Day 9: Kotschach Mauthen to Soca, Slovenia
Jack Richards, August 6, 2011
My short jaunt from Italy to Austria was a good one. The efficiency at last night’s campsite was in stark contrast to my previous experiences. I arrived, they spoke English. I asked to stay for one night, they said ‘ok’. Immediately after giving my personal details I was handed a map to the local area, a prospectus for the campsite, a free drinks voucher for the camp bar and a voucher for a half price t-shirt. My bread order was then taken for the morning. The campsite owner then appeared on a bike and escorted me to my pitch. It was all a bit surreal, and in 2 minutes I had been dealt with in typical Teutonic efficiency: job done.
When I woke to the sound of rain falling on my tent I decided to lie low and see if it passed. By 8 o’clock I had snoozed my way into sunshine. I took the 111 from Kotschach Mauthen to Hermagor and carried on towards the Solvenian border. A fairly uneventful 70km, punctuated only by a puncture (the first of the trip) and one long draggy climb. Sharp craggy peaks loomed either side of the road which took a genler profile, meandering along the valley floor.
The base of the valley provided flat, fertile land for some fairly primitive looking farming and a series of small villages. As I was riding east and Slovenia was to the south, I knew at some point I would need to climb out of the valley and cross over into Slovenia. Indeed signs alerting me to put on snow chains (I ignored these), made me think that the climb might be significant. As I began the Wurzenpass, more signs suggested I should select first gear for the upcoming 18% gradient. 18%? That’s almost Zoncolan steep!
I listened to the roadside requests; little did I know that I would need first gear for quite some time. The climb was brutally steep and forced me into using my new found weaving skills developed on Zoncolan. Another hot day, I was quickly dripping with sweat and churning over my easiest gear which was far too large. By this stage my legs were burning, the last 8 days have certainly taken their toll. I reached the top and began descending only to find myself soon going back up hill. This happened twice more before I finally reached the border. I had made it to Slovenia!
A long fast descent delivered me to Kranjska Gora. I had hoped to stop here and my legs would have certainly been appreciative of a shorter day. But upon discussion with the advisor at the tourist information centre, I was stunned to find that the next campsite was the other side of the highest mountain pass in Slovenia. An 11km climb with 24 cobbled hairpin bends and 800m of vertical ascent. Now, I knew this road existed and it’s the reason I had come this way, but I had no intention of taking it on today with my knackered legs, but I had little choice.
After a big lunch and stoked up on Coke (the drink not the bad stuff), I began the climb. My legs had only one pace and I plodded up. It’s an awesome climb, stunning mountain scenery with very steep almost vertical rock faces all around. The cobbles are a nice touch too, adding extra venom to the sharp hairpins. At 1611m, the Vrsic pass is the highest in the Eastern Julian Alps and a climb I had read about some time ago and been wanting to ride. The descent consists of 26 tight hairpins, but this time they were paved. The highlight was a Porsche 911 pulling over to let me past as he realised I was faster then him. With the stench of burning brakes and melting clutches I zoomed down the mountain, loving the technical corners. After a blast down the stunning Soca valley with the bright blue river off to my right, I arrived at my camp here in Soca. It’s barely a village; I am fairly in the sticks here.
So far I am loving Slovenia, the flora and fauna is almost Scottish but the magnificent mountains more reminiscent of the the French Alps.
Tomorrow I will have my first rest day. My legs, arms and even back is aching after the climbs of the last few days. My body needs a rest. My blog tomorrow will be a little different and I’ll report on whatever else I get up to. Canyoning, rafting and exploring the nearby waterfalls look likely to provide a diversion from the saddle.