From a Daily Commute to Crossing the Alps

Jens is a cyclist. An extremely active one. He started commuting in his school years, soon learned to appreciate long tours on his cross bike and switched over to mountain biking in 2012. Bicycles are a natural component of Jens’ every day life. He rides to work almost every day. Often, he spends the weekends doing tours to get in shape for bigger rides, like his first transalp this year. From this trip, he came back with stunning pictures and some great stories. Reason enough for us to invite him for an interview and talk about his experiences and motivation.

Where do you usually ride?
Mostly, I ride in the surroundings of Potsdam. Since we aren’t blessed with too many mountains, though, I regularly travel to to Harz and to Thüringen, as well as the alps.

How did you get the idea to cross the alps on your bike? They are very different from your home region after all.
I once read an article about it on the internet. A friend told me, how great of an experience such a tour is. I immediately knew, I will ride my mountain bike to Lake Garda one day.

Many people have that plan. What helped you, to actually go through with your project of doing a transalp?
I can’t tell exactly. One day, I just booked the tour and a vacation after – from that day, there was no way back.

How did you prepare for the transalp? Did you specifically practice for it or upgrade your gear?
It wasn’t easy. On my first practice tour up to the Brocken in April, my bike was stolen. I had just equipped it with new parts and that was going to be my first ride with it. It took until July for me to finally get a new bike. Since I am always riding alone, I didn’t know how good of a shape I was in. So I practiced until my thighs burned. I am doing sports two or three times a week anyways and cycle to work every day. Every two weeks I am doing a more intense tour in the mountains.

What did you take with you? How did you transport it?
Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about the transport, since it was a supported Tour that included luggage transport. I simply had to carry my day pack of 20-30l with me. In this backpack, I had some extra clothes, a water bag, some food and important spare parts like tubes and brakes.

How was the transalp organized? Who else rode with you?
We were divided in two groups. Group “Light” were five people, group “Medium” were 6 people. You could switch between groups daily, if you wanted. “Light” wasn’t an option for me, though.

Where did you start and end your tour? How many stages, kilometers and how much altitude were lying ahead?
The tour started in Grainau near Garmisch and lead through
Ehrwald, Ried, Glurns, Leifers, Molveno to Torbole at Lake Garda. All together it was six stages with 450km and 9500 metres of altitude.

Just before it started, were you excited or nervous? What you’re your concerns?
I was excited, nervous and doubtful, at at once. In 2010 I suffered from a disk prolapse and was still having problems with it. I was hoping that wouldn’t bother me. Also, I was wondering what the group would be like. Would I be the fifth wheel or were there going to be more solo riders? And then of course, would I be able to sit on the saddle for six days in a row. I had only been 3-day tours until then. In the end, none of my worries came true, most rides were by themselves or couples, there also were three women in the group. My back was doing fine and cycling for six days wasn’t a problem either.

What did a typical day look like?
It definitely looked different than the day of the “Light” group. We got up at 6.30am, had breakfast at 7.30am, took care of our bikes and started riding at 8.30am. During the day, we took some drinking breaks and had a picnic for lunch every day. We would arrived in the hotel around 7pm, had dinner half and hour later and went to bed around 11pm.

How was accommodation?
Mostly, we stayed at normal three-star hotels. Unfortunately, there was a sauna only once, I would have liked to have one every day. But otherwise it was just fine.

Which day was the hardest? Riding, accidents, flats?
We got lucky and I definitely was prepared for worse. We didn’t have any accidents and just one flat. It was quite exhausting, though. Temperatures often went up to 35°C. The hardest day was when we rode for ten hours, over 120km and 1600 meters of altitude on the fourth day. Going up to Naturnser Alm almost took three hours alone. But in the end we were treated with the most beautiful view.

Tag 4 Glurns-Leifers (kleiner)

You uploaded your recorded tours to komoot daily and received many comments. Did you see while you were still in the alps? Which one made you happy?
Evey night when we reached the hotel, the first thing we did was look for Wifi. I uploaded my recorded tours and immediately saw the comments. I was happy about every single one, it felt like a reward for the hard work.

Which part of your gear will you leave at home next time?
Concerning gear, I am a minimalist and was doing fine during the transalp. Of course, there’s always one or two pieces of clothing that would be nice to have as well, but in the end, it’s not a runway show. You can never bring enough clothes the change, though, which wasn’t a problem thanks to the luggage transport. If you don’t have that, you need to debate about every single item you take.

What piece of gear was definitely missing?
There was not a single situation when I missed something, I had everything with me. Next time, I’ll take a rain protection for my helmet and better rain pants. But other than that, I was well equipped.

Which story would you not be able to tell without the transalp?
Hundrets of stories. In the Uina Gorge, for example, Günter suffered from claustrophobia. But he clenched his teeth and didn’t regret it afterwards. Andreas from the “Light” group changed to our group on the fifth day. At 35°C he was completely exhausted, took off all his clothes and jumped into a public fountain – which is forbidden in Italy. Luckily, he wasn’t caught.

You can put a checkmark next to transalp on your list. What’s next?
There is a checkmark, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be other transalps in different variations. For next year, I have planend some trips to Harz, the Black Forest and South Tyrol. I would like to ride my bike on Mallorca or the Canaries one day.

What’s your biggest dream to do in the outdoors?
I am also a skier. I’d like to go for a skiing vacations in the Rockies one day and do heliskiing.

Thank you Jens, for the interview and your great photos.
Here’s a list of his recorded tours of the transalp:

Day 1: Grainau – Ehrwald
Day 2: Ehrwald – Ried
Day 3: Ried – Glurns
Day 4: Glurns – Leifers
Day 5: Leifers – Molveno
Day 6: Molveno – Torbole

Ⓒ All Photos by Jens Dames