Thursday, September 13, 2007

MS Global -- Stage 5

The closer we got to the end of MS Global, the more I wanted to soak it all in, so the last two days, I didn't do posts. Rather, I enjoyed being in Italy with everyone as much as I could. So, now that I'm back on U.S. soil, I'll take you through the last days of MS Global 2007.

Monday, September 10 -- Bolzano to Bormio

The morning began bright and early as we brought our luggage down to the lobby so it could be transferred by van to Bormio. Of course, we rode our bikes there...and what a ride!

My room was on the third floor of the hotel, and before leaving in the morning, I took a few shots from the windows -- a view over the city to the surrounding mountains.
Ride groups today were a little different than normal -- there were only two. The ride includes a HUGE climb, the Passo Stelvio, and because it is so big and hard, we were given the option of doing 128 kilometers, 80 of which came before the Stelvio, or we could transfer by van to the bottom of the Stelvio and ride from there. I chose to do the long ride, so left with the first group. Below my group is gathering to leave the front of the hotel. Because this was a weekday, the city streets were busy, but it was fun to see all the local traffic, especially the number of people walking, as we headed to the mountains. There were a lot of children being walked to school by parents and grandparents, which was nice to see. I wish I could have taken pics of some of those sites, but figured it was a bit safer to keep both hands on the handlebars...
I know it's surprising, but along the way, we stopped for some cappuccino. This is Morgan (Swiss, and works for Merck Serono in Switzerland) and Gord (Canadian, and works for EMD Serono, U.S.) enjoying a cup 'o joe and some pastry.
A little further up the road, we stopped again. Tyler was leading our group, and because he knew we were in for a very long and hard day, he made sure to regroup a lot and encouraged us to eat and drink at each stop. Here, we were at an apple orchard along the road and the mountains we were about to climb were beginning to come into focus in the background.
Our last stop before the climb. We took a left turn and headed up toward Passo Stelvio (fourth arrow down).
From that sign, we began a very gradual climb, and the group started breaking up a bit. When we finally hit the bottom of the true Stelvio, I was riding alone with Michelle. Remember that we did a pass a few days back that had 33 switchbacks? Well, Stelvio has 48. Forty-eight. FORTY-EIGHT. Each switchback is numbered, and they begin at 48 at the bottom and count backwards to the top, so you always know how many you have left. A curse or a blessing? Michelle and I thought the signs were fun, and celebrated each one! Here...the first sign. Not the best shot, but the switchback was so sharp and steep that it wasn't safe to stop the bike any closer.
A few more switchbacks up, and we came around the corner to see this breathtaking view. I had one of my strongest "Lisa Moments" here, as we had already done a lot of work, and the view was just so majestic. As Michelle and I stopped to take some pictures, I was just so struck by the beauty and the cruel irony that my being here is due to the fact that Lisa has this terrible disease. It is such a blessing to ride here...but I wouldn't be riding here were it not for her suffering. I simply can't describe the variety of emotions that came over me, and was pretty choked up when I tried to explain it to Michelle as we stood there. I also thought of how much Lisa would love to see this, as she has a great appreciation for nature.
We continued moving forward, and stopped at switchback 35 to get some food from Haven (Tyler's wife who was driving our support van). She had a variety of Haribo candies -- cola flavored and peach -- that I sampled, and I also took this picture of what the switchback looked like as we climbed. While we were standing there, a guy passed us on a mountain bike; he was wearing shorts with no leg warmers and a sleeveless jersey. Michelle and I had talked to him a little further down the way, and he had asked us what the numbered signs meant, what was at the top, and whether or not you can ride down the other side. We were a little shocked that he didn't really seem to know what he was getting into, as this was a huge climb, and while the weather was reasonable for shorts on the way up, the top was around 10,000 feet elevation, and would be very windy and cold. Better him than us!!!
We continued climbing, and at about switchback 27 or so, Tyler made his way back to us to let us know that we were close to the lunch stop at switchback 22. He was wearing a windbreaker now, so we knew it was going to continue to get colder. This was the view from a cafe where we had lunch (we ate sandwiches in the parking lot that the staff had brought)...21 more switchbacks and the top of the climb is in the top left of the photo.
Shortly after leaving the lunch stop, I couldn't keep up with Michelle's pace anymore -- Mike (San Francisco) had also joined us by then, so the two of them went ahead, and I continued alone. I stopped a few times along the way to take pics of the road ahead...
...and the road we'd already covered. The views, as you can imagine, were amazing up here above tree line. There was car traffic along the way, too, of course, and it was mostly small cars with an occasional larger vehicle. When I was on switchback 7, I looked back behind me and saw a motor home trying to make the turn at switchback 9. The turn was so tight that it had to stop and do a 3-point turn to get around it. Of course, I was hoping that I wouldn't end up on a turn at the same time as the motor home, and luckily, it passed me on the strip of road between switchbacks 5 and 6.
