Thoughts and tales from the saddle - on my own in Europe.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A typical day in Austria

I wake from a deep, vivid dream and look at my watch. 8.45am. Really, already? I wrap myself in the duvet and lie still, trying to think of a way of freezing time so I can sleep for another four hours.

I give in a 9.02am, dress quickly and head bleery-eyed to the breakfast room. Do I want coffee, the woman asks. No, thank you. 'Coffee?' she asks in English, believing I hadn't understood her. No, thank you, juice is fine (I don't drink coffee or tea). She looks amazed, as do the rest of the people in the breakfast room. I eat two rolls, one with butter and honey, one with nutella, and some juice. I don't like being too full up when I'm riding. It's too early to be eating anyway.

I confirm that I have to be out of the room for 10am, which I do, and return to my room cursing these early risers. In the room, I open the window wide and sniff the air, gauging the weather. It feels cold, really cold. At least it's not raining. I dress - leggins, two pairs of socks, waterproof overshoes (even though it's not raining they help insulate. Plus, it might rain). Long-sleeved baselayer, thin fleece. Gloves and headband/earwarmer at the ready.

At 10.15am I carry my bags down the stairs to my bike, pat him on the frame and say, 'Morning lad'. He doesn't reply. He never does - he doesn't like mornings either. I check neither tyre has deflated in the night. They haven't, this time. I load my bike as I have done for the last 200-something times - rear panniers on, bungee strap ready, dry bags on, bungee round, attach second bungee, slip cable lock under bungee, do the same with D lock, attach computer to handlebar bracket, return settings to zero, strap watch to handlebar, clip on barbag. Ready.

I go and pay and they give me an A4 sheet of paper as an invoice, which I stuff into the back of my barbag along with the others.

Outside, I look up and down the road - empty. The Danube sits just 20 yards away from me, across the road, a thin mist still lingering on its surface. It looks beautiful, magical. I sling my leg over and straddle the bike. Another quick look up and down the road and a glance behind, to check I haven't left/dropped anything, and I'm rolling again. Ah yes, I remember this. I settle onto the saddle, a familiar sensation, no longer painful. I roll onto the road and start to spin again, my legs slightly stiff but not sore. I keep a low gear for the first kilometer or so, letting my legs warm up and my joints click back into place. Within minutes it feels natural again and I settle down, gripping the handlebar, breathing the cold air and relaxing.

I look around me - I am on a strip of tarmac about five feet wide, the water only another five feet to my right at about the same level. Across the river the land rises steeply from the water, trees blanket the hill displaying their earthy, Autumn colours. I can neither see nor hear a motorised vehicle nor another human being. Leaves cover most of the path infront of me and I have to concentrate on my line - last thing I want is to come off.

I look at my computer - five miles done. That's the warm up. I feel ok, my body has warmed and the slight chill coming through my clothing is welcome. Only my hands feel the cold, slightly.

My mind wanders - I think about the book I finished last night, how it has similarities to a story I started writing a while ago. I think about my story, why I stopped writing it. It was shit, that's why. Well, not shit. I just...I lost faith in the fact that it was worth doing, as I did with a lot of things I was writing at the time. I wonder whether I'll try writing it again when I get back and decide not to - I'll write a better one. I look at my watch and realise I've been riding for an hour, spinning continuously, averaging about 15mph on flat ground. My heart beats regularly, slowly, in my chest, my breathing is shallow. I could do this all day.

15 miles gone, I approach a little town, its clock tower and traditional-style buildings sitting perfectly against the Autumn trees and the river behind. Another perfect photo opportunity. I curse. Taking photos is a hassle sometimes, especially when it's this cold. I ask myself whether I would be happy just to commit it to memory. No, it'll only take a minute, just stop and take it. Damn you.

I stop, take the photo, convince myself it won't come out any good anyway because this new camera is shit. Bloody thing. Why did my other one have to break? That was perfect - it took the clearest pictures, no matter what situation. This new one's just crap, the focussing is really shit. I'm going to sell it on e-Bay when I get back. No, actually, I'm going to write to fucking Pentax and tell them how shit it is and how it ruined my trip. 20 miles gone.

I pass fields of deer, lots of little females and one big stag, penned in by a thin wire fence. They look beautiful against the backdrop of the river and the trees. Great, another photo stop.

Another mile on I approach two more deer, this time with no fence keeping them in. They pause by the path, look my way and I can see them both thinking 'shall we, shan't we?' They don't and hop off across the field, stopping to look back as I pass just 20 yards behind them.

The road takes me up and I relish the change in terrain - I haven't climbed a big hill for ages. My legs still feel strong though and I power up it, keeping pace for a good half a kilometer without breaking sweat or breathing heavily. It rolls down again and I feel the wind run through my clothing, chilling me properly now.

Back by the river I can't help but be taken by the scenery. I think about the many hours I've spent on my bike, alone in deserted landscapes, and realise how good it makes me feel and how much I will miss it when I finally stop doing this. I stop pedalling and just drift for a hundred yards, breathing the air, enjoying the solitude.

Pedalling again, I look down at the chrome top of the headset stem. In it I can see a reflection of my head, arms and shoulders, and alternating knees as I pedal. I think, not for the first time, how cool it would have been to have had a camera on there. I play the highlights in my head - the joy and despair on my face of the first few weeks, rain and snow falling around me as I pedal, wrapped up for the cold, sweat dripping from me as I pedal in a vest and shorts, the pain on my face in the 20th mile of ascent in the Pyrenees, the relief coming down the other side - all the 'other sides', the fear as I accelerate away from a pack of three dogs. There was no camera, of course, so that'll all just have to live in the memory of my bike.

From nowhere, I get a rhythmn in my head and improvise lyrics, creating the first verse of a song, and then I realise my computer reads 40 miles and I'm passing the sign that tells me I've arrived in the town I was aiming for. I follow the road across the river and into the centre of town. It seems different somehow, to the last few towns, and then I realise why. I'm in Germany now.


  • At 4:47 pm, Blogger Roger said…

    ...and back to the camera....

    dig through the settings, mine has a autofocus setting somewhere that allows the autofocus to either pick one small spot or do an average fro the frame. Don;t know if yours has got one, but its worth a look.


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