TCR No.5 - Part 2
schloss Lichtenstein - MONTE GRAPPA
Into The Alps
The first major turning point in my race comes the night after the first checkpoint. Following a lovely cruise through rolling German countryside filled with Lederhosen-clad locals, I quickly set up camp as a storm rolls in overhead. I survive the torrential rain, sleeping like a baby for about 4 hours, and waking up to a beautiful morning. As I set off into the half-light of dawn something is wrong with my dynamo – my headlight is weak and intermittently cuts out. Mercifully, a cafe materialises, giving me a safe haven to assess the storm damage to my electrics. I manage to get the lights working, but I can't charge my phone from my dynamo – a big problem as I've been using it as navigation to replace my dead Garmin. Onto plan C: Charge my battery pack and use it to fuel my power-hungry phone for as long as possible, stop to recharge the battery pack every few hours and repeat until Greece. The drawback of this plan is that the battery pack takes about 8 hours to charge – a time span unavailable on the TCR.
Checkpoint 2 is nestled in the southern slopes of the Alps at the base of Monte Grappa, necessitating a crossing of said mountain range. I botch my way south through the foothills of the Austrian Alps using a combination of a slowly dying iPhone and hastily purchased paper maps, with my route added in biro. The constant re-charging and map checking cafe stops are terrible for progress but great for cake consumption. Crossing the Fern Pass is a nerve-jangling gauntlet-run along a road not quite wide enough to comfortably accommodate a petrified cyclist and a stream of huge, fast moving lorries. Fortunately as the altitude increases, the traffic decreases until I'm on the kind of picturesque climb I'd been dreaming of. Every hour or so, the climb levels-off into a spectacular flat valley, then climbs again through rocky ravines and tumbling rivers, repeating the process until I'm starting to reach some serious altitudes.
This continues into the night when I decide to treat myself to my fist hotel of the trip in the all but deserted ski resort town of Imst. With my kit washed in the sink and dried overnight I'm up at the crack of dawn to finish off the final and most spectacular section of the climb to summit the Timmelsjoch Pass at 2500m. The sun-drenched descent is the stuff cycling dreams are made of: hours of swooping round switchbacks through dramatic tunnels against a backdrop of towering mountains and cavernous valleys.
As the altitude drops, the temperature soars to worrying levels. Welcome to Heatwave: Lucifer. You know it's serious when they give it a name. A day of riding in near 40 degree heat concludes with a 'navigational quirk' which has dot-watching friends from home sending me worried texts as I take a completely different route to 99% of the pack, ascending another mountain pass for good measure. The up-side for me is that I meet one of my cycling heroes: Emily Chappel - the only other rider who has chosen this route. I eventually catch her up and she drily notes that if you find yourself on the same route as her it's time to start worrying! We ride together through quaint Italian mountain towns as the sun goes down but I get lost in a one-way system and find myself alone again to negotiate a terrifyingly steep pitch-black descent down to Bassano Del Grappa. I finally reach the checkpoint after an al fresco McDonalds, at about 11pm - and it's still 35 degrees. Once the checkpoint staff have had a good laugh at my renegade route choice, I just have time to wash, charge electronics and sleep before attacking the parcours climb in the morning.
CP1 (Schloss Lichtenstein) - CP2 (MONTE GRAPPA)
352 miles (727 miles total) | 30,675 ft ascent (53,008 ft total) | 4d 2h 17m (5d 19h 55m total)