Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cortina d’Ampezzo (day 2)

As another day dawned with bright sunshine filtering through my window, I woke at 7:30am feeling greatly refreshed with my headache completely gone. I was fully recharged and ready for another day of unmitigated fun, but the burning question was what should I do? I had initially thought I might do two days of via ferrata, but I felt as though I had overdosed on it the day prior so I needed to find an alternative. Luckily I had a backup plan, as I had packed my road cycling shoes, pedals, and kit, and I felt like an epic road ride through the dolomites was just what the doctor ordered to clear away any final remnants of my bleariness from the night before. Over breakfast I mapped out an introductory Dolomites ride, a nice 95km loop that would cover 4 different alpine passes with about 8500 feet of climbing:

I left the Punta parked at the hotel, and walked over to one of the bike rental places. They seemed to be more focused on renting mountain bikes, but I was more inspired to retrace some of the mountain passes featured in the Giro d’Italia so I inquired about road bikes. Luckily they had one of our Cannondale company road bikes in my size (or at least close enough):

I changed into my kit, hopped on my pony and off I went. It was pretty exhilarating to be cruising through the Italian sunshine (much more stylish than American sunshine) on the cobbled streets of Cortina, headed for some amazing riding in the Dolomiti. The experience enhanced even further by the fact that I was resplendent in my replica yellow jersey that I had brought for the following day’s activities, and after I had changed into it in the rental shop the staff had started addressing me as “Aendy Schlecka” (to be pronounced with an Italian accent). Here I am stopped for to make a few adjustments and enjoying the sunshine:

I headed out of town the same way I had gone the prior day, towards the Passo Falzarego except that this time I continued up past the previous day’s turn-off point to the start of the route. The ascent took a little over an hour, as there was a lot of elevation gain and I was trying to pace myself in light of what I had planned for the day. During my ride I made four observations: 1) a lot of people ride motorcycles for fun on the roads through the dolomites, 2) most of them go stinkin’ faster than a bat out of hell and seem to have little to no regard for their personal safety, 3) there seemed to be a direct correlation between the width of their rear tire and how fast they went blowing by me, and 4) oh man does that ever look fun! I found myself briefly wondering if I should have rented a ducati instead of a cannondale, but then I reminded myself that the only time I have ever driven a motorbike was during the testing for my motorcycle license (which I passed, thank you very much) and Dolomite mountain passes inundated with speed-crazed Italian motorists probably aren’t the best place to refresh my memory on how one drives a motorcycle. But next time, for sure!

I soldiered on up the climb, feeling secure in the sentiment that there are certainly worse ways to die than by being run over by a high-powered sport bike while retracing the route of the Giro d’Italia. I finally reached the top, where I paused to take a picture of my pony resting beneath the sign marking the high point of the Passo Falzarego:

I then remounted and headed towards the Passo Valparola, which I soon reach as it is effectively part of the same formation as the Falzarego and is just another km or so and another 300 feet of elevation gain.

From here I started down my first descent of the day, and holy cow was it ever fun! The switchbacks are amazing to ride, they are all banked so you can really lean into them and the roads where in great shape unlike many of the high mountain roads in North America which are not well maintained. I even managed to pass another cyclist on the descent (a real Italian cyclist!) which was a good feeling even though he was probably about 50 years old. It was pretty fun to yell “Ciao!” at all the cyclists who passed in the other direction, everyone seemed really friendly (or maybe they were just humouring the maillot jaune). I stopped to eat a peach at the conclusion of the descent, and then passed through a few more small towns before starting the next ascent to the Passo Campolongo. I passed a few other cyclists on this climb, and halfway up I was passed by a Liquigas team car which was pretty awesome but I wasn’t fast enough to get my camera out. This climb wasn’t as long as the previous one, and before long I was at the high point:

By this point I was pretty hungry, so I stopped to refill my water in a café at the summit and ate the leftover pizza from the night before that I had stashed in my back jersey pocket. It was quite hot out, so the sun beating down on the pizza coupled with my body heat as I sweated my way up the climb had an effect similar to warming the pizza up in the microwave, and it tasted pretty good as I sat by the side of the road. Bene! I then started down the next descent, which dropped down into a valley that I had driven through on the way to Cortina d’Ampezzo two nights prior. Here is a shot of one the switchbacks, from the angle of the upper guardrail relative to the road below you can get a sense of how tight the corners were that the switchbacks wrapped around, well over 180 degrees, so awesome!

