Having returned home from England after completing the King Alfred’s Way, I was thrust straight back into a relentless work week. The sweeping forest singletracks and leafy country lanes of rural England were soon forgotten admidst the hectic 9-5 routine of the world of IT.
On Thursday of that first week back at my desk, as things were calming down, my manager asked how much annual leave I still needed to take before the end of the year. Having been confined to Ireland for the initial eighteen months since Covid had swept around the world, it was a fairly sizeable chunk. I had missed travelling hugely in that time, so I knew I had to make the most of this time off. Another holiday was most definitely in order.
With the bikepacking bug having well and truly bitten me during the King Alfred’s Way (along with plenty of other bugs which had left their mark on me), I decided to tackle another bikepacking route. I did some rapid, haphazard research and quickly settled on a route from Bikepacking.com which traversed a portion of the Dolomite Mountains in Italy: the Trans-Dolomiti.
I immediately booked my flights for a week’s time, without even knowing if I could rent a bike in any of the nearby towns. Only later, over the days that followed, did I do some proper research into the route. Fortunately, it turned out there was a bicycle rental provider in the town at the start of the loop, and everything I read about the route itself and this region of Italy left me delighted with my choice. This looked like it would be something special.
The next Friday rolled around and I found myself in a nervous whirlwind, trying to connect a bus, a flight, another bus and a train so that I would arrive in the small Dolomite town of Brixen-Bressanone thirteen hours after leaving home. The first bus of the day dropped me at the airport only one hour and twenty minutes before my flight, leading to a nervy dash around the airport.
I always dislike this way of starting a trip. There’s something so much more relaxing about heading out your front door with just your bicycle and the open road ahead of you. This alternative of creating a chain of transport options, where if one link is delayed, the whole chain implodes and you find yourself stranded and out of pocket is so much more nerve-wracking.
In the end I could only relax when I looked out of the airplane window to see the Venetian plains below me. The patchwork of olive groves and fields stretched out into the foothills of the Venetian Prealps, which grew in steps the further I looked into the distance. Glittering lakes and rivers linked like chains holding it all together, until the steps rose up into the cloud-smothered Dolomite mountains, and even higher where three snow-capped peaks rose triumphantly, sticking their crowns into the blue sky.
Suddenly my anxiety driven by these public transport links vanished to be replaced with a growing excitement. I put my earbuds in, turned on some upbeat music on my phone (Chase and Status if you must know my embarrassing music choices!) and felt happy. I was off on another adventure!
I stepped off the plane into the sticky heat of Italy’s lowlands and immediately struggled to adapt to the high temperature. By the time I had gotten off the bus at Verona’s train station, I was already drenched in sweat, my pale, stodgy Irishness standing out rather unelagantly amongst the fashionable, tanned Italians milling in and out of the station.
I had some time to kill before my train departed, so I sat myself down in a little train station cafè and kept ordering espressos while reading a cycling book (Emily Chappell’s “Where There’s a Will”, which I highly recommend). This particular cafè operated like a bar, where people ordered espressos, received a receipt and then handed that into a bartender who prepared an espresso. Most people had this quickly while standing at the bar chatting and then took off. This was the format a lot of little cafés took here, and I quite liked the casual nature of it.
Having camped out in this café for two hours, carefully nursing my four espressos, I hopped aboard my train. For the next two hours, I would follow one of those chains I had been viewing from the plane window, up into the Dolomites, rising higher with each passing minute up to the base of this hastily planned trip.
The excitement continued to build the higher I rose, the train threading a needle through a narrow valley, the imposing cliffs on either side seemingly parting ways as we rose up into the Dolomites proper.
Two hours later, I was deposited in the small town of Brixen-Bressanone. I immediately felt at ease as I strolled out of the train station and let the fresh, cleansing mountain air fill my lungs. This was a lovely little town lined with wooden chalets, their balconies overflowing with pink and yellow flowers, and in the narrow streets beneath there were barely any cars. Instead most residents were cycling around or walking. The lack of noise and pollution was refreshing.
The whole vibe reminded me very much of Les Gets, a similar town in the nearby French Alps, where I had taken numerous summer trips with my university mountain bike club.
Being a Friday, most hotels had been fully booked when I had hastily planned this trip, so I had to settle for a more expensive option. From the train station, it was a peaceful fifteen minute stroll through back-streets and across the azure Eisack River to Hotel Millanderhof, somewhere far nicer than I would usually stay.
Upon arriving I had a chance to practice my very much out of use German with the hotel’s owner, this being the primary language in this region of Italy (South Tyrol). This friendly gentleman was soon offering to drive me to the bicycle rental office in the morning, where I had booked a mountain bike for five days. Or at least that’s what I hoped he was offering and something hadn’t been lost in translation. I guess I would find out the next morning when I arrived in front of him at reception expectantly waiting with my bags.
After thirteen hours of travelling, I was covered in sweat and had somehow picked up a few blisters on my feet. So I grabbed a much-needed shower and then walked to the closest restaurant instead of facing the long walk into Brixen-Bressanone’s apparently very pretty old town.
Here, I enjoyed a wonderful pizza and sampled some of the beers that would be available to me over the coming days in the Dolomites.
Absolutely full to the brim, I retired to the hotel and spent an hour packing all my bikepacking gear. I had borrowed a one-man tent from a friend, so thankfully I didn’t have to lug around a big two-man tent like I did on the King Alfred’s Way. In another weight-saving move, I had ditched my stove and pot (due to the proliferation of mountain huts/refugios along the route which all offer hot meals). However, I was also bringing additional cold weather gear with me due to the high altitude of this route. So, all in all, I was still quite heavily loaded for this trip.
With the bags finally packed, I put in my headphones to block out the loud snoring coming from the next room, and went to sleep both daunted and excited about what the next five days would have in store. Having just come back from injury, there was no way I was fit enough to be taking on this route, and I knew the back injury itself would cause me some trouble too. Yet, I was truly looking forward to challenging myself in the heights of the Dolomites.