Monday, June 30, 2014

Stelvio Pass


I will claim ignorance. As a cycling fan, I am embarrassed. Or I should be embarrassed.

Caitlin Steele, Sonja Schmidt

It was just a few weeks ago during the Giro d'Italia that the Stelvio pass made cycling news for days. The weather was so bad that the Giro either did or did not tell the teams that the descent would be neutralized for safety. The leaders flew down it, everyone else went reasonably and lost chunks of time.

Today, we would climb the famed passo Stelvio. And I knew nothing about it.

James Shanahan

We left the hotel in Moena by shuttle and drove a couple of hours to Prato. Once there, we offloaded at a hotel by an intersection of the roads. Sure hope Trek Travel had permission because we took over all the rest rooms for changing.

Hotel near Prato where we changed clothes

We rolled at out an intersection and I went first this time. I had no intention of being first up the climb and within one hundred meters I pulled over as my spokes were hitting the speed sensor on the fork. Everyone rolled by me as I readjusted the sensor and then rode tempo to catch the back of the group, after also adjusting the bike pump which was being hit by the crank.

The first four kilometers were pretty flat or trending up at one or two percent. Once at the base of the pass the road turned up in a beautiful forest with no idea why lies ahead. It was warm and I was sweating pretty heavily.

Hotel on the lower slopes of Stelvio

Having been last I caught and rode with Caitlyn Steele and Colin Giffney. I have ridden with them quite a bit this week. We chatted without hardly noticing the steepness of the road in the forest. When we went by the Trek Travel guides they were astounded that we were just chatting away. We were supposed to be out of breath.

L-R: Caitlyn Steel, Collin Giffney, Barry Sherry

Colin and Caitlyn stopped at a planned water/rest stop and I rode ahead, passing Bud Hoffacker and Anne Marie Redmond and then caught Chris and Jim Ashton. I've ridden with Chris and Jim quite a bit this week as well.

Near the top of the forest one sees the first sign - Tornanti 48. That is turn or switchback number 48. Only 47 to go. It would be another kilometer before the next turn.

Eventually we left the forest and could see nothing but road and hairpin curves ahead. I tried not to look for the summit but could not help it. It was so beautiful.

Jim and I started using the switchback numbers to talk about what we were doing and where we were living at that age. It made the time go by real fast. We were joined for a while by James Shanahan, our Trek Travel guide and Chris and he rode about 50 meters ahead while Jim and I talked.

Chris and Jim Ashton

Nearing the top we watched two snow plows coming down the road. This morning the road up here was snow covered. But with our two hour shuttle followed by a two hour climb, the road was clear although still wet in a lot of places.

At Turn 3 James stayed behind watching for other riders coming up the road. Chris, Jim and I rode ahead until Turn 1 when I pulled over and made 10 or 12 beautifully packed snowballs. The snow was the perfect consistency for this purpose. I lofted one down two switchbacks below and it landed near James' feet. Then another. And another. He looked up and thought I was trying to throw snowballs all around him. I wasn't. I was trying to hit him but my throws sucked.

L-R: Jim Ashton, Barry Sherry, James Shanahan

One more switchback and I reached the top. It was cold although the Trek Travel van was parked just before the summit and it seemed to be 10 degrees (5.5 C) warmer on this side than at the top or going over the other side.

Lunch was on our own at the top. Although there were two restaurants which offered warm seating inside, James recommended "Richard," an Austrian who sets up a grill and cooks bratwurst. That was good enough for me.

Richard's Bratwurst

Haven ridden up the pass with Chris and Jim, we descended together. On this side there were tunnels. In fact Garmin lost its satellite connection for a while as we zipped in and out of the tunnels.

Both Chris and Jim are excellent descenders and I fell in behind Chris' line. We were flying as we entered a tunnel. It was dark and featured a sharp right-hander followed by a left hand curve at the exit. The eyes did not adjust from snow covered mountains to dark (with sunglasses on) instantly. 

