This is the second time I have crossed the Alps in use of my own human power. The first time I walked and it was an incredible experience, super close to the mountains. You will find the blog about it here. The second time on bicycle was different yet as intense. There are ways to make it accessible to anyone who can cycle one, two hours. There is even a train to avoid the uphill section over the Brenner Pass. If you have questions just drop me a line.
My heart is pumping, racing, although I got off my bike a while ago and just kept pushing it up the hill. I try to deepen and slow my breathing.
So, this is the Brenner Pass.
I love being outside. Hiking, cycling, exploring. It calms my anxiety and self-doubts and increases my overall wellbeing significantly. So, being locked in a city for months due to Covid-19 and working from home all the time didn’t do me well. I was an awful partner.
So, when during a WhatsApp chat a travel friend and I decided to use our work-free time of 10 days to do an appropriate outdoor activity I was immediately in.
“What about cycling from Munich to Venice over the Alps?”
I still remember the little jump my heart did. I loved the idea from the very start. It created the right amount of challenge and fear of failure in me.
A lot of questions popped up in my head immediately. Would I be trained enough to manage? Would the additional weight of camping gear make a difference? How hard would this actually be?
I did some research and the uphill meters in elevation made me cringe. There was no way I could prepare for that in Berlin. Berlin is flat surrounded by flat countryside.
The four weeks approaching our starting day became longer and longer. I don’t know how often I had been asked what I would do for summer holidays. The more I told the story the more the name Brenner Pass found its way in. I guess for most Germans, Austrians and Italians the road uphill from Austria to Italy creates a certain memory.
And the more I heard the name the more I started to shape my storytelling. In the beginning I didn’t even mention the Brenner until someone else brought it up. During the last days I always brought it up first – with nervousness in my voice. Being the obstacle of potential failure.
We were into day 2 when we decided spontaneously during lunch that we wouldn’t stop as intended but actually go and tackle the Brenner in the afternoon. My mind didn’t have time to catch up with doubts that moment.
Click-click. I switch to the lowest gear I have on my bike and keep on steadily pushing the pedals. I don’t know how much way I have still left until the top. It feels like an eternity and a blink of an eye at the same time since we have left Innsbruck. The state of mind you have when you are in the moment. Flow.
We go slowly but steadily uphill and throw in short stops whenever one of us feels overheated, thirsty. We don’t question it. Twice I get off my bike and push it for a bit until my thighs can handle the different motion again.
Dominik doesn’t judge me. He is cycling in his own pace. Sometimes behind but mostly ahead of me. “Just focus on keeping your legs moving”, he says during our breaks.
He has disappeared ahead on a suddenly steeper stretch of road. A construction light gives me a well needed break. “I can’t take this much longer,” my mind wraps itself around the thought and I try to untangle it through pushing the bike. Even if I wanted I couldn’t get back on it ride now due to the incline. I push and push while cars are overtaking me on the left.
My thighs slowly stop burning and my breathing returns to normal. I look to my right, into the mountain valley. The gas station where we stopped for an ice cold coke looks tiny. We have come so far already. This is why I am here. This is why I wanted to do it. The right amount of challenge and fear.
I manage to get back onto the bike and back into cycling when suddenly around another corner I see Dominik again. And the big sign. I was already so close.
We are there. We made it.
Notes and context
The Brenner Pass wasn’t the only outstanding experience I had during our trip. Maybe the more loud and prominent one. Yet, there were so many small wonders.
The two old ladies walking in working robe and nun habit along a steep walking path into the forest for their morning round.
The heavy thunderstorm in the Dolomites which lid the sky with thousand flashes, big roars and pouring rains. The toads came out to hide with me underneath the roof of the washing house while I had a free gin and tonic with two other travelers and just hoped my tent would stay dry.
Rolling downhill epic Italian mountain roads with no cars behind or in front of me. 50 km/h, 60 km/h. Feeling the wind and the sun and pure joy. Even when I lost my breaks in the back and had to make sure the front one was still enough to stop me. The strong headwinds helped from time to time. I never had to pedal downhill to actually move downhill before.
Crossing the bridge from the mainland to Venice with tears in my eyes and just one thought “we have done it” – after a long and crazy hot day with 40 degrees Celsius and just straight tarmac road.
Also, my new bike packing equipment from Restrap made it through the trip and the weathers.
And while I sat on the bus home to Berlin I was framing thoughts I wanted to share. How good I felt being outside all the time for 5 days. Or how I want to shape my life including my work more intentionally.
I could already see Bridget’s look at me when I would tell her about it. Her eyes would say “Again?” and I guess yes, I would come home again with these thoughts.
But, hey, after all it’s a process that takes a lot of small steps. So, let’s go to the next round.
One thought on “Munich to Venice [Across the Alps via bike]”
What a fantastic journey. Your description of how you felt just before the Bremner pass reminds me of experiences on the Camino when my foot was giving me problems, or on day three of the Inca Trail when a leg started giving out and the entire group including Dan were far ahead, or on one of our hikes in the Himalayas when we were climbing at about 12,000 ft and the distance and incline were getting to me ( and yes, when I was at my lowest, the end was right around the corner!)
This is an experience I could never tackle, but I relate to your mental testing and strength of character to push through. These are always cathartic moments that move you spiritually…great life experiences!
Can hardly wait to take you and Brigit on a backcountry trek. At our age, we probably won’t challenge you as much physically, but the beauty of the wilderness and surviving and thriving through it is always soul restoring.
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