Saturday, April 22, 2017

Scorpion 600km Brevet

Ride Report
April 2017

The final brevet of the 2017 spring season is the aptly named Scorpion 600km. This was the second running of this Mike Sturgill designed course that provides an outstanding sampler of Arizona road riding. With Arizona's territorial capital (Prescott) to the north, Saguaro Lake to the east, and a healthy slice of metro Phoenix (Phoenix, Sun City, Cave Creek, Carefree, Fountain Hills, Scottsdale, and Mesa) in between, it is quite a route. Throw in the sting of 15,000 feet of climbing over 375 miles, and it rightly earns its moniker of Scorpion 600!
Bob Larson, Roger Peskett and Mike Sturgill at the start
As is typical with the brevet season, as the distances increase, the number of riders decrease. This brevet was notable in that not only was is lightly attended (three riders); the pre-ride (ride organizer and several volunteers) that occurred the previous week, actually had more riders!

The brevet day riders were Bob Larson, Roger Peskett, and yours truly. Mike Sturgill, organizer and Trail Boss, met us at the start/finish line at the Days Inn at I-17 and Deer Valley Road to provide our brevet cards and rider brief. He joined us for the run up to Carefree/Cave Creek. We were treated to a glorious sunrise, and spectacular desert scenery to the first control in Carefree. The route continued through Cave Creek and descended to the Carefree Highway. Somewhere along here Mike, flatted on a descent while riding fourth wheel. Our momentum quickly carried us out of earshot. We thought he had dropped off to head home, but we had inadvertently dropped him!
Bob and Roger on AZ 89 toward Congress
Thankfully lake traffic was light and with a slight tailwind we headed east to US 60 and the second control in Wickenburg AZ. After a quick reload we headed north toward AZ 89 and Congress AZ. Leaving Wickenburg, we crossed Vulture Mine Road, last year my brevet season ended abruptly with that ride. Bob said, "Hey Steve, Vulture Mine Road, isn't that where you crashed last year?" "Yes, yes it was (2016 ride report)!"

The real climbing on this ride starts at the Yarnell Hill (6 miles at 6%) and you can see the road cuts in the mountain from miles away. Congress AZ is at the foot of the hill, and as we entered town, my Garmin computer froze. While resetting it, I ran up on Roger's realwheel for a bit of a scare and flashback to last year!
Desert in full bloom on Yarnell Hill
The trio worked well together all the way to the base of the hill, but alas, the legs were not there to keep up, so Roger and Bob slowly disappeared in to the distance!
Roger and Bob on the climb!
Roger and Bob waited in Yarnell, and we rolled through Peeples Valley together and a reload at the convenience store there. The next official control was 30 miles away at the turn around in Prescott, but as the climbing resumed on the road to Wilhoit, we separated again.

The high desert grass and scrub soon disappeared and was replaced with Pondersosa Pines as the climbing continued to the high point of the ride at 6200 feet. With a little snow in the shadows, and expansive mountain views, it was quite a scenic section of road. The only drawback; a constant stream of motorcycles (mostly loud Harleys) on their way to Historic Whiskey Row in Prescott!
Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott
The Prescott control is any establishment on the Town Square. Spotting Roger and Bob finishing a slice at Bob's Pizza, the decision was easy where to stop. A slice of meat-lovers pizza washed down with a Mountain Dew (and a receipt) hit the spot nicely. Roger and Bob were off mid-slice just as a few sprinkles threatened a potentially wet departure from Prescott. Luckily, the sprinkles stopped before the road became wet.

The route climbs out of Prescott for a few miles back to the 6200 foot summit, then generally descends all the way to Phoenix. However, the winds, which had been favorable for the whole day, were now right on the nose and especially heavy in Peeples Valley!
Just a little windy in Peeples Valley
Lush farms and outstanding scenery
The convenience store in Peeples Valley was a great place to get some relief from the wind and reload some calories. A half-pint of potato salad washed down with an Ensure shake provided a quick 600 calories and it was back into the wind and the short climb to Yarnell and finally the payoff of 6 miles of 6% descent. The descent was tricky with the constantly changing winds due to the many twists and switchbacks on the road!

Reaching Congress and turning south, the winds shifted off the nose to a crosswind, a welcome improvement! The sun set as the road continued to Wickenburg and another control and more food at the Burger King! As the lights of Phoenix eventually came into view, the route continues southeast to Sun City and another control before heading north and back to the control at the Days Inn.

Rolling into the motel at 11:30pm, the plan was to check-in, eat, shower, and get a 4-5 hour nap and be back on the road by 5 am. After a Denny's Grand Slam, quick shower, it was 'lights out' as my head hit the pillow.

Waking before the alarm went off at 4 am, and wanting to get this one done before it got hot in the afternoon, it was back on the bike with lights blazing into the morning darkness. Again treated with an awesome sunrise, the route heads east to Pinnacle Peak and the fun 9 Mile Descent to Fountain hills.