By the time I made it to the top, I had come about level with those snow covered peaks that had given me the very strong "Lisa Moment" toward the bottom. It was breathtaking.
Woo-hoo! I made it to the top of Passo dello Stelvio (with strength enough to lift my bike, even)!
Shortly after making the top, Jon Heideman (ride leader from Littleton, CO) asked if anyone wanted to play catch, so I joined him. He has just recently begun playing catch with his 5-year-old daughter, Maddy, and told her he would bring her a baseball from Italy. So, we broke it in by playing catch on top of Stelvio...he even had mits! It was really fun and took my mind off of the fatigue in my legs.
What goes up must come down...we climbed 48 switchbacks, and would now descend 47 into our destination, the town of Bormio. This was the view down.
And our reward for such a hard day's ride? A Stelvio beer at the hotel in Bormio, of course!
While every night was special, tonight was especially moving. First, we had two guests from Serono Italy in Rome who joined us for dinner, along with an Italian woman named Roberta who has MS and is a part of the Italian MS Society. Before dinner, Jimmy D. and Roberta both did beautiful presentations for us about their experiences with MS. Jimmy D. showed a news-type video that was shot back home that explained his history with the disease and the many things he does to advocate for those with MS. Roberta had put together a beautiful powerpoint presentation set to music that shared her experience with the disease in very touching prose. Additionally, Jimmy D. introduced the other riders with us who have MS, and this is a photo of the four of them at dinner: Pat Perry (Houston, Texas), Todd Worsley (Canada), Karen Hudak (Houston, Texas), and Jimmy D. (Ft. Collins, Colorado). I noted that MS must be a disease that only touches beautiful people...they all glowed.
And this is our whole group posing at dinner with Roberta (in the front in the wheelchair).
So, big ride completed and dinner over...but there was still a little adventure to be had. Some of us retired to the hotel bar, and a bit of mischief ensued as the night progressed. A few days ago, Tyler snagged a downed sign from the side of the road on one of our rides. He brought it back to the hotel, and his dad, Bill, began a new MS Global tradition based on a Hamilton family tradition. I can't remember the whole story (it's all those Stelvio beers, perhaps), but his family and friends have been passing an "agitator" around for some years -- the original agitator was from an old washing machine, and would show up unexpectedly in someone's things, and they would then be responsible for passing it onto the next person. Well, this blue road sign that Ty picked up became our MS Global '07 agitator. Bill passed it to Mike (San Francisco) who then passed it to Christine (Brazil, and works for Merck Serono in Switzerland). He passed it along to her by getting the key to her hotel room in Bolzano and putting it in her bed! Christina passed it to Claus (Denmark, and our mechanic), and on this night, Claus passed it to Pat Perry. Once Pat had it, there were just a few of us left in the bar, so we agreed to help her make the last pass. She decided to pass it to Morgan, and we decided to strap it to his bike -- the bikes were stored in an underground garage under the hotel. So, we all went down there; I might be leaving somebody out, but there was Pat, Karen, me, Tyler, Jack, Bill and Margaret. We realized that strapping it to his bike would scratch it, so we had to come up with another plan, and Karen suggested taking his front wheel off and substituting the that's what we did. Here's Pat posing with Morgan's bike and the agitator. (I wasn't there the next morning when he found the agitator, but Pat was. She said that upon seeing it, he laughed, and said, "Oh, look! We must be doing a time trial today because I have a new disc wheel!")
While we were looking for Morgan's bike, we noticed bells on all the bikes. This is the one on my bike.
It didn't take us long to figure out that this must be the handy work of Mike (San Francisco) who had been entertaining us all week with the bell on his handlebars. A bike bell may not seem that unusual, but road cyclists usually don't have them; Mike has his because he rides across the Golden Gate Bridge to get to a lot of his rides, and he uses it to let pedestrians know he's coming. Well, apparently, he visited a bike shop in Bormio without our knowing it, bought a zillion bike bells, and put one on each of our bikes as a little last day surprise. We wanted to do something to his bike in return, so we took his bell off his handlebars, and remounted it under his seat. The next day, he was wondering who had moved it...if you're reading, Mike, here's the answer.
Before we left the garage, Tyler noticed a bunch of mountain bikes lined up against a wall -- bikes the hotel rented out, we think. He suggested a little "garage crit" before we called it a night, so a few of us did a little racing. Here, Jack, me, and Tyler tear it up around the garage posts. Though there were some small collisions, thankfully there were no injuries...amazing, given the amount of beer that had been consumed...but, hey, we earned was Stelvio beer!
Thus ended Stage 5:
128 kilometers / 2890 meters elevation gain / 1 monstrous pass / too many Stelvio beers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a blast! Thanks for sharing the details of your trip. Glad you made it back safely too! :o)