Remote Encounters: Austria
Jimmy and Pia realized the main thing that kept them in the saddle and out exploring the world was the intimate way in which they connected with people they met along the way. So they decided to start a film project about just that. Watch this beautifully shot and enchanting episode of ‘Remote Encounters’ in Austria and learn more about the series…
Words, film, and photos by Jimmy Purtill
When one of our sponsors offered us a contract to produce four bike-packing films for them, we were over the moon. We live in Berlin, Germany, and I had been eyeing up the Trans Germany bikepacking route ever since it had been uploaded to bikepacking.com. This was the excuse we had been waiting for. We would head directly south, and join the Trans Germany for it’s southern half, which leads along the beautiful “schwäbische Alb” plateau, along cliff edges overlooking iconic panoramas of castles, rolling green hills and forest. When we reached Basel on the Swiss border, we would catch a bus east, to avoid some tarmac, and cross the Alps from Munich, through Austria to the Garda Lake in Italy. From there we would eat up whatever dirt we could, as we crossed the plains to Venice, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and a worthy final destination for a film-project.
The Trans Germany was incredible. We have been living in Germany for years, and have always headed further afield for our bicycle journeys. It was eye-opening to find such beautiful scenery, and challenging mountain-biking almost on our doorstep. It rained for a week, but the mists and clouds somehow added to the fairy-taleness of it all. One night, while we were looking for a place to camp, we met a man riding a self-built buggy, being pulled by a litte shetland pony at considerable speed. His name was Jo. He invited us to his home, and we spent a night sleeping in a horse carraige in his stables. We interviewed him the next morning, and cycled the remaining couple of days to Basel, with our first film in the bag.
The films we had been commissioned to make were a continuation of a series called Remote Encounters which my partner Pia and I had brought in to being during a seven month dirt-touring journey across South America in 2016. The concept is simple. We document our journey, capturing our experiences travelling through epic landscapes, until we find ourselves engaged with an interesting local. Then, if they are interested in being interviewed, our travel-film turns in to a character portrait. Our bicycle journeys seem to have a way of introducing us to new and interesting people, and for us that’s half the fun.
After a few hours on a bus from Basel to Munich, we pedalled south out of the city, and before long the Alps rose up out of the ground like a seemingly impenatrable wall. Depending on where you do it, the Alps are not that hard to cross. If you stick to the highways, you can cross them without too much climbing. If you are looking for some bikepacking madness though, there are infinit walking tracks criss-crossing the mountains in all directions, offering endless options, challenging riding, and the most dramatic backdrop Western Europe has to offer.
After a notable ascent in to the mountains on a small dirt road, we crossed into Austria, arriving in Innsbruck on our second day. From there we had a steep climb up the mountain to the “alte Römerstrasse” (old Roman road) which lead us towards the Brenner pass, and the Italian border. There was a bit too much tarmac and traffic for our liking, so nearing the Brenner we veared off up the Gscnitz valley (Gschnitztal), and soon found dirt-tracks heading up in to mountains. The route was incredible. For three days we rode, pushed and carried our bikes along windy single track and over streams and snow. The snow covered peaks were a sight to behold, and we climbed in to our tent each night exhausted and content. We crossed the mountains at a small pass near the Rötenspitz, spent our last night by a white and blue lake full of broken ice, and began roaring down out of the mountains on a rugged bit of single-track.
Just south of the Austrian border in the German-speaking part of Italy known as South Tirolia, we accidentally rolled on to the organic farm of Oswald and Johanna. They are a couple who live by the laws of nature. They plant their vegetables according to an astrological calendar, rise with the sun, work long hard days, and treat their animals with affection and respect. They have no internet, no email address, and were only recently persuaded to invest in a mobile phone (an old nokia) for emergencies. Their aversion to hi-tech gadgetry made them apprehensive about being filmed at first, but after a little explaining we arrived at a compromise. We would spend the rest of the week working for them as farm-hands, doing whatever they asked of us, and in exchange, Oswald would give us our interview.
We spent the following days planting potatoes, loading trailers with fire-wood, cleaning stables and cooking meals. We throughly enjoyed getting our hands dirty, and being part of a farm so steeped in good intent. The affection Johanna and Oswald show their animals makes them very sociable, and it felt therapeutical being constantly surrounded by friendly animals, trying to chew on our clothing and lick us with their sand-paper like tongues. For breakfast lunch and dinner we would retire to the kitchen of their old wooden farmhouse, and eat delicious home-grown produce cooked on their enormous cast-iron range oven. Satisfied with our input, Oswald gave us our interview on our last day. We thanked him and Johanna for giving us a glimpse of farm life, and continued our decent out of the mountains.
The Remote Encounters Project
Remote Encounters is series of short travel films, showcasing the unique and immersive way in which a bicycle journey introduces you to a foreign culture. As well as documenting our journey, we also interview the interesting characters we meet along the way. By introducing you to the locals, we hope to give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the amazing places we pass through.
Our first journey took us from the South of Argentina, back and forth across the Andes to Cusco in Peru, crossing the Ruta Lagunas and the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. We documented our journey through these surreal landscapes, and made video portraits of five local characters we met at the roadside: a baker, a farmer, an artisan, a salt-miner, and a woman building an adobe house.
The Austrian episode is from our second series, documenting a bike-packing journey along the Trans-Germany bike packing route, over a remote mountain pass in the Austrian Alps and on to Venice, Italy. During the journey we met and interviewed a stablehand, an organic farmer, a tortellini chef and a venetian mask-maker.
About Jimmy and Pia
Jimmy Purtill started documenting his bicycle journeys in films in 2012 when he cycled from Germany to Japan. Pia became his partner in crime on the next big journey across South America in 2016. The couple traded their touring-bikes in for bike-packing rigs this summer, and crossed the Alps from Germany to Italy. They will soon be heading back to their native Far North Queensland, Australia, where they hope to support and promote bikepacking by making films and establishing routes. See more of their films at robohorse.tv, follow on Facebook facebook.com/robohorsetv and Instagram @robohorsetv.