Crossing Mountains on the Alpe Adria Cycle Path

Crossing Mountains on the Alpe Adria Cycle Path

“I don’t think we should stay here,” I said as a rock tumbled down the steep slope, landing not far from our impromptu camp spot. Another train rumbled by, drowning out our words. We waited in the dark.

We stood some miles outside of Salzburg along the Alpe Adria Cycle Path trying to find a stealth campsite for the night. Stars shone bright overhead as headlights illuminated us along the roadside. We’d found a pull-off that looked like an entrance to an old quarry, but the loose rocks all around and DO NOT ENTER sign kept us wary.

We were desperate. It was late and this section of the cycle way kept us on a busy road with no end in sight.

That night we found a better spot some miles further along the road, but the sound of traffic would follow us for the next several days of cycling through the Alps.

Beautiful scenery around busy roads.

The Alpe Adria Cycle Path is 410 kilometers / 254 miles in length, spanning from Salzburg, Austria to the Adriatic Sea at Grado, Italy. It’s an ideal route for cyclists looking for a way across the slopes without massive climbs. Yes, there are big ascents, but considering the backdrop of steep peaks, these are quite easy to handle.

The route follows nature’s path of rivers and natural passes, making it ideal for traversing Europe’s biggest mountain range, but this means sharing the valleys with cars, trucks and trains.

Farms and small towns fill in the valleys, with agricultural fields grasping at any free space, leaving little room for forests at the lower ground. Yet they were there and we found refuge in them each night.

We grew weary of the near-constant soundtrack of traffic, wondering what this land felt like before human interference. Most of the route follows quaint countryside roads, probably the original paths that later saw relief when the straighter motorway carved its way in.

This motorway churned with a steady hum of cars and trucks, a thick vein pulsing with fumes and vibrations of a virus. So it appeared to our senses from our perch atop adjoining hills and low slopes of the mountains as we weaved our way up and down, up and down. The motorway was never far away.

The tinkle of cow bells added another layer to this grinding symphony.

Yes, the mountains are breathtaking. The rivers too delighted us.

Yet all this beauty seemed dulled by layers of construction and unnatural sounds. As we often do, we wondered here, there must be a better way.

Has our planet really turned into one giant farm interwoven with concrete, metal boxes and superstores?

You rely on those things too! Some may say.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Most farmland is devoted to the unnecessary and damaging practice of animal agriculture.

“Livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land, yet produces less than 20% of the world's supply of calories.” -

Cars are just an idea that have existed for less than 200 years. The concept of driving regularly has existed for less than 100 years. Consider that humans have been around for about 200,000 years or so, well…

We may see things as they are today, but that doesn’t mean they should be this way.

Our experience on the Alpe Adria Cycle Path made that abundantly clear; it felt like a front-row seat to the dysfunction we feel so determined to help shift.

If you’re into gravel bikepacking and the less-beaten-track, we recommend another way. When we cross through the Alps again one day we’ll definitely consider some tougher routes to feel more immersed in the natural beauty of the mountains.

That said, we are grateful for what the Alpe Adria Cycle Path provided. There were many treasures along the way, such as quirky drinking water spouts and peaceful rest areas in parks. We savored many small sanctuaries in forests. Well-mapped and crystal clear, it was an easy route to get us out of the Schengen Zone on time, given Steven’s 90 day limit. There were some parts of off-road cycleway and our favorite one was the epic section upon reaching Italy.

While our view in this post may seem bleak, it paints the reality of our experience.

There is wonder to behold in between the fence posts and turning tires. Animals watch from behind the trees and mushrooms connect us with a secret message. The wisdom swirls through these pathways, not along motorways.

Leaving the mountains felt bittersweet. We recalled our first view of the Alps some miles before Salzburg and as we cycled away from them in Italy we kept looking over our shoulders for one last glance.

Thank you for seeing us through, we whisper.

Written by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart | Photos by Steven Tiller @steventiller