These little details that make all the difference…

Day 29, Graz, 2.541 km

Sometimes all it takes is a little thing, that little something that makes you go from having a good time to having a bad time, that makes a good idea a bad idea, go from success to failure, from heaven to hell … (okay, I’m getting a little excited). And to my delight, these little things have (almost) always changed the situation to my advantage since my departure from Vienna: a breakfast that goes on longer than expected, a campsite not quite closed, a badly negotiated turn, a lamp which turns red, a timely arrival at the campsite, a well placed mountain, 9 minutes, a « Rain Jay-cket », a recalcitrant zipper, or even a weather forecast a few hours wrong… I see some hands raised at the back of the room asking for more details. Don’t worry. I will come to it…

Departure from Vienna on Tuesday morning, after a hearty breakfast and a new question-and-answer session with Marion and Sinan’s children. As I also have to finish my last post, I don’t take the road until around 11:15 am. Along the Danube, direction Melk. As announced, the start of the route is quite monotonous. It’s wide, it’s flat, you bump into people every other minute, but other than that not much is happening. The weather is nice and there is no wind so the ride is nice. A few drops threaten but finally the sun emerges victorious from its duel with the clouds. And as I go, the road gets wetter and wetter: if I had left an hour earlier (as I thought I would), the rain would have hit me … Double thank you to Marion and Sinan !!

So I continue, delighted not to be in the rain, and I get into real business: the Wachau valley. Marion was right: the road is magnificent. The Danube flowing between the hills, with a castle (or sometimes only remains of it) on the heights, small villages along the water, vineyards on the hills, it is superb, a real pleasure. I arrive in Melk, greeted by the majestic monastery which overlooks the city (and whose bell tower is under renovation, but this does not count anymore), and after a small visit I sit down to eat a bit and do my planning. I realize that my original idea (Melk-Graz-Admont-Linz) forces me to do the same 200km of road twice. Not great. I change my mind and decide to go first to Linz, then Admont, then Graz. I go to the campsite that I had planned for the night. Bad luck, it is closed. But the water fountain outside is working. It’s like a pimped wild camp, what more to ask for!!

The Danube and the Wachau valley
Arrival to Melk

Night without fuss, apart from an invasion of slugs, and I leave early the next day. The road continues to be superb, and with the wind behind my back I have never been so fast. I arrive in the vicinity of Linz, buildings and industrial sites are multiplying along the Danube, it is quite ugly. Then I am at a crossroads and climb on a dike instead of following the cycle path. Since the two roads meet again after about 10 kilometers, I continue. A good surprise awaits me after a bend of the road: a perfect opportunity to use my swimsuit for the first time on the trip: a lake with turquoise waters that catches my eye! A little refreshing bath later, I head back to town. The surroundings of the Danube are more and more beautiful, with parks, museums, beautiful bridges, and I end up arriving at the main square. I take out my camera to immortalize the moment, and I tell myself that I will continue to walk around the old town, camera in hand, to do my tourist homework in Linz. The signal in front of me turns red (I still have my camera in my hand), I can’t take my pedal off, try to catch to the pole to my right, don’t want to let go of the camera, in short… FALL AT THE REAR OF THE PLATOON !!!! Luckily nothing serious, just a broken self-esteem that will be forgotten as soon as I leave this town…

My welcome gift from the city of Linz
The picture responsible from « The Fall » (quite appropriate in Linz)

I walk around town a bit, even go visit a contemporary art museum (the Lentos, good but not great) and set off again to go to a campsite about forty kilometers away. When I arrive and start to plant my tent, a German cyclist starts talking to me: she has just finished with her husband a 5-week trip across the whole country, highly recommends the Alps (especially Innsbruck – Bregenz) and offers me a beer (« I know what it is when you arrive, it’s always nice to have a cold beer »). On the other hand, she tells me that the weather is going to be pretty bad for the days to come, especially Friday (the day I planned my biggest stage…). I also chat with a Dutch girl who is going in exactly the same direction as me! Unfortunately, she has already left the next day when I get out of my tent at 7 am…

We leave, this time along the Enns valley. It’s hilly, very hilly, and in addition it is very, very hot (I even have to buy a bottle of water in the middle of the day because all the gourds are empty and I have not found a place to refill in time), but it is so beautiful! A blue-green river that winds between the mountains, cut from time to time by a bridge or a dam, and villages that appear with their ocher, red, blue, purple or pink houses, magnificent. I also meet a moose, apparently not very wild…

