Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Wedding

It is official; Tracey and David, after 8 years together, are officially husband and wife as of July 26, 2010!! Drew and I were honored to be their witnesses for their matrimony in Malcesine, Italy.

Tracey and David met, as Drew and I did, online many years ago. After four years of courtship, David proposed to Tracey in 2007 while they were on vacation at in Costa Rica after David had completed that other grueling mountain bike stage race, La Ruta de los Conquistadores. The Costa Rica race is where we first met and traveled with Tracey and David, so we are especially lucky to have now been a part of two of the important milestones in their life as a couple.

On Monday morning at 11 o’clock, we met the interpreter, Tainia, at the Municipio (city hall) of Malcesine, a 30-minute taxi ride from Riva, to sign the paperwork. Because of the sprained or broken finger impairing Tracey’s ability to put her normal signature on the paperwork, we are skeptical that this wedding is legal. Just kidding.

After the paperwork, we were able to walk around beautiful old Malcesine for some shopping at the many tourist stores and general sightseeing

and a cup of joe.

After lunch of pizza and pasta (what else?) at a waterfront restaurant, it was time to meet at the Malcesine Castle, built sometime before 590 A.D.!

overlooking Lago di Garda

and the red clay tile rooftops of the town. They were to be married under the canopy you can see in the lower part of this picture on a terrace of the castle.

It was a truly beautiful and romantic place for a wedding, and the ceremony was fantastic. Tracey and David were married by what we would call a Justice of the Peace. She was a wonderful middle-aged matron who seemed truly happy to be performing this ceremony for a couple of Irish people she had never met before. The translator was great as well, facilitating and translating the Italian civil ceremony into English. The verbiage was concise, practical, and elegant at the same time.

It must be universal to exchange rings,

kiss the bride,

and sign paperwork,

before the happy couple can be announced

After the ceremony, we had time to look around the castle

at the thick walls

And go to the top of the keep.

We had several hours to enjoy the town of Malcesine before our dinner sitting, so we changed into casual clothes and walked around the beautiful town.

We thought it was cool how this vine is growing out from inside the building up to two separate balconies.

We stopped in a bar to have a toast of grappa (regional whiskey) and lemon liquors to celebrate the newlyweds.

And then strolled down to the lake shore harbor
For a quick nap on the warm rock.

As dinner time approached we made our way to a cove near the restaurant below the castle

It was time for a seven course meal at the finest restaurant in town

As we watched the sunset on the lake

I wish I had taken pictures of each course, but we were too busy eating! We started with potato chips, fresh olives and champagne. Second was an appetizer of cold fresh salmon and bread paired with a refreshing white wine. Third we were served an ultra thinly shaved pork salad, which surprised us all with how light and tender it was. The fourth course was ravioli in black truffle (mushroom-y) sauce paired with rosé. The fifth course was shrimp risotto for Tracey and David and grilled onion and chicken salad for Drew and me. For the main course, after a civilized 15 minute break in which we were served a smooth red wine and encouraged to take a stroll along the beach (!) came out fillet mignon. Not a tiny cutlet, as we expected, but a steak that weighed at least 6 oz and was served with gravy and sautéed potatoes. By this time, we had polished off 4 bottles of wine and enough food to last us two days, but of course we couldn’t say no to a slightly raisin-flavored sweet dessert wine to accompany our two, yes two, desserts: molten chocolate cake and panna cotta (custard). Wow, what an amazing meal. I have never eaten such a civilized and delicious meal made extra special by the wonderful conversation and company of our dear newlywed friends.

We rolled out of there to capture fireworks in celebration of Santa Anna day, and Tracey and David!

Riva del Garda

Sunday was to be a recovery day for Drew, but instead I took him on Stage 9 of the TransALPs. I had not able to do as much riding as I had wanted to so far on the trip, but today I really had the whole day to go wherever my bike would take me. I assumed Drew would want to lie by the pool, but he said he wanted to go explore with me. He can’t say I didn’t warn him.

Seems like there are no gentle climbs here; roads are either flat or steep. I chose a steep climb that was supposed to take us up over a saddle and down into an adjacent valley. We had what appeared to be a good map, and there were signs for things, but the signs didn’t match the map very well, so we ended up climbing 4000 feet in 2 hours and not finding the saddle or other valley. We finally turned around when, for about the 9th time we said, “it looks like the top of the hill just over here around this hairpin turn.”

I was thinking that because Drew has just ridden 365 miles up and over the Alps, he would be a pathetic anchor to my fresh legs, but I had underestimated the hero that he is. Because he is now ultra fit and used to these climbs, and I have been more or less off the bike for 2 weeks, Drew had no trouble keeping up with me on.

By lunchtime we both agreed it was time for some R & R by the pool, so we lazed the afternoon away at our hotel. At 5 PM, I took advantage of the gift certificate Tracey had given me for a manicure-pedicure. Wow, my feet and hands have never looked so good. We were so rejuvenated by the pampering and resting, that we strolled down to the old part of town

for dinner at a lovely garden restaurant

And some shoe comparison shopping.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Race Report: Stage 8 TransALPs - Madonna di Campiglio to Riva del Garda, Italy

Funny how my urgency to get a post up for each day of the race disappeared when we actually had time to kill and a few days of relaxing at the finish town ahead of us.  The race finished up on Saturday and now here it is Wednesday and we are headed back to the States.  I have a couple of days to catch up on.  Here is the post for the final stage.

