My shoulders complained against the hard floor – seems pushed together clothes lack the integrity of a proper sleeping mat. In the orange glow inside my tent I cracked my back and rolled my tired neck around before commando crawling out of the doorway. I poked around for my toothbrush amongst the mound in the tent porch and zombie stalked my way to the shower block with blurry eyes and more joints seizing up with each step. Yesterday had felt like a long day. Finding somewhere to stay is exhausting.
Returning to my tent I couldn’t help but laugh. In the darkness of the night before I hadn’t seen anything of Innsbruck during my approach. Now, in the morning, mountains stretched up ahead of me and into the clouds. The North Chain of the Karwendel Alps. They didn’t just stretch – they loomed up around the campsite. You could sense and hear it as well as see it – but the cloak of darkness fooled my raggedy brain last night – I hadn’t expected to wake up under this.
Under a wooden awning of the closed campsite restaurant I stole wifi to talk to message Katie, an old friend from Leeds (careful with the old!). We’d already hashed out a plan, I was set to stay with her and Barney in a few days, but we needed to flesh out our ideas and I wanted to ask what the hell there was to do in Austria. Might seem obvious with all the well known motorbiking in the alps… but after yesterday my alpine pass mojo was well and truly satisfied. Not to mention my front brakes had been squeaking loudly all the way down the Stelvio pass and I wanted to nurture them back to the UK rather than faffing about here. So I needed something more sedate. I was resigned to sightseeing – at least Innsbruck was an attractive city to wander around for the day. Navigating my way back into the city on guesses as much as intel I was subjected to wave after wave of slippery tram tracks, criss crossing all over the roads and intersections. I took my cue from another biker and swung onto the pavement in front of some civil building (maybe a hospital?) to chain my bike to a street light. Oh Yeah – Pedestrian time. I felt weak without 88 horses between my legs.
After leaving the twelfth outdoor equipment shop I’d come to think of Innsbruck as a nice, pleasant place. Civil and organised. I sat at a cafe on the Maria-Theresienstrasse, drinking coffee and fizzy water, thinking. I couldn’t pin it down, but I didn’t think it was tranquillity I was experiencing. I think it was sadness.
The world was civilized and predictable again – I knew how to interact with it.
The big challenges experienced throughout my trip had gone, it looked like plain sailing from here to home and the bulk of my riding was already behind me.
I was back on self-financing, penny-pinching and making decisions on petrol costs and longevity of parts needing replacement
I resigned to the slow trudge back through countries that, through no fault of their own, didn’t really interest me at all. They were too close to home. For the first time the thrill escaped me.
When I got back to the tent, armed with food for tonight and tomorrows ride, I read through Katie’s replies. My plan had been to meet them at their house in Dornbirn a day or two before my birthday – which left me with two or three days worth of exploring in Austria. Like I thought, there wasn’t much here apart from walking round Innsbruck or the Tirol Alps in motorcycle boots. Katie had also passed on a tip from Barney about a famous mountain pass road in Austria. I weighed up my earlier resignation, I thought about the condition of my brakes (never actually undoing the top plate to check their condition..) and thought about penny-pinching my way home. Then I thought ‘Fuck it, some things are worth crippling unarranged overdraft interest charges for‘. Tomorrow I’d slingshot through the Silvretta Pass. After that I could look forward to meeting friends for my birthday.
By morning I was ready for riding, more than ever. I don’t worry about how things feel, how much things cost or ever to some extent where I am when I’m in the saddle. It’s like being an eagle. So I took to the roads, sweeping through tall pine forests along the valley floors, eastbound in search of glory and honour. I was off the motorways again, but never more grateful. Zirl, Telfs, Imst and Landeck – the mountains steepened on either side and the valley floor widened. Some tunnels ahead were all closed, so traffic was diverted along windy small roads built up on the valley side. It wasn’t fast enough to be at all dangerous and passed through town after town and construction works after construction works. Soon enough I arrived in Ischgl, where I’d planned to stop to fill up before heading up the Silvretta. I passed a BP garage, heading towards the interior. I wanted to find a coffee shop first, I was bursting for a piss and could probably do with a break. Tough luck Tom – Ischgl is a town for ghosts. The faint rattling of construction work in the background was it – no human noise, no human sights. Just empty chalets and locked bars. A little creeped out I rode back to BP, filling the bike up and emptying my own tank. I grabbed a handful of raisins that had become caught in the bottom of my tankbag for god knows how long and counted the stop as a break. I kicked the bike into gear and rode to the toll booths marking the start of the pass.
