Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Transalp experience - or how I began to love cycling

Transalp without preparation? Not possible you might say. And that's what I had thought, too, until I found myself doing exactly that - crossing the Alps with a mountainbike and with a less than sufficient preparation. Let's start at the beginning...

In 2004 I read an article in a magazine (in a women's magazine, not a sports magazine...) about a travel agency specialized in organizing mtb tours across the Alps. It sounded very interesting to me: All of the tours were guided, not more than 10-15 people in one group, duration 7-8 days, different routes, starting in Austria or Switzerland, ending in Northern Italy at Lake Garda, one of the European centers of mountain biking.
After thinking about it until late 2004, I decided to go on a trip with them in May 2005.

I just forgot some things:
1) I didn't ride my bike much at that time, and even that is an exaggeration. The last time I had done a bike tour that lasted longer than one hour was in 1999, on vacation with my dad in France.
2) The only bike I owned in 2004 was old and everything else but a mountainbike.
3) I still went to university and the first months of 2005 were packed with tests.
4) Generally, the weather in Germany in the spring tends to be rainy which made the preparation even more difficult.

The months passed and May came much faster than I had thought. By the time I had to leave for the trip, I had spent only about 500kms on my old and shabby bike and I still didn't own a mtb (fortunately it was possible to rent a bike in Austria, in a shop near our first hotel). My friends and family thought I was crazy but I insisted on going on the tour. After all, I had already paid for it and no company would give you the money back if you canceled just a week before.

On a cold Saturday morning I got on a train which should take me first to Munich and then to a small Austrian village where the meeting point of the group and the hotel for the first night were. After getting to know the others I began to feel a little bit more confident - all of them, especially our guide, seemed to be very nice. But of course they had much more experience!

The next morning we got up early, packed our stuff and hit the road. Our daily distance varied from 40 - 90 kilometers. After some initial problems with my rented bike (the bike was ok, it was me who was the problem, having no experience with disc brakes and stuff like that..) I got used to it. The first day was hard but on the following days I began to enjoy it more and more. Of course I was the slowest one, particularly on the uphill parts. I was amazed by the fact that the others never complained and even helped me by going slower themselves! At the end of the week I noticed that I felt more comfortable on the mountains than in the flat. Finally, after 8 hard days, we arrived at Lake Garda. I had never thought that I would actually make it. During this week I realized that even if you feel like you can't go any further it is possible to bike on. Despite being exhausted and feeling pain in muscles unknown to me before, I was happy and glad that I had not listened to the people who had been trying to talk me out of it.

One week later I went to the local bike shop and bought a mountainbike! I started to bike regularly and got another bike (a road bike) last year.

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