TCR No.8 – Day 7

Getting underway was delayed by some unexpected Origami. Last night my bike was the only occupant of the small covered area at the back of the hotel yard. But now, several rows of eBikes are stacked up in front of it. Heavy and locked together, it’s difficult even to squeeze myself past them to where my bike stood behind. Getting it out required a strange tiptoeing dance around wheels and bars with the Niner shouldered to get it clear. Not the ideal start. It was tempting to make a racket kitting up in the yard to wake whatever twats had done this, except it was probably just 4 or 5 of the twenty plus rooms above the courtyard. Having said that, it’s hard to lube a chain and pump up tyres in complete silence, so the end result may have been much the same anyway. Last night before sleep I’d swapped a few messages with Yoli that sum up my physical state and how I’m feeling towards the next couple of days

Robw: Not counting chickens - recovered well last 2 days but there's a lot ahead
Robw: Be lucky to avg 200s thru the mountains - poss even 150s will be a stretch
Pixie: One day at a time sweets
Robw: Yep. While I can I will - when I'm done I'm done
Robw: Simple
Robw: Not going to declare myself out of it - the body makes the call. Mind is strong and clear
Pixie: And that is perfect
Robw: Woke up feeling like I had nothing left today - soon as I got into the forest it was like rebirth
Pixie: Hope there are plenty of forest ahead!!
Robw: Feet are so sore and blistered I can't walk properly - hands have huge sores that I can't hold shit. But somehow pedalling works still
Pixie: Gotta grip those bars less tight 😝😝
Robw: You're not wrong- but harder to do

I’m not overly worried about the section immediately ahead. Riding into the Alps is something I’ve done before, some of it even on the same route I’ll be using today. But the latter section getting up and over the final hills to ride out of the Alps is going to be a much more punishing affair.

0km – Wolfratshausen – 04:40, 31 July 2022 (1,455KM total)

It’s not long after I start that the faint grey outline of the Alps appears up ahead through the early morning light. I remember a similar vision in 2017 but this time what makes it ominous is not the thought of climbing over them (well not totally). Thick banks of clouds shroud the tops, ranging in shades from serene fluffy white, to heavy threatening near black. I’m not worried about the first section of riding – Fern Pass is some way ahead, and it’s not high enough to be really dicey in a storm. Unpleasant, yes, possibly even muddy on the gravel track that is still my preferredd route. But not soil-your-riding-shorts scary. One of Yoli’s friends (Megan) had commented that she wanted to see some mountains to prove that the riding wasn’t all completely flat. Today would clearly be the day to do that, although the shot I stop to grab of a hut with the foothills behind probably does more to capture the gathering storm than it does the scale of the peaks.

I’m riding in the new jacket from yesterday – partly to shield off the morning chill, and partly in anticipation of the storm breaking. Which it doesn’t, at least nothing beyond a few spots of rain. Clearly though, judging by the puddles along the road, it has rained quite heavily during the night. Around an hour into the riding I pass through a sizeable town (Penzberg) and am sorely tempted to stop at one of the open cafes. But it’s too early and I’m sure I’ll spot somewhere further along. Over the following kilometers I kick myself for missing the opportunity for an early coffee (or two). I look in on a supermarket which is closed and pass through a handful of villages, none of them with an open bakery or cafe. It’s pleasant, steady riding with nothing severe in the way of climbing, but I am more than ready for a break by the time I roll into Garmisch. Sadly, the first place I see open is another McDs – this will make three stops in a row. But, food is needed and they have some.

62km – Garmisch-Partenkirchen – 08:30, 31 July 2022 (1,517KM total)

I have food, and coffee, and plenty of it. And I’m sat outside under a canopy, so I’m reasonably well protected if, or more likely ‘when’, the rain comes. For most of the morning I’ve been riding across fields and along rivers heading towards the mountains, but now I’m sat surrounded by them. The clouds which were rolling across the distant peaks earlier are now above and all around me, and the air smells damp and heavy with rain – even though nothing significant is falling, yet. I’d ditched the jacket at some point earlier, but it goes back on now – in part though to keep me warm as I’m getting cold sat there. Both Yoli and her parents know this area from past travels and comment on WhatsApp about my arrival in ‘Garmisch’. As with all stops on TCR though, there’s no sightseeing for me here – beyond what I see riding through or while stopped eating.

