Believe It or Not
With a lot of time on my hands I continue to pour through the photos from the distant past, looking for pictures that document my cycling activities. Not that there was nothing else going on in my life at that time, but for the moment I am looking through a bicycle filter. At some point, probably around 1985, I joined the German Bicycle Club, ADFC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrradclub), looking for bicycle buddies to ride with. I did some solo touring, but always prefered having companionship on my rides.
Of all the cycling I did in those years, a few tours stand out as being exceptional. My tour with Werner to Italy, Slovenia and Austria was certainly memorable, and somehow now almost seems incredible. But I can assure you, the story is true. So bear with me while I extoll my inconceivabale feats of years gone by.
Werner was a buddy from the bicycle club. When I said I was looking for someone to tour with in August he suggested we take a test ride together to see if we were compatible. It was a two-day ride somewhere in Bavaria, I don't remember where. I do remember that he asked if I was showing off by riding so fast. No, I really wasn't. I just assumed most men rode faster than me anyway, and I rode my pace. I must have been in fairly good shape and Werner was out of shape. We decided to go on a tour together and after a few days on the road he no longer lagged behind.
Werner planned the route. He had a few passes in mind, starting with the Brenner Pass, the lowest crossing of the Alps. But after that came a few more challenges. I was still riding my original bicycle with the mixte frame and not very low gears for mountains, I think it might have been a 12-speed with a double chain ring. At Werner's suggestion, I had a smaller front chain ring installed to make the climbing a little easier.
I imagine we were doing 60 - 80 km a day. The ascent to the Brenner must have been on the third day. The plan was to do the first part of the climb in the afternoon and the rest the next day. This was my first pass ever. I ground out the kilometers slowly, and when I finally stopped pedaling, I just toppled over. That's not the incredible part of the story.
After the Brenner our route took us to Sterzing (there was no bicycle path in those days) and then instead of following the low road to Bolzano via Brixen, we rode over the Penser Joch or Passo de Pennes, 2,211 m. It was thrilling, what more can I say. I'm sure I cursed and moaned, but I loved it. On the descent we had to stop a couple of times to let the brakes cool.
Here is a description of the ascent I fished out of the Internet:
The first 3 km are quite flat past the edge of the forest, then the first steep climb (11 and then 12.5%) begins, which leads you to the Höfegruppe von Egg. A sign informs you that you have reached the 1,500 m mark. The first hairpin bends continue up the road and it doesn't take long to reach the tree line (between 1,900 and 2,000 m), where there are two more hairpin bends. In a landscape dominated by alpine meadows, there follows a semicircular, approximately 4 km long route to the top of the pass and shortly before the finish line there is another incline of almost 15%.
Some 100 km later came the next challenge, the Rolle Pass (1,973 m), gate to the Dolomites as it is called. Did I really do that? Another pass? On that old bike? With no previous training in the mountains? With a load of bags on my bike?
Another excerpt from the Internet:
The pass is one of the legendary climbs of the Giro d’Italia, a classic. The road made history when in 1937 it marked the debut of the Dolomites in the Giro d’Italia.
From there on it was downhill and flat to Treviso and Nova Gorica, border to what was then Yugoslavia. But my legs were fried. The slightest climb was hard work now. We weren't finished yet, though. We still had to work our way through Yugoslavia to Villach in Kärnten, Austria. One more pass to go. I really needed a rest day, or two, but Werner had to get back to work. We had no spare days.
In Villach we got the train back to Munich. I recall clearly looking out the window at the coutryside flying by - and not feeling relieved to be sitting in the train but sad that I couldn't cycle the whole way back home.
Friends of mine, Inga and Christoph and their daughters, were on vacation in Kärnten. I had a bright idea - I would visit them. So after letting my fried legs recuperate for a week, I got back on my bike and cycled to where they were staying. I'm not sure but I think it was somewhere near St. Johann. This is just one more thing that I find hard to believe today. I rode what is today the Alpe-Adria Bicyle Path, although there were no bicycle paths then, on that old bike and with camping gear, and the steepest part from Bad Gastein in the rain.
Okay, I am finished bragging. I hope it wasn't too much. As the saying goes: The older I get, the better I used to be.