December 28, 2020

MAAP In The Field: The Dolomites

Words - Michael Back & Mitch Wells Photography - Mike Vliestra Video - Martijn van Strien
December 28, 2020
MAAP In The Field: The Dolomites
Words - Michael Back & Mitch Wells Photography - Mike Vliestra Video - Martijn van Strien

The Ultimate Overnighter.

There’s no best time to visit the Dolomites; the region delights all year. While the rest of Italy sizzles July to September, temperatures rarely top 25°C among the mountains. The perfect escape, from a hot and sweaty
‘Euro Summer’ that covers the eastern border of the continent that time of year. And, the potential next destination of our MAAP In The Field trip.

.

Like many who were forced to spend some extra time indoors this year, we were looking for an escape. What better way to do just that, then a two day overnight trip through some of the most iconic mountain passes riding has to offer. The ride idea buzzed on the WhatsApp group and soon we had five riders from three different countries ready to reconnect out on the open road.

We knew our local guide Klaus from Hotel Melodia del Bosco had planned a pretty solid opening day, but most of us were not prepared for what was to come. The first couple of climbs, Passo Gardena and Passo Sella were hard, nothing like warming into it after a few months on the trainer.

The scenery completely changed every 2km. From open climbs through villages, to dense pine forests with tunnels punctuating the middle. The arrival into what can only be described as an idyllic sound-of-music type landscape was 
a welcome break to the day. But we didn’t pause for long.

The spirit was high and the legs were woken, with a nice coffee stop in between the climbs life seemed easy and carefree.

Things soon changed, the third climb of the day towards the top of Gardeccia was so steep that we felt like we were going nowhere. With gradients reaching excess of 13%, we were close to redlining, while only moving at the slowest of speeds.

We knew our local guide Klaus from Hotel Melodia del Bosco had planned a pretty solid opening day, but most of us were not prepared for what was to come. The first couple of climbs, Passo Gardena and Passo Sella were hard, nothing like warming into it after a few months on the trainer.

The scenery completely changed every 2km. From open climbs through villages, to dense pine forests with tunnels punctuating the middle. The arrival into what can only be described as an idyllic sound-of-music type landscape was 
a welcome break to the day. But we didn’t pause for long.

The spirit was high and the legs were woken, with a nice coffee stop in between the climbs life seemed easy and carefree.

Things soon changed, the third climb of the day towards the top of Gardeccia was so steep that we felt like we were going nowhere. With gradients reaching excess of 13%, we were close to redlining, while only moving at the slowest of speeds.

“I love these kinds of experiences because you are out of your comfort zone, if something happens, you have to deal with it. You have to push your limits, find the tips to make it easier for you and the others. This is why this is fulfilling, you can discover how far you can go, how high you can climb, and making new friends from the road, how great is that?”

— Julien Verlay

Lunch was a low key affair before we moved on towards the final climb of the day. Other than what we’d seen on paper, none of us knew the climb or what to expect, which can either be a blessing or end in demise. We had a destination, an endpoint for the day, Hotel Maria in Obereggen, which gave us the purpose to continue the pace.

Simply viewing the profile of Passo Pampeago is daunting. A killer climb. Relentless and steep from start to finish. The road narrows straight after the ski village, a road featured as part of stage 5 at the giro d’Italia. 11 km of climbing at more than 12% average. A climb that you definitely feel after 100km and all day on the road burdened with the weight of bicycle bags.

We rode side by side for most of it, without any of us saying a word. The relief only came at the summit. We talked a bit about how this amount of suffering makes the scenery even more stunning and how extremely rewarding it feels to finish a big day like this. 

We didn’t sleep much that night, woken up around 4am by heavy rain and thunderstorms. Most of us were thinking about what layers to wear and were mentally going through the kit we’d packed into our bike bags. A mix of stress about the conditions and excitement about the ride planned for the next day.

It was quite surprising to see clear blue skies in the morning. We knew though, that bad weather was imminent and would catch up with us if we didn’t get going. We packed our bike bags and set off on day two, an 80km, 2,000m elevation route that would ultimately return us to where we began.

The first long climb was the biggest one of the day: Passo Carezza. Going through a beautiful valley at the start, with the highlight of Lago di Carezza a few k’s before the top. An absolutely surreal view over a bright blue alpine lake surrounded by iconic Dolomites rock formations. We understood right away why the road leading up to there had been so busy.

We didn’t sleep much that night, woken up around 4am by heavy rain and thunderstorms. Most of us were thinking about what layers to wear and were mentally going through the kit we’d packed into our bike bags. A mix of stress about the conditions and excitement about the ride planned for the next day.

