Second part of our 1080km long bike trip from home to Austrian Alps.
In the country of wind turbines
The best about travelling in your home country and its surrounding is that there are many friends to visit. We leave the Danube bike route (which btw doesn’t follow Danube) to get to Laci. The bike paths lead through the small side streets of Austrian villages. It is interesting at the beginning but after couple villages we get enough of the local architecture and would prefer the “dike path” again.
We have offline GPS navigation. We leave the main bike route and follow smaller roads and tracks directly to Parndorf. Our shortcuts are usually on worse roads but unusually it’s shorter this time. Rusty managed a touristic pathway (we realize it’s meant for walkers when the last signs of road disappears and we bike on a grass between two fields). The sky is dark grey and full of horrible storm clouds which are getting closer to us. We still have approx 15km to our destination and because we don’t want to get wet, we choose a private path along the wind turbines. We hope there is some pass under the highway which we are going to cross in 10km. Shaking on the tracks we pedal fast as possible, successfully cross the highway and soon knock on the door of Laci’s house. Janko feels that toys are near and gets up.
Again we are treated well and even when the kids aren’t there Janko feels like in a toy paradise. The rain continues the whole next day and we use an offer to stay one more day (Janko is really happy about it). Cold air comes with the rain and we realize that we are prepared for tropical days but have almost none warm clothes. We borrow some warmer pieces for Janko and go for a store walk to buy “souvenirs” … successfully: we have two down jackets, waterproof windbreaker and some warm pieces for the junior. The mower at our host apparently works on some magic word we don’t know. We have to leave back to Danube again and so will return the hospitality the next time when our friend buys some functional machine.
Going back the same way is not interesting and we choose the shortest way through vineyards towards Vienna. We start swearing after first 10km when we realize that the wine grows on hills and the next 60km will go up and down. Fortunately we already know that the path itself is the goal and we enjoy it… or at least we try to and I must repeat many times to Jan that the navigator has really chosen the best and shortest route :). Janko likes this variant because we discover two awesome playgrounds. Friends in Vienna offered us to stay with them so we pedal again little over our limits and much more over the patience limit of our son – he breast feeds the whole Danube island in Vienna. He partially forgives us when we meet the friends at playground and totally when he sees all Sebastian’s toys. As always we are treated very well and we sleep next to their guinea pigs.
First serious problem
We must admire the cycling infrastructure in Vienna because we were able to cross the whole city just on bike paths. Phone rings and a lady from Banska Bystrica city administration informs us that they want to realize Jan’s proposal to build bike stands at the building where he works. We are happy that we contribute to the bike infrastructure in Slovakia. We pedal with this good feeling on the Danube bike path, later have a lunch at a nice playground and at 5pm stop at Billa.
We have to do shopping for next 3 days because it’s Friday and on Monday they have holiday here. Up from the shop there is a slight uphill and as we push to the pedals we jam the front freewheel and it gets stuck on the frame – translated: we don’t have tandem but a cargo bike now and when I try to pedal the chain gets stuck completely. We try to figure out what happened and after half an hour we understand the problem and know the solution – to weld it. It’s Friday evening before a long weekend – let’s face a big challenge! And to have even more bad luck a wasp bites me in hand – it hurts but it’s lower priority than a working bike. Jan talks with locals on the streets and tries to find anybody who can weld and is willing to work on Friday evening.
Luck is on our side. Even after not using the German for a long time Jan still can communicate, explain our problem and understand that in a village after the next village is a production hall where is somebody who will help us even at this time. OK, he didn’t understand the second part well or we just didn’t understood the instructions. We miss it but our informer went to check out if we’ve found it and he finds us in the next village and escorts us to the right place.
Jan explains the welder what happened and what we need and his body language is supplemented with more and more German words. We don’t ask for price – there is simply no other choice so we just hope it will not ruin our budged. The man attaches clamp to the frame and the TIG welding flashes like stroboscope and illuminates the whole hall. This is really interesting for Janko and I try to keep him in the wrap. Done! It took 3,5 minutes in total and we are waiting for the invoice. We don’t know if it’s our travelling style or the unusual bicycle or Janko’s charisma but we don’t pay anything!
After the successful repair we continue and want to find some good camping spot. We enter a nature reservation – mostly woods, sometimes grass fields – and Janko begins to be nervous. We start to look for a good place. During one such “inspection” Jan is approached by a car and the man explains that he’s been watching us a while and if we pitch a tent here he will call police. 20km further should be a hotel. Really?! 20km with a child which is already so uncomfortable that it’s already refusing the most effective way to calm him down – my breasts – and leans out of the bicycle so much that we are worried we’ll crash. We are sad but with no other choice than to continue. We pass 4-meter big fishermen “shelters” that will stay here for sure the whole night. After an hour with screaming child we pass that expensive hotel and find a nice campsite.
