Three weeks ago when we embarked on this bike trip through the Alps we hadn't seen a change in the weather around Rome since May. Not a drop of rain for months. As the sun was doing its best to scorch the landscape, every day was starting to feel more like Groundhogs Day. All the long-term forecasts showed nothing but a bright yellow icon for the duration of each report. We weren't asking for much, just a small change to mix up the increasing summer heat. We should have probably been more careful with what we wished for.
With Rome burning, we arrived in the Alps and quickly traded drought conditions for monsoon flooding. Pulling into camp on the trip's first night the dizzle had started with some welcome relief. With our spirits running high we could'nt be bothered with a little rain. Little did we know that this was just the start of our journey through the great Alps Monsson of 2017.
The first stop of the trip would be Saalbach-Hinterglemm in the Pinzgau region of Austria. The Saalbach Valley is incredibly beautiful and perfect for mountain biking. Throughout the summer months, the surrounding ski areas keep a few lifts running for mountain bikers. As we spend more time riding in Europe I'm finding my attitude against using chair lifts for mountain biking is quickly changing. I really like having that initial bump up the hill to start your rides versus a potential slog up a paved or gravel road. We're finding that even with the help of lits we still get the exercise or should I say beating, we want.
With this being our first-day riding we wanted to settle in and do as much riding as possible but also ride without too much navigation work. The Hacklberg trail had been recommended as a must-do so we easily found the trail and set off for the day. The Hacklberg is a great enduro trail with a few freeriding sections sprinkled in along the way. This trail was also in perfect condition. The hero dirt was such a great change from the loose rock we'd been riding in Italy. At the bottom of our first lap, I felt a small wobble in my rear tire which turned into a pretty big wobble upon actually looking back at the rear of the bike. On the way down I had hit a sharp rock and heard that familiar sound of what usually means a flat tire. But the tire stayed inflated and I continued to ride. It wasn't until we're off the trail that I really noticed the shake and that I had lost some pressure in the tire. Long story, short. I had flattened a small section of the rim on the rock and would need a new rim to entirely stop the wobbly tire. With a quick stop at a bike shop, a service bro was nice enough to work his wizardry on the tire so I could continue riding until I found a replacement.
Following a fantastic day of riding, there is nothing better than a Dorf Fest! Making our way back to our campsite we stopped for a taste of a local festival complete with Beer Garden, Umpah Band, Crossbow shooting, and delicious Austrian fare. The beer was cold and the perfect complement to our 5 lb. pork shank with roasted potatoes, kraut, and fresh horseradish. We were sliding into this vacation thing quite nicely.
Over the next few days in Saalbach, we had some incredible rides while dodging the daily deluges of rain and hale. The long, rugged, technical Wüstlau Trail off of the Kitzsteinhorn was an early challenge and sign of things to come. After a day of torrential rain and a trip to get a new rim in Germany, we rode from Saalbach to the neighboring town of Leogang and back. Even after days of rain, this heavily rooted trail was super fun.
While the rest of Europe seemed to be suffering from an apparent heat wave, Austria was experiencing heavy rain throughout all of its mountain regions. Or at least where we wanted to ride bikes. Planning the next stop simply came down to who had the smallest probability of rain. Innsbruck was the big winner with only an 80% chance of rain for the next three days. We were off to "Bike City".
We made our way through the morning deluge of rain and hail with hopes of finding a bicycle shop able to swap out my rims. With no plans to ride in the rain we made our way around Bike City searching for that perfect shop. After two shops told me they'd have to send the wheel away to another shop and the process would take up to a week, I grew confused in how Bike City got its name.
Over lunch, we looked a bit deeper into our beta on Innsbruck and found that the trails in the area are illegally built on private property. And, that Bike City was really just an idea for the future of mountain biking in the area. Don't believe the hype!!! We finished our tacos and burrito and made a B-Line for Solden. Even when you haven't had Mexican food in months and someone tells you there's a great burrito joint in Bike City....Don't belive the hype.
During the summer months throughout Europe finding camping can be a big challenge. Most camping is restricted to campgrounds and quickly becomes full of RV's and trailers. Arriving at a campground in a torrential downpour with nothing but rain in forecast greatly increases your chances of finding that perfect tent site. Solden was our big chance to get that site and we did. With plenty of space and hopes of great views, we set up camp as the current sucker hole past overhead.
