END OF THE TOUR, END OF THE TRIP  (August - September 2016)  

Where Does The Time Go??
Especially when cyclotouring in Austria, I struggled to understand “What took us so long?" How could we leave at 10:30, arrive at 5:00, and only have gone 28 miles? And that’s with the last 9 of them—about 1/3—completed in an hour. There were no visits to museums or markets, we only stopped for our picnic lunch.

A little company on a better day during our 20-miler from Hofen, Austria.
On the ride from Hofen, Austria to Garmisch, Germany, it was a little easier to explain. The outset was easy riding but slow-going on bike paths with tight, blind  turns and through a village center with heavy pedestrian traffic. Once on the main road, we only picked up our speed briefly because we were looking for our turn onto the Via Claudia long distance bike route. Then it was “Ugh, gravel” when we spotted it.  

In a couple of minutes we were pushing 2-to-a-bike up a sustained 20+% gravel road. Once we could pedal again, it was sustained 10%, still on gravel.  A few minutes on level asphalt, and then it was up a paved 14% road, which dumped us onto a deep gravel, forest road with muddy ruts to navigate. 

We were still on gravel at the hour and a half point when some part of the almost 3” of rain forecast for the day let loose. We scrambled to put on the rest of our rain gear—that that hadn’t been needed for the intermittent drizzle. Then it was back to doing our best to stay upright at the inevitably slow speeds forced by rutted, 10% gravel roads. 

We finally picked-up a bit of speed riding on asphalt roads through little villages, which effectively made the downpour a driving rain. The hoped-for comfy bus shelters for our picnic lunch didn’t appear to be the norm in this part of Austria which only sported a sign post and time schedule. I’d dreamed of prior year experiences in the bone-dry, log cabin-like little buildings with a big bench at the back and often odd notches from which we could hang our rain clothes to dry a bit while we ate.

We finally settled on sheltering under a broad eve of a disused building to eat our stand-up lunch. We peeled off outer layers of clothing and draped them on our bikes to invite the sweat to dry from them and our base layers of clothing. 

Lunch on a rain day actually is slower going than a dry day because of the time it takes to carefully remove the extra layers without getting other items wet and preventing water from rolling into our waterproof panniers, even under shelter. Then there is the juggling of food in our hands without the benefit of a bench or table. Putting wet, cold clothing back on is unpleasant and damp, cold hands don’t readily nestle into saturated gloves.

”Come quick…my back is giving out.”
Back out in the rain in traffic, we were finally over the low pass and then it was on to another graveled forest bike route, this one with patches of rock that ranged from golf ball to softball sized rock. They were only patches, but we kept asking “Whose idea was this!?”

At last, even though it was still raining, we thought we were in the clear: we were going slightly downhill on an asphalt path but a surprise awaited us around a sharp turn. A short tunnel under an overpass was flooded and there was no way around it because of wire fences boxing us in. We weren’t sure how deep the water actually was but it looked likely to swamp our waterproof socks. The temperature had been dropping and we still had too many miles to go to risk getting waterlogged. 

Bill deftly managed the balancing act of walking his bike across the plank but got a bit of a dunking at the end because the board was too short. He situated the missing piece for me though it was far from level. I optimistically started off, still grinning from the silliness of the situation, and then realized that the extra outer pocket on my panniers meant the plank was too close to the wall for me to clear like Bill had done. As I progressed, the just good-enough clearance evaporated, forcing both wheels off the plank. The wheels were now wedged between the tunnel wall and the plank and my bike was tilted towards the water.

After the photo session, Bill came on to the plank and lifted my front wheel back on the board. He then stabilized the front end while I ever so carefully inched my way around my pannier to the rear end of my bike. I had to lift most of the weight of the bike and panniers to situate the wheel on to the board.

We barely managed to get my bike off of the plank without falling in but it came at the expense of jamming my left knee when I landed abruptly and my back being tweaked from the gymnastics. I luckily found a bit of a stone wall on which to sit for about 10 minutes to calm my back muscles and knee joint—sometimes a pause is the best remedy. While I rested, Bill struggled with the phone chip challenges of being on the border between Austria and Germany to call our next host as requested with an arrival time. (Amazingly given the day of the unexpected, he was spot-on in his estimate).

The good news was that crossing the border meant that the quality of the biking experience skyrocketed. Part of it was that we were now on a generally downhill track but the Germans tend not to create so much of a ‘cowboy’ experience for intercity cyclists as the Austrians. We zoomed along for the next hour in steady rain on asphalt or “rollsplitt,” which is usually very fine gravel applied to a smooth roadbed and then rolled. 

We rode as hard and fast as the conditions would allow knowing that our problems weren’t over because we’d have to shop for food and deal with all of our wet gear and clothing before we could rest. 

Once in Garmisch & her back had recovered, Barb would be scrambling alone up this side of Zugspitze.
Our Garmisch host didn’t help matters either. He hadn’t shared that he wasn’t onsite at our apartment so we spent a half an hour standing under a scant eve in our saturated gear waiting for him to show up once we reached the address. The very best news of the day however was that we discovered that heat was available in our cold, tile-floored apartment—something unheard of in our experience for lodging in Europe in the summer. On similar days in prior years when we asked about the possibility of heat we were told it was off until the fall.

