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Day 18-Burgusio to Landeck-Austria

Resia pass

The room has no frills. A small writing table and chair. Eleven electric plugs in the space of three square meters to charge up all my appliances. Other than the battery, there is the phone, the camera, the laptop, two extra lights, and a little recharger for the phone.

Up the slope from Burgusio is the magnificent Marienburg Monastery. Incredible to see, the highest (altitude) Benedictine monastery in Europe. The library there has recently been rebuilt for the valuable book collection. Architecture and technology have come together here in a brilliant way, well worth a visit.

After a good German-style breakfast I set off … warily checking for the man.

The sky is royal blue but there is a strong head wind blasting over from Austria.

Lago del Muta Haidersee passes to my right. Then I cross over the wall of the next lake Reschensee. The water is all blustery with rows of white waves. The famous old church tower stands in the water. When the authorities built the hydroelectric dam, they were compelled to drown a large area including a couple of villages. They dismantled the church but left the tower which stands a forlorn memory to the past.

My smoothly tarred cycle track winds up to the high point of the Reschen/Resia pass at 1500 meters and then down into Austria. I’m quite sad to leave Italy. There are European Union flags proudly declaring peace and co-operation on either side of the hill. But also a Republik Österreich flag painted in red and white. A group of motorcyclists are taking selfies. The lovely track swoops down through curved meadows of flowers. Small groups of houses and farmsteads huddle fresh and white with darkly weathered wooden gables and steep slate roofs. Bright flowers hang in baskets below patterned window frames. Their facades a-swirl with painted scenes and figures. Roses spill over picket fences.

The exhilaration of swiftly going down the other side of a pass is incredible. You grow wings.

Then things get crazy. My kids would absolutely love going down a switchback road like this, dropping meters per second into a crack in the Earth excavated by the Inns river. Wild noise!!

At the bottom of the ravine, sheer cliffs on either side rise up so high you can’t see the tops. I cross over the bridge to the Swiss side of the river. My second international border of the day. A sign points left to “St. Moritz” but I follow the water. These fancy new polaroid glasses tend to enlarge things and make them more vivid, adding an astronautical dimension to the scene. Quite an overwhelming feeling of becoming a jellybean, a tiny bag of complexity wrapped in a very fine membrane balancing on a precarious instrument called a bicycle.

The river is a heavy raging torrent of deep white water that crashes off the staggering cliffs, thundering at immense boulders and ledges in a wash of foam. The sound magnitude of vibrating rocks and water is beyond hearing, you can feel the rumble in your chest. My claws cling to the handlebars as clouds of turbulent vapour blast me along.

Such real awesomeness that breaks open your brain to stuff it with the universe, and your heart forgets to beat in the face of raw power. The road draws on down the valley and the world begins to calm down.

People who make a living in these brutal mountains must be admired. As for the cows, they all have brass bells around their necks and graze on vertical banks of flowers. No wonder the milk is so sweet and fragrant.

There are quite a few other cyclists on the pass, mostly couples, some on e-bikes. Fleets of racers too, both men and women. I haven’t seen any solo female bikers since leaving Marino.

Landeck

Next stop, Landeck, where the Inns river merges with other catchment streams then snakes its way to Innsbruck. Simon had suggested I might stop at Landeck for lunch. But I cycle into town at 17:00 – with 85 kms on the screen, flat out exhausted. The wind pushed against me all day. What a beautiful ride, but the seat has left me wounded.

Found a hotel, Bruggner Stub’n, with a nice big room. Dinner and breakfast included. The manager is chatty and knowledgeable. He says I absolutely must take the train through the tunnel tomorrow. He worked on the QE2. I presume as a chef by the way he so lovingly talks about food. He gives me the choices on tonight’s dinner menu, and it takes less than a second to answer yes to most of it. So hungry, I go down to the dining-room as soon as the doors open at 18:00. I am the only guest, and my table is set for one. A blonde waitress brings soup, “Tafelspitz” she explains “beef broth with apple sauce, horseradish and chives”. It is delicious. but I manage just a few spoons and my appetite disappears. So strange.

Logistics status. haha.

Now that my first one thousand kms are done, I feel more qualified to tell you more about the body management.

