Dec 18, 2014

Ms. BikeBike's L'Eroica Report

Quick Note: A couple of other posts from Italy that may be of interest to you - 

- Doors of Italy

- Sean's L'Eroica Report

- Headtube Badges of L'Eroica

- Italians like it Low, Low, Low

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That day will be forever etched into my memory.

I burst forth from my comfort zone right into the twilight zone.

First, I am not a cyclist. I ride pretty, upright, heavy bikes - SLOWLY. Second, I never thought I'd ride a "fast" bike on gravel roads in Tuscany.

I awoke that morning at 4 am when Sean left the room to embark on his dream. I had to now wait for 7am when my day would begin. I had the shakes from the moment I put my feet on the tile. I was so nervous. The group I was with meet in the breakfast room and they could see the beads of sweat on my face!

I can't believe I am here. This was near the end of the day.  I loved that the sun was shining and look at that backdrop!!

I made sure to visit the bathroom plenty of times. I was still nervous and I also have a medical condition.  I have an ostomy, meaning, I have no colon. It was removed about three years ago. I have a bag attached to me that carries the waste, lovingly known as "The Appliance". I was diagnosed with Ulceritive Colitis in 2010 and had an operation to remove my colon in October 2011. The family of irritable bowel disease has a very large membership of roughly 1 in 100. Living with this disease is tough. The surgery removed most of the pain I was experiencing but I still spend hours in the bathroom.

I dress different then I used to. I constantly live with the fear of the appliance failing. With that fear comes the shame if it does blow. When you're a mom you clean up poop and it's not a big deal, everyone has to do it. But adult poop, and all over your clothes, socks too? That is sometimes just too much to deal with. It usually takes me a day or two to get over it and sometimes it happens many times a week. I know I am not dirty. I am just not the same. I do often forget I have it and at times that I am grateful for my ostomy. I talk about my condition as much as people are willing to listen. I know that if more people know about the disease the shame that I feel will be less.

I put all those worries that come with this condition aside for this ride. I wasn't going to worry about the bathrooms or the chance I could have a leak. Nope, I was going to get those bib shorts on and the jersey that made me a team member on and put my best self forward!

We left the villa and I can say the temperature was so low I could see my breath! The 5kms ride into Gaioli was beautiful. I did have an upright position on this beauty bike Sean built for me and I made sure to look around during the ride as much as I could. I could hear gunshots and asked my guide what they were. He said they were shooting wild boar. It reminded me of growing up in Central Alberta. The gunshots, not the boar. Before the start of the ride we had a very steep (a push for me) climb up to the castle for the official photo.

The Brooks England gang ready for a most beautiful day.


I love the group ride experience. Our shop hosts plenty of rides in the summer and usually has about 60 people out for them. This was going to be a group ride with 5,000+, an adventure I was excited to be a part of!



The large group that I lined up with was not to be seen again until we meet for our dinner. The long cue helped calm the nerves. The best bike parade ever! I thought I may have a chance at riding this and feeling good at the end! I have rode the distance before. We've ridden the Legacy Trail from Banff to Canmore, there and back., which is about 40km. 38km didn't really scare me. At this moment I believe it's going to be a breeze. There is suppose to be checkpoints ahead with food and wine! For sure the croissant I had this morning will be enough, right?



We leave on a paved road and wind around the hills. I have a large smile on my face. The beauty, wow! There are a few families at the end of their driveways sitting on chairs and cheering us on. I am getting tired already and long to stop and watch this group go by. It must be great to see this happen in your backyard every year. I start a climb and it feels like the temperature has now hit the mid 20's. I am wearing the Brooks wool jersey and wish I had an under layer to remove. I get to the top of the hill and I haven't walked! I round the corner stop and join a few of my Brooks team. I feel great I can do this!! We mount again and as I round the corner to the castle the lanterns in the forest are still burning. What a sight that would have been in the dusk.

But this is where the walking begins. A paved switch back not so bad I think. I crest the top and now the gravel descent begins. I have good tires and brakes so I now break away from our little group. I can't believe the views I have the bright sun that has been with us all day. Couldn't get much better. Except for the the next part and, well, the part after that where I walked and walked my bike up steep hills, that part sucked. I know the routine - you go up a hill and you get the down hill. I am from Calgary, I get it.

Ok, I am pooped.  Out of water at the top (I think) of a hill and not sure how much further to more water.  The view is of a cemetery, wondering if they have water there!? I am hopeful for a storm of rain and food. This was not the top of the hill.

