Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tough Riding, Inspiring Riding, Good Pizza and Some Thoughts on Travelling and Riding Alone...

Sunday morning there was a race in a small locality named Lenzumo in the Ledro Valley. The way Italian race license rules work meant that I wasn't allowed to enter and race as it was classified as an "amatuer" race (and I am on a UCI license) but I had been in contact with the organiser, Fulvio, and thought I would head up there anyway and maybe help them out by volunteering to marshall or something else that didn't require outstanding skills in the use of the Italian language (something where I could just point or give hand signals would do just fine! I could also probably yell out "Bravo!" and clap and they would be none the wiser). Seeing as I don't have a car, I decided I would ride straight up the Ponale track via Lago Ledro. When I looked at it on the map, I guessed it was about 15-18km and 800m of elevation... A pretty hefty dose of climbing to get the legs and lungs working first thing in the morning... I had no idea how long it would take me and breakfast is on from 7.30am at the hotel, so I busted out a quick brekky as soon as they opened the doors, then was out on the bike not long after.

As I headed out onto the road, it was a bit overcast, but I wasn't too worried because the forecast hadn't mentioned anything more than a shower or two. I planned to make a day of it. Up Ponale, check out the race, then climb a bit further to Rif Nino Pernici, a 1600m high point, to descend some trails back into Riva. As I climbed Ponale, I started feeling a few spots of rain, then by the time I got to Ledro, it was getting pretty heavy. The ride to Lenzumo ended up being about 24km long by the time I took bike path distances into account and took me about an hour and twenty minutes (not too bad for all the climbing and gravel roads) but meant that I arrived a little too late for the marshalls briefing, so after the race started, I headed off behind the pack to do a loop and check out the course. About half way around, I bumped into Fulvio, and after a chat, I got invited to their post-race lunch and continued on my way to the end of the course. It wasn't a very technically demanding course, but there was some good climbing in there, and it was cold... The rain had set in, we were at altitude and it was foggy.

Post-race, everyone was served up with this yummy tart/cake thing and what I think was a honey and lemon drink (not too sure, but it tasted good and was nice and hot, which worked well for me!) and then for post race lunch, we were dished up a feed of pasta (in lieu of the traditional sausages on bread that I am used to!). The presentation/lunch was held in a huge warehouse/shed that looked like it belonged to the local timber mill, full of machines, naked chick calendars and all the rest... They just taped off the dangerous machines with race tape and away we went (if we were in NZ, the department of labour would have had a field day with it!). It was a bit awkward trying to mingle amongst people when I don't speak fluent Italian. For the most part, I can listen to a conversation in context and get the gist of what they are talking about, but to find the right words to string together a cohesive sentence in return is a little beyond my means. Fulvio had invited me to share lunch with them, though, and I didn't want to be rude by leaving beforehand. For the most part, people were really lovely and found a means to communicate in one way or another. It was kinda fun, and nice to be around a local community than amongst the tourist masses.

I decided to change my plans to go up Pernici. The weather was a bit miserable and there would be no views and all the trails would be slippery and wet... Not ideal when you are in a mountainous region by yourself, so I headed straight back to Torbole the way I came, pretty much an 800m descent with a tiny bump in the middle climbing back up through the tunnel. I was freezing cold the whole way back down. I had no feeling in my fingers or toes, and as soon as I hit Ledro, it started bucketing down. Quite often, the Ledro Valley will get rain that misses the lakeside and I was hoping today this would be the case, but as I climbed out of the tunnel, I heard a clap of thunder and it seemed to start raining harder. The Ponale track had turned into a river of rainwater flowing dowm the trail. I made quick work of it in the wet... I just wanted to get back to the hotel for a warm shower. I was surprised to see quite a few walkers out (although they generally had rain jackets and umbrellas... I even saw one guy on a bike with an umbrella... Bizarre). Screaming, wet brakes on a bike are a sure way to politely advise other trail users that you are behind them... The braking also meant I didn't splash water from the newly-formed "river Ponale" all over them!

