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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Round and Round

Mzungu / Muzungu "Someone who roams around aimlessly" or "aimless wanderer." The term was first used in the African Great Lakes region to describe European explorers in the 18th century, apparently as a result of their propensity to get lost in their wanderings in Africa. The term is now used to refer to someone with white skin.

I've been called Muzungu in Uganda many times in reference to my skin color. But I have been known to wander around some too. Just recall the accounting of our attempts to get out of Alessandria on the first ride of the Piedmont tour.

Click on the image and you can see my name: "Muzungu." The kids at the school got a real kick out of that!
As it happens, the second day of each of our two tours had us wandering around a bit before returning to our starting points …

Round and Round – CGY
Today we rode 71.2 miles from Red Lodge to Absarokee, putting in 4,846 feet of climbing.

The route from Absarokee to Red Lodge with the out-and-back loop to Nye
On this day we completed the planned round trip to Red Lodge, the town we had departed from the day before. And, doubling down on the round and round theme, we were sent off the direct route to Red Lodge to ride through Fishtail to Nye, returning on the same route before joining up again with the road to Red Lodge.

Today was longer with more climbing, apparently an attempt to get us even more acclimated. But it was another glorious day and the visit to Nye gave us a chance to ride a hilly route through beautiful open country.

The route opened 30 minutes later than normal -- There is a large mine on the leg to Nye and the mining company asked CGY for the delayed start as they bus workers in to minimize the number of cars on the road. They felt it would be easier for the bus drivers and the cyclists to not have to worry about each other. A good plan, but it was the extra 30 minutes in the sleeping bag that sold me.

Along the route to Nye
The rest stop in Nye was at the community's one room school. It is a big land with big skies and big ranches, but not so many big towns. One young girl had set up a refreshment stand, raising money for her 4H Club. CGY had drinks and snacks, of course, but that did not slow down her business at all. When asked about her efforts, she told us she had made all of the cookies and brownies herself the day before and that she could offer two types of lemonade, "pink and yellow." She only asked for tips for whatever you took. But she could sell – I selected a couple of cookies and she said to me, "They are a lot better with lemonade. Would you like pink or yellow." I chose yellow; what else could I do?!

Providing us with refreshments and a lesson in hard work for something you believe in!
As it was here in Nye, most of the people we met while riding all through this area were hard working, independent, tough, resourceful, helpful and friendly. It was refreshing.

On the way in to Red Lodge, we got into the construction zone we were told about at the meeting the night before. The road was seriously torn up and there was a stop light where we had to wait for the guide car that led traffic through the zone, one direction at a time. I ended up in a group that had to wait about 10 minutes which was a problem. It was getting cold and rain was obviously on the way. Exacerbating the chill was the fact that the stop was at the top of the steepest climb of the ride so far, a climb that warmed you up. Once our group got through it started to rain and we worked hard to get back into the camp at Red Lodge.

This can't be good
After getting in, I waited in a fairly long line for a spot in the showers then met Bill under the dining area tent. Our plan was to go into town for a beer and an afternoon snack. And now you know, we don’t eat to be able to ride, we ride to be able to eat! But before we had even turned to leave, the skies opened up and a wind-driven rain poured down into the camp. After a few minutes of this, we were resolved to just stay and wait for dinner which the catering team was unbelievably still working on at the unprotected grills next to the tent!

It would stop raining about ten minutes later, but not before a brutal three minute onslaught of BB sized hail. We looked at each other and agreed to make a dash for the pub where we decided to stay and have dinner. We did meet one other rider who had been on the road during the storm. As you might imagine, he described it as being an unpleasant experience. And, he had just come back from seeing to his sister who was warming up in a nearby hotel room after getting thoroughly chilled.

I should point out that he ride was accompanied by an ambulance and a team of EMT's in a Jeep - they had gotten her warmed up and were involved in the decision to get her to the hotel room. We were being watched over during the ride and I give CGY good marks for their plans to deal with such situations.