The Enns river
THE moose

The day progresses, the road goes up and down, I enter the national park of Gesäuse and there, I am speechless. The sheer mountains bordering the river. It is superb. In addition, the weather, which is beginning to get cloudy, gives an ethereal side (I’ve been looking for the right word for a long time, we will say that ethereal will do the trick) to the landscape which is simply magnificent. I hear the storm rumbling, thunder is nearby, but on the other side of the mountain (whoever decided to put the storm and the mountain in their respective positions is a genius !!). So I ride still dry, my mouth open looking at the landscape, and finally up receiving my first drops of rain. And this is where the « Rain Jay-cket » makes all the difference: derived from the « rain jacket », it describes the harness that I equip Jay when the rain threatens. Note that the color was chosen with care by Bob! In short, despite it raining for a few hours, everything is dry at night and the rain is just something in the brain! (Loub’s, Sam (and the B I guess…), mark my words…)

The ether
The « Rain Jay-cket »

A little wet but in great shape, I arrive at Admont, famous for its monastery, which contains one of the most beautiful monastic libraries in the world. I arrive at the entrance to the museum and the clerk at the counter looks at me apologetically, telling me they’ve been closed since 3:30 pm, Corona obliges. I look at my watch: 3:39 p.m. I just did more than 6.30 hours of cycling to arrive 9 minutes late… Damn virus. I’m left with a hot chocolate and a sandwich at the local bistro before turning around to return to the campsite. The rain stops just long enough for me to pitch my tent (another well-negotiated arrival !!). On the other hand, woken up in the middle of the night by a pressing need, I cannot close the tent. I try sheer force. The zipper breaks. Repair at 2 a.m. with insects attracted to the headlamp: bad idea. I still manage to close the tent and fall asleep again.

Since I am going much faster than expected, I decide to take a short hike before leaving the next day (Friday, when the weather forecast announces thunderstorms). I find a « short » hike just next to the campsite: 5 km round trip, 600m of elevation gain. It’s very pretty, I’m almost all alone at this early hour, but it already warms up the legs… And besides, I plan to go through a high pass this afternoon… Smart… At least I have beautiful views on the mountains despite the clouds and it’s not raining. And I can also use my hiking pants for the first time (which also turn into shorts, I don’t know if I had specified it, very practical by the way). I then set off, not without having discussed with a Czech cyclist who is heading for Croatia with his wife and children and who passes me with cheers after a few kilometers. It gives me a little extra boost for the start!

Head in the clouds

We then start with the high mountain: Präbichl Pass. I take a break before the start of the climb. Eat lots of chocolate and nuts. I see a bridge on the mountainside but I’m not sure that’s where I’m going. It’s very high. I’m going for it. It goes up hard. I get overtaken by a lot of cars and trucks. Luckily it’s a two-lane road and they (almost) all make an effort to take some distance. It’s still going up. I reel but I move forward. I arrive at the bridge. It continues to rise. I cross the bridge. It’s still going up. I tell myself that Olivier was right, it has to go up for it to go down one day. And considering the way it goes up the descent is going to be interesting. I finally arrive at the top of the pass: 1225m! And the descent afterwards, a treat. It’s wide, the view is clear, it’s still not raining, I’m even speeding (a peak at 77 km/h in a 70 zone, if my gendarme of a father knew that …), I do 10 kilometers at more than 30 on average, the best!

Picture of the bridge
Picture from the bridge
First successful pass!!

It is still not raining (despite the announced thunderstorms) and I swallow the last kilometers to the campsite. I finish setting up my tent and bam! here is the storm. I am safe sipping a beer in the inn. Grand success! I still have 27 kilometers to go before reaching Graz, my smallest total over a day (by far) but given the 4 days that I just had a short break is welcome. I take the opportunity to take a walk around town, climb the hill that (again) overlooks the old town and take a tour of the castle. And to eating. And sleep. And eat more. And drink a little… I even get stopped by the cops because I don’t have lights on. Alcohol test as well. All good, I can go back to the hotel…

Sandcastles on the main square

Graz from the heights

Ready to hit the road again towards Salzburg tomorrow! (I go back the same road unfortunately, but that’s the price to pay to see Melk, Linz and Graz…).

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