Looking towards Bormio

I followed Chris' blinking rear light as we went wide in the turn. It was wet in the tunnel with snow melt and Chris went wide so I did too. As he recovered and went back to the right side of the road I was still over the center line when a car, with no lights, appeared in front of me. I touched the rear brakes and my biked fishtailed right in front of the car. I adjusted and brought the bike back under control and missed a head on collision by six inches or so. We did not enter a tunnel with speed after that.

Jim and Chris Ashton

There are a number of switchbacks on the Bormio side of the mountain as well although not 48 of them (27?). One of them, as I would discover later, passed within 10 meters of Switzerland and there is a road at another switchback that goes to Switzerland. The border there was about 100 meters away.

We didn't know to stop to visit Switzerland but for me it was a moot point as I will be in Switzerland later in the week. We followed the road to Bormio then checked into out hotel for the night.

Just down from passo Stelvio on the Bormio side

Stelvio Pass is the highest paved pass in Italy. It is a classic climb that, quite frankly, wasn't that hard. Of course, I wasn't racing. But at no point did I think of it as too hard or had to fight myself to keep going. I doubt I get to ride this again but I would love to. It is a great one.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Classic Climbs of the Dolomites


I came to Italy for the Trek Travel trip called Classic Climbs of the Dolomites. I arrived in Milan yesterday, and wasn't too impressed, mostly because everywhere I walked I had to breathe in second hand smoke. It was worse than Heinz Field after a Steelers win.

Train Station Milan

I took the train today to Verona then switched to Bolzano. I met our Trek Travel guide, Sonja Schmidt, at the train station where we were shuttled out to Nova Levante.

After grabbing our bikes, James Shanahan, had us introduce ourselves by offering a safety announcement. I chose watch out for cars, even while off the road, offering up the case Jamie Roberts who was killed June 13 in Kentucky.

As I did we were showered upon with tears from heaven. Lots of tears and it felt good.

I missed an announcement at having an "avid" option and the whole group rolled out as one. We began a 5.5 mile climb, pretty easy. We mostly rolled together. Then we rolled over the top and down a number of switchbacks to Moena and our hotel for the next three days.

This is uphill although it may not look like it

Not much more to say. Met the group. Short ride. Looking forward to tomorrow

Moena, Italy

Monday, June 16, 2014

Royal Gorge



Last year the Day 6 route on Ride the Rockies was to be Salida to Cañon City across Royal Gorge. However, there was a major fire burning and we were rerouted.  

I extended my stay this year for a day to ride the missing portion from last year. Ideally, I could ride point to point from Colotaxi to Cañon City.  But I couldn't pull that off logistically so I did the next best thing. I rode backward to the gorge loop. 

Royal Gorge Train
Last year we were looking at a mostly downhill ride to Cañon City from Salida so I knew I'd be riding uphill today until I turned around. And I started with a seven mile climb. 

Arkansas River from US 50

I passed one entrance for the Royal Gorge Bridge. I kept riding and crossed the Arkansas River. There I saw the second entrance with the sign "Bridge Closed Will Reopen." I stopped at a rafting company and asked if the sign was real. The young lady assured me it was and directed me back three miles, uphill, to the visitor center. 

Sorry Folks. America's Favorite Family Bridge is Closed for Maintenance

Arriving at the visitor center it appeared to be a restaurant. I saw a waitress. I didn't ask anyone for help. I just decided to ride as far as to the gorge as I could ride. 

Fire Damage from 2013 Fire

It's a gorge. My first thought was that I would ride downhill from the summit I had just crested. And the road went downhill at first. But then I was climbing again. A lot. And it made sense. The bridge is at the top of the gorge. 

I saw a closed Gorge Railroad. Also a couple of other boarded up businesses. At the end of pavement was a dirt road to a picnic area. Straight ahead the road looked like it might go to a bridge. But it was fenced off. So I rode on dirt. 

