Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Swiss Trip Day 2 (Saturday): Sta. Maria to Livigno

Well the snow didn't hold off, we woke up to a snowline that was considerably lower than the day before and we were going to be heading up into it. It was raining (heavily at first) rather than snowing down in the village so we had a leisurely breakfast to delay the inevitable. Unlike the day before the cloud didn't lift and it was also really cold. The ride was to be similar in length to the day before but would have two long climbs rather than just one. The first climb would probably take about two hours again.

I had thermal tights, base layer, thermal layer, buff, waterproof jacket and trousers and windproof gloves and I still felt a little chilly setting off. I had a very stuffed camelbak too as I had other layers in there too, can't remember the last time I rode with such a stuffed pack. After usual pre-ride faffing we set off into the rain which had lightened up a lot.

Up a tarmac climb that appeared to be an easy gradient but felt really tough at the top where we joined back up with the 444 trail. I was worried I was shamefully knackered but when I looked behind me and saw how much height we had gained in such a short time I let myself off. The track had been sneakily increasing in gradient all the way up. Waterproof trousers came off, too warm even in the cold drizzle due to wearing of fleecy tights. I put a pair of baggies on to protect my bum a bit as Jez had taken the guards off our bikes (July, dry and dusty right!), I also tried out the drop tail on my jacket, to be fair it did work surprisingly well but I missed my mudguard!

It was fireroad climb all the way up and being wet was slower progress than the road climb of yesterday so it was another set a nice effort level and plug away. We had a regroup for some food but I don't think we really regrouped after that, certainly not after we got to the snow line. I was riding comfortably again but Jez was really suffering, even more so than he had yesterday. Long steady climbs are even less of his thing than mine but even so he was finding it surprisingly tough and was walking a lot.

As he often has to wait for me I waited for him, nothing worse than being at the back particularly on such a cold miserable day. I'd ride a bit and wait then ride a bit not getting too far ahead and not stopping long enough to get really cold. There was a cow shed at the very top of the pass that the others kept riding up to, the rain soon changed to snow as well though I was warm enough in my layers the only thing I was worried about were my hands as the gloves were not massively warm ok on the climb but the descent would be a different story.

It looks like we're almost there at this point but there was quite a bit to go (and I can tell just by looking at this picture my saddle is far too high so why didn't I really notice when riding? It would cause me problems later):

Upwards even more, still quite a bit to go

Eventually we got to the cow shed at the top of the Doss-Radend 2234 m, I think we'd started at around 1500, it had "only" taken me 1:45 of ride time:

Jez get some Tour de France stylee encouragement to the top:

The cow shed was absolutely spotless, it smelt very strongly of cow but it was scrubbed clean. We had a food break and layered up for the descent, my waterproof trousers came out again as did my windproof skull cap. Ready to freeze:

The descent was baltic, my fingers and face froze solid. Though it was fast and fun and didn't need much braking action which is just as well as my fingers wouldn't pull the levers. At the bottom I had hot aches in my fingers which really hurt. We had dropped back down almost below the snow line again but were about to divert off the 444 to follow some singletrack.

The singletrack started off promisingly then got a bit difficult for a while due to lots of fallen trees that required lifting the bikes over, quite entertaining on steep ground in bike shoes. Then it settled into fantastic singletrack again, I was used to the steepness by then so was grinning all the way down, a nice open flattish section before dropping down fast again:

We then had a fantastic rolling piece of track which followed a river for a while, being a countouring track it often ended up with a large drop down to the river to the side, some drops more precipitous than others. It really reminded me of some of the trail centres but it was a little bit more unpredictable, rounding a corner to have lots of rubble strewn etc but it really was fantastic. Everyone was grinning after that:

We rolled downhill for a bit on some wide track and passed the Swiss/Italian border, which consisted of a marker stone only then down to a picnic area for a bit of food. I still wasn't eating enough even though I had resolved to do so but had a bar etc and a bit of a sit down. Also took off my waterproof trousers as the second climb of the day was about due. We'd dropped down about 400 metres which had to be gained again.