However, these hills are unlike anything I have ever ridden! Endless switchbacks on white gravel. I had one water bottle and as the day passed and the sun got higher I got worried. I was on my own and walking again when I found a wall to sit on and drink the last of my water. Thankfully my friend Gian-Marco had some dried fruit and chocolate to save the day. More members of our merry band arrive and we roll. I am at this point questioning my decision to have one water bottle and no food. We do have a map but have no idea how far the food stop is.

Finally around a few more corners and a little more walking we can see the check stop. I don't look when we go by the ambulance and the person in the ditch. "Happens every year" Gian-Marco says...EWWW! The food stop had no bathrooms. I know there is nature abound but I can't go squat in a ditch or behind a bush. I am sweaty to say the least so I am hoping the moisture I feel is sweat only and not a blowout. I am grateful to munch something and drink a lot of water. We ride the last bit of white gravel and some lovely pavement

The three of us Brooks team women ride together around the last corner onto the main street where it seems like the whole town has showed up! The crowd makes me smile so big. I am not a competitor so I don't know the accolades of a finish line. Claps and cheers for us? Aww, shucks! We only rode our bikes well kinda mostly walked 38km. It was hard but clapping?   A local asked to have her picture taken with us.  I may now know that I've done something special.  I have had a few texts from Sean and he is having a tough day but is getting close to the finish line too. We are lined up to receive our stamp and prize (wine).


Sean had finished his journey and I am happy to put my arms around him. This journey started at 7am and I have not been to the bathroom. Its now 3:30, I don't want to see a bathroom I am very afraid of what I may find. All that sweat I thought the appliance may have moved, which means a mess. We both feel light headed and exhausted so we now head back to the villa - 5kms of more riding!! I can say that taking my clothes off and seeing nothing happened was such a relief. Not only did I make it - so did my appliance!

This ride was such a challenge for me. It was National Ostomy Awareness Day and that made me feel like a warrior.  I was never sure anything in my life would be ok after the surgery.  I was very excited to challenge the way I think about myself and see myself.  This was a ride but also a journey for me.  A quest of strength that I will take with me forever.  I didn't ask for this, it was Sean's dream, but I am so grateful for having tagged along and found a little piece of my warrior spirit again.

Thanks for reading!

Nadia
Ms. BikeBike

Mr. BikeBike's Eroica 2014 Report

Quick Note: A couple of other posts from Italy that may be of interest to you - 

- Doors of Italy

- Nadia's L'Eroica Report

- Headtube Badges of L'Eroica

- Italians Like It Low, Low, Low

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Dreams do come true. Don't let anyone tell you different.

I was a teenage bike racer brat a long time ago and back in those days of leather hairnets, steel road bikes, and all things road racing - Italy was where it was at.  In my mind, Italy was a mythical realm, filled with pasta, winding roads through picture perfect terrain, ultra fast pro bike racers, pizza, and Campagnolo.

I'd always wanted to go to Italy and ride my bike around and guessed it would probably be incredible, but I hadn't planned on going anytime soon.  You know, working and life and stuff. I was content on getting my Italy fix from afar: watching pro cycle racing on the intranetwebs, eating pasta, drinking chianti, and finally riding a bike with Campagnolo on it.

So an email arived one day, out of the blue. It was from Michele at Brooks - we (Nadia and I) were invited to attend the 2014 L'Eroica in October, in, you guessed it, ITALY!  >SQUEAL!!!!!!!!!<

L'Eroica is "a poem written with a bicycle" - maybe best described as a heritage festival celebrating road racing history: wool jerseys, racing bikes made of steel,  gravel roads, and local communities.  To some, it is a pilgramige. The very first time I found out about it I've wanted to go SO BAD! I could never get in through the registration and had basically given up ever riding in it. To think that suddenly, out of the blue, I was in? So amazing.

Here is my L'Eroica photo essay.  I chose the 135km route, which proved to be equal parts gorgeous, inspiring, painful, and magical.  Enjoy.


Day before the event preride leg shakeout to Siena (in the distance). My first day of riding on Tuscan roads gave me a sweet taste of the incredibly fun roads we'd be tackling tomorrow. It also let me know that L'Eroica would be as big a challenge as many had mentioned!

