During a week of biking with Backroads, there usually is "the long day."
Every day, you start in the morning and have the options to keep on going. But, on the long day, the route is not only far, it also is very challenging. There is no pressure to max out, and you just see how you feel. If you tire, you can take a van ride back to the hotel.
The morning route is a shot down the mountain, complete with switchbacks and amazing views of the Dolomites.
A few of us decide to do it. I play it conservatively, but one expert rider sees that his maximum speed was 50 km/h.
The rest of the morning and into the afternoon comprises of rolling hills through a lush valley. The Sarca River, noted for its blue water and wild trout, accompanies us most of the way.
I see this fly fisherman.
So, I stop and chat with him. With rudimentary Italian and some German, I learn a bit about the river. It is a good thing I didn't bring with me my gear. Otherwise, I would have fished all day.
After lunch, our biking group heads back. The blistering sun and a gentle breeze compete with each other for our attention over many kilometers.
Still feeling good, I decide to cycle back up the mountain. Three of us attempt the climb. We are the same trio who did the morning speed-glide.
Traffic is heavy, and the grade is very steep. There is a great deal of car exhaust. My strategy is to block out as much as I can and just focus on my front tire.
Some drivers offer their encouragement. A few drive quite close to me, as the mountain road is very narrow.
It is a tough climb. It is hard to describe the mental effort required. I am not a skilled biker. In fact, I bike only when we take family summer vacations with Backroads.
For me, it very much is a mental battle. When I let my mind wander, it makes things more difficult. With no thoughts, it is easier.
Fortunately, beautiful mountains keep me company.
On and on. One pedal rotation after another. Over and over.
Soon, you no longer think or feel. You just do. You no longer exist consciously. You are just there, almost a part of the mountain.
Gradually, the grade flattens. This is a sign that you are nearing the summit. Honestly, a tremendous feeling of gratitude and accomplishment comes over me. I feel very moved. I know then that I will make it.
I am grateful to be among such natural beauty and that I can take my family there. I feel much physical exhaustion, but, also, elation and disbelief that I can do such a climb.
This happened to me during last year's trip to the Spanish Pyrenees. As I approached the summit, I suddenly was overwhelmed with emotions. It is unexplainable. Why does it happen, and from where do these feelings come?
As if in a movie, a gentle and refreshing rain starts to fall. Some Backroads vans drive by, and the other guests yell their encouragement. One of them is one of my daughters. "Yay! Go, go, go!" she exclaims.
I again feel very and deeply moved.
It is hard to explain how touching it is to see one of your children smile and encourage you, when you feel you have no more to give to the mountain. A quick glimpse of my daughter, in a rapidly-moving van, is like a vision.
Alas! After 90 minutes, I make it to the hotel and finish the climb. It was a long day out, from 9 am to 5.30 pm, with 101 km of cycling.
I walk to my hotel room, legs wobbly, soaked with sweat and feeling emptied, but in a good way. It is hard to explain, but, you feel cleansed.
Also, as in a movie, it starts to hail when I get to the room.
We are wrapping up our trip. It has been a great one. I feel clean, almost purified.