Aktualisiert: Mai 25
The First Day
On the twenty-fifth of June this year, I set out on a cycling trip that undoubtedly overshadows everything I had attempted on a bike before. Just to give you some reference to this story: In May I had bought my first ever mountain bike. I had been a roadie up to that point, but after crashing and wrecking my race bike, I decided to try mountain biking. I bought a 29er Hardtail, the “Count Solo” from the German bike manufacturer ROSE. It seemed sufficient for what I was planning at the time, namely just riding with some friends on our local trails in Munich.
Well, I progressed quickly, and as the lockdown eased off, I went with my buddy Clemens for a more extended tour to some trails at the Walchensee. Well and afterwards we decided on a whim to cross the Alps on our Mountain Bikes, as soon as the Corvid-19 situation would permit us. Well and this is how I had ended up here, on the twenty-fifth of June, five-thirty in the morning and cycling towards the Munich train station. And cycling on the same 29er Hardtail, because I had decided to try it against all advice on the bike I felt most comfortable on with my limited skills.
And actually, the bike held up really well, despite going well beyond what any of its designers had probably intended. It was not even the first bike on this tour to require a repair. That honour goes to the five-year-old full suspension bike Clemens had chosen for the ride. Just the evening prior he had gotten some oil on his brake pads and disk, so while sitting in the early morning train towards the town of Lenggries, we were busy cleaning up his breaks with some sandpaper. We concluded our repairs in time and left the train station in Lenggries with two working bikes, although Clemens brakes would be squealing the entire day due to the sandpaper's different patterns on the pads and the disk.
From Lenggries we first cycled upstream on the “Isarradweg” a long-distance cycleway running from the Isar river's springs in the mountains to the point where the river joins the Danube. But we did not stay on this path for long. After crossing the Isar, we made a right turn towards the Jachenau and Walchensee. The cycleway here is completely topped with asphalt, build directly next to the road and allows for smooth riding on a soft uphill. However, both the smooth-riding and the soft uphill came to an end, when we reached the town of Wieden. After a left turn, crossing the local river, we found ourselves on a gravel-surfaced forest road, climbing quite steeply towards the Rißscharte. It also started to rain softly, just a little drizzle, acting as a coolant while climbing up to the tour's first mountain-pass.
Upon reaching the pass, we got a spectacular view. We had spent the way up on forest roads surrounded by, well, trees so thick we could barely see anything of our path. We even had to push our bikes through a green tunnel created over our trail by dense shrubbery. But then the greens stepped away and suddenly revealed a view of the giant gravel pan below, created by the dry Rißbach, a small Alpine river that is pent up behind a hydropower dam way upstream, its entire water diverted to the Walchensee. Well, what is left at this stage is the empty gravel delta of the river, situated like streaks of grey paint between green hills on either side. This view presented itself to us precisely as we crossed the Rißscharte and started our descend. But we did not ride far downhill. Some thoughtful individual had put a bench here on the mountain, just in the perfect spot to have a little break and enjoy the view. The rain had stopped at this point, so we took the opportunity to enjoy a tasty power gel. Well enjoy is maybe not the right word, but at that time I was not as sick of them as I am now, after eating nothing but power gels and some packaged salted nuts for lunch ten days straight.
After our break, we went to the first single trail of the tour, and straight away found ourselves a little outmatched. The trail was steep, narrow, with sharp turns. These turns required the ability to move your back wheel while stationary with the front rim. And neither of us knew how to do that. Well and added on to that was a precipice always looming directly to the side of the trail. Any mistakes would inevitably lead to us tumbling down an almost vertical mountainside. So we took it slow, dismounted frequently and tried to move our back wheel over only on those turns we felt comfortable taking a fall on. And actually due to the sheer frequency this move was required the whole thing was quite an efficient training session. Before we had arrived at Vorderriß, Clemens had already gotten the hang of it. I was still struggling, since my frame was somewhat longer and my wheels larger (he uses a 26er) but never the less we arrived at the bottom of the valley with only two minor crashes, both our bodies intact and our spirits high. After crossing the Isar river again, we had a somewhat unique experience, cycling through the dried-up river bed of the Rißbach. It worked quite well in some places, but in others, we had to dismount again and push as the gravel was so loose we got no traction on the wheels. Anyways, after arriving on the other side, it was time for another steep forest road, this time climbing towards the Soiernlakes.
