Monday, 1 September 2014

2014 Bottlemart Smidy Challenge - Day 3 - Eidsvold to Biloela


Smiling for Smiddy Bottlemart Challenge 2014 – Day Three
Stats:
Distance 173.60
Elapsed Time 9:56
Moving Time 6:43
Average Speed 25.8kph
1600m Climbing
Min Temp 1.0 degrees
Max Temp 34.0 degrees

Schindler’s List:
22 Roos
1 Bird
9 Bad Smells – Unidentified
1 Pig but others thought it was a dog – so call it a Pig Dog.
6 Bags of Bones

Category Jerseys
Spirit Jersey – Krista Page
Mateship – Ian ‘Donkey’ ‘Elaine’ Corey
Teamwork – Geoff Honey

Guest Speakers
Mark Turner
Melissa O

Team Tom and Ben have been given the honourable duty of authoring the Day Three blog taking in the Eidsvold to Biloela leg. We take our responsibilities very seriously and in honour of many great authors past (F Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemmingway) we started this journal entry on our third beer.

Day Three started with an early 4:45am breakfast under the stars at 0.7 degrees (Josh Stemm Garmin reading). Good luck struck early with the lovely Megan Wallace being defecated upon from a high by a bird with serious bowel problems; needless to say she doesn’t need to use hair spray for the rest of the trip. Whilst this was a quiet and isolated incident, the cackling laugh that followed by Melissa O swiftly alerted the surrounding suburbs to a crazy women on the loose.

The cow bell was rung by our own Ian Cory after he selflessly rolled close to twelve swags whilst many others were still getting ready; secretly we think he’s just trying to get in with someone. The riders began the day with many complaints about sore backsides and gut issues related to the consumption of protein bars; judging from their comments perhaps that bird found one left behind the afternoon before.

On the way north this morning, we noticed a turn off sign to Gin Gin.  We took this as a sign to commit to our authoring experience.  Let’s face it, the only thing better than a gin is a double gin and if it’s good enough for Hemmingway, it’s good enough for us!  As such, we made a pact that later in the day we’d each order a double gin at the bar in Biloela.  We then passed another sign for Gin Gin…and another.  We took this as another indication to commit to our authoring experience so took a pact to order two more double gins each at the bar in Biloela.  Needless to say, it’s amazing we can still currently spell Biloela.

We had 73kms to our first school visit of the Challenge at Monto, St Theresa’s Primary School. Day Three is renowned for being the best eating day and it certainly started off sensationally; Ben was particularly looking forward to this day. Anna and Sharky delivered the sun safety message to the kids who were all too willing to take to the zinc face painting competition.

We were welcomed eagerly by the kids awaiting a high five ride by-line to which we can declare there were no incidents. Jarrod Covey, a returning Challenge rider, approached this with apprehension as in 2012 he was brought down by an overzealous three foot high front rower.

We left morning tea with the imminent promise of the Monto range which consisted of three peaks, 5 or maybe 15km away (depending on how accurate Matty Marshall was feeling). Fittingly on the way to the base we passed over Graveyard Creek. By the first peak there were a few of us who felt that our headstones were being inscribed upon.  It was amazing to see the display of Smiddy spirit as we ascended the peaks.  Despite many people believing that their eulogy was currently being prepared, all riders of varying abilities made it up the mountain. Watching the stronger riders help those that weren’t having great days was inspirational stuff, certainly what makes Smiddy rides so special.

After a rapid descent back down Monto Range, the peloton made their way into lunch at Grevillea Creek – a truck stop on the side of the road.  Once again, the wonderful road crew provided a delicious lunch.  However, immediately after our first mouthful, Captain Kevvy decided that it would be a funny joke to finish lunch early.  It seemed strange, but when Ben realised it was only 30km more to afternoon tea, supplied by the Thangool State School P&C, he was more than happy to scoff down his lunch a little more quickly than normal.  You see, Ben remembered this afternoon tea very clearly from 2012 and was quite happy to leave some room for sausage rolls!

Sharky and Anna once again spread the sun safety message at Thangool SS.  In an amazing coincidence, the headmaster of Thangool SS was also an old high school mate of Adam Smiddy from Ayr.  This took Sharky aback – amazed and excited to hear more stories about how great a person Adam was.  It is always amazing to hear the great stories about Adam from people of different backgrounds, many of whom don’t know each other.  Neither of us ever got the pleasure of meeting Adam but after meeting his amazing mother and father and hearing the stories about him, he truly sounds like an inspirational man.

The Grevillea Cup followed immediately after Afternoon Tea.  This involved a 14km “Go your own pace” section from Thangool to Biloela.  This was divided into A, B and C grades.  While Ben had been looking forward to afternoon tea all day, Tom had been looking forward to this sprint.  Team Tom and Ben were hot favourites for the A grade cup!  According to Matt Marshall, Tom was the 3-1 hot favourite, and Ben was quite happy to live off the coattails of Tom.  The sprint started off at a leisurely pace of 30km/hr, although this was quick to change, when prematurely (and naively and, some may say, stupidly) Jarred Covey took off in a blaze of glory with 10km still to ride.  We think he was still a little too excited about not being taken out by the grade 3 bruiser.  With 500m to go (luckily because Ben’s legs weren’t lasting any longer), the proper sprint got under way.  Tom left his charge for the line late, but demolished the opposition to take the trophy!  Melissa O, returning female champion, finished among the top riders to take the female trophy once again!

We received a great welcome in Biloela from all the locals.  It was to be the first night in which riders were billeted out to local residents and our first major function.  We were billeted with the very generous Greg Lee who provided us with our inspiration for this literary masterpiece.  Greg accompanied us to the function, held at Thangool Racecourse, where we enjoyed a filling and amazing dinner.  The entire dinner (including food, drinks and so on) was generously donated by the local community, who also turned out in force to support the evening.  It’s easy to be proud of what we’re doing when we see so many people get behind the cause, despite not knowing many of the riders.

The evening was run by former Smiddy rider, Naomi Bath, who played the role of MC brilliantly.  Several local personalities got up and spoke eloquently, including Mayor Ron Carriage and Don, who has been a huge supporter of Smiddy for many years.  The Smiddy Category jerseys for Spirit, Mateship and Teamwork were awarded and then the night’s guest speakers got up to tell their stories.  Mark Turner shared his heart wrenching story, telling us about his inspirational son who suffers from severe epilepsy.  It was a truly tear jerking talk and left the room speechless, but in awe that he could get up and share this story.  Melissa O told the audience about her terrible experience of watching her mother and father both battle different forms of cancer at the same time. 

The night ended with a high paced auction to raise more money for Smiling for Smiddy and an impromptu performance of Bohemian Rhapsody by the local Rotary club, with assistance from Maria Smiddy, Dave Colahan and Brenton Cope.  Naomi finished proceedings efficiently on 9:30, much to the delight of all the riders.  We all left to the homes of our billets to get as much sleep as possible before our big 240km ride the next day.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

2014 Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge - Day 2 - Nanango to Eidsvold

Day 2 Nanango to Eidsvold
Today’s Blog is brought to you from the A Team, Adrian and Alicia AKA Shrek and Princess Fiona\

Stats of the Day by Dave ‘Stinky’ Colahan who has now found his instruction manual for his Garmin.
Elapsed Time: 11 hours 21 minutes
Moving Time: 8 hours 42 minutes
Average Speed: 27.7km p/h lets call it 28km
Total Distance: 241km
Vertical Gain: 2,200 metres climbed
Minimum temperature: 2 degrees
Maximum Temperature: 34 Degrees

Road Kill Count by Jarrod Covey and Megan Wallace
A quieter day on the road for our road crew captains attributed to recent rains in the area
• 15 roos
• 1 echidna
• 1.5 lizards
• 1 snake
• 1 of Jack’s waterbottles
• Covey’s legs
• 1 rabbit
• 1 fish (suspected to be the first in Smiddy history)
• Lots of bad smells, particularly in the last half hour!

Category Jerseys
Spirit Jersey awarded to Bec, who despite recently losing her Grandfather still came to support the team
The Mateship Jersey went to Garath – supporting his mate when it was needed most – the climb at 180km.
The Teamwork Award went to Gleeso – consistent and supportive of all riders and for really getting what Smiddy is all about.

Guest Speakers
Jason – spoke about his fight with Leukemia, a personal account of his treatment and positive view on life and support of his mate

Paul – lost his grandfather to cancer and his mother has fought ovarian cancer due to distance he was unable to be by their sides and recently took his daughter back to America for the first time.

Day 2 dawned and from the swags we emerged to breakfast courtesy of our kind hosts Mark and Deserli and the team at the Nanango Showgrounds. Mark relinquished his role as chief bell ringer and for the first time Deserli got us on our way. It was a chilly 2 degrees as we rolled out rugged up for the long day ahead.

