By Lynn Fernando
The choice to go to Italy for cycling was undoubtedly an obvious one for my husband and me. Who wouldn’t want to ride through Tuscany’s rolling hills painted with aromatic vineyards and speckled with picturesque stone houses encased by majestic cypress trees? This scenic picture seemed to be the epitome of Italy, and it was exactly what Ie was looking forward to on my first trip to Italia. But my husband had other ideas in mind. He wanted more. He needed more. What could be more? To my surprise, I found Granfondo Cycling Tours, and realized he (we) could partake in a ‘Granfondo’ in the legendary Dolomite region of Italy. But what’s a Granfondo? Well, it’s a huge event in Italy. It’s an organized cycling event for anyone who would like to see what it’s like to race in the Giro d’ Italia or ride like the pro’s. The longest course was 130 miles long with more than 15,000 ft of climbing…. I succeeded in finding him the ultimate cycling tour and one that could fulfill his cycling dream! Since I had only begun cycling a little over a year ago, I, on the other hand, was oblivious to what I was getting myself into.
Arriving at the start of the Granfondo Campagnolo was jaw dropping. Over four thousand cyclists jam-packed into both sides of the street; women on one side, men on the other. Even having my two cohorts, Carrie and Julie, alongside of me was no comfort. All I could think about was the advice I had received all morning; don’t get too close, look ahead, don’t follow the person in front of you, be careful when the road narrows. Straddling my bike, I realized the impossibility of clipping in as my bike was already wedged between tires in an awkward position. The music bellowing out of the speakers filled my head, and excited all the other cyclists, who seemed to be revving their engines. I was shaking. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to throw up! I didn’t even hear the start but I knew it was time when the Italian women around me cheered in Italian and clipped in. Here we go. Actually, away they went! I graciously let anyone who wanted to go around me go! Whew! I took my first sigh of relief as I glided through the single lane and the elephant sitting on my shoulders drifted away!
My senses were in overload as I took in every bit of this Granfondo experience. I was in awe as countless mini pelotons hummed and whisked by me in fluid rhythms that disappeared all too quickly. The melodic Italian language sang out all around me in conversations that kept me wondering what stories were being shared as foreign riders rode alongside me. The views above and below were magnificent and breathtaking as I twisted and turned onto endless switchbacks, ascending me into the heavens. If my heart wasn’t beating from the brutal effort needed to conquer these climbs, then it certainly would be from the inescapable grandeur that engulfed me. The sun scorched my back through my sweat-filled jersey, only to have the breeze of the descents temporarily cool me off. When the dolomites called on me again and again to see if I would surrender, I refused to wave my white flag that easily. Five and a half hours later, I pedaled my last strokes up the cobblestone street as I finished the short course of 58.6 miles and 5,955 ft, my first Granfondo. Confused and utterly fatigued, I heard David call my name. He was the youngest rider in our group and was the first to finish, despite riding the medium course of 70 miles and 9,000 ft of climbing. David proved with his performance that he was just as good at cycling as he was at cross country! We rode to a nearby café where we reminisced about our race, shared a snack and waited for the rest of our group to finish.
The remaining rides of the tour would be icing on the cake. And they were. For my last ride in Italy, Carrie and I rode the Gavia together, making it a ‘girls’ ride where we celebrated our chilled, rainy victory with the best cup of hot chocolate and cream I’ve ever had! The next day, the two of us drove the support van up the Gavia, taking in all the sights again, but from a much different view. I hung out the passenger window whistling and yelling out words of encouragement while the rest of the gang peddled their way up “one of the most beautiful passes in Italy”. I truly had seen the best of both worlds
My first trip to Italy was an unforgettable experience and like many firsts, it will be impossible to duplicate. When I think of my greatest accomplishment, I will always know it was the Granfondo Campagnolo. When I think of my most memorable experience, I will remember the vacation I had in Italy with Carrie and Tobias and the other members of our group. Forget the numbers that represent mileage or altitude. I came home with much more than facts and figures on paper. I had a renewed outlook of myself. What I learned about myself in Italy was that I conquered my fears and doubts about myself and found determination and will power I didn’t know I had. I proved to myself that I can do whatever I set my mind out to do. I can say without a doubt that I eagerly look forward to my next Granfondo and all that it has in store for me.
Ciao Italia, until we meet again.