Tirano, Italy → Berlin, Germany
This trip was my fourth long-distance bike tour after Brooklyn → Montreal, Amsterdam → Venice, and Wurzburg → Vienna (via Villach). My bike, and human power alone (except for a short train ride), would take me from northern Italy near Milan, over the Alps into Austria, east across Southern Austria to Vienna, then north through the Czech Republic to Prague, and then north through Germany to Dresden then Berlin.
Day 1: Tirano, Italy → Bormio, Italy – August 20, 2017
This trip started with a few hiccups. When I arrived in Frankfurt (on the way to Milan) after an overnight Lufthansa flight from New York, my bike had not arrived with me. Although the baggage loaders at JFK had apparently scanned the bike as ‘loaded’, my bike had not made it on the flight.
When my bike arrived the following morning, the rear wheel was a little bent and completely out of true. I found an excellent bike shop near Frankfurt, HiBike. The mechanic did a superb job truing my wheel and straightening it as much as possible. Also, I had left my portable power pack in the frame bag on my bike (forgetting to take it in a carry-on bag) – it was confiscated at JFK, so I had to buy a new one.
The next morning, after flying to Milan, and train rides from Malpensa Airport to Milan Central Station, then from Milan along beautiful Lake Como to Tirano, I was ready to start the bike trip.
I arrived in Tirano at about 1 pm, and removed the bubble wrap from my bike (Lufthansa allows bikes to be wheeled on planes as is – I used bubble wrap to protect it). In the central town square, there were dozens of cyclists, mostly on mountain bikes, resting and eating lunch.
After a stop at a very friendly cafe for a great tuna sandwich, the first of many I would have on the trip, I changed into cycling gear, packed my street clothes on the bike, and departed Tirano for a 25-mile climb through the foothills of the Alps to Tirano, Italy.
It was a hot afternoon, but as I climbed higher, the spectacular scenery of the Alps got closer and the temperatures cooled. A slight headwind made the climbing difficult – as I was only riding 25 miles this day, I took my time.
I arrived in Bormio in the late afternoon and checked in to the Hotel Baita Dei Pini, conveniently located right in the middle of this beautiful town at the foot of the Alps. I arranged a take-away breakfast for early the next morning, and enjoyed a delicious pizza carpaccio and way too much gelato.
(My photos from this day were accidentally deleted, but I have two photos from Strava).
Distance: 24.9 miles
Elevation climbed: 2,841 ft
Average speed: 13.8 mph
Moving Time: 2:05
Day 2: Bormio, Italy → Innsbruck, Austria – August 21, 2017
This day was one my most challenging, and one of the most enjoyable, days ever on a bike.
Today’s ride would take me from Bormio at the base of the Northern Italian Alps, across a mountain range to the beautiful Alpine city of Innsbruck, Austria.
When my alarm clock rang at 4:30, it was still pitch black outside, but the light of a bright moon outlined the shadows of the massive mountain peaks north of Bormio. I stepped on to the balcony of my hotel room to a howling north wind and an air temperatures of 36F (with much colder real-feel windchill temperatures).
After a small breakfast of a few small meat sandwiches, some fruit, and an oat bar, I departed the hotel and began heading northward, to cross the Alps by bike. I wore all of the winter gear I brought along (not much) – long finger gloves, a midweight cap, arm and leg warmers, and a light wind-barrier jacket over my jersey and insulating underlayer. It would have been way too cold for a regular ride, but I was about to climb 5,000 ft straight up over the majestic Stelvio Pass. Even with the nasty headwind and near-freezing temperatures, I started warming up right away, and pulled off some layers.
The scenery leaving Bormio was gorgeous but foreboding. There was no apparent way to get through the wall of granite I was inching toward. Occasionally, in the far distance and high up on the granite wall, I could see what I thought looked like a road. I was headed up there. It seemed very high and far indeed. The climbing was hard, not terrible, but there were many sustained 7-12% grades.
This photo of my GPS after nearly an hour of cycling is a good synopsis. My heart rate is 133 (my normal resting heart rate is about 50), my speed is 4.2 mph, the grade of the hill is 15%, I have covered only 6.6 miles at average speed of 6.9 mph, I’m in the lowest gear I have, and it’s a cold 38F for a clear August day.
The only interruption from the incredible views were these amazing tunnels carved into the granite mountainside.
As I climbed higher and away from Bormio, the atmosphere became sublime.
