In many ways it feels like this journey has shifted up a gear, the past week has been a tough one but probably my favourite so far. The first couple of weeks were such a whirlwind but life on the road is beginning to feel normal at last, we’re adjusting. I feel different, much more relaxed, more calm.
So, we were in Switzerland. The Rhine. Gateway to the Alps! Then came Austria, wow, what can I say about Austria. Breathtaking! We’re big fans of Austria!
We struggled a bit in Switzerland though if I’m completely honest. It was a case of bad timing I guess, we got caught out a bit, rookies that we are. So…. we turn up on Saturday evening, we’ve got enough food for a couple of basic meals but barely enough gas to make a brew, and unfortunately for us over the past few months Switzerland has become the most expensive place in the universe. Eating as much as possible is pretty much the golden rule of cycle touring and we broke it. After stopping at every camp site on the south shore of Bodensee (Lake Constance) in search of gas for our stove we finally caved in, we bought a couple of donner kebabs for our Sunday dinner and called it a day. We’re still learning. Everyday.
The following morning we headed south to St Gallen, a slick little city in the hills. We had been told that we could get the gas we needed there and hopefully a decent map of Austria too. Without these items we would be up shit creek as they say. Our luck was in, we found the stuff and set off up a pass towards Lichtenstein. The road we took out of St Gallen was a beauty, with views over the city and down to the lake we’d been following the previous day. After an hour or so we we’re well in to the rugged countryside. The sound of cowbells made me laugh to myself. Is this really happening? As the road took a sharp right just after the summit it seemed like the whole world just fell away. The perfectly flat valley was so far down, the scale of the space below us proved difficult to comprehend. It reappeared on alternating sides as we descended the countless switchbacks. The cowbells faded, replaced with the hum of our tyres, the electrified buzz of freewheels and the rush of wind in our ears. Welcome to the Alps!
Lichtenstein is a funny little place, I can’t decide if it even counts as a country, it’s about the size of a farm. We didn’t even realise that we were in the country at first, we accidentally camped there by chance when we bumped into another cycle tourist setting up camp at the side of the river. As it was getting on a bit it seemed like the done thing to be sociable and camp there too. We were glad of the company. Our new friend was a German chap called Eric, he had taken a couple of weeks off work to cycle aimlessly around the Alps, as you can imagine we all got on really well. Legend!
As soon as we entered Austria I had a good feeling, as we pushed our bikes through the cobbled market streets of Feldkirch, the sun soaked pastel colours of the city buildings made me feel relaxed instantly. We were well aware that this was to be one of the most physically demanding stages of our journey through Europe but we were in great spirits, ready to step up to the challenge. Feldkirch sits at the bottom of an enormous gorge, where the Alfenz spills out into the Rhine. It was hard to keep our eyes on the road cycling up the mesmerising escarpment, the south side was so high it was blocking out the sun at 3 in the afternoon. At the other end of the valley is the Flexenpass, 1773 meters high, our next destination.
We decided to do the sensible thing and stop half way up the pass to rest up for the night, we had already been riding all day and the steepest part of the climb was yet to come. The heat was taking it’s toll on us too, I never imagined it would be so hot up in the mountains, it was punishing to say the least. We scoped out the nearest village and much to our joy we stumbled upon a swimming pool with a small kiosk where we could buy cold beer and hot food. Our hosts at the blue lagoon in Klosterle were fantastic, they even had a whip round for re~cycle and insisted we sampled the local apricot brandy!
The great thing about being so transient is you never know where you’re going to wake up tomorrow, we’ve slept in some unusual places. The most ridiculous so far has to be Klosterle village hall. We were going to camp next to the hall but when we noticed the doors were open we decided to sleep inside. We woke in the night to hear someone snoring, quite loudly. Thinking it was probably a tramp we went back to sleep. In the morning we discovered we’d accidentally gate crashed a scout camp, the scouts were all camped behind the hall, the snoring was coming from one of the scout leaders who had also been sleeping in the hall. The funny thing is they hardly batted an eye lid when they saw us in the morning they just said hello and went about their scout business. Everyone seems fairly relaxed in Austria.
We were glad for our fresh legs, the summit of the flexenpass was a beast. The mountain so steep that the road wound through miles of tunnels and galleries carved into the side of cliffs. The tunnels were pretty eerie, passing trucks sounded like thunder, the rancid smell of burning clutches was minging but the shelter from the baking sun was a bonus at least. At the summit my hands were shaking but our reward was sweet, the Lech valley cycle route is up there with the most stunning places I’ve ever ridden. Hour upon hour of traffic free decent though forests and farms, the streams cascading out of the mountains are crystal clear as they join the gravely course of the powder blue Lech. We followed the river all the way to the town of Reutte where we revelled in the privelige of being able to afford to buy beer again!
It was a strange feeling looking back at the Alps from Bavaria, from green rolling hills they rise so suddenly, like a wall a mile high. They look amazing from here. Riding away felt a bit like saying goodbye to a friend. We’ll meet again though, of that I’m sure.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this challenge has taken over our lives completely, 24 hours a day. Never before have I put this amount of effort into something. It’s worth it. Things that were stressful at first are becoming second nature, giving us more energy to put into the important things and enjoy the ride. Already this is the furthest distance I’ve cycled and the longest time spent living out doors. We’re only a fraction of the way through yet! We’re beginning to realise now just how really big this bike ride is. Three weeks on the road and sleeping under canvas is starting to take it’s toll, it’s time to have a break for a couple of days. As electric storms filled the skies over Munich on Friday night, two grubby, mosquito bitten youths rolled into town…
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For the Route see MAP 3