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Home Game - three weeks across South Tyrol

On tour with Greta Weithaler and David Niederkofler

3 weeks, 2 South Tyrolians, 1 mission: biking through their home land, from door to door, from the Puster Valley to the Vinschgau region.

Where it all started

Sounds easy? That’s what we thought. Until – bored out of our minds in lockdown March - we entered the tour into Komoot and realized: Oh, not that easy! Nearly 32,000m elevation gain and more than 1000km in 19 stages. The majority on trails.

But let’s start at the beginning. We, that’s David Niederkofler who came up with the crazy idea (according to me) of biking from South Tyrol to Nepal and came back home after 9 months with long hair and the adventure of a lifetime. And me, Greta Weithaler, also from South Tyrol and basically on my bike non-stop.

And despite our differences (David is originally from the Puster Valley, known for its easy-going people and its potatoes, me from the Vinschgau region, where the potatoes grow on trees and the South Tyrolean dialect is still comprehensible), we have quite a few things in common: We want to get to know our homeland better.

Foreign homeland

Our homeland, that is so well known for mountain biking. Where one highlight follows the next on its heels. And which is often yet so foreign to us globetrotters since there are still so many spots here at home that we don’t know yet. Well, this was about to change.

So our idea quickly turned into a project, which was launched by the BikeHotels South Tyrol together with David. I invited myself on one of the many, now well-known Zoom calls, and didn’t leave David a chance not to take me along.

Our equipment

3 weeks on the bike sounds like a lot of preparation. And it is – for David. From the underwear to the tool, everything is meticulously planned and packed. On the other hand, I call David in a panic the night before to ask if he has a handlebar bag to spare. He does, and in it I pack my second battery. Because while David is traveling on the NIRVANA Tour, I am sitting on my Hybrid AXS carrying camera equipment in my backpack. I manage to pack all necessities into my backpack and make it through all the stages thanks to my second 625 Wh battery. An e-bike really makes it so much easier to capture the tour in photographs and to keep up with David.

David on the other hand banks on a lighter backpack, but more bags on the bike. A saddlebag with clothes and a frame bag with all the necessary tools and food (very important) save him a lot of weight on his back. A smart decision, because with an average 2000m elevation gain per day for 19 days in a row, you are thankful for every gram you don’t carry on your back. The mix of gravel and trails which we were mostly on on our trip made David choose the NIRVANA Tour. A hardtail, that is up for both the South Tyrolean trails and moves him swiftly through the Sella Ronda on asphalt. The perfect equipment, indeed, to tackle such a mammoth project.

Day 1 - 7: The Dolomites, or: everything happens for a reason

And here we are, the sun beating down on us, heavy backpacks, bikes packed with full bags, and we look at the first mountain ahead of us. We left David’s front door and our friends and farewell beer behind us at noon. Which means that the sun, at which we are squinting at the moment, is at its highest point in the sky. In brief: it is hot. Well, it is the middle of August after all, which can be the hottest month of the year, but it also is the high season for Italian vacationers. What turns out as a blessing at this moment because a group of Italians is more than happy to push David up towards the Sonnklar summit. Grazie, Stefano!

The start of our tour couldn’t go any better. For the first few hours. And we are at the summit, the sunset behind us and desperately air out my rear brake – which just gave up, and that’s how we roll down on the gravel road to the valley. Yes, good and bad luck are often quite close together on this tour, but more later. What matters now is that David keeps telling me the same thing over and over: Everything happens for a reason. And yes, on the gravel road down to the valley, we get to enjoy the most beautiful sunset you can imagine. But this moment is not about the setting sun. Or the gorgeous light. It is about David forcing me make the most out of the situation and see the good in it. The following days, we should have plenty of opportunities to test just that…

Whether it is the incredibly cold, but even more beautiful sunrise on the Kronplatz, the rain and hail en route to the Sillian lodge and the warm soup afterwards or the Erla Trail for breakfast on the next morning on the way to Sexten.

And so we ride through the first stages of our tour, overcome by all the impressions which surround us. Whether it is the overwhelming Dolomites, whose summits seem dyed red in the morning glow, or the right technique to wash your underwear in a detergent-saving way. Tour planning also requires practice, because the weather does cooperate, but only during the day. Every night, thunderstorms announce themselves, which is a very dark and certainly not a fun experience at all in the mountains.

Every day is groundhog day with an unfriendly rumble in the evening and that’s why I am not very proud of the moment when we decide at 4pm in the afternoon down in the valley to cross the mountain after all. We both grew up in the mountains and know not to take thunderstorms lightly. But still, that afternoon in Pederü, we decide to go for the planned crossing via the Fanes lodge to St. Kassian. Well, there is still blue sky above us.

What we don’t know: Pretty soon, we won’t be pushing the bicycles up the mountain, but carry them for two hours, and the scheduled three hours will become six hours of swearing, sweating and very little of it on the bike. The blue sky changes quickly into a rain front, into which we basically run into. Even though we know what is ahead. At 8.30pm: I am shivering, waiting for David on the ridge, lightning strikes coming down behind me, at the same time, thunder booms through the valley. After a seeming endless high-altitude plateau without any shelter whatsoever I give David a hug at about the 3000m mark and tell him that we haven’t made it quite yet. „Loss ins va den scheiß Berg orkemmen!“ “Let’s get off this frigging mountain!”

You don’t need to look anything up in a South Tyrolean - English dictionary to understand how scared I was. In the middle of the mountains, at high altitude, right in the middle of bad thunderstorms. But while both of us probably played all different scenarios through in our minds, we do a great job communicating non-verbally on the outside. Keep going. Don’t stop. You are tired? I don’t care. You must function.