The wet riding day into Garmisch was quite the test for my latest assumption that my ribs had healed sufficiently for my back muscles to be fully available to me. Indeed, they were. Bill still outperformed me on the bike, but I was pleased that I could power up the 10% stretches on gravel and completed the 14% asphalt segment using my typical ‘rest on a curve that I can restart on’ technic. 

Keeping my loaded bike upright on the rutted gravel both going uphill and downhill was a the limit of my upper body and core strength, but I did it. And at the end of the day when we could pick-up the speed because of the better surfaces, I could readily rally both the needed arm and leg strength. Subtle, but even more telling, was that I could finally feel that the load on my bike was less than prior years. I knew it was true when we left Italy 4 weeks prior, but this was the first day that I was healed enough to feel it as I rode.

I did stress my back ‘walking the plank’ but it was felt in the low back and wasn’t severe. It did however require 2 days of “easy does it” instead of 1 to feel durable again but it was still a reassuring recovery. Unfortunately, Bill also tweaked his back on the plank but it wasn’t until another awkward maneuver a couple of days later that it was an issue for him.

Garmisch, Germany
Our week in Germany that was spent in Garmisch was like our time in Austria: weaving hikes in between rain days. We did toss in a bike ride that we’d expected to be an easy romp around a nearby by lake but instead it was an Austrian-like experience on steep gravel roads in the rain.

Seefeld, Austria
Seefeld was yet another in Bill’s string of previously-unheard-of western Austria ski towns selected as new hiking venues. In addition to the big mountains, Seefeld also featured a little lake to stroll around, which added a welcome focus to our rest/rain day walks. Unlike most of our other stops since leaving Italy, Bill was able to craft a big hike day that also gave us the big gain we seek. We were out almost 12 hours and did close to 52,000 steps but that day was the only completely dry day in our week long stay in Seefeld.

Ever cheerful Florian on his first tour.
Florian, The Unicycle Man
We were giving it our all on the 10% grades on the Austrian side of Brenner Pass in tricky headwinds when I was passed by a young man grinning from ear to ear on a unicycle. He too struggled with the strong wind and would pop off of his stead every 100-200’, walk a few steps, then get back on. I desperately wanted a photo of him but he was faster than us and once the road curved so the wind was less of an issue, he was out of sight.

Lucky for us, he was still sporting his infectious smile when we saw him the next morning on the Munich to Venice bike path on the Italian side of the pass. “Yes” was the answer when I rode along side of him and asked “Do you speak English?” I followed with “We’d like to take your picture,” which refreshed his constant grin.

We took turns riding with him and asking a string of questions until we found a suitable spot for a photo. Florian was 24, from Bavaria (southern Germany), had been riding a unicycle since he was 7, was on his first-ever cyclotour, and was loving it. His 33 lb pack, including an extra saddle to swap-out every few days, had camping gear as well. He said that downhills were the hardest on his body because of the pressure on his knees and quads. He’d never hurt himself in a crash. After we parted, I was horrified to realize that unlike us, Florian couldn’t coast: if he stopped pedaling, the unicycle stopped in its tracks.

Selva, Italy
Our big event once back in Selva was to repeat the Sass Ragais via ferrata that had terrified us in 2009. We stayed overnight in a mountain hut the night before and the night after the event and had to walk in fresh snow for a couple of hours to reach ‘the wire’ 7 years ago. This year we made the trek from our apartment as a day trip and availed ourselves of busses and a cable car to conserve the energy that would have been expended in walking. The transportation didn’t actually save us much time but it did spare us considerable toil.

Actually enjoying this via ferrata was a HUGE affirmation for Bill. His fear of heights had made it a terrifying day in 2009, even before we got on the wire. Up, down, and across—all aspects of it triggered fear but he did it anyway. Totally unexpectedly, after we began taking a form of vitamin B3 for skin cancer prevention 15 months ago, Bill’s acrophobia vanished—completely--in weeks. Doing Sass Ragas this season allowed him to write a new ending to the story and to validate that his fear is truly a piece of history.
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There was no mention of this tricky gap in the route book.

No worries on a narrow land bridge at 10,000’.

It’s A Wrap
Despite the pain and inconveniences of having snapped 2 of my ribs early in our stay, we had another grand summer in the Alps. Out of the blue, we doubled our weekly hiking mileage to over 70 miles in our first month. Our usual elevation gain doubled as well. We were shocked to discover that we’d been underperforming relative to our ability. And we far exceeded our expectations for maintaining our training for hiking the Grand Canyon’s Rim-2-Rim in October.

We enjoyed exploring new venues for 7 of our 12 weeks in the mountains as well as finding new, long distance routes at favorite locations. We were extremely pleased with the summer experience that was behind us and we’re pumped that we’d be leaving for the Grand Canyon 2 weeks after touch-down at home. The only thing between us and our planned October hiking events was the weather. We’d be crossing our fingers up to the last minute hoping that conditions would be favorable for even 1 day the first 2 weeks in October for our epic hike.