Jez decided to set off on the second climb a bit earlier than the others, I thought I would join him so we set off. I was aware that something was missing but I couldn't put my finger on it, just as we got to the start of the climb it dawned on me, my helmet! D'oh so I rode back to get it, the rest were just packing up so I got it on quickly and headed back to the climb to get a bit of a head start, I knew they wouldn't be long catching me.

I was finding the second climb a bit harder than the first, it was steeper in places but my lower left back was starting to ache, I realise now that I had put my saddle up far too high after the descents but it didn't dawn on me at the time at all. I had a few stretch breaks, standing up pedalling a lot but I still rode it all, albeit a little more slowly than the last one and it was really bugging me, my legs were surprisingly good still. There were a few moments on the climb where I wished I hadn't looked up but it was just a case of getting on with it. I caught up with Jez eventually quite a way up so again waited for him and took the opportunity for some stretching.

We were back up towards the snow again. We regrouped with the rest who were hiding behind a big rock and had a few undulations to contend with before the actual top of the pass. Short undulations are just absolute killers after long steady climbs for some reason, I wasn't the only one to find that, think my legs either wanted to be climbing or descending not swapping between both.

We had to negotiate a bit of a snow bank of old avalanched snow:

Then we were at the top of the last pass of the day Alpisella at 2299 m, downhill pretty much all the way to Livigno at 1800m. Another fast and cold wide descent then my memory is hazy a bit as I was a) cold and b) hungry and couldn't be bothered eating!

I do remember we did a very fast descent that took us a lot of the way down. It wasn't quite double track wide and it wasn't massively technical but the surface was very loose, the track was pretty straight and steep so it was very, very fast and very, very sketchy at times. I had a few both wheel slides and wobbles, hee hee. I was grinning like a loon all the way down apart from the few moments of sheer terror when I thought it was all going to go wrong. We passed a few walkers on this descent as we were getting nearer civilisation, I remember one elderly couple grinning their heads off at us as they watched us go past.

There was a short section of rather terrifying black graded singletrack that even if I hadn't been tired and hungry I wouldn't have been able to ride much of. It was stupidly steep with lots of tight switch backs and some steps on it. It was scary walking down it, the only way I may have been able to ride some of it was to roll to the switchback, lift bike round, repeat. Very scary but some of the boys managed to ride pretty much all of it.

A bit of a push across a river bed then another piece of track that started out ok but then got unrideable due to the fact it wasn't wide enough. It had a bit of a rocky outcrop to the left, a two metre or so drop to the river on the right and it was only about 20cm wide so there was barely enough space to walk on it. It also was also rocky, slippy and a short climb. I had to carry my bike in my right hand suspended over the river and grope with my left along the rock which had no handholds on it all the while trying to stop my handlebars from swinging round. Lovely, I was disappointed to find no one rode it! (Not).

It was then a nice easy track to roll down towards Lake Livigno, really nice and easy until a short section with loads of tree and rock debris on it. I managed to take evasive action in time to avoid hitting a large boulder just lying casually in the trail. From there it was an easy spin into Livigno, I remember along here some where thinking my saddle was too high but thought I would leave it until morning as we were nearly at the hotel.

It was an interesting ride through the centre of Livigno, lots of people dodging. Rob and Danny set off to check out the accommodation and i should have had something to eat but didn't. Eventually we made it to the accommodation which were some small apartments and a very hot shower and a bit of a late dinner (again)!

Distance was a mere 25.6 miles and my ride time was 4:28 and I think I was climbing for 3 hours of that. Ouch. The forecast for day 3 was for sun!

Officially the ride was about 1240 metres of climbing but my Garmin has the much more impressive figure of 2857, wow!


  1. That just looks superb, even if it does bring back memories of cold winter hands.

  2. At least my feet were ok, they normally freeze too.

  3. wow, proper snow and everything. i love that shot tour style support shot!