The thought of 241km was on everyone’s mind but you would not have noticed as the front of the peloton kicked off the day with a consistent start to get us going and warm up the legs.
With the morning questions of how did you sleep last night, Adrian stopped at Gareth when he was asked. “Zane and I slept together in a double bed with day glow stars on the ceiling”. ……that was enough for me. I can see why they are best mates, which was again highlighted later that day when Garth supported Zane in his quest to conquer the mountain.

By morning tea the peloton had hit it straps and with a few pinchers we were in Goomeri.
Between morning tea and lunch there was some funny business going on as Mel and MegZ found a way to pass the time with some laughs…. the cackle was unveiled! What a pleasure to hear. That must have spurred the group on as before we knew it we were 20mins early for lunch. Again our team of volunteers and number one supporters, undeterred ensured we were quickly provided with fuel to get us on our way.

Over half way and finally we got to Gayndah, home of the big Mandarin and the Manda – Inn! It was a nervous ride from there as the days big climb loomed, here we saw again the Smiddy spirit. It was all “hand on deck” as the temperature had climbed above 30 degrees, the sun in our faces and tired legs were already screaming. The team worked together and it was exhausted group as we headed into Munduberra for afternoon tea. Another great spread was provided with all hands drawn to anything with a high sugar content!

High on sugar and 37km to go, once again a cracking pace saw the peloton arrive in Eidsvold in daylight. A photo at the welcome to Eidsvold sign in daylight had not been taken in years.
Tonight the group has been split between the caravan park and the showgrounds, dinner was hosted by the Lions Club with a fantastic BBQ in the park.

Overall a redonkulous day, with average speed of 28km/hr for a 240km ride. Thanks to all for a memorable day on the bike….. Shrek and Princess Fiona (and we are now joined by Donkey)


Saturday, 30 August 2014

2014 Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge - Day 1 - Brisbane to Nanango

Day 1 Brisbane to Nanango

Today’s Blog is brought to you from the boys from the Burdekin. Ingham is now a part of the Burdekin.
Stats of the Day by Dave ‘Stinky’ Colahan with the assistance of Dr Phil
Elapsed Time: 11 hours 45 minutes
Moving Time: 8 hours 48 minutes
Average Speed: 23.6km p/h
Total Distance: 205.1km
Vertical Gain: 3,399 metres climbed
Minimum temperature: 12 degrees
Maximum Temperature: 25.8 Degrees

Road Kill Count by Jarrod Covey and Megan Wallace
1 Kookaburra
4 Skippy’s
1 Toad
1 Wombat (furry animal – had to be a wombat)
7 Bags of Bones
4 Unidentified Smells

Category Jerseys
Spirit Jersey awarded to Paul ‘Patty’ O’Regan who had the dubious honour of the first crash. But to his credit after a short stint in the Van with Kev he was back on his bike.

The Team Jersey went to Vanessa Trott and Jack Coward who put the Peloton first and voluntarily taking Van Time as to not slow the Peloton when they were having a bad day on the road.

The Mateship Award went to Tracy Keogh who made lots of friends throughout day with a number of different gentle hands on the back.

Guest Speakers
Tonight Jarred Cover and Robert Baumer stepped forward to offer the inspiration for completing the challenge. Jarred spoke of the loss of muched loved co-worker who showed steely determining in not letting cancer beat her despite being gravely ill with cancer at the time of her passing it was it was a heart attack which took her. Robert spoke of how he lost his best friend to leukaemia at the age of 26, his best friend was an elite athlete which showed that this disease doesn’t discriminate.
Day 1 of the 2014 Bottlemart Smiling for Smiddy Challenge began with a great Breakfast at the UQ Aquatic Centre. The breakfast was provided by a great group of volunteers and all the riders were grateful to be leaving Brisbane with a full stomach. We were joined at the start line by many friend and family, we were once again privileged to have David and Maria Smiddy make their way from across the Tasman to join us on our journey. Looking around there were many eager and nervous faces, some familiar and some new to the Smiddy Family. One thing in common with all whether it’s your first or your fourth Smiddy Challenge the apprehension of week ahead was apparent.

Once Breakfast had been taken care of, Matty Marshall took centre stage to address the Smiddy Peloton and all at the UQ Aquatic Centre. His first role was to introduce Mater Foundation Nigel Harris who gave a brief address outlining the main goals and objectives of the Mater Foundation and how Smiddy is playing a crucial role in the foundations development. We were then honoured to hear from Marty Hegarty, father of Declan Hegarty, who passed last year as a result of cancer which has since led to the establishment of Project Declan. Marty gave an emotional address which further brought to how attention why we take part in the Smiddy Challenge. Marty was joined by his daughter Hollie who had held fundraising campaigns at their respected school and rugby league club with funds being donated to Smiling for Smiddy and Project Declan. Matty Marshall gratefully accepted a cheque of $5,000 from Marty for the funds raised by his children. Matty Marshall then closed the formality’s and it was time for a quick rider brief and team photo before hitting the tarmac.

Day 1 Brisbane – Nanango (205km) is renowned as a day for the mountain goats and after a swift exit through the Brisbane streets with the aid of Queensland Police Force the peloton would like to take this opportunity to thank the police escorts who saw us safely on our journey. Before too long we were greeted by our first climb of the day Mt Mee. This is a chance to see who is strong and today saw Adrian Cross & Mellissa Ooestenbroek take the King & Queen of the mountain (for bragging rights only - still another 1540 kms to go guys).

Just before morning tea the peloton was introduced to a new skill the ‘Shewees’. At the top of Mt Mee the road crew had prepared the usual feast for morning tea. Thanks Guys we couldn’t do this ride without you. After morning tea it was time to tackle Sharky’s short cut which is notorious for its slight ‘Pinch’ and mishaps at the water crossing. Despite it being an annual tradition for someone to take a swim the peloton proved history making it by all dry.

Kilcoy was the Destination for Lunch with egg and lettuce wraps being the main course with a cold can of coke, lollies and fruit also being on the menu. After Lunch we rolled on into Single File which was quickly disrupted as Patty performed a majestic swan dive, thankfully his pride was the worst thing inured. We then rolled on in single file to the Blackbutt Range, I’m sure this range wasn’t as long last year. The Peloton showed great determination in conquering the range before rolling into Blackbutt for a short afternoon Tea as the hours of daylight were dwindling away.

We quickly rolled out on way to our final destination for the day Nanango. With a few more rolling hills on the way a quick regroup was required with 15km were Sharky offered up his Finest Barrister skills providing Cappuccino gels to those who were suffering a little. I don’t know what was in those Gels but the Peloton polished off the final 15km in record time, admittedly a downhill run into Nanango but after such a long day it was evident the Smiddy spirit was starting to flow through the peloton.

As we rolled into the Nanango showgrounds the peloton was greeted for the 9th in a row by our generous hosts Mark and Deserli who have been proud supporters of Smiddy since Sharkys journey in 2006, Thanks again Mark and Deserli it is support like this that makes what we do possible. The Nanango Showground was our home for the night and were supplied with a great meal by the local Showground Committee and we thank you as well as we can’t continue without the all important fuel you provide us. Again I’d like to thank the Road Crew and Supporters for what they do to make our Journey a little bit easier ‘YOU’RE AWESOME’.

That sums up day one of the Smiddy Challenge 2014 my extremely soft swag and air-conditioned venue, I’m sure a little cold won’t stop 50 tired head and bodies from sleeping quiet soundly. However my Snoring may.

Thanks Ian and Jayden

Monday, 21 July 2014

AN ITALIAN WRAP - ADVENTURES AND EXPERIENCES OF 3 WEEKS IN ITALY

LOSING ANOTHER MATE TO MELANOMA
It was during the Italian Dolomites Smiddy Challenge that news reached me of my good friend Herman Herlaar was again unwell with the reoccurrence of his Melanoma. A disease he has fought for over a decade. I exchanged emails with Herman and he was his usual positive and selfless self. A blog from the second last day of the ride was dedicated to Herman and he indicted to me that he was tickled pink that we would do that for him. It never seems enough but we were all happy it had a good effect on Herman. Yesterday Alyssa and I returned home after an amazing three weeks in Italy. I turned my phone on at the airport and the first message is from Chris Geeves telling me that Herman had passed away. I couldn't believe it. I thought of that call that David Smiddy made to me back in 2006 when his son Adam passed away. I needed to sit down then and needed to sit down again at the airport. I had promised Herman I would be in to see him on my return. Once again I am devastated, once again I am sad and once again I am angry. The last time I got angry was when Melanoma robbed the world of Adam. I channelled that anger into doing something about it and Smiling for Smiddy was born. Herman's news is yet another reminder of the constant battle we face and how the march forward has to continue. I know when I return to the Mater Foundation on Wednesday as my first day back at work, that it will be with renewed vigour and enthusiasm to raise as much funds as humanly possible to enable our researchers to continue in their quest to find a cure for these cancers that are taking from us the ones we love.