Overnight the rain had seemed to let up and the morning forecast was showing a good portion of the day staying free of rain. LET'S RIDE! Solden is a popular winter resort and even with its winter popularity, the summer seemed low-key compared to what my imagination thinks the winter looks like. The concentration of Apres-ski bars and strip clubs along this four blocks of Austrian hamlet can only lead one to believe this place gets rowdy when the snow falls. We're here for a good time but we'll keep it to mountain biking.
Solden was RAD! We thoroughly enjoyed our time here. The network of trails outside the ski area is well-organized and offer exciting and challenging long descents. Not to mention the vistas of the surrounding Tyrol Mountains are amazing. The Bike Republik treated us well for three days and we couldn't believe how much fun we had on Solden's wide variety of man-made trails. The creativity in the construction of these trails offers a lot of flavors throughout the entire ride. I felt I could have ridden our three favorite trails for days before I'd lose interest.
Our time in Solden was our the best weather of the trip. Overnight the weather forecast improved and stuck to textbook summertime weather in the mountains for three days. Warm, sunny days and afternoon you call-its. Our last night in town turned clear and cold and we're very thankful for the warm and sunny morning to dry off the last of our wet gear before heading back into Hit or Miss forecasts.
Pulling into Nauders under the now too familiar deep gray and black sky that threatens a torrential rainfall or two, we still hadn't secured our lodging for the evening. Passing on our first choice for camping, denied at our second and third choices(both in Itlay), we decided to hit the confirm button on the hotel.com app. The next storm had just started letting loose as we checked in with Walter at Alberts Heimatglück.
The rain kept up all night and even with the sun shining the next morning the trails were expected to stay damp most of the day. Since this area of Austria shares borders with Switzerland and Italy their classic bike tour was a 40+ Km enduro ride through all three countries. The tour passes through four different ski areas in the area and allows you to use one single pass for all the required lifts to complete the 3 Lander Enduro trails. The area sweetens the deal if you stay at a local hotel which makes your all-day pass only 10 euro.
With the weather being a huge factor in how long we'd be able to ride in any one area we decided to give the 3 Lander a shot right off the bat. Our route starts off in Austria, traverses across treeline into Italy, around tank barriers, descends to a beautiful lake where you catch another bump, ride to another lift before riding back along the opposite side of the valley into Switzerland before you descend back into Austria. Somewhere towards the end you stop and refuel at a restaurant with a beautiful bird's eye view of your last four hours of riding.
This tour is a must if you're ever in the area. Being almost 90 percent forested singletrack the trails are fast, rooted, steep, and offer plenty to keep you honest. For some added adventure please ride these trails after significant rainfall. We pushed ourselves a bit to ride 40 km but it was worth every minute. Even after being a little whipped we rallied the following day to ride the area trails we had skipped. I can't even guess how many variations of these trails one could find themselves lost on but Reschen Pass has a great thing going and I'll be anxious to see what they develop here in the next few years.
The next plan was to drive over the pass into Italy and stay in Latsch where we'd stay the night and ride the areas trails the next day. As we approached Latsch we noticed a few signs with orange reflective tape crossing out the names of towns that seemed to be on the way to Livigno. Our purposed next stop after Latsch. No big deal, we'll figure it out tomorrow. We needed to find camping for the night and hit up a couple bike shops to get some more specific info on the trails. We stopped by one campground, called a few others and for some reason beyond our comprehension, everyone was booked for the night. Maybe we're missing something, we found a local bike shop and struck up a conversation with the guy behind the counter about the local trails and maybe another camping option. He was super helpful. His lack of interest, beta, charisma, and overall shitty demeanor made it real easy in helping us decide to blow this joint and head for Livigno tonight.
