"This doesn't look like a campsite" I said to Charley in a worried tone as we pulled up outside a camping shop on the outskirts of Trieste, Italy. It was already 5pm and we'd been driving for eight hours from Chamonix. When I say we, I mean Charley, and I could tell by the look on his face he was not amused. How was I going to navigate myself across the Alps on my bike if I'd managed to mix up a camping shop and campsite in my directions, before the adventure had even begun? Perhaps this was the start of the adventure.
There was no time or space for worrying. This was happening and I had to get ready. Was I ready? Did I feel ready? Had I fuelled properly? Was I fit enough? Did I have the right kit? My answer to all bar the last of those questions is probably: no. My body was creaking, my glutes felt tight and I'd been feasting on Charley's amazing chocolate and peanut butter cookies like they were going out of fashion.
The truth is, you never feel ready and it never feels like the right time.
What I've come to realise is that we are ready when we believe we are.
Ready when we decide we are ready. I was ready the day I committed to doing the Alpine Coast to Coast, the rest was preparation.
DAY 1: 5:30am, Thursday 31st July 2014
The Alpine Coast to Coast Commences
I left Charley asleep in our tent, packed saddle bags and headed down hill to the coast of Italy. After a few photos by the sea I set off in the direction of Slovenia. This was it; bike, me and the open road for the next month. Time to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. It was raining, of course.
There was a lot of internal resistance going on. My mind was struggling to settle down and feeling the weight of the challenge ahead. It was a grey, wet day in Italy but improved once I got to Slovenia. The rain stopped and I was in a country I'd never been to before. First achievement. I like achievements, however big or small, they feel like progress and progress builds confidence and determination. The clouds hung low in the dense, green valleys I cycled through. Slovenian churches nestled into the hillsides and the stunning River Soca were used to distract myself from any negative doubts.
I cycled 145kms with 1590m ascent on this day and was finished by 1:42pm. Well, finished the bike leg! Upon arriving in Trenta, Charley and I headed up Triglav, our first mountain and the highest point in Slovenia. I had been so happy to see him when I finished the ride. I did the best I could to change clothes, pack my bag, eat, charge my phone and get my head together for going up the mountain in the 45 minutes time he alloted me. The only thing I forgot was the food. Oops.
The going was tough. My legs were not playing ball. Charley's fresh legs taunted me as he made much quicker progress. I should have made him do laps! We chatted away about what we had both seen, felt and been thinking about during our days. I loved sharing all the little things I'd noticed about Italy and Slovenia along my route, things he didn't notice in the car.
It started to rain heavily and the mountain felt quite huge. We were climbing from Trenta at the Dolic hut with 1526 metres of ascent, it took us 5 hours. By the time we arrived we were STARVING. Tempted to order everything on the menu, we refrained. We ordered beers, water, and a plate of hot, Slovenia food each. It went down a treat. After dinner we spotted someone next to us eating what appeared to be pancakes. Two plates of those too please!
By 8pm I was ready to sleep and snuck up to our dorm. I slept like a log.
DAY 2: Friday 1st August
Climbing Triglav, Slovenia
By 5am the next morning we were having breakfast and gearing up ready to head to the summit of Triglav.
The morning was stunning and although a fairly long approach, the view was constantly changing as we gained height. We had chosen a more technical route to keep things interesting with an hour's climb on a Via Ferrata (iron pegs and wires staked into the mountain for you to clip onto). After 550 metres of ascent and 2.5 hours we were standing on the highest point in Slovenia, the summit of Triglav at 2865m. Wahoo!
Having left our food in the car we had to buy supplies in the hut and they only sold chocolate wafers, what a shame! I'll take eating chocolate on top of mountains for breakfast any day.
Well... they are always tough. You always remember the feeling of climbing mountains and forget the pain and monotony of getting there, especially getting down. Hundreds, thousands of metres of ascent with your feet jamming into your boots. Your quads screaming at you, the endless path ahead of you winding down and down the mountain. Everything is sticky, you're tired, you make mistakes, you take 'shortcuts' that end up being far longer, you run out of food, water and almost run out of steam. Yep, time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable!
In 6 hours and 2041 metres of descent we arrived back at our car. I peeled off my boots to reveal the damage. Four blisters. I looked at Charley, "they'll heal" he said, "let's go find a campsite".
It's amazing how good things you take for granted on a daily basis feel when you've not had them for a few days. Clean clothes, a shower, not sharing a room with snoring strangers. Happy days. There was a lot of kit faffing to be done before we could enjoy any of that though.
DAY 3: Saturday 2nd August
Cycling Triglav to Kals am Grossglockner
Ouch. The first thing that hit me was the ache in my legs. I hit the snooze button three times before getting out of bed. At least it wasn't raining. I was very slow moving getting my kit together for the day's cycle. I had plotted the route the night before and had in my head I was doing 163kms. Turned out to be 190kms. All part of the adventure!
My legs felt like blocks of wood. They were so sensitive to touch or stretch. I set out on the ride in the hope to find my legs as they say. 10 minutes out of the valley I saw the mountains rear up ahead of me and the road wind up them. "Certainly an interesting start to the morning" I thought to myself. I actually quite enjoyed the climb. I treated myself to listening to music and plugged away at the hairpins. The sun was shinning, it was a glorious morning and we had already completed the first leg and two days ahead of schedule. I relaxed into it.
Today's 190kms ride with 3395m ascent was a tough one. It took me 13.5 hours. I cycled through Slovenia, through Austria and (after taking a wrong turning and crossing the wrong border) into Italy too. The sun was hot until the last few hours when the heavens opened. Even then, I loved it as the sun shone through the rain, creating one of those - I'm actually doing this, out here with amidst the elements, making this happen - moments. It took my 60kms before I felt like I'd found my legs. Then I felt like I was flying.
Although I'd originally suggested to Charley I might arrive at the campsite in Austria round 3pm, I pulled up at 8:35pm, shattered! I fell into his arms and he excitedly told me about the campsite and everything he'd found out about the route for the following day's climb. I couldn't think too much about it. I needed a shower, food and bed. Oh and a beer of course.
Read Charley's blog on Trieste tpo Triglav here.