I arrived back at the Hotel Santiago, much to the relief of Lara at the front counter, who had apparently being worried about me being caught out in the weather (how lovely!)... I pretended I was really cool with it, but in reality, all I wanted was a hot shower!!! I gave the Ninja a bit of a hose down and chain lube and jumped in the shower. When I got out of the shower, the rain was gone and the sun was out. I couldn't believe it! And after being cold and wet all morning and part of the afternoon, I felt absolutely stuffed. I nearly felt guilty holing myself up in my room and wasting a lovely sunny afternoon. To abate my guilt, I spent the afternoon scouring over maps choosing my adventure for the following day... Hopefully the weather would be kinder, but the forecast didn't look great!

I slept with the window open that night. Hearing the rain as I went to sleep was so lovely... Hearing it as I woke up wasn't so great! I took it as my cue to shut my eyes again and have a bit of a sleep-in (it wasn't like I needed to be anywhere!) then made my way down to breakfast a bit later than usual. It was probably a good forced-rest day. I felt a little bit smashed after being out in the cold the day before, and whilst I know I need to get rest, I feel like being in such a beautiful place with such great riding, I need to make the most of it and get in as much riding as I can while I am here! After breakfast, I armed myself with an umbrella and set off for a bit of a stroll, had a hot chocolate (so thick and yummy... It was like fondue!) and then walked around the waterfront in Torbole. The rain had eased off a bit and although places always look stunning with an amazing blue sky as a backdrop, there is also a certain mysterious beauty to seeing the mountains shrouded in clouds. I took a bus trip to Riva for lunch and to get some bike supplies, because it would be remiss of me to spend an entire day without doing something bike-related (the guys at Garda on Bike have some bloody cool jerseys... Must get myself one before I leave!). As I was waiting for the bus back to Torbole, I bumped into Carlo from the bike shop, who made a very convincing case that I should stay for the mountain bike festival this coming weekend... Hmmmm...

As I caught the bus back to Torbole, a patch of blue sky poking its head through the clouds gave me a glimmer of hope that I may get out for a ride after all. It was also a bonus that I felt much better than I did in the morning. I got back to the hotel and kitted up, grabbed my maps and headed downstairs. I had two routes mapped out and asked the hotel staff which one would be most appropriate, given that the trails would be wet and it was already past 3pm, so I needed to make sure I didn't run out of daylight. One of the routes I had picked went up towards Pernici, but instead of going to the peak, I would miss out the most technical pieces of trail (not ideal in the wet anyway) and climb to the 1100m point and drop in on the trail there. Apparently of my two routes, this was the better option, although he did suggest another, more appropriate route, but I was stubborn and had my heart set on one of my own two! Haha! The rain stayed away for the most part, with an occasional sprinkle. Most of the 1100m of the climb was on sealed road, with some gravel road shortcuts. I actually felt pretty strong. I climbed up through a beautiful little town called Pranzo, then Campi. It was so quiet climbing up through the mountains (apart from the goats I saw in a pen on the side of the road that were walking around with bells around their necks), and the views were, despite the weather, still breathtaking.

Not far before I reached the trail head, I came across the San Martino Archeological Site. I was mindful of the time, but I figured leaving myself with over an hour to descend in full daylight was plenty, so I jumped off the road to check out these historic ruins. To my surprise, the trails that led to the site were, in themselves, quite nice and flowy to ride (and there were no signs forbading bikes! Just motorcycles...) I'm no archeologist, but the remains were pretty cool and I was quite impressed at how well-preserved some of the stonework was... A very worthwhile sidetrip!

The climb out and back on to the road was quite steep, but the final 100m of elevation was a pretty mellow, false flat and I chewed through it pretty quickly. It's funny how after Cape Epic, and the trips I have been doing here around Garda, a 1000m climb doesn't seem all that huge anymore... Just an afternoons riding! I was really stoked when I reached the trail head to find a rooty singletrack with nice lines snaking its way into the forest... This was going to be awesome!

