I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my inGamba cycling vacation. I had never ridden my bike more than three days in a row. And I had never climbed more than 2500 feet in one ride. But this trip was a celebration of my 15-year wedding anniversary – a relationship kicked off with a first date of shopping for a mountain bike and then going on a (first for me) mountain bike ride. Through the years my riding became less frequent, but I still kept the fire for what I’ve always seen as an opportunity to connect with nature, push myself and bond with friends.
As we departed Venice for Verona and started to meet the various cyclists who would be joining us on this adventure, I had a flashback to my childhood, where I was rapt with interest in what would be the next dramatic scenario in the Fantasy Island TV show. It occurred to me that this inGamba cycling trip was similar to a Fantasy Island episode: 10 strangers, meeting for the first time, with personal stories to be learned, challenges to be conquered, and experiences to be shared.
Verona was magical. We’d roll out from the hotel, riding amongst the local traffic and pedestrians on everything from hundreds year old brick to modern day asphalt. Quickly we all fell into a group rhythm, weaving in and around the obstacles along our new riding terrain. Our views varied from the pictorial Adige River to rolling hills filled with acres of vineyards, pine and Italian Cypress trees.
Each day our bikes were serviced, our water and mix bottles prepped, and an array of homemade snacks were supplied. For any need along the ride, the inGamba crew was there to help with clothes, food or any additional support. And all rides came with a treasured coffee stop.
Greeting us at the end of each ride was a warm shower, a glass of prosecco, and more delicious local food then we could ever possibly eat. And after lunch we had time for naps or sight-seeing before we all met again for dinner. The evenings were as magical as the riding, as we strolled through the Piazza Bra, past the Verona Arena, on our way to charming dinners where we were all recounting and sharing our experiences from our day’s ride.
Alongside the remarkable riding and the mouth-watering meals was the blossoming camaraderie amongst our cycling companions. With each day under our belts, I started to feel more and more the support of our little community and looked forward to hearing about the small victories and losses each of us were facing each day. From crashes to sore bodies to bathroom humor, we were all quickly becoming a temporary makeshift, cobbled-together family.
Just when Verona started to feel like home, particularly because of the special treatment on and off the bike we received from Eros Poli and his lovely wife, Michelle, it was time to transfer to Corvara and the Dolomites.
At moments, riding in the Dolomites it felt like we had been transported to a Hollywood movie set. The views were so breathtakingly beautiful, it didn’t seem possible that they could be real. Every climb, every turn, every downhill presented stunning scenic views I tried to capture with my phone, but couldn’t. Mainly because I needed both hands on the bars to manage the considerable climbs and dynamic descents.
Corvara’s charm in hospitality was much different from Verona, offering lodging and cuisine with a strong Austrian influence. Pasta and wine was replaced with speck and pilsner. We stayed in a hotel started by the Costa family in the early 1960s and it immediately felt like we were staying at a dear friend’s home rather than a hotel.
I’ve never had a vacation where I felt such personal growth, accomplishment and an opportunity to conquer my fears. I wasn’t sure if I could make the elevation gains, but I did, albeit slowly. I wasn’t sure I could make it down the harried descents, but I did. I also wasn’t certain I could finish the Sella Ronda – the 55km, 1780 meters of altitude gain course of the Maratona – but I did. That’s 5800+ feet of climbing – more than double what I had ever ridden.
At the end of trip, I realized I wasn’t far off from my Fantasy Island comparison. We all showed up, we all pushed ourselves, and we all grew exponentially in just a matter of a few short days from our experience with each other and the amazing inGamba crew. Thankfully, unlike the TV show, drama was at a minimum.
I’m already trying to figure out which inGamba trip looks best for next year!
Deirdre Sena is the Global Consumer Director of Communications for Symantec, where she leads a team working on cybersecurity issues and solutions. As a former U.S. Army photojournalist, she still enjoys capturing experiences with words and pushing her physical limits.