Up to this stage I’ve been following back roads and river side trails – the main road has been a full on highway, with at least one tunnel. But from Garmisch it becomes a normal, if busy, two lane road. My cue cards note that I can take the road if the cycle paths prove poor, but as I roll out of the town on the initial stretch there’s too much traffic and it’s too fast moving for my liking, so I stick to the plotted route. At times this is a designated path alongside the road, but often it veers away onto gravel track across the fields and through woodlands along the river. It’s rideable, but at times rough, and as a result not especially fast. Although some of that is a result of the steady uphill gradient. There’s a few double digit ramps, but mostly it’s just a gradual rise following the valley upward towards it’s source.

The route rejoins the road and ducks under the arches of an impressive curving stone railway bridge in the village of Ehrwald. I’m briefly disoriented, heading towards what looks like a clear path before the Wahoo directs back on myself to a track on the other side of the river. It’s a dead straight, flattish run from here towards a section I know well, or at least think I do. Across the fields at the far side of the river path lies the mountain village of Biberwier, where my route today will briefly join my trackfrom 2017 to get across Fern Pass. Except I came up the other fork of the valley last time and nothing looks quite the same. It takes me a few minutes of dithering around before the trail becomes clear and I start to climb up through the narrow side streets. At the top of these I come to the base of one of the ski lifts. Initially I ride past, stopping only to shed some of my morning layers with the bike propped against a low stone garden wall around the corner. Once done though I realise I need a pee and so head back knowing that ski lifts pretty much always have a public loo. Unfortunately my brain must have been a bit absent at this point because I forget to repack my base layer. This realisation only strikes me once I’m already part way up the hill out of town. It’s lazy of me, but I can’t be arsed to climb this part of the hill twice and so it remains where it was put, on some random person’s front wall. Hopefully they would have smelt it and gone to fetch some Hazmat clothing before attepting to pick it up.

The clouds have dissipated somewhat – not totally gone, but large gaps of blue have opened up through which the sun is beginning to warm up the countryside. It’s a stifling humid heat though, which I’m fairly sure will build more clouds during the day and probably storms by early evening. For now though, as I slog up the last ramps of steeper tarmac out of the village I’m glad to have ditched my warmer gear, even if some part of that was rather more permanent than I’d intended. There is a niggling worry in my mind though. The base layer I just left behind was my ‘better’ one. I now have a vague feeling I may have decided before the start that I only needed one and tossed my spare in the charity bags we left at the B&B. If the mountain weather turns really bad no base layer could be disaster. I make a mental note to check it out this evening or, in the unlikely event I see an open sports store on a Sunday, get a new one today.

Observing my cue cards instructions to the letter, I go check out the road option across Fern Pass beyond the village. It looks no more appealing than it did in 2017, but in addition there’s now a green sign which I believe gives it some kind of motorway designation. To be honest though, this makes no difference to my decision. Even if it is legal to ride, I’ve still no desire to crawl up it surrounded by coaches and trucks pushing to get past me. I swing back and opt for the same route I took last time. I know the gravel trail upwards will be slow, but it’s completely safe and through lovely forests. And the descent, whislt also not especially fast, involves one of my favourite sections on the whole of TCR No.5. Heading through the swing gate and beside the small lake at the start of the track brings a strong sense of the familiar which immediately makes me smile. This is not going to be fast, but it is going to be fun.

I’ve avoided trying to compare my fitness level between this TCR and the last, in part because I know I have less riding power (my FTP at the start was still around 10% down). But this next stretch shows me that the numbers are not the whole story. Sure, I do still walk some of the steeper gravel stretches. But, as the trail snakes upward between the trunks of the pine trees I am fairly certain I ride more the uphill this time than I did before, and if not then certainly not less. My hands (especially my right) are not doing well, and my mouth has becoming troublingly sore which is making it painful to eat. But my legs at least are in good shape. And that’s with 500km more distance in them – this point came a lot earlier in the overall ride in 2017 than it does this time. I enjoy a little company on the climb up too – a bikepacker and I exchange stories of our respective journeys as we bump up (and occasionaly down) the rough track. He is just starting his trip, and is lightly loaded so we part ways before the top, which hasn’t take me as long or involved as much effort as I expected.

