Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Stelvio - The Grand Finale

For years, Raja has dreamed of climbing the Stelvio. It's THE climb of the Giro d'Italia, the Alpe d'Huez of Italy. Tucked precariously in the northwestern tip of Italy snug up to Switzerland, the Stelvio is definitely off the beaten path. It takes some effort to get here, and this was the year we would make that effort.

Serendipitously we were there on his birthday. Our hill seeking friends, Becky and Jeff, were living in Zurich. We had tried to coordinate a trip up the Stelvio with them the first weekend of our trip, but it just was not working out. The weather was dismal at the pass, delaying our dreams for the perfect vacation.

Raja diligently monitored the weather daily as each passing day slipped through our fingers. Ah! Our window of opportunity looked to be appearing for the last few days of our trip. We got in touch with Becky and Jeff. "Do you think you can make it on Saturday, the 8th?" Yes! They can. Alright!!! Things were looking up.

It was a beautiful 1.5 hr drive from Castelrotto to the meeting point. Driving through the valley, fields were ripe with apples galore and snow covered peaks towered in the distance. Jeff had strategically picked out our starting point in the tiny town of Prato. Ten o'clock Saturday morning we were ready to start Raja's epic dream ride.

The climbing immediately began as we left Prato. Riding alongside a thundering river, we worked our way up towards the town of Trafoi. Raja was setting a good clip, and we wondered if we'd be able to make it to the top with him in sight.

Plenty of other cyclists had the same idea for the day. We were constantly in the process of passing or being passed by others. This is the one and only tunnel for today's ride!

Climbing up 48 switchbacks would definitely be a way for Raja to remember this birthday (1 switchback for every year, plus one extra for a good year to come). How nice that someone put up a sign in honor of this special occasion!

This was the most stunning of all the climbs we had done so far. Allow for plenty of stoppage time, unless you're a real stick in the mud. I dare you not to enjoy the scenery.

I wonder if Becky was slightly envious of my gearing? I had a 2x50 compared to her 39x21, hehehe!

Of course, that didn't slow her down at all. It just made it harder for me to keep up. I was beginning to question my choice of bikes. All the roadies looked so light and quick.

There are lots and lots of switchbacks. I suppose that's why climbing 6,000' wasn't as painful as it sounded. There's alot to said for switchbacks!

It's more satisfying to view them from this angle,

than from this angle.

I found myself thinking, "This is so beautiful, it's ridiculous!"

There's glaciers up in them thar hills.

With these kind of views, you feel as though you could climb all day long.

Becky has some mean looking calves that serve her well!

Jeff is all smiles. Wouldn't you be if this was your backyard, the place you get
to ride every weekend?!?

Here's a short video to give you an idea of what's it like to be there in person (ignore my stupid commentary please).

You know you're near the top of a climb when you're above treeline. Or in this case, when you can reach out and touch a glacier.

It's a corny pose, but you'd do it too! Doing this climb makes you feel like you're on top of the world.

We made it to the top with pumped up legs, egos, and spirits!

It was a festive atmosphere up here; cyclists, motorcycles, hikers, British car clubs, tour buses, even skiers. We didn't hesitate to join in the fun.
We chowed down...........

took pictures, went shopping, ate bratwurst.......

The descent was just as spectacular as the climb. I was thrilled with our choice of bikes too. Being more upright than on my road bike, my back was happier, and it was easier to control my braking (having to brake for 15 miles is tiring). Not to mention, it was a much smoother ride than Jeff and Becky had on their skinny tires.

Back down in Prato we celebrated a special birthday and a fabulous ride. A day to be remembered!!! If you're ever in northern Italy, head to the Stelvio. You'll be glad you did it!

Here are all my million pictures documenting every move we made for the 15 mile climb.

Becky's pictures are better than mine.

And thus, our Italian Cycling Crescendo has come to an end. We had an incredible time, and will remember this with fond memories. Back here in Georgia, we have slowly returned to reality. It is a harsh reality, lacking in snow capped mountains, 7,000' climbs, and chocolate. So if you see us walking around with a glazed over look in our eyes, don't be worried. We're just daydreaming of being back in Italy climbing a mountain in search of singletrack and strudel. Ciao!


James Bigler said...

Those switchbacks are amazing. That is one hell of a way to celebrate your birthday. Raja is a lucky man.

Mark D. said...

Incredible !!!!

Becky said...

Nice recap of an amazing day - Makes me want to do it all over again! But I have to disagree - Your pictures are better than mine :) We were honored to have the chance to share Raja's birthday, especially in such an incredible setting. It may be a challenge to find a climb with one more switchback to continue the tradition next year!

namrita o'dea said...

How can you top that birthday!! WOW is all I have to say.