This blog I would like to dedicate to my friend Herman and his partner Michelle and their families. I know Herman wanted us all to celebrate and live life like there was no tomorrow. I can honestly say I have been doing that ever since Adam passed away in 2006 and that Herman would be proud of me for the time that I had in Italy, first with Team Smiddy, and then with my beautiful Fiancee' Alyssa Coe.

TEN REASONS WHY
It's been two weeks now seen the 2014 Italian Dolomites Smiddy Challenge finished. Our close knit band of Smiddy Brothers and Sisters, who had been through so much together during those six hard fought days of cycling over some of the toughest climbs in all of Europe, separated to follow their own agenda's. For Alyssa and I we had always planned to remain in Italy for a further two weeks for whatever unplanned adventures took our fancy. We did have a base to go to after the Smiddy tour; a lovely old home, nestled in the foothills of the Dolomites, that was built in the 14th century. One of my good friends owns this house and he kindly loaned it to us for the duration of our stay. A huge thank you to Mattia Anesa for entrusting us with his magnificent home. Half of the three story house is the original building, while the adjoining modern other half was built in the 80's. Venturing into the old part of the home was akin to stepping back in time and we could only marvel at how well structures were built back then to withstand the trauma's of time passing.

So I guess I wanted to write this blog as a memoir of our three week immersion into Italian culture. Hence I have managed to come up with ten memorable sights, events or occasions, that will have to suffice out of the many more that shaped this trip up as one of the highlights of my numerous trips to Europe over the past 20 years. In no particular order, I welcome you to, what was for Alyssa and I, our most excellent trip to Italy.

THAT MAGNIFICENT SMIDDY DOLOMITES TOUR!
The Smiddy tour of the Dolomites for both of us is what came to mind first and foremost. The challenge in completing a staggering 15,000 plus metres of climbing over just six days of riding. The friendships we forged with Gary, Kerry, Matt, Jason, Peter and Phil, and of course our magnificent guides in Will, Pippo, Valentino and of course the 'hard as nails' Ingo, will always be treasured in our minds and hearts. The mountainous sights that we witnessed were indescribably and unbelievably beautiful, and it came as no surprise to find out it is World Heritage listed. The entire group were in awe of the power these high snow-capped mountains possessed and our appreciation for professional riders racing up these tortuous beasts was now off the charts. The food on that tour was typical Italian gourmet feasts, but more importantly those nightly affairs provided some of the best social times of the entire trip. You see, nearly the entire tour was so mountainous that we were either climbing or descending by ourselves. There was no real flat roads where the group could ride as a two-abreast peloton, which is perfectly normal for any other Smiddy tour but not here. I missed that, as I know did the whole team. But boy we made up for it in the huddles and the team dinners.

SURVIVING ITALY IN A HIRE CAR
One of the joys about driving a car in Australia is just how easy it is. I have driven enough in Europe, Asia or America over the past 30 years to truly appreciate Australian roads and conditions. For all those drivers in Australia that experience impatience and or road-rage I just feel sorry for them. They need to hire a car in either of the above countries; not to learn how to drive again, but to learn how to appreciate just how good we do have it in Australia. I will talk just about Italy now as it is freshest in my mind, for we just survived two weeks and 2000 kilometres of driving amongst some of the most aggressive yet, and -here is the contradiction-not impatient drivers known to man. Let me ask you this: if Italian drivers can accept the fact that their fellow drivers can drive as if they are solely the only drivers on the roads and not lose their cool when their own drivers have blinkers but never use them, fly through roundabouts with no indication at all as to which exit they intend to take, changed lanes constantly, again with no indication, to overtaking on blind corners, double lines and through immensely long tunnels over double white lines, to speeding 50km/h over and above the designated 130km/h motorway speed limits, to merging in the utmost dangerous fashion, to suddenly coming to complete stops when on minor roads to make a turn but again without indicating, to pull out in front of you from a side street, again with no indication, to not stopping at stop signs, to tailgating you because you have the audacity to sit on the speed limit and the list goes on and on, then why can't we Australians, be more understanding or patient, with drivers in our own country, when on the very odd occasion, when any of what I have written above, happens to us? I just don't understand? Anyway apparently Italy is one of the highest risk countries in the world for tourists to have an accident in their hire car. The excesses they charge are indicative of this, as we were informed that if we did not take out an extra 600 Euro insurance cover we would be up for the first 2000 Euro in the result of an accident. This is where you need to check your travel insurance as the good insurances will cover your excess and save you a wad of cash when hiring a car in Europe. Anyway we were insured and more importantly we got the vehicle back intact, although Alyssa and our traveling companion Katie Dick, who hooked up with us for five days, both suffered passenger induced stress from all the close calls. They trusted my driving they said but not the driving of the locals.

THE OLD STUFF
Each and every time I visit Europe I am always blown away by the old architecture still standing, some up to and over 2000 years of age. They built shit to last back then! The sad thing is if not for all the religious wars, land wars, I have-larger-genitals-then-you wars and of course the World wars, a whole lot more of it would still be standing. Anyway we appreciate what is left and the history behind the buildings, monuments, cathedrals, statues and bell towers. I drove Alyssa crazy always asking this question; "Honey how old do you think this is?" I thought of Alyssa as my own personal European historian. It did not matter that she was born in America and this was her first time ever to Europe. She is a smart lady and surely those school history lessons she remembered... Not so apparently so anything that interested us we made a soft attempt to look it up on google when and if we had access to wireless.

THE UNBRIDLED JOY OF TRAVELLING ON MOTORWAYS
Our good friend Katie stayed with us at Mattia's home for the first three nights. She then needed to get to Rome to catch her flight home to Australia. Thanks to Katie organising the hire car we decided that a trip to Rome was on the cards. A leisurely eight hour drive south from where we were staying in the North of Italy. To travel anywhere fast in Europe the Motorways are manically busy, you take your life in your hands, the diesel and the tolls are expensive and the Italians have not yet cottoned on to the joy of take away coffees at the motorway service centres. Here you pay for it at a separate counter, present your docket to the coffee counter and drink your cappuccino or expresso, along with your croissant, while standing at the counter with 25 other customers, or 55 if you are lucky to arrive when the tour busses do. The major motorways have four lanes, while others have three or two. The less lanes generally means narrower lanes as well. The two lane tunnels of up to and over two kilometres in length are impressive as they cut through entire mountains and are a engineering marvel. But man you so need to have your wits about you as anything can and does happen in those dark cavernous entities that seem to have a life of their own as the noise of the trucks and cars combined with the fans going full tilt keep the nerve endings tingling. All the hire cars are over geared here with six speed gear boxes. Sitting on the speed limit of 130km/h requires the car to sit on just 2000 rpm's, which is extremely low for that speed. I would jokingly comment to the girls that I was going to go into the 'Big Boys Lane' when I needed to overtake. If it was three or four lanes wide the safest bet was in the second fastest lane. Only when necessary would I venture into the Big Boys lane, and when I did, I did it quickly and got back to the safety of my lane. Otherwise someone doing 180 to 220 km/h would be up my butt and there would be no horn, no finger, no aggression, just the menacing cars presence. That was enough! Not once, not ever, could I actually switch off and enjoy the drive while on motorways. Back roads sure thing, but motorways never.

CYCLING FRIENDLY HOTELS IN ITALY
We have never stayed in a hotel that is specifically set up for cyclists. It was during the Italian Dolomites Smiddy tour that we got to experience it when we stayed for three nights in Bormio. There are five of these hotels set up across Italy and as we had such a good experience in Bormio we decided to try the cycling friendly hotel that was an hour south of Rome. The town was called Fiujji and was nestled at 700 metres above sea level. How a cycling hotel works is you pay the one price for the following benefits. Breakfast and dinner provided and a packed lunch to take with you on your cycling adventure on any given day. Your bike attire is laundered each day. A secure bike room in the basement is set aside for all the guests bikes as no are bikes allowed in the rooms. You can hire extremely good quality bikes for as little as 40 Euro a day. They provide maps of all the best bike courses in the region, the hotel in Bormio even provided free guides for group rides up and over all the famous climbs. Fiujji did not provide this surface but still had the course maps. The staff at Bormio were genuine bikers themselves but no so in Fuijji and the food they provided was plentiful smorgasbord type meals rich in carbs and protein.Lastly there are all the tools you will ever need and cleaning products, rags etc are all part of the deal. All for 90 Euro a day, which represented excellent value we thought. Our stay in Fuijji was awesome and we got in two great rides of 30 kilometres on day one and 90 kilometres on day two, which took us up to 1600 metres, with a reward of a 22 kilometre descent. Katie spent those two days with us and early in the ride she popped a spoke. Resulting in a rear wheel so badly buckled that she limped back to the hotel and went for a run instead. She was bitterly disappointed and we tried unsuccessfully to convey that the 90km loop was fairly ordinary, when in fact it was the complete opposite and another amazing day of cycling in the hills of Italy. A funny side story before Katie left us was when the girls passed some cows and horses and even one donkey as they were taking a leisurely stroll down the middle of the road. The cows took a liking to the girls and appeared to start chasing them down the road. I was watching it unfold and recorded it on my iPhone as I was behind them at the time and they were completely oblivious to it until I showed them the footage. Funny stuff!