It was quite surprising to see clear blue skies in the morning. We knew though, that bad weather was imminent and would catch up with us if we didn’t get going. We packed our bike bags and set off on day two, an 80km, 2,000m elevation route that would ultimately return us to where we began.

The first long climb was the biggest one of the day: Passo Carezza. Going through a beautiful valley at the start, with the highlight of Lago di Carezza a few k’s before the top. An absolutely surreal view over a bright blue alpine lake surrounded by iconic Dolomites rock formations. We understood right away why the road leading up to there had been so busy.

On the top of Passo Costalunga, we had the mandatory strudel before a nice and long descent into the valley. Easy spinning and a quick stop for a coke at the bottom and then Passo Pordoi was at our feet.

We all knew this climb, which was comforting. When we reached the summit, we could see that the dark clouds were closing in on us so we wasted no time starting our descent down to start the final climb, Passo Campolongo.

“That was beautiful, a long ascent with 28 switchbacks to finish at more than 2200m elevation. The clouds came fast over the mountains and it quickly turned dark. The forecast predicted thunderstorms around 1-2 pm... it was already noon.”

— Julien Verlay

From the top of Passo Campolongo it was full gas back to Badia and the origin of our trip. The conversation flowed like a waterfall as we rode the final 5 kms of the trip. We all felt the relief of being so close to the finish and yet at the same time, came to realise our adventure was nearing an end. In what has become a MAAP In The Field post-ride tradition, we came together as a family to enjoy pizza and beer, interrupted briefly by the sound of thunder.

When riding the Dolomites your focus can be zeroed in on the beauty of your surroundings, the outgoing effort needed to reach the summit or the blinding blur delivered by speed during the descent. It’s not until we begin to reflect on the trip that the true beauty and purpose sets in. The connection between oneself and friends, strengthened by effort and accomplishment. Immediately, the yearn to plan the next trip sets in.

The Overnighter – 188.5km | 5,011m Climbing

The Overnighter – 188.5km | 5,011m Climbing

Jannie Sand

“To see what we saw during the two days by car, I'm not sure I would have found it as rewarding. The challenge of going exploring somewhere like the Dolomites by bike, the inner struggle that goes on inside constantly, sharing it with friends just makes it more intense.”

Jannie Sand

“To see what we saw during the two days by car, I'm not sure I would have found it as rewarding. The challenge of going exploring somewhere like the Dolomites by bike, the inner struggle that goes on inside constantly, sharing it with friends just makes it more intense.”

Mike Vliestra

“Cycling for me has always been about racing and getting the best out of myself. Some time away from the circuit and trips like these, changed this for me. You discover and experience new things together and this makes it more than just sitting on a saddle for hours but, a memory that stays with you for a long time”

Mike Vliestra

“Cycling for me has always been about racing and getting the best out of myself. Some time away from the circuit and trips like these, changed this for me. You discover and experience new things together and this makes it more than just sitting on a saddle for hours but, a memory that stays with you for a long time”

Jasmijn van der Zwaan

“What I personally found fulfilling about this adventure is that it is easier to discover a lot more about an area than you normally would. What I really felt, was freedom. It was so easy to just go where we wanted to go and to discover new places, it didn’t matter how fast I was going, the only thing I had to do was to just follow the roads and see where that leads me. And to do this with a group of like minded people, was even more special.”

Jasmijn van der Zwaan

“What I personally found fulfilling about this adventure is that it is easier to discover a lot more about an area than you normally would. What I really felt, was freedom. It was so easy to just go where we wanted to go and to discover new places, it didn’t matter how fast I was going, the only thing I had to do was to just follow the roads and see where that leads me. And to do this with a group of like minded people, was even more special.”

Julien Verlay

“Exploring, discovering, sharing, suffering, laughing, this is why we ride our bikes.”

Julien Verlay

“Exploring, discovering, sharing, suffering, laughing, this is why we ride our bikes.”

Martijn van Strien

“The feeling of freedom bikepacking gives you is really strange. Even though you might do similar efforts to home on a ‘normal’ day, out in the Dolomites you feel so much more relaxed and free. It’s not all about the time you do up a certain climb, instead the goal is to get to somewhere you haven’t been before, with people worth sharing it with.”

Martijn van Strien

“The feeling of freedom bikepacking gives you is really strange. Even though you might do similar efforts to home on a ‘normal’ day, out in the Dolomites you feel so much more relaxed and free. It’s not all about the time you do up a certain climb, instead the goal is to get to somewhere you haven’t been before, with people worth sharing it with.”

Loading interface...