Push up, roll down
After leaving Berchtesgaden and our Warmshowers hosts we cycled back towards river Salzach and Alpe Adria. It had been raining since we got out of bed and we finally got to put our clothes and equipment up to test against the rain. Of course, the Ortlieb bags were 100% waterproof as advertised, so were all of our clothing except one vital part – the gloves. They soaked up water like sponges and in 2-4 degrees our hands quickly turned rather uncomfortably cold.
We also learned it’s not very easy to find wild/hidden camping spots here among the gigantic mountains and steep slopes of Austria. After having looked for a place to sleep for two hours and the sun was slowly retreating we decided to try a guest house for one night. Unfortunately the only one within the nearest vicinity of us turned out to be closed specifically on Mondays as we arrived there. It was next to a hunting club/gun range where there were some people outside having a cigarette, so we asked them for advice and they told us the nearest village had guest houses and it’s a couple of kilometers away.
As we were cold and exhausted and didn’t have the will or energy to continue towards that village, we looked to our nearby surroundings for a place to pitch our tent. There happened to be a barn just right around the corner!
This old barn was completely dry, had a clean concrete floor and acted as a perfect shelter against the winds which where steadily increasing. We decided to camp here for the night, away from the icy rain. The only thing that didn’t dry during the night were our winter gloves which were still soaking wet and ice cold.
As we woke up the next morning it was still pouring down rain and we stayed in our sleeping bags until it was almost lunch time before finally biting the sour apple, rather unwillingly put on our wet gloves and continued on in the rain. In the closest village we quickly went to buy dish washing gloves to try to isolate our fingers from the cold gloves.
It worked quite well after some hours of cycling as we had to get the heat back into our hands first. We were really glad all of our other clothing was water proof and learned that it’s good to try all of your items before leaving.
Later in the evening we had the same problem as the day before, it was impossible to find somewhere to sleep. The past 3 hours had only been steep hills with only small houses and no shelter from trees. We were really beaten, cold and our moods were steadily dropping. We passed a few guest houses but opted out of staying there was they were 45€ per person and we would only get to stay there 10 hours before having to check out again.
After the final climb of the day, just before the downhill into the valley below, we arrived to a tunnel through the mountain where we saw an abandoned old side road following a cliff, so we decided to check it out in hope of finding somewhere to set up our tent. We actually found another perfect camping spot there! Abandoned construction site containers, protected against wind, rain and cold!
All of the containers were clean and empty and one even had a table and two chairs – so we decided it’d be our hotel for the night. The only downside being that they were on a slope but we could live with that for one night. This is the strangest place we’ve spent the night so far but it was great for our needs.
We slept really well that night and as we woke up the following morning we were welcomed by sunshine as we opened the container door. Finally – after 5 days of rain. So we moved the chairs outside and had breakfast in the sun before heading downhill into the beautiful and scenic Gastein Valley.
Our food supplies were now low and would only last us one more day, and of course we had forgotten that it was the first of May, so all supermarkets and shops were closed. So we cycled through the beautiful valley where we stopped to have lunch by a river, and later followed it towards Bad Gastein and the really tough climb up and through it, with slopes that couldn’t be cycled with our bikes.
So yet again we had to push our bikes for the third day in a row – a mental and physical game for our tired bodies. The city and buildings looked like straight out of a fairytale, with a big waterfall passing through in the middle of the city. The views overlooking the valley were amazing here. Thea doesn’t remember much as she unfortunately was too exhausted to think or bother with anything other than pushing her heavy bike up the hills. This place is definitively worth a visit, maybe just not with touring bikes, and perhaps a little later than the first of May as the weather shifts are constant.
With the road ending at 1200 meters over the sea level, surrounded by giant mountain tops stretching towards 3500 meters, we hopped on the transit train for cars and bicycles that would take us 8km to Mallnitz where we now would be able to ride downhill for 6.7 kilometers – a ten minute ride that even would brighten up Theas mood! We reached our speed record during this ride, 67 km/h, and our brakes were sizzling hot as we reached the bottom.
In the final etappe for us before Alpe Adria continued into Italy, and we were heading to Slovenia, we decided to take it slow and easy as it was only gentle downhills and flat roads. This was to match our arrival in Villach where we would take a long rest in a rented apartment after so many wet and cold days and brutal uphills.
We only really got to see and experience two etappes of Alpe Adria, 3 and 4, since during the first two days everything was covered in clouds. But the latter two parts we got to see were amazing and very rewarding. This route is ideal for bikepacking or credit card touring where you have light luggage and stay at guest houses, but not so much for loaded bicycles. It’s doable with touring bikes if you are crazy like us, or have really strong legs.
So after these tough weeks of constant weather and seasonal shifts our bodies and minds were both confused and exhausted. Ever since the start of this tour we’ve had a different season every other day – something you’d expect a Scandinavian to be used to. But when you’re outside almost 24 hours a day it’s entirely different, even for us.
From minus degrees in the night to 4 degrees and rain during the day, and the next day being 24 degrees, cloud free skies and no wind. Only for the coming day to be back to 4 degrees and rain. As of writing this on the 5th of May it’s actually snowing right now. But that’s our life and we just have to adapt to it. Luckily we’re inside now, warm and cozy! At least we know all of our stuff works as intended, with the exception of our winter gloves.
Since our arrival here in Villach we’ve also planned lightly for the coming week or two and decided to change our route a bit. Instead of cycling along the initially planned coast of Croatia and further south we are heading east towards Serbia. Still through parts of Slovenia and Croatia, just more towards Belgrade.
We’ve heard from other cyclists that the coast of Croatia is very hilly, windy, rocky and hard to wild camp but also not so nice traffic wise. We feel like we need a break from wind and climbing and chose the easier route this time around. We’ll get our fair share of mountains later in Turkey eventually!
All in all we are in good spirit after being “normal” for a couple of days in Villach, actually walking around with our legs and eating real food instead of the same pasta dish every night. We also got to catch up on Game of Thrones! But now we are looking forward to warmer, more stable weather.
Until next time!