A great hunger was setting in on us both. A quick stop at the supermarket for some sandwich fixings would save our trip from turning into a snarky, quiet, slog to Livigno. Making our way back onto the route over to Livigno the signs with the crossed orange tape started appearing again. The roads to Livigno can't be closed, can they? Of course not, the roads were not closed but the easiest route over to Livigno from this area was. We'd either have to wait two more hours for the road to reopen, drive back to Nauders and start from there or drive over the 3000 meter Stelvio Pass. Stelvio Pass is an impressive road with magnificent views of the glaciated alpine terrain of the Tyrol. I didn't see a lot of the surroundings. The ascent through the 48 hairpin switchbacks kept me gripped to the wheel the whole way up. Every turn was a two-person process, Heidi would have to look up each turn to clear us of any oncoming traffic while I tried to keep the van in motion up the mountain. Slow and easy. Our map app kept recalibrating our arrival time thinking we had somehow hit traffic on this high mountain pass. Finally making the summit was a huge relief. The descent down the Bormio side was a breeze and put Livigno in reach before the sun set.
Being back in Livigno, somewhere a little more familiar, gave us a nice recharge. The forecast looked somewhat rain-free for the next couple of days adding another boost to our energy level. We'd ride some familiar trails on day one. One of which we've now coined a favorite "all-around" ride because it has a bit of everything we like in riding a mountain bike. Fun trails, good views, and food.
For day two we'd ride an unfamiliar trial that was incredibly beautiful, incredibly fun, and incredibly longer than we expected. We got worked. A burger, fries, maybe even a milkshake was in our future. I named that ride Why Not? after the burger joint in Livigno. They have great burgers, all we could think about was how good this meal was going to be. But like us, they apparently needed a rest too. The sign read: Closed today for some rest. See ya tomorrow! Damn you WhyNot!!!!!!!
Our last day in Livigno we'd take it a bit easier and buy a one-way trip to the top and take the longest route down we could find. Strategically finding a place to stop and grab a drink and a snack would help with extending our ride time. Causally arriving into town we made a quick stop at the supermarket and another at the salon so I could my hairs did. It was going to be a casual evening around camp because tomorrow we'd be on the road again with Garmisch, Germany in our sights.
Oblivious to how much riding we'd find near Garmisch we just focused on camping and figured the riding would fall into place. We found a great campsite just outside Garmisch with big sites and great views. Having arrived early we unpacked the bikes and rode into town for a taste of life in Garmisch.
Garmisch is much bigger than I expected but it still held the vibe of a mountain town. The picturesque mountains surrounding the town would appeal to any outdoor junky. With trams and gondolas stretched to the highest and most rugged peaks around one could assume that the area would be full of bike trails. We learned pretty quickly that Garmisch wasn't so mountain bike friendly. The town is at this time, focused on keeping hikers and animals safe of bikers in the surrounding wilderness. Not completely surprised by this news we dug a little deeper and found an exciting ride from Lermoos for the next day.
The Lermoos ride would take us from the high alpine to the valley floor along trails that were greatly varied from one section to the next. Most were rugged and covered with loose rock. These trials would normally call for functional brakes on your bicycle. At some point in the ride (the beginning) Heidi's rear brake sounded a little rough. I had replaced Heidi's brake pads before the trip and thought the pads couldn't have worn down that quickly. When we finished the day of riding I examined the brakes with hopes of finding the issue. Maybe some mud or a small rock? It ended up being a really easy problem to diagnose. Heidi had ridden the entire day without any rear brakes. The material on the pads had probably worn off days ago, allowing the pads time to create these really cool engravings on her rotor. My Bad! Luckily I had a couple days off in Munich to find some replacement parts.
For the last week of the trip, we'd have our good friend Amy joining us. With her arriving in Munich it gave us some time to do some drying out, cleaning, and reorganizing before the last leg of the trip. Our afternoon was free so we jumped on a train to the city center for some beer and pretzels. Our first stop at the Hoffbrau House for a ceremonial liter of beer and polka music was a hoot. I'm pretty sure Germans like beer more than anyone in the world. Correctly deciding one liter was enough for this visit we walked through town to find some more culture. We wondered on to find some great musical street performances which somehow lead us to a small music festival. We stayed for a beer to see how the band played. They had a unique sound so we stayed for two beers. We called it a night and jumped on the metro for home.