The last day of the 2010 Bike TransALPs started off in a high end ski town in the Dolomite Range.  We had stayed down the mountain in Commezzadura at the apartment, so we checked out of the joint and piled our stuff in the truck to get the guys up to the start line - a 30 minute drive up a curvy road.  The guys were in good spirits as they stood in the sunshine to stay warm while their bikes waited patiently in the start chute.

Tracey and I decided to take off right away to go down the mountain to the finish line town.  On the drive from Madonna di Campiglio to Riva del Garda, we got awesome views of the Dolomite Mountain Range, a National Heritage Site for geomorphology!

But the continued driving the narrow and curvy roads. Here is a 2 minutes video you might like to watch to get an idea of what the driving was like.

And if that wasn’t enough, here is another longer video of the driving. (I am mostly putting these videos in here to remind me, next time I get the idea to drive through the Alps, to rent a very small car.)

We happened upon an oddly blue-green lake, that I think was natural, but had an otherworldly color.

After a “long coffee”, hot chocolate, apple strudel, and croissant we finished the drive to Riva del Garda, or Riva for short. Here I am along the road at an overlook of the town. We had dropped in elevation about 2000 feet, and now the slopes were terraced and farmed with olive trees and grape vines. Even in the middle of the day, the cicadas or some other loud insects were really loud in the groves of trees.

But finally, we had reached the end! We checked into the Hotel Mirage

and schlepped the loads of bags one last time up to our rooms.

Tracey and I had a couple of hours to kill, so she went about town to see about getting a manicure and I went for a short bike ride on the maze of paved bike paths through the valleys and city. Our plan was to meet back at the hotel at 2 PM in order to walk to the finish line to see the grand finale for David and Drew, who, according to the race handbook and their track record on the previous 7 stages, should have arrived between 2:45 and 3:45. After I got back to the hotel to shower, I noticed a message on my cell phone; it was from Tracey saying the guys were in and we had missed them! Argh! How overwhelmingly disappointing this was for both us and the guys! I was pretty upset at the race organizers for screwing up the projected times so badly, but what can you do but celebrate the fact that they were done.

We headed back to the hotel to relax a little before the final awards dinner party.

The Mirage was a pretty nice hotel located right on the edge of the lake.

After a refreshing shower and a pizza (they don’t cut the pizzas for you; just one big pie per person), we walked the 15 minutes back down to the finish line to get our 50 Euro deposit back for the timing chip, but they told us we needed our paper receipt they had given us 9 days ago. Good grief! Do they think we can just make a fake transponder chip or something? What a crooked way to get 50 Euros out of lots of racers that have already paid loads of money to enter. After the disappointment of missing the race, some useless paperwork at the hotel check in, a severe lack of singletrack to ride, I was getting fed up with Europe and Italy especially. We hoofed it back to the hotel to find our stupid piece of paper so we could at least get our deposit back. The walk back to the final dinner party, getting our food, and waiting around for awards took a long, long time. Finally, the awards party started, during which there were loads of announcements, special awards and sponsor recognitions. I didn’t mind clapping for the overall winners; they deserve it.

There were prizes for the oldest finisher (he is 67 years old) and for one guy who has completed all 13 TransALPs races.

Finally it was our guys turn.


Bike TransALPs is history.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

TransAlp Race complete

The 2010 TransAlp 8 Day Mountain Bike stage race is over.  We finished the race in 46:05:32.  In our divsion we finished 93/149 teams.  Overall we finished 342/550 teams.  This will be a short post with no pictures, but I wanted to let you know how it all ended.  I am sitting here in the lobby at 6am since my body clock does not allow me to sleep much later.  It was a great experience riding through small alpine villages, a national park in Switzerland, and yesterday through the Dolomites.  The most incredible support crew in the world is right now sleeping peacefully after 8 days of very hard work. 

Lucy and Tracey were incredible support for us.  It is very selfish to ask someone to follow you around Europe dragging bags, driving every day on back roads through remote villages, waking up at 6am every day during your vacation and preparing meals for two guys who were at times out of sorts.  The list goes on, but you can understand the sacrafices they made!  They fact that these two women not only volunteered to support us, but were in fact so enthusiastic to do so was very humbeling.  I am indeed a lucky man to be married to such an incredible woman! 

We have a few more days here in Italy before we start heading back to the United States.  Once again a more complete entry will follow, but I wanted to let you know how it all ended and once again say thank you to the most incredible support crew of the 2010 TransAlps MTB Race!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Race Report: Stage 7 TransALPs – Male to Madonna di Campiglio, Italy

Today was a moderately restful day, primarily because we didn’t have to move all our junk from one hotel to the next. We took the guys into Male and dropped them at the start line and then headed to the tourist office to inquire about river rafting! Tracey had never been white water rafting, and it had been years since I had been, so it seemed like a fun way to spend the morning. We paid our 36 Euros and off we went with a bus load of Italians suited up in wet suits and kayak helmets.