The Fountain of the Hills
The route continues along the Beeline Highway to the Saguaro Lake/Bush Highway exit. Winds were relatively light and favorable, and unusual for a morning ride along the Beeline. The route continues past Saguaro Lake and the Salt River Recreation area to the steep but short climb up King Kong. Another control in Mesa before crossing the mighty Salt River to rejoin the Beeline Highway back to Fountain Hills. At the foothills to the Superstition Mountains, the expanse of the Valley is clearly visible, along with the realization that the finish is on the 'other side of town!'
Gilbert Road Bridge over the Salt River
The Gilbert Road crossing consists of two bridges, one that can withstand heavy river flow, and one that is designed so that the approaches 'wash out' before the bridge gives way. All traffic was diverted to the larger bridge as the lower bridge was stranded by the last flow of the Salt River!

Wind back on the nose for the last 30 miles of the ride!
The route generally heads west across the valley through Scottsdale and North Phoenix to the finish at I-17 and Deer Valley Road. BANG! Only 4 miles from the finish, a blowout. The tube had worked its way through a sidewall cut on the rear tire. After a quick stop, using a PowerBar wrapper as a boot (to prevent the replacement tube from the same fate), the tire was repaired and I was on my way to the finish.
At the finish
My faithful weekend companion!
33 hours and 35 minutes after the start, this one was in the bag! After last year's shortened season, it was nice to have this year's series completed. Thanks Mike for a great route and Roger and Bob for the companionship on the first 200km!

Steve Atkins

Click here for map and ride data









Sunday, March 26, 2017

Around the Bend 400km Brevet

Ride Report
March 2017

The third installment of the 2017 AZ Brevet series featured the return of Around the Bend 400km, with a twist, or rather a reversal. Its the same Tom Baker route run the past several years, but to change it up, the start was moved to Sun Lakes (from Casa Grande) and the direction reversed. We would head west toward Buckeye and Goodyear, then south to Gila Bend. From there, Maricopa, Casa Grande, Florence, Queen Creek, and finally back to Sun Lakes.

15 or so riders arrived at the start, and after an informal rider brief; Tom Baker says, "OK its 6 am, you guys can get started" and before a photo could be taken, we were off. 5 riders and a Tandem formed a fast group and that bolted westbound on Riggs road.
Fast movers on Riggs/51st Ave
The group fell into a fast pace, but with calm winds and a pancake flat course we maintained a 21+ mph pace. Paul and Jennifer on a tandem would get gapped at traffic lights, but for the most part we stayed together to the informational control in Goodyear.

Tom was there with water, snacks, and signed our control cards. With the temperatures rising, we stowed the layers and reflective gear and rolled out toward old US 80.
Lush farmland in the Gila River basin
Rollers just before Gillespie Dam

Gillespie Dam Bridge
After a couple of short rollers we crossed the 'Gila' at the Gillespie Dam Bridge. More pancake flat riding on mostly recently repaved roads meant our pace stayed well above 20 mph!
100 miles under 5 hours!
Just a few miles from the control, the route leaves US 80 and takes a back road loop on a rough patch of pavement. Paul flatted along here and Mike and I continued to the control stop. We arrived before Carlton, and a little later the Fast Canadians arrived after two flat repairs!
Gila Bend Control with Carlton
Figuring that the group would catch me on the climb to Maricopa, I set out early to ride at a easier pace and to investigate the unusual noise coming from my rear derailleur. After stopping to check it on the edge of town it was clear that the chain was installed incorrectly (my fault) and was rubbing on a stop in the cage. Not wanting to waste time, the repair would have to wait until next control in Maricopa. The plan, to either find a bike shop or make the repair on my own (it would require 'breaking the chain,' reinstalling the chain, and connecting with a fast-link).

Mike caught me outside of town and just after we crested the climb 20 miles later the Fast Canadians flashed by (they had suffered another flat!). We hopped on that train, but after a pull at the front, it was clear my time with this group was over. Dropping back and rolling into Maricopa I would find the group at a Circle K.

No bike shops in town, but the good news was the necessary parts and tools were in my repair kit. After procuring some food (chicken soup and chips) the repair was easy and quick in between bites! The group was ready to leave and offered to wait, but not wanting to maintain their pace and I bid them farewell.

15 minutes later the chain was repaired and I was on my way. (Editor's note: After the ride Mike Cox of Curbside Cyclery showed me how to make this repair without breaking the chain. Simply remove the lower pulley, twist the cage, and reroute the chain, about a 3 min repair!)Winds were light and road conditions were good. After checking in at the control in Stanfield, the route rolls along familiar roads through Casa Grande to Coolidge. With the sun starting to set, hot dog and lemonade cravings set in, all items that can be procured at the Circle K in Coolidge!
Dinner in Coolidge!
Just a short break at Chez Circle K, and after getting the reflective gear on, it was on to the next control in Florence. Another Circle K, another Starbucks Frappiccino, and it was off into the night for the final run through Queen Creek and the finish in Sun Lakes.

Tom Baker was there at the finish and checked me in. I finished in 14 hours and 43 minutes, 10 minutes faster than my previous best 400 km time. Special thanks to Stephen, Paul, Steve, and Mike for dragging me along for the first 200km!

Steve Atkins

Click here for GPS data








Sunday, March 12, 2017

Gila Monster 300km Brevet

Ride Report
February 2017

16 riders lined up in the Coolidge Arizona Walmart parking lot for the 2017 edition of the Gila Monster 300km brevet. Roger Peskett (who provided support at Oracle Junction) and Bob Larsen pre-rode the route the previous week to check out the road conditions be available for SAG support during the day.

