Think Tank
15th October 2015 | By:

Attempting to cycle the Via Claudia Augusta

About 10 days ago I decided I needed a holiday – something different. Something challenging. Possibly something on a bike?
I did some research for famous bike routes around Europe (wasn’t too keen on going much further) and came across the Via Claudia Augusta – the first Roman road built specifically to cross the Alps as quickly, and directly as possible. This looked good. It wasn’t too popular, it had a good mix of road/off-road. It included what looked like some challenging mountain passes along the route, and the weather wasn’t yet too bad.
I bought a 1-way ticket and decided to give it a shot. I gradually let everyone who I knew enjoyed cycling know, and eventually Tomas (a friend dating back to primary school!) said he would join in for a few days, and take a train to join me.
The route started in Donauworth, and despite some insistence from Tomas that we start further down (for practicality reasons) I was determined to start at the beginning. I therefore took a flight out to Munich, and then a couple of trains to get to the start point, by which point I was completely exhausted. Here’s a brief log of my journey with lots of photos… unfortunately (spoiler alert) I didn’t make it as the weather turned completely against us… but I’ll be back to finish this next summer 😉

Day 0 (Friday 09/10/2015)

19:30 – Almost ready for the trip…! Looking forward to it, specially now that Tomás Guilherme Da Costa is joining for the first days! Slightly concerned about the cold and snowy weather reports though ❄
Bike ready to go

Day 1 (Saturday 10/10/2015) – Distance 2.7km

03:10 – It’s 11 degrees in London and I’m officially freezing from standing outside. Everyone I’ve spoken to so far thinks I’m pretty much insane… (It’s amazing what a large cardboard box at 3am does as an ice breaker). Just the thought that the Alps will be closer to 0 makes me shiver. I may need to rethink my choice of clothing.
03:23 – So it turns out missing the last tube isn’t a good idea when you need to lug around a mountain bike packed into a box. Suddenly the 15 minute walk from Barbican to Liverpool St takes over 45 and feels like a marathon in itself – a focus on a few steps at a time with plenty of rest breaks. Of course it also doesn’t help to arrive straight after the last train, with the station closed. It’s at times like these that a little more thought and planning would go a long way.
In the meantime, we wait until 3:40am to catch the next train. The good old McDonald’s served me well with a nice warm coffee, but unfortunately security weren’t too keen on me loitering around in the warmth – not even after explaining exactly what I was about to embark on (and the fact that it’s pretty damn cold to be sitting outside – sober – for several hours). He did hold the door for me though… That’s got to count for something right?

Next up is buying a ticket for the Stansted express with my mammoth bike box, and then setting off to the airport. The bikes nicely packed up. I probably should have brought warmer clothes though…
03:42 – Finally on the Stansted express! Next stop, airport. Somehow I’m starting to think the cycling will be the easy part of this trip! Also… It seems like this train was designed to fit my box ;D

04:40 – Turns out getting the bike on the plane was the easiest part of the trip so far. Checked in and waiting to go. Managed to sneak in a 45minute nap on the train that made all the difference.
11:15 – Bike is off the plane, in one piece, and assembled thanks to the helpful guys at the Munich Airport Service Center. He even offered to take my box in to give to someone else in need one day! The train journey to the start point of Donauworth is going to take a few hours, but the German efficiency seems to be making this very straightforward so far!
13:29 – So this train journey to Donauworth is painfully slow…
14:10 – Arrived at the hotel – that 2.7km climb was surprisingly difficult considering what’s ahead, but it probably doesn’t help that I haven’t slept. The hotel is awesome – no staff at all, the entire thing is automated, which is great since I snuck my bike into the room 😉
20:07 – it seems Donauworth is quite a small town. Despite Oktoberfest happening at the moment, and it being a Saturday evening, it’s literally deserted! Time to sleep.

Day 2 (Sunday 11/10/2015) – Distance: 102km

6:45 – ok so getting up at 6:45 for an early start wasn’t the best idea because it’s pitch black outside. Going to wait it out for sunrise. Looking forward to leaving the hotel and starting with a 2.5 km downhill track including about 5 staircases ;D
10:14 – I’m in a German pub about 52km into the route. It’s 10am and everyone here is drinking pint after pint of beer! The first 30km were incredibly easy on smooth, flat road. The next 10 were along an isolated and tiring gravel path through a forest and following the river, with dog walkers, joggers and horse riders. Need to buy warmer shoes though as literally can’t feel my feet! I’m now just above Augsburg, so making pretty good time. I also just got laughed at for asking for Wifi by a large very German man… I’ll go hide now.
10:30 – I stand corrected… It’s a Biergarten not a pub!
19:56 – not many updates today as I’ve been too tired! Plus I met up with Tomas around 1:15pm in Untermeitingen which kept me busy the rest of the day! It wasn’t easy. 107km or so give or take (who knows what the GPS is thinking). He was far too fresh, not to mention on a racing bike, so keeping up was a challenge! The riding was mostly flat, along farmland and rivers. I had my first meal since Friday lunchtime today (24 hrs – not a good idea when you’re cycling!). It was pasta (of course) and literally felt like the best thing ever. The entire morning leading up consisted of carefully rationed Powerade, cereal bars and some chocolate. Being a Sunday in rural Germany, everything was closed! We’re now staying in Landsberg am Lech for the night – airbnb is a wonderful thing. Great little place in the city centre, and the host has been very friendly and helpful.

