Sunday, July 11, 2010

On the road and trail

Few parts of the world build roads without caring about future use. (I place Spain and Italy in this category.) These are precisely the best places for road cycling. One lane roads with white painted borders meander through the countryside and curl up the sides of valleys and over passes to connect towns. These roads are converted farming lanes not planned highways, with no grade restrictions whatsoever.

I had the privilege to hit up two epic rides on rented road bikes, one out of Riva del Garda and one around the Sella Ronde group of the Dolomites. (I've been prompted to explain what "epic" means to me. For the latter ride, it included four passes for 6000 total feet of climbing with plenty of switchbacks (33 for one of the climbs). The tops of the passes had big fields where paragliders regularly launch. Huge spires of rock provide the backdrop for smooth pavement and the whir of bicycle wheels.... no wonder this is a mecca. I got back in 3 hrs on the dot so that Emma wouldn't worry too much.)

As for the hiking, the area has a network of refugios (cabins of varying size - enough beds for 10-80 people) that also serve dinner and breakfast. It's hard to hike more than 2-3 hours without seeing one. Breakfast includes bread and jam packets and tea or coffee. For dinner we mostly order a small mixed salad, spaghetti bolognese, minestrone soup, and once in a while we splurge on an apfelstrudel. The salads vary in quality since some of these huts are serviced via helicopter. All are positioned with epic views.

In several cases I have been nervous about the trail. The route we are on is famous for sections of "via ferrate" that include metal cables and ladders bolted to the mountain. Rather than being placed generously throughout the route, it turns out these have been reserved for what I see as extreme situations (ie. without them, falling to your death is 50/50 unless you have serious rockclimbing skills/gear/guts).

These sections aside, the trails trace up and over and around ridges and mountains and whatnot. A significant amount of scree and snow crossing requires confidence; the going is easier when one is (purposefully) ignorant of the cliff below. Any bad luck (perhaps tripping on a rock in the trail and botching a recovery) could send one rolling down the hillside. Though my hyperawareness/imagination doesn't help in this case, not realizing the danger you're in seems equally stupid. As far as I'm concerned, the older folks on the trail might be out for their last hoorah.

Some of the trails look worse from afar. In some of the pics, you will note it looks doubtful that a trail zigzags up the mountain side.

We've interspersed a few nights in cities along the way, unable to resist pizza diavola and house wine. They also let Emma rest her legs, especially good since (by my diagnosis) she has some achilles tendinitis flaring up.