For the first time in 25 years, when the Schengen Agreement came into effect, we are not able to cross borders freely anymore inside Europe.
While of course this is related to a crisis no one could have predicted, the situation is quite absurd regarding some people calling for a general shut-down of national and EU borders.
We have grown so used to roam freely throughout a whole continent, the thought alone of this freedom being taken away is a nightmare.
Deep in the 2020 Corona crisis two ultra distance athletes, that's Bruno Ferraro (from Bassano del Grappa, Italy) and myself Max Riese (from Salzburg, Austria) digitally fantasised about riding together again soon, after all of our races got cancelled. What if there was a way to meet up again legally, even in those times? With the restriction of movement in Italy it had to be a touching point between the Italian state of Veneto and Austria. While no tarmac road connects the two, there is a historically important piece of trail, that does. The Tilliacher Joch (Forcella Dignas) is a gravel trail where Italian and Austrian soldiers opposed each other in WW1.
We each created a video about our journeys...
Getting up at 3am was hard. However the sunrise and the fog at the beautiful Pillersee really made up for the struggle. It felt so good to finally get out again.
Excited and pumped I cycled towards Saalbach. It finally warmed up, I was blessed with perfect weather. After a short break for food at Hacklbergalm I started the first hike-a-bike to the Pinzgauer Höhenweg. The scenery was stunning and although it was very rough terrain I really enjoyed this trail.
Finally I went into the final climb of the day conquering the 30 Switchbacks from lake Hintersee up to a height of more than 2000m altitude. The rest of the way was mostly hike-a-bike again. I didn't expect so much snow left up there from the winter.
The struggle was worth it with a beautiful sunset and some hearty food on St. Pöltener hut. I can highly recommend visiting Reinhold and his family who run this hut with a lot of passion and attention to details.
The sunrise at St. Pöltener Hut was beautiful. After a short hike down some snowfields a beautiful gravel road winded its way down to the valley. The view of the famous Großvenediger summit was simply breathtaking.
Further down the path I passed a lot of waterfalls coming down the side of the valley on the way to Lienz.
The bike path to Sillian was beautiful but highly frequented. Taking the steep off-road route to St. Oswald was well worth it, offering an amazing single trail track as a reward at the end. The gravel road that followed was barred with fallen trees and took frustratingly long. So I pushed hard up to Tilliacher to make up time only stopping at Klappacher See for a quick refreshment.
Finally we made it happen:
I met Bruno at the top. Separated only by the stone marking the border. Never has a warm beer tested better.
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Leaving Bassano del Grappa with the sun rising made the depart of this adventure even more epic. I immediately approached Monte Grappa where I found other road cyclists but as soon as I took the off-road track no one else crossed my path for the next couple of hours.
At the top of the climb Rifugio Bassano it was surprisingly busy, people were finally enjoying the freedom to ride their bikes again and the weather was amazing. I took the alternative route downhill and crossed the war trench, where I 'enjoyed' a bit of hike-a-bike with a stunning view of the valley. A rewarding stop at Birrificio di Quero (a beer was needed) and then straight to Santa Giustina for ice cream with my old bud Stefano, who lives locally and wanted to cheer me up before the last climb of the day.
In Valle del Mis I had a bit of rain but then the sun came out again and light was reflecting off the walls of the canyon, making for a surreal and beautiful moment. I pushed hard in order to cross Alleghe lake and to reach Caprile for dinner.
Starting the day in Selva di Cadore and having Passo Giau "for breakfast" was really challenging. I couldn't miss the iconic pass but then I went back for a couple of kilometres in order to follow a really steep but incredible off-road track that lead me to Rifugio Averau and then Rifugio Scoiattoli, among the stunning Cinque Torri. Being at the heart of the Dolomites and riding through those paths made me feel incredibly lucky, I've always had those special places relatively close to me but it took me until now to cross them... looking meticulously for alternative paths. I had a coffee in Cortina d'Ampezzo and rode passo Tre Croci straight after.
What followed was a long and fun off-road downhill to Auronzo and then the stunning Val Visdende, where I finally approached Forcella Dignas, very near the Austrian border. After a lot of fun and hundreds of pictures, I finally met Max. Over a (warm) beer, we exchanged all the thoughts and feelings about our epic journeys.