Friday, August 11, 2017

The Hardest Thing

I've always been fairly honest and open on my blog, so here goes: I'm done some challenging things before, but yesterday's ride stands out. It may not have been the most challenging - I think of my first ride up Mont Ventoux, of an aborted ride up to the Col de la Croix de Far in the French Alps, of the two marathons I ran, of a particularly challenging day on my first bike tour in Corsica - but yesterday's ride up to the Albula Pass (pictured above) definitely ranks. And at the time I was doing it, it definitely seemed like the hardest. Physically as well as mentally.

Near Lenzerheide

We left Lenzerheide at 8:15, setting out early to try to beat forecasted thunderstorms at our next destination, Zernez. The first six miles were a fun descent, but after that, things changed.

Not far out from Lenzerheide

At first, the climb was gradual, not bad at all. But then it became steeper. Soon, I was riding by myself, my companions with stronger legs surging on ahead. At one point in a gorge, I pulled over for a breather and decided this was be a good spot to spread some more of Mark's ashes in the steep canyon below:

After four more kilometers of 9.0 %+ grades, I arrived at the town of Bergün, where I caught up with my riding partners. It felt good to have a bit of a rest before continuing on the 14 remaining kilometers to the pass. I didn't know beforehand that the grades would range from 7.0 to  9.0%, steadily, for the duration of those 14 kilometers, with about half the distance at over 8.0%.

In Bergün, not realizing what awaited me

Those kilometers were a little bit of purgatory for me. I pulled over a number of times for a breather. There were several times when I frankly thought I wouldn't be able to make it. I felt very alone. I couldn't see any riders ahead of me or behind me. I was alone.

It was a time that I keenly missed Mark. I'm going to be honest: this trip has been more of a trigger than I thought it would be. I miss Mark keenly, and never more so than yesterday morning. I missed the camaraderie I used to feel when I rode with him. I missed his encouraging voice. I missed being able to bitch to him about hard the climb was. And all of this made the climb I was on all the harder.

The one good thing was that the skies cleared as I ascended, and the surrounding peaks came into view. It would have been ten times worse if it had been raining.

Finally, what I assumed to be the pass started to come into view. The absence of trees is always a good indication, along with the appearance of the saddle formed by two peaks sloping downward to each other. I knew the support van would be parked at the top, and that thought propelled me forward. I was running out of water, and I was soaked through with sweat. I was looking forward to getting some food and drink into me and warming up a bit before beginning the descent on the other side of the pass.

I saw some flags. Hope soared that this was it. It wasn't. There was more climbing to do. Eventually, I could see some more flags. Surely that was it. It was. I was relieved to get off my bike. Someone directed me to go inside and warm up and get something to eat and drink. I did. But seeing all of my compatriots - who had arrived some time before me or who hadn't done the ride but had ridden in the vans - chatting and laughing and drinking coffee and getting ready to go, was terribly demoralizing. 

I sat waiting for someone to take my order. I raised my hand at one point and was brusquely told that it wasn't my turn. Screw this, I thought, I'm just going to get something from the van and get back out on the road. I was hoping to ride with the others because I didn't want to ride alone again.

But during those few minutes, the weather had turned. The skies had clouded over and the temperature dropped. On the way to the van, parked some 50 yards away, I started to shiver through my very damp undershirt, cycling kit and jacket. In a matter of seconds, I was on my way to hypothermia and was directed by the tour leaders to get into the van to warm up. The shivering had devolved into shaking. I made the decision to skip the descent and ride in the van on to our destination. 

It was a good decision. Even though I was wrapped in every available jacket in the van, it took a good 10-15 minutes for me to finally stop shivering.

26 miles. 4600'. That's what my ride ended up being (which brings me to about 100 miles and about 11,000 feet for the past three days). I was sorry to have missed the descent, but proud of myself for having made the climb. I learned some things. I gained some experience.

Meanwhile, today is another day. We're being ferried in turns in the two support vans to Bormio, Italy because the weather conditions on the Stelvio Pass, which we were scheduled to ride today, are terrible. The good news is that the weekend is supposed to be nice.

1 comment:

  1. Here's hoping to the weekend and better weather for you!! You are amazing, me? I'd have walked the entire ascent, I'm afraid. 😋