The Stelvio Pass begins in earnest in the bottom of what is a massive canyon with tremendous rock walls on either side. The road climbs up one of the those walls, through tunnels, and along thundering waterfalls. Signs of rockfalls and landslides abound. A few birds soared high above the canyon. Other than waterfalls, the canyon was completely silent.
The winds slowed somewhat and it warmed just a little bit. It was still before 7:00 A.M. — there was no one else on the road (only several cars passed for the first two hours in either direction; and only one descending cyclist).
The magical beauty of the Stelvio is hard to describe. My average speed for the first two hours of cycling was a mere 7 mph. But I wasn’t focused on speed – the goal was to keep turning the pedals all the way to the top. The first “36” sign indicating the beginning of 36 switchbacks meant I was getting closer to the top. The switchbacks and hairpin turns made for some seriously challenging cycling, but the views all around were simply stupendous.
At certain times, looking at faraway mountains covered in snow, I could almost forget I was cycling up very steep grades. The road passed by old abandoned buildings. Cowbells occasionally punctuated the air. The sun was slows getting higher in the sky, and the temperatures were warming. It was a perfect day to climb the Stelvio.
I finally made it to the top at about 9 am, and had a delightful (second) breakfast on a restaurant terrace high above the Alps – some perfectly fried eggs, hot vegetable soup, and two cups of orange juice, hit the spot.
I lingered over breakfast for a little while, savoring the view and resting the legs. There is a unique sense of satisfaction sitting on the top of a high mountain pass, looking far down into a distant valley from where you have just cycled, and knowing that in every direction there will be many miles of downhill cycling.
The iconic south face of the Stelvio Pass.
But the day was just beginning – it was time to get going. The intense early-morning sunshine that had lit up the mountains as I climbed the Stelvio was fading behind some thick clouds, not too high above me. It became quite cold and windy when I prepared to set off again – about 40F. For the descent, I bought a face buff at the mountaintop souvenir shop (luckily, it was much needed). I covered my face, pulled down my winter hat, zipped up, checked my wheels and brakes, and turned downhill.
For the first few miles, the road just dropped away from the front of my bike. It took all of my attention to safely navigate through the first few switchbacks and sharp hairpins. One miscalculation here would lead to a long fall off a sheer drop. In some cases, there were small 3-ft high crash barriers (perfect for stopping a car or a bike, but not the rider on top of the bike), in other places the edge of the road just dropped off into the abyss.
As the day got later, there was some traffic ascending the pass and I had to be especially careful on turns. If I released my brakes for a second or two too long, my speed would quickly become uncontrollable. The winds were gusting at certain points, blowing up the valley walls.
Some parts of this descent were magical. At certain points, I could look over the edge of the road and see multiple levels of cars and buses ascending below me, as if on a long staircase. In some straight sections, I covered several miles in a row at over 30 mph.
At last, with my fingers nearly completely numb from squeezing the brakes, I reached the beautiful town of Prad am Stilfser Joch (Pratto allo Stelvio in Italian) on the border of Italy and Switzerland, about 10 miles south of the Italy/Austria border between Italy and Austria. I stopped to buy a portable power bank – now I could hopefully keep my phone and gps charged all day. I also had delicious lasagna for my first lunch (on days like these, I would have two lunches and two dinners).
From Pratto, the climbing would begin again in earnest, up and over the Reschen Pass into Austria. I opted to take the more direct steep main road instead of the meandering but more flat cycle path, and the road became quite busy especially with trucks. But almost every single car and truck that passed was courteous and gave me plenty of space.
This was a very challenging climb, consisting of about a dozen long switchbacks up a huge open grassy hill. There was nowhere to hide from a strong gusty headwind. Several grades exceeded 17%.
On the way down the other side of the pass, I stopped for a supermarket tuna sandwich, and enjoyed a second lunch break at a picnic table overlooking a beautiful lake high in the Austrian alps. My companions at my table were two friendly German women traveling to spend a week living with nuns at a monastery in Italy. They asked all about my trip, and were happy to snap a few pictures.
Eventually, I made it to the top of the Reschen Pass and crossed into Austria. I continued riding northward along the Inn River past beautiful Pfunds, between the mighty peaks of the Samnaun Mountains and the Ötztal Alps in the east, and towards Landeck. At about 3 pm, I arrived at a junction in the road that I had been looking at on Google Maps for several weeks prior to my trip.
