Living with the weather is as much a part of the challenge as any other aspect of a world cycle. Your waking hours are spent in it, your movements can be determenined by it and your sleep can be disturbed by it. The weather is your everything. Obvious as this may sound, the last few days have been a stark reminder that on a long trip you really need to be prepared for the worst and ready for anything.
14 days in the saddle had transported me to the wonderful city of Munich. I took a day off the bike to rest my legs and get a few jobs done. Such was the excitement of re-entering civilised society that I couldn’t get my words out in a coherent manner so booking into a hostel for the night was quite hilarious. I spent the day wandering around seeking a reliable WiFi connection and tasty snacks. I finished a book and gave up on internet related activities. On Friday I got to spend the night with my first host via the Warmshowers website. My evening with Julia was a real pleasure and an excellent introduction to the global community of cycle touring hosts. The website, aswell as providing a list of willing hosts around the world, also has a forum to share trips and make freinds. Through this part of the site I was introduced to a chap called Kyle, who having posted on the site that he’s cycling to Istanbul, the Universe gave him me! Of more later.
I had arranged to meet Kyle in Munich on Saturday morning but logistics and mobile telephony conspired to prevent us from getting to the agreed meeting point at the same time. Essentially I was very late. Safe in the knowledge that we’d be following a similar road to Turkey and indeed Salzburg we pressed on independently. It was this day that the weather took a turn for the worse. It rained pretty much all afternoon to the point where it was a bit of a joke. Laughably wet from the days ride I made it as far as Rosenheim before being very kindly invited to stay with Udo & Christine and their two boys.
When I arrived at the house, Christine and Udo were in th midst of packing for their own adventure – a cycle touring holiday to Nurnberg. The boys were very excited to have a real life ‘Englischer’ stay over for the night. I was made to feel very welcome and really enjoyed our evening together with the family. Thanks Udo & Christine for your excellent hospitality. I hope your trip has been a success and that the boys enjoyed the funpark! Refreshed from a good nights sleep I hit the road, bound for Salzburg and a newly arranged meeting with Kyle. The weather was marginally better and so I pushed on with the miles and passed through many towns painted in pastel shades.
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Arriving in Salzburg at around 6.30pm I met Kyle on Linzer Gasse at the Lanzino cafe. After a brief hello and how do you do we set off for a couchsurf arranged previously by Kyle. We pulled in to the garden of our host with our heavy bikes, wet feet and uncertainty – Kyle had given a heads up to our host that he’d be meeting a guy (me) and bringing him along to stay the night – it wasn’t guaranteed that we could both stay. Fortunately, Bastion was a total legend and invited us both in immediately for tea. As a seasoned couchsurf host, Bastion had multiple guests staying over for the weekend in his vast townhouse, we took tea with our new friends and fellow couchsurfers, Sonja and Inigo.
Salzburg is a pretty city and boasts a generous display of sculpture. The castle sits proudly above the scene keeping an eye on the busy streets and Kapitelplatz. Hungover from the evenings getting to know you, we shambled around in search of cold beer and hearty treats – read Radler and schnitzel. A brisk walk up to the castle for cityscape photographs and AWE-SOME banter, we were soon in fine fettle, forgetting all about our former fuzziness.
Sufficlently cultured by our afternoon sightseeing we headed back home for dinner. With a slab of beer. We had early starts, places to go and people to see so we had a relatively early night. The couchsurf community, like warmshowers, is a wonderful concept and really highlights the power of the internet to connect people and to bring together the likeminded. A triumph of modern technology.
Next day the weather is utterly shit. I mean ridiculous, bouncing off the floor raining shit. Basti needed us out for a landlord visit and sadly had to send us on our way. Cold, wet Monday morning reality check. Sat in the bus stop opposite Basti’s house we (Kyle & I) sat patiently for a very long time. Eventually the rain appeared to ease off for a moment so we made a hasty move and ventured out in to the day. Fools. The rain came lashing down once more. So we stopped again.
Out of Salzburg we knew we had to face the Alps and some pretty bad weather before we reached Lake Bled, our next stop for rest and relaxation. I’ve been pretty relaxed about the weather, figuring that the time of year (summer) would be enough to secure us to the coast without too much unnecessary hardship. I was only half right. The Alps have been unseasonably cold and wet, making our journey from Munich, south east across Bavaria to Austria and up in to the mountains unusually wet and bleak.
Over the course of three hideous days we climbed three huge mountains; over 5,300m of altitude and some insane gradients – north of 18%. Thigh splitting, lung bursting, head pounding climbs up and up and into the clouds. The Radstadter Tauren Pass to Obertauern was a modest 20km, 2 hour ascent to a lofty 1,738m climbing at a gradual 5 – 8%. Tough but ultimately rewarding. The road to Katchberghof (Katschberger Straßee, the B 99) the next day was awful. Just awful. 15% stright up. In less than one hour. Never again.
The third and most feared climb in all of Villach was the Wurzen Pass. Our host in Villach, Paolo, up on discovering our intention to cross to Slovenia made the internationally recognised sign for ‘holy fuck’ by inhaling a breath in the way that it makes a really loud whistling sound. Each new encounter on the way to Wurzen Pass prompted the same response. We were heading to a wall of mountain. The kind of road that has signs telling drivers to change from fourth to first gear. About 20 minutes in to this madness a tractor pulled up alongside me and signalled to stop. A rope and a Kyle later and we were being towed the 6km to the top in style.
Our heroic ascent of the Worst-over Pass meant that we hurtled towards Lake Bled like speeding bullets. The road was absolutely glorious, with the sun shining and Rock Radio, Slovenia’s finest FM frequency to herald our arrival in to our next stop and a well earned rest day (or two…)
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