They took us up river to the put-in spot, which just happened to be about 200 feet away from a paved bike path that the TransALPs racers were riding on. It was a crazy coincidence that just as we were standing on the bank of the river with the other clients, Drew and David rode by! I ran up the bank and yelled at the top of my lungs “Go, Drew! Go, David!” but wasn’t sure if they heard me.

The river at first was really tame, and we were worried we had paid good money for a float on a lake.

We pulled off to the side and did a “swim test” where we jumped in the river, floated downstream with our feet pointing downstream, and then swam to the bank. Brr! We got back on and did some little waves that were pretty fun. When the guide pulled over and let the kids out of the boat and went over the paddling and weigh-shifting instructions again, we figured we were in for some real white water.

Down we went through the big waves; it was pretty exciting and we got pretty wet. The guide said the rapids were about a class 3+. Tracey had fun, even with her now-we-think-it-is-broken finger. I promise I’m not dragging her along on all these risky adventures; they’ve been her ideas!

After our rafting adventure, we loaded up some Cokes and sandwiches and headed up the hairpin curves in the truck to the finish town of Madonna di Campignio, a ritzy ski town. One of the reasons we are staying in Commezzadura for two nights is that Hotels in MdC were exorbitantly expensive. It had started to rain at the end of our rafting trip, and by this time and this altitude, it was almost pouring. We knew the guys would be muddy and cold, and when they rolled across the finish line in 4:50 with their white rain jackets on, we didn’t even recognize them.

Turns out they did hear me shouting down by the river as they rode by hours earlier, and they were very happy to see us there at the cold and rainy finish line.
David had the luck of the Irish today. At one spot where he stopped to rest for a second, he happened to look down and see a bolt fall out of his crank! Even luckier was that the nut was still on the back of the crank! Two other bolts were loose as well. If he had not seen the bolt fall out, and things had progressed to where he felt the crank loose, it would have been too late to repair with duct tape or zip ties, and no one carries spare bolts. He would have been pushing up the hills for about 4 km.

At the end of each day, there is still bike washing and maintenance to do, so after we got them some hot coffee and sent them to the bike wash and bike lock-down, Tracey and I sat inside a warm hotel for a cup of “tall coffee” as opposed to the tiny cups of espresso normally served here in Italy.

Back down the hill to relax for an evening watching the rain and catching up on email and blogging with a glass of wine before we cook chicken and pasta with pesto here at the apartment.

Race Report: TransALPs Stage 6 – Ponte di Legno to Male

After the wicked long day yesterday and the not very relaxing stay at Hotel Garni Pegra, we were all anxious to get Stage 6 started. The hotel was not exactly prepared to serve breakfast to a large number of hungry bikers; the food and coffee were good, but the service was poor once again. Since we were only 400 m from the start line, they guys simply rode to the start chute and were off on their own, which gave Tracey and me time to breath and catch up on email and blogging. I was also determined to stay up until check out time, since the crabby manager seemed to want us out before the posted 9:30 AM check out.

We loaded up the truck once again and off we went up and over another pass. The area’s bread and butter must be skiing, but there were loads of people up at the first pass riding the cable cars,

hiking, or perhaps shopping at a bazaar at the village at the pass. We made it around to Commezzadura, a town very near the finish line at Male, Italy, in good time and checked into our apartments. Apartments in Europe are similar to what we would call a vacation condo in the U.S. In addition to a bedroom and bath, it had a small kitchen, a walk out patio, and laundry facilities. This particular apartment, Residenza Turistico Alberghiera La Morentina, or RTA La Morentina, was brand new, very nice, and absolutely what we needed. We are staying in these apartments for two nights, which makes us all so happy not to be packing up and moving on tomorrow morning.

Our plan was to go grocery shopping for supplies for a couple of dinners and snacks for two days before the guys were due in, but Italy has other plans for potential shoppers from 12:30 to 3 in the afternoon. The only thing we could find open was a gelato and coffee shop, so we sat for a minute in the shade for a scoop of ice cream of some unknown flavor and excellent coffee.

Since the shops didn’t open until 3 PM, there was really nothing else to do but wait at the finish line again.

We collected the guys again after almost 6 hours on the bike today. Here is a 12 second video that you really must watch to see them cross the finish line and hear the German announcer announce Andrew Jordan and David Dowdall team Supersonic Tortoises.

They were tired, dirty, and overheated, but in good spirits.

The organizers made good use of the town fountain to keep the drinks and fruit cool at the food station at the finish line.

Male was a nice enough town with a church

And shops on narrow streets.

Taking in some substantial food after that kind of effort is really important so we stopped at a pizzeria

where they actually had wine on tap!

After we dropped the guys at the apartments, Tracey and I were able to go grocery shopping at a small supermarket. The variety and supply of pasta, both dried and fresh, was almost overwhelming. In the end, we picked up some penne and sauces to be able to cook simple dinners for the next two nights

and eat in for a change.

Time for laundry

and conversing with the manager in Italian (no, none of us know Italian) on the lawn before sundown and lights out for us while the rest of the locals come to life on the streets.