40,000 feet of climbing sometime tomorrow, thats about 7 or so miles straight up. I'll work on a better analogy later.

Ciao for now.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sept 02, A beautiful day in the Dolomites

Today would be two minor passes in glorious weather, Passo Staulanza and the historic Passo Duran where many years the Giro crosses, minor is only relevant when the comparison is to the Stelvio, though. Staulanza was a pass in much the same character as Monday's, many in your face 10 - 12% sections. Passo Duran was quite different though, even charming, if you can use this description for a 20K climb with extended sections of 12 - 14%. The climb starts with a right turn into a small village off of the descent. We continue to climb on this remarkably narrow one lane road, the first third through more villages. When I can, I'm wondering "what do these people do in these villages?", there doesn't seem to be any commerce. Actually, not much time to think as the pitch stiffens and heads up into the forest. The road remains one lane, at best, but with very little traffic. The views through the trees of the jagged peaks is fantastico. This climb heads from switch to switch, much more to my liking. I only have to concentrate on getting to the next switch, which because of the steep pitch, is not too far, then it's on to the next switch. All I have is to do this for as many switches as it takes. But that is a bit of a dilema. I don't know how many switches it is to the top. 34/25 and standing 23. I have been riding this climb with John from Florence, one of Andy's tour guides. John rides what appears to be a classic commuter bike, but with a 34/27, no clips and straight handlebars. With about a quarter of the climb to go I am a few meters ahead of John. I hear him behind me speaking to someone in Italian. At this point, at the very most, I might be able to utter a ciao, on the outbreath, certainly not more. John comes along side me, he is speaking to his wife on the phone. More intimidation? No. The climb finishes. We all gather at the summit cafe to gather ourselves and put on the descent clothing: arm warmers, knee warmers and vest. Today was a beautiful day in the Dolomites. Thursday will be a bit of an epic day, 115K and four passes. Tomorrow a rest day, and well needed.

Stats: 6,501 vertical, about 45 miles horizontal.

Ciao for now

Monday, September 1, 2008

September 1

Today we moved from Bormio to Allegehe. On the bus, pouring rain as we left Bormio. After about 3 hours we again eventually pull onto the side of the road, somewhere in Italy, and Andy says, "this is it, get your bikes and dressed". We head up the Passo de Costalongo, allegedly a minor pass, about 25K of 8 - 12% climbs. Today's climbs are of the relentless sort. You come around a corner and the climb just lays out ahead of you, you try not to look up because it's disheartening, keep your head down, although Heidi keeps reminding me to look up, but nevertheless I peak, ugh. These climbs might be considered easier, I do not, they are of the hard sort (see the Stelvio post), but they are not nearly as interesting as the Stelvio's brutishness or the Gavia's intimacy. Eventually we stop for lunch at the top of the climb, under extremely threatening skies. The direction we're heading the sky is the gnarly layers of mountain grey to black. However, behind us a bit of blue, and for me, I am assured that it won't rain. Except for 10 - 20 drops, it does not rain. The Passo Fedia is similar to the mornings climbs, relentless. Bill and I ride in the almost fast group, which includes the two of us, so we're mostly inbetween, which is ok. The last section of climb I am seriously wondering why I'm doing this, and I'm desperately looking for the 34/27, again. On the suffering scale the judges give this a 6.8 out of a perfect 7.0. And, as we are approaching the top of the climb Andy comes noodling past, whistling...effing whistling. I couldn't catch the tune because all I really could hear was my labored, mehodical breathing. Oh well, just a bit of intimidation by our host. We stop at the cafe at the top, every summit seems to have a cafe, and Andy springs for cappucinos. No exageration, this was the best cappucino that I have ever ever had. Then a 15K downhill (50mph, until it gives me a scare and I back it off) to the most sublime hotel alongside some unknown lake at the base of the most dramatic jagged peaks that you cannot imagine. I am beat, for today. Tomorrow I won't remember any of the suffering, all I'll remember is the perfect cappucino.

Todays stats...6,500 ft vertical, 45 miles horizontal and about 3.75 hours in the saddle. I think we're now over 20,000 ft vertical. Two more passes on the agenda for tomorrow. I've scheduled a massage for tomorrow evening. Bill suggests that it's not a masseuse that I need but a therapist.

And I haven't mentioned the tunnels in previous posts. Before Saturday I did not know that you need to see the ground to be able to maintain your sense of balance on a bike. Many of the tunnels are pitch black with curves midway. You can figure the rest.

Ciao for now.