In late July I took some time away from Kuli Kuli to join a couple of old college friends in Europe for a seven day journey across the Alps on a mountain bike. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was definitely one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life so I wanted to take the opportunity to share my adventure on the blog! We traveled from Tegernsee, Germany to Riva del Garda, Italy through some of the most beautiful landscapes you could ever see. Below is a brief account of the trip.
As of mid-July I had all of my gear in order and was getting ready to make the flight over to Munich from Boston. Ivan, Alex, and I had been planning this trip for the better part of a year, and despite having trained fairly consistently for months on end, I was still feeling nervous in the weeks leading up to the trip. This was to be the most challenging physical activity I’d ever attempted, so naturally I was questioning whether my body was ready to push it to the max. It didn’t help that the other two guys had already done similar transalp rides the past two years in a row. At this point when thinking ahead of the journey to come, I was imagining myself as Gimli in the opening scene of The Two Towers, struggling to keep up with Aragorn and Legolas as they cross the plains of Middle Earth. As it would turn out, I wasn’t too far off with this analogy. Here is a chart of our planned route:
Stage 1: Tegernsee to Schwaz
After arriving in Munich and meeting up with my friends (they’re both German), we spent a few days catching up with each other and relaxing so I could adjust to the time difference. It had been a few years since we’d seen each other in person so it was very nice to just chill for a while before our big adventure. Of course, the relaxation was not going to last very long as we were soon ready to begin the ride. It was a short train ride down to southern Germany and before I knew it, we were off!
The first leg of the journey took us through the lush green forests of southern Bavaria. After misreading the GPS device we actually went the wrong for about 20 minutes but luckily realized our mistake before burning too many precious calories… off to a great start! Once we got on track it was a fairly relaxed ride that didn’t take us too high. There was a good amount of rain and thunder on the radar but we were lucky enough to avoid all but a few drops. We traveled about 80k with two moderate climbs – all in all a good way to ease into the more difficult climbs ahead.
And we’re off!
Stage 2: Schwaz to Tuxer Joch
If I thought day one was at all tiring, I was in for a big surprise on day two. This stage began by making a long and steady climb of 5,000+ feet over the course of about 17 miles. Quite surprisingly to me, there were cows all around us, each with a bell around their neck such to create a ringing chorus that carried far across the mountains. It’s a sound I’ll never forget, and was actually quite soothing during the seemingly endless ascent. We took a few rests along the way and were rewarded with blue, blue skies over the picturesque alpine landscape below.
Truth be told, this climb was extremely hard and I’d never really experienced anything quite so taxing on the legs. By the time we reached our first peak of the day I’d never been more relieved. This was my first big downhill of the trip which brought us from about 7,500 feet to 4,000 feet above sea level over 8 miles. There’s honestly nothing quite as thrilling careening down mountain trails at a pace that is just barely controllable. Upon reaching the valley below, we were faced with another big climb up to Tuxerjoch where we would spend the night (joch is the German word for a mountain pass in between two peaks). At this point we were reaching such great heights that we encountered skiers and snowboarders on their way up a gondola for activities I don’t normally associate with late July. From the top after roughly 8 hours of riding, it was indescribably satisfying to look back on the winding trail below with the mooing and ringing of cows ever sounding in the distance.
Near the beginning of the ascent from Schwaz.
Looking back down the mountain from Tuxerjoch.
Stage 3: Tuxer Joch to Moarer Bergalm
We began day 3 by descending southwards from Tuxerjoch into a green and misty valley. The first hour or so consisted of walking our bikes down the mountain due to the steep and rocky nature of the terrain. We eventually reached a dirt road and once again began a fast paced joy ride towards the Italian border, crossing into our third country after about 4 hours. It was very cool to be able to cross over two international borders in 3 days using just a bike, and without having to show any documentation whatsoever!
Unfortunately near the end of the descent I ran into some rough terrain and hit a large rock at relatively high speed. This sent me flying over my handle bars. I was lucky not to be injured beyond a few cuts and bruises, but I was definitely shaken up. We stopped in Brennero for some food and at this point I was feeling absolutely spent. With another massive climb to go before reaching the day’s destination, I opted to take a train ahead on our route from Brennero to Merano for a much needed rest day. Ivan and Alex went ahead into the wilderness for a day and a half without me… they are machines!!
