My original plan was to blog about the Maratona dles Dolomites, and the week leading up to it, while it was happening. It'd been a while since I'd written things with any regularity, and it seemed to be a good way to get started again.

Foolish me.

Given the length and intensity of the cycling, and the amount of work I had to catch up on in the morning and evening, there was just no real way for me to execute that plan while still getting a few hours of sleep every night. And I definitely needed sleep.

So, plan B was to tweet occasionally and write things up after-the-fact.

Welcome to Plan B

As I wrote before, I'd tried to train as much as I could during the months before the event, both with and without friends (the great group of enthusiastic and knowlegeable folks at Ride Studio Café in Lexington). I'd configured and packed up a fantastic titanium bike from Seven Cycles, a great Axiom SL with couplers that fit me perfectly and could break down into two pieces. This allowed it to be packed in a small case, the Co-Motion Co-Pilot about the size of a wheel and less than a foot deep (26"x26"x10") - easily checking as regular luggage and, with handle and wheels, rolled onto planes and trains and through the streets of Italy as needed.

Honestly, if you're doing any kind of serious cycle-touring, a great bike with couplers and this case is a fantastic way to go. I can't speak too enthusiastically about either the bike or the case.

I booked things so I arrived in Bolzano a day before the main group (relatively late at night due to the flights), and stayed a night at the Stadt Hotel Città, who were kind enough to feed me when I came down to dinner a bit late after catching up with the support email that'd come in during my travels.

The next morning, I met the host of the FredCast, David Bernstein, during breakfast: it was great to put a face to the voice, and as he wrote in his own blog, we were both quite worried about the first real day coming up, climbing the Stelvio. (David blogged his impressions of the trip in far more detail than I'm going to, and he took a lot of great pictures - you can find his posts and pictures here.)

Warm-up Day—15.2 miles, 810 feet of climbing

Our guides, Enrico and Massimo (both great people and cyclists) were at breakfast, and we met with a number of the other people on the trip as we headed out to the shuttle that would take us to Glorenza, a great village, and our first hotel, the Hotel Post Glorenza, a beautiful and comfortable way to begin our tour.

The morning brought bicycle assembly (which took less time than expected) and a short ride to shake out the legs and highlight/resolve any mechanical problems. Three of us (not including the guides) had brought our own bikes, and one of them was a Seven Axiom, which was great to see.

The first ride was short, including a brief extra loop up the approach to the Stelvio, and it was fun talking, getting to know and riding with the others on this adventure. A delicious dinner and restless sleep later, our adventure began in earnest.

Passo Stelvio (The King)—61 miles, 6495 feet of climbing

It's hard to describe how incredibly different the riding in Europe is compared to what I'm used to. On my normal rides, we might have 2000 feet of altitude gain, but that's often done a few hundred feet at a time. Elevations rarely go over 1000 feet, and a typical climb takes 10 minutes or so.

Compare that to the Stelvio, which was around 13 miles and over 5000 feet of elevation gain, averaging well over 7%. A real HC climb (well, category 1 in Italy, since there's no HC).

Never done anything like that before. And, frankly, I had no idea how to pace myself. I don't know what my zones are, don't train with power, and rarely use my heart monitor thingy (which wasn't working anyway) so, well, I just tried to stay in a comfortable-but-not-relaxed zone. There was a lot of climbing to come, and it didn't make sense to hit everything hard.

And, well... it was tiring but fun! The scenery was beautiful, the company pleasant, the bike worked well and before I knew it I was confronting the famous figure of Fausto Coppi.

I remember thinking it was absolutely crazy to have us climb this particular climb so early in the trip, but now I completely understand why: if we could do this (and we proved we could), there was nothing coming up that we could not do. It was a huge confidence boost to get up (and down) this famous climb, and I think we all felt that, after all the pre-trip doubts, we were actually ready for what was to come.

And there was a lot to come.