ALL ROADS MAY LEAD TO ROME BUT GIVE ME FLORENCE ANY DAY!
After our great stay in Fuijji we dropped Katie to the the airport in Rome via those entertaining motorways... After biding farewell to Katie, Alyssa and I left the car at the airport and caught the train into the centre of Rome to spend half a day looking at just a few of the many sights that Rome has to offer. As it turned out we were happy with seeing the Colosseum, the remnants and ruins of the original Rome and the waterless Tevi Fountain, which was a huge disappointment due to it undergoing repairs, surrounded by fencing, a thousand tourists and hecklers all insisting we buy an umbrella or statue from them! It was kind of fun but we had booked into a hotel in Florence for that night thanks to a hot tip from the app Trip Advisor. Which we totally recommend as a valuable travelling tool if unsure of where to stay or eat. Once again it was back to the motorways and three hours later, with Alyssa's nerves once again frayed to a slivers edge, we arrived safely to our hotel in Florence. I am happy to report that it was just as delightful as the comments on Trip Advisor said it would be. We arrived at seven-pm and had dinner at 8:30pm at a great restaurant recommended by Trip Advisor. And no I am not on a commission! The next day we set out early and had a most wonderful day in Florence enjoying all the famous sites but without the annoying Rome tourists crowds and annoying hecklers. It was then back to our base at Mattia's home in Gorma St Marino, which meant another four hours of motorway driving and elevated stress levels all round.

IF CLOCK TOWERS AND CHURCHES ARE YOUR THING?
I remember when I toured through Spain back in the 90's that every town you passed through enjoyed the mandatory castle. At first I wanted to visit each one, but upon realizing the frequency of these objects they quickly lost appeal. In France it was all the Cathedrals, museums and roundabouts, which I was happy to visit a few cathedrals and museums but roundabouts you had no choice in the matter, they just kept on coming! In Italy I can assure you that clock towers and churches are all the go. The same designer for the clock towers must be a rich man as we spotted hundreds in our travels and all were very similar in architecture and materials used. The traditional half and on the hour ringing of the bells can be heard for kilometres away. Too bad for any nightshift workers... I think they did not chime after seven-pm or seven-am. Our little village that we had as our base, two of these clock towers existed and Alyssa pointed out that they must have reached an agreement to not ring their bells at the same time. One would gong and when the other had finished, count 30 seconds and the other would follow. Brilliant! You got to hear these chimes 24 times a day! When Katie was with us we paid a visit to a local village just 20 minutes drive away called Cluson. Now it had a clock tower and a cathedral that was super impressive, not just for its sheer size but for the fact that one of the Popes actually paid a visit to this historic and gorgeous little town. I have no idea what came over me but I paid good money for a 1000 piece picture puzzle of the clock tower. As a bonus they threw in a mini puzzle of that Pope. I have never bought a puzzle in my life! So that is my story of clock towers and how they somehow managed to possess me to the point of buying a puzzle, that by all certainty, will remain in the box forever in the back of my wardrobe back home!


COLD WATER PLENTIFUL IN THE NORTH OF ITALY
Now the north of Italy gets a lot of snow throughout winter. So much so that when the snow starts to melt in Spring, it fills the rivers and keeps them flowing continuously throughout not just Spring, but all of Summer and most of Autumn and never does all that snow melt. When it just about runs out Winter is back and the process starts all over again. On numerous occasions we got to experience just how cold that water was. Mid summer here and a dip in any of the rivers is feet only and if you can last longer than a minute without screaming in pain then you are either very brave or have no nerve endings in your feet. All the water out of the taps to drink is beautiful and cold and if you are fortunate enough to visit any of the refreshing spas in the area I can warn you from experience do try the hot sauna's but you take your life into your own hands by doing the cold water dip up to your chest. One of the Smiddy lads, Peter D'Angelis managed to stay in this tub of 10 degree water for one minute. I was pathetic and lasted less than ten seconds. Certainly was refreshing though! When out riding in the Dolomite region topping up your water bottles was never a problem. Just fill up from one of the many spots that are installed to tap into the natural fall of the water off the mountains. Hey an interesting fact about the Dolomites is that all those mountains were originally under the sea. To this day climbers are still finding sea shells and various evidence of the mountains origins atop some of the highest peaks. The Dolomites are about 250 millions years old, give or take a year or two... and are composed mainly of sedimentary rocks and limestone. Today, we can hardly imagine that once the mighty mountains were an enormous coral reef, formed in the primordial ocean called Tethys. Anyway that's your history lesson for this blog!

SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE
When it comes to speaking foreign languages I am really proficient at English and even that is open to argument. I literally suck at any other language other then good old Aussie slang. But I can assure you I more than make up for it with the pantomimes, facial and hand gestures and the mandatory speaking English with an Italian accent, when trying to get what I wanted out of any particular situation. It is hilarious and embarrassing at the same time. Let me share one story with you that had Alyssa and Katie cringing in embarrassment. It was during one of our casual 100 kilometre loops that we did from Mattia's home. These loops would take nearly all day due to the amount of climbing we did, but also due to the the stops for photo opportunities and mandatory coffee and croissant breaks at the many delightfully welcoming small mountain villages we would pass through. So we had just met up with a lovely Italian couple that were retired and out for a casual drive to admire the views. They both spoke English and when we parted company they suggested you visit the old church up the road that was 600 years old. When we got there there was a group of kids playing soccer on the cobbled courtyard. I was saying hello and trying to tell them my name and asking their names. I was successful and then it got funny when I was attempting to tell them where we were from. The Italians don't understand our pronunciation of Australia and would always give you a quizzical look of confusion. But once they got it their expressions would always brighten. As usual when you travel anywhere in Europe Australian's and Kiwis's are extremely popular. Being English or American does not favour as well. Alyssa would immediately fall back to her Australian tag in these situations. Anyway these kids were just not getting it so I then went into my kangaroo pose and starting hop, hop hopping around in my bike shoes. This is when not only the girls took leave and pretended not to know me, but when the kids started to back away as if I was a dangerous animal. I think they will talk about that strange foreigner for a time to come.

RIDING BIKES ON ITALIAN ROADS FAR SAFER THAN DRIVING CARS
Well firstly congratulations if you have gotten this far into my article. You have just notched up 3384 words of my drivel. So you may as well go the whole hog and read this final tenth Italian highlight of our trip. Now personally I managed to clock up over 1000 kilometres of riding on Italian roads. Which included a touch over 30,000 metres of climbing, but more importantly over 30,000 metres of descending! Which is equivalent to a couple of hundred kilometres of descents. Yep Italy is a descender's paradise! Anyway I am hoping that this qualifies me for the following evaluation of life on the road as a cyclist in Italy. Alyssa and I found the drivers to be erratic but generally safe towards us as cyclists, but all that went out the door once we swapped bikes for cars. The interesting thing about how cyclists ride over here is that they generally don't ride two abreast. It is either single file or all over the road. What we found with the cars is that it did not matter where you rode on the road, on the side, in the middle, the cars would always go around you. Never would they blow their horns in anger but occasionally just to let you know they were coming. This was especially prevalent with busses and trucks coming up behind you. Most Italians seem to be not happy unless they are speeding, whether on the back roads or the motorways they always seem to be in a hurry. So when they pass you they pass you fast, way faster than Australian drivers, but in a safer manner as they don't come as close. Here in Australia we have the 'Metre Matter' rules, the campaign to pass cyclist and give them at least a metre of clearance. In Italy there is no such rule or government campaign, they just seem to do it. Guess it comes back to cycling having such history in these European countries. Having said that we would always, just as we would in Australia, choose back roads to keep us off the busier thoroughfares, which always makes for enjoyable riding. A word of warning though when it comes to tackling the big mountain passes like Stelvio and Garvia. Once any road in Italy either goes up into the clouds or has heaps of switchbacks you have to share the route with hundreds of motorbikes. I am a motorbike rider myself and was ashamed at how a large majority of them carry on with their passing maneuvers of cyclists in their quest to reach the top, or the bottom of these massive climbs as fast as possible. We all found it funny that we, as cyclists, would have to wait for the motorbikes to finish their photos at the Passo signs, signs which indicate the name of the climb and the altitude in metres, before we could get our shots completed. What took us two hours to climb the Stelvio or the Gavia at over 2700 metres using just our lungs and our legs, the motorbikes would do in 20 minutes using their right wrist to turn the throttle. I don't begrudge them of their fun and achievements, believe me I understand! I see it from both sides of the coin. I only wish they would respect us as fellow bike riders and pass us accordingly with respect and safety. Of course there were the polite motorbike riders as well, who were wonderful and my heart went out to them as I know that is how I pass cyclists when I do my motorbike trips back in Australia. Sports cars are also attracted to the mountains, as are just normal motorists and except for a select few, we were treated with great respect by the majority. To sum up we definitely felt way safer cycling in Italy than on the roads back home. But I always feel that way on any of my European trips that involve cycling.

