I had a fine breakfast at the Haus Ellen (?) in Wiesen (east of Sterzing) and talked a little with two mountain bikers from Germany who also stayed at the place. They were going up to St. Martin am Schneeberg (a somewhat difficult alternative to the Jaufenpass in going over to the road up to the Timmelsjoch pass). It is marked as an easy path all the way on the Tabacco map, but it goes over a pass at 2700 and the path is pretty long on both sides. (Sometimes paths are really tracks which sometimes could be ridden, so maybe it is cyclable with a mountainbike in most parts.)
Since it was nice weather and morning, I decided that it would be a good idea to go up to , which is on a gravel road to the west of the Brenner pass (the Pfitscher Joch of the day before is similar, but to the east of the Brenner and it also have it’s own proper valley). To get to the Sandjöchl pass (2165m), you are advised to approach via the little village of Gossensass (1065m). There is in fact a network of old military roads climbing up to the ridge and you could also go up at Brennerbad (just south of the Brenner pass), but I met two mountain bikers who claimed it was in worse condition.
There are several passes one could reach by following the little gravel road that winds it way on the Italian side of the ridge. The reason I never tried to get to more of these passes, which I had originally planned, was that I got a serious flat with damage to my tire as well as the tube. I was lucky to find two cyclists (the ones just mentioned) at the small houses (that goats had occupied) and which was just where I got the flat (this is just before reaching the pass (only one kilometre above). Thankfully they had brought some loose side-bits of an old tire and cut off a piece for me – this is the best new thing I will add to my package list for next time! It worked and I could cycle to the pass, but as they promised me I would get another flat if I continued on the much worse road up there, I decided to not pursue it and went back down the same way.
It was quite nice up this road, but ultimately I would not recommend if you have a road bike bicycle! It was paved for a few kilometres and was very fine thus far, but the gravel road (even if it looks fine in the photo) was filled up with new loose gravel all the f***ing way up to the pass and made it hellish to get up there! It was difficult to see where the gravel was loose and not and I got extremely tired of forcing my way up there – it was clearly the hardest pass for my entire trip, even though it looks so modest! (I might have gotten more tired at Passo Lusia, if I had tried it earlier in the day when I might have had the strength to try and cycle all the way up there and thus thinks that is still the hardest pass in theory cyclable with a road bike.) It was hard to cycle down as well and I was quite worried about my tire as I would probably have lost the whole day if something had happened again. I was lucky though! You have been warned, but maybe the gravel will get fine in a few years time.
At Sterzing, I found south of the town an unmanned Agip petrol station that had cleaning stations where you put in a euro coin and could wash for some time (just enough to get the bicycle clean) – thanks again Agip! (I am not sponsored yet ;-)) I rather had my bicycle cleaned up than having anything to eat for the whole day. But I also got something little to eat before starting the climb up Jaufenpass.
The road up the Jaufenpass (2099m) I also climbed in year 2000 in same direction, but I could not easily get around doing this pass again in my plan. It is very evenly graded at around 8% and I went rather quickly up there, though it is as usual longer than one expects it to be (or, than I expect it to be).
The road down to St. Leonardo in Passira (670m) is long with many, many serpentines and it is a nice road (somewhat steeper on this side also). I had a real Tyrolean man (must be) in front of me in a car for a long time and he managed to stay ahead of me despite that he was driving a family car with his family and that is not usual on steep serpentines like these, but eventually he caught up with some more lousy driver and I could get ahead and leave them behind. It is no real advantage to have a car when going down a pass like this.
Down in St. Leonardo it was time for dinner and getting my postcards off before I left Italy for a long time (as originally planned). After looking around in the rather boring touristy town for quite some time for a decent place to have something to eat and nearly giving up, I found a place on the other side of a bridge that looked nice, but modern. It was a big disappointment (they had some Höll beer or something like that which was their own) – bad service and less than average in every way. Anyway I got my postcards written and posted (though it takes several weeks for the Italian post to deliver anything).
It was getting a bit late already and again I felt a bit tired and unsure about whether to get on over the Timmelsjoch to Austria (it is a long way and quite a difficult pass). Naturally one does not feel to fresh after having done two passes like the above and just having had dinner and it is very warm outside. However, I thought I should give it a try and started out slowly on the road to Timmelsjoch wondering if I would ever reach it in that speed. There were some passages early on that were tiring as well and I was hoping to reach higher altitudes to get fresher air and lower temperatures.
After quite some time I reached Schönau (1759m) and some funny man by a nicely placed albergo threatened to sprinkle water over me, which was not something I wished as it was getting considerable cooler outside now. Up here it is really a very nice scenery all the way to the pass and beyond.
At this time you have already spotted the somewhat terrifying serpentines on the mountain NW of you. You pass over a bridge (I think) and this is really like the first bend of a first gigantic serpentine up the mountain. Then you come to the last hotel and there the road is closed if you, like me arrive after 20 p.m. (I was lamely fighting against this time up the valley as there was a sign announcing it early on, which I had forgotten about before starting the climb). I was there 20 minutes too late or something and asked some men outside if one could go over the pass even if it was closed and they said it would not be a problem with a bicycle, so I continued up the serpentines and was happy and almost alone on the road.
I have a photo of some closely places serpentines and there were more sections like that one. When I finally approached the top there is a long unlit tunnel (I cannot remember if I put on my lights or not). It was a bit scary in the twilight and when coming out of it on the other side I heard some vague thunder.
When I reached the sign for the pass (the Italian reading: Passo di Rombo (2509m)), I was still not clear about whether it was a thunder and if that would mean anything bad for me … . It turned out for the worse! I tried to hurry down the valley, but then there was a long rise after an initial outward slope and when I finally got up on this second high point (that seemed to be as high as the pass itself and was an unpleasant surprise to me) thunder and lightening and heavy rain was all over me. It was almost comical that I was met in the exact same way, though even more ominously this second time upon entering Austria (the land of thunder and lightening as far as I am concerned). There were no kind of shelter and I was a bit scared, since the lightening was very close to me. I tried to stop at one time and press myself against a small wall of stone, but soon realised it was no big point and that I better try and escape down the valley. I actually felt my heart doing an odd thing and I almost unconsciously tried to keep my heart in a tension as it would somehow help me if the lightening struck. ;-)
Happily I got away from the thunder and found a decent and cheap (20 euro) place to stay for the night just after the first few more expensive looking hotels down around Obergurgl.