The junction was at the beautiful town of Fliess, lying on a plateau overlooking the Inntall Valley. Here, I could either continue to follow the river valley northward toward Landeck and then eastward toward Innsbruck, or I could shorten the distance by a few miles by taking a more direct route bypassing Landeck and rejoining the river valley in Imst. But the direct route through Piller meant climbing up and over a mountain. This was not a hidden hill. The road showed its colors right from where I had stopped for a minute considering which route to take – a sheer 2,300-ft climb up a steep forested mountainside.
I went for it. The climb would continue for nearly 5 miles straight, with an average grade of 9% and sustained sections of +15%. This was an especially challenging climb on a loaded bike after having already crossed two high mountain passes earlier in the day. A few farmers alongside the road tended to their fields. I occasionally passed a house or two. During this nearly hour-long climb, only two or three cars passed me the entire time. As the afternoon got later, it was just me against this massive hill in the Austrian Alps.
At long last, I made it to the top, and stopped for a brief rest high on this beautiful savage mountain.
After a steep, fast descent, I returned to the main road along the river valley at Imst. About 10 miles east, I had a similar choice. I could follow the river valley all the way to Innsbruck or take a more direct (as the crow flies) route across the mountains.
At this point, I had already climbed nearly 12,000 feet, but I decided to go for it anyway. By this point, my legs had stopped protesting, realizing that I wouldn’t be stopping this ride anytime soon, and I felt surprisingly good. I had not researched this climb before the trip – it turned out to be a 4,300-foot high beast. Starting an elevation of 2,400 feet with the Haimingerberg climb, the climb continued all the way up a narrow canyon to the ski resort of Kuhtai at an elevation of 6,700 feet (gradients of 14% for one mile; 12% for another 1.5 miles; sections exceeding 20%, and rarely dipping below 6%).
I passed the stunning Finstaler reservoir surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks with every shade of green closer to the water. At long last, after a particularly nasty final 15% ramp, with legs and lungs burning, I reached the ski resort at the top. There was no one around. I had this desolate mountain top all to myself as the afternoon got later. I zipped up, covered up, and began a 4000-foot screaming-fast descent through Sankt Sigmund im Sellrain and Gries im Sellrain and down into the valley towards Innsbruck. I had to slow several times to avoid hitting cows crossing the roads. They did not look too happy to be disturbed.
The roads were mostly deserted; the riding superb. About 10 miles away from Innsbruck, my portable power bank (which hadn’t been fully charged when I bought it earlier) needed to be recharged (my phone and gps were nearly without power). Without these items, I would have had difficulty finding my hotel. At about 9 pm, I stopped at a gas station and chatted with some friendly Austrian locals while my power bank charged.
For the last 10 miles through Vols and into Innsbruck I was finally on flat ground again, and with the sunset the wind had subsided. The thought of completing this long day helped me along, and I raced into Innsbruck in the darkness, to arrive at the beautiful Alphotel (picture from my balcony the next morning), surrounded by huge mountain peaks on all sides.
Distance: 135.7 miles
Elevation climbed: 15,361 ft
Average speed: 12.7 mph
Moving Time: 10:43
Estimated calories: 5,558
Day 3: Innsbruck, Austria → Salzburg, Austria – August 22, 2017
After a restful night and a late wakeup in Innsbruck, I departed at 1:30 pm and began heading eastward toward Salzburg into a whipping headwind. Though the wind was tough (particularly in places where the valley narrowed), the first 40 miles of this ride were mostly flat or slightly downhill so I made good progress. The scenery was beautiful in all directions as I continued east along the valley. The sun shined brightly and huge puffy clouds hitting the mountaintops provided dramatic views along the way. As I rode along, a strong white-haired cyclist whizzed by me. It took all of my energy to catch up to him – but drafting behind him for about 8 miles was a great break, allowing me to cover ground very quickly while conserving a bit of energy. He also took me off the main road and onto some side roads and bike paths where we had much more shielding from what had become a biting headwind.
This entire day was filled with fantastic Austrian Alps scenery. My route was taking me along the northern edge of the Alps – the views were simply stupendous. I made very good progress on miles 50 through 80. The roads were perfect, the drivers were friendly, and aside from the headwind the weather continued to be ideal.
When I got to Schneizlreuth in the late afternoon, it became a little cloudy. I left the main road and followed a path along the Saalach River into Salzburg as the sun faded behind the clouds and the mountains.