I continued along my route, stopping at one point at another café to drink some juice and eat an entire Ritter Sport chocolate bar. I didn’t really feel like eating the entire thing, but felt like I had no choice because it was so hot out that any remnants would have melted in about 30 seconds in my jersey pocket, dripping out of the packaging and soiling the golden fleece. I also would have liked to have had an espresso, but sadly it was too hot for that and I felt like I needed to retain fluids rather than start peeing more out. Here is a shot looking down from the roadside café’s patio into the valley below (it was partway up an unnamed ascent):

I then continued on to the base of the final ascent of the day which also happened to be the biggest, the climb up to the Passo Giau. By this point my energy levels were starting to fade, probably a combination of the previous day’s exertions, the oppressive mid-day heat, and the fact that I was on the tail end of a 95 km ride with 8,500 feet of climbing. As I started up the climb it seemed noticeably steeper than the others, and I soon happened upon a sign informing me that I had 29 switchbacks to ascend before reaching the top:

I soldiered on, but as I progressed up the climb I could feel the heat really starting to affect me, as I stopped twice to recover a bit in the shade and each time I stopped I would feel a bit faint (probably as my heart rate dropped rapidly, allowing my blood pressure to drop further which was probably already low since I don’t think I had been drinking enough) and start to shiver a bit, which is not normal when it is 35 degrees C and sunny. The only other times I have felt like this on the bike was the first time I climbed Little Cottonwood Canyon after moving to Salt Lake City (I had wisely decided to do that ride at 2:00pm on a hot July day), and during the final climb of my Canyon master birthday challenge in Salt Lake City. Oh well, if there is one thing I have learned it is that the worse you feel during a ride, the more fun it seemed after the fact. Secure in this knowledge of immense pleasure in store for me after the ride I continued to grind my way up the climb. Near the top two Italian cyclists passed me headed down in the other direction, and one of them yelled “Vai, vai, vai!” (“Vai” is Italian for “go”) as he went flying by, and this gave me the fortitude to put in one final burst and propel myself up and over the top.

The view from the top of this pass was the nicest of any that I had been through so far, with lots of rugged mountains laid out below:

I continued down the descent which was the most technically demanding of any that I had come down, making for some exciting riding. I finally rolled into Cortina and headed straight to the rental shop where I returned my bike and the employees bid goodbye to “Aendy Schlecka”. I then walked back to the hotel (stopping for a recovery gelato along the way, of course), where the worthy Punta was already loaded up and ready to go.

I had used google maps to determine the most expedient route back to Milan (which was drastically different than the one I had taken on my late night drive to Cortina), so I headed due south towards Venice to pick up the A27 before continuing west on the A4. I had finished my ride around 4:30pm and departed by 5:00pm, so with the expected minimum drive time of 4 hours and 30 minutes I should get getting into Milan with enough time to catch some decent sleep before my early flight to Barcelona the next morning. You might think that 10+ hours of driving is a lot for less than 2 days in the Dolomites, but to that I would say “Worth it!!!”. I drove straight through with no wrong turns, and with only one stop for gas and a panino I made it to Milan Malpensa Airport where I was dropping off the rental car by about 10:00pm.
After parking the Punta and dropping the keys off inside at the rental agency counter, it was time to make my way to my hotel, which was near the airport (in anticipation of my late arrival and early flight out the next day). I had a vague memory of a free hotel shuttle to and from the airport, but since it was late and I was tired I decided to just take a taxi. I showed the taxi driver where I wanted to go, and he kindly called the hotel for me and arranged for the free shuttle to come and get me. This was my first experience with an Italian taxi driver, and I was really impressed!

I then waited for the shuttle, and finally made it to the hotel at 11:00pm. After checking in, I asked the hotel clerk about getting a shuttle back to the airport the next morning, informing him that my flight departed at 7:10am. He suggested that I take the 6:00am shuttle, and assured me that it would leave plenty of time to catch my flight. I was a little hesitant, and asked him if he was sure that the airport wouldn’t be busy at that hour. His response was (translated from broken English) “At 6:00 in the morning? Don’t be ridiculous! Nobody gets up that early here!”. I thought to myself “Okay, Italians know best”, and headed up to my room.
I had a much-needed shower (removing the many layers of salt, sweat, and dust that I had accumulated during my epic 6 hour ride in the Dolomites), and then spent an hour organizing and packing for the next day’s flight. I finally climbed into bed and dozed off just before 1:00am.

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