A Cyclist's Pilgrimage
It's a perfect way to pass a Sunday morning. All the pieces of the puzzle were in place: the exquisite, lightly trafficked roads; the ancient quaint towns; and the companionship of friends. Even the weather that fall day was balmy the Italian equivalent of an Indian summer and the lightly rolling lakeside terrain passed quickly.
Riding through small towns we talked and joked about who would"win" the climb to the chapel, keeping in mind Mauro's warnings about the severity of the pitch. Camaraderie is easy on the bike in Italy, and the ride felt, well, just as a ride in the old country should.
Finally, at the town of Regolata, we made a left turn and began the final climb to the chapel. It's a relatively short climb, but it covers more than 2000 vertical feet. The Madonna makes you sweat to see her shrine.
There are two ways to approach the chapel: the long, gradual southern climb up from Asso; and the shorter, steep switchbacks from Regolata "the only real way," as Mauro put it. Mauro's insistence on making the journey from the business side meant that our hours of easy riding and talking were at an end.
I knew this road was serious when it pitched up sharply around a switchback and I found myself in the wrong gear. The trouble was that I was already in one of the lowest gears; there was not much wiggle room. So, I settle into the rhythm of the climb, standing up and dancing on the pedals like the pros do. Or at least that's what I tried to do. Instead of lightly dancing my way up the climb, I threw the bike from side to side to get my weight over each pedal for the downstroke. My sweaty hands slipped on the brake hoods even through my gloves, and drops of beaded perspiration fell from my brow.
Glancing up I could see the road twist away from us in a swiftly-disappearing ribbon of asphalt. Just before it wended out of sight, I noticed an even steeper pitch ahead. Although the climb up the short side isn't very long, a good 10 to 15 minutes of concerted effort and sweat are required.
By the time I reached the top, my quadriceps and calves were aquiver with lactic acid, my jersey was soaked, and all thoughts of a nice easy Sunday ride were gone.
Perhaps it's meant to be that way: you can clear your head of all thoughts but cycling before you enter the chapel.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication