By Kevin Cashman & Will Robertson
When I told people at the end of summer that I was headed to Europe in September to ride and scout the last section of our Europe Coast to Coast trip, I’d generally receive a response like, “Seriously? That’s a thing?” Or, “Wow! Wouldn’t that be nice!” And admittedly, it absolutely is a wonderful perk and highlight to our job. It helps reinforce in us the power and excitement of the programs we offer. But as one can imagine, there’s an awful lot of work involved – both before leaving for the trip and during the scout itself. The work is mental and physical (especially when you’re bicycling close to 475 miles over six days)!
We’ve been offering and running our Europe Coast to Coast trip since 2013, and although we haven’t changed the original route too dramatically over the last decade, we like to get eyes on it every few years to determine what we can improve and to problem solve any areas that are tricky. One of the wonderful things about cycling in Europe is the infrastructure they provide for bicycle travel. Europe Coast to Coast easily spends 70+% of their total riding on designated bicycle paths or quiet, one lane farm roads. The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy have especially invested in the upkeep of thousands of kilometers of bicycle paths (mostly paved).
With this scout trip, my colleague and Apogee Associate Director, Will Robertson, wanted to check out some new stretches of bicycle paths along the section of our ECC route between Tuttlingen, Germany and Venice, Italy. But we also wanted to feel and see everything our kids and leaders experience on the trip. You can scout much of a bicycle trip with a car, but you won’t be able to see all the kilometers of bicycle paths groups ride, or feel the challenge of cycling up an Alps mountain pass.
We packed up our bikes on September 18th, loaded them on a flight for Frankfurt, Germany on September 19th, and were off! One thing that certainly hit us pretty hard was the jetlag. We had scheduled our scout pretty tightly, so once we were on the ground in Frankfurt, we had to build up our bikes, ride them to the train station, then catch three trains to get to Southwestern Germany (all on about 2 hours of sleep). It re-solidified how important it is that our students don’t have much to do on the first day they arrive in Amsterdam. They instead use that time to get to know each other and get a good night’s sleep so they are ready to ride the next day!
We started our scout in the town of Tuttlingen, just on the eastern side of Germany’s Black Forest mountain range. The first third of the day took us up and over a number of hills on some of the aforementioned one-lane farm roads, leading to beautiful vistas of the area’s farms and apple orchards. After a couple of hours, we arrived at the shores of Lake Constance (also called the Bodensee), a large lake that borders Switzerland (to the south), Germany (to the north), and Austria (to the east). Once we reached the lake, the rest of the day was all on bike paths along the shore of the lake. Even though we were at the end of tourist season, there were still an awful lot of fellow bikers taking in the views of the lake.
In the town of Bregenz, Austria, at the end of Lake Constance, we started the long, gradual climb up the valley to the mountain village of Gaschurn, which sits at the base of the Silvretta Mountain pass. The ride up to Gaschurn is almost entirely on bike paths, and is full of incredible views of the Alps. The towns you pass through have a quintessential Austrian feel to them – quaint, cozy, and full of friendly locals! The next day, it was up and over the Silvretta Pass. Will and I had driven the pass four years ago during a different scouting trip, but riding it gave us a new appreciation for its beauty, its rideability, and how impressive a feat it is for our ECC kids! After riding 30 switchbacks, we reached the top. We were pretty excited at that point to take a snack break and appreciate the views of the alpine lake and the surrounding mountains.
Once over the pass, we spent the rest of the day and the beginning of the following day following a bike path that winds its way through the valley on the border between Austria and Switzerland. After briefly crossing into Switzerland for a few miles, the route goes up and over its second pass in as many days! Will and I knew this pass was coming, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was definitely less challenging than the steeper Silvretta Pass we rode the day before. Once over the pass, we linked up with a new network of bike paths and headed towards Italy.
Once in Italy, the group begins to follow the Adige bike path, which is a remarkably well-maintained route that extends for hundreds of kilometers along the Adige River. As we were riding this stretch, Will and I would continuously remark to each other how we wished that this type of bicycle infrastructure existed in the US. Along the Adige, the group begins to descend from the Alps and has a couple of days of downhill or mostly-flat riding days – a welcome change after the two mountain passes. These days of riding take the group through the region of South Tyrol, which, despite being in Italy, is primarily made up of German speakers.
Shortly after passing through the vibrant city of Trento (where Will and I stopped for some delicious focaccia pizza), the route leaves the Adige Valley and the group climbs their final pass of the trip. While the ascent was steep in the beginning, Will and I found this pass to be less daunting than the two that preceded it. Before we knew it we were cruising through an apple orchard on flat farm roads at the top of the pass, headed downhill towards the Brenta River Valley.
On our final day of scouting, we covered the group’s last day and a half. While they follow the Brenta nearly all the way to Venice, it’s remarkable how much the scenery changes over the course of these days of riding. Our morning was spent working our way south to the mouth of the valley, where we slowly watched the mountains to our left and right fall away. As we approached Venice, you could definitely tell we were in a ‘busier’ area, but we were pleased with the mix of roads and bike paths we chose for the route. Upon arrival, we had successfully completed 475 miles of our ECC route. And I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty darn good to reach our destination. We can only imagine how accomplished our students feel when they finish their 1200 mile ride across the European continent.
Overall, we left Italy feeling very excited about the route our Europe Coast to Coast groups ride. Not only is it strikingly beautiful, but it immerses our students in so many different cultures along the way. It also takes advantage of some of the best biking infrastructure in the world. We can’t wait to follow along with our 2023 groups as they ride from the North Sea to the Adriatic Sea next summer. Space on the trip is already very limited, and we’d encourage you to get in touch soon if you’re interested in this once-in-a-lifetime adventure!