The monotony of grinding up those roads only got disrupted once, when the gravel road deteriorated into narrow singletrack. This so-called Soiernweg is quite popular with mountain bikers, although most ride it downhill not the other way round. However, it is possible in both directions, so we got some more trail kilometres under our wheels. At one section the mountainside had crashed down on the path, requiring us to dismount and push our bikes again for a few meters, but soon afterwards we reached another forest road in perfect condition. However, the friendly and easy ways concluded once we had reached the end of the forest road, located at the auxiliary cable lift up to the Soiernhaus. From here on out riding was no longer possible. We had about three kilometres and five-hundred meters of elevation gain in front of us, which would have been an easy enough hike, were it not for those bikes we had to somehow bring up with us.
We got some strange looks, and some funny comments from the hikers passing us by, while we struggled to part push and part carry our bikes up this steep hiking trail. The path is actually beautiful, passing up the mountain next to a huge waterfall. Still, we had no eye for the landscape, partly because we were busy muttering curses under our breath, partly because sweat was dripping into them.
Halfway up we had reached the Soiernlakes and took a short break on a freshwater fountain. The second half up to the so-called Jägersruh (Literally: Hunters Rest) was even more difficult. The path rose steeper and steeper, being in some places covered with large boulders, or thick loose gravel. We actually started to worry. If the descend on the other side would be of a corresponding character, we would probably have to carry down the path, as we could not imagine riding such a thing. Now is probably a good a time as any to admit, that we did not know one part of our planned route, and we had created it by loosely connecting some sections marked as a highlight on Komoot. Well, the other side of the mountain was marked as a highlight, and we stayed hopeful.
As it turns out, we were right to do so. The trail descending from the Jägersruh towards Mittenwald was the first highlight out of many to come. Sloping gently down, and running along the mountainside, it is well-maintained singletrack that is just so fun to ride. While the difficulties never rose beyond my comfort level, in the first section, and the stunning scenery is truly breathtaking, the trail is nevertheless not without its pitfalls. And that I mean in the most literal sense. The path, barely wider than your wheel in places, leaves little room for error, as just to your left-hand side is an abyss. The steep mountainside drops multiple hundred meters, almost vertical. And due to the height, the mountainside consists mostly of rocks, with some small patches of grass in between. Even the slowest of falls would lead to severe injuries here. And while riding this path at speed, time and again there are large loose rocks, that can catapult your wheels left and right if hit at the wrong angle, and in fact multiple times I had to catch my front wheel after a sudden jerk had it hurling towards the edge.
But the biggest scare I received a little later. My wheel got turned in to the side by an unfortunate rock. The speed was to low to go over the bars, so I just stopped and was standing there graciously and stationary on my no longer moving pedals. Well only for a few milliseconds until I realised I was slowly falling to the left. I put my feet on the ground, but momentum had already gotten the better of me. It would not be a far fall, but with the bike between my legs making all attempts to roll it of fruitless and the rocks on the mountainside, I was already preparing for a painful experience. At last minute I grabbed by reflex after the shrubbery growing on my right. On the first attempt, the branches I had gotten broke, but I got a hold of it on the second try and stopped myself from tumbling down the mountainside head first.
The scariest thing about this was that it had happened in complete silence. The three or four seconds it took from starting to fall to turning it into a very ungracious dismount I was too terrified to produce any sounds. Just a few meters in front of me, my buddy would not have realised the situation until I would have been way down the mountainside. Anyways after this experience, we took it a little slower.