Carlton leads the Rider Meeting
A relatively civilized start at 0700, but with sunrise at 0721 and temperatures in the 40's, extra layers and reflective gear were the order of the morning. A large contingent of fast riders formed at the start, and happily we settled into a reasonably fast pace and headed out of town toward the first control at Oracle Junction.

Its about 12 miles to the right turn onto AZ77, then its a long 'false flat climb' (2000 feet over 32 miles) before a 5 mile descent to Oracle Junction. With such a large group, each person only needed to take 2 or 3 pulls before we had the top of the hill in sight.

With a change up front about a mile from the top, the pace quickened and I dropped off, too early to burn matches! I was able to keep the group in sight on the descent and arrived at the control just a few minutes behind the lead group.
Carlton and Roger at Oracle Junction
After a quick reload, and peeling off a layer, I left the control and resumed climbing toward Oracle. The lead group was already out of sight and I settled into my own pace. Its another 12 miles of gentle climbing to Oracle, and with the sun out and recent rains, the air was crystal clear with stunning views.
Grassy desert!
Hitting the top at Oracle the road tilts down for about 10-12 miles of 5-7% downgrades, very fast and fun, and with the morning warming up, not too cold. After rolling through Mammoth, I stopped at a paved pullout for a break and to eat some snacks and check in with Debby. It was about this number of miles (different route) where I crashed in last years Vulture Mine 300km Brevet! For some reason Debby requested more frequent check-in texts/calls for the balance of the day.
Nearing Winkelman AZ
The smokestack from the old smelter is visible from nearly 10 miles away, and at its base would be Carlton and the lunch stop.

Carlton carving portions off a 6-foot submarine sandwich
Temperatures were rising, and Carlton suggested picking up an extra water bottle in Kearney since the next water would not be until Superior. After a sandwich, chips and a Coke I was on my way. After a stop at the Dollar Store in Kearney for a water refill, the climbing starts again at the Ray Mine and continues to the 'End of the World' climb.
The Ray Mine
After a short steep punch the climbing eases off and continues up and past the Ray Mine. From this section of the road you can view the vast and colorful Ray Mine works. Not an low impact business by any stretch!
Wash at the base of the EOW climb
The climb is a double dip, so after reaching a false summit the route drops steeply for about a mile before tilting up at 10%+ for a little more than a mile of uphill suffering to the End of the World!
Weavers Needle in the distance, at the EOW summit
Head down, lowest gear, and 20 minutes of uphill grinding are rewarded with a great view of the Superstition Range and the next stop in Superior AZ.

Due to construction on US 60, the route heads into town and down Main Street. I stopped at a grocery in Superior looking for some salt and calories. Chips; check, Starbucks Frappaccino; not stocked but I grabbed a Dunkin Dounuts coffee drink instead.

Leaving Superior, the construction zone only extended a mile or two, then we were treated to the new and improved US 60, divided highway with ample shoulders all the way to the turn around/checkpoint in Gold Canyon.

This was an 'open control' meaning a receipt from any business would suffice. I was craving fries and Coke so it was the Jack-In-The-Box restaurant for me! They must have been gourmet fries, because they took nearly 20 minutes to get! No worries, time to reconfigure the layers, check lights and don the reflective gear for the final run back to Florence and Coolidge.
Fries and a Coke to go!
I rolled out as the sun was nearing the horizon, and was treated with this fantastic sunset at Florence Junction.
Sunset with 25 miles to go
The Coke and fries were a good start. Mix in a Starbuck's Frappaccino from the Florence Circle K (control) and finally I was starting to feel strong again, I was able to hold a strong pace for the last 10 miles of the ride and find Carlton at the finish in the Walmart parking lot. Rolling in about 8:15 PM; that put my total time at 13 hours 15 minutes. Not my fastest time, but after a year off, it was good to get the 300km Monkey off my back!

I grabbed a sandwich for the road and was happy to have this 300km brevet in the books! Thanks Carlton for the great support and putting this route back into the rotation!

Steve Atkins

 Click here for GPS Data



Sunday, January 8, 2017

Saguaro Lake 200km Brevet

Ride Report
January 2017
Mike Sturgill gives the rider brief
Back in the saddle! This is the first brevet on the 2017 Southern Arizona Brevet Series. It also marked my return to brevet riding after last years season ended unexpectedly about about a third of the way into the Vulture Mine 300.

About 45 riders gathered in the Fountain Hills Safeway parking lot for the start of the 100km and 200km events. Many of the usual suspects were at the start. Mike Sturgill, the Trail Boss for the events noted in the rider brief that the start list included RUSA member number 4 (RUSA was founded in 1999) and RUSA member number 11733 (possibly the newest member), a nice mix of experienced and new brevet riders. Mike also introduced Alan Johnson, who would be providing support on Bush Highway and the Cashman park control.

The group rolled out at 7:30am and by the time the riders reached the Beeline Highway, several groups had formed. The lead group was riding at a pace that was a little too hot for my pleasure so about half-way to the Bush Highway turn-off they were off the front and disappearing out of sight.

We were treated to fresh pavement from the Beeline to Saguaro Lake. While still only a two-lane highway, the new surface had 1-2 feet of pavement on the outside of the fog line, and with the sometimes heavy lake traffic, it was very welcome indeed.

