First my video:
Lightning strike! One-two-three-four thunder!!! The thunderstorm is 1200m away. The next lightning could strike in close proximity. That lightnings do not choose cyclists – a fairy tale. It has only 4° Celsius. And I am wet to the skin. And I’m going faster once agaian. I have to reach the building before the next flash. In front of it are two fully loaded racing bikes. Through the shod window I can see two waving figures. I quickly park my bike. The room is cosy and warm. I join Brian and Pieter, they have the same goal. How could I put myself in such a situation again? Normally one is not on the way to the Ordino Arcalis in the Andorran Pyrenees in such weather. We – where is Hermann? still have to go all the way up. The Arcalis is the third checkpoint of the Three Peaks Bike Race. Organized by Michael W. (=Adventure Bike Racing).
The long distance bike race leads from Vienna to Barcelona. This year about 100 crazy people accepted this challenge to cover the 2100 kilometers in as short a time as possible. The best route can be chosen by the participants themselves. The first condition is to drive to three check points:
Peak 1: Stilfser Joch at the border South Tyrol/ Lombardy
Peak 2: Colle delle Finestre in the Susa Valley near Turin
Peak 3: Ordino Arcalis in Andorra
And here I am. Hermann comes too. Fortunately. We leave again, because it has been quiet for a while. Only the rain is still pelting down the asphalt. In front of us lie about 200 meters of altitude difference and 12 hairpin bends. Thunder rumbles in the distance. The thunderstorm moves back and forth. It can break at any time over us again. I accelerate. No more shelters in sight. I leave the men far behind me. My thoughts are in the here and now. What comes afterwards is faded out. And finally up! Saved! Photo and into the restaurant.
I would like to push the following departure as far away from me as possible. It still pours at plus four degrees. We are completely soaked. Others are even worse off. Brian had a flat tire on the way. With his clammy hands he hardly manages to operate the air pump. At these temperatures you cool down immediately when you’re not moving. How am I supposed to survive the 20km long descent? I have a glorious idea: Cut up the rescue blanket and wrap aluminium foil strips around the body parts. And pull everything over it that can be found in the pannier. Nevertheless, I clatter my teeth, tremble my whole body and hardly manage to hold the bike steady – the trembling is transmitted to the handlebars.
I have to grin. A ride of contrasts: What was it like the day before? The Avignon-Nîmes-Montpellier route in the midday heat. About 40° blazing heat. I ask again and again that soon a fountain appears. For a few kilometres it is more bearable to cycle through the wide plains. Until the clothes are dry again …
Distraction by the power of thought, I have to laugh again, although the situation was dead serious.
In order to escape the extreme heat, we had the idea to use the variant „sea“. So we follow the loaded route. After about 15km we were banned from cycling. That can’t be, can it? What now? Back the whole way? No! Komoot proposed the line. The road seems to be relatively new. Pretend as if we haven’t seen the sign? A few kilometers further on our road leads into another one. Cars rush by. We wait for a good moment and cross the road. And are helpless. Where did we land? Suddenly it becomes clear to us: an expressway. To go back is now no longer an option to cross too dangerous again. We push our bikes along the roadside. When will the police show up? Informed by worried drivers? „Cyclists sighted on the highway …“ How do you think we’ll get out of this hair-raising situation? A gravel road leads into the expressway not far away. Saved. The path leads us to our cycle path. The luck was probably bigger than the mind …
And so began the journey of contrasts. With some wrong decisions …
Vienna, 19.07.19 My bike is fully loaded. So much stuff … Can’t you still optimize something in terms of weight? I consult the weather forecast for the umpteenth time and compare the forecasts of the different weather websites. The weather promises to stay good. So out with rain trousers, helmet rain protection, warm long-sleeved sweater. Also a second set of sleeves and leg warmers have to be taken out, also the light down wind jacket. Now the bag is easier to close. I am proud of my decision. Hermann had already smiled at me before that I – typically a woman – carried far too much stuff with me.