The trail soon required another short uphill portage, but after that, it was only downhill. Also, the character changed. The path was now filled with more technical and steeper rock sections, but the difficulty increased the mountainside smoothed off, making a fall less consequential. We finally could relax a little, and even got some small jumps in on the last section of trail, but we also realised that we were physically spent. At this point, we had been on the road for longer than nine hours, with only a few gels and some salted nuts and our bodies energy reserves were drained. So we were actually quite happy once we had reached a forest road leading us down the mountain, even though we could not descend all those had worked for meters of elevation on a trail. Even as we discussed the lack of trail, shortly before reaching Mittenwald, we found one more path, quite easy compared to everything we had ridden this day, but we took it as a sweet dessert to our first day.
Upon arriving in Mittenwald, we went more or less directly to our hotel, took a shower and ate dinner. I was walking funny because my legs were so strained, and Clemens had a bad case of the saddle sores, but after all, we were happy to be on the road and looking forward to our next day.
The Second Day
Our first day had started with sunshine and blue skies. Our second day started with thunderstorms. While riding, again along the Isar Long-Distance Cycleway, we could hear thunder cracking over our heads. And this was not even the largest source of discomfort for us. Those honours were occupied by the relentless rains drenching us, despite our rain gear. After passing the town of Scharnitz, the weather slowly improved, causing us to stop and get out of our jackets. But all hopes happened to be in vain. Just as we had reached our next town of Seefeld, the rain started again. From here on out it was uphill still towards the village of Mösern and even though we had barely 1200 m of elevation we were basically able to touch the clouds with our hands, so close they passed over our heads. In Mösern it was time for the first trail of our tour. We had not previously planned to take this one because I could not identify promising singletrack on Komoot during my preparation.
But once we passed the trailhead, we immediately realised that we had found a good one just by chance. This path followed the St. Jakobs Long-Distance Hiking Trail. For this reason, I would like to caution you about this trail, as it is likely swarmed with hikers on sunnier days. And since the entire thing is mainly a hiking trail, I would like to urge you: be kind and careful with the hikers, solely in the interest of Mountain bikers' public image. The trail on its own, however, was great fun. An entirely flowy affair, leading us down towards the Inn River without a single section to difficult and necessitating us to dismount. The whole thing was just the experience we needed as an ego-boost after the long and arduous carry sections of the previous day.
Arriving at the bottom of the valley, we stumbled upon a truly magical break spot, with some small benches next to a tiny waterfall. The whole thing seemed right out of a fantasy novel, but we continued without much of a break because the weather was still overcast. Shortly afterwards we arrived in the town of Telfs, where we promptly went for the next supermarket. I had prepacked all the energy gels, energy bars, and snacks I intended to need for the entire ten days. Clemens had taken the smarter approach and only brought some more unusual items like energy gels. So I waited outside the store, while he was stocking up on sweets and snacks for the next few days. So I was the only one to get first glimpses of the summer sun, shyly peeking out between the clouds. By the time Clemens had gotten back out, it was wholely overcast again.
The next fifteen kilometres towards the town of Silz are barely worth mentioning, except for the fact that we probably could have cycled two kilometres fewer. But I took a wrong turn, missing a bridge over the Inn, but instead of turning around right away, we continued straight in the hopes of finding another bridge. We did not discover another bridge, and after our road concluded with a little ramp directly into the river, we were forced to do, what we should have done right away: Turning around, and returning to the bridge we had missed. Also, close to Silz, we got hit by another downpour. It got so bad that we actually stopped under a highway bridge and decided to have our lunch break right then and there.
But as there was no improvement in sight after we had finished our meal, we decided to continue despite the weather. After leaving Silz, we started our uphill climb on the Wolfsgruben Road. And we got lucky. Only a few turns in on our ascent the clouds began to scatter, and the sun was finally able to breakthrough in all her glory. With high spirits, we continued uphill on the softly sloping asphalt road. But I soon ran into another problem: The gels and energy bars I had eaten all day to keep with my nutrition plan for the tour had a quite violent disagreement with my intestines, and I had to dash the bushes. For the rest of the uphill, I had to battle stomach aches, which did not exactly improve my performance.