Amy arrived early the next morning feeling like everyone does after a ten hour on a jet. Wanting to jump in the van and drive a few more hours. Amy didn't skip a beat. We threw her gear in the van and took off. Sitting three abreast in the front seat of the van we made the move towards Switzerland. With plenty of catching up to do with Amy, the drive to Arosa was a breeze. We'd plan to camp two nights here in Arosa, then move over to Lenzerheide for a day or two before ending the trip in Davos. The view from camp our first day was amazing but the view didn't last very long.
Broken clouds had moved in overnight so we made plans to get in our activities early. Amy would hike from the bottom up one drainage towards the summit where we'd plan to cross paths on our way down. For that to happen, I had to replace two brake rotors, four sets of brake pads, and loose my shit on a bent derailer hanger. Then...we could ride to the top (very quietly) and wait an hour for the next tram to come across the valley. Our timing wasn't perfect but we had a great ride down a beautiful alpine valley. Even the downpour through the last half of the ride couldn't keep us down. We're lucky the rain wasn't snow. A warm lunch at the top of the mountain was just what we needed. Afer lunch I'd try to find a different route off the hill while the ladies casually took the warm tram down. A dense fog layer would try to sway me from riding yet another great alpine trail. Definitely one of my favorite segments for the trip. Riding with just enough visibility inside the cloud to see ahead on the trail made for an eerie mood. When a gap in the fog allowed me to see my surroundings I pumped the brakes. Any stupid mistake on the ridgeline causing you to veer off trail would be costly. Somehow making all the right zigs, zags, and fades I found the mid station with a huge smile on my face. We only had a short day in Arosa but the trails we rode were superb. With Arosa being connected to Lenzerheide the options seem endless for bikers. A return trip here is almost certain.
Our second night in Arosa was a doozy. The heavy rain and hail started at dinner while the thunderstorms found their rhythm around bedtime. The storm path was now directly over our narrow valley and would stay here to unleash waves of light and ground shaking thunder until dawn. Feeling it was it safe to emerge from our tents we quickly broke down camp and stuffed our pool toys in the van. The cascade of rain water running through our campsite would do most of the explaining for the soaked sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and blankets.
The storm had lost all its mojo overnight. On our drive over to Davos, the clouds had started giving way to the sun and blue sky. With a sunny forecast for Davos and plenty of time to get in a full day of fun, we'd choose our own adventure for activity time. Amy chose to hit the trails by foot again while Heidi and I took off to squeeze in an IMBA Epic ride. Thanks for the recommendation Tom! We gave it a good shot but couldn't squeeze the entire tour in on our first go. What we did find was something rare. This trail is truly an epic mountain bike ride. Best singletrack I've ridden in Europe. The bike trail system is enormous and linked with fantastic public transportation, Davos ranks high on the list of favorites.
The last morning in Davos we'd all squeeze in another quick adventure before setting out for Solden. The next storm was to arrive that afternoon with a possibility of some snow so we hurried over the connecting pass while the weather held off. As we pulled off of the highway towards Solden the skies opened up. The river and creeks were already at capacity and the rain just kept dumping. The countless waterfalls we'd missed on our first trip here were in full cascade. The water was shooting out and over these rock walls from every possible drainage. Seeing the watershed so full was impressive and scary altogether.
The result of weeks or rain was starting to show in the mountains too. Pieces of over saturated mud and dirt were peeling away from steep slopes. With only one trail open due to the rain, I got in some hot laps while the girls found their way to the top in the fog hoping for a clear view above the clouds. No luck. Just mist and mud.
After Solden our outdoor plans were over for the trip. The forecast was, blah, blah, blah so we'd head to Garmisch to see what we could find. We found a completely booked city and my bad attitude. I'm not sure how we pulled it together to make the decision to just head for Munich but it worked. We'd spend our last two days eating well and being tourists before we all departed on Sunday. We love you, Brummer!
If you have read this post to this point I thank and applaud you. This turned into a monster post and I now regret that I didn't update more often throughout our trip. If you'd like more details about any of the areas we visited please don't hesitate to shoot me an email. You can also click on the Strava icon on our main page for maps and stats on all of our rides. This trip through the eastern Alps was killer. Discovering new places to ride was the goal and I think we've found a few places to keep us busy in the future.