Mike Sturgill set up the first checkpoint at the top of Usery Pass, 28 miles into the ride. With cloud cover and a stout breeze from the north, it was quite chilly. Paul Danhaus and his stoker Susanne Stack rolled up on their tandem bike. Paul is from Wisconsin, but participates in many AZ Brevets. We would see each other quite often during the remainder of the day. After a quick bottle reload and visit with Mike and Paul it was back on the road.

The route loops around the Las Sendas Development, descends the world famous King Kong hill and heads northeast along the Salt River to Saguaro Lake and back to the Beeline. This is my favorite section of this route with fantastic mountain, lake and river views. The improved pavement was an added bonus!
Four Peaks in the distance

Hiking/Equestrian trail along the Salt River
Salt River, near Water User access area
Saguaro Lake
Alan set up his SAG stop at the Butcher Jones turnoff, about 48 miles into the ride. Carlton van Leuven was waiting at the stop, he had dropped out of the lead group and was waiting for me so we could ride back to Fountain Hills together.

Once on the Beeline, the wind was at our back and we made quick work to the next control at the Safeway where we started. This was the half-way point for the 200km route, and the finish for the 100km. Included in the entry fee for both was a coupon for a Subway meal deal. Carlton had signed up for the 100km so he packed up and headed back to continue his weekend chores. After checking in with Mike, grabbing a sandwich, chips and a drink, and changing into lighter clothes, it was back on the road.

The route continues through Scottsdale and Phoenix. After the beautiful scenery of the Saguaro Lake area, the many turns, traffic lights, and city traffic, is a little hard to take. The fourth control at Cashman Park is at the north edge of town, and at 89 miles is a welcome stop.

Earlier in the ride Carlton had mentioned that Stephen Kinny's bike had a bottom bracket/crank failure and he had dropped out. Just before arriving at the park, a rider appeared in my rear-view mirror. In no time, Stephen shouted out a hearty hello! In true randonnering spirit he had hitchhiked to several bike shops, found a rental bike, and even more notable, secured the rental without an ID or credit card! He was powering through the field on his way to the finish.

We rolled into the park, expecting volunteer support. Alan was not there and Stephen walked up to table that a mom that was setting up for a girls birthday party. Not noticing the Barbie Birthday cake and thinking the water bottles she was setting out were for us, he walked right up to the table and started to grab a water. She looked horrified, until we shouted out, hey Steve, that is not our SAG!

After apologies and a great laugh, we rolled out together, but Stephen was on a mission to catch up to his mates, and was out of sight in a couple hundred meters!

After a few more turns, the route heads east for about 10 miles of gentle climbing to the next control at the Shell Station/Grocery at Pinnacle Peak. Rolling into the control, Roger Peskett was standing near the door. Roger was with the fast movers and it was surprising to see him there. The surprise disappeared when he showed me his sheared off crank arm. It had failed shortly before the control. He was waiting for another rider to complete his brevet and return to pick him up!

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Roger's failed crank arm
This control required 'proof of passage' so after purchasing a coffee drink, noting the time, putting the receipt in my brevet card, and biding Roger farewell, it was back on the route for the final 21 miles of the route.
Almost there!
Just past the control, the route heads down 9-Mile Hill (Dynamite Road) to the Rio Verde Development before heading south to the finish in Fountain Hills. The wind was really pressing, and normally it is easy to descent at 30+ mph. With a strong crossing headwind from the northeast, it was real work to hold 20+ mph. No complaints though, because at the bottom of the hill where the route turned south, is was easy to hold a strong pace to the finish with a great tailwind!

Rolling into the Safeway, it was surprising to see a half-dozen bikes parked outside. I added my steed to the herd and went inside. Stephen Kenny and his Merry Band of Fast Canadians were holding court with Mike Sturgill at the instore Starbucks. They were giving Stephen the requisite grief for 'making them wait for hours' for him to finish! After signing my brevet card and thanking Mike for another great brevet, it was time to head home.

After nearly a year away from brevet riding, it was good to be back in the saddle and looking forward to the 300km Gila Monster Brevet next month.

Steve Atkins

Click here for Ride with GPS route data










Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tour of Southern Italy


Ride Report
September 2016

Trigger warnings: 11 fantastic days on the bikes in southern Italy! Outstanding views! Gratuitous bike porn! Fantastic food! Open containers! You may need a double expresso to get all the way through this post!

In 2005 we considered taking the Ciclismo Classico (CC) Ride Across Italy for our 25th Anniversary. We had seen great reviews about the route and the tour company. Alas, the offered dates would not work due to scheduling conflicts with the kid's schedule, so we ended up taking their Tour de France trip, and had a blast!

We should do that Italy trip!
With the AECOM merger fully in the rear-view mirror, we were looking for a long vacation with the bikes. Debby said, "we should do that Italy trip." We hopped on the CC website and noted a new and longer tour across southern Italy. The dates worked perfectly (September is a 5-week fiscal month), perfect for a 2+ week vacation and we were off!

