Friday, July 18, 2014

Week @ Amalfi Coast

I went to Italy. It was fun. The espresso was good.

After connecting through Zurich airport, then over-nighting in Rome, we took the Trena Italia "Frescia Rossa", which stopped only at Naples en route to Salerno. From there we waited an hour for a close-to-one-hour bus to Amalfi, and from there waited another 20 minutes or so for a bus to Praiano, our destination. The more typically recommended route would have probably been faster: the Frescia Rossa to Naples, then transfer to a local train to Sorrento, then a one-hour bus to Praiano. But better still would have been a ferry from Naples to Positano, and a much shorter bus segment from there to Praiano, although this may have involved more hauling of bike boxes.

I had my Ritchey Breakaway and Cara my old Bike Friday Pocket Rocket, which I stopped using much in 2008 when I got the Ritchey. The Pocket Rocket is still a better choice on really short trips where the longer assembly-disassembly time of the Ritchey, along with the increased bulk of its case, is harder to justify. But in 2008 I took up running, so on shorter trips, I have the option of running for my exercise instead of cycling. So the Pocket Rocket has been neglected.

Praiano is one of the quieter towns on the Amalfi Coast, mid-way between Positano and the town of Amalfi. It really was a wonderful time staying there, although the hiking is better than the riding. The coastal road, while attracting plenty of riders, is too busy for its two narrow lanes, not so bad if it only served local car traffic, but the full-size tour buses are too common, making the many blind corners on the roadway a stressful experience.

Better are the steep roads which extend up the mountain side. I rode local Praiano Roads, some roads above Positano to Nocelle, and the climb to Ravello. Each of these offered spectacular views and were remarkably free of the tourists who seem to restrict their flocking to the direct coast. And there was nothing subtle about these roads: 15% grades were commin, although the 20-30% grades which are often found in San Francisco weren't observed. So these roads had a lot of attraction. But still, car traffic was heavier than I would have liked.

One positive was the drivers there are much more willing to accomodate cyclists than U.S. drivers, even those of San Francisco where cyclists are so ubiquitous. It's a fundamental cultural issue. That said, passing distances were typically less: there simply wasn't room for the more than one meter buffer which is typically recommended and often mandated. But speed kills, and drivers passing which such small margins were typically going relatively slowly. Still, constant alertness was mandatory. I tend to assume if I'm on the right side of my lane I don't need to worry about what's ahead of me. There it was common for oncoming passing vehicles to be on a head-on-collision for anything short of riding in the right-hand-gutter. In one case, I had to slow to allow an oncoming sports car, speeding past a line of vehicular traffic, room to get back into its lane ahead of the leading car. In another case, I went around a blind corner with a brief "honk" my only warning of an oncoming tour bus taking the entire road, including my lane. But unfamiliarity breeds an overestimation of risk, and with no shortage of local riders, I saw no evidence of carnage.

Better than the riding was the hiking. The towns have an incredible network of paved walking lanes. Beyond the town boundaries, paved lanes give way to trails in various states of repair, from paved (the trail from Praiano to Convento San Domingo) to overgrown and rugged (the path from Praiano to Santa Elia). I was amazed at the evidently light use some of these trails experienced: given the enormous tourist traffic as well as the availability of bus service between towns, I'd have expected them to be crowded, and never over-grown.

We spent two days elsewhere. One was on Capris, an island perhaps better known for its super-expensive shopping options than anything else. For me this was an opportunity for more hiking, starting (with Cara) up the Phoenecian Steps, at one time the primary route from Capris (the lower city) to Anacapris (the upper city). From here, Cara took the ski lift to the summit of Monte Solaro, while I ran/walked the trail, mostly walking upward due to the steepness and the roughness of the trail, but then running most of the way down. Another day was spent at Pompeii. That was a tiring day due to the heat and the lack of shade, Given the conditions one unfortunate day in August 79 AD, however, I wasn't complaining. Pompeii simply amazed me: the sense of history there is overwhelming.

Just when I was fully adapted to Central European Time, though, it was time to fly back home to San Francisco. At Cara's preference we took a car over the hill directly to Pompeii, then after around 4 hours there, a remarkably seemless series of connections via the local train to Naples and from there the Frescia Rossa to Rome.