I arrived in the wonderful Hotel Melanie Garni at the outskirts of Salzburg in Wals just after dark. A great day on the bike.
Distance: 93.7 miles
Elevation climbed: 2,982 ft
Average speed: 15.8 mph
Moving Time: 5:57
Day 4: Salzburg, Austria → Linz, Austria – August 23, 2017
The sun was again shining brightly when I woke up in beautiful Salzburg, one of my favorite cities. I was excited for the day’s ride through Austria’s Salzkammergut (Lake District). I would have to extend the day’s (already long) ride by about an extra 15 miles in order to ride through the Lake District, but I came to Europe to ride, and this was some of the best cycling anywhere in the world. Roads smooth as glass, and beautiful lake scenery.
I left Salzburg in an easterly direction and rode alongside breathtakingly beautiful alpine lakes. Without the mountains in the background, these lakes could have passed for the Caribbean – all shades of blue, turquoise, and green with crystal-clear water. I rode alongside Fuschlsee, south toward Pollach and St. Gilgen, along the north edge of spectacular Wolfgangsee, the south edge of Mondsee, and finally along the west side of the stunning Attersee.
The day was hot, but the cycling was fantastic. Austria’s cycling infrastructure (such as dedicated tunnels for bike paths) and bike-friendly culture is second to none. I was able to draft for several miles behind some fast cyclists – I was very happy to able to keep up with a loaded bike.
Like the Stelvio Pass, the beauty of the lakes I rode past is hard to describe, and pictures are simply not fair. All the vivid colors with big mountains in the background made for wonderful vistas.
I stopped along the way at an “Ice Cafe” (or ice cream parlor) where a creation of fresh fruit, four scoops of ice cream, and a vegetable smoothie, provided a much-needed afternoon cool-down and energy boost.
I was riding pretty fast today all day, but when I left the Lake District at Vocklabruck and began heading northeast toward Linz, I picked up a slight tailwind. At this point, after a steady climb, the road mostly flattened too.
With some help from the tailwind, for the last 30 miles of this ride, I averaged about 20 mph, amazing speed after consecutive long days on the bike. I rode alongside the Ager River on some great roads, with courteous drivers, and sped into Linz in the late afternoon.
After a great day on the bike, I was very happy to arrive at the beautiful Hotel Kremstalerhof in the old Roman-founded city of Linz.
Distance: 89.6 miles
Elevation climbed: 3,081 ft
Average speed: 16.4 mph
Moving Time: 5:29
Day 5: Linz, Austria → Vienna, Austria – August 24, 2017
After a restful night’s sleep in Linz, I began a long journey east following the Danube River to Vienna. This was going to be long (though pretty flat) day on the bike, so I was very happy to have a slight tailwind pushing me along. Soon after departing Linz, a bike path sign indicating 179 kilometers to Vienna reminded me of the task ahead and to keep moving at a steady pace.
There are excellent bike paths along both sides of the Danube River. Most of the area along the river east of Linz is woods and open fields, interrupted by occasional towns and villages – the first 40 to 50 miles of the day’s ride was through sparsely populated areas. I was enjoying the music on my phone, and I focused on maintaining a high cadence. It was a hot day but I was making good progress on the bike. Along some sections of the river, I passed groups of cyclists including quite a few families on bike tours. Many cyclists spend a week pedaling between Linz and Vienna on a bike tour, stopping at little towns along the way.
At the town of Mauthausen (the location of the notorious Nazi concentration camp), the bike path ended in the woods at a ferry dock.
This was the first of several ferries, stationed at towns approximately 20 miles apart on the Danube, that are purpose-built to transport cyclists between the paths on both sides of the river. After a 10-minute wait, a charming little ferry arrived, captained by a way-too-serious pilot. I was joined on the ferry by a few Polish cyclists (the fourth group of Polish cyclists I encountered on the trip).
The ferry trip across the river lasted for some five minutes, and I was quickly on my way again under my own power, now on the north side of the Danube. I stopped for two sandwich lunches, the first at the beautiful 1000-year-old riverside town of Grein, and twice for ice cream. I also needed to replenish my sunscreen (easier said than done in a small Austrian town, but a supermarket had exactly what I needed).
I continued along the Danube to Melk, making very good speed the entire way. For about 10 miles, I was chasing two fast-moving cyclists on the horizon ahead of me on the riverside bike path. I was able to close the distance to about a few hundred meters but could not quite catch them. It would have been nice to have some drafting help, but I couldn’t overexert myself and stay in the red-zone too long as I still had long miles to do.
