Me, my bike and one wet mountain – the unexpected joys of riding in the rain

Summer, sun, and big views – that’s what Martin had in mind when planning his overnight weekend bike trip in the Bavarian Alps. Instead he got wintery temperatures, wind and endless rain. In spite (or maybe because) of these circumstances, he also got an unforgettable adventure…

I’ve been on my bike for about five minutes now, the same length of time it’s taken me to seriously question whether I should continue. It’s raining cats and dogs and instead of listening to birds singing and leaves rustling in a warm summer breeze, all I hear is splashing water hitting me from all sides. It’s high summer and when I planned this bike trip, sunshine and pleasant temperatures seemed like a sure thing. The weather gods had other plans.

It doesn’t feel great, but at least I’m well-prepared. You have to be ready for any weather in the Alps. My light gear is stowed in waterproof bags and my rain clothes help ward off the cold. It’s simply my head that’s not ready to let go of the idea of warm summer weather.

The plan came about thanks to a business trip. Since I would be near the Alps already, I’d simply bring my bike along, and instead of going straight home after my meeting, I’d make a little detour into the Alps – from the meeting room to the mountains, quite literally. It seemed like a no-brainer: The Albert Link hut is nestled in a picturesque landscape in the Bavarian Prealps, 1000 meters (3280 feet) above sea level. I was looking forward to idyllic alpine meadows, cheerful ringing cowbells, breathtaking views and a night of peaceful silence and solitude. Things didn’t go entirely to plan.

If you’ve caught the adventure bug, you’ll know the process well: when the weather isn’t great, the first couple of minutes are unpleasant, to say the least. But once your body warms up and your mind stops fighting the fact of the situation, things start to look up. Another five minutes later I was in the rhythm of my damp but cheerful mountain adventure. I might not get the high-altitude breakfast break, admiring the panorama, but the mystic wafts of mist would make up for it. After a couple of kilometres, I was enjoying my first wow-moment – different to what I’d imagined, but mesmerizing and beautiful in its own way.

After the first proper ascent, I’m definitely warmed up again. The road is a steep, relentless climb, so steep that my back wheel spins out as I pant and wheeze my way up. Maybe I should have brought my mountain bike instead? In this moment I wish I had more grip, and a gear set-up suitable for these inclines! Everything is that bit more challenging on my gravel bike. But nevermind the bike, the mountain is calling. Climbing this steep hill is a fight with my tired legs and brain, but I know there’s a fast descent waiting for me at the end of it.

Speeding downwards, my rain jacket does a good job of protecting me from the cool air. Undistracted by the cold, I enjoy spinning downhill with all my senses alert. Even the nip of cold air on my nose makes me feel a little more alive. Just as I’m starting to enjoy myself, Mother Nature provides another reward. As the trail emerges from the forest, the clouds clear for a moment. The village down in the valley becomes drenched in glittering light, like a beacon guiding me toward it. And once again there it is, a precious wow-moment I couldn’t have planned.

A bike tour through the mountains is always a challenge, even if the sun is shining. It’s always good to plan ahead, and most of all, to take it easy. I’m pleased I checked which villages I’d pass through and where I could buy food in advance. Planning a manageable daily distance was also beneficial. The challenging topography of the mountains lead to a slower average speed than I’m used to, and on a tour through unknown terrain it was reassuring to know I had enough time to conquer my planned distances. It also meant that when I rode by a cozy café, I could afford the time to sit on the outside terrasse, eating a yummy piece of chocolate cake and drinking a cup of hot chocolate (at least as good as the ice cream and lemonade I’d imagined).

Time flies when I’m riding my bike. Soon I’m crossing alpine meadows where fine mist wafts over the wet green pastures. Then the trail is leading me through narrow gorges, where awe-inspiring rock faces rise up to the left and right of me, and the sound of a small creek competes with the sploshing of raindrops on gravel. Sometimes, there’ll be a couple of cows standing in my way and I respectfully navigate my way around them.

Other times, the supposedly rideable way turns out to be a steep, technical singletrack where I decide to hike-a-bike. As the day progresses, I get more and more tired. There comes a time where I no longer mind if the sun is shining or if it’s raining—I just want to reach the mountain hut.

And then, finally, up on the meadow above, I spot it. The Albert Link hut. In its white veil of clouds, it seems too far away. Luckily it only takes a couple of minutes before I’m standing in front of the massive wooden door. From the doorstep I can hear cheerful voices and the clanging of crockery – warmth and comfort are just a couple of steps away.

Inside, I take off my soggy clothing and put on my dry, comfortable clothes, pleased at the switch from the mystic, rainy mountain atmosphere, to the coziness of the hut, and the homemade dinner that comes with it. After a long day in the saddle, being subject to all of nature’s rawness, it feels great to have reached my destination. Because things turned out to be wetter and less uncomfortable than planned, this moment is even sweeter. No matter how wet, no matter how cold—this day in the mountains was perfect. I go to bed knowing that tomorrow, another perfect day is waiting for me.

Words and Photos: Martin Donat
Have a look at the exact route in Martin’s Personal Collection.

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