On Saturday morning we loaded up Tim and Laura’s Jeep, and at 7:30am, headed south through Austria. The clouds lifted as we crossed the Alps, and the south side of the Italian Alps was bathed in sunshine. The sun held for most of the day, but we finished under a sky of high clouds.
Tim and I had worked out our route via countless emails, and I was quite ready to ride the roads that we had deliberated over in such great detail. We launched ourselves into the wild and ferocious Dolomiti of Italy from the town Ponte Gardena. Tim felt it was appropriate to start our riding together with a climb, which we did. What I didn’t expect (Tim left out this detail) was 5200’ of climbing, culminating in Passo Gardena at the famous Val Gardena ski area, for a total of 20+ miles of climbing! The off and on periods of moderate traffic we encountered during the first 10 miles would prove to be the highest volume of cars we would experience on the entire trip. Our goal was to ride up all eight of the classic 2000 meter passes of the Dolomites, and we had just ticked off our first one.
After a steep descent, next up was Passo Valparola, 8-9 kilometers of steep climbing, with long sections of 11-13%, most near the top of the pass. This was quite a test piece, and it was likely the hardest pass of the entire trip for me. I quickly developed a bonk, possibly from not eating enough on that initial 20 mile climb. I usually try to eat small amounts frequently, but that isn’t always possible going uphill. In any case, it was quite a suffer-fest for me, and I climbed at a crawl on the upper section.
Thankfully Laura was there at the top, as she would be for the entire trip. She was simply amazing, and she worked very hard to make things easy for Tim and me. All we had to do was ride the bike! This 10k/Day Tour would ultimately prove to have all of the advantages of a commercial tour with none of the disadvantages!
Luckily for me I was able to recover from the low patch I had been in, and it was helpful that we didn’t have any major climbing for a while. We joined the Passo Falzarego near the top, and then dropped into Cortina d'Ampezzo, of 1956 Winter Olympics fame. Falzarego and Valparo are two more of the 2000m passes, and if it felt we were cheating a little on Falzarego, I definitely felt I earned the Valparola. In any case, rode up both Falzarego and the Gardena passes the next day from the other direction!
Cortina has a magnificent setting, ringed on all sides by steep mountains. It reminded me a little of Chamonix, near Mt. Blanc in the French Alps.
Next up was Tre Cochi, at 1805m. Not technically a passo, it still felt like one, given that it is 8km long and quite steep with, once again, sections of 10-12%. Maybe it’s not a passo because passos are not allowed to deceive you the way this climb did. Our destination for the day was Misurina, and I figured on a nice descent into town, and this is what we had after the top of Tre Cochi, at least until the final left turn and resulting 12-13% climb up to town!
As the attached photo amply demonstrates, the town of Misurina is incredibly beautiful, surrounded on all sides by stunning mountains. The photo is of the view south across Lake Misurina, and I was reminded of the Canadian Rockies. Thankfully, our hotel featured half board, and we had a wonderful dinner and breakfast the following morning. The first dinner courses were buffet style, and I had two bowls of pasta, pizza, fruit, a few french fries, and various other items I can’t even remember. For my main I had a big plate of spaghetti carbonara, and then there was dessert…I think you get the picture!
My first impression of riding in the Dolomites is that it was hard. The climbs may be shorter than in the French Alps, but the steepness of the gradients makes up for it. Tomorrow was to bring a brutally difficult route in some brutal conditions.
Quality 8 (2 points deducted for traffic during the first 10 miles)