A few "heroic" participants enjoying the Saturday afternoon market day. So many period bikes and costumed riders!
Saturday Market Day. Dozens of vendors had so much retro product on display it was mind-boggling. Everything from complete bikes to old jerseys, all the way down to the smallest nut and bolt was on display. Prices seems quite high but with a captive audience on hand I can understand why.
Many vendors had new and old versions of these cyclist figurines on hand, some new, some old - or really old in this case.
An overhead shot of just one part of the Vintage Market. It was packed shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the day with people looking for that final part for their vintage bike restoration and folks completing their vintage outfit with a cycling cap or leather helmet. We spent hours just sitting and watching all the smiling people milling about.
Big thrill for me! Got to meet and chat with (ex-pro) Erik Zabel at the Saturday night dinner held in the heart of the small town of Gaiole. He was very gracious, looked to be as fit as when he was a pro, and was as excited as the rest of us to be here and participating in L'Eroica.
All the Brooks England people enjoying the festive night and the endless parade of tasty eats. I still can't figure out how Italians can eat so much!
Pinned up and ready for tomorrow! The map was useful and the roadbook would collect the stamps at the checkpoints along the way.
Awake at 4am, a quick breakfast of croissants and coffee, and out the villa door for the 5km ride into town for the start. Participants in the longer distances had to depart Gaiole between 5:30-7:30am. I started my ride at 5:45am.
The scene at this cafe in the Gaiole town centre was great. The cafe was packed and so many milling about, just felt like magic.
Cold, and excited riders lined up and slowly making our way towards the first checkpoint. This is where the judges would check your bike for appropriate "vintageness". Not vintage enough, NO STAMPA! (inside joke)
About 1km down the road my (thought was fully charged) headlight's "red light of doom" came on. With close to 2 hours of darkness ahead of me I turned it off and began following a small train of 3-4 riders. Little did I know they missed the first turn and I ended up adding 16kms onto my day before finally getting back on track. This is near the top of the first climb (6kms in length) where the locals had lined the strada bianchi with candles all the way to the top - MAGICAL!
The sun rising over the Tuscan countryside. Not much more to be said :)
Friends told me that the steepness of the roads in Tuscany was something to behold, and fear. Now I know why. In a place where many roads are just modern goat paths and with very little ice and snow ever, the gradients in places forced many to walk or weave across the road. And that sun rise!
Chaos at the first checkpoint, 49kms in (65kms for me). A sea of wool and steel greeted me once past the checkpoint. This is where my first taste of the Tuscan-inspired food and drink. Salami sandwiches, homemade cakes, and sweet tea. I loaded my pockets with sandwiches and chunks of banana and pushed on.
Somewhere around 65km in the route went straight through a small town into the town square. Lots of people watching and cheering the riders.
In the town square was another rest stop with more of the same tasty eats.
One curiosity of L'Eroica were the "teams" of riders who were all dressed in their vintage club kits rolling around together and having a great time.  So much noise making, yelling, and general rabble rousing was fun to be around.


A dozen kilometres or so after the last checkpoint the strada bianchi sections appeared again and started to get hillier and longer. On oddity (to me at least): on the pavement sections, I was getting passed by dozens of riders but as soon as we hit the strada bianchi I would immediately begin reeling them back in even though I was not trying any harder. I can only guess that I was more comfortable on gravel then most everyone else.
95km (111km for me) checkpoint at Asciano. More of the same tasty Tuscan eats but with a bonus: traditional bread soup and red wine!
The spread of food was eye-popping. So was trying to get to it, you definitely had to get your"elbows up" to get into the food line :)
Little did I know that from this point on, the "real" ride begins: read, very steep roads on very loose gravel.
Straight out of the Asciano checkpoint the road started climbing on a 14km section of strada bianchi that included about 6km's of steep ramps up on bumpy, loose gravel. You can see the washboard on the road surface. I'm proud to say I rode the whole climb when so many were walking. I've never road a climb that was this difficult, truly "heroic" effort!
Getting close to the very very top of the climbing section out of Asciano. I'll never forget the families hanging out on the road for the day, cherring on the riders, handing up food and water, and making me smile although I mostly wanted to grimace.
Finally finished! The last 20kms were exceptionally difficult due to rotating cramps in my calves and quads and the climbing on the strada bianchi. One saving grace: the cramps went away 500m from the top of the last climb to Brolio, making the 6km decent down SO MUCH FUN!
Arriving back into Gaiole there were throngs of people lining the road to the finish, cheering on each and every rider. This, coupled with how demolished I felt after completing the 135km route and the knowledge that I had made one of my dreams come true, brought tears to my eyes. I'll never forget the feeling of excruciating joy I had.

What a day!

Nadia (pictured above) also had her own heroic day at L'Eroica and we'll have a report from her soon!

Dec 17, 2014

The Doors of Italy

Nadia couldn't help but notice all the lovely door art in Italy.

Enjoy this photoset of the best door art, door handles, and door knockers seem on our adventure in Italy.