100km – Fern PasS(1,277m) – 13:00, 31 July 2022 (1,555KM total)

The gravel track climbs a a little higher then the road, so the final stretch is downhill until it crosses the road. The tunnel which I recall being built last time is finished, so there is no dangerous crossing, just a short pipe under the carriageway. Cycling out from it there is one short ramp of path up the field and I’m alomgside the area where the fuel station and restaurant sit on the top of the road pass. In fact, I’m slightly above it, and there’s a picnic table looking out over the road and the buildings. The parking lot isn’t busy and I consider going down the steps to eat at the restaurant itself, but I still have most of my packed breakfast left, so I munch through the remaining roll and the fruit (which includes another orange). With the state of my my mouth though, it’s slower and more painful than cycling up the pass. It’s not an ideal scenario when you need to be packing in 5000+ calories per day.

I know what’s coming next – in a good way. The path down is fast, flowing, and mostly rideable gravel. But more than all of that it is utterly beautiful. I cannot resist the chance to get a repeat of the photo I took in 2017 on the boarded section of path around an outcrop of rock.

Beyond here the path drops steeply through the woodland, deep ruts in section have me clamping on the brakes to control my speed as I navigate them gingerly – trying to balance carrying enough speed to roll over them but no so much I don’t carry so much I can’t stop if needed. The descent is not fully sighted as it twists downwards, and there are a fair number of hikers coming up the narrow single track section of path. After ducking under the familiar arch of the Hotel Schloss it becomes a wider forest road before ducking back under the highway again for the final long, straightish stretch through thick woodlands and out onto the streets of the village of Nassereith. Twice now this pass has provided one the real highlights of TCR for me and I’m a little sad that it’s done so soon.

I look into a couple of road side restaurants which I pass but it’s a bit too early to stop, and they look busy and hence potentially slow for service. So I roll on as the road continues the remaining descent into the valley. Running along a straight section of river path though I do begin to get hungry – and fatigued in the growing afternoon heat. With near perfect timing, the route heads away from the river and up between meadows towards the town of Imst. the town is large enough that my search for somewhere to eat doesn’t take long. Heading down one of the town streets, the red parasols and outside seating of a pizza restaurant catch my eye – enough customers to suggest decent food and not so many that it’s likely to be slow.

122km – Pizzeria La Luna, Imst – 15:00, 31 July 2022 (1,577KM total)

A full pizza and a coke would probably have fueled me perfectly, but that is not what I manage. Less than half way through it my mouth is just too sore to eat more than a couple more mouthfuls. The waiter looks disappointedly at the plate as he clears away and I do my best to re-assure him that there was norhing wrong with it (there wasn’t). My mouth has been getting more sore for the last few days but this is the first time it has stopped me getting the fuel I need in, and it’s troubling.

As disappointing as the stop was from a sustenance perspective it was much more succesful in terms of planning the rest of my day. There’s one sizeable climb between here and the big climb over Stelvio, and I definitely do not want to anything more to tomorrow’s list of uphill hauls. So I want to get this next 700m slog out of the way today and it’s around 65km to the start of the climb. Adding in the time to get up the climb that will put me somewhere beyond nightfall, meaning I definitely need a hotel booked in advance. Luckily, the town of Nauders is sat right at the peak, and there’s a hotel which has a room and will stay open late enough for my arrival. Now all I need to do is get there.

At the very edge of Imst the route ducks under a big highway junction and swings right to follow the Inn river (from where Innsbruck get it’s name) up another valley. Nothing is flat now, it’s either up (mostly) or occasionally, and annoyingly down (annoying because down means extra up). I keen to make progress so a lot of the details of this section are lost on me – I’m aware of the busy autobahn which also follows along the valley. Initially this is over to the right of me, although I alternate sides of the river as the sides of the deep ravine draw in closer and closer as we the trail rises ever upward. Eventually I roll into a suburb of Landeck and decide to make a quick garage stop for supplies before the last push to the hotel.