Nevertheless, we reached the town of Ochsengarten, although much later than we had planned for. From here on out, we wanted to climb another five hundred meters of elevation towards the Acherkogel, but it turned out a little bit differently. About halfway up the mountain, we could suddenly hear thunder in the distance. We stopped to check our weather app and realised that a major thunderstorm would hit us in just about an hour. So we quickly checked our GPS and found what looked like a hiking trail towards our destination for the day. So we promptly cycled there and were met upon arrival with a large “bikes prohibited” sign. We weighed our options, and quickly realised, we did not have any. If we wanted to get off the mountain, we would need to take this trail and hope. Hope that bikes were simply prohibited due to previous incidents with hikers and not because the entire trial would turn into a Via Ferrata halfway down the mountain. And hope that nobody would catch us because riding your mountain bike on prohibited trails can carry quite a hefty fine in Austria.
Whatever the reason, we choose to send it downhill on this trail, and it worked out. And the whole thing was quite fun, to be honest. It was crazy steep in places, and the soil posed some challenges. It was all still wet and slippery from the prior rains that day, and the earth was covered with dried twigs, needles, and pine cones, which reduced the already low grip even further. In many places, it was more of a controlled slide downhill, than a ride. In some areas there also happened to be rock slabs just under a small cover of pine needles. In those cases, the controlled slide turned into an uncontrolled one. I also had my third crash during this descent. Although, you could argue it was just a very stylish dismount, as I basically got catapulted over my handlebars but still managed to land on my feet graciously. At the same time, my bike plummeted down the mountainside past me just standing there.
Due to that crash, I had also lost my GPS, but I only realised it a few turns down the mountain, once the adrenaline had left my system. So I had to sprint uphill again for about a hundred meters while cursing myself, only interrupted by now, uncomfortably close, roaring thunders. I found my GPS lying straight in the middle of the trail, praised myself lucky and sprinted downhill again, back to my bike. From this point on it was only a few minutes until we reached the end of the trail. From here on out we continued on the road towards the town of Ötz. Shortly before reaching the city, we found another short urban trail that we used as a shortcut. From Ötz we actually had to ride a little bit in the wrong general direction, because we stayed the night at a Raft Camp in Sautens. There we would basically sleep in the storage shed, but that was no reason to complain. After all, it was a free roof over our head and a welcome break for our credit cards. We had to book all the hotels in advance due to Corvid restrictions and had to use actual hotels instead of the much cheaper mountain refuges that are usually a good option while crossing the Alps. So on this evening, we fell asleep between cupboards full of gear.
The Third Day
We had to get up early the next day. While our accommodation had the advantage of being free, it also had a disadvantage: No breakfast buffet. Now if you have never been on tour like this, I can understand you scruffing at that comment, but let me explain: During my ten days out on the road, I had lost about five kilograms of weight, all the while eating pretty much what I wanted for dinner and breakfast. In the case of dinner, there was more than one day, where we actually ate two main courses and in the case of breakfast, well it is the most important meal of the day. Because it is the last time, you get to eat real food before you have to survive on gels and energy bars for the next ten to twelve hours. And while burning somewhere between five thousand and eight thousand calories every single day, basically skipping lunch every single day, you more or less have to gorge yourself fully in the morning just to have enough reserves to finish the day.
So our first goal was the town of Ötz, where we bought some supplies from a local supermarket and with those supplies cycled towards the shores of the river Ötz to have a picnic. The skies were clear, the sun was slowly rising over the mountaintops, and the weathercast was an “all clear” for the entire day. This actually would be the first day during our tour entirely without rain. Once we had finished our meal, we started our journey, always following the Ötz River Cycleway. The Ötz Valley is actually famous for its structure, meaning that it gains its elevation like a long staircase. The valley is mostly flat until it reaches one of those steps where it rises quite a bit of hight in a very abrupt manner. This suited us well, as it was mostly smooth and relaxed riding, only broken up by short bursts of more exhausting sections.
