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Salzburg to Milan 2019. Day 5, Solden to Scuol.

77 miles. 5800 ft of climbing.

Strava link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2472029348

We were living off of a beige diet, toast and cereals for breakfast. Pasta for lunch. Pizza and chips for dinner. Any snack was either peanuts or crisps. I was starting to feel unhealthy and had more than a slight fear that my teeth may begin to fall out, or my bones start to crumble through lack of decent vitamins and minerals. How happy I was to come down to the hotel restaurant in the morning to find a multicoloured display of fresh fruit laid out for breakfast. I think I got more nutrition out of that one meal than I had out of all the others combined. The juice machine was like something straight out of a big budget science fiction movie. It was operated by a large computer display touch screen; I drank 3 large glasses of the multi-vit juice straight down. It was a great hotel, if we had stayed longer the sauna would certainly have been paid a visit.

Well fuelled, refreshed and ready to go we set off; day number five. A hard days riding under normal circumstances, Justin had labelled this as a rest day when he had constructed the route.

The Otztaler Ache river running through Solden.

We had a short ride through Solden before joining a main road and heading on a gradual downhill gradient towards the town of Oetz. The road followed the fast-flowing Otztaler Ache river, the sound and power of the river was immense. Filled with rain waters and snow melt the water was running high up the banks, throwing up waves and spray as it crashed and tumbled down the valley. Fully grown trees had been ripped up and were swirled around in the maelstrom as if they were mere matchsticks.

Langenfeld

Langenfeld - we stopped in a cycle shop here

We stopped in Oetz, had a quick coffee break with a delicious slice of cake, then Justin went scouring the town for some pain relief medication. He was becoming quite the expert on the various names of strong over the counter drugs. He appeared out of the pharmacy a disappointed and downheartened, they wouldn’t issue him the stronger drugs without a prescription and the favoured big pink ones were starting to run low.

A very fortunate deviation, 5 miles of blissful solitude.

A very fortunate deviation, 5 miles of blissful solitude.

We pushed on along the main road, making a good pace. Justin kept pointing over to the other side of the valley; “Surely we should be on that road over there?” Josby checked the route on his computer, we were on course. We debated if we should turn back or not, Josby was adamant we stay on route, he was route master so his word was final. I’m glad we listened to him. We soon turned off of the main road and joined an extremely pleasant cycle path, no other cyclists or traffic met us for the next five miles, we were surrounded by a blissful tranquillity. The smell of the pines basking in the hot sun mingled with the melody of peaceful birdsong, yet another unforgettable experience to add to the ever-growing list.

We left the quiet cycle path, crossed over a busy main road and arrived at the foot of the sole climb of the day. The Pillerhohe is a ten-mile climb with an average gradient of 5%. The road was busy at the foot of the climb, but as we ascended, passing through a number of small mountain towns the busy traffic began to dwindle away and we were soon treated to long sections of tarmac with little other road users about.

The views from atop the blustery Pillerhohe. Looking down to Prutz.

The views from atop the blustery Pillerhohe. Looking down to Prutz.

The temperature display on my cycle computer was showing 31.2 degrees Celsius, I unzipped my jersey and settled into a steady rhythm, letting the cool fresh mountain air wash over me. The high alpine meadows along the road were filled with long grasses and flowers. Bright heads of pink, red, purple, yellow and white flowers poked out of the green fields, saluting the bright sun. It was an enjoyable climb, the snow-covered mountain peaks were all around, rolling off into the distance and fading away into a soft blue haze. The meadows filled with long grass and flowers fitted nicely in with a typical alpine postcard scene, the clear blue skies completed the ideal. The last couple of miles of the climb meandered through a thin woodland, the trees gave a welcome bit of shade, without blocking the scenery. Approaching the summit, a warm strong wind began to blow towards us, no fear of a storm as the sky was still a clear azure blue, but the descent was going to be tricky.

