67 miles. 2800 ft of climbing.
Strava link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2472029201
Waiting at the airport for our flight to depart, Justin popped into a newsagent and returned with a cycling magazine. On the cover, a misty photograph of a mountain covered in clouds, two lone cyclists brave the climb up shiny wet looking roads. “Austria’s highest pass,” read the headline. “Get ready for the mighty Grossglockner.” The picture looked awesome, though slightly terrifying. The type of story you would read about sat at home in the warm comfort of your armchair, and dream that one day you might decide to give it a go. Tomorrow, all being well, we would be there!
Justin and myself had arranged our flights months before the trip, unfortunately the flight was fully booked by the time Josby had decided to book his tickets, so he had booked onto an earlier flight and arranged to meet up with us in Salzburg. The journey to the airport and check-in had gone smoothly. Valet parking, although a more expensive option, had worked well and saved us having to lug our bike boxes too far. Try hauling a large 20kg box around an airport with broken ribs.
On the plane Justin handed me the magazine and I read through the article; my appetite was thoroughly whetted for the first major climb of our trip. First, we had to land, get our boxes and assemble the bikes, then complete the 60+ miles ride to Zell am See.
The boxes arrived without too much cosmetic damage, a relief to know that the bikes had made it in one piece. We stepped out into the 30-degree centigrade heat and began to piece our machines back together in the airport car-park. For me, this is always a memorable and exciting time, the adventure in earnest is about to begin. The feel of foreign tarmac under your wheels, every road ahead a new experience, a road never ridden on before. All the possibilities, the unknown twists and turns of fate, the mysteries waiting to be revealed.
Half an hour later, bikes assembled, adjusted, ridden, readjusted, kit on, bags packed and loaded onto the bikes, we were off.
Salzburg Airport. My rig fully assembled. Ready for the adventure to begin.
As a large town, Salzburg was surprisingly easy to navigate and the roads were not too busy. Our route quickly took us away from the main roads and onto the busy cycle path which follows the river Salzach. The plan was to meet Josby in a cafe on the banks of the river opposite the Hohensalzburg Castle, an obvious landmark in the town. We found a lovely quiet shaded café, pinged Josby our location then parked our bikes, sat back and relaxed. The holiday feeling slowly settled upon us as we soaked in the peaceful surroundings and watched the bike lane traffic pass us by. The café served us delicious home-made iced tea and scrumptious toasted garlic bread. We were served, drank, ate and relaxed and there was still no sign of Jos. Time ticked on, quarter of an hour, half an hour. Three quarters of an hour later, he arrived. The team was together, the adventure was on! We shared the customary handshakes, fist bumps and back slaps, then we were off.
Within the first three miles of the trip proper, Jos almost caused two crashes. One, when pulling out from behind a tree straight into the line of an on-coming Austrian mountain biker. Another, when he took a turning over a bridge and neglected to keep to the right side of the cycle path. An elderly lady on a shopper bike being made to make a quick evasive manoeuvre. Bloody foreigners! Hardly 15 minutes into the trip and we already had ammunition for a bit of banter when the time came.
The days cycling for the most part took us along the Tauernradweg, the Tauern cycle path. A scenic, well-built path intermittently surfaced with smooth tarmac or fine sandy gravel. The cycle path itself stretches for over 300km from the Hohe Tauern National Park, through Salzburg and then on to the town of Passu in Germany. It would be a well worthy adventure within itself.
Justin easing his way along the beautiful Tauernradweg
Cycling along the path, through shaded woodlands and quiet towns, offering a friendly greeting to all the fellow cyclists we passed by, was an easy paced, relaxing start to the trip. Getting accustomed to the slight difference in bike handling due to the extra 5kgs attached to the seat post didn’t take too long, the bike and the legs both felt good.
We crisscrossed our way over the river as we continued towards Zell am See, the discussion mainly focused on the journey ahead. Justin reeled out the names of all the mountains, mountain passes and various towns we were visiting, many of which he had previously either passed through or stayed at during one of his many former alpine adventures. Jos and myself listened with keen interest, each forming mental images of the journey which lay ahead.
We left the quiet cycle path and made good going along the smooth Austrian tarmac. After a few miles the road became quiet, too quiet. A couple of miles further on, the road was barriered with signs warning us of a “Felssturz.” We looked around at each other; what’s a Felssturz? A quick check by Josby got the translation as “Landslide.” It didn’t look promising. We checked the route, it was either a 50+ mile detour, which would have meant we wouldn’t make Zell am See till nightfall. Or else hop the barrier and see what lay ahead. No one was around, we went for it. After a mile or so, the road void of all other signs of life, we came across a number of large rocks and boulders strewn across the tarmac. Not a major landslide, but the thought occurred to me, as it must have done to both Justin and Jos, that these rocks may have freshly fallen down the mountainside. There may well be others up there just waiting to take a tumble. We hastened our pace, weaving in and out of the debris and keeping an ear out for any suspicious noises coming from above. After a couple of miles, we were all relieved to find another barrier, and with haste ducked beneath it and away from the danger zone.
After a short but busy main road section we stopped for a coffee at a petrol station, and then made the final 10-mile push to Zell am See. Justin had pre-booked us into the youth hostel which stood directly on the banks of Lake Zell.
We checked into the hostel, parked the bikes and after a decent shower and kit wash, met up on the garden terrace which overlooked the lake. Sitting in a deck chair, drinking a cool beer, relaxing into the sights and sounds which floated across the surface of the water was heavenly. A swan glided slowly past, I was here, healthy and alive, drinking a cool refreshing beer, watching the sun set at the beginning of what promised to be an epic adventure. Life was good. That night we dined like kings on a feast of pizza, chips and salad. Then, after a few more beers, we said goodnight, ready for the mountains to begin tomorrow.
A lucky shot. Taking a beer beside the lake. Day 1 finished.