Trans-Alp. A Classic.
Last week we finished our first trans-alp mountain bike tour! 600 kilometers from Munich to the Italian town of Riva on the shores of Lake Garda. We followed old military tracks and biked up and down on flowing single trails, all across the Alps. The most common question you will be asked after such a trip is “which route did you take” and not “did you like it”? You must know Transalp is not Transalp, by now it is a bit of a science in its own right.
But let’s get back to where it all started: with the passionate mountaineer Andi Heckmair from the Bavarian region Allgaeu. The official mountain guide loves mountains and road biking. Back in the 1990s he put a ruler on a map, just out of the blue, and looked for the shortest way from the Bavarian town of Oberstdorf to Bolzano in North Italy, simply across the Alps. In the beginning it didn’t look very promising. In July 1990 he took off and the first official Transalp route was inaugurated, and up till today it is the only original. Back then he couldn’t imagine the dimensions of his first trip across the Alps, and today there’s not only “Heckmair’s route” but many others, like “Albrecht” or “Joe’s” route.
What is the best route for me?
Once you surf the internet you will find numerous variations and options for alp crossings. They all vary in difficulty, profile and duration, most ranging from 5 to 8 days. There are numerous different starting points and destinations, and the hardest thing will be to decide which route to take. You will have to do a lot of reading and studying, and in the end you will be sure that you can’t check out every little trail with a single trip. So when we started out for our first alp crossing we already knew that it wouldn’t be the last, simply because there are so many spectacular passes, canyons and valleys.
What do I need for a trans-alp tour?
To be honest, you don’t need a lot: light weight is the key issue. It is up to you if you choose a hardtail or a full-suspension bike, you should have a reliable mountain bike. The most important stuff is definitely one set of warm and dry clothing, rain gear and a few tools for emergency repair jobs on the bike, and a first aid kit. Then you should consider whether you prefer spending the nights in mountain cabins which is the classic style from hut to hut. We chose to be independent and had a sleeping bag and stove for a bivouac in the mountains. In this case you will need a few more things and you should get information on the legal side in other countries regarding camping and making a bivouac. If you decide to spend the night in cabins, you might consider making a reservation ahead.
How do I get prepared?
A mountain bike trip across the Alps is not so easy and requires some proper preparation and training. A trans-alp features both steep and often long uphill sections and tough carrying sections. Therefore you should have some basic fitness. Normally the daily tours are 50 to 70 km long with 1800 to 2200 meters altitude. So you should be familiar with such requirements. If you are not regularly biking, you should ideally begin a few months before your planned start of the tour. Even jogging, running or other fitness sports might be useful for a successful trip across the mountains. Besides, it is important that you are familiar with a GPS device, for the tours are normally not signposted, and not all the tracks will take you to Lake Garda.
What is the best time for a trans-alp?
Even if the summer started early, you shouldn’t take off for a trans-alp before mid-June; because most mountain passes will still be covered in snow. Further, June is the time for thunderstorms up in the mountains which can be a real problem for a bike tour in the Alps. Therefore the best time for a trans-alp trip is mid-July to mid-September. Anyway, you should be prepared for any weather in the Alps: long and extensive rain showers are normal; therefore it is important to pack your gear inside waterproof bags.
What about food?
Up in the mountains you might feel as if you are alone, however, the next supermarket is often quite close. You will need the shops, because biking all day requires a regular supply of energy and calories. However, opening times may vary and often shops are closed during lunch break. Sometimes doors were closed and we had to keep going with empty stomachs. Water on the other side, is easy to get. Almost every mountain village has a public well where you can fill up your water bottles (except marked with a sign “no drinking water”). Those who love traditional, regional and local food will often find a wide selection of homemade specialties freshly prepared by the hosts, often with the farmer’s home-grown ingredients.
How to get back home?
After cycling for a week you will finally arrive at your destination – dirty and exhausted, and once the initial euphoria is over you will face the question how to get back home. There is a special bike shuttle from Riva back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, since this is one of the favorite and most popular routes. In case the shuttle is too expensive, you can get on the train in Rovereto, just 20km north of Riva. Please note, the train ride requires a reservation for your bike a week in advance.
And last but not least a smart advice from Andi Heckmair, the father of trans-alp: „A little bit of rain in the beginning shouldn’t deter you.”
Written by Franzi from Tales on Tyres