After the preparations for the start at Café Velobis, I’m off. In the afternoon at four Michael gives us the OK to start. We want to drive through the night. First it goes slightly cropped through the Vienna Woods, past Sankt Pölten, Amstetten, Ybbs. We had decided to follow cycle paths if possible. Some unpleasant routes slowed down our average speed. But better than car traffic. Before Linz we went through the hinterland instead of the Danube cycle path. Kilometers could be saved in such a way, however, we did not count on the fact that it went up and down infinitely. The detailed planning had probably not been so careful after all. At Enns we treat ourselves to a noble meal in the restaurant. Then further through the darkness. From time to time we meet packed cyclists. Where do they want to go? You don’t have to ask at this time of day …
In the distance constantly weather lights. Something is brewing. And at some point I hear the first thunder. Once again we are on a cycle path, which would be more suitable for MTB. Puddles everywhere, torn leaves and twigs. And then suddenly there is no progress. A huge tree lies across the way. The thunderstorm before us had probably raged quite beautifully. Somehow we manage to climb through the dense branches with our bikes.
Slowly it’s getting light again. The weather doesn’t seem so bad. But we move towards a dense cloud layer. Kilometers before Salzburg – first raindrops. Now is probably the time to put on our rain gear. Rain? But the weather forecast had not predicted that. And what kind of rainwear? Apart from the rain jacket I had nothing. My husband, on the other hand, is fine: rain trousers, helmet protection, long gloves … I continue, completely soaked within a short time. Five hours in the rain. We meet Sonia from Spain, she is just as scantily equipped as I am. The following route is also terrible from a traffic point of view. The Loferer main road. Since parts of the road are closed, all the traffic from Bad Reichenhall rolls over the Thumsee. Only from Sankt Johann it is quieter again – on the cycle path. In the evening we reach Innsbruck via the Inntal cycle path. Actually we had expected to reach Landeck by the evening. The rain trip had postponed our detailed planning right on the first day. Until the end of the tour we will always follow the planning for a few hours.
In Pettnau we will be accommodated in a very simple hotel. The most expensive on the whole trip. Unfortunately there is no shampoo for showering. I didn’t expect that, because unfortunately I didn’t have something like that in my pannier. After four hours of sleep we set off again. It goes on the beautiful cycle path through the Oberinntal, at the Kajetanbrücke to Martina and further to Nauders and to the Reschensee. A rapid descent to Prad and we are already before the first serious ascent: the Stilfser Joch. In the worst midday heat. So we don’t make the 48 hairpin bends in record time, but the spectacular views distract us and after almost four hours we are up. Shortly before Michael surprises us for the photo session. We want to pass Bormio and look for a place to sleep somewhere towards Lake Como. The original plan to get to the beginning of Lake Como, let alone to Como, had been broken for a long time. In Tirano we find accommodation in the Hotel Corona. We decide to have a snack in the neighbouring bar. And what a surprise: There are two packed bikes in front of it – Frank and Malte sit in it with Cola and Foccaccia. In a cheerful round we finish the evening. In the morning the surprise: We can’t get out of the hotel. Elevator and door to the exit do not work. We squeeze through a hotel window. The next shock: The gate to the garage seems to be there. A shake at it … luckily only leaned against.
The continuation of the journey in the dark is quite mystical. It goes along the Valtellina cycle path. All kinds of animals cross our way. Frightened – on both sides. Sometime in the pitch dark a noise. A cyclist and another … dark skin colour and no light. Those are probably „fare dodgers“ in the double sense.
Lake Como is reached at dawn. The continuation of the journey along the western shore is criminal. The road is relatively narrow, there is no side strip, but a lot of trucks that push past us without braking. At noon Como is reached. After a supermarket break we continue in the blazing heat.
Suddenly a group of red and white dressed cyclists overtakes us. And then another group. It doesn’t stop. There must be a nest somewhere … I’m chatting with a rider. They are from Hall in Tyrol and on their way to St. Tropez. They want to see the Tour de France on the way.
Later it turns out that I had talked to Kurt Matzler (He’s a multiple RAAM finisher). What a coincidence.
The traffic is partly horrendous. I am relieved when it goes again on a cycle path. Too early pleased. The route along the river Olona along an old railway line is beautiful, but not very suitable for our racing bikes. And we don’t find an alternative route that fast. At Busto Arsizio I have to ride back three kilometres because Hermann has a flat tire and needs a pocket knife that I carry with me. Hmmhmmm.
Before Novara the medieval Castello Sforzesco in Galliate is worth seeing.