Dirt Leading to Picnic Area and Overlook

Arriving at the picnic area I saw rocks and dirt and a 1,000' cliff. I carefully maneuvered my way down the rocks to a vantage point to see the gorge and bridge. We were high up. We were far away. It was windy. I was wearing cycling cleats.

The Bridge and Gorge from Far Far Away

Today was important to honor Jamie Roberts. Her name was on my calf and I made sure I would get here. No matter what.

Overlooking the Gorge and Honoring Jamie

It was windy. Again. There was a headwind out and a tailwind back. The bike rolled back towards Cañon City. I hit 49 mph but was very uncomfortable trying to push it higher. It was three days since I checked or added air to my tires and I did not have a pump. I thought the tires felt low and I wasn't sure if an under-inflated tire was in danger of overheating and popping. The wind shifted and I was really afraid of pushing it. Riding is fun but I must keep it safe. (Like 49 mph is safe but 50 mph is dangerous.)

Looking Downstream at the Arkansas River

I didn't ride across the Royal Gorge Bridge, and now probably never will, but I saw it from afar. Most importantly, I honored Jamie. 

Royal Gorge Bridge in Background

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Texas 4000



Bradley Allen and I were talking last night about the Texas 4000. When Brad asked if they came through the area I looked and discovered the Rockies route was in Colorado Springs and traveling to Denver. I sent a quick text to Vanessa Beltran on the Ozarks route and she sent me their route. 

Brad Allen

I called Brad and suggested we do a road trip. He agreed. 

We drove to find the Texas 4000. When we did we turned around, at first looking to drive far ahead, park, then ride backward so we could ride with them. As we passed them, Brad rolled down his window and rang his cowbell. The riders were surprised and appreciative. I think. 

Texas 4000

We didn't drive too far - maybe 3-4 miles when we saw the Texas 4000 lunch stop. We parked and introduced ourselves. We were told there were three groups on the road. We had passed the first six riders and rode back to find a group of three and a group of five. 

We set off into a vicious headwind. I followed Brad's wheel but there was no draft. He went hard (I think) and I followed. My heart rate was higher than it had been at anytime climbing the passes. We were at 6,000 feet and maybe that's a good excuse. (I did not have my heart rate monitor and regret that was the one day I didn't. My heart was coming out my throat.)

Brad Allen and Texas 4000 Riders

After seven and one half miles and 30 minutes chasing into the wind I waved down a passing car and asked if they passed the Texas 4000 riders. They hadn't. I thought it was pointless that we continue. I feared the other riders came from a side road that we had passed. I thought they may be at the lunch stop. Or they all ate lunch and were back on the road. We turned around. 

Riding for Jamie

Now we got the tailwind. I was glad to pull Brad. We flew. Brad was stroking my ego by occasionally dropping back and making me ease off. I was hitting more than 40 mph on the flats. It was the wind. 

Legs being photographed

It seemed like it was no time before we were back with the original six riders and today's staff. We met all the Texas 4000 riders. All six that is. I almost immediately noticed most did not have their calves written on. We told them about Jamie Roberts although they knew as Vanessa had shared the message. And they all got to writing Jamie's name on their calves. 

Texas 4000 Rockies Route plus Brad and Barry

We talked. Took pictures. Never could figure out where the other riders were. When it was time to roll out I decided I would ride with them for a little bit. 

Texas 4000 Rolling

The miles weren't long. But the effort was hard and the reward was great meeting the Texas 4000. Seeing them embrace Jamie's memory warmed my heart. Godspeed my friends. 

Packing for Jamie

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Berthoud Pass



Today was supposed to be my redo of Ride the Rockies Day 1. Bradley Allen picked me up at my hotel and we drove out to Idaho Springs for our start. The RTR ride started in Boulder but the Colorado State Patrol closed Boulder Canyon to vehicular traffic on Sunday. We would not have that luxury and best to keep it a safe ride and not ride through there.