It didn’t feel like a mountain pass yet. The road rose slowly and curved gently. It was great, fast riding but not technical – almost a relief. After only a couple of hairpins Candy Indy and I pulled up in a gravel car park overlooking a big, cloudy lake. It cost me €12 to get onto this road – I was going to stop and take photos like a real punter should.
I rode cautiously past a summit-looking-cafe, casting glances across the full car park. It looked surprisingly like a summit cafe, but it couldn’t be, right? I hadn’t done anything to reach a mountain road summit… If it wasn’t the highest point of the road, why were we pitching back down again? Ah Shit.
I could have done with a sit down and a coffee. Instead I was plunging carefully down miles of tight twisties and serpentines, brakes squealing angrily, hissing moisture away and complaining about the weight. Mountain roads are always best on the way up – the burden is on the engine, as it should be. On the way down I barely had time to squeeze off any throttle before putting on the already fading brakes. The pads felt glassy, it can happen from the heat. I throttled back to enjoy it as much as possible, the low gear whirring loudly through my exhausts. I pulled up just before the exit toll gates and looked back. It looked like a superb climb this way round. I tugged at the notion of spinning around, having a go from this side but common sense prevailed, boring as ever. With brake discs in mind I rolled through the gates and out into another Austria. I followed the valley till I was ejected into Bludenz where old routines of mirroring motorways prevailed. I stopped for coffee in the city, grabbed a pastry and checked the phone GPS for a location. Ok. I’d reach Dornbirn early…like a couple of days early. I wondered if Katie and Barney would mind playing host earlier than expected.
As I expected I was in Dornbirn within the hour. I parked up in the centre square and hunted a cafe for wifi so I could update Katie on my status. She came back straight away with an OK and suggested I head to Ebnit, a little alpine village nearby, to kill some time until she and Barney finished work. I was on board with her plan and followed my GPS through Dornbirn back-streets, watching the city slowly give up its grasp on the land to wild looking forests and deep undulating, climbing tarmac. Katie was right, this was a killer stretch of road.
I went down the same way I went up, absolutely caning it and bouncing wildly over irregularities in the tarmac, sure I was getting the occasional mini two wheeled jump. I rolled back into Dornbirn with loads of time still under my belt, so I decided to dip my toe into Germany for the first time this trip. My route from Dornbirn to England was as yet unknown and if the route through France was chosen this might be my only opportunity to collect the German flag. It was very clearly a folly, its only use to waste the day. I did reach Lindau, it wasn’t spectacular either way. I took a photo of a nice tower and headed back.
For the second time I stole Dornbirn wifi to contact Katie who set up a meeting in the Gasthof Engel pub, down the road from her house in half an hour. It was getting dark when I found it, again prematurely. I wasted a lot of time trying to park my bike perfectly outside – in the process dropping my helmet from its perch on my saddle, watching in horror as it scraped down the spiky rendered wall and thunking to the floor. I was irritated. There were a few scratches in the side, but other than that the visor was OK and it looked like grinding down the wall had took some of the impact out of the fall. They tell you to retire helmets after a drop – but this cost me nearly £300. I’d rather loose my head. After a short wait Katie, Barney and Tom and Ann (also friends from Leeds Uni days) emerged out of the twilight to greet me. Barney, Katie and I settled into the Gasthof Engel for a few pints and a catchup chin-wag. For the nth time I failed to think up a good answer to “Where was the best place you visited”, but at least this time I was drunk and tired. Barney seemed genuinely put out when I told him the Silvretta pass was definitely a one way wonder. Still it was probably the most interesting route here. With the drinking finished I rode the 200m or so up the road to their house and settled comfortably into the Fritzl room they’d lovingly prepared. The room wasn’t big enough for a full mattress, but one was jammed in regardless, bent up at the sides.
I had no complaints. It was better than a bunch of cold clothes.