At Melk ,the site of a vast 11th-century monastery (pictured below) I left the Danube River (which continued north then east to Krems an der Danau) to take the more direct easterly route to Vienna through St. Polten (the oldest city in Austria, and one of the oldest in Europe) and Neulengbach.
Until I reached the outskirts of Vienna, most of the ride was through farmland and countryside on beautiful signed bike baths. I was frequently delighted by Austria’s cycling infrastructure, such as this fantastic helix to go from bike bath to bridge path.
After a slight 500-foot climb into the town of Pressbaum, in the Vienna Woods, a glorious tailwind started below. For the last 10 miles, I raced through the beautiful flat roads into Vienna at more than 25 mph.
Just after sunset, after a long, hot, tiring, but beautiful day on the bike, I arrived at the wonderful Hotel Zeitgeist Vienna. Over the past four days, I had traveled 450 miles on my trusty bike, but I felt surprisingly good. What a trip so far!
Distance: 120.7 miles
Elevation climbed: 2,536 ft
Average speed: 16.5 mph
Moving Time: 7:19
Day 6: Vienna, Austria → Brno, Czech Republic (then Prague by train) – August 25, 2017
Because I wanted to get to Berlin by Sunday, there was not enough time for an overnight stop between Vienna and Prague, and riding the 200 miles from Vienna to Prague would have been very difficult after multiple long days on the bike. So on this day I would ride northwest from Vienna across the Austria/Czech Republic border to Brno, the second-largest city in the Czech Republic and the capital of Moravia, and then take a train to Prague. I normally have somewhat of a purist approach to bike touring, wanting to do every mile by bike, but I made this accommodation.
It was a perfect day for cycling when I departed my hotel in Vienna. My ride took me through a large section of this magnificent city until I reached the northern edge.
Austria (like Germany) is markedly different from the United States in that when the city limits end there is no vast suburban sprawl. Instead, typically a sign with a strike-mark through the city’s name indicates the city border and beyond that immediately is usually farmland, open countryside, or woods. This was dramatic in Vienna. I went from bustling city streets to the silent countryside in a matter of moments. North of Vienna I followed rolling, sometimes very steep but short hills through Wolkersdorf im Weinviertel, Mistelbach, and Poysdorf to the Czech border. Until I reached the border, it was mostly sparsely populated countryside.
As I got closer to the Czech border, the terrain became hillier as I rode through the Palava mountains, and the traffic increased. Many trucks were stuck in a traffic buildup near the border, but I was able to whiz past on the shoulder. When trucks did pass me, they were for the most part very courteous, moving at least halfway across the road. In some cases, I caught a good draft for a few moments. In the early afternoon, I crossed the border into the Czech Republic’s Moravia region and stopped at the first town, called Mikulov, perched on a hillside surrounded by vineyards and small mountains. This was my first stop of the day – 50 fast miles in. I bought a sandwich in a supermarket after overcoming some language barriers, and stopped for a long lunch on a shaded bench in a hotel courtyard.
After Mikulov, the roads were mostly flat for about 20 miles. I passed through charming Czech villages, some appearing to be stuck in the 1970s. In one quaint village, speakers hanging throughout the village streamed soft music. As I got closer to Brno, I encountered a few hard, long climbs but also beautiful countryside and vineyards. One problem I had in the Czech Republic was the availability of fuel for cycling, which for me is usually gatorade/powerade, tuna/turkey sandwiches. Few of the gas stations were stocked with these supplies. Instead, rural convenience stores seemed to focus on selling alcohol.
After two hard climbs near Orecnov, and crossing the Bobrowa River, I entered Brno and quickly arrived at the Brno train station with about 25 minutes to spare before the next train departed for Prague. I had researched the area near the train station – there was a gym about a 10-minute ride away. I rode as fast as I could (after six long days on the bike) to the gym.
The very friendly receptionist happily let me inside to take a shower. After a great cold shower, and feeling very refreshed, I threw on my street clothes, packed my bike (in record time) and raced back to the train station. I made it with two minutes to spare, but I could now enjoy the ride in comfort condition, rather than covered in sweat and dead bugs.