Idaho Springs

On Sunday the riders rolled out in good weather with no idea what was ahead. Severely dropping temperatures, wind, rain and snow. Few riders made it over the 11,000 foot Berthoud Pass to Winter Park. Many made the climb but were not permitted to attempt the dangerous descent. And perhaps the majority were stopped at Empire and were told the course was closed. We had no such problem with the weather today. 

Barry and Brad

Twelve days ago I rode with the 4K for Cancer in Pennsylvania. The one rider I rode with on both days was Jamie Roberts. I really liked her. We had stopped in at my sister, Betsy's, house for ice and a bathroom break. I learned this morning Jamie was killed after being struck by a pickup truck in Kentucky yesterday. This hit me hard. Real hard.

Riding for Jamie
Last night while we were at dinner I was reliving my first couple of days with Team Portland and riding in Pennsylvania. I showed Brad a picture on my phone of the 4K when they stopped at Betsy's place.

Jamie Roberts, Betsy Sherry, Barry Sherry, Dan Johnson

Just as I was going to bed I checked Facebook and saw a couple of posts suggesting something horrific happened to a member of the 4K. I messaged Trish Kallis but got no response. I went to bed wondering what happened.

In the morning it became clear when Sarah Eddy posted an article from the Baltimore Sun that a rider from the 4K had been killed. And it was Jamie. I was crushed.

Jamie Roberts
Credit: Jamie's Facebook Page
Brad arrived and texted that he was at the hotel waiting. Through tears I was inside sharing the article on Facebook about Jamie. And when I came out of the hotel he asked if I was OK. Clearly I wasn't. 

I don't think Brad knew she was my friend when he was given a name but when I didn't come out of the hotel immediately and he checked my status update, he knew for sure.

Brad brought a Sharpie and we both wrote Jamie's name on our calves. After parking in Idaho Springs (7,526') we found a couple of cyclists to take our picture. I had been to Idaho Springs once before, if you don't count yesterday. That was in 2007 when I rented a bike at a small store and rode up Mt. Evans. The store is gone, replaced by a Kum & Go.

One of the riders told us to forget our cue sheets and to follow US 40. He was wrong. We started out of Idaho Springs and saw that 40 merged into I-70. It was probably legal to ride on the shoulder but certainly no fun. And not real safe. The RTR directions were marked on the road making it easy to follow. 

The "Original" Hard Rock Cafe
Empire, Colorado

I wasn't prepared for the amount of climbing to Empire and to the base of the climb to Berthoud Pass. And I certainly wasn't prepared for the wind. It was wicked at times and always in our face. 

Last General Store
It was Closed

My mind was consumed completely with Jamie. This was truly a day dedicated to her memory. Riding wasn't fun today. I was consumed with sadness.

Crossing Berthoud Pass

The climb was long but not especially difficulty, especially going as slow as I was. Up ahead Brad had to wait for me. Often. The temperature dropped on the climb. 

Looking back towards Empire

At the summit we took a picture being sure to show our dedication to Jamie's memory. We also discovered we were at the Continental Divide which was a bit confusing to me. I crossed it at Rabbit Ears Pass and thought I crossed back at Loveland Pass. I'm thinking I crossed it one more time at I am unaware of.

Jamie on our minds and legs

Having "lost" the race to the summit I cautioned Brad not to follow me down the mountain if I do something stupid. And off we went. Brad's ultra-skinny body had its advantage in climbing but I roll faster downhill. I took off and eventually waited for him then we rode the lower slopes together. 

Berthoud Pass - 11,307'

Arriving Winter Park we picked up my rental car which I had driven here on Sunday, went to lunch, then drove to the Loveland Pass ski area. We had hoped to ride to Idaho Springs from the ski area for an additional ride and more miles but it turned cold (55) and looked stormy. We hadn't brought cold or foul weather riding gear. 

Looking towards Winter Park
I climbed some big passes and tough climbs during Ride the Rockies. But today's ride was the toughest.