Eastern Alps Tour -98

Last month Hannu received a letter. From the president of Czech scooter association.
Well, welcome. Czechs to the Finn/Dutch/German scooter world and all others to Czech races.
In the small world of scootering contacts to freaks and even federations that have been doing their thing for years or decades are made all the time almost accidentally. Perhaps Czechs waited some opinions on kicking techniques and scooters. Instead they received 3 Finns and 4 Dutchmen to their next event 2 weeks from the letter. So if you belong to a lonely bunch of scooterist about to contact us. Beware. Your race can be next to be polluted by enthusiastic foreigners who just want to take you deeper into scootering, speculating, racing, touring.

Next Czech race after one month on Sumava (Bohmerwald) hills. Visitors praised the first one enough to make participation obligatory. At least for me who loves climbing but lives in a flat part of the world.

After Czech weekend one week to Elfstedentocht (a Dutch MUST event) in the Friesland. Another week and International criterium at Hengelo (also Netherlands). For a nice finish, a great fun-event, Breda-Eindhoven two days after Hengelo.
Plan: Last exam at friday, flight to Prague, weekendraces, kicking and train-travelling to Friesland via Alps, weeklong rest and preparing for criterium + few beers at Eindhoven's night before kicking back to North Germany for a ferry to Finland.
A perfect, tight vacation plan to be dramatically changed.
No Switzerland, No Elfstedentocht, No Eindhoven, but even better holiday than planned. Luckily it was late May and I had to travel alone. Big plan changes tend to be easier with less company.


Right on time to the Prague plain. It's indeed waste of time to arrive earlier than half an hour before departure. Vlastimil Filip and Martin Janda from team Jafiduto Kadan pick me up from Ruzyne airport. I had a plan to take bus (excellent time tables in the Net) but this way I'll actually get to the startline before the steady-command. A good (very cheap but very good) meal and speeding on the southern Czecish roads.

Hilly scenery and 20 Czechs at the starting line, sunny. I have seen the results of the previous race so I'm a bit aware of the speed these guys go. Unlike in last years Elfstedentocht, where I was completely unaware of my chances.
First hill (down) is dominated by Czech with a great mass advantage. Next hill (up) changes positions. Jirka and Petr, who I knew would be top placed come easily with the first kilometers. Just like planned, sneaking pace increase in the looong gentle climb opens a gap. Too bad there ain't many other scooterists focusing on hill climbing. It's so damn nice even alone.
After fifteen km in a few hundred meters lead I turn wrong way (I had a map but forgot it, of course, in a hurry) and Jirka + Petr catch me. Luckily I have been racing and training with Hannu (Vierikko), so my sprint is more effective.

Skoda's a great all terrain vehicle.
And a podium place.
The evening is the true reason of this race. Couldn't be a nicer way to spend a weekend: gather with friends to a nice resort, go for a race, speculate, party and race again next morning (nice way to prevent too heavy drinking ;-) Some are stronger, some weaker, but everyone really enjoys the event. After the race few guys drive to the forest. A little later they drive back towing a fur tree that's to be chopped for a camp fire. Skoda's a great all terrain vehicle.
Czechish beer in the campfire light. Bohmerwald around is slowly hidden by dark of the night. Stories and Czechish scooterists (Czech is a most difficult language). How the hell can a Finnish guy end up here. Usually this happens only in Kilroy's commercials.
One by one we get sleeping. I'm probably the one best prepared for wilderness camping (I'm gonna do it next two weeks) But only one who's given a place in the hut, on a real BED.

Sunday morning, no rain. Race is 7up (seven km uphill) and our hut is on the top. So first rolling to the start. One fellow falls bad enough to be taken to hospital. Organizers drive him there and we start in a bunch instead of interval start. Climbing, the thing I love, and all the race devoted for it. Well, there's a bit downhill too, we are not yet in the Alps. The Sunday race ain't too serious. Usually there's not even timekeeper in the finish.

