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A Crazy Idea Becomes Something More

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The route ended up as 130 kilometers and 5000m spread across about a dozen climbs. It’s hard to say what is a climb and what isn’t at some points on the route though. Some are only a few hundred meters, but if there’s the serious threat of putting a foot down and having to walk – that counts as a climb in my book. In general, the climbs are short and hard. 10+% is the norm with painful stretches over 20%, and it’s possible we ticked close to the magic number of 30. It’s a climbing party, but the true goal behind it is to show a different part of the Dolomites, something that people don’t normally see when they do battle with the buses and motorbikes and cars on the famous passes: Sella, Gardena, Pordoi, Campolongo, Giau, Valparola, Falzarego, Fedaia. 

Words by Jered Gruber, Images by Gruber Images

Those roads are wonderful, but I’d like to offer a counterpoint to that experience – a chance to dance with your bike in an unknown paradise with a road stretching out in improbable ways in front of you with green screen backdrops that make the normal daydream seem unimaginative. I take these scenes with me everywhere – posters hung over every square inch by thumb tacks on the walls of my room of happy thoughts. The posters have names on them – names you’ve never heard of, names that I continually have to look up, but roads that are impossible to forget: Valgiarëi, Erbe, Armentara, Pliscia, Fordora, Ju, Picedac, Juel, and so many more.

Four months after this idea was born, a group of fourteen gather at approximately the correct starting time. We aren’t quite the 166 that started the Maratona back in 1987, but it’s better that way. The sky is bright, contrails make a beautiful pie crust of the sky, and it’s chilly the way September mornings are in the Dolomites. It’s perfect.

We climb through the pretty morning light, up through the perfect green fields, fresh legs, panting breath, into the forest, and to that spot where the road ends. We ride across a short stretch of grass, past a small chapel, with its door permanently ajar, and onto the singletrack. Chiara crashes.

Chiara just started riding a bike. Of all the people that should have heeded the warnings, it should have been Chiara, but she’s just that little bit of special crazy, and she’s coupled with our friend, Davide, who’s also talented in crazy, so this admittedly ‘expert’ ride became Chiara’s testing ground. There were a thousand bad scenarios going through my mind. I admit, after watching her crash and walk most of the first singletrack, I figured her day would be a short one. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

She’s a wee one, a super strong runner, and possesses the stubborn nature of a pack of donkeys. The worse it went for Chiara, the more she dug in. The #yolomites5000 route was not kind to her. It did everything to turn her back, but like a mailman in a snowstorm, she never stopped, just forward progress. 3k dirt descent? I can’t ride that, but I’m going to walk it, all of it, and I’m going to finish this thing.

The pace was anything but hard. The #yolomites5000 will never, ever, ever be a race. There are enough races in the world – the world needs more love and more rides where everyone waits at the top of each climb and rolls around as a giant bubble of happiness.

We stopped for coffee, we stopped for snacks, and we stopped for lunch on top of the convex climb to Ju. There’s a hut at the very top, and they serve the good stuff. Most of us ate spinach dumplings doused in butter and bread crumbs, and washed down with a big glass of elderflower soda, and of course, an espresso – because it is Italy, and how can you survive without espresso? We lounged in the sun, content with the fact that we were just over half way done, and everything was a whole lot better than ok so far. In a world where most everything that can go wrong does go wrong, we were somehow walking the tight rope of success with brilliant aplomb.

And then the afternoon storms rolled in just as I let myself think about how well everything was going. They darkened the pretty panorama and bruised my mood. We watched worriedly for some time, but when we finally left, the clouds just sort of went the other way. Ours was a weather god approved mission.

Up and down, up and down, up and down, but much more up than down. No matter how much fun the ride was, the work started to take its toll. There is not an easy moment on that route – the climbs are tough, the descents are just as hard, and there aren’t two seconds of flat the whole day. It makes an already gigantic day feel like, well, gigantic-er. I try to play this off as a fun day as much as possible, but it’s a savage test. The only way to get through this and leave with a big smile on your face is to do it in the company of friends. It’s the only known remedy.

We climbed through the growing darkness, through thunder and lightning. We made it to the top and looked down at the model train set lights of the town of Badia far below us. We had a long way down, and it was going to be stressful in the dark, but I looked around at our little gruppetto, and I was happy to share this moment with them.

We started down slowly, eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness, somehow managing to pick up the path on the white road. Then the lights came – blinding yellow in the darkness.

It was Igor. He had gone ahead, gotten changed, and came back up to help us back down. He wasn’t coming to pick us up, mind you – he was here to give us some light. There was no way anyone was getting in any cars at this point.

We put three in front and three behind the van. It seems like a horrible idea as I write it now, and it seemed that way even then, but for some reason, it worked the best of all of our configurations.

When we got to the bottom, we were still 300m short of 5000, but the darkness was perfect at this point. So we did what any rational person would do in that situation: we rode up and down the main, empty, well-lit hill of Badia until we got that magic number of 5000. #YOLOMITES5000