At 7:00 I toss myself out of bed and put on my sometimes damp outfit which I always wash the night before. If I’m lucky there will be an egg at breakfast. Then quickly pack up all the paraphernalia, battery charges, laptop, diary etc. Everything goes into specific ziplock bags which makes less mess when you need to dig down in the pannier for something. The body is adapting to a clockwork toilet routine, for the first time in my entire life. That business is done at 7:30 just before setting off. For those who wanted to know what one does about a loo when you’re out there all day in the countryside. That worry seems to have taken care of itself. Squatting down in the bush hasn’t been necessary yet.

I have a stash of energy bars in the bag, and my water bottle is filled when I stop for lunch.

Most days at around mid-afternoon I stop to check my phone for a room on booking.com. I try to get the cheapest one with the best reviews and a lockup for my bike. Unfortunately, rates for a single room are almost the same price as a double room, and mostly they are double rooms anyhow. I prefer places recommended for their ‘especially clean rooms’ for obvious reasons. Most places in Europe have a bathroom with a hot shower, sheets, towels and little bottles of intensely fragrant shower gel. Most appreciated after a sweaty day.

I know some people think an e-bike is a scooter. You just sit on it and go places. That is half-true if you ride for a couple of hours with battery set on turbo. One must pedal to actually move forward. However, a fully loaded bike will soon run out of battery power and leave you struggling especially in the Alps. One has to be thrifty and use the lowest assistance possible at all times.

Shoes are important, and my Colombo hiking shoes have been very comfortable. They have cut-outs which allow air and sunlight in. The feet are tanned in giraffe-like spots. The nose is dangerous terracotta colour and the legs are shaping up a bit. I think.

Austrian food has nothing to do with Roman food. Animals and their milk appear in almost every dish here, while in Rome it’s all about tomatoes and olive oil. Sipping on a little glass of wine is a luxury I allow myself after all the bumping and steering and pedalling of the day. Pasta is the easiest thing to digest, can’t seem to manage a whole portion. Today for lunch I had half an energy bar and felt full.

Off to bed now, it’s 21:00. Simon says I must ride over The Arlberg pass tomorrow, “don’t take the train”. The pass is 1800m high. The sound of it gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’ll check the map in the morning and decide.

See the route map here

NEXT BLOG WILL BE PUBLISHED ON MONDAY. I need to do some painting tomorrow!


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Day 17 – Merano to Burgusio – ONE THOUSAND kms

day 17 - 1000kms since Rome

The day begins with a bit of light pedalling up through the Val Venoster/Vinchgau valley towards the Resia/Reschen pass. This is another historical route called the Via Claudia Augusta. The locals are Italian by law but they are trilingual, German, Italian and English. Tourists are cycling down the valley to Merano in droves. They whizz down then catch the train back up to their hotels.

This fabulous cycle track winds through vast plantations of apple and pear orchards. Following the now chalky blue Adige river to her source. The second longest river in Italy. Stone peaks break the skyline high above, patches of ice lie on the upper slopes. The temperature down in the valley is around 30 degrees, the hottest day ever recorded here.

A huge apple packing shed is covered with solar panels. Farmers spray clouds of chemicals on the emerging apples, forcing me to speed up to avoid getting caught in it. Perfect little apples hang on their stalks like green beads. Petals carpet the ground in snowy white.

My little computer shows 999,99 kms for a while until I realise it needs to be reset to zero. Hallelujah 1000 kms exactly at the apple store. You can pour yourself a glass of fresh apple juice, or bite an apple, just pop some money in the box and off you go. One hopes the chemical spray is not too harmful. In Italy, genetically modified crops are not permitted, forcing farmers to use more chemicals instead. Wonder which is better?

A young Italian couple stop their bikes next to me at the apple store. I raise my cup of apple juice towards them and say “cin-cin! Can you believe it, I have cycled one thousand kilometres from Rome to this very spot?” The couple say “Auguri” and offer to take a photo of me standing next to my bike. Pride comes before a fall warns the inner voice.

1000 kms

A man on a racing bike stops to tell us about cycling 800 kms in Siberia and raves on about something which I can’t quite follow. The couple tell him that “this Signora” nodding at me, “has just completed 1000 kms from Rome”.

The man changes direction and says he is going my way. He rides off ahead of me shouting about all his cycling accomplishments. He stinks. Following in his wake leaves me wafting through a cloud of body odour. I do my best to overtake and shake him off by surging forward when the track is clear, but he hangs at my side. E-bikes are fabulous but the battery only assists you up to 24 kms per hour. Beyond that it’s up to your own pedal power. Eventually I get ahead and pump away at my pedals.

