Cycling Italy – The Bucket List Holiday

A Reflection

Stelvio2015

Maratona dles Dolomites

It’s been several months now since I have returned from the 2015 Solo Bike Tour of Italy, and I have to say I am still in awe of the experience. In fact, as I write this reflection, I am proudly looking at two photos of when I was doing the Maratona dles Dolomites. So many highlights are impossible to capture in a short article and it’s difficult to not use too many superlatives to express my feelings and emotions that I experienced during this amazing trip.  As is normal, there is always a little trepidation when you meet a new group of people, which you will be spending nearly two weeks with. However, what quickly became apparent is that all of us were drawn together for the same reason, that is, to experience cycling through one of the most beautiful places on earth. By the end of the trip, we had bonded, laughed and shared emotions of accomplishing things we had never imagined.  There were some amazing cyclists in the group, unfortunately I was not one of those. However, not once was I made to feel as if I was holding them up. Rather, the whole group, including Darren and his guides were inclusive, responsible and fantastic company.

Starting in Tuscany

Tuscany is a wonderful place to start. It provides a beautiful backdrop to scenic but challenging rides and a great landscape to introduce us to vertical meters. I’ll discuss this a little further on in my reflections.  The winery we stayed at was perfect. It was relaxed and the food and wine was nothing but delicious. The evenings were a time when we could share our experiences of the day and share the excitement of what Darren and his crew had installed for us the next day. My normal question would be “So how many meters will we be climbing and what is the incline?”  Anyone can cycle through Italy, but only the lucky ones get taken to a family owned winery and restaurant. There we shared home-cooked food with amazing wine, however, after eating and drinking there was one downside….we had to ride back!

Corvara

After our ‘training’ in Tuscany, we were off to Corvara. Now let me say from the start, I was pretty proud of what seems like now, to be my feeble attempts riding in the Dandenongs. However, as one of my friends can explain, when I saw the sheer size and magnificence of the Dolomites, I was both speechless and terrified! The landscape looked like a movie set and I was as scared as an 8 year old child about to meet his end. The Dolomites were intimating and I went pale contemplating that I was about to start climbing those monsters! However, climb them I did (albeit a little longer than others).

“Passo”

These were seriously big hills. I quickly learnt what a “Passo” is and developed a love / hate relationship with anything that started with the word ‘Passo”.  After settling into the hotel, we were off the next day to our first climb. A lazy 6km, with an average of 7-11% gradient. Now for you reading this, the thing I would like to share with you, is that wherever I rode, I took with me 20kgs of unnecessary luggage compared to my fellow riders. As I explained to them, I explain to you, my body is built for descending, not ascending. However, as the Italian guides explained, “piano piano” which simply means, “slowly slowly”. And so that is all that is required for those of you that doubt yourselves. Slowly slowly you can conquer those mountains.

Maratona – Race Day

Race day arrived and we were up early. I have to say, having pasta at 6am is a new thing for me, but I think I can get used to it. During breakfast, there was this incredible feeling of excitement and nervousness. I for one, had never ridden in a big race so I was almost shaking with excitement, or truth be told, probably fear! This was a big race and a big day.

For me, 4 hours and 36 minutes was enough fun for my first race. There were without doubt, amazing stories to be told by many for the day. Mine pales into insignificance when you hear other stories of determination and perseverance. For example, there was the story of a rider who rode the middle distance of 106km, and over 2500m with broken ribs! That is truly amazing and inspirational stuff.  However, everyone that finished that day finished their own special race and as Darren told me before hand on many occasions, “All you can do is ride your own race!”.

We had one last mission and her name was Stelvio.

Before, going to Italy I had heard about this “Stelvio”. With my Swiss cheese memory, it all most took me a good six months to recognise that Stelvio is to cyclist, what Everest is to climbers (well I’m going to go with that anyway). So from the comfort of our hotel in Castelrotto, we conspired as to when and how we would attack this monster of a mountain. Should I say the others did.

If I had been able to talk I would have too, but I was so caught up in finalising my affairs and my last will and testament. I thought it would be like an old war movie, when the other riders would ride up to my bike and body on the side of the rode and tell my family, when handing them my last note telling them “He did you and himself proud, he got up to the 41st switchback before it beat him”!

That was not to be, but rather, I told them myself. It was perhaps one of my proudest moments of self accomplishment. I really didn’t care about my time, so long as the others didn’t fly back to Australia without me. The feeling of satisfaction, emotions of pride and adrenalin of actually finishing, followed by the emotions from looking around one of the most spectacular places on earth were overflowing not just for me, but I am sure for the others too.

I am certain, it will be a bond the rest of the group and I will share for the rest of our lives – we rode up Stelvio together. We all wrestled our own challenges that day, what ever they were, be it beating our previous times, setting personal records, or simply completing the ride. We all had something to feel proud and feel proud we did.That was the feeling the Solo Bike Tours enabled everyone to share openly and freely with each other. It was a sweet sweet feeling of achievement, victory and inner satisfaction.

See You Next Year!

I can only say thank you to Darren and Kerri for organising such an amazing trip and their amazing local guides, who showcased what fun and loving Italian personalities are. Now, the real challenge is to plant the seed with the family that I want to do it all again next year!!!