After the Dolomites, I began to more readily identify myself as a long-distance cycle tourer. The status implied leaving much behind, primarily relationships and job security. What helped, is that I was progressively realizing that it was also inspiring to others. So I became less shy about giving my direction, about explaining I wanted to be on the road for a while, and to work along the way.
Slowly downhill to Austria
Between Toblach and the next village, Innichen, there is a major water divide, yet ancient glaciers carved the valley floor so wide and flat, that there is no real pass. The cycle road went gently uphill, then flat, then gently downhill. And then I was cycling along a little mountain creek, a major river of the Eastern Alps, the Drava, which flows into the Danube at the Serbo-Croatian border.
Tens of meters before leaving Italy came the time for my last pizza. But the border pizza was disappointing and waiters seem to be in a rush. La dolce vita, va bene, finito. I felt a bit melancholic crossing the border to Austria. I was thinking of all the things I was leaving behind: incredible mountains, a friendly cycling family, a pretty hiker who thought it was cool to be a jobless, aimless cycle tourer, and of course good pizzas…
I had nowhere heard so much Italian before crossing the border to Austria. For the entire way to Lienz, the road was busy with families slowly zizaging their way down on the unpaved road. I thought they were probably planning to go back up by train, for even if they cycled up as fast as down, the return trip would take more than a day. I had never used my trumpet horn so much as on the way down to Lienz. La dolce vita, va bene…
A quiet little disco camp
I stopped at the tourist information centre in Lienz, where I directly noticed that Austrians felt as corona-proof as the Swiss. Just as I was getting again used to wear a face mask, again I was the only one doing so. I obtained detailed, free maps of the Drava cycleway, a 500 km long bike path from Toblach in Italy to Legrad in Croatia. Around Lienz the road was well marked and well designed, though it lacked the liveliness of the South Tyrolean cycleways. Meanwhile I was shocked how every European country I went through had much better infrastructure than the one I was cycling from, the home of the bicycle, France. I had been surprised when Glauco and Julia told me of their poor experience cycling in France. They had had trouble finding places to stay, eat, shop, and even drinking water, which is often only available at cemeteries. I was understanding better now, though it certainly did not make me want to cycle home to France.
The person working in the information centre advised a quiet little campsite by the side of the cycleway, which was also advertised as an official partner on my map. So I thought it would be the perfect place for bike tourists like me. The place turned out to be a huge campsite with two swimming pools filled with sunburned kids. The majority of guests were Dutch and apparently shared coronavirus invincibility with the locals. Then there were loud Austrian or German pop songs to keep kids busy while parents were drinking beer. I thought I would be much better off in a quiet place in the woods. Besides, in my opinion German just doesn’t fit disco dance.
In the morning I discovered my first technical problem on this trip. I had lost a screw holding the bottom clip on one of the front panniers. I left the campsite early, just in case there was a morning session of Austrian pop songs. I felt like making some distance. Looking at the map, I noticed that the least-elevation road made a hook through Tarvisio in Italy, and that if I cycled well I could maybe eat another last pizza in the evening. For the first few kilometres, the cycle path went through beautiful mossy pine forest where I thought I had rather spent the night.
The truly last Italian pizza
Cycling along the Drava was incredibly easy. The road was well marked, mostly flat, and not too busy. In Sachsenburg I stopped at the bike store where the owner was kind enough to give me a new screw for my panniers. After that, the Drava River cycle path was joined by Alpe Adria route, which goes from Salzburg to Grado on the Adriatic Sea. The valley made a bend and for the first time in several weeks, the view in the distance opened up to a clear blue horizon. I was making my way out of the Alps. In my back though, dark clouds gathered announcing a stormy afternoon. I met several long-distance tourers with itineraries roughly similar to mine, cycling from Switzerland and the Czech Republic to Slovenia and Croatia.
In Villach, I met Mira, who seemed to carry about as much luggage as me, and had just decided to undo her 6-years-old dreadlocks by the side of the cycle path. For a while the poplar pollens floating around the sides of the Drava were replaced by bullets of hair flying in the air. Mira fed me with bonbons and we had a good chat about our respective lives and plans, or rather absence of plans. She had cycled here all the way from Denmark, had another month to go but she envied me when I explained I had no goal or time limit, and I saw myself a few years past.
In Villach, I left the Drava to cycle up on the Alpe Adria cycle path to Tarvisio. I thought I was done with the rain but a new storm broke as I approached Tarvisio. The landscape became again more dramatic as the Julian Alps appeared under a ceiling of gray clouds. I had thought of camping in the woods by the Slovenian border, but I was tired and dehydrated, and regretted to not have stopped in Villach. Eventually I opted for the lazy option of a hotel pizzeria in Tarvisio, that had single rooms at a reasonable price. So I could also recharge my batteries, and finish writing this post on the Austrian Alps.