Wednesday, July 23, 2008

European Cycling -- Monday, June 16

Selva di V. Gardena (Wolkenstein)-Passo di Sella (2213m)-Canazei. Drive to Prato allo Stelvio (Prato allo Stilfserjoch)

11.47 miles
Climbing 2437 ft

The Dolomites look like no other mountains I have ever seen. The shape, the color, the steepness, and the lack of foothills enable one to feel so close to the rock walls themselves it’s as if you could just jump off of your bike and start climbing. The steepness allows the road to be very close to towering rock walls, and stupendous views are everywhere in all directions.

All contained within Italy, the Dolomites are part of the area known as the Tyrol. This area is home to many of the world’s most famous alpinists, including Reinhold Messner, who was born here, and still lives in his private castle atop a hill. Messner is arguably the most talented and audacious mountaineer of all time, and was the first to climb the fourteen 8000m peaks of the Himalaya, all without supplemental oxygen. In fact, he was the first climber to reach the summit of Everest without oxygen, and the first to solo it, via a new route from the Tibetan side. He and his girlfriend were alone in their base camp, and there were no other human beings for many miles while he was on the mountain. Talk about commitment! I was to draw upon this knowledge as motivation during many of the steep climbs of the Dolomites.

This part of Italy is as much a part of Germany and Austria, and many natives speak German. Many of the towns and passes have multiple names, and I have listed two names in several instances. German food selections are common in restaurants.

It seems that I have been dubbed “Dr. Dolomite”, since it seems like I look like a doctor after I remove my helmet, and am wearing only the white skull cap I use to absorb perspiration.

We left the hotel in a cold drizzle (skull cap not required) with Laura ahead of us in the car. In the prior two days, we had ridden the Gardena Passo twice, once in each direction. Since Wolkenstein was down valley from the Gardena/Sella Passo junction, we now had to retrace part of the western approach to the Gardena. We didn’t have a choice (other than the unacceptable one of getting into the car), as there were no accommodations near the junction.

So after 1150 vertical feet of steep climbing, we reached the junction, having done roughly 40% of the western side of Gardena before we even reached the day’s first objective. As it turned out, this “bonus” climbing was a good deal for us.

It took us only another 1300’ of climbing to reach the top of Sella Pass, and the whole way up I was thinking that it was good to be going uphill, since without the effort required to overcome gravity, I would have been freezing cold in the steady rain and wind that enveloped me as I rode. But of course, what goes up…and I would shortly be freezing.

On top it was 36 degrees and the rain had morphed into sleet as we scrambled to throw on all of the winter clothes again. We started down the long steep descent to Canazei, being ultra cautious as we steadily got more chilled.

I was in front as we approached the town, and I pulled over under a protective overpass. I looked over at Tim and said, “I’m done with this.” No argument from Tim, and we scrambled to get the bikes loaded, so we could jump into the warm car.

We would be skipping the rest of the riding we had planned for the day, and that was sad, because it contained some very famous terrain. From Canazei, we had planned on a big loop, taking the Passo Fedai (2057m) to the Marmolada Glacier, and then after the Col di Rocca, climbing and descending the huge Passo Pordoi (2239m). After returning to Canazei, the plan was to climb Passo di Costalunga (Karerpass), before descending all the way to Bolzano. It would have been an epic day.

I really wasn’t disappointed, and really didn’t mind riding in the rain, but I was ready to get in the car. The rest of the day’s scenery would have been invisible, and it would have just been going up/down for the sake of up/down, and there would be plenty more of that. Adventure is important, but safety is paramount.

We didn’t ride all eight of the famous 2000 meter passos of the Dolomites. But we did ride several more than once, and I can’t say I was disappointed. As I mentioned before, it will give me motivation to return to this stunning area. Tim and I tried to console ourselves with the knowledge that the day’s short climbing day was really a “rest day” that would better prepare us for the next day’s challenges.

Cortina or Canazei, or perhaps one of the smaller villages, would make a perfect “base camp” for a stay of 5-7 days of world class cycling, hiking above tree line, and rock climbing. I shall return, and hopefully I will get to share it with Tracy.

Given the weather conditions at 7000’, we were starting to wonder what it would be like at over 9000’ on the Stelvio and Gavia. It was all supposed to turn gorgeous by the time we get to Lake Como for some rest, but that would not help us on the monster day we had planned for tomorrow.

Difficulty 6
Quality 5
(let’s face it, it was cold and miserable)

Route NA
(didn’t really see it!)
Scenery NA (ditto)

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