I started this blog when in Italy, worked on it again on the trip home to Australia, and now suffering from jet-lag, both Alyssa and I are wide awake at two-a.m. this Tuesday morning. So while she is reading beside me I have finished off this blog. It is now six-a.m. Alyssa is up and getting ready for work. I am back at work massaging today at Allsports Physiotherapy, before returning to the Mater Foundation tomorrow for my work on Smiddy events. Like all good holidays, after a week back at work you begin to wonder if the whole trip ever happened. Memories are good but for me they eventually fade in my aging mind. Words are another matter, always there for reflection. Hence the reason for this blog. Memories of our adventures in Italy should never be forgotten! Just as memories of Adam Smiddy, Declan Duck, Herman Herlaar and many others will always be with me for as long as I have on this Earth.

Thanks for getting this far and my next blog won't be for a while now until the ninth edition of the Smiddy eight day Challenge begins at the end of August.

Until then take care and stay safe on our roads.

Sharky.

Monday, 7 July 2014

2014 ITALIAN DOLOMITES CHALLENGE DAY 6 STAGE 5 - THE 10.5% AVERAGE GRADIENT ASCENT OF MORTIROLO

Dr. Koala and Peter D'Angelis kindly offered to write tonights blog. If I may, I would like to dedicate this blog to my good mate Herman Helaar, who is at this very moment facing his own personal battle with Melanoma cancer. Mate we are all thinking of you and while we are torturing ourselves in the high mountains of Italy, and at the same time having fun, we definitely never lose sight of the bigger picture, and that is to raise the funds needed to keep our researches at Mater Medical doing what they do best... Working to save lives through early warning detection tests and ultimately that cure that we are all praying for. Take care my friend and I will see you on my return. Cheers from Sharky.

Hi this is Dr Koala from here and I am delighted to co-write this blog with Peter D'Angelis. What can one say after an amazing week of friendship, camaraderie, and great cycling guides for our logarithmically challenging rides each day, except the Spa rest day in Bormio, which we all needed to regain new energy for the Stelvio and then today!! My My!

I know I don’t usually blow my own trumpet (especially a pink one that was the winner’s prize for today’s Individual time trial up the Passa di Fogga or as the locals call it the Mortirolo pass, but I must admit Dr. Koala exceeded his own expectations today (an probably everyone else’s) and pulled a giant rabbit out of the bag – or should I say a noisy pink trumpet and the right to wear the Mallaut Jaune or the Yellow Jersey for the rest of the ride, not that this earned a great deal of respect from the peloton– only Sharky, Matt and Ingo helped him up the hills

Now you may remember that this 11.9 km time trial up the Mortirolo ascended to 1850m and had 1296 m climbing with an average gradient of 10.5% with peaks at 18-20% regularly during the ride. Time handicaps allowed Dr. Koala a very generous a 75min time gap between him starting and Valentino our strongest guide rider starting from the Café Mortirolo, where an expresso almost shot Dr. Koala up the pass without his bike! The Gods were with us today as it starting raining soon after we arrived in Mortirolo, but as Dr.Koala mentally and physically prepared his body and mind for this first ever Smiddy trial time challenge, the sunshine came out and Smiles appeared on Dr.Koala’s face!

To cut a long story short his generous time allowance allowed him to steal the Pink Trumpet and Yellow Jersey completing the exhausting steep climb in about 1 hr 49 mins with a worthy second to Jason and third on the podium to Kerri, Alias “Alli” Climbing Contador! Jason our strongest rider did himself proud by clocking the best time and should be proud of that! But no world event could be more important presently that the Dr.K stepping up to receive his Pink trumpet and wildflowers and hugs and kisses from all the Smiddy team and all the French boys who were cheering us all on to the finish line. It was very gay time had by all! A heart rendering version of the Australian National Anthem led by Pedro stirred the emotions. The only disappointing thing about the presentation was the lack of suitable attired Italian bella donne to give Dr. K a lippy kiss on each cheek. Maybe this could be organized for the next such Smiddy event! It certainly would motivate the male Smiddy riders no –end.

The ride today was 105 km long and involved a beautiful long descent down to Mazzo where we ascended the Mortirolo Passo but and an equally beautiful long descent from Mortirolo with great views over the Valley – this is such a beautiful country filled with beautiful people, food and wine and experiences, and us Smiddy riders are so fortunate to be able to experience it while raising money for cancer research.

After a grueling ascent of the valley back to Bormio many of us, especially Dr. Koala were pretty spent or as the locals say Sono la frutta - but in true Smiddy fashion one amazing challenge a day was not enough, and we climbed Cancano to 1907 m – a 8.2 km with short switchbacks (like a mini Alp D’uez) passing two old tunnels that lead pass on old castle and fort to this cute Spa Hotel where amazingly timing wise we watched the last 30 mins of Stage 3 of the Le Tour De France won by the Giant-Shimano Team sprinter Marcel Kittel – is this great planning on part of Will and his tour team or what? Then after revival with biscotti, café, coke, chips and beers we headed down back a beautiful descent (Sharky was ecstatic again as he prefers descending then the steepness of Mortirolo – in fact just to put it on the record Dr. K was 1min faster than Sharky up the Mortirolo and this was even considering that both Dr. K and Sharky were zig (Sharkey) and Zag (Dr. K) up those steep gradients.

Another worthy mention today was that Pippo got out his old bike to ride with us from the bottom of the Mortirolo Pass all the way to Cancano and back to Bormio. Dr. K and his Family owes his life to him for reviving him after he nearly Passa Outed on Passa Gavia. He will forever be one of the Leong Family in Australia and we look forward to him visiting us in Sydney very soon with his Family.

In fact all members of the SMiddy team have bonded so incredibly well that I expect that all of us will keep in touch in Brisbane or Sydney via Facebook if we are busy, but for rides, dinners and reminisces about this amazing Life transforming week.
Now for Dr. K’s personal 4 Highlights out of many for the week –

I , The immense self-belief, courage and honesty shown by all the Smiddy riders to tackle some of the toughest bike rides in the world!

2. The Passa Gavia where I said I nearly Passau Outed at the top. But it was still such a beautiful ride with an enchanted forest mid-way up which I riding alone was basically able to enjoy with great tranquility – the birds twittering, the green and colour of wild-flowers, small pine cones on the road as I rode and the smell of beautiful nature – why do we need TV really – being outdoors creates new networks for better people and health and well-being.

3. Winning the Pink Trumpet and Yellow Jersey on Mortirolo today – now despite the rumours Dr.K/s amazing achievement was only achieved with a combination of legitimate drugs, including codeine, nurofen and alcohol (but only the best Roos vIno including Valpolicela) so despite the results been unofficial until Dr. K provides a urine sample there can be no doubt about it.
As Dr. K reached the half way mark (about 6km) he thinks he started hallucinating hearing cow bells ringing and one particular beautiful Italian cow called Milly whispering in his ear that if he won the Time trial he would receive a nice peck on his cheek as a reward! This with his lovely 16y old daughter Mitzi and his darlingly patient wife Micky, i.e. the 3Ms, Milly, Mitzi and Micky drove Dr. K to the finish line to seize his great prize!

4. The D’Angelis brothers – thank God we only had two and not three this time, but Phillipo likes my Mum and I quite like their parents. He is a bit of a Frank Sinatra but I am not sure he can sing that well to the Italian ladies? But we shall find out tonight.

Pedro the older brother is more mature obviously but a real gentleman with great taste in wine with a great sense of humopur and Smiddy values. I love them both as they have made the trip so much fun – but please don’t tickle me anymore Phillipo!

I have to add one more highlight – People make experiences

Valentino – I really would like to introduce him to my beautiful 23 year old daughter Julia should she break up with her current boyfriend, as I think he would make a nice son-in-law – we could go riding together in wonderful places for instance – but he would have to reveal the Dark Side of his character to me first !

Also if the beautiful Milly could become my daughter-in-law and marry my son Martino I think I would be very happy!

