Sunday 17th August: Innsbruck to Brunico: 104km
Total to date : 1858km
The cycle of waking, putting on a brew (essential) and packing up becomes semi-automatic after a while. Each of us has our “jobs” which have sort of worked themselves out as we went along. There is no logic to why it is Bernie’s job to make a brew and breakfast whilst I clear up the sleeping bags, deflate the camping mats and take down the tent, but it has sort of worked out that way. In our post sleep awakening the process of packing up just happens without either of us thinking about it too much.
Then on the road and the start was a bit odd. We went down-hill back to the main road, which is slightly irritating when one knows there is a long climb ahead. Losing height with a climb in prospect just adds to the uphill ahead. However we just follow the road.
The sun was shining and the road was not too busy on this Sunday morning. We got passed by regular cyclists with no kit, ultra lightweight bikes and often in packs with identical lycra clothing. Bike race clubs out for a sunday morning run. They glided up the hill as if there was no gradient whilst we puffed up at a slower speed. Mostly they passed us as if we did not exist as fellow members of the cycling fraternity but we got the occasional smile, wave or acknowledgement. I suspect they simply did not
know what to make of a couple of Brits pulling trailers up a hill on the back of a bike.
Brenner Pass has both a road and a motorway (as well as a railway) and thus is a main thoroughfare between Austria and Italy. As the morning got on the road got busier, but it was not steep (mostly) and the top was only 1400m which was lower than the passes we had climbed before. We stopped for coffee at a traditional hotel where elderly farming gentlemen of a certain age gathered on Sunday morning (in tweed suits) to meet, chat about things and drink a modest social beer. Our lack of German meant we could not understand anything but a Welsh hill farmer who could understand the language would have felt at home (well maybe except for the type of beer of course).
We reached the top after a rather pathetic attempt at a steep bit to see a jaw dropping site – a large “outlet” shopping mall which mostly sells clothes at discount prices. This was just into the Italian side of the border. It has 1200 car parking spaces and 13000 feet of shopping space. Our reaction was not wholly favourable but we needed a few things and failed to get them. So we pressed on.
Italy scored brownie points straightaway because a bike path appeared to take us away from the busy road. It became the old railway line and was complete with tunnels (short but unlit). There was a stiff wind against us but we still rode at between 30 and 40 kmph down the narrow path. As it wound away from main road we stopped for a quiet pack lunch, gazing at the sheer beauty of the mountains.
After lunch we had a disaster but we did not realise it at the time. Bernie’s bike hit a bump and the fuel bottles dislodged from the back of her rack. We later realised that this had damaged the pump and so effectively we had no stove. Memo to self (1) travel with pump detached from fuel bottles and (2) carry spare pump.
Blissfully ignorant of this we carried on down and reached Vipetano. This was a delightful old Italian town, still showing signs of Germanic influence in place names and signs, but definitely Italian. The bike path went past a field where hundreds of enthusiasts had gathered to fly model planes. These models were a serious business as they were up to about 3m in length. Some had camper vans with all the tools fitted out to maintain the planes.
They took off, did tricks and looped the loop. The crowd of several hundred were entertained by the PA system which described the aerobatics in flowing language. Italian is a language that “flows”. We cannot understand a word but nonetheless love hearing it spoken at speed and with few if any gaps between words. The commentator relished his task and kept up a constant flow as the model plane enthusiasts did their stuff. I feared a mid-air collision or crash landing and the hundreds of painstaking hours of construction that this would threaten. But the planes avoided each other and all landed safely.
We pressed on “down” the bike path but it seemed to have almost as many ups as downs. There were countless sections of 100 or 200m with a 10% plus upward gradient and then long periods of gradual down. The overall effect was exhausting even though the scenery was stunning.
Eventually we stopped at a cafe and took stock. It seemed to be far harder going “down” than climbing the main pass. Revived by watching the world go by in a cafe for half an hour we carried on and, this time, the bike path followed a river and had fewer tough uphill parts.
We reached the campsite just before Brunico to discover the fault in the pump. I lit a brushwood fire to boil the pan and thus, after tending it for a while, made what Bernie said was one of the best cups of tea she had ever had. Flattery, as always, will get her everywhere. We ate at the hotel part of the campsite as we could not cook and learned the lessons for the future about stoves.