I have been cycling for over 17 years now. I raced road races, MTB Marathons, and even made some unsuccessful attempts at cyclocross. After stopping racing in 2013, I started planning and riding some multi-day tours with friends using our mountain bikes. Before the times of modern bikepacking setups and strap-on bags there were two groups: The touring cyclists with huge pannier bags, that were moving at a more leisurely pace and on easier terrain, and the mountain bikers carrying their essentials in backpacks, thus being lighter and more agile on rough trails. We chose the backpack – and the faster, more sporty – approach. From weekend trips, to crossing the Alps over multiple days, we enjoyed taking our bikes much further than we thought possible before. However, limited with what we could carry in our backpacks we slept in hotels most of the time and had very defined stages for each day.
In 2018 I heard about the Silk Road Mountain Race. I saw the pictures, watched the trailer, read all about it and I became addicted to 'dotwatching' – following the event competitors via their GPS live tracker – and following the crazy stories around it. I decided I wanted to do this in 2019 and started training and went bikepacking on overnighters and more. It became a passion and changed the way I ride bikes.
For my birthday I decided to go on a 4-day trip through four countries (my native Austria, Slovenia, Italy and Germany) crossing some of the highest passes in Europe and encountering all kinds of terrain on my 600 kilometer journey.
This is the story I'm showcasing in this Collection: a story about failure, mistakes, bad planning, but also about the huge joys and excitement of my very first proper bikepacking trip.
The moment you're supposed to take off is always the most stressful part about a trip. Did I pack this? Oh, I forgot that. Hmm, there's clouds in the mountains, let's check the weather again. And BOOM it's already nearly lunch. Well whatever, I thought I just ride until I am too tired to pedal any more! I'm not in a race.
I went through the city [Salzburg, Austria] to say goodbye and enjoyed the views of the castle before I went off towards Pass Lueg, a small climb not worth being considered a serious threat. The small Gravel roads along the river Salzach, are perfect for cycling and I was more than happy to finally get this trip started. Before I could end my thoughts about how great this trip will be after I planned it for so long, a barrier appeared after a small climb. "Pass Lueg closed. Rockfalls." I checked on the phone, the whole road was buried beneath a huge slide. Using the komoot app to reroute, I quickly found a detour which added about 30km and 500-600 metres of climbing. I was so close to just turning back, but I just went for the extra climb and before I even realised I was back on track to the biggest climb of the day towards Obertauern.
A small gravel path wound up the valley next to a tiny river. It was beautiful. I had to turn on the road later, but that was fine as there was no traffic. As I came close to the top it first started raining, then I went through snow. God, it was cold! Quickly I went down to Mauterndorf in Lungau. Because it turned dark and I was completely wet and cold I decided to sleep in a hotel.
What a first day of my trip!
Rested and with dried clothes I started into the day and I was very happy to get up in perfect sunshine! And today I was able to follow my originally planned route.
Finally I had less tarmac. Nice forest roads and trails led me through Lungau on my way to Carinthia. The biggest climb of the day was close to the start. At the top of the climb I arrived at the end of the road. Before me was a high swamp as far as I could see. I was standing there in confusion, checking komoot for alternatives. The road ended for about 120 metres before another road continued. Suddenly a hunter appeared, not happy seeing me there with a bike. I explained my situation and that I didn't plan to intrude his hunting grounds. As I settled to descend back down and find another path, he smiled at me and showed me a path through the swamp. Please plan differently here!
The descend was amazing and I enjoyed the warmth on the smooth road down towards Lake Millstätter See. There I chose the hilly way for better views. What a choice! You can see it from my smile in the picture. Some hikers were curios about my trip and offered to take a picture. After a nice chat I descended further towards Villach. This time another hunter appeared. Clearly not happy he forced me to use the main road instead of the trail I wanted to ride. Well I wasn't in the mood for arguing and quickly found a cycling path as an alternative.