I dropped into trail 402 and floated through the forest, down the side of the mountain. There were parts of the trail that were not technical at all and I could carry some speed down and then there were some trickier sections that required some concentration and negotiation. It was so important to watch out for where the fast sections turned into the tricky sections because braking was a very delicate art in these conditions... It was super slippery after the rain, which make it even more fun, but I definately had my share of sketchy moments, especially when I carried speed into some of the sections with smooth rocks (brakes are useless at the best of times on this terrain). I remember one moment when I was sliding down a slippery rock, covered in wet leaves and gave it a bit too much rear brake (in fact, let's face it, I should have had my hand nowhere near my rear brake at that point). The back of the bike fish-tailed around to the right so far that the rear wheel nearly overtook the front (I call this "the point of no return"). Not sure how I got out of that one without a spill, but I threw caution to the wind after that!

I arrived back in Campi and turned off, continuing to follow trail 402. As the forest flashed by me, I caught glimpses of the valley through the trees, and every now and then, the trees would disappear and open up a stunning vista, forcing me to slam on my brakes to soak up the view and take a photo. The first part of the trail was gravel and loose rock and my tyres hooked up pretty well through it so I felt comfortable carrying some speed down there, but the last part of the trail was a steep walking path that had been concreted, and covered with wet leaves it had the potential to be pretty treacherous.

I came across an old battalion station as I headed down and stopped for some more photos. By this time, it had turned into quite a pleasant evening and I was so glad I had gotten out for a ride. The final part of the track was a switchback cobblestone path (once again, bit slippery) and then I made my way back to the hotel cruising along the waterfront feeling pretty damn pleased with myself. I love my bike!

After cleaning up, I headed over to my fav restaurant here in Torbole across the road from Hotel Santoni, and had a huge bowl of salad and a whole pizza to myself... It's a big call, but I reckon it was close to being the best pizza I have ever had... Yummo!

I've been having trouble getting to sleep lately, or finding myself up really late, feeling quite tired, but still not being able to sleep. I don't know why... I doubt it's jetlag (I've been in this time zone since I got to Johannesburg at the start of my trip). Maybe I'm excited about the following day and what cool new stuff it will bring... Maybe I'm nervous about the upcoming 24 hour solo world champs race... Maybe I feel a bit home sick... Maybe a mixture of all three. Don't get me wrong... I'm having such a great time, and meeting such cool people and experiencing such amazing things, but truth be told, sometimes I wish I had someone here to share it with... I will be in an amazing place, or seeing or doing something awesome and I find myself thinking "man, if Dee was here, she would love this" or "Em would have a field day photographing this!" or "I wonder how the crew are doing back at the shop. I can't wait to show them all the photos"... I guess that's why I enjoy spending my evenings writing this blog... Kinda my way of sharing the experience, albeit a little secondhand, and, in a way, spending some time with you guys, even though you are so far away!

24 Hour Solo World Champs aren't all that far away now. I feel good and strong. I go out on my bike and feel like I could keep riding all day (which is a good sign!). I feel strong even when I'm tired. I have no idea what the race has in store for me. My preparation this year has been so different to any other 24 hour race with Cape Epic and all the travel and all the riding in weird and wonderful places in between... But then again, maybe what I have done previously hasn't really worked for me to reach my full potential. Who knows, it may be exactly what I need?! Time will tell... Under a month to go now!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Megan, I am the guy you met last week in the hotel one morning at breakfast. Writing the guide roadbooks for Fabio's Lagobiker.
    My compliments for this blog! Really interesting to read how a stranger sees things. If you have the chance to stay for Bike Festival next weekend, STAY!!! You will not regret and meet manymanymany cool people there. And: there's a race, too...
    Bye, Traian