Pre-ride

The tour started in Polignano al Mare, about 100 kilometers south of Bari on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy. We decided to spend two nights before the tour to assemble the bikes, adjust to the time change, and tour Polignano and Bari.
Arriving at FCO airport in Rome
Arriving in Rome, we had 5 hours before the train to Bari departed, so we checked the bags at the train station and set out on foot for a little sightseeing in Rome. We grabbed a tourist map at the train station and noted that the Colosseo was only a few kilometers away, so we headed that direction.
We found it!
The place was thick with tourists, so we skipped the lines and found an outdoor cafe across the street to admire the view, and enjoyed a nice lunch. We looped back on the Via del Fori Imperialli to the train station. We retrieved our bags, found the train, and arrived in Bari about 8pm. There were no cabs at the station, but Salvatore (an outlaw cabbie) offered to drive us to Polignano. He had a Ford station wagon that would hold the bike boxes, we settled on 80 euros for the fare, and were on our way. He had no idea where the hotel was, but I dialed them up and he got directions from the desk staff. We arrived at 9, checked in and had our first of many wonderful Italian meals at the hotel.

We planed to assemble the bikes and take the train back to Bari and ride back for a shakedown ride, but with a steady morning rain, we decided to go on foot into the old town of Polignano.
From our hotel, old town in the background
Typical alley in Polignano
A wedding was happening in the church on the main square
We spent the day wandering around old town under scattered rain showers following the tourist walking tour. A wedding was in progress, so we paused in the square and waited for the newlyweds and wedding party to empty into the square. We found an outdoor cafe, with an awning and enjoyed a late afternoon lunch. Returning to the square, the party was still going!

Day 1 - Polignano

The tour officially started at lunch, so after breakfast, I headed to the garage to assemble our bikes. I met our CC guides, Enrico and Henrick, who were assembling the rental bikes for the rest of the tour guests (11 guests, 2 guides).
Debby and Richard inspecting the bikes
The day's ride was a short shakedown ride (16 miles) for the guests to get acquainted with their bikes and ride in a CC group.
Regroup #1 on the way to Conversano

Castle at Conversano
We arrived at Conversano to find Henrick and the CC van waiting in the square with snacks, water, and supplies. Enrico shared stories of the history of the castle and some of its more eccentric inhabitants. One had a penchant for target practice with his hunting rifle from the top windows. One problem; he used his subjects as targets in the square! Lucky for us, that was hundreds of years ago. We left the square without incident and returned to the hotel!
Enrico preparing a toast prior to the trip brief
Before heading into town for dinner, Enrico provided an overview of the trip, some additional 'rules of the road,' and a celebratory toast with sparkling wine!
Back into Old Town for another fantastic meal!
Day 1 Route

Day 2 - Alberobello

Rolling narrow roads through a strange fantasy land of conical-shaped houses called 'trulli' on the way to Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is what the trip itinerary said was in store. It did not disappoint!
Check out the Trulli!
As was typical for the trip, Deb and I settled into our own pace and generally found ourselves at the back of the group. We would see the other guests at the regoup and lunch spots, but we were never far from the CC van or guides.
Narrow roads
Today's ride was relatively short (35 miles) but also included about 3,000 feet of climbing as we left sea level and headed into the 'Murge' or Murgia region.
Rolling hills and narrow roads
Each day the guides would alternate; one driving the CC sag van, and the other riding with the group. Even with the group spread out along the route as we rode at our own pace, we were never far from the van or the guide. Each day, we downloaded the day's route into our GPS units, had detailed maps and cue sheets, and a daily ride brief before we started. With all those tools, we were happy to complete the trip without any 'bonus miles' due to navigation errors!

After a lunch stop in Locorotondo, we arrived at the hotel in Alberobello. We arrived to find our bags in the room, and after we cleaned up, we walked into the historic area of the town for a guided tour which included visiting a trulli restored to its historic condition.
Inside a restored trulli
Our tour guide arranged for us to enter this restored trulli
After the tour, we were treated to another great meal at La Cantina. A small restaurant (our group took up half of the room) where the dining room is an extension of the kitchen and the chef prepared and served an outstanding meal consisting of local specialties with most of the ingredients produced locally!

Day 2 Route

Day 3 - Matera

Today's destination is another UNESCO World Heritage site, Matera. One of the oldest continuously inhabited town-sites in the world. But first we need to get there, today's route will be relatively flat, but cover 52 miles!
Our trusty steeds, tires pumped, wiped down, and ready to go!
While we enjoyed breakfast, Enrico and Henrick were busy staging the bikes for the days ride. Tires were inflated, and frames cleaned from yesterday's sometimes muddy trek. We dropped our bags at the van, filled our water bottles, and after a quick ride brief we were on our way to Matera!

Roadside wildflowers
We rode through farmland and orchards on lightly traveled roads. The soil was very rocky, and over the years the farmers created dry-stacked rock walls from the rocks removed from the fields. At the base of a descent, we stopped to photograph some beautiful wild flowers. Enrico noted that it was very unusual to see these flowers in bloom in the fall.
Short punchy climbs along dry stacked stone walls


Lunch was another enormous amount of food, wine, and beer. Local favorites served family style, with plate after plate of delicious treats until we could eat no more!

