Alps-inists !

Day 37, Innsbruck, 3.241 km

What a day! This 34th day of travel will remain in history books and this for several reasons: first departure in the cold with use of the Autumn-Winter 2020 cycling outfit, a pass at 2,500 m, the 3,000 km mark reached during the descent and finally a “surprise” pass at 1,200 m in the same stage. All in 95 « small » kilometers…

But let’s go back a bit, to Salzburg. I have the chance to chat with a successor of Kant and Hegel: a German philosophy student who decided to travel the world to put theory into practice … Very interesting discussion before hitting the road. The weather is a bit cloudy but no rain. I’m making a quick pass through Germany: I don’t even realize I’ve crossed the border when I enter Germany, and I’m really careful when I get back to Austria. There is indeed a very dissuasive barrier, I don’t know if I would have dared to cross it if it had been closed … Apart from that, the road follows a river, passes through cute little villages, runs alongside a lake, the mountains are starting to rise on the horizon, a pretty pleasant path under the sun !!

The austrian « border »

A little lake on the side of the road
The Alps in the distance

We are slowly approaching our destination for the day, the town of Zell am See, which as its name suggests is located by a lake, when I realize that Jay is trying to tell me something: he is doing funny noises every time I shift gear… I stop to analyze the situation and realize that my trusty companion is suffering from a fractured rear wheel spoke. As I have barely ten kilometers left to cover, I choose to continue before deciding what to do next. Arrive in Zell am See, a very pretty lake surrounded by mountains, even if its shores are infested with holidaymakers … A quick Internet search informs me that a spoke change is necessary, otherwise I would risk serious consequences for the rear wheel of poor Jay. Luckily, I find a bike repair-shop in the area. The guy who greets me starts to yell at me, telling me that my bike is way too loaded, that it’s not possible to be that stupid, that really, these people… A bit ashamed of myself, I try to ask him for advice on what to do, on maximum weight… but too late, he’s already gone to take care of someone else. The repairman who takes care of me tells me that it is rather bad luck, that the bike is sturdy and that normally it can support a significant weight, and he adds, « especially since you are not so big ». Thank you! After having the spoke repaired and at the same time the tires re-inflated, I am reassured and ready to treat myself a little swim in the lake before going to bed early in anticipation of the big stage that awaits me the next day.

Swimming in the lake

The big day is finally here! For fans of extended German words, I tackle the Großglockner Hochalpenstrasse, or literally the Großglockner High Alpine Road (the Großglockner being Austria’s highest peak). And for the first time since leaving Hamburg, it’s cold in the morning, so I take out the warm outfit: long-sleeved undershirt, T-shirt and coat on top of everything. After 10 kilometers, when the slope starts to climb, I put all this gear away and get back to summer clothes. The road is steep and I’m heating up! A sign tells me 33 kilometers to climb. I don’t know exactly how far I am going, but I am going. I pass hundreds of cyclists (or rather I am overtaken by hundreds of cyclists, it seems that I am the only one who wants to ride with so much luggage and without an electric bike). Most of the time I get a smile that says « this dude is crazy » along with « good luck ». Throughout the breaks and photo stops, I meet and meet the same people again, we support each other, it’s encouraging. The sun is beating down. The road goes up, up and up. And turns. Twenty hairpin bends to the top. And views. Magnificent. Moreover, since I don’t ride fast I have time to enjoy them! Lots of traffic too, but people have the decency not to drive too close or too fast. And always other riders overtaking me… I get to what I think is the top, with great views of the Grossglockner. I want to cry, partly because I’m exhausted to a point I never imagined, partly because it’s really too beautiful to be true… I leave, and after a short descent the road goes up… Did they lie to me?? I arrive at a tunnel and tell myself that this time is the right one, we are at the top … What a joke! The road again goes up after that! Third (and last) summit, finally! 2.504 m… I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, it will be more effective than any words I could find…

Summit #1
Summit #2
Final Summit

I go downhill, “standing” on the brakes to avoid going off the road in a bend, but I’m still doing a little 50 km/h on average without pedaling for 10 kilometers. Then comes kilometer 3000! I stop by the side of the road and treat myself to a nap to celebrate! Meanwhile, Jay and Bob (literally) overdo it and decide to build a monument for the 3,000. They manage to make a pile of pebbles that reaches an altitude of exactly 3,800 meters, which is two meters higher than the Großglockner. To avoid any diplomatic scandal, I convince them to bring down this monument and instead write a letter to the Austrian government asking for a name change from Großglockner to Dreitausender (Dreitausend = 3,000 in German). I will keep you informed of the development in the process…

But the stage is not over, I still have about fifty kilometers to cover to reach my destination today. The descent is going well, I have superb views of the valley opening in front of me, the sun is still there, it’s great! Carried away by Jay’s ardor, I don’t check the map and find myself making a small detour. Nothing serious I think. Except that to catch up with the road you have to go up. And I feel like I’ve climbed enough for the day. And even when I’m back on the “right path”, the road goes up again… That’s when I remember that there was a “small” bump at the end of the stage when I looked at the GPS in the morning . Small bump compared to 2,500 m from the first pass. Small bump which is in fact another pass at 1,200 m… As payback, I have a nice descent after that, almost straight this time, which leads me directly to the finish line.

All that’s left for me to do is go to Innsbruck, to take a well-deserved two-day break. I’ll go through Italy, so I don’t have to go through the Alps again. I ride along the Dolomites. It is very beautiful, very calm, by a river, in the shade, a perfect road to recover. Suddenly, as I approach the border with Italy, I see a horde of cyclists approaching me. They are here continuously for kilometers. Entire families that occupy the whole width of the road. People looking at their phones and not at the road ahead of them. Kids who slip up just as I arrive. I miss getting killed (or kill) several times. I don’t even have the chance to admire the scenery… It finally settles down and I take a break in a small village, thinking that a pizza in northern Italy would be a good idea. Well. Not convinced… This small village is probably too touristy… I will come back one day to check… The day ends at a campsite after an unsuccessful search for a spot for wild camping for 10 kilometers, I am offered a beer for a patch and the mosquitoes leave me alone… Perfect…

The future « Dreitausender »
Impressions of northern Italy
Impressions of northern Italy

Finally, a short stage to arrive in Innsbruck just before the rain, with a new pass (but given what I had already climbed the day before, let’s say it was a hill) and a nice descent towards the city. The view is beautiful but the clouds are threatening so I prefer not to stop too much for photoshoots… That was a good idea given how the weather developed…

St. Anne’s Column

In the next issue, a surprise guest will join us for a part of the journey! And in the meantime, don’t forget the « One Month Contest », the best drawing wins (I repeat) a sandwich!!

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