So that leaves Ingo, what a gentleman and great Father – I do hope the Netherlands wins the world Cup and IO do we get to see him again on another Smiddy challenge soon! He helped me get through the last kms of ice and cold and rain on Passa Gavia and is like Pippo a member of my Family. As I will planning our regular 4 yearly Leong-Lim Family Reunion in Bormio in early July 2016, it may be a chance to reunite the Smiddy Bormio support team and some of the riders!

Finally to Will an Adelaide gentleman with great organization skills, a beautiful French wife who works for Chateau Rothschild in Bordeaux and who can ride a bike too! – Please join my Leong Family too Will ? when can we come and visit you and your beautiful French wife in Bordeaux now that you are part of the Family.

Also importantly Dr. K wishes to thank his two room mates during the Challenge – Kerry Alias Ali who Dr. K had the pleasure of sharing a spa bath with her. Very nice after the first big ride up the Passa Giau and 3 other climbs – what a sore bum and legs he had so thank you Alli for helping fix that for Dr. K.

And to Matt for being such a great motivating buddy sharing with Dr.K in Bormio – and for not being too upset when Dr. K fell out of bed after a rather pleasant cow dream before the Mortirolo time trial and for not snoring too much or complaining about Dr. K’s snoring! Again please both roommates visit us in Sydney but sorry Ali I don't have a spa bath in my home.

So Arriverderci – so sad to say, but rather than the end of a great holiday it is the start of many great friendships ala Casablanca!


Okay Peter D'Angelis here... Where are seated at the dinner table just about to have entre’s and I’ve been handed the laptop on the bell, so I wont waste my words.

Every time I come away with the Smiddy guys I limp away a changed man. Treasured times and sobering climbs (that rhymes!).
This trip has been no different. Such a great group of people with a common purpose and always a conscious acknowledgment of where this great charity started.

Given the time constraints I would like to focus on my 4 highlights of the trip.

Firstly my climb up Stelvio (the first time mind you! Yes bragging rights Marc, Harris and Rowy!) with The Shark Man. We got into a great groove early, with good chats and some great snap shots along the way. The cool thing about riding with Sharky is that you truly pick up some of his intellectual properties on climbs like that re. nutition and just the little tricks that guys with his Triathlon Resume pick up through the years. I won’t forget that climb Big Guy.

That same day, and my second highlight goes to Matty who I came up Stelvio with for the second time. At one stage I asked Matty how many Km’s to go thinking in the back of my mind that I would divide the number by 6 or 8 to deduce the climbing time remaining. I later discovered that we came up at an average of about 4.5km (that doesn't leave the 15K tight need Smiddy Family).

Anyway we got up together with considerable 2 way moral support.

Again a climb that I will never forget.

The third highlight was my decent with Sharky and Phillipo today down Mortirolo. 20 km’s of sheer bliss. Without a doubt the most memorable decent of my short cycling career.

Phillipo was out in front early with Sharky close behind. Not a bad frontman (blind corners taken wide at mach speed) we were really on the edge.

I then took Sharky ( which made me feel good because he’s the best descender that I’ve ever ridden with.

I then took Phillipo after his rear wheel locked up.
From there it was all on with the 3 of us pushing the limit right to the end.
Our arrival at the bottom was followed with massive hugs and laughter (a boys moment).

Absolutely 17 minutes I will never forget.

Lastly, seeing the Doc get up in the time trial today was a true highlight.

His quirky humour and enjoyment of an evening glass of Red has endeared him to the Smiddy family and particularly the De Angelis boys.

I have some concerns regarding his true cycling ability and sense that he has been foxing prior to today in the anticipation of a handicapped event (let me say that if anyone’s in the market for dodgy prescription, Dr Gary is your man).

On that note “true story” Matty who bunks with the Doc, announced at Breakfast that Dr G fell out of his bed last night after both boys had been asleep for a number of hours (“drop bear” as Phillipo put it)
If only he’d prescribed himself with Viagra this nasty incident could have been avoided!

That’s what happens when you drink with the De Angelis boys!

In closing thank you Matty and Sharky for a fantastic 6 days. You guys have gone above and beyond and this one is going to be hard to trump.

To the road crew, Wil-I-Am, Pippo, Vale and Ingo you guys have done a fantastic job making us feel safe and welcome.

To my fellow riders………….well I hope and know that I will see you all soon back home.

Over and out, Pedro

Kerri Highlights – birthday, tre cime di livaredo, support
Alyssa – Gavia, Tre Cime, Earning T Shirt
Matt – Seeing others finish Tre Cime, Ingo on Gavia providing support, Mateship & comeraderie
Valentino – Giau with Jason & entire first ride, Final day time trial, Sharing emotions with others.
Ingo – Every ride together, nobody giving up, sharing moments together
Jason – 5 climbs on day 1 & sharing with Valentino, riding with Valentino & Ingo, Watching others achieve climbs at their own rate, blog each night & the stories of the group
Pippo – Enjoying Australians trying to speak Italian, Smiling,
Phil – Being able to raise money for a great cause whilst enjoying ourselves, being associated with such a great cause, meeting great people
Will – Plenty of highlights
Ability to share a beautiful environment with the whole group – Dolomites is one of the most amazing places in the world.
I take a lot of groups but this Smiddy group reminded me of what was great about his job
Work with Great team Pippo, Ingo and Vale
Lovely evenings spending together after the rides.
Sharky
Love Smiddy huddles – last one today emotions were very high
Descents – the fact that we have earnt them through the climbing
Alyssa – when she first signed she only had one month for training because of work commitments but she knocked over every climb was a real highlight and did not enter sag wagon once!








Sunday, 6 July 2014

2014 ITALIAN DOLOMITES SMIDDY CHALLENGE - DAY 5 STAGE 4 THE CONQUERING OF PASSO STELVIO NOT ONCE BUT TWICE,

Stelvio... and Stelvio Again (that's 88 switchbacks... Alpe d'Huez has 21!)

Stage 4
Total KIlometres: 106
Total Metres of Climbing 3600


This is not Sharky. This blog will be far too witty and funny. A super special day like Stelvio, Smiddy style, deserves super special bloggers.

The honour of writing today's blog has been placed in the very capable hands of Phil D'Angelis, Philippo as he has been tagged this week, and Matty Marshall. Don't worry. Sharky is not AWOL in Europe, just sharing the love. Where was yesterday's blog, you ask? Well, let's fill you in on our adventures over the past two days...

A REST DAY? REALLY?
In a Smiddy first, a rest day was included in the Italian Dolomites Smiddy Challenge, and enjoyed yesterday by our shattered crew. Sporting battered bodies and spirits, our riders very professionally put themselves through multiple sets of ice baths before some riders chose to have a sports massage from our guide and Marco 'Pirate' Pantani lookalike, Pippo. This was a particularly traumatic experience for Dr Koala, more accustomed to the hot Australian outback of the eucalyptus tree, who took over an hour to submerge waist-height into the ice bath, such was his agony. Dr Koala was screaming later in the day too as Pippo went to work on his tired limbs in preparation for Stelvio.

But once the ice baths were done, it was time for a walk to the old town of Bormio for some lunch, with pizza on the menu and a gelattisimo conveniently located next door. The crust of Jase's pizza was expertly arranged into a Smiddy smiley face before the crew strolled home to their hotel. Dr Koala again did himself proud. This 45kg whippet of a man ordered two meals, lasagne and a family sized pizza, while balancing the wine list and picking up the dodgy establishment for attempting to screw us on the bill.

SPECIAL GUESTS
We were delighted to be joined at dinner by Arch and Robyn DeAngelis, my parents, who survived a nervous drive through the mountains with the questionable driving skills of Arch, who headed straight to the bar for a nerve settling beer, in true DeAngelis style after reuniting with their two very well-behaved sons (particularly me). It was a relief that I finally had reinforcements to keep Pedro from embarrassing himselfAs those of you reading this blog know - Smiddy is nothing if not a genuine community with strong family values and being able to enjoy some laughs and the Smiddy way with my mum and dad was very special. The group were impressed that Pedro and I wore collared shirts, knowing our parents were arriving, given we didn't bother to make that efforts for Kerri's birthday. An oversight we regret, Le Petite Maine.

The arrival of Arch and Robyn was a great opportunity for me to introduce Milly to my parents. Milly is a waitress at our hotel who I (this is not happily married Matt writing this) promised to introduce my parents to, in order to take our relationship to the next level. Having known Milly (Bella) for 24 hours, I knew this was a bold play, but one I was willing to make... probably given my senses were down a little after another crushing day of dragging myself up the most ludicrious mountains in all of Italy. Sharky will keep you posted about how Bella and I are progressing.

Last night at dinner, Pedro spoke about how mateship and spirit which keeps he, Phil and Marco (who is missing this time around but will soon be again in Smiddy lycra) coming back to Smiddy in addition to their great mates Miki Harris, Tony Smythe Dan Salter. Together these guys have raised well over $50K for Mater Foundation and again lead the fundraising tally this year. A shout out to Miki - who lost his Dad to cancer and has raised over $25K while riding the Pyrenees and Alps - and gave Pedro and me a generous $1K donation last week.