After a pleasant train ride (it almost felt weird to be speeding through the countryside without pedaling) I arrived in Prague’s bustling central train station at about 9 pm. A short, 15-minute ride through this beautiful city brought me to the Hotel Suite Home Prague, where I was thrilled to be upgraded for free to the nicest room in the hotel, a massive top-floor apartment with breathtaking views of the Prague night skyline. Arriving with a loaded bike sometimes literally opens doors.
Distance: 86.8 miles
Elevation climbed: 3,399 ft
Average speed: 16.3 mph
Moving Time: 5:20
Day 7: Prague, Czech Republic → Dresden, Germany – August 26, 2017
When I tried recharging my electronic Di2 gears in Prague as part of my evening prep routine for the next day (which includes washing my cycling clothes and charging electronics), the Di2 charger did not respond. I had only about 25% power left on my Di2 system, so I needed another charge before the end of the trip in Berlin or my bike would be stuck in one gear. Luckily, there was a Specialized concept store a few miles from my hotel. After lingering in the hotel a bit in the morning to enjoy the wonderful views from my balcony, I went to the Specialized shop.
I am always greeted warmly in European bike shops when I arrive with a fully-loaded bike, and this amazing shop was no exception.
While my Di2 charged, a friendly mechanic thoroughly cleaned and lubed my cranks, cassette, and chain. It was so nice to have a freshly cleaned, silent drivetrain as I departed Prague.
Prague is simply a stunning city, one of the most enchanting places I have ever been. The architecture and detail in the city’s buildings and infrastructure is amazing.
After navigating a few bumpy cobblestone streets (don’t say flat tire, I didn’t have one the entire trip), I crossed the Vltava River with the spectacular Charles Bridge (construction completed in the 15th century) and followed the river north out of Prague.
Immediately upon leaving the city limits of Prague, I was climbing a steep 500-ft climb away from the next town of Roztoky. This was a sharp windy climb with significant traffic, but the views of Prague were beautiful from high above the city.
I passed through some charming Czech towns, quiet on a sleepy weekend morning in Bohemia.
The riding was mostly flat for the next 30 miles, through countryside, small towns, and forests.
After about 50 miles from Prague, I entered the Usti nad Labem region and stopped at a wonderful steakhouse in Racineves where I had a great lunch and a big ice cream for dessert.
The riding here as I traveled northward towards Germany was fantastic – great roads, little traffic and changing scenery.
Near the city of Usti, the road linked up with the slow-flowing, winding Elbe River which I followed for several miles. The side of the river provided a few excellent places to stop and relax, and enjoy the wonderful weather (yet again) before I began the tough ride from Usti to Dresden.
From Usti, I rode northwest toward the German border. Departing the city, I immediately began an 1,800-ft grueling climb through a thick forest in the Ore Mountain Range. This was tough riding on a hot day, but the views of Germany’s Saxony region to the north and Bohemia to the south were splendid.
In the late afternoon, I descended nearly 2,000 feet, with some small climbs along the way, to the German border at Rundteil.
The change between countries was subtle but noticeable even in the border towns. The key change for me was the road surface. In the Czech Republic, the roads were usually fair to good but not great. Throughout Germany, almost every long road I rode on was in near perfect condition. I continued north through beautiful countryside until I rejoined the Elbe River at Pirna.
The setting sun brought with it some cumulonimbus buildups, so I hurried to try to arrive in Dresden before it began to rain. Luckily, the rain held up for a while, and I made good speed approaching Dresden, with stops to refuel at well-stocked gas stations.
I entered Dresden at about 7 pm to a magnificent sunset.
Crossing the Carolabrucke Bridge into Dresden, the views of this ancient Gothic city (rebuilt to replicate the original after WWII) were awe-inspiring. I lingered for some time on the bridge admiring the cityscape and savoring the end of a long day on the bike; one of my favorite parts of these long inter-city rides is crossing a bridge into a city, usually around sunset or later, having come from some faraway city or another country (like this day) by bike.
As I cycled through Dresden, it began raining slightly (amazingly, the first rain I encountered on the entire trip) but it stopped very quickly. The city looked incredible under the sky lit up by a fiery sunset partially obscured by thick rain clouds. A magical place.
As darkness fell, I arrived at the wonderful City Hotel Dresden Radebeul on the outskirts of Dresden. This was a hard but glorious day on the bike. After a long, hot shower in a high-pressure rainfall shower (good German hotels always have high-pressure showers), I enjoyed a wonderful buffet dinner. German food, high in protein, carbs, and usually with abundant green vegetables, is great cycling fuel. Recovery began for the next day.