142km – Eni gas station, Zams – 16:41, 31 July 2022 (1,597KM total)

It’s not really a stop for a rest – more to stock up. But that doesn’t stop me grabbing an ice cream and a coke as well as an extra bottle of sports drink to go with water bottle refills. I briefly look at the small toileteries section as I pass, but the deodorant is in glass bottles which seem an even less good idea than the exploding roll on had proved to be. I’ll just have to stink a little longer. Whilst there some bikers as me if I know a way to the Reschen Pass. The route they had chosen was closed off. Had I recognized the name and made the connection I could have told them to just follow me (or more realistically look at my route given they’re sitting on way more horsepower than I am). But only later did I realise we are going the same way. Instead I just pass on nothing more than friendly but useless pleasantries. Concious of the need to keep moving I keep my visit short and get rolling again as soon as I am sorted. There is still a fair way to the hotel and the daunting prospect of that last climb.

Landeck sits in a small patch of flat ground at another very visible junction of two valleys. My route forks up the left branch of these. Immediately the landscape crowds in on the narrow path I’m following – steep walls of the valley entrance towering above me. The light suddenly begins to fade to a dim grey – a combination of the depth of the valley, the late afternoon, and the clouds which have begun to edge out the last patches of blue. It’s not exactly gloomy though – in a strange way it adds to the atmosphere of riding alongside the roaring river, creating a sense of urgency to get where I’m going. I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as type 1.5 fun, but this would be close – enjoyable but with an edgy feeling of adventure creeping in from dark lonely mountainsides. The fourth in the series of river crossings since leaving Landeck is across what seems to be a small dam, the far side of which is an elevated wooden boardwalk for a short way along the man made lake, before crossing back again to the right bank of the river (still apparenly the Inn, looking at map now).

157km – Prutz – 18:00, 31 July 2022 (1,617KM total)

The town of Prutz has been signposted for what seems like forever before I finally get to see the small town. It’s not really what my mind has been expecting. Somewhere I thought was a wide sprawl of chain stores and a small mall, but it’s not here. Perhaps it was a part of Landeck I missed, or maybe it’s up ahead before the reoute splits up the climb to Nauders. Either way, this isn’t it. At some point I pass a campsite close to the middle of town, but still full of camper vans despite it’s less than rural setting. I guess we are in the mountains and space for camping is at a premium. Also around that point a chaotic dug up section of road which I need to get across – part of the road is closed and the traffic is jammed both ways for a long stretch. It occurs to me this might be the part the bikers had got stuck at, although for me it’s not an issue to get across to the town streets beyond and back onto the cycle trail.

I have few specific memories of the next 20km apart from how much more uphill there could possibly be, and how much further until we reach the climb itself. It feels like and sequence of crossing fields, dropping down along the river, and cross to the other side which just keeps repeating without seeming to have an end. Rarely on a ride do I start counting distance and wondering if I’m ever to get somewhere but in the slowly fading light this stretch has my mind locked in that desperate mental loop. Only the arrival of the next town (Pfunds) breaks the pattern. It’s been another name that was signposted long before it arrived, but this time I recognise the name and terrain from my planning sessions.

I know for sure, that beyond this section I will cross the river one more time and climb up the hillside beyond for a short way on the road rather than following the valley floor. There was a tempting alternative on the other bank which I initially routed along until I noticed the many tunnels and how many trucks and coaches appeared in Street View images. As I climb steadily up my side of the river I can clearly see the galleries of this road cut into the hillside opposite, and hear a faint thunder of traffic. At some point, possibility later, I realised this is actually the main Reschen Pass the bikers were looking for. They really could have followed me, well at least until Pfunds anyway.

My little detour up the other side of the valley peaks at just over 1,000m but before I get to race down it I’m held at a temporary traffic signals for roadworks. Not a single car has come through by the timke I am let loose. Despite my nerves that I’ll get caught on the narrow single lane with cars, none come past me during the descent. The first part is on a new temporary embankment with a rough gravel surface. After this I fly down through galleried sections and sweeping through the flowing contours. Visibility is challenging at times in the covered sections and I’m glad I already put on my front light to pick out the occasionally rutted surface.