Both of us are crying when we hug each other, sopping wet at the hotel door at 10 pm at night. Never, never again.

Day 8 - 14: The lowlands, or: the sun garden of South Tyrol

Whether it happened for a specific reason or just because it is summer and August – in any case, after this experience, all storms have completely vanished. After a beautiful, yet tough Sella round, and an even more beautiful day of rest in Brixen at the hotel Krone with a stop at the Steineggerhof restaurant, we get to the sunny lowlands, our biggest wine-growing region. Nice coincidence, we love wine.

Apart from Lake Caldaro, this is pretty much the only thing I know of the lowlands. That’s why we start into the second third of our tour with slight reservation because we have no clue what awaits us. We just don’t know. But as soon as we start from the Mendel pass in direction Penegal and leave the tourists behind us, an unbelievable network of trails opens up. The trails meander at altitude along gentle meadows, idyllic small houses and on the next day, the Ritten offers the same scenery. A welcome and wonderful change before we start heading North again.

Sterzing is our goal, which we want to reach via the Sarntal Valley. After spending the night with friends, we have built up our strength again for the two toughest days David has ever spent on his bike. 3000m of elevation gain, followed by 3500m the next day. Plus, let’s not forget the late afternoon thunderstorms. But this time, we are smarter. Bright and early at 5 am, we are ready to roll. After a long stretch via the Stoanerne Mandlen (rocky men) and the Penser Joch (which drags on and on) towards Sterzing, the next day is basically the same, except tougher: over the Jaufenpass to the Passeier Valley and from Pfelders and the Stettiner lodge down into the Pfossen Valley. So we stand in Ratschings in front of the hotel, after breaking entry into the reception area to get the key for the bike garage, ready for the long day ahead. The sunrise on the Jaufenpass and finally the first coffee in Moos in the Passaier Valley help us forget almost all our fatigue. Almost, because David slowly feels the many elevation meters and it shows. That’s why I feed him the rest of the way to the Stettiner Lodge with bars and noodle soup before we get to sit together on the Eisjöchel and look down into the valley. The valley in which I spent most of my childhood. I start tearing up because, in that moment, I realize how far we have come already. Only our bikes and us. Welcome to Vinschgau.

Day 15 - 21: The Vinschgau region, or: Welcome home

My parents are waving and screaming when we turn from the trail into the gravel road. And the rest of my family and friends cheer even louder when we reach the end of the Pfossental valley. We haven’t quite made it to the end of our tour, but my family has biked towards us in order to support and surprise us. And that is what moves me the most on this tour, and I think David feels the same. The constant enthusiasm and support of the people around us, the short messages during the course of the day or the new friends we made along the way.

And so we ride into the part of South Tyrol that I know best, the Vinschgau region. Naturally, we don’t take the direct route to my house, but make detours via the Naturns Sonnenberg mountain, the Reschenpass, the Stilfser Joch and the Madritsch Joch. I could tell you about the sunrise at the Stilfser Joch and the Schaubach Lodge, the trail from the Madritsch Joch to the Martelltal Valley, the BimBam trail with the Ortler mountain right in front of your nose. But I won’t do that.

The story which I want to tell you is again a weather-related change which doesn’t take us over the Göflaner Scharte to Latsch, but spits us out soaking wet at the next hotel. Wet, cold, hungry – and one day early. Arrival is tomorrow, the party is planned, 10 km from Latsch. What now? My parents deposited a tent for us in the Martell valley with friends which was supposed to be ours to use during the last night on the Scharte. Now, we pitch it, not on the mountain ridge as planned, the view on the next day leaves a lot to be desired, too. But our spot underneath the small shelter with a cement floor near Latsch protects us from rain and the cold pizza for breakfast is also good enough. And this was the best last night I could wish for.

On the next day, soaking wet, we get on to tackle the last kilometers home. It is strange: on the first day, the backpacks were so heavy and our minds were full of questions, everything feels so light now, the rain is only water and I hardly even feel the backpack. The questions in our minds have been replaced by experiences. And the odd answer or two.

Our tour

Nearly 32,000m of elevation gain and slightly more than 1000 kilometers – and all that in 21 days with only two well deserved days of rest. We started in Luttach, relatively far East in South Tyrol, and rode across the beautiful Dolomites towards the lowlands enjoying a great mix of alpine trails and paved roads. Getting closer to the Vinschgau region, the stages were more trail heavy and longer. After 21 days, via the detour over the Reschenpass mountain and the Stilfser Joch, we reached my home village of Naturns.

 

Route planning

We planned the tour with Komoot, the stages of our tour can be downloaded. www.komoot.de/collection/1022008/-huamspiel

 

Hotels

Most of the time we stayed in BikeHotels. The service is simply the best, starting with the bike garage to the multi-course meals. Everything a biker heart needs!

 

Shuttle

In order to enjoy the sunrise at the Kronplatz, and to gain some distance on the approaching thunderstorm, we got a shuttle from Makke, who is one of the best trail builders of South Tyrol. Definitely worth it!

 

Food

A very special recommendation: Alex of the Hotel Krone in Brixen introduced a new meal on his menu in his restaurant: pizza Napoletana. Not a thin crust as you would expect, but nice and thick and fluffy. Just like the original. An absolute must

 

Tips for riders who want to duplicate the tour

Mount as much as possible onto the bicycle, and rather bring a little more detergent than one pair of pants too many. Birkenstocks are so worth it and being fit is as well. Take the tours as inspiration to get to know the region better, every corner of South Tyrol has its own charm. And don’t hesitate to go beyond what you know well. Push your boundaries. It is worth it. Everything happens for a reason.

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