Rando Imperator MMXVII – Via Claudia Augusta from Munich to Ferrara

What happens if you roll close to midnight into the best hotel in Bozen, completely drenched and shivering to the bone, dripping onto the marble floor and pushing a horribly filthy bike? You are of course treated like a royal guest! They even insist you bring the bike into the lobby over night, leaning it against an antique cabinet that’s probably worth more than the bike. 

And yes, they do have a room available. That’s music in my ears, and a few minutes later I have managed to make a total mess of the bathroom (dirt and dirty clothes everywhere) and stand under a steaming hot shower, washing off six hours of riding in the rain, slowly becoming warm again. When I am tucked in bed (stuffed with pizza and under two blankets), quickly drifting off to sleep I have already half forgotten how awful the descent down the Reschenpass felt in 2 degrees and all thoughts about scratching (yes, those were there) are quickly forgotten - lets see how the world looks after 5 hours of good sleep and a hearty breakfast!

Rolling out - into the fog and the sunrise

The day had started out really good - it wasn’t half as cold as expected when I (and around 100 other riders) rolled out of Munich at 4 o’clock in the morning. Some 650 km ahead of us, along the old via Claudia Augusta, all the way to Ferrara in the Po valley. Mainly on roads away from the traffic, including some gravel parts and lots of dedicated bike paths. All scouted and organized by Simone from Witoor (http://witoor.com/en/), thank you very much! After last weeks DNF at the Candy B. Graveller I didn’t have a real plan for this one. Just to test the knee and see what is possible, maybe in one go without sleep…

The chilly fog along the Isar soon is burned away by a beautiful sunrise and in a large group we roll along nicely, ignoring the good cycle path at this early hour. Soon we are off the streets anyway, rolling on nice gravel roads towards the first control behind Garmisch. Breakfast time!!

One climb down…

Freshly fueled by Nutella sandwiches and Italian ham we tackle the first of two climbs - the Fernpass. All stories I had heard about the Fernpass was that there is heavy traffic - but we climb away from the road, on quiet gravel roads. Only for the last part we decide to switch to the road, because we want to descend on tarmac. While I have been told the gravel downhill is well rideable (in dry conditions), some of us are on 25mm tires and we also yearn for a bit of high speed. So we brave the traffic (not that bad), take the obligatory picture with the Zugspitze and down it is!

… one more to go

Back on the original track in Nassereith we make our way towards the Inn valley and the second climb, on easy rolling terrain and with virtually no traffic. Occasionally the cycle path closely follows the motorway and we get to see the cars whizz by - I would not want to switch sides!

After a short stretch in Switzerland we tackle the second climb - the Norbertshöhe. The knee holds up, the climb is never too hard and when we arrive in Nauders we have basically done it - we crossed the Alps, all downhill from here!

Here comes the rain… 

Unfortunately the weather on the other side of the Alps doesn't know that it is supposed to be better in the South and what starts as a slight drizzle soon turns to proper rain, plus it is getting colder. But we aren't far from the next control (and Pizza!), even Mike’s broken chain doesn’t stop us and we cross into Italy. Pizza feels great and we order extras, extending our stay a little and not wanting to head back out into the rain. Which is a mistake, because when we finally get back on the bikes the body has cooled down - and with a downhill ahead of us there is no real chance of warming up…

After the - again obligatory - picture at the Reschensee I find myself riding alone. I have a small defect, and in this weather waiting for someone will only cool you down, so the unspoken idea is to meet again on the track after the downhill. 

I am by now shivering pretty bad - the Garmin says it’s 2 degrees, and I need get to lower (=warmer) ground fast. So I descent on the main road, not sure about road conditions on the official track. I have later been told it would have been perfectly fine to follow the track, but I just didn’t want to take any chances.

… and it is here to stay

I rejoin it in Glurns and from here the next 220km are easy riding: following the river Etsch all the way to Lake Garda this is first downhill, then pancake flat, aside from the occasional bridge and pretty much without any traffic at all. So in theory this should be a piece of cake: but it is still raining, switching from drizzling to heavy rain, but never dry. Luckily I find part of my group again, and all I am thinking about is reaching the next control in Bozen, hoping for a hotel there and fantasizing about a hot shower… 

It really is head down and pedal - in the short stops we make I force myself to eat something, my mood is at a low, which also shows in the fact that I didn’t take a single picture for a whole 6 hours…

Now comes the sun!

When my alarm sounds after 5 hours of sleep I wake up relatively fresh and in a good mood. There is even a bit of blue sky to be seen! So I quickly pack the bike, do some damage assessment (camera didn’t make it - lesson learned here: if it has a zipper it is not REALLY waterproof, no matter what it says!) and head of to breakfast. Were I stumble upon Bernd and Carsten! Coughing badly last night they had also decided to be in need of a shower and a real bed and with breakfast being included they weren’t going to leave without it. So it is 3 of us rolling out at 7:30, with 314km to go to Ferrara.  

On autopilot

The bike path along the river Etsch can be quite boring - but with yesterday in my legs I am happy to be just rolling along flat. Wind can be an issue here, but this early there is none at all and we are lucky throughout the whole day. Which means we make good progress - which is good, because we are unsure of the time limit to officially finish this brevet. I don’t care but my two companions do - so my plea for a pasta lunch is ignored and all I get is a quick stop and a slice of cold pizza and bread. Fuel for the body, not so much for the spirit. 

Before reaching Lake Garda (and finally stopping for some proper food, thanks to my nagging) we have a smaller climb through the wine hills to best, but nothing serious. Not far now to the next control in Mantua, and another dead flat 100km from there to the finish!

On the homestretch 

Most of the route now directly follows the river Po, often on a dyke that is again virtually traffic free. We are lucky and have a slight tailwind blowing us into a magnificent sunset! Everything here looks not just Italian but very Roman to me, like Asterix and Obelix would be coming out of the woods any minute, chasing some Roman legionnaires. But all stays quiet, and after 42 hours and 665 km we reach Ferrara! Tired and knackered, but happy!

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