Goulash from a can, chat with neighbours from Poland, shower and sleep. We are really tired today – we went far over our limits and the screaming child was only worsening this uncomfortable situation. We also understood that it’s possible to stay overnight in bivouac but it’s against the law to pitch a tent in Austria.
Crisis … and back to comfort
My arm gets swollen. At the beginning it was just lower priority than a functional bike but now it’s sore and pulsating problem. The bike path along the Danube is full of cyslist and playgrounds. Janko is nice and OK while he’s sleeping or playing – otherwise he needs attention … we are tired, the arm is despite treatmen with onion and cold (wet handkerchief) in pain and I’m nervous. Loud techno party next to our campsite until morning doesn’t add to our good mood … it’s here – we have crisis! We get pissed off by stupidities and we are not happy from little things. Some brighter whiles come with food, sleep or when talking with some interesting people. For example with Jan from Netherlands who found our phone in the camp. He is a former policemen so he deduced that phone found on a place where he was interacting with cute baby could be it’s parents. He finds us 8km from the campsite on our way back (we realized we miss something) and offers he can get it on his motorbike. “I must do a good deed every day and today it was easy” – he gives us back the phone and we are touched.
My arm gets better and also the mood improves. We say goodbye to Danube and hope the crisis stays also behind. Total reset for us is a night at Schwanenstard at warmshowers – people who host cyclists. Wilma and Alfred are older couple with 5 children and 9 grandchildren. They have house full of toys and good atmosphere, provide us with hospitality, offer us shower and bed and all three of us are satisfied. Full of new strength we continue pedaling the next day and enjoy again the surrounding, wind in the hair, Janko and ourselves. We bike along lakes and even join crowds of people bathing and having good time at Attersee.
Other spectacular views at Mondsee with a real tunnel for cyclists, later some stress at road full of cars and the most expensive campsite in Salzburg… Janko attracts an Italian guy with his girlfriend on motorbike and while they are taking care of him and take him for a walk at the campsite we are able to prepare dinner and build our tent in really short time. After an hour they bring Janko back. We realize our 13 months old son can communicate with them better than we can, because we don’t speak their only language :). Salzburg is famous because of Mozart and we decide to go through the center of the city to see at least some historical buildings. It’s morning but the streets are already crowded with tourists and some Asians with big cameras. They get into our way just to get picture of us. We can confirm that we don’t like this popular tourist places and it’s better to avoid them.
After Salzburg the route continues through perfectly cut grass fields with nice houses and balconies full of geranium. Cows are everywhere. The paths wind through small hills which should prepare us for the reality of coming days – we already see the Alps and the altitude increses. Janko discovers Nutella and realizes that this brown mass which parents secretly eat is really tasteful.
We reach the last campsite before crossing the Alps. This last “rest day” was 50km of up and downs and we feel like we need at least two real rest days before the climb tomorrow. Our cherry on the top of our trip is the Grossglockner High Alpine Road – paid vista road with elevation gain of 2000m on 24km with maximal steepness of 12% … ouch. We meet some Czech guys on 78 years old motorbikes in the camp who offer us their homemade slivovica. Janko runs around with the flask and we are mentally preparing for tomorrow…
Sweat, toil and well-earned feeling after overcoming our limits
We are waking up at 5am, everything is wet and cold and it’s still dark outside. After fast breakfast we want to put the sleeping child into the trailer but it starts to rain and we get back to the tent. We pack last things and feed the woken up child. Rain stops and we pack the wet tent. Janko goes into the wrap and is covered in warm down jacket. We are one hour late but still the 6:45 is our best start-time ever.
The road goes uphill, we shift low, lower and lowest gears and almost fall down from Rusty because of the lost stability when going so slow. We are tired and pause – we haven’t reached the official start of the Alpine Road but we are reaching our limits. Jan starts swearing. I cannot breathe so I cannot afford any talking. We get cramps. First kilometer and 200m elevation gain is behind us – this will be tough and crazy today!