Luckily for us, lunch was at about the 2/3rds point of the ride. While most of the day was relatively flat, the last few miles into Matera included a mile of climbing at 7.5-10% grades. At the top of the climb we entered the new part of Matera. Not at all noteworthy, and I wondered what the big deal was! We would soon find out as we entered old town.
Matera's historic Sassi Distric, from our hotel room!
The "Sassi" district is known for the caves that have been carved deep into the hills over the centuries. The buildings are actually facades, most of the rooms go deep into the caves!
Our room at the Matera hotel!
Enrico was waiting for us at the top of the hill and guided us to the garage where we parked our bikes. Henrick guided us to our hotel and we could not believe the views from the hotel or our fantastic room. We were very happy that Day 4 would be a rest day and we had two nights in this elegant room!
Cave Church and Convent at night
A guided tour of the Sassi district and another great group meal was the perfect capstone to a great day on the bikes!

Day 3 Route

Day 4 - Montescaglioso Loop

Day 4 is a rest day with an optional out and back ride from Matera to Montescaglioso, about 22 miles round trip. After breakfast, with Debby staying at the hotel and getting a massage instead of more miles, I headed out. It was a perfect morning on a great route.
Tree lined road to Montescaglioso
Outbound, it was 6 miles of descent leaving Matera, followed by a 5 mile climb to Montescaglioso. The roads were good, traffic light, and temperatures cool!
Montescaglioso
We regrouped in the main square at a cafe. After a double expresso, we pointed the bikes back downhill for a fun twisting descent. Before we knew it we were back in Matera. We were free for the afternoon and set out on foot to tour the city and find a laundromat to decontaminate our riding gear!
Light Italian Lunch

Typical Sassi

Inside the church near our hotel in Matera
We found the laundromat (thanks to Jeff and Andy) and were able to clean up the riding gear, and visit some churches and museums in Matera. We were on our own for dinner, and found a place recommended by CC, and it was great!

Day 4 Route

Day 5 - Castelmezzano

Today is the longest stage of the tour at 64 miles, with 6,700 feet of climbing. No wonder Day 4 was a rest day. The route descended from Matera and entered rolling farmland, lakes, and forests.The fleas and horseflies were out in full force. At one point they were so bad that I rode right by Deb's side, waving my arms like a madman in an attempt to shoo them away!
The CC van bringing up the rear
The lake was beautiful, the flies were terrible!
The flies eased off when we left the farm roads and rejoined the highway. Lunch was a picnic prepared by Henrick and included pasta, meats, fruit, cheese, beer and wine! Ever tried fresh Parmesan cheese on sliced pear? Me neither, it was delicious! He set up this delightful repast in a city park in Tricarico. When we thought we could eat no more, locally made ice cream arrived courtesy of one of our guide's friends!
 
Chef Murphy prepared a picnic!
The only problem with a big meal, is we still had 25 miles to go! The good news was the route generally was rolling to downhill after lunch, which was good, because the last 6 miles of the route was uphill. The grade was reasonable, and we climbed through farms with goats, cows, vineyards, and gardens.
Goat on the balcony
One of the farmhouses was abandoned and overrun with goats, including many on the second floor! We entered a rocky gorge with many switchbacks at a consistent 3-4% grade.

On the climb to Castelmezzano
Finally we entered a tunnel and emerged to see our destination only a few more miles up the road. We arrived at the hotel and joined the rest of the group on the patio for post-ride libations and a wonderful view of the route.


Castelmezzano
Bike storage on the patio!

Thankfully dinner was at the hotel, so after a long day in the saddle, we had another wonderful meal and retired early!

Day 5 Route

Day 6 - Padula

Another day of climbing, 47 miles and 5,550 feet. We left Castlemezzano and the climbing started right away. The morning was cool and the grade was steady for about 6 miles. Once we reached the top, the forest opened up and we enjoyed long rollers with great views.
Rolling hills
Before leaving the forest we found Enrico and the CC van at the morning regoup. This was a perfect spot to reload the bottles and grab some snacks!

Enrico at the first regroup
The first climb was one of 5 rollers on a route that darted into forest land, and back on rolling farms and pastures. With a slightly overcast sky, the temperatures were perfect. Henrick dropped back and escorted us up to the top of last climb of the morning.
Top of another climb

We descended back into and across a large valley passing through the towns of Viggiano and Paterno. It was a bit of a culture shock, after several days in the mountains, it was back into traffic and some city riding. We were on our own for lunch and stopped at a bar for coffee, beer, and a bag of chips! We had a slight tailwind and made great time.
Start of the second big climb
Looking at the cue sheet and map, is was suddenly clear that our route would take across the valley and UP the other side. The last climb of the day started in the town of Paterno and headed up for about 6 miles at an average grade of 8%.
Some double digit grades here!
At each switchback, we would take a little breather and enjoy the views! The grade was steady, but there were two sections with grades over 12%, a little like the Portal Road to Mt. Whitney!
The top of the climb
The top of the climb is at the entrance of a 'tunnel' and Enrico was there with the van waiting to make sure we were OK and take a few pictures. Once at the top, we crossed into region of Campania and descended into the town of Padula.

Our hotel was a small Roman style inn centrally located in the historic section of town. After we arrived and cleaned up, we piled into a van and negotiated the very narrow streets to the La Certosa Monastery. There we were met by a local guide that gave us a fantastic tour of the grounds. Since it was the end of the day, we had the whole place to ourselves!

Chapel at La Certosa monastery
Monastery Grounds
After the tour, we met the rest of the group at a local pizzeria. In true Ciclismo form, Enricko and Henrick ordered pie after pie, which we washed down with local beers and wines!