As the hill bottoms out I’m surprised to find ou that somewhere I’ve crossed into Switzerland – the border post seems to be called Martina, although I see no town of any kind. It must be the shortest incursion into another country in the history of travel. No sooner have I passed through the deserted border post than I turn left across the river and am back in Austria. Lovely as it was, I’m not sure the 20 minutes and 6.7km I was there qualifies me to pass comment on this part of the country of Switzerland.

Even if the cue cards and endless route research hadn’t already told me I would be in no doubt what lay ahead once I cross the bridge and begin to leave the river behind. A seemingly impassable wall of hillside sits directly in front of me. The little printed card I studied at the pizza restaurant just overlay some numbers to the scene – over the next 7km the snaking series of switchback will lift me around 600m out of the river valley, joining back up to the main pass whose tunnels I had chosen to avoid. Oddly though, it turns out utterly different to what I am expecting. I wish I could remember what formula of snacks and drinks I’d had back in Landeck, but combined with a few Haribo and the sports juice in my back pocket from nowhere my legs remember how to climb. The road is so quiet I can remember every vehicle that passed me – one coach, one truck, and one SUV all going up, and one other SUV coming down. Those aside, it’s just me and the road, twisting slowly upward through each hairpin. Maybe it’s the utter peace of it, or the never unmanageble gradient but I rediscover my natural rhythmn – alternating periods of sitting spinning at high cadence, and standing not exactly dancing on the pedals but light enough I’m not pounding them either. My spirits lift as I round each dogleg – the newfound energy making a section I had been dreading into one of my favourite parts of the day. Just one steep corner and a bank that follows sees me hop off and walk for a stretch, but it’s so short as to take nothing away from the joy of climbing up into the night which seems to have fallen almost unnoticed across the hillside above.

At the top I am unexpectedly looking down on the town of Nauders. For some reason I expected the hill to finish in the town streets. It’s far enough down that I put my jacket back on. With the labour of the climb I am completely drenched in sweat and the descent is going to be rapid enough to chill me right through. With plenty of time in hand against the arrival I had given to the hotel it’d be silly to arrive hypothermic, especially since by now I am sure the restaurant will be closed, so dinner will be whatever snacks I have left.

194km – Hotel Erika, Nauders – 20:50, 31 July 2022 (1,649KM total)

As I check in the receptionist seems curious about my arrival time. I mention a little about TCR and comment about how stiff the hill up from Martina was on tired legs. She replies with a comment which will never leave me.

That’s not a hill, it’s a mountain

Having made a decent attempt on it, I’ll take that.

As expected, I am out of luck for dinner, and for getting the bike into my room, but there is an indoor storage room. I wheel my back down the ramp and, with some help from a couple of guys working on rental bikes at the bottom, managed to get my room key to operate the outer door. This is clearly a winter hotel when the bike room resumes it’s original role as a ski and boot room. The bike racks are not set out for loaded touring bikes so, rather than risk damaging my rig I simply prop it against the wall. The guys re-assure me mine will be the last bike to arrive tonight.

The receptionist had understood my message on the packed breakfast and it’s waiting for me when I emerge from the basement. Short on hands, I drop my gear up in the room and come back to fetch it and a beer from the bar, which has not closed luckily. There’s so much food in the pack that my dinner ends up being more than just muesli bars. Sat up in bed I reflect on the day. The distance and endpoint are pretty much bang on what I was hoping for. I make a decision to adjust tomorrow’s initial route on the fly though. Nervous of the main road, I’d routed on somewhat dubious paths to the right side of the pair of lakes at the top. But the time I leave I doubt will see much traffic volume on the main pass (which I now know is the Reschen Pass). Plus there look to be stretches of cycle path option. Glancing quickly on the tracker page shows that many other riders have stayed left around the lake, which confirms my thinking. It’s still around 40km to the foot of Umbrai Pass, so a faster road at the start will be no bad thing.

The last thing I remember before sleep claims me is spotting that Su (cap #40) appears to be stoped at a hotel nearby. I haven’t seen her in days but it seems we’re still tracking close to each other.

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