Then just preparing for the real start. Towards Passau (90km) where I'm planning to take a train to Salzburg. Some extra gear (Prizes, unnecessary maps...) for my Czechish friends and snap, I'm on the road. First time for 10 months.

0th day

Quiet road, no villages, little fields and forest. I take a shortcut and end up wading across a creek and pushing my Kickbike in a steep sandy uphill. Small roads are notoriously slow but so beautiful if you are not in a hurry. Visit to the last Czech gas station to spend last crowns on food, juice, muesli and tinned meat. German side will be mostly downhills as I approach Passau. Bohmerwald ain't real mountains, but hillocky open land going up&down up&down, but never steeply. Though some rivers cut dozens of meters deep into the smooth figured hills. I'm burning to cover kilometers. Enthusiastic for my just begun tour.

Passau, the crossing point of three rivers and German-Austrian border. My first real meal for 24 hours and last warm meal for a week in a pizzeria. Railway station info tells I should take a German train to Salzburg. They sell a weekend ticket for 35 DM. And Deutsche Bahn used to be expensive !? First change in plans: I take a train to Fussen in southern German border. Then all the week in the Alps and train next Saturday to Netherlands.

Fussen, town by the castle of Neuschwanstein. It's ten pm and dark. But the castle glows in spotlights up on the hill. There's a nice lookout spot in the castle park. I spread my mattress and sleeping bag. There's no need for a tent this night.

1st day

A nice spot to wake up indeed. I had set my alarm for 4.30 am. Early mornings are best. Quiet and beautiful, though a bit chilly this time of the year. A little touristical castle check. Muesli and yoghurt. Hit the road.

Calm Alpsee, border (no too much frontier guards in this part of the world) and drop to the valley of Lech. It's turquoise. The river. Must be copper ore, since many tyrolian rivers have this deep color.
There's a superb radwanderweg (bicycle tour road) following the valley. It's about 1.5 meters wide, smooth asphalt, completely apart from the highway. Perfect, if it wouldn't be going slightly uphill. Steep climbs are nice but I would like to go down rather than up the gentle valleys. Next Alpine tour will be planned to climb steep, descend gently. Perhaps Geneve-Furka-Lichtenstein-Niedere Tauern-Wien.

Time to leave the valley. Towards Pfafflar and the 1800m pass before Imst. The beginning of the road looks cruel. Roadworks and a real drop just after the rail. Road starts gaining altitude immediately. Ahead the familiar view: snowy moutain ridges everywhere. And every time the winding road finds a way through sharp V-valleys. It penetrates the mountains where it seems impossible. You thought 'Do I have to climb over that?', but you don't have to. Fortunately.
Fortunately cause I'm beginning to struggle really early. Stop for a meal, but perhaps too late. There's a rule to do everything before it has to be done, and it really applies to everything while touring. Eating, drinking, resting, sleeping, changing clothing. I'm creeping the last meters towards the pass. Stopping for smallest reason. This is my first day on this tour, I made a mistake. Usually I have been on a tour for a week before hitting the mountains. It'll take a while until I recover but I learned.

It's cold up in the pass and rain is approaching. Just stop 'n go down the other side. Two tourists sit in their cars looking at me. Wondering what the hell is he doing out there? Landscape is barren. Rough pavement doesn't allow high speeds. Brakes work hard, hands work hard, but legs are resting. And air gets warmer as I loose altitude. There's a spectacular view from cloudy mountain road to sunny Imst 400m below in the valley of river Inn. Place was not suitable for photographing, so you have to go there yourselves to see it ;-]
Turn to west, up the Inn valley. It's a famous touring route, though most people ride it down. I'm gonna ride too next time. North bank seems to be one endless bluff. It's easy to understand why there weren't too many roads to choose from this morning. Even alpine road engineers have been powerless here.
Sharp turn and branching of the river at Landeck indicates sharp climb. Four a clock and cars are jammed on a roadwork mountainwall on their left, canyon of the turquoise river on the right side. Smaller roads would be nicer. There just wasn't room here for more than one road.
Valley is very similar to Lechtal of this morning. Steady climb up the valley. Then road departing to the left side. Rising aggressively first two hundred meters.
Some extensive engineering is carried out here to make TWO roads side by side on the vertical mountainside. First the old road going around every ledge, through every groove. Then the new road diving from bridges to tunnels all the time. Old road offers private trail, no rails, and great places to stop eating, hm. yoghurt and muesli. I had calculated a quick travel across Austria, so I didn't change too much local currency. In Italy I'd stop and eat well.