Distance: 99.9 miles
Elevation climbed: 4,695 ft
Average speed: 15.2 mph
Moving Time: 6:33
Day 8: Dresden, Germany → Berlin, Germany – August 27, 2017
As I went to sleep in Dresden, it was pouring outside. But the weather forecast indicated the next day would be sunny. The problem was that this high-pressure system brought with it 20-mph north winds, and I would be cycling directly north toward Berlin for nearly 120 miles. A tough forecast for a long ride after seven 100-miles-on-average days.
I noticed the strong winds as soon as I made the northward turn departing my hotel. Today’s ride would be mostly flat, so it would be a long battle with the wind. After some climbing to leave Dresden through beautiful small villages in thick wooded hills, I entered the very sparsely populated Southern Saxony region between Dresden and Berlin. I saw many political ads, such as this one by Germany’s AfD (Alternative for Germany) party stating “New Germans? Make them yourself.”
I rode for many miles alongside the incredible Spreewald Forest, and over beautiful small rolling hills. There were few people or cars for hours on this ride. Small, sleepy villages appeared every 10 miles or so, with almost nothing in between.
From noon onwards I started looking for somewhere to have lunch. It was only until 2:30 pm that I finally came across a gas station selling some sandwiches. I had not eaten real food since breakfast, and by this time, I had exhausted my emergency energy bar and M&M supply, and I was desperately hungry for food. I regularly train in a fasted state, going for hard 2-3 hour bike rides without having eaten anything, so my body is well-adapted to relying on fat supplies for energy instead of just carbs and protein. But on a multi-day long trip like this, the body is always in a highly-charged digestive state – hard days on the bike require regular significant food and drink or else the body can shut down pretty quickly. The gas station appeared in just in a nick of time – I was running on empty.
As the day continued, the headwind situation worsened (or it felt like that). There was no time that I was not constantly battling the wind. I stayed in a low gear and just spun the pedals, trying to maintain a high cadence and twiddling along at 13 mph. It is not a comforting sight when you’re cycling in open countryside and the wind turbines are pointing in the exact direction you are heading.
The roads here were perfect, and mostly flat, the sun was shining and it wasn’t too hot, but the brutal winds without letup, combined with the long miles already in my legs, made this one of my toughest days on a bike. There were few distractions, just me and my cycling machine fighting the invisible fury of nature.
About 15 miles south of Berlin, my power pack ran out of power. With my phone and gps at very low battery levels, I needed to stop for a charge to make sure I would be able to find my way to my hotel in Berlin.
I stopped at the GolfRange Berlin-Grossbeeren in Nuebeeren, where (even though I was covered in dead bugs and in a terrible state hygiene-wise after a long, hot day on the bike) the incredibly friendly front desk staff helped me plug in and charge all of my devices. I chatted with them for about 20 minutes about my journey. They could not have been more gracious. Almost everyone I encountered on this trip – hotel front desk clerks, gas station attendants, bike mechanics, and golf course receptionists – was so kind and helpful.
After I left the golf course, and as I was treated to yet another spectacular sunset, the winds subsided somewhat. The wind turbines were still pointing in my direction of travel, but they weren’t spinning so quickly. The area south of Berlin is a beautiful heavily-wooded area, and it was delightful to cool down in the early-evening breeze as I approached the city.
Even after entering and leaving so many European cities by bike, I was still amazed how one minute I was cycling in a forest and the next minute I was in the middle of bustling Berlin. I entered the city as night fell, and rode several miles through beautiful Berlin.
Berlin has an electric energy reminiscent of my home city New York City, but the architecture and infrastructure is markedly different and very European. The last few miles were splendid riding, moving quickly through the dark city and watching my distance-to-go reducing to single digits.
After a long day, at about 9 pm, I arrived at the wonderful Ku’ Damm 1010 Design Hotel. Berlin was a perfect place to finish this spectacular trip.
The next day, I rode 6 miles to the Berlin Tegel airport where I checked my bike for the connecting flight to Frankfurt, then onward to New York City.
Distance: 117.8 miles
Elevation climbed: 2,123 ft
Average speed: 14.7 mph
Moving Time: 8:00
Total Distance Covered in 8 Days: 769.1 miles
Total Elevation Climbed: 37,018 feet
Total Fuel (Approximate) Burned: 23,966 calories