Saturday, August 25, 2012

AlpenCross 2012

Swen, Markus and I rode from Bludenz to Lago di Garda over 6 days. The mileage wasn't enormous (~350 km) but we climbed 12000 meters over that period, more than half of it off road.

We all had full suspension bikes (2 Canyons and one custom built) which I think were needed on some of the downhills. That said, we did see people  with only front shocks and one crazy dude on a bike with no shocks and riding some of the downhills after a couple of beers. So...hmmm......I would still stick with a full suspension bike.

For packing, we used this as a guideline (Warning: German link) A couple of things I would add:
  1. Second pair of gloves
  2. Camera case that attaches to the backpack shoulder strap
  3. Detergent for washing clothes by hand
 The only thing we left off were the sleeping bags.

Swen and Markus both carried at least 2 kilos more than what's on the list. It is possible but carrying that amount of stuff on your back for long periods day after day really takes its toll, not only on your shoulders but also on your ass. Even with 2 kilos less, I could hardly sit on the saddle during  the last 2 days of the tour.

For the GPS, Swen brought along his BikeGPS. In addition, Markus had a Garmin eTrex with the same routes loaded. Questions were resolved relatively quickly and I remember getting lost only twice. I was also carrying a large version of the route printed out and laminated, clipped to my handle bars, which give us a rough idea of where we were in the grander scheme of things. Thankfully, it was not needed but would've been necessary if our route needed to be altered.

There were three meetings to plan the tour (though I remember a lot of drinking and little planning at the first one. I think this one was still good to get a sense of what the tour was going to be like) On the second one, which was a month before the tour, we worked on the bikes, talked about packing, split up the tasks etc. This was kind of the 'this trip is happening' meeting. We met for the final time on the weekend before the tour started. There were bike checks, packing checks to ensure everyone was on the same page, making sure everyone had mountain rescue numbers for all the countries we were riding through and last organizational things (when/where to meet etc)

In addition, we planned for three full day rides of 70+km/2000+ m of climbing. In the end, all of us managed only one together (mostly because of me) but that ride went really well and it was clear that the three could manage the tour together, both from a fitness perspective and from a personality point of view (though all three of us had been friends for a while, this was the first time we'd all travelled together) Though one training sufficed, I would've preferred to have one more maybe two weeks before the tour.

I started training I would guess three months before, riding 30 km a few times a week, running 10k on the days when I was not riding, with a long 60 km/1500 m ride on the weekend (though the weekend ride happened only 6 times in total) At the end, i.e. the two weeks prior to the last week before the tour, I was riding 240 km per week (all flat) plus running between 20 and 30 km.  I felt in ok shape at the very end and it turned out to be more than enough. The physical problems I had during the tour were never fitness related. It was more different parts of my body hurting on the last days of the tour after spending so much time on the bike (which I did not have the time to train for)

We did the tour in the middle of the European summer (last week in July) and the towns we overnighted in were all primarily winter resorts. Hotels in these towns tended to have really good deals during the summer months, as they try to fill empty hotel rooms. Here are a couple that we stayed at that I would highly recommend:

Goldener Adler - Ischgul - A really nice hotel with a sauna. The room rate included a 5 course dinner plus a huge breakfast that they set up early for us.

Hotel Tanneheim - Another great hotel with big rooms, sauna, 4 course dinner included and they even did our laundry for free (which was good as my bike shorts were soaked with three days worth of sweat by the time we got here)

AlpHoliday Dolomiti - This was much more of a hotel for families with small kids but it had a sauna area that was good, offered a really tasty dinner, decent breakfast and comfortable rooms.

Sleep was generally not great during the tour for any of us. I thought I would crash hard every night but I didn't get a good night's sleep on any night, not even on the night after we finished the tour. There was just too much adrenaline flowing to manage a good bit of sleep. That being said, I never felt like I was sleep deprived

Everyday had too many highlights and so I'll pick one from each day:

Day 1 - Zeinisjoch to Ischgl: This was a nice downhill along a stream into town. It made up for the pain that was the ride up to Zeinijoch (whihch was 20% grade at points)

Day 2 - Ischgl to Heidelberger Hütte: This trail was an great ride. The scenery was gorgeous, there was little traffic (people or otherwise) and the ride was relaxing. Unfortutnately, the Fimberpass was waiting for us right afterwards

Day 3 - Schutzhutte Sesvenna to Schleis: We had live music during lunch at Schutzhutte Sesvenna and then a not too easy downhill in parts to Schleis. At the very end though, the road suddenly opened up into a wide green valley with mountains all around. It was totally surprising, and just brought a smile to my face.

Day 4 - Boscetta di Forcola to Bormio: Wow! It made the trek up to Stilfersjoch totally worth it. A lot of it is an old military road that looks like an old Roman road. There was no one on it, it was gently sloping and just amazing scenery. There was a bit in the middle that was seriously sketchy!!!

Day 5 - Sant Appoliano to Dimaro: The trek up (after a totally unenjoyable uphill to Passo Gavio), and the trek down, even on day 5 was incredible! We were all really hurting but the amazement was still there.

Day 6 - Lake Garda: There was 2000 meters of climbing and descending before lunch, we got eaten by mosquitoes on the last climb (and I am not exaggerating when I say 'eaten') but the overwhelming memory of the last day is of jumping into Lake Garda at the end of the ride. It's among the best feelings I've ever had. I didn't feel tired, I just felt elated and this continued, maybe with less intensity, for a while.

A friend asked me afterwards if I'd ever do a tour like this again. There were days during the tour where I just wanted out. I almost quit after day 5 (but thankfully, Swen and Markus talked me out of it).  But overwhelmingly, I would absolutely do another tour like this.Riding trails which are only accessible on foot or on a bicycle was amazing. The zen aspect of riding was unexpected. My mind was just focused on the task at hand and nature. Everything else melted away.

Everything being said, our tour turned out quite close to perfect. We had no major accidents (everyone had cuts and bruises from falling at some point), the weather was damn good (except for 2 afternoons where is rained but quickly returned to full on sun) and no major bike problems (towards the end of day 4, there were some issues with gears not changing and brakes misbehaving but there were addressed as much as possible and riding wasn't too much influenced) That contributed the most to how I feel about the tour.

To anyone contemplating a tour, I would say go for it. I am not particularly athletic, not a hardcore downhiller (I walked my bike a lot on downhills that I felt were too extreme) and had never done anything close to so hardcore till this tour. Now, I'm hooked. As long as you're prepared, its doable (though not easily)

A slide show about the tour


Jim said...

did you make reservations, or just show up for the rooms?

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