Chasm that permits pass to Italy is well hidden and guarded by a respectable fortress. Nauders has probably been in a 'secret valley' before modern roads and maps.
Ortles ahead, and a nightly dive down to Malles. Through Highest paved Alpine pass, Stelvio to see the great Lagos: Como and Maggiore...

Passo dello Stelvio
Reason: snow. Winter is just not over yet up in the mountains.
Choice 1: northern road via St.Moriz means up the valley Inn again :-( through expensive Switzerland
Choice 2: southern road via ... Bolzano and Edolo! No way I have time for that. (80-100km extra trip)
So I take Choice 3: To the Dolomites instead of Switzerland. At least it'll save money. Sleep without tent again.

2nd day

2500 calorie breakfast at Silandro. Juice, bread, yoghurt, cheese, bananas, sliced pineapple. It's downhill morning. Road towards Santa Caterina looks tempting. I ride few hundred meters up the flourishing valley. Nothing like yesterdays dry moonlike landscapes. This is obviously the Mediterranean side of the Alps.

From Merano to Bolzano along small road between fields and vineyards. It's first hot day (also the last). Farmer sprays something on the vine from his tractor. When I pass the place he happily sprays on me too. Hope the liquid was meant to kill the drought only.
Val di Ega (Eggental) leads up from Bolzano. It's a bit hard to find the entrance. Well, it is a narrow one. There's just a riverwidth between the vertical rocky walls. Road bridges from side to side, goes through tunnels, bridge, waterfall, cave, tunnel, it's impressive. There's only few spots wide enough to stop a car, and all are occupied by a photographing tourist. I can, however, stop anywhere. Cross an old suspension bridge, have a snack UNDER the road but OVER the river (roadwork is really three-dimensional here) I really wouldn't like to be car touring now.

Upper valley before Passo Costalunga features a heavy meal and a bit rain. Contrast between very sharp gray mountain ridges and soft green little lakes is one of the most photographic sceneries but clouds are chasing me. I'll take the photos next time.
On a way from Vigo di Fassa to Canazei day turns to night. Marmolada road must be superb, If you go to the Dolomites, check it. But I've decided climb some passes. At least Pordoi and Falzarego tomorrow. They lead me to different direction. Two hundred meters up (3km along the road) towards Pordoi is the place for first tent night.

3rd day

Another gray day. But no rain, that's great. There's well maintained cross-country skiing track competing with the road climbing up to the pass. Skiing track beats the road 6-0. Could this be the famous Dolomitenlauf route. Was it or not, it's definitely not for beginners. The road begins to look too easy... Someone passes me in his Ferrari Testarossa. There's different ways to climb mountains. Up in the pass the Testarossa man is waiting, just having a day off. In this part of the world Tourists seem to like sit in their cars parked on top of passes. It must be warm in the car. Thermometer outside says +3C. It doesn't know anything about chill effects of wind and drizzling rain.
26 says the plate in the hairpin. Number of hairpins to go it means. I can see them all here. Fingers are freezing. Temporary gloves made out of plastic bags save my day.

Down in Arabba it's still early morning. Road stays high on the north side of the valley. Above little village of Andraz I take a road to Cortina and a break. Falzarego is surrounded by massive cliffs. The real Cliffhanger terrain. Road climbs up with help of Italian engineers. You really couldn't think of taking some other route over these mountains. The pass itself is already familiar. Barren, open, high. And crowded with German tourists. Last food and water were consumed on the way up, so kicking is easy now. Down towards Cortina, carefully. Remembering the crash two years ago in the same descent.