After Villach I enjoyed the nice trails on the "Römerweg" before climbing up the famously steep Wurzenpass. That road really does go straight up. Full of joy I descended into Slovenia, where I bought dinner in Kranjska Gora and then climbed the famous Vrsic pass. This is a must for every cyclist, off-road as well as on tarmac. The cobbled switchbacks are legendary and the small gravel path going up next to them is mountainbikers' heaven!
Now what a day, the only thing missing was a good camping spot. As I descended into the beautiful Soca Valley I passed some small villages. I stopped in one of them checking my map. A man came out of the house I had stopped in front of, asking if he could help. I kindly refused telling him I was only looking for a place to camp. He offered me to sleep in his garden right next to the river surrounded by the mountains. What an experience! Unfortunately I only have a bad quality picture of this camping spot.
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I woke up to the sound of the river Soca and the birds chirping. The sun rose and slowly brought warmth to the unexpectedly cold valley. I packed my gear and left a thank you note.
As I was out very early, I was able to enjoy the Soca Valley without a lot of tourists and with barely any traffic. It is one of the most beautiful places in the Alps. My next goal was the Mangart Pass. This famous pass was built one way up a mountain as an artillery site during war. It is unfortunately very exposed to rockfall and thus was closed as I arrived. I climbed it before and I will be up there again! This pass should be on the bucket list for cyclists who like steep climbs and crazy views. (I included a picture of the top for inspiration).
Instead I directly descended to Italy using an incredibly nice single trail away from all the traffic. The region around Tarvisio used to be very busy as the mining industry operated here. Since the mines are closed you can see a lot of empty villages with few inhabitants remaining. I planned a very ambitious route crossing over the mountains into Val Saisera. The climb was very steep and the gravel road deteriorated, so I soon had to get off and push my bike. A bit further the road suddenly ended, but I was able to spot a rarely used foot path. Halfway up I gave up. The path was so steep that even without the bike my shoes slipped along the steep and exposed path. I decided to turn around and go into Tarvisio and to navigate around the mountains.
On the bright side, that meant it was ice cream time in the city. Next up for today was the Passo Pramollo going over to Nassfeld in Carinthia. This road is stunning and the narrow road winding up is even more special with its tunnels and exposed bridges. Be sure to bring lights here, to be visible for cars! I enjoyed a fast and fun descend and then followed the Gail and Drau rivers into East Tyrol. I arrived on top of Iselsbergpass right before dark and found a nice camping spot a bit further up the valley.
I got up early in the morning to beautiful weather once more. What a day for the last stretch. Waiting for me was the famous Großglockner Hochalpenstrasse. I never went up from the Heiligenblut side. I chose the small path up Appriacher Höhenweg to escape traffic and have better views. It is highly recommended!
But it was actually a lot colder than I thought and I soon had to put on a long sleeve jersey even uphill. I only encountered a few cars, but to my surprise a lot of cyclists especially after the intersection towards Kaiser-Franz-Joseph Höhe. I then realised the race "Glocknerkönig" was on that weekend.
I had my own private race with two cyclists who clearly were very exhausted and had their bodies moving all over their bikes. They turned around towards me a lot. As I caught them they rode with me to the top. "Ha! At least you weren't able to drop us! But really: What's going on with all the bags?!?" I explained my trip and what I was doing and we shared some stories, had a lot of laughs and took pictures. They were very nice!
Against a seemingly endless stream of cyclists I descended down towards Fusch. This is one of the best descends you can ride, especially without cars. In the heat I passed Lake Zell and went on to Berchtesgaden and 'Kleines Deutsche Eck', literally 'small German corner'. This small tongue of land peaks into Austria [from Germany] and is a paradise for cyclists. Stunning mountain scenery, good cycling paths, amazing trails and depending on the route you choose, you can be very much alone here.
I was more than happy to be on my home trails. I smiled all the way, knowing some cold beers at home with friends were waiting. At the same time I was said as this trip was coming to an end. But the next trip was just around he corner.