The toughest 16 mile ride I have ever done

All smiles and giggles at 10:00 am.
All smiles and giggles at 10:00 am.

I am really glad that I changed the gearing on my touring bicycle. I was using every gear-inch available for the second half of the ride today which had sustained sections of 13%.

Last night’s camping was great. We got on the road and purchased some groceries in Prata, then began pedaling uphill to Stelvio Pass. We were all smiles for about 45 minutes. When we got to the first hairpin turn, #48, we were figuring about 4 or 5 hours to summit.

Tom and Ginny on the gentler, lower approach.
Tom and Ginny on the gentler, lower approach.
We were climbing up to the snow above tree line.
We were climbing up to the snow above tree line.

Stelvio Pass was constructed by the Austrians in the early 1800’s and the route has barely changed. Our starting point was Prata at about 5,000 feet. Stelvio tops out at over 9,000. Early on, one of us said “Do you think it will get any steeper?” We had no idea.

There is no relaxing on the Stelvio. At this point I am wondering how I am going to get up there.
There is no relaxing on the Stelvio. At this point I am wondering how I am going to get up there.
My first up-close encounter with snow, at turn #17
My first up-close encounter with snow, at turn #17
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This guy was photographing the hundreds of motorcycles enjoying a Sunday day on the Stelvio.

Neither Tom or Ginny have a triple crank. We all have heavy loads. Tom was making sure Ginny was OK and that his marriage was still intact. I continued up the hill at the lame pace of under 3 miles an hour. If I could get far enough ahead, I would be able to get some great shots of Tom on the switchbacks.

I didn’t start hurting (although I was suffering) until about turn #27. I know that because I stopped and took a photo of it. I had not seen Tom or Ginny for over an hour and at this point I was in “every man (and woman) for themselves” mode. I think the altitude may have been a factor also.

The Giro d' Italia had a mountaintop finish on the Stelvio this year.
The Giro d’ Italia had a mountaintop finish on the Stelvio this year.

The higher I got the more often I stopped. By turn #10 I was stopping at each corner. At one point I was slumped over my handlebars slurping in oxygen. The last three turns were mercifully closer together and I stopped at turn #1, took the last sip of four large water bottles, and waited for my companions.

Before too long, using the 30x zoom on my camera as binoculars, I spied Tom approaching turn #11 and then he stopped, probably waiting for Ginny, I thought. I spotted him because of the bright yellow duffle bag that both he and Ginny carry on their trailers. Another cyclist approached but I didn’t think it was Ginny as there was no duffle bag.

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My first glimpse of Tom in a couple of hours.
Tom approaching turn #1.
Tom approaching turn #1.
I was flabbergasted when I realized what he had done
I was flabbergasted when I realized what he had done

As they got closer I realized that it was indeed Ginny but her duffle bag was missing. I surmised that they found a pleasant local Italian to bring it up to the top. With each hairpin turn I watched and then realized the impossible; Tom was carrying two duffle bags! He is hardcore.

Ginny recovers at the top of the pass.
Ginny recovers at the top of the pass.

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The he motorcycles were like a swarm of horseflys. Four, six, a dozen at a time, slowing to walking speed on the corners and then opening the throttle fully until the next turn.  They pass slower cars, often squeezing  between oncoming traffic. The noise is nerve wracking. The Stelvio closes to motorized traffic on one day a year and thousands of bicyclists show up – in August.

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13 thoughts on “The toughest 16 mile ride I have ever done”

  1. I am so glad you all made it up to the Stilfserjoch. Tom, you are great. And, thanks, Neal for the technical details of the pass, confirming my aversion against trying it on bicycle. Best wishes. Volker

  2. Neal:
    Great story as usual. Pat and I are following along and look forward to more installments. Have fun (?) be safe.

  3. Bravissimo, Neal
    Hope you were handed a couple cold PBRs at the summit.
    Ask if you can sleep in an oxygen tent to recover!

  4. Better you than me! I can’t imagine biking up that with a road bike, much less fully loaded. Kudos to you, Tom and Ginny.

  5. Double load on a double crank? Yea, REALLY hard core!
    Hope all your border crossings are peaceful and don’t require a financial disclosure.

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