Vercelli. Chivasso. Settimo Torinese. The road runs endlessly through rice fields. There is a lot of traffic. I am bored. I begin to invent a game that will pass my time on all the busy roads and distract me from my fear of getting under the wheels of any truck or other vehicle. A heavy vehicle is approaching? Can I read from the sound whether it has one or even two trailers? Or for smaller road users … does the sound say something about the colour? Hahahaaa … What fantasies! Or: If five white cars in a row drive past me, we’ll find a pretty hotel. Or …
After Turin we start with a pizza and the search for a hostel. Instead of Bussoleno as planned or even after the Colle delle Finestre (we already had the discussion), time is running short to Turin, at the entrance of the Susa valley. We’ll find what we’re looking for soon. The Agriturismo „La Sforzata“. A wonderful ensemble. A converted and very modern „fienile“. The innkeepers welcome us very friendly despite late hour. The breakfast is fabulous. One should come here with more time to enjoy.
Early at five o’clock we roll over the Susa valley. Then it gets serious. The ramp to Colle delle Finestre has 16%. Ouch! Over the following infinitely many hairpin bends it goes more comfortably. Then gravel road over several kilometers. The road demands full concentration. Not only once it throws me off my bike, when the wheels have drilled a pile of stones again. Sometime then we are on top of our peak 2nd fine descent, stop for Foccaccia and Cola. I don’t have the further route in my head. And I am unpleasantly surprised. In the midday heat another mountain follows. To Sestriere. Then descent to Cesana Torinese and another mountain. From a distance I can already see the road winding up the slope and galleries can be seen. The ascent is surprisingly pleasant, as there is a tunnel for the cyclists. Soon Mongenèvre is reached. Boulangerie break. Departure to Briancon. A long way towards Embrun we continue on a busy road. Fortunately there is a relatively wide side strip. In the distance a thunderstorm is brewing. The route leads us over a cycle path. We have to wait for the worst in a bus house. Then we choose a route along a cycle path. The sounding name „les balcons de la durance“ promises some altitude meters
again. I’m afraid of the lightning. Embrun is reached, we still find an open supermarket. Now it is time to look for accommodation again. But no chance. The crowds in the village, cars with inscriptions of television stations let us guess. The Tour de France has reached us. In the afternoon the baggage had arrived in Gap. Embrun should be passed the next day by the tour. The inquiry in some hotels lets our suspicion become the certainty. We have to go on without having found nothing. We meet Rinaldo Toson, whose team partner dropped out.
We drive together into the twilight. I am looking for a possibility to make a camp for the night. We don’t even have minimal equipment. That could be cheerful. I am always overtired. In the last nights we didn’t get much sleep. At the roadside stubble fields offer themselves, probably few pleasantly. Parks pass by in bright spotlights, also not very inviting. Nothing for miles nothing nothing nothing. There! a small park next to a church, bushes, a small lawn. How about that? Shortly determined we unfold our emergency blankets and wrap ourselves in the crackling aluminium foil. It shivers me soon sometimes, because an unpleasantly cool breeze blows again and again by my aluminum cover. Two hours, then it goes on.
Soon we have to decide: either the Durance valley further on, 30 km more, but hardly any vertical meters or right and through the hilly Luberon National Park. We decide for the latter. The landscape in the dark can only be dreamed of. Dreaming? The tiredness catches up with me. A little wall has to serve as a bed. In the darkness strange noises. Something gallops past. We move on. Fragrances blow around us. What is that? In the twilight I can see it: Lavender fields. Oh yes, we are in Provence. A next ascent. I am so sleepy again. I suddenly have the feeling that I was dreaming something. A nodding attack? We reach the hill of the Col de l’Homme Mort. If I can’t close my eyes before the descent, then the pass will have to be renamed Col de la Femme Mort …
On the way we suddenly see a high white mountain in front of our eyes. Wouw! The Mont Ventoux. The „giant of Provence“ has a great importance in cycling and belongs with the Col du Galibier, the Col du Tourmalet and the ascent to L’Alpe d’Huez to the „holy mountains“ of the France tour. Fortunately we don’t have to go up there.
In Sault we do what I had expected for a long time: Hermann and I lose each other. Sometimes this happens just a few meters away from the front door … Fortunately there is a mobile phone and reception. Unfortunately Hermann has to drive back a few kilometers and meters in altitude for breakfast with Gabi.
