Todays post is brought to you by the sweet taste of success, with a healthy dose of sense of achievement to go with it as a side. Yes, the fact that I am posting on day 6 means I survived my epic exploring mission.

It did occur to me this morning that this would be the first time ever that I would be going riding solo in another country on roads I had never seen before… I know for most people this wouldn’t be a big deal, but as you will recall from my Whistler trip, exploring is an ‘area of development’ for me.

Given I should be a Navy SEAL when I grow up (maybe the one that stays at base planning missions mind you), I approached today with a military like planning approach, which given I have managed the odd project here and there (some of them were fucking odd to), this is what I prepared to ensure that I didn’t get lost in a highly sign-posted region of Europe:

  • Garmin file prepared on ‘Map My Ride’ to give me GPS directions on my Garmin 800
  • Turn by turn notes on my iPhone (Yes, it took fucking ages to type up)
  • Google maps screen shots on my phone step by step
  • Small hotel paper map that would become redundant 1km from the hotel

Right then, it appeared we were all set with multiple redundancy mapping support in place. To be fair, I did see this ride on Cycling tips, as they rode here a month ago… Thanks to the power of the Internet, advice from Clarso and Strava/Map my ride I was all set to go.

With a nod of respect to Clarso I tried really hard to get up early and hit it… I sort of achieved my goal, waking up to a beautiful day at Hotel di Varese:

Boutique and stylish, the Rapha jersey of hotels

Boutique and stylish, the Rapha jersey of hotels

Clearly they like to put pro cyclists/Rapha models out the back in our private wing so we can escape the Tifosi down the alleyway, here is my crib:

You can almost taste the Palatialness

You can almost taste the Palatialness

Given there is a ban on taking photos of food (and also animals for distribution via social media channels), here is where I soaked up some early morning Varese goodness, had my saucer of milk and cleaned my tail before I set out into the unknown of a highly civilised world:

Look clarso - First at Brekkie!

Look clarso – First at Brekkie!

Travel tip – If you come to stay in Varese, then stay at this hotel, its amazing and the staff are incredibly helpful, its fantastic.

Right – Time for the riding. Like any good military approach, I divided today into check points to track and measure my success. Here we go:

CP1. Getting out of town

This was my main worry to be honest… I could see where I wanted to go, but Italian towns can be confusing, so I really wanted to get off to a good start. I was on a roll until I got mildly confused at one point and went straight ahead… Voila, my Garmin suddenly chirped at me loudly and told me I was “Off course dickhead”, it worked! How cool is that? I was so impressed I am almost in favour of letting robots take over. By this time I needed a nervous pee… but, at least I was almost out of town and on the road.

Once I broke out of the outskirts of Varese the road was beautiful, big shoulder, smooth and minimal traffic. Bravo to Italian drivers, they show epic amount of respect to cyclists and its gold to be given room and not have a shit taxi hurtling at you every 5 mins. We were underway and loving it, even if the legs were feeling it a little given this was day 6 of riding.

CP2. Laveno and the lake

Breakthrough moment! We arrived at the stunning Laveno right as planned, how big was the smile at this point? Massive. I will let the scenery speak for itself:

Ah... Lake.

Ah… Lake.

Ah... Lakeside village

Ah… Lakeside village

Awesome… Not coffee time yet though, we had the beautiful road all the way up the side of Lake Maggiore, which was stunning:

A lot of awesome around here...

A lot of awesome around here…

There was even a tunnel to deal with… Not a fan of tunnels as I was scarred as a 14 year old racing at Tunnel Gully in Welly in an MTB race, where I got halfway through a nasty tunnel, became disorientated and rode into the wall, awesome. This one wasn’t too bad though and added to the occassion:

Tunnel

So, here I was, cruising alongside a stunning lake, on a beautiful road in the Italian sunshine with a smile on my face. You can’t ride here and not love it, even with Col smashed legs. It was just too good for words. I didn’t care about speed, HR, distance, segments, in fact I didn’t even look at the data on my Garmin (I was too obsessed with the map), it was serious cycling freedom and this is what life is about (from a cyclists perspective). Here is an example:

Cruising... Lake side...

Cruising… Lake side…

I had planned on rocking through to CP3 at Luino before getting a coffee, but when I rolled into  Porto Valtravagila it was obvious that I needed to hit a Cappuccino:

Porto V

Oh yeah:

The anti-training session

The anti-training session

CP3. Luino

This should have been straightforward, but me and the Garmin both got a little confused… So, it was time to use google maps, my notes and screen shot to devastating effect and soon I had stopped hyperventilating and we were on to the climb we had been looking for, heading out of Luino and towards…. Switzerland! Awesome, hopefully I was in time to catch J Bourne. It happened all rather quickly and all of a sudden I was into some Swiss goodness at 50kph:

This is it? Where is the cheese/chocolate/watch/Fabian C?

This is it? Where is the cheese/chocolate/watch/Fabian C?

I had gone from lakeside Italian bliss to an amazing Swiss valley of grass and rolling hills… WTF? How good was this ride? It was a freak show! Some more bike cam love:

Cruising, swiss side

Cruising, swiss side

CP4. Ponte Tresa and the turn for home

My Swiss excursion lasted about 7km’s of a beautiful spin through this valley, before I hit Ponte Tresa and was back at the entrance to Italy:

Yes, another MF lake...

Yes, another MF lake…

Border patrol in force… I got a Ciao as I rolled passed (turns out it means ‘Hi’ as well):

The turn for home...

The turn for home…

I then got on the biggest climb of the ride, at 4km’s long at 5% it was a baby compared to the previous 4 days, but I was able to get on top of it and ride it instead of it riding me for a change, you know how it is, we all like to be in charge some times don’t we?

It was then another awesome spin back to Varese, the last 5 or 6km’s downhill on a super smooth road, with me popping out just by the hotel as planned! My R2D2 Garmin was so stoked it beeped and said ‘Congratulations – Work out complete’, which I hadn’t expected, but good to see everyone getting in on the celebration!

So, I was back, not only a victory for me (or a normal ride for most people), but also a stunning ride in a very cool part of the world, this has been a highlight ride. Here is what it looked like (I went clockwise):

The perimeter has been massively expanded...

The perimeter has been massively expanded…

If you want to get into this sweet Italian/Swiss action, here is the strava file:

http://app.strava.com/activities/69670771

The winner today was leaving the comfort zone and my Garmin… A combo that has made for an awesome day. Riding ones bike also a huge winner today, I would have never seen these awesome places today if it wasn’t for my bike, so that’s cool, as are bikes, they are fucking rad even. If you own one, take it to a bike shop tomorrow and spend money on it, it deserves it.

I am now busy ramming my face with Gelato and coke, thank fuck I am a domestique and not a climber or preparing for the worlds where you have to come home from a training ride and drink carbonated water, take a sleeping pill and skip meals. Joy.

I am also preparing for tomorrow’s mission, I won’t give too much away, but it could be bigger… After all, its the last day and above all: Victory LOVES preparation.

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