A beer garden packed with cyclists looks likes a good place to hide. I hurriedly park my bike amongst the hundreds of others and run inside. The bombastic man miraculously appears and offers me a drink. I gabble something about friends and plonk myself down on a bench next to a German couple who are eating lunch. They immediately understand the situation and play along. The man vanishes.

After nice lunch with the Germans, I turn out of the gate onto the road without checking. A speed-biker almost collides with me. We both swerve, but he screams curses at me. Quite demoralizing curses. Shaken up at first but then realise how lucky I was, what an important lesson without having to learn it the hard way. Negotiating speeding cyclists is another skill I must learn on these crowded cycle tracks. Gone are the long dreamy days on the dykes.

Soon I see ‘the man’ again, washing his shirt in the river.

He waves. I speed away.
The cycle path takes me into a thickly wooded area. I’m crunching along on the grit, nobody in sight, happily looking into the depths of the woods for a glimpse of an animal or bird. Suddenly the bombastic voice booms over my shoulder and I wobble with fright “Non devi preoccupare – don’t worry it is only another 4 kms of dirt before we get back on the tarred road”. He jabbers on and on. He says “Germans are harder than Carrera marble, I worked in Germany for five long years and never made a single friend.” No bloody wonder, I think.

I put my bike in turbo mode, rudely overtake him and go as fast as I can to the next town Prato Allo Stelvio. Turning in my seat to check behind me and nervously look in my rear-view mirror at intervals. Seem to have shaken him off.

A little way beyond Latsch, a pretty lake-side cafe beckons, set in a green garden just the type of place I like. Afternoon sun glimmering on the water. The perfect spot for a delicious Apfel Kuchen with a bowl of hot custard and an Einspänner coffee piled with whipped cream. Calories galore. A weeping willow tree gently trails her leaves in the breeze next to my table. I take a leisurely stroll along the lake shore and photograph some yellow poppies. Sit down on a bench in the sun for a while and smile at the children feeding the fish, enjoying thoughts of my grandchildren. Feeling a bit lonely about my one thousandth kilometre, so call Simon tell him, and also mention the man.

When I go back to my bike, up jumps bombastic man who was lying on the grass. He continues his vaunting. He wants to know if I’m married and where I’ll be staying tonight. It may be harmless goodwill, but he is intolerable and ruining my day with his smell and verbal diarrhea. I take a photo of him and send it to Simon. As I ride off he is at my side again, hovering like a fly. The pepper spray and a knife are in the handle-bar bag. I wonder if I should I take them out and keep them handy in my pocket?

Annoyance and anxiety tarnish what should be a glorious ride. The wind is coming down hard from the pass and it is difficult going head first into it. I ride off as fast as I can with bike on full power. It’s getting late and there are no riders on the track but I seem to have lost the bombast.

Coming up the hill into a quaint village called Clusio he rushes out from a side road across my path shouting “Ecco La”…. there she is!

“Oh no! Va via!” I shout… GO AWAY!

Switch the bike turbo mode again. Going as fast as I can up the swerving path. The track leads steeply up into a dark wood. Totally alone, my fibrillating heart makes me giddy.

I have booked a room for the night at Burgusio. The next village comes into view but relief is short-lived when I see the sign – Malles. Then I miss a turn which is hard to imagine considering the number of bike route signs. A woman with a pitchfork tells me to go back. Panic floods me when I realise my battery will run out before I reach the safety of Burgusio. The hideous man is hunting me down like a rabbit on this Alpine pass.

I pound desperately at my pedals, panting heavily with strain. The battery is set to ‘eco’ the lowest setting with only 1 km of battery power remaining. Will I make it? Probably not.

Miraculously a tower appears at the top of the slope, a sign of civilization. I can see the town ahead now as my battery runs out. Luckily it’s only a couple of hundred meters to go.

I rush into town to find the Garni apartment hotel with the help of the Google girl voice on my phone. Hoping the man isn’t watching me as I push the bike around to the back of the house to hide while I get my breath back. Then sneak around to ring the front door bell. Nobody answers. I call the number, and a young person answers “I will phone my mother, she is at the hotel but obviously did not hear the bell”. My nerves are on edge waiting like this in full view of the street. A few minutes later the door opens and a small dark woman allows me to scamper in.

71 kms today…uphill all the way.

See the route map here (not 100% accurate)

Eurovelo cycle routes in Europe

the bombastic man
The bombastic man