Day 6 Route

Day 7 - Palinuro

Good thing we ate all that pizza last night, day 7 is another long day (58 miles) with lots of climbing on the day's agenda. We left Padula and headed back into the forests. Lots climbs and descents kept us on our toes all day!
Jeff Lockwood's cornering drills really paid off!
Traffic was light as we entered more national forest land and fantastic scenery.
Typical trail head in the National Forest

Note: Southern Italy is not flat!
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Lunch in Montano Antillia
Enrico picked out a great lunch spot in Montano Antillia that served a great local pasta dish. A number of the other riders from the group were already there and were finishing their meal. We decided on our standard light lunch (coffee, beer, and chips) so we could join the group for the descent into the Palinuro.

Once we left Montano Antillia, we were treated with great views of the Mediterranean Sea and our destination in the distance. After two long days of climbing, the last 20 miles of rolling descents were very welcome indeed!
View from our Hotel
We rolled into the hotel and again found our bags in the room. We spent two nights there, and while the room was nice, the private terrace was awesome. I even found time to catch up on some work!
Approving invoices in Italy
Day 7 Route

Day 8 - Palinuro Loop

Day 8 is a rest day. There were options to ride a 15 mile out and back ride up the coast, go for a boat tour of the local grottos, or just sit on the beach. I of course opted for all three! Since the boat trip was planned for 10am after breakfast, my ride would have to be early. Debby was up for the boat trip, but said "you have fun with that" when I suggested the early ride option!

Up before dawn, and with lights blazing, it was back into town for the run up to the coast to Pisciotta. Some coastal rides are flat affairs that wind along the coast, neither gaining or losing elevation. This run was nothing like that. It was either up or down, with winding switchbacks and great views along rocky shores!
Sunrise on the road

Pisciotta
After exploring some back alleys in Pisciotta, I headed back to the hotel and found Debby and most of the tour group just finishing up breakfast. The winds had picked up and the boat captain determined the seas were too rough for the tour and it was cancelled. So we grabbed beach towels and headed down to the private beach. It was very secluded, and well worth the 1/4 mile hike down many steps and switchbacks to the water's edge.

The cove was protected from the wind and the water was perfect for a swim!
Beach time
We enjoyed several swims and ample rest time on the beach. At midday, we headed into town for lunch, shopping, and to check out the Mass times at the local parish.
Walking into town
We arrived in town to find most of the shops closed and only a few restaurants open on a Sunday afternoon. The Mass was at 7 pm. so our plan was to grab some lunch, head back to the hotel, relax, enjoy the view, and do some laundry.
Mussels and pasta at a hotel restaurant in town
While there were many restaurants in town, only a few were open. We found one at a hotel with a great view of the sea and many open tables. Initially we were concerned about the lack of patrons, but the service and food was great.

We returned to the room to wash a few day's worth of cycling kits and put them out on the terrace to dry. Exhausted from the 'rest day's' activities, we decided on a short nap. We were awakened by a thunderstorm that added a natural rinse cycle to the laundry.

We hiked back into town for Mass and light dinner. We returned to the room to pack, dry the kits (the hair dryer in the room worked great), and get ready to head south along the coast.

Day 8 Route

Day 9 - Maratea

We enjoyed breakfast under a symphony of thunder, heavy rain, and a lightning show. Not the best conditions to get on the bikes. The guides decided it was too dangerous to start in the storm, so we move the departure time back an hour and we waited for the storm to clear.

It did and we set out under blue a sky!
A warm-up ride along the coast
While the ride was 'along the coast,' the coast included 1000 foot sheer cliffs at the waters edge. Much of the ride was either climbing away from the water or descending back to the water's edge, with more and more spectacular views as we headed south.
Hills above the water
"The other Almalfi coast"
The tour guides said many Italians prefer these beaches to the more famous and touristy ones further north. Having never been there, we thought these we awesome!

We stopped for lunch in Scario at a restaurant with outdoor tables under a large awning. It was good that we stopped here for lunch, because the clouds, thunder, and lighting arrived for an encore performance. We were not going anywhere fast, so we enjoyed a leisurely lunch while the next band of storms passed.

It was a 90 minute lunch break, and we pushed out as the trailing edge of the storm moved through. Again the sky cleared and we enjoyed perfect conditions for the run along the coast, through Sapri, on our way to Maratea.
Up, down, stop for great photo, repeat!
Leaving Sapri, the beaches gave way to cliffs, and it was back on the coastal roller coaster! Maratea is situated on a mountain side so after a few switchbacks, we found the 'do not enter' sign that marked the route to the hotel.
Do not enter for cars..., OK for bikes
After 45 miles and 4500 feet of climbing, Debby decided that she didn't need the 'optional loop' to the Christ the Redeemer statue that was another 2.5 miles and 900 feet of climbing up the road, and instead rolled down a few hundred meters to the hotel.

I continued up as other members of the tour were heading down.
Christ the Redeemer
Henrick was waiting for the last member of the tour (me) a few switchbacks from the top and Loraine was finishing her climb as I reached the top. A 2 Euro fee was required to complete the journey to the statue, so I paid the fee and parked my steed by the ticket booth and we all headed up. The temperature was dropping, but I wanted to stop at the curio shop and Henrick offered to buy us a coffee/beer to celebrate the day's accomplishment! So we lingered at the bar before a very fun and fast descent back to the hotel in Maratea.
Views on the climb were fantastic
We had some time before the van picked us up for another fantastic group dinner, so we wandered around Maratea and met the group in the main square. Dinner was at another great restaurant overlooking the harbor (Porto di Maratea).