Olympic town Cortina means pizza, no shop. I want to start Tre Croci, the third pass of today with light load. Feet tell me I have been climbing enough today. Aching heels and achilles force me kicking Chaplin style, foot pointing outwards. If I weren't taught to strive for as long as possible days, I'd stop already here for night. Forests seem to be very suitable for camping here. One fir-tree per 100 square meters of nice grass. No plant besides the trees is over 10cm tall.

Pictures below are from Northeastern side of Cortina, certainly the beautiest parts of Dolomites.

It's 80 km from Tre Croci to Lienz and 70 percents of it is downhill. Not steep hills where you have to use brakes but going down valleys of medium sized rivers. They really utilize all the potential energy gained during climbs of the day. Of the last 30 km I must have spent over 90 procents just rolling 20-30 km/h. When you're tired it's fantastic how next town is approaching 20km/h without a single kick. Night falls before I get rid of Lienz. There's a little pass, fourth today, and twenty minute err slowing me down.

4th day

Grossglockner hochalpenstrasse is the word today. Most beautiful valley leads to most beautiful village of Heiligenblut. Really long break there. I even write some postcards. Since it's only 150 km now to Salzburg I can take it easy. Still aching feet defeat thoughts of racing aginst the mountains. Climb on this side of Hochtor tunnel is only 1500m high. I can't notice the effect of thin air since muscles, instead of lungs, limit my climbing speed today. I develop all the time new climbing techniques utilizing calf less and less. Wind blows harde and harder. Snow banks grow in height. American tourists stop to greet me. They want to know what is the bet I lost to have to do this. I hide my grin and tell them this is the most outstanding way to spend one's holiday and that I really enjoy climbing mountains. They don't wan't to argue with me. Neither do they look interested in trying this sort of amusement themselves.

After Hochtor this extraordinary Alpine road doesn't drop down to the next valley. There ain't one. Three kilometers up in the snowy desert and another tunnel. Two more km to Fuscher Torl before road starts descending.
There's a small chapel here built for men who lost their lives building Grossglocknerstrasse. Only twenty of them, but I'd like to see the chapel for slaves who lost their lives building a road here during the first millenium. Yep. There's an old Roman road here in over 2,5 kilometers height. I also wonder if the Roman soldiers wore their metal armours when crossing these ridges. Perhaps they didn't come here before warm August.
While I'm writing this my teammates Timo Salin and Jaani Lantela have just passed the same place on their way to Italy. They had a REAL climb. Two hours after Edelweissspitze (2579m) I've come down 2000 meters and 35 km to Zell am See. These two hours included one hour break. After mountains it's very warm so I have even a chance to go for a swim. Clothes get washed too.
This evening I find a superb radwanderweg again. And 7 inline skaters on it. Not in a group. These individuals come one by one. An inline skater is a very endangered species in Alpine countries. Large flocks of bicyclists prosper in the mountainous roads but difficultly climbing skater is about to extinct. Well, I have seen no other scooterists during the tour but still I believe we could survive without difficulty in these conditions.

5th day

This day is reserved for slow touring in the Berchtesgaden area. A very touristed place. Luckily there's time to take smaller roads (Best places again on smallest paths), eat ice-cream (It's hot and even sunny again) and drink beer (One bottle's enough after last five days). I make a hook to ride a descent that was marked 34 percent slope on the map but it must have been just printing error. 25 is still my record. 2 hours sleep under a bus stop shelter while it's raining outside. Continue through Salzburg which offers great places for church-and-castle-photographers. Guiding two tourists who find it almost impossible to walk 1,5 km to the railway station. And that's it. German border is little more visible than in Fussen but still no-one pays attention to me. It's raining again and the frontier guards want to sit inside.

Tomorrow I should catch the first train from Freilassing to Munchen and continue with my weekend ticket through all germany north to Netherlands. Ticket allows only local trains. There should be 10 or more changes and perhaps just enough time to get to Elfstedentocht...
So I set up my tent in a little park alongside the raiway yard and my alarm clock to 4.10 am. Time to rest, no more kicking for 26 hours. But after that, that's another story.

train day

long night