After Pedro spoke, Sharky responded with a heartfelt speech about Adam and how much he would have loved to meet people like everyone in the Smiddy group this week and share the teamwork and comaradie that has been on display all week. As Pedro says, we have spent the week doing 'things you never think are possible, but they are thanks to the mates and spirit of those around you because with Smiddy you never ever think you won't finish'. Sentiments everyone in the Smiddy community will understand.

We know David and Maria Smiddy would have been very proud of the group last night... and even more so today as we tackled Stelvio - one of the world's most feared climbs and for very good reason as we found out - not once, but twice. We will get onto that later, but next, we pen a memo to Smiddy legend, Rowan 'Rowman' Foster, to inform him that there is now a new Alpha Male in Smiddy land. That is assuming, of course, that Rowman was that person - and that is certainly debatable and an argument sure to attract hot debate from supporters of the likes of Stinky Dave, Simon Plummer and Rocky Brocky... but we digress. Anyhow, all that debate is academic now, because we have to introduce 'the perfect man'.

'THE PERFECT MAN'
Not since Zoolander hit the big screens has there existed such a ridiculously good looking man. Valentino, our ride guide from Sienna in Tuscany, certainly lives up to this tag. He sent the heart of birthday girl, Kerri Whitney, into a flutter earlier in the week by announcing point-blank over dinner that he had eyes for her. As part of the sales pitch, Valentino went on to explain that, to quote the man affectionately known as 'Valet', 'I am the perfect man'.

Valet, you may be thinking, is certainly not shy, but that's the Italian way. And Valet may have a point. In addition to his boyish good looks, Valet is also arguably the strongest cyclist to have graced a Smiddy peloton - Phil 'Skippy' Anderson and our other A-Listers aside of course. We use the word grace because there's no other way to describe the way Valet, who is the 42nd ranked amateur in Italy, races up the world's toughest climbs while on the phone to his Mama. Yes ladies, Valet is ... it would seem... the perfect man. He loves his Mama. He looks like he is off the set of a Tuscan rom-com, but he's the real deal. Or so it would seem. Valet confessed to us that he has a darker side... but this only served to get more female eyebrows raised with interest.

Valet spent a year in Australia and is well aware of our habit to make fun of those we are very fond of, so let's just point out a couple of other flaws in Romeo's make-up, like his navigational skills. Valet endeared himself to Sharky by doing his very own Sharky short-cut days ago, saved by two local teenagers and a mum walking her toddler in a stroller before getting us back on track. Valet is also not so good at maths. The last thing you want to hear 21km into your second grind up Stelvio in one day is an Italian accent saying 'no, not 5, you have almost 10 to go'. It was five. The difference, in Stelvio language, is another hour of climbing so we were lucky Valet got his adding up wrong on this occasion. We have also caught him on numerous occasions pacing up and down hotel hallways, and circling back down the mountain, in search of one of our riders. It is no wonder the team has taken to singing 'That's Amore' with some degree of skill.


THE PERFECT CLIMB
Okay, on to today's mammoth day, one Sharky has labelled among his favourite ever Smiddy days. It was one that would again take our group to breaking point.

A beautiful sunny morning greeted us for the climb that many have dreamed or had nightmares about for months, the famous Stelvio. For the Smiddy peloton, this was just one of the two faces of Stelvio we would be tackling today. so the first climb of the day was one that was greated with great trepidation... the fact we had the previous day off, no one was sure how there bodies would react. the side of stelvio we attacked first was a 25km ride and peaked at 2758 meters above sea level and had an average gradient of 7.1% and let us tell you, it fully lived up to its notoriety.... the climb began quite normally but as we ascended through the clouds we were greated with 40 switchbacks... all climbing in frnt of us. it was daunting to look up and see what were about to take on, and almost a little overwhelming because of how exhausted we already were. as the rocks and grass turned to snow, we knew this would be a defining climb. as the bars and shops at the top of stelivio came into sight there was a huge releif, howveer its the last 3km of these climbs thats the toughest. as we got to the top, the temperature probably hovered around 5 degrees celsiis and warm kits and the sanctuary of the car was sought.


SUISSE WEINER SCHNITZEL
The reward for conquering Stelvio the first time around came in the form of a stunning descent down the valley into Switzerland. We pulled up into the little town of .... for some lunch and the local specialty of Weiner Schnitzel was ordered by most of the team. Jase was so excited about his schnitzel that he proceeded to pour 30 toothpicks onto his meal. This was an early sign that Jase was starting to falter and fatigue was setting in, so we hatched a plan to bring him undone.

CODE NAME 'BANANA'
As is Smiddy tradition, we attempt to get into the mind of the group's strongest rider. Such was the case with operation 'Banana' today as we sought to give Jase the fright of his life. The plan was this. On the word banana - Pedro and Matt were to distrcat Jase as Sharky raced off into the distance at the beginning of our second climb. Sharky would, of course, then hid in the bushes - leaving Jase to chase the imaginary Shark for 25km of gruelling uphill riding. Unfortunately, the plan was thwarted before it began - as Jase and Ingo raced off the mark and left us floundering with noting but dust and no use for code name Banana. Luckily, we have a different plan for tomorrow. Sleep tight, Jase. On a serious note, Jase has served his Cycd Cycling Club proudly, following in the tradition of JJ in the alps last year, of having to acclimatise himself to the Smiddy way - where good times roll more freely than Strava segments. He is also one of our top fundraisers and is sure to return for another Smiddy adventure we are sure.

ENCORE
And so we took on Stelvio for a second time in one day. This is madness for professional cyclists, and our guide Pippo still cannot understand why these unfit, non-cyclist looking Australians choose to take on such a 'ridiculato' (a new word we have termed) itinerary. Pippo commented at lunch, in Italian accent,' thisa is whata tour groupsa normallya doa... enjoy the sun. Enjoy the lunch. Just do somea riding'. Dear old Pippo, from his times navigating across the Sahara desert on motorcross bikes, he should know. As our readers know, a Smiddy peloton could never be accused of not having a go, and so we said goodbye to Switzerland and ventured back across the border through a valley of wonderful descent, to await our destiny for a second time.

COMETH THE HOUR
Knowing what was about to happen, another 25km and 2100 metres of climbing through 48 switchbacks, Pedro muttered the words that would ring in some of our riders' ears for the next 3 hours of brutal switchback after 44,43,42,41 (you get the drift) switchbacks. Cometh the hour, Cometh the Man. And so, for the next 3 hours, Pedro dug deep even after his habit of sucking a gel every 2.5km styarted to catch up with him. A shout out to tour guide Will, who was a total pro on these winding roads, passing water bottles and snacks to our riders so we could continue to race (at 4km an hour) up the mountain to the growing scent of the Bratwurst stall that stood at the summit of Passo Stelvio. But this trip is not just about the men, but also the women, and Kerri again did herself and the Tri-Alliance club she represents. She may be little, but Kerri is made of the right stuff, and we know she will be back in a Smiddy peloton in the near future. Not far behind her was Sharkietta.

SHARKIETTA
Sharkietta is our favourite new Italian word. It means female Shark. Alyssa has done herself proud during her first Smiddy event - smashing past $4K in her fundraising and completing every single metre of climbing to date. Even more impressive given the lack of concern displayed by Sharky at times, who has let his fiance fend for herself while he smashes up the climbs. Not too bad for a Yank. To make it more impressive, Alyssa doesn't even get to enjoy all the descents, but has graduated from white belt to yellow this week with some impressive downhill skills.

Ingo again came to the fore today with his Deutch enabling us to successfully order 10 giant schnitzels and two huge bowls of fries. Sharky was so impressed with Switzerland he fell asleep at lunch, woken to eat his spaghetti bol, which managed to actually grow by the time he finished it with a huge bowl of pasta and fries left for our lovely hosts to clean up.

Tomorrow, a climb that will dwarf all others awaits for our final day in the saddle. It is named Mortirolo... and promises more pain even then Tre Cime di Laravado (He Who Should Not Be Named for Harry Potter fans).

We will finish by concluding that today, during one of those two epic Stelvio climbs, that magical moment happened that every Smiddy rider knows ... when your jersey bursts to life and begins to represent the mates, memories and supporters that have made another Smiddy event such a life-affirming experience.

