104km: 2100m of climbing (and yes that is metres and not feet).
Total to date: 1634km (i.e. more than 1000 miles!)
Every cycling trip has to have at least one “big day” and this was ours; or at least it was the biggest day we had so far. It started well with an early start from Breganz and a trip to a massive Spar to get provisions. Bernie found powdered milk, something that had eluded us throughout Germany. However Austria delivered on milk powder (although this country also delivered on far more significant things like mountains, culture and friendship).
We cycled south out of Bregenz leaving the lake behind. We had missed the Magic Flute performance on a stage in the lake which might have worked for a day off but was not a serious option after a day’s riding in the rain.
Before leaving we met some quintessential Brits who were touring the alps in kit cars – small self assembled vehicles that look like Morgans. They were late 50s, early 60s, enthusiasts and idiosyncratic. It was a delight to chat to one of them to compare travelling experiences. They drove their colourful “toy” cars up and down mountain passes for fun in a convoy of about 5 cars. No more mad than us I suppose.
The first part of the day was gentle and then we faced a substantial climb to Alberswende. This was a quiet road and ambled up the mountainside. We were, at last, properly starting the alps. At the top we joined the main road which dropped down to Egg. Then we started the climb, because the road went up for the next 40km or so. At first fairly steep and then we ambled through a beautiful valley.
At times there was a bike path and at other times we were on the main road. We started the climb at about 500m and gently climbed through stunning scenery. At one point we came across a little tourist steam train that was gushing black coal smoke out into the air. The best sort of pollution! We took lots of photos as we thought how much Malcolm Garner would have enjoyed the combination of cycling and steam trains.
The village of Bezau was our coffee stop. We have decided that bakeries are the best places to stop because the coffee is excellent and there is a superb selection of cakes. However this morning we were tempted by hot bacon rolls – and they were scrumptious. There were several things about this bakery that were notable. First, the infectious enthusiasm of the women serving was very different to Germany. Their whole disposition was much lighter in style and more fun. They wanted to know where we had come from, where we were going and wished us luck.
Then a farmer came into the shop to buy sausages – who was stunningly fat. Amongst the large number of overweight people we have seen he was the one to wonder how he ever inspected anything below his stomach as it would need and expeditionary force to work its way around that mass of flesh to explore his nether regions. But the other local (and most were locals) who was noteworthy was a man with the best moustache/beard set I have ever, ever seen. It was bright ginger and not only extended out in long pointy bits at the edges of his face but then rolled up and back on itself in a perfect loop. Much waxing in the morning must have been needed to establish such an appearance. The man was a walking work of art. If our non-existent German had been better we would have asked permission to photograph him but, as it was, we just had to glance (not stare) in wonderment. He was accompanied by his wife who seemed far more interested in sausages than in the fantastic growth upon her husband’s face, but I suppose she had lived with this creation for years and was used to it.
We pressed on up the valley taking the occasional wrong turn as we attempted to follow the bike path. What had started as a main road got quieter and quieter as each village was passed. By an interesting place called Au it was a minor road. I am not sure there is anywhere in England called En or Eng, but that is the equivalent of a place in Austria “Au” (or it would be if they did not call their country Osterrich I suppose). If England is Anglaterre then this would be “An”.
Anyway it was now lunchtime and we had now risen to only about 900m. I say “only” because the main pass of the day (or so we thought) was at 1691m. After a lunch by the river we started the tough climbing. The road went from 4% gradient to between 10% and 14% for 10km or so. Those who cycle will know how tough this is (hauling a trailer each) and for those who don’t I can only point to the fact that we saw the road above us at various points as we climbed a series of hairpins to get there. The plus side was that the scenery was even more fantastic but it was mega tough.
At one point we were stopped as workmen cut the tres above the road (to stop branches falling on the road and causing accidents). We had a stilted conversation with a workman who said in passing “three passes – tough” when he learned we were going to St Anton. Three we wondered. Surely just one but of course he was right!
We got to the top of the first pass, Hochtannhbergpass, at about 4pm and then examined the map more carefully. Yes there were 2 more passes! Each was a bit higher than the one before and we still had 2 to go. What we did not know was how much the road descended between each one.
So we cycled down from the first one to the village of Warth with mixed feelings. Whizzing downhill was fun but there was a little voice at the back of our heads that reminded us of the pain to come as we needed to climb back up and more.
We had arranged a warmshowers stop in St Anton so could not bail out early as we might have done if we had the flexibility of camping, but pressed on through Lech to the second pass. The gradient was not too bad but by the time we got to the top it was about 6pm and we were very tired. We cycled down the steep descent to the valley that links St Anton with Feldkirch (and the main road avoiding the hills we had climbed).
Then we met the wonderful Nadine (a 27 year old bicycle messenger and environmental engineer) who dragged us up the last pass, St. Christophs. This was the highest point of the trip to date at 1791m and had great views. Then we just had a fast downhill to St Anton and the promise of a hot bath!
We spent a relaxing, interesting and stimulating evening with Nadine and her parents, Hans and Rita. They gave us loads of useful information and rightly persuaded us that Innsbruck was unmissable, and that the pass we intended to climb into Italy was only for masochistic 22 year olds with no luggage. They were wonderful hosts and I hope we get the chance to repay their hospitality. I fear we were slightly comatosed visitors after dragging our 50+ year old bodies over 3 passes. However the scenery was breathtaking and we would not have wanted to spend the day doing anything else (apart perhaps from the same but a bit less).