Day 9 Route

Day 10 - Morano Calabro

Back into the mountains featuring 3 long climbs with 6,500+ feet of climbing over 58 miles! Day 10 and 11 were billed as the hardest on the tour, so we decided to cut breakfast a little short and head out 30 minutes or so before the rest of the group. The route started with a few downhill kilometers as we rolled out of town, before the first climb of the day. We were riding in the shade and getting a little chilled, so I rode on ahead to warm up while Deb continued at her pace.
Deb hoped I took this picture!
Once the route cleared the shade and warmed up, I circled back and rejoined Deb. The first thing she said was, 'did you get a picture of that Mary monument?' It was one of many along the route, and yes, I did!

The route left the forest and started up switchbacks on a grassy hillside. The rest of the group caught and passed us as we continued on at our own pace.
First regroup in Lauria
The morning regroup was in the square of Lauria. We grabbed some coffee and reloaded our bottles. Enrico encouraged us to keep moving, we were only a third of the way up the second climb, and still had lots of climbing in front of us.
The old Lauria train station
Leaving Lauria, we headed back into another national forest. The Pollino National Park is the largest in Italy and is very remote and beautiful. We climbed in and out of heavy forests separated by farms and vineyards. Since most of the route was through rural areas without restaurants, Henrick took sandwich orders and had a fine picnic lunch for us roadside near a small farm. The only problem was that we (including Enrico), did not know where he was going to meet us. Henrick had to catch the lead riders, set up, then wait for all of us to come through.

After a long morning in the saddle, and many times thinking that Henrick would be just around the next corner, Enrico exclaimed, " this is the best sandwich I have had in my life!' Well it certainly was tasty, and after weeks of large mid-day meals, and wondering where Henrick parked the lunch wagon, it was like an oasis of nourishment in the Italian mountain wilderness!
Lunch bus
After a quick lunch stop, we continued climbing to the town of Mormanno. We stopped in the square and enjoyed an afternoon coffee and beer. Enrico encouraged us to keep moving, the clouds were moving in and we still had 8 miles of climbing before the final 5 mile descent into Morano Calabro.

We cleared the top of the climb in a light drizzle, and were treated with another spectacular descent. Luckily the rain passed us by and we soon rolled into town and another fantastic hotel.

We were the only guests in the hotel and before the formal cocktail hour, the owner provided a great history of the building. We gathered in the garden where local musicians entertained us with local folk music and the chef prepared fresh mozzarella by hand.
Henrick introduces local musicians
We moved to the dining room, for another outstanding meal featuring local specialties. The band rejoined us for more music and our host provided a wide array of after dinner liqueurs. What a day!
 
Day 10 Route

Day 11 - Cittadella del Capo

Rolling hills and one last long climb to finish the trip. The last day of the tour would take us out of the mountains, and back to the sea. 5,000 feet over 58 miles, better get started!
Rolling hills
At points of the day's route, we could see both the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas. Before heading back into the forest, we crossed miles of vineyards, olive groves, and vegetable gardens as we skirted the periphery of the Pollino National Park. The route took us through many small towns that were settled by Albanians who fled the Turks over 500 years ago.

Back and up into the Pollino National Park
The last climb of the trip was to the Passeo dello Scalone. It was a long and steady grade under a canopy of heavy forest on a smooth and lightly traveled road. If you were to put Day 10 and Day 11 together, 115 miles and 12,000 feet, its almost a ride of Whitney proportions, and we were feeling it.
Finally the summit appeared after the last switchback and we had this one behind us!


At the summit!
Its all downhill from here!
Leaving the Passo after a few mountainous switchbacks we emerged from the forest and could see the route down to the coast and our final hotel. It was a delightful descent and Henrick led us to Cittadella del Capo and our final hotel.
Our hotel on the beach
Enrico was in the courtyard already disassembling the tour bikes. After a few high fives and congratulations for completing the tour, we found our room. I returned to the van to disassemble and pack our Calfees while Enrico and Henrick continued their post-tour packing. The hotel manager provided us some cold beers that probably made the process go a little longer, but certainly more enjoyable.

Dinner would be at the hotel, so we were able to enjoy a few post-ride libations during a beautiful sunset that provided a proper exclamation point to a fantastic trip.
The end!

Day 11 Route

Post-ride

After breakfast, we took the hotel shuttle to the train station and took a local train to Sapri to connect to a fast train to Rome. We arrived at the hotel (Marriott Park, about half-way between downtown Rome and the airport) in the early evening and decided to plan our last day in Rome from the comfort of the hotel restaurant.

We took the early shuttle into town. It dumped us off at the Piazza dei Tribunalli. We had mapped out a fast tour of as many sights we could squeeze in. Here are a few highlights:
Piazza Navona

Pantheon
St. Ignazio de Loyola
Piazz Mignanelli (Spanish Steps)
Vatican Museum
End of a full day in Rome
Exhausted after a long day on foot, we took the bus back to the hotel for a light dinner and pack for the morning flight back home.
One last birra in the departure lounge
What a trip!