Day 3 (Monday 12/10/2015) – Distance 99km

7:38am – it seems I overslept. I feel surprisingly ok though – a bit of pain but nothing unusual. Tomas is already up and ready to roll. We’re passing by a supermarket first to buy some snacks since they proved pretty essential yesterday.
18:21 – we have arrived in Reutte, Austria! First blue sky we have seen all trip, and it was worth it! Amazing scenery, and very motivating considering how tired we were by this point. About 92km covered today, which is OK given the more hilly roads we had to do. Cycling in Austria has been pretty amazing so far. We’re going to go find somewhere to eat and explore the town in a sec. On a down note, the weather is forecast to rain non stop from tomorrow morning, so it’s going to be a wet, cold climb tomorrow. Not looking forward to it!!! But I hear Italy is still sunny 😉

19:32 – were discussing logistics and given the incessant rain predicted for the next week there is a good chance I may abandon this attempt :S we’re going to get up in the morning and see how bad it is. Tomorrow is the first alpine climbing day, with the dreaded Fernpass… Doesn’t sound easy, and heavy rain will only make it worse. At this stage well just have to see how it goes. In the meantime we’re enjoying some traditional Austrian snitzel 😉
Tomas’s motivational speech this evening: “I’ve been trying to be optimistic… But looking at the weather forecast we’re definitely f****d!”

Day 4 (Tuesday 13/10/2015) – Distance: 60km

11:28 – we are in hotel My Tirol – which is actually very nice. And warm. We are on the Fernpass road. It’s been raining all day, and pretty damn cold (despite wearing 4 layers!). It’s not looking good… The cut off time for making the pass is recommended as 12 noon, and we’re now just working out whether we have the energy to even attempt it.
17:55 – on the train to Zurich from Imst. Despite the incessant rain we made it over the Fernpass (our first, ever, alpine crossing). It was a pretty relentless climb, but with some incredible views and an awesome descent to Imst. It’s a real shame this trip is cut short but the weather just didn’t make continuing possible. Next year (summer) we’ll resume! Everyone is invited to join!

Despite having to back out, it was an incredible few days and I would definitely do it again. The rest of the route must be incredible, and can’t wait to get back out there next year!

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  1. Johannes
    20th December 2015 @ 19:04

    Hey! I’m planning a group ride on this route next summer. It looks a lot more off-road than I was expecting. Is that because you took detours, or is the VCA actually like that? Cheers! Johannes

    • Jason Vicente
      24th December 2015 @ 10:34

      Hi Johannes,
      It’s actually quite a lot of dirt paths. There isn’t much ‘hardcore’ off-road riding, in the sense that anyone would easily manage the paths, but definitely don’t take a road / racing bike (as my friend above did!). From Donauworth to the Austrian border is primarily tarmac with the exception of the long river stretch north of Augsburg which is entirely gravel. However, once you’re into Austria the paths are almost entirely dirt up until Imst (where we stopped).
      When are you planning on doing the route? We’re going back to finish from Imst to Venice next summer as well – maybe we could group up!

      • Johannes
        12th January 2016 @ 20:42

        Ahh… that’s a bit gutting. I’m a road-bike-only guy. I’m considering rethinking the whole thing and planning to do the Route des Grandes Alpes instead, just to avoid sinking into an Alpine puddle and never being found. We’re looking at 17-25 July at the moment.

        • Jason Vicente
          5th July 2016 @ 0:20

          Hey Johannes, are you going in the end? I went back a few weeks ago to finish it off on a road bike 🙂 Amazing trip! Weather was incredible. Just be careful in Venice because the Cycle path across the bridge to the city is closed due to a storm! Very scary cycling along the main road next to the trams – don’t recommend it!

  2. Edmund
    10th December 2017 @ 16:48

    Hello Jason,
    Thank you for your blog. I’m looking at riding the via augusta on my touring cycle. Do you think it is possible with the right gearing to ride the Fernpass fully loaded with front and rear panniers?? Are there any other section which could cause me trouble? I have ridden Oberwald from Andermatt to lake constance without a problem.

    • jasonvicente
      10th December 2017 @ 17:42

      Hi Edmund, I think you can yes. Just don’t attempt it in the winter months as it gets very cold and covered in snow very fast! The Fernpass itself isn’t actually that difficult, but be warned that if you follow the route recommended by the Via Claudia Augusta guide it will take you off-road almost the entire way up. The gradient itself isn’t too steep, and doesn’t go on for very long. Where else are you touring? I’m looking for my next adventure!

      • Edmund
        17th January 2018 @ 14:29

        Jason the list is:
        Lahnradweg from Lahn Quelle to Rhine, Mosselle, Saar, Nahre, Main (Frankfurt)
        Frankfurt: Main, to RotterQuelle, then Wesser Quelle, then Tauber, Nuremburg, Aish Manheim: Frankfurt
        Elbe: Prague to Hamburg
        Danube: Ingolstadt to Bratislava
        Loire: Olean to St Nazaire
        Rhone: Rhone Glacier to the sea (Port san Louis)
        Rhine: Andermat Switzerland to Manheim Germany
        UK – Land’s End to John ‘O’ Groats: John ‘O’ Groats to Land’s End
        Sea to Sea: Atlantic Coast, Bordeaux, Geronde, Canal du Midi, Canal du Lateral, Sete, Mediterranean Sea


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