Afterwards it goes along at the foot of the Ventoux. „Route fermée“! Where should we go now, when the road is closed? Some cyclists coming from the other direction give the all-clear. One gets through well. But how … The road is covered with fine gravel for umpteen kilometers. That means fully concentrated driving at almost walking pace. And it gets hotter and hotter. Finally we reach a normal road again and a village. It is unbearably hot. We leave Avignon with its wonderful scenery behind us. The rest of the day we will climb from well to well and the episode „Sea“ awaits us. We will have a good night’s sleep after our adventurous sea journey and the following cycle path odyssey. Hermann has arranged a hotel in Sète at the Etang Thau. „Only“ another 40 km separate us from our bed. We should be there until 22 o’clock. At sunset the cycle path is populated by hundreds of bathers who want to go home and by us. Getting through difficult. Slow riding also means becoming a victim of millions of hungry mosquitoes. I get stressed. We’ll never manage that in time. When Hermann waits for me sometimes, we get in each other’s hair for the only time on the long journey. I grumble that he shouldn’t wait but drive ahead to the hotel, I could find my way alone with my GPS. My team partner leaves angrily. When I reach Sète, I wander through the streets for a long time. With Google Maps I am probably at war. It leads me again and again cross and cross. Only when I ask myself with hands and feet with the passers-by, I land at the right address. The woman at the reception had been so nice to wait almost an hour for us.
Again it goes on early in the morning. The Catalan Pyrenean foothills lie before us. Along the river La Têt follows the last long ascent before Andorra. A spectacular railway line also runs through the valley, jokingly called the „Pyreneenmetro“. Passing high monasteries and picturesque villages I am so distracted that I don’t even notice that we are driving in the direction of a lead-black cloud wall. And already it starts to rain. Once again I am with my poor equipment, and a cold biting wind starts to cool us down quickly. I begin to worry slowly, then apart from the fact that we are already very late again for an accommodation, Hermann has researched in the meantime that it would rain the whole next day. Our ascent to Arcalis in the rain? What will the temperature be like at over 2000m above sea level? Will this be a DNF?
In La Seu d`Urgell we find accommodation in the Hotel Nice. At night it was raining, but in the early morning at our departure it does not look so bad. Soon we cross the border to Andorra. In Andorra la Vella at 6 o’clock in the morning all hell breaks loose. All the young people of the area still seem to be on their feet. We don’t find the right way. In front of the tunnel portal a prohibition sign for wheels. We now react sensitively to prohibition signs. So we go back and on to the other tunnel. Also here a prohibition sign. Perplexity. What to do? The cycle path stops here … That means that cyclists will be able to continue here, won’t they? We dive into the tunnel. It is at least three kilometers long. The bad conscience becomes weaker and weaker, no car far and wide. On the way to Ordino the sky gets darker and darker. And the first raindrops fall. In the distance it rumbles … you already read at the beginning how it continues from now on…
After the Arcalis bad weather adventure, the weather got better and better as we drove further south. And when the sun came out it was as hot as ever. Behind us the clouds piled up and in front of us the blue sky. Landscape beautifully and with relatively little traffic it went along the Oliana dam. The turn-off towards Solsona brought a difficult gradient. In the village we wanted to have a break at the supermarket. And that was super planned, because exactly with reaching the village a cloud front had brewed behind us and a strong thunderstorm started. But the spook was soon over and we could continue to Manresa. There began the last stage and this was given by the organizer. But in constant ups and downs the penultimate part of the route is still quite long. At dusk we reach the foot of the Monserrat mountains. A wonderful spectacle offers itself to us. And full of high feelings to have only 88 kilometres to go to the destination it doesn’t bother us at the moment to drive sleepless into the night. The views to the huge rocks are too beautiful. First signs of fatigue follow on the descent to Monistrol de Monserrat. And the following ascent doesn’t seem to want to end. What worries me most is the coming descent. As soon as the legs don’t pedal anymore, the danger of a second sleep is great. In Terrassa at the foot of the mountain we take a short break. As soon as Hermann has laid down for a mini-break, I was still „nesting around“ in my luggage, when two cyclists come along the way. It is Philipp with a friend cyclist, who lives in Barcelona. We join them, glad that someone leads us through the big city streets. Driving through the countless roundabouts and traffic light regulations would have totally overwhelmed me. The last mountain, the landmark of Barcelona, the Tibidabo, was quickly climbed. A dream view to the city at night rewards us for all our privations during the last seven days. A stone’s throw to the finish under the Arc de Triomf. Michael W. from Adventure Bike Racing awaits us with a cool beer for the photo session. A super nice event is already over. Thank you Michael!
Thanks to my „better half“ Hermann, that I can make these crazy things with him.
Thanks also to all cyclists. It was as always nice to meet new people who have the same passion. A chat here and there (sometimes with the help of hands and feet – which is difficult during cycling …) showed me once again that it’s time to learn English better … that’s probably for me the bigger hurdle than 2000 kilometers by bike …
(Proofreader: Katy Leitner)