The train was a remarkable experience. The local train was on narrow-gauge tracks. The Pompeii platform was exceptionally short, with the eastbound and westbound sides offset. I expected a short consist, but it was full-length, and thus only two cars opened at the stop. There were full-local trains, "direct" trains with limited stops, and "directissimo", with even fewer stops. We lucked out and arrived within 10 minutes of the next scheduled directissimo. It made excellent time to Naples. There we walked maybe 500 meters from the Girabaldi station to the Centrale, where we bought our tickets 7 minutes before the departure of our Frescia Rossa to Rome. That train is truly impressive, with video displays, when they're not showing ads (most of the time), would occasionally display the speed and position of the train. I saw 300 kph peak, but more often it was in the 260 kph train. The ride was super-smooth. Unfortunately, some of the considerable time gained by the high peak speed was lost when the train would slow to a crawl for no obvious reason. Those with expectations honed by the trains of Japan, Switzerland, or Germany might have found this frustrating, but my expectations are established by Caltrain, where slow-downs and schedule delays are common. In any case, the train was such a pleasure that I was disappointed to finally arrive in Rome, the area near the station rather unsavory, even predatory: I managed to deter one apparent pick-pocket attempt, for example.

It was way too soon, although the 8 days we spent there were very worthwhile. I love Italy.

Postscript: after arriving home, inspired by having adapted as a staple of my diet there, fresh mozzerella (in particular "mozzeralla buffala") soaking in brine, I purchased a nominal similar thing at the local market. It was, in comparison, a tasteless prop, something to be consumed mindlessly and typically in excess. The Italian version, in striking contrast, is an explosion of fresh flavor with each bite. People tend to think of travel food as eating in excellent restaurants, but to me there's nothing better than eating truly fresh, local food.

Some random photos:





And a selection of prominent Strava activities:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Highest rated climbs in Low-Key History

In this Coordinator's Choice era of Low-Key Hillclimbs the balance of the schedule is left more to chance than to any grand plan. In this case, a few late-game changes in venue resulted in a schedule which is rather heavy at the top end. And as far as I'm concerned, that's fine: it's good to mix things up.

One of these is week 6's Hicks Mt Umunhum. We've done this climb before. The first time was in 1996 when we started well ahead of the creek marking the steep climb of Hicks, then climbed up to the gate on what was then known, at least according to Peterson and Kluge, as Loma Almaden Road. I think now, however, a more common name is Mount Umunhum Road. In any case, we returned in 2008, starting at the base of the Hicks climb, ending again at the gate. Thanks to the excellent work by coordinator Will Van Kaenel, however, this year we go beyond the gate to the white line marking the beginning of what may be the beginning of private property. Honestly, though, nobody seems to be definitively sure on that matter.

The extra distance between the gate and the white line takes what was already a challenging climb and makes it even better. Indeed, it becomes the hardest-rated climb, using the Low-Key rating system, in Low-Key history, beyond even the Welch Creek, the various flavors of Bohlman, and Mix Canyon Road:

Here's the ranking:

1Hicks - Mt Umunhum (white line)248.714
2Bohlman - On Orbit247.289
3Mix Canyon Road244.349
4Alba Road235.148
5Mount Diablo (N)233.151
6Bohlman-Norton-Kittridge-Quickert-On Orbit-Bohlman229.21
7Kennedy Trail221.107
8Welch Creek Road213.101
9Soda Springs Road211.57
10Hicks - Mt Umunhum211.141
11Mt Hamilton Road209.403
12Mount Diablo (S)209.14
13Mt Hamilton206.548
14Quimby Road199.764
15Montara Mountain from Grant Ranch197.544
16Montevina + dirt195.796
17Sierra Road187.81
18Black Road + Skyline to Castle Rock171.1
19Marin Ave154.964
20Montebello Road152.868
21Bonny Doon - Pine Flat Rd.151.985
23Jamison Creek Road149.501
24Montevina Road149.33
25Highway 9146.967

It's interesting, because while the climbs is certainly steep, it's never in the super-steep zone above 20%, or even 18%. Where it wins is on a combination of sustained grade and altitude gained: 657 meters or 2158 feet. There's not many climbs in the Bay area which push beyond the 2000 foot mark, and none of them spend that much time over 10%.


For comparison, here's Mix Canyon Road. It's a brutal finish but the start is relatively gradual.