We come to the toll gate. There is a special gate for cyclist but we are too big to get through. They open the car gate but we are still considered as bicycle and don’t need to pay. Elevation increases slowly and in stages. We motivate ourselves with near goals like “pause at that tree/turn” (every 50-100m). Fortunately we don’t need to be afraid of being sick from too much fresh air and oxygen because every minute an antique car passes us by leaving strong smelly and smoke footprint :). We are climbing slow but steady. Other cyclists look at us with surprise and probably they are not too happy to see that some fools on a loaded bike with a child degrade their heroic exercise. Janko spits everytime he starts to breast feed because he needs to desalinate my nipples :). Admiration shouts and even more the unbelievers motivate us to continue further.
Views get spectacular. We pause for a lunch at a restaurant. It is time for goulash, cofee, cake and most important rest for Janko at the playground. Around 2pm we finally reach the first top. We take photos with happy faces and mount the bike again – after 7 hours of uphill at least some downhill now. We speed up on this steep winding narrow road with 100m elevation decrease. “F*** it doesn’t break!” I hear from the back. We are able to slow down from 40km/h to 20km/h but that’s not enough for the approaching turn … i hear sound of shoes scraping pavement – Jan is breaking with his feet! I cannot reach the ground (otherwise I could end with my face on the front sprocket) so I’m just sitting and waiting. The turn is close but we are standing still!
Jan is shaking, pissed off but his shoes are OK :). The brakes are cooking and we realize that just two disc brakes definitely aren’t enough for our weight and length of descent which is in front of us… but we are not returning back! We are angry at the guy who built the bike because we let him to change our mind. We wanted to have at least 3 brakes from the beginning. We can only hope that we can do it if we go slowly. We know that the downhill won’t be that easy and fast as we thought.
2500m over the sea – Hochtor, the real top. We meet the Czech guys on motorbikes. They congratulate us that we’ve come up here and tell stories about their brakes. Another stop for a cake and souvenirs and waiting for weather without rain. We shackle Janko thoroughly in the trailer and put some more clothes around him (not just like a safety precaution but it’s really cold up here). We decide that we let the bike speed up to max 20km/h and every 500-1000m we will stop to let the break cool down. There are still 6km of downhill left when we are passing “check your brakes” sign. We laugh that we were doing it since the top but we stop here. Jan checks the brake pads – they have less than 1mm of thickness and on one part only metal is left. We don’t have spare and despite we don’t like it we decide to walk. We swear and walk with the bike for next hour down to the village. We don’t think we deserve this after 8 hours of pedaling uphill but the goal is to have a beer in the camp and for that we need to stay alive.
“Auf Wiedersehen Hochalpenstrasse” sign – goodbye. With better brakes and some engine to get us up it would be a perfect experience. We enjoy the well-earned beer in the camp, shower and a perfect feeling that we (3 weeks ago we even were not fit) did this huge elevation (much more than anytime before) on our dream bike and with our child! Getting up the next morning is difficult and we feel whole our bodies – but our mood is perfect. We don’t hurry, have a walk to the “center” to buy new brake pads, Jan repairs the bike and with Janko in chillout mood we prepare lunch. Today it will be just on hour mostly downhill along a river. Rusty started to squeek and crack and we are happy that it survived with us until here.
We leave our bicycle in a restaurant for a following week and continue with a car to a mountain hut. The road is sometimes so steep that it would be even difficult to push the bike up. The lady sadly tells us that weather for tomorrow is moslty rainy and probably we won’t be able to go on any tour. We are actually really happy about this fact. We have an apartment with a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping room and living room and we feel like in Hilton. Our friends join us in 2 hours and with a shot and dinner we start our “recovering” week – full of treks, tours and via ferrata :D.
The first plan was to go back by train but it turns out that we cannot fit our bike to a regular stands for bikes and there is no place for something big like our tandem. Fortunately our friend (and today also a private driver :D) Katka comes for us with our car. Thanks to my dad it is easy to attach the bike on the roof because together with my oncle they made a roof rack for our bike. When we look out from the window back home and see there our Rusty on the root of car we feel happy that we designed a bicycle which carried us that far. We have also many plans how to improve the bike and now when we know that it is possible to travel with children we are looking forward for more experiences like this.
It’s the end of April 2017 – almost 9 months since the trip. Rusty is still rusty and since last week there is a new motorbike brake on the front fork. The wheels are in the bike shop getting new hubs. There will be another V-brake added to the rear wheel and some other tuning in the next month including the painting (obviously in the color of rust :)). Soon it will be prepared for new experiences with us or with other enthusiasts (feel free to contact us!). In my belly I feel the moving souvenir from this trip and I’m really happy I was able to write this article before the birth, which could come every day 🙂
On the road again…
More pictures from the trip are in the google photos album.