A few photos taken from the summit; we began the descent into the strong blustery wind. The road twisted and turned as we descended; the wind direction altering accordingly. Much fallen debris lay scattered across the tarmac and we found ourselves weaving around large stones and fallen branches, as always pointing out the obstacles to those behind us. Passing through a small village, Jos ahead raised the call; “Trampoline!” An unusual shout out, but sure enough just around the corner, a full-sized trampoline lay upturned in the middle of the road. We took the descent at an appropriate pace and arrived unscathed in the town of Prutz. Here we decided to buy lunch at a supermarket. As we pulled into the supermarket carpark Jos’ pack dropped down from his bike. A quick examination of the pack identified that a couple of screws had worked loose and fallen off. Thank goodness they hadn’t fallen off on the descent! It was decided we would all have lunch, then Jos would retrace our route to a bike shop we had passed by as we entered the town and scavenge a pair of bolts. We purchased lunch from the supermarket cafe and complemented their toasted sandwiches with some shop bought crisps and peanuts. Jos left to get some bolts and Justin and myself ordered another coffee. Forty minutes later, Jos still hadn’t returned. We decided to go and look for him. Unfortunately, he had got mixed up with the Basil Fawlty of bike mechanics. They had tried around 30 different bolts, none of which had fitted. It was like a scene from a comedy sketch, bolts all over the place, a frustrated mechanic running about not certain what he was doing, then a shop load of potential customers wondering what on earth was going on? We suggested that the mechanic take a couple of bolts from a bottle cage and try those, he did so and they fitted straight away. Jos tried to make a purchase in order to not entirely have wasted the mechanics time, but he then tried to sell Jos a set of brakes from a completely different type of bike, we got out of there as quickly as we could!

A quiet, gently rolling cycle path took us away from the town and following the Inn River we relaxed once again into a steady rhythm. This was a popular cycle path and we met many others along the way, offering a friendly wave to those who passed us by, and chatting in broken languages to those who were headed in our direction. I was wary of following Jos’ wheel too closely for the first few miles, just in case his bag toppled off, I didn’t wholly trust the mechanics ability to do up a bolt. We followed the cycle path for around 15 miles, mostly on smooth tarmac, passing through some pretty quiet villages which seemed to of stepped back in time. The cycle path then became a gravel track, then passing through some woods and over a bridge it turned into a smooth mud surfaced trail interlaced with large prominent tree roots. Not an ideal surface to be riding on with 23mm thin tyres, but we were becoming quite accustomed to taking the rough with the smooth and pressed on regardless. As the way became rougher still, we doubted that we were in fact on the correct path and began to think about turning back. Once again Jos checked the route and advised us to keep going. Once again, a most fortunate detour, we stumbled upon a hidden gem.

 The Altfinstermunz, getting lost can be a wonderful experience!

The Altfinstermunz, getting lost can be a wonderful experience!

Sometimes getting lost can be a really enjoyable experience, a loss of direction and a minor wrong turn can bring about all kinds of unexpected delights. We had, by chance, stumbled upon the Altfinstermunz castle. Originally the strategic site of a Roman bridge and small settlement, then transformed in Medieval times to a castle and chapel marking the border between Italy and Switzerland. We had an enjoyable coffee and ice-cream stop within the grounds of the castle, crossed over the cobbled castle courtyard and the ancient wooden roofed bridge and entered Switzerland, a much more adventurous way than taking the road!

It was a short steep gravel climb out of the valley, impossible for us to ride on our road bikes so we pushed our machines the half mile back up to join the main road. The wind which had been accompanying us since the top of the Pillerhohe was gaining force and dark clouds were looming on the horizon behind us. Luckily the wind was on our backs and we had a reasonably flat route to make it to the town of Scuol and our accommodation for the night. Flying down the main road with a strong tail wind and a storm chasing your tail was exhilarating. Having twigs and small branches raining down upon you from high up the mountainside was not so much fun. I got hit a couple of times, the second largish branch missed Justin’s head by a matter of inches before catching me on the shoulder. We sky grew darker and ever more threatening, the peaks of the mountains disappeared within the thick low clouds, we rolled in Scuol tired but in a hyped-up state, within five minutes the storm had hit and it was pouring down.

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