Disappearing into the mist as we descended from Tuxerjoch.
Nearing the Austrian/Italian border.
Stage 4: Rest Day in Merano
After checking into a very nice and moderately priced Italian hotel (especially for a last minute booking), I found myself within walking distance of Merano’s number one rated tourist destination: the Trauttmansdorff Castle Gardens. These beautiful hillside gardens were once a popular destination for Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and I could definitely see why! A short stroll up the hillside through the lush and diverse gardens rewards visitors with a stunning view of the valley below.
A seemingly endless band of flowers in the Trauttsmandorff Castle Gardens.
Stage 5: Stettiner Hutte to Ultimo
Our 5th day brought us through a valley from Merano to Ultimo on paved roads. Alex and Ivan got up early for a 15 mile, 7,000 foot descent, after which they met me in the center of Merano. For most of the day it was very hot and we were singing and chanting as we climbed to stay in a rhythm. About half way through the day there was quite a large thunderstorm and we took shelter in front of a small church on the side of the road. Overall this was probably the easiest day. At this point we were getting far enough away from the Austrian border that the primary spoken language was actually Italian instead of German. It was quite fascinating to experience this linguistic transition from German only, to German and Italian, to Italian only as we moved farther and farther south.
Climbing up through a valley from Merano towards Ultimo.
Stage 6: Ultimo to Campodenno
Day 6 took us from Ultimo to Campodenno via Rabbijoch at just over 8,000 feet above sea level. This was the highest point I reached during the transalp and it was a pretty tough climb over rocky terrain. This stage was also the only point of our trip where the three of us had any sustained company beyond the many bovine friends we encountered along the way. For most of the climb we were joined by a group of bikers with a wide spectrum of ability levels. For me, it was nice to not always be the one in the back! This was another case of having a climb that seemed to go on and on with no end in sight. If you’ve ever experienced the maddening illusion of false peaks, this day was chock full of them.
However, hard climbs make for rewarding downhills and the descent down from Rabbijoch was without question my favorite part of the tour. Outstanding views at speeds I’d never before reached on a bike… an unforgettable experience. We probably got up to over 40 mph on the paved roads lower down the mountain, and the forested dirt trails higher up were nothing short of mystical.
In Campodenno we stayed at what I can without a doubt describe as the best B&B I’ve ever been to. After a grueling 9 hour ride, our hosts greeted us with German beer and pastries, offered to let us wash our clothes for free, and even drove us into the center of town for a pizza! We assumed this would all come at an extra cost but their response was: “tutto incluso!” If you’re ever traveling in Northern Italy, you must stay at the Casa de Sole! http://www.beblacasadelsoletrentino.com/
Looking back down into the valley from Rabbijoch at 8,000 feet.
Beginning our first descent in the rain.
Stage 7: Campodenno to Riva Del Garda
Day 7 was the last day of the tour and we travelled from Campodenno to our destination of Riva del Garda at what I would call a more leisurely pace. We started by riding through Trento’s lush apple orchards and went up some ridiculously steep hills. We were in the forest for most of the day since Day 6 was our last time going over 2,000 meters, but the views were beautiful nonetheless.
About half way through the day we took a rest in a large park that seemingly had every outdoor activity you could imagine! Climbing walls, paintball, soccer, tennis courts, tubing, playgrounds for kids, mini golf, basketball and more! Riding out of the park led us to our last real climb of the day and shortly after we descended down to the absolutely breathtaking Lake Molveno with the purest blue-green water I have ever laid eyes upon. After that we had a bit of up and down for a while with one last big downhill towards Riva. I’m seriously going to miss careening down mountains as fast as a car.
Lake Molveno in Trentino, Italy.
At last, our destination! Riva del Garda, Italy.
If you’re versed in German (and even if you’re not!) check out our blog for more information and photos: http://transalpbiker.de/. Google Chrome does a fairly good job of translating things to an understandable form of English.
I believe a trip like this is something that few people get to experience so I feel very lucky to have been a part of such a magnificent adventure. My biggest take away from this trip was that if there’s something you really want to do, don’t let anything stop you! Yes it was hard, but that’s kind of the point, right? I was definitely not 100% physically prepared for this ride, but traveling through the Alps has always been a dream of mine and I’d do it again in a heartbeat! A huge thank you to Ivan and Alex for an unforgettable experience!!