The evening turned pleasant and we headed back to camp for the evening meeting and discussion of tomorrow's ride. What we heard was - how shall I put this? - not comforting. The full story will be revealed in the next post, the account of the ride over Beartooth Pass ...

Round and Round – Piedmont
Today we rode 45.6 miles putting in 3,300 feet of climbing.

Routes for our two rides
 We rode two separate loops (green and red in the map) out and back from the hotel in Acqui. Bill had some ideas for a ride looping around to the south. But, he was not here, a story to be told in a special edition of this Tale of Two Rides series. It won’t be long now…

Using our map to find a reasonable facsimile of a southern loop, we loaded a plan into the GPS units and set off. Or maybe I should say, we set UP. After leaving the hotel we quickly found ourselves on a very narrow rural road with a not-so-great surface and crazy-steep sections, probably the steepest I'd ever been on. John, an amazingly strong climber (he lives in Stockholm, not a great training ground for climbers, I think), had gone out ahead, I followed and Julio was behind. On one particularly steep section, I heard Julio call out, so I stopped and looked back. He had gotten off of his bike and said that he was just going to go back to the hotel.

It took several tries to get started again due to the steepness of the hill. The cumulative effect of the climb so far and the extra effort of getting started set me up for ---

If you have not read the post Hssssgrrrrhssss yet, you can do that now by clicking on the highlighted text. This 2009 post addresses what happens next.

--- getting off of my bike and, for the first time ever, walking on the climb. As I had said in 2009, I knew this would happen one day and today was the day. To my relief, I reacted as I had hoped, just recognizing that age and gradient had combined to bring me to that critical point where a short walk was just what needed to be done.

I did not have to walk too far to find a more moderate section where I could get back on the bike and ride up to where John had stopped to wait. On the way, I went by a farmer backing his truck out of a driveway. As I went by, he looked at me and motioned with his hand a signal for "this is a really steep road" followed by the sign for "it gets flatter up the road a ways." That's what I got from his gestures, but remember, I was interpreting from the Italian!

It was steeper than it looks. Really!
John and I finished the climb at a wider, better paved road where we took out our maps and discovered that it was the road we had wanted to come up; taking the road that had just beaten us up (by "us" I mean "me") was a mistake. We also discussed what to do next and decided we really should go check on Julio so instead of making the larger southern loop as we had planned, we went down our intended "up road" – a wonderful descent, by the way – and back to the hotel. Not finding Julio, but seeing his bike, we decided on another loop and headed out. We had no sooner gotten underway when we saw Julio walking back from town. He agreed that getting back on the bike would be a good thing so after he changed, we set out together.

We aimed for the town of Monastario where we planned to then plot a loop based on a route I seen on the web site MapMyRide. At Monastario, we left the main road, which had been relatively flat, and began climbing. Again, we encountered some significant steepness, though not quite up the standard set by our "mistake road."
John and Julio entering Monastario
The monastery
Still, it was a long, hard climb, but one made tolerable by the very pleasant scenery provided by the winding road  carrying us up the wooded hills, with an occasional farm house thrown in for effect. We finally reached the summit just past the town of Roccaverano and started down what would be an exciting descent.

Near, but not yet at, the summit in Roccaverano
The road down to Mombaldone was steep and winding. Several sections would qualify as "technical" descents. With some encouragement from a broken collarbone in 2009, I've learned to do such descents confidently and safely. But … on this afternoon, we were buffeted by a very strong wind which came at us from every direction, not because it changed course, but because we were constantly going around switchbacks and executing longer, sweeping turns. It was, as I said, an exciting descent.

Station in Mombaldone. You mean we could have taken a train?!
I waited for the others at Mombaldone and once together, we rode that way back to the hotel. All that riding and all that climbing and here we were, right back where we started.


Lessons learned
You will find that hill that you cannot climb. But you can walk if you have to. Whatever it takes, don't give up, but keep going up...

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