Wed Aug 03 2016: High Drama on the High Alpine Passes
Two weeks pass by in Zagreb in the blink of an eye. It was a great break, but I'm not entirely sure that I'm fully rested up. With Neda's road trip to Pula and back, I'm not convinced she's recovered from travel fatigue either.
But we're on a slippery slope, on the far side of the summer solstice and we're both wary of the riding season in Europe quickly burning away while we remain cooped up in this comfortable, air-conditioned apartment.
We leave Zagreb on an overcast day and take the highway out of the country, through Slovenia and towards the Austrian Alps. When we cross over the border into southern Austria, we drop out of warp and hit the back roads. We're in a province called Styria, otherwise known as the Green Heart of Austria.
It *is* very green here. Negotiating some switchbacks outside the town of Hirschegg, Austria
We're taking all the backroads through Austria, waypointing all the squiggliest lines on the GPS
Stopping for an early lunch at the top of Moasterhaus... and to fix my GPS
The power cable on my GPS has been cutting out intermittently. I've isolated it to the fuse holder. Every once in a while, we have to stop to jiggle and re-seat the fuse for the power to come back on again. This is a pain in the butt because to get to the fuse holder, I need to take off all the soft bags and seat. Every time I need to stop to reseat the fuse, it sours my mood. Yes, yes... I've got a short fuse... this is no punny matter.
We walk into the chalet for lunch. And walk right back out again.
Note for the future. Don't eat at ski chalets in Austria. Expensive!!! This was a sharp reminder that we're no longer in the cheaper Eastern European countries. We're riding through RichLandia now. Time to find a grocery store... :(
Back on the backroads through the Green Heart of Austria. There are ski hills everywhere around here!
So not only are we riding through an affluent country, we are riding through the resort area of an affluent country...
Passing through a little village just outside the town of Weißkirchen in der Steiermark. Steiermark is German for Styria.
It was getting late in the day so we hopped back on the main road to search for a place to lay our heads for the night
The road takes us to a large alpine resort town called Zell Am See. We ride around looking for signs for "ferienwohnung" (rooms for rent) and we knocked on a few doors. Everything was way too expensive for us. Of course, we're right at the base of a huge mountain called Schmittenhöhe, the most popular skiing and hiking destination in the area. Good thing we brought our tent with us:
Camping in Zell Am See. Note my topcase full of groceries, that's our pantry. Gonna be using that and the tent quite a bit in Austria... :(
The next morning, the sun is out again. We're ready to tackle some famous Austrian alpine passes!
The reason why we stayed at Zell Am See is that it's just 35 kms away from the northern entrance to the Großglockner (or Grossglockner for the Anglophones), the highest mountain in Austria. It's also home to the most famous alpine pass in the country. So excited!
Großglockner High Alpine Pass. Yes!!!
At the base of the Großglockner Road, we read the sign that laid out the entrance fee: €25.50 per motorcycle. *gasp* RichLandia strikes again! That's over $70 CDN for us to take a ride on some twisty roads... We had to have a mini-conference just outside the ticket booth to decide if it was worth it.
Throughout this entire journey, we've had to make budgetary decisions that reflect what's really important to us. Last night we slept in a €25 campsite and ate homemade sandwiches and soup because this trip isn't a €200/night hotel room/Three-Michelin-Star restaurant vacation. It's a motorcycle trip. Roads like this are the reason why we set off in the first place. Ride The World!!!
You know... despite saying all that out loud, dishing out $70 to ride a road is still quite painful. Damn you, RichLandia!
Just outside the entrance we meet some fellow bikers
This couple were from the US and they were visiting their relatives in Austria. I think it was her father who lived in the area and he had a garage full of motorcycles which he lent out to them for the day. He was taking them on an alpine pass motorcycle tour of Austria. While Neda was chatting to the American couple, the father took me aside and showed me all the good roads on my GPS. Cool!
Check out the view from the Großglockner Alpine Pass. This is what they are charging for...
Neda admiring the view. Spectacular!
There are TONS of bikers out today enjoying the twisties!
Every biker we pass, I can't help but tally up the entrance fees everyone has paid... €25.50 from you, €25.50 there, €25.50 from that guy... Großglockner is German for Gro$$ Profits.
That's a cool-looking trike up ahead of us
We were told to check out the Visitor's Centre at the end of a cul-de-sac. We have a long riding day ahead of us, but since we paid so much to get in, we wanted to milk that entrance fee for all that it was worth!
Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Hohe Visitor's Centre
From the visitor's centre, you can get an amazing view of the Pasterze Glacier
Also, there are a lot of marmots living in the area. I think they all hang out below the visitor's centre because tourists throw food down at them
At 8kms long, the Paterze Glacier is the longest glacier in the Eastern Alps. And probably the most expensive to see...
After getting our money's worth at the visitor's centre, we hit the road back to the Großglockner. It really is very scenic.
Here's a short clip of our ride on the Großglockner High Alpine Pass
Riding through Gerlos, heading westbound to our next pass. Bikers everywhere, enjoying the sunny weather!
We spent a fair bit of time at Großglockner so we were only able to do one more pass as the sun began to set on us. The clouds have darkened considerably as the day wore on and it looked like rain was imminent. It was now a race to find a campsite and set up our tent before the waterworks began... Somewhere past Innsbruck we saw a sign for a campsite at the next turnout.
Too late. The tent is up, but we're soaked to the bone.
We pitch the tent with our rainsuits on, and it takes some planning to figure out the best way to get the fly over the tent as quick as possible so the inside stays dry. I hate putting up a tent in the rain. Hate it! We huddle in the shelter of the communal kitchen and washroom in the campsite to eat our groceries and watch the sky turn everything around us into puddles and ponds. Miserable.
Hopefully it lets up by tomorrow morning and we'll get some dry weather to continue our alpine pass tour.
In rained all night, and in the morning... still rain. Packing up our wet tent. Gross.
Undaunted, we head to our next pass: the Fern Pass
Rivulets of rainwater turn into mini (and not so mini) waterfalls flowing down the mountainfaces surrounding us. If it wasn't so wet and miserable, it'd be pretty. But instead, we're tip-toeing through all the switchbacks and twists and turns, for fear of slipping on the very wet pavement beneath our wheels.
This is not fun. We have another pass planned after this one: the Arlberg Pass. But we give that one... a pass.
The rain is coming down so hard. The border between Austria and Slovenia is the line that separates Eastern and Western Europe. All season long, our friends in the west have been complaining about record-breaking rainfall, while we've enjoyed unbelievably sunny and dry riding weather on our side of Europe. Have we now crossed the line and joined them in their misery?
We abort the RideDOT.com Austrian Alpine Pass Tour and jump onto the highway that takes us out of Richlandia and into Germany. Wait... isn't Germany, RichLandia too? RichLandia II.
Crossing into Germany, the weather clears up. Hopefully it was just an Alps thing
Neda is tired and frustrated. And she takes her frustrations out on me, blaming me for the route, the long riding days, my planning around all the accommodations. She forgets the cardinal rule: if you're not actively helping to plan the ride, don't complain and criticize the ride leader! I only know this cardinal rule because I myself broke it when I was nagging Neda in Albania.
And ohmigod this triggers the mother of all arguments. The whole of southern Germany can hear us yelling at each other over the communicators as we ride down the Autobahn...
It ended with me putting my foot down and telling her, "That's it! I'm done planning and leading! It's your turn now!!!"
The next morning, I led the way out of Stuttgart. What the...?!?