Once more over the Alps

October 17, 2023 · bicycle travel

If yesterday was an appetizer, then today would certainly be the main course. Plus dessert, I’d say. The focus was on crossing the Brenner pass from Austria to Italy, then turning east. Since this whole business of climbing mountains is quite exhausting, there will be less words, more pictures today!

editor note: seems like I wrote lots of words anyway…

To Brenner

The climbing took no time to say introductions. Right out of town, I had gained over 400 meters in 8 kilometers, covering distance at a snail’s pace as I pedaled what I could and walked what I couldn’t. The air was almost freezing, but I didn’t feel it at all. I heaved down huge gulps and huffed back out steaming clouds, like a locomotive choo choo’ing my way up the climb.

At Igls, the signposted route leaves the road for unpaved trails, trading off smoothness for quietness. That was especially evident today because a massive inferno on the autobahn locked traffic at a standstill all morning. Speaking of noxious fumes, I was greatly relieved that the wind did not carry the whole-knows-what chemicals to me. I had only enough of a whiff to know it wasn’t good news.

At Steinach the separate route unfortunately disappeared and I was stuck having to mingle with traffic the rest of the way up Brenner. The thinner air, likely combined with a slowly leaking tire I would not notice until much later, meant I spent a long time trekking up on two feet rather than two wheels. Without even a shoulder to walk on, it was not a pleasant experience. However I’m glad to report there weren’t any scary incidents; people left plenty of space.

In summary, though the pass is the lowest in this part of the Alps, crossing it is still quite a challenge!

Across the border

Nearing the top of the pass, a massive headwind swept down the mountain. It was as if Italy heard me complaining too much last time I visited and didn’t want me to return. Even after cresting the high point, where I should be able to coast into Italy, I had to keep pedaling on the downhill. It felt like going uphill on both sides, a thoroughly demoralizing experience.

Eventually the country realized I was too stubborn and relented enough to let me enter. Compared to the Austrian side, this segment was a world of difference. Whereas previously I was directed on mountain bike trails carelessly strewn over the hills (while the car road drives an almost straight line), Italy treated me with a gently sloping, smoothly paved surface. The tunnels it went through even had motion activated lights.

Sterzing (Vipiteno) qualifies as a fake place for me. For newcomers: “fake” is the highest praise I can give some place; I reserve it for locations that I think come straight out of imagination. In Europe I most commonly refer to Switzerland with this word.

By the river

At Brixen I diverged from the southbound route (signposted as Munchen-Venezia) to travel upstream along the Rienz river. Now, I figured it would be the easy part: if I’m next to a river, surely there won’t be any ridiculous gradients in the way?

Well no, I was mistaken. Though on the map it looks like I was right next to the river, the path in several places actually sits on a ridge and undulates up and down repeatedly, rather than staying level with the water.

Around this point I also made the connection that the plush-feeling front end on my bike was a little too soft. With the flat fixed, I covered the last stretch to Bruneck (Brunico), ready for some pizza!

Construction sight of the future Brenner Base Tunnel
A look back at Innsbruck
A wall of rock behind Igls
The day stretched before me, the goal was those farthest mountains in the distance
Massive blaze on the highway (making my small road very busy)
View after Matrei
Typical off road section, too steep for my skill/equipment to descend! So I hiked
Imagine struggling up this road... yes that was me
I've always thought arch bridges are the prettiest
Border crossing!
Italian tunnel with fancy lighting
On the downhill side of the pass. What surprised me was how vacant this beautiful bike infrastructure was. I know it's not really tour season but today was excellent and I did not see a single other cyclist.
View of the Dolomites in Italy
Ostensibly alongside the river, near Mühlbach
Castle on the slope in the distance
When in Italy, it's either this or pasta!
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