After crossing the village of Umhausen, we decided to take a small, rather touristic detour and cycle up towards the Stuibenfall, a very famous waterfall in the area. It was actually quite a grind, as the road that led us to the waterfall was quite steep, and still feeling the last two days in my legs, somewhat uncomfortable. But we got rewarded with a beautiful view of the falls. Not that this waterfall is the only fair in the whole valley. In fact, there are plenty of waterfalls visible from the cycleway without such a taxing detour. And other interesting things can be discovered too: We had plenty of close encounters with goats, cattle and sheep when our road led us through their grazing areas. However, I would like to add a word of warning. The cows you can find grazing in the Alps have little in common with those kind-hearted animals you probably know from your local farm. They are outdoors almost year-round and have to brave adverse weather, as well as the occasional predator. While they usually do not attack unless they feel very threatened, there are plenty of cases where hikers or mountain bikers got gored by one of those cows. Do not approach them from behind without making some noise, do not pass to close to them, do not try and pet them and for the love of god never and under no circumstances ever try to approach their calves.
Anyways, we had another exciting encounter, because at the middle section of the Ötz, a part of the river famous amongst whitewater kayakers we met one of those: Ben Orton, a pro paddler, we are both huge fans of was scouting the section, and in fact later that day ran it on pretty much a record high water level. This just goes to show one of the advantages of travelling by bike. You are simply closer to your surroundings, and if you care to stop and listen to those surroundings, you will actually meet a rich and diverse cast of people on the road. And simply put, these meetings greatly enrich your journey.
Soon after we had reached the town of Sölden, that is probably the most known village of the Ötz Valley, at least to mountain bikers, since they have a great bike park. Since we had been cycling on asphalt for pretty much the entire day, we decided to invest a little money, and take the gondola up to the bike park's top. From here on, we planned to use three different trails to connect back onto the road leading to our goal: Vent. The whole thing saved us probably about two hundred meters of elevation and a few kilometres but got us a super awesome trail to ride down. So in my book that was well-invested money. The singletracks we used, three in total, were rated in order: black, red, black. Especially the first trail we started out on the so-called Nene Trail was very interesting to us, as it was actually rated as one of the most challenging trails in the entire park. But after just a few meters we suddenly realised, that it was in difficult pretty much equal to some of the paths that we already had ridden down, and that was actually a huge confidence boost.
But I also have to say that riding bike park trails is a somewhat different experience from alpine trails. Even on those more nature-like trails we used, you could tell that they had been shaped for mountain bikes. Those kinds of ”impossible to ride over” features that you have to deal with on hiking trails from time to time, ranging from simple logs over the path to vertical drops with tiny stairs in the side, are simply not present in the bike park. But we did not mind, as it meant that we could ride more and longer sections. After reaching the Glaisachalm on the red-rated connection trail, we could drop into the second black-rated descent of the day. And that was quite a number. It started super flowy and fast over the grass-grown mountainside but then turned into another steep technical trail, with only one small detriment. Many many small ravines are cutting over the trail, each requiring a short manual to clear them comfortable. Many of those are the natural result of tiny rivulets, but I suspect that quite a few have been cut on purpose, aiming to reduce mountain bikers' speed. Those got a little bit tiring, to put it mildly. After Clemens had managed the entire second day without incident, it was now his turn to crash and jump over his handlebars.
We reached the road in high spirits, and started the last climb of the day, towards the town of Vent. We had a few nerve-racking experiences, as our navigation system led us into the road tunnels, not intended for cycling traffic. But in all those tunnels, we had kerbs broad enough to stay off the road directly, which was really important, since we had not brought any kind of bike light. Despite those challenges, we could reach Vent without incidents (although close to Vent, I was able to pet a pony smaller than my bike, which had me quite happy and excited for some time) and claimed our hotel room. Because it was only about five pm at the time, and the sun still shining we deci