Over and out. Phillippo and Matty.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

2014 ITALIAN DOLOMITES SMIDDY CHALLENGE - DAY 4 STAGE 3


SORRY TO DR KOALA
First up apologies to Gary 'Dr Koala' Leong for my omission of him being in the van for yesterday's lethal descent. I found out tonight, when Matt was reading out the blog, that Gary did indeed do the descent, but had stopped just before the first t-junction to talk intimately to the cows. Gary proudly showed us the photos taken with his beloved creatures. He also explained the importance of the shape and size of the cow he needed to be photographed with. And let me assure you it was a very cute cow and most worthy of being in the shot with Gary. How nice is the world when a cute Koala and a cow can co-exist? Makes one feel good about the world...

Why Sharky is always late
So onto today's stage, another epic day in the saddle that saw the team relocate from the village of Santa Christina to another gorgeous little village called Bormio, which is situated at the foothills of the great and infamous Giro climbs of Passo Gavia at 2621 metres and Passo Stelvio at 2758 metres, two of the highest climbs in all of Europe. So our eight-am roll out time was extended to 8:15am due to me holding up the group as I was struggling to get the blog written and posted before departure. You see the riding in Europe in the high mountains tests your resilience and fortitude to always keep moving forward. At the end of the day you are on an incredible high. It is when you come down from that high that the reality of what you have just done catches up to the body and mind. Therefore, as each day stacks up on top of the other, the more fatigued the body and mind become. In my case, getting the blogs written and actually posted at the same time each day, gets harder and harder. Anyway that was a kind of long winded excuse for my being late this morning and I am sticking with that!

SMIDDY PELOTON AVERAGE 40KM/H FOR THE FIRST 20 KILOMETRES!
I wish I could tell you our average speed for today's opening stage was because the peloton had come into great form and were performing like professional cyclists... But I guess the truth should be told that we had a kick-arse 20km descent straight out of the hotel that sits at 1300 metres, down to our lowest elevation since this tour began at just 300 metres above sea level. It's a funny thing riding in the high mountains of Europe; at the top of each climb the look in each riders eyes is one of elated exhaustion. Then at the bottom of any long technical and exhilarating descents, that glassy eyed expression on each riders face, is one of total unadulterated joy. For some throw in a pinch of fear and you have the perfect recipe for curing the world of depression. If only we could bottle that?

From the bottom of that descent the road crew handed us over exclusively to Valentino, who's job it was to navigate us through the next 30 kilometres of riding along one of the most adventurous bike paths I have ever ridden on anywhere in the world. Will, Ingo and Pippo would rejoin us then for the first climb of the day up to the Passo Mendola, which stood at a lowly 1363 metres.

A BIKE PATH YOU WOULD SELL YOUR HOUSE FOR!
But back to that bike path that entertained us with a dozen tunnels; some as long as 500 metres and others as short as 50. The path followed a fast flowing river, which is fed by the vast amounts of stubborn snow that have no respect for the fact that summer over here is now five weeks old. The slightly downhill path kept our average speed up to the mid 30's before it started to flatten out. That 40km average by the end of the day would be sitting at 16km/h! Valentino was doing an excellent job weaving in and out the myriad of paths going in all directions over small bikeway bridges, through canals, crossing main roads, across gravel sections and dodging all manner of bike and pedestrian traffic along the way. My old mate Phil D'Angelis, as entertaining as always, on one of the road crossings where we needed to come to a complete stop, didn't get the foot out in time and down he went, but not before doing a yoga type balancing act that resembled a chimpanzee extending its leg over its head. Luckily I managed to capture it on my iPhone for nostalgia reasons and I wouldn't dare show it to anyone but Phil... ;) Wink, Wink.

WHAT CLIMB?- YOU CALL THAT A CLIMB!
The first climb up the Passo Mendola saw some trepidation in the group due to yesterday slog-fest up the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Actually when Matt read out the blog tonight his Italian pronunciation was extraordinary. We all thought he was definitely speaking another language, just not Italian. Matt pronounced Tre Cime di Lavaredo, as 'True Crime on the Lavatory.' Both Pippo and Valentino were horrified and quietly amused and offered Matt a job as a translator in Borneo!

Anyway our starting elevation of 300 metres meant we had an 1100 metre elevation gain in front of us over 15 kilometres. Now had we done this climb the day before climbing the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, we all agreed it would have been tough, but now it was just another climb as we all successfully got to the top with very little fuss or fanfare. Alyssa, Gary, Valentino and I arrived together to bring up the rear of the bunch and Will informed us that we were to descend immediately to the village below for lunch and packing of the bikes.

Peter, who is always thirsty and thinking of hydration and setting a fine example for the group to follow, snuck in a quick beer at the bar across the road, before the three vehicles were filled with people and bikes.

It took 90 minutes of driving over very twisty and turning roads to get to the base of our second and last climb of the day up the famous Passo Gavia at 2621 metres. Poor Dr Koala was not feeling well after suffering from a bout of car sickness, but in typical never-give-in spirit, the likable Gary Leung, soldiered on and faced the toughest day ever in his life both from a mental and physical aspect, but more on that later.

THE HOUSE HAS BEEN SOLD AND NOW FOR THE WIFE!
Today the riders were treated to probably the second most celebrated fanfare climbs of the day in the Passo Gardia. None stand higher except the slightly more famous Passo Stelvio that stands a mere 100 metres higher. Now we knew we were in for a possible rough time at the top, as it was trying to rain at the bottom where we parked the cars, it was cold and riders were scrambling for cold weather gear. 18 kilometres of never-ending road lay in our way to reach our destination, and from our viewpoint we could see nothing but scary clouds that looked ominous and downright intimidating. A climb like this for a cyclist is the Holy Grail of mountains. It is up there with Mont Ventoux and Alp D'Huez in France. Now luckily I am not yet married and I was able to climb it without selling my girl, but gee I sure felt for the other married men, actually married man, in our peloton, being our fearless Smiddy leader Matt Marshall, who had an extremely hard decision to make. Sell the wife and climb Gardia, or sit out the climb and enjoy the view from the comfort of either of the three vans. On behalf of Matt and the riders our thoughts go out to his Wife Tash.

ANOTHER CLIMB OF TORTURE - JUST A DIFFERENT VARIANT
So 18 kilometres of climbing equates to anything between two and three hours of climbing. It is bloody slow going and so painful towards the top that those memories of suffering will stay with you for a very long time. At the same time the views, the friendships forged, the battle scars that make you feel alive and experiencing life for the very first time, and most importantly the cause that we are over here doing it for those less fortunate, is what its all about. How good are the riders that sign up for any Smiddy adventure? Whether it be an overseas Smiddy event, or an event back home in Australia, these gallant lads and lasses all pay their own expenses and on top of that they honour their commitment to fundraise the required amount. Most go above and beyond their total and for that we at Smiddy and the Mater Foundation are eternally grateful.

Watching what the crew put themselves through today on that final climb; all I can say is that my heart went out to each and every one of them. From Valentino, Pippo, Will and Ingo, who went to extraordinary lengths today to help each and every rider make it to the top, to the riders themselves, who stared down into the depths of their very souls and willed themselves not to give in and cross that imaginary line at the heights of Europe. I know all this must come across as sounding very melodramatic but let me assure you I am actually playing it down. It was freezing at the top, it was raining, the entire top was shrouded in thick fog one minute and then clear the next. The road surface and limited visibility for the remaining five kilometres resembled a goat track, and the super slippery conditions were deemed too unsafe for us to descend and bikes were assemble atop the vehicles as each rider claimed their Holy Grail finishers achievement of conquering the Gardia.

It was hard not being able to do the descent but it was the safest and correct call. Good management there by Will and we all respected his decision. It was really hard for me to write that! :) The drive off the mountain it rained the entire way and I know we were all glad to be in the van with the heaters on full blast.

OUR BRAVEST MOST COURAGEOUS MAN ON TOUR
Our hearts went out to Gary, Dr Koala, who used up every ounce of his mental and physical energy to crest the top. Gary did the entire climb by himself, as did all the guys as we spread out over the entire mountain, each to our own thoughts and demons at various times. Gary was out in those terrible conditions for 90 minutes longer than Jason, who was first to the top, and being exposed to those elements for that long just caught up with him as he crossed that imaginary line over the top. Gary's emotions just had to be vented and the entire crew rallied around him in support. Gary had won all of us over by day one of this Smiddy tour, but after his efforts today and his beautiful thoughtful speech tonight over dinner, we could not have been prouder to call Gary our mate.

My apologies for this blog being so long but when I become emotionally involved in an event I also have to vent. I do that through these blogs.

The good news for the crew is that we have inserted a designated rest day in for tomorrow and I can assure you that all are extremely happy as we are in need of a day off. The other awesome news for not just you, my faithful readers, but for me, is that I am getting a day off from blogging and get to experience more than five hours sleep. I also have a nice surprise for you as of the next blog but you will have to wait another day to find out what that is.

Until then please know that we are all safe and warm in our comfy hotel beds and already the battle we went through just a few hours ago is already fading into the far recesses of my tired brain. Did that really just happen?

Cheers.

Sharky