Words by Birgitte Krag // Photos by Joe Harper
Travelling around the world on your bike is the most incredible thing. So whenever you get the chance it is not to be missed. To me these adventures are the best way to create experiences; moving from one place to another every day, watching how the landscape changes, meeting people on your way, and constantly going from being excited, to exhausted, and back again. Sharing this with people who enjoy it as much as you do on the way is amazing.
I really wanted to make a trip that was challenging, but achievable. Where we would have to reach our limits and see how far we could push past them. To, at one point or another, be in doubt of how we would do it, or even if we could do it. Each day should bring scenic climbs, stunning nature, hard mental and physical challenges, and some unexpected surprises.
Venice to Tolmezzo.
Arriving and meeting the other girls for the first time. I was excited to meet them as I would spending the next five days with these women. And the only things we knew that we have in common is that we loved to ride our bikes and be part of adventures on the bike.
You could sense that everyone was excited to get riding, just get out there on the road, but also, nervous and cautious of the unknown, what the days would bring and how we would respond to this.
I was excited to finally get going. This is actually one of the best feelings, the first pedal stroke on the journey. The mark of beginning of your adventures. You know you have epic days ahead. The unknown, surprises, senses, and that emotional rush. I had been craving this: the warm pavement, the intense sun, Italy. And my legs were feeling good.
Tolmezzo to Weisensee via Monte Zoncolan.
The previous night and the following morning it was all about Monte Zoncolan. Widely regarded as the hardest climb in Europe with its average 12% gradient and inclines topping out at 22%, we would reach this climb after only 20 kilometres. Filled with a mental mixture of fear, anxiety, and delight, I was super excited because this had always been one of these climbs I felt I needed to attempt. I had heard countless people talk about the steepness one would be subjected to on the way to the top, which only increased my competitiveness with myself and my eagerness to experience it for myself.
The first part was dreadfully steep and leg-shaking. The road shot straight up towards the sky. My bike: covered in sweat. My pulse: escalating uncontrollably. This really was a breathtaking and majestic climb. For split seconds I would think, as I so often do “I don’t think I can do this,” but I would keep riding, driven by shear stubbornness. And at the same time, coursing through my body and mind, would be that spectacular thing I enjoy so much while suffering up these climbs: sustaining the actual mental presence to be able to take in these mind-blowing views.
Weisensee to Murau.
The day started off with some gravel in the woods by Weisensee, which was so beautiful you felt like stopping and staying there for a week.
We reached the Sölkpass climb. One of the most beautiful climbs I had ever done. 13 kilometres of pure Austrian heaven. Austria is so green and lush. The green hills, the little cute houses on the hills, the flowers, the sweet smell of freshly cut timber, the grey mountains in the horizon, the fresh air.
My senses were fully stimulated and that was the fuel that kept me going for hours. It is usually times like this where I get these split seconds of happiness. Alone on the climb, I sense and feel the fresh air, the colours, the smell, my bike. I was there on my own, but still together with the girls. We were each able to share this interpretation in our own unique way. I was there, somewhere in southern Austria, and not knowing if I would ever come back to this place. I wanted to perpetuate this feeling, but my consciousness would slip away towards other impressions and the feeling would gone before I knew of it. All that would remain is a memory. And Sölkpass is a memory I will not forget.
Murau to Lunz am See.
The longest day. 170 kilometres. It was getting really hot during the day. Because of the smaller little climbs, the group easily split up and we rode in smaller groups depending on pace. We were all low on energy being cooked in the heat. So less talking and more of what felt like continuously never-ending pedal strokes.
Rolling into Vienna.
An ‘easy’ day with rolling hills. We got up very early to avoid the heat from the previous day. And this day held a mixture of feelings. I was looking forward to arrive in Vienna to relax. To Austrian beers, schnitzel, apfelstrudel, wearing normal clothes, and not having to sit on a bike for hours in the blistering heat. Only 30 km from Vienna and then that was it. That feeling of having ridden for such a long time, in an instant, faded into what felt like we had only just begun.
In a way, the end of this trip marked the beginning of something new. The beginning of this desire to venture into the unknown with a group of strong, passionate women whom I had never met. I believe that because what we were doing every day was so intense, it felt so natural and easy to connect. Together, we went through moments of doubt, pain, joy, relief, and shear exhaustion. The only thing we knew we had in common was that we loved to ride our bikes and explore the roads. After these days we had seen each other in pain and anger, but also, at times, with an unexpected surplus of mental and physical resources being able to cheer and pull each other through the tough hours. I really felt like I made some friends, that I want to meet up with again – and this was just based on five of days of riding in Italy and Austria.