"We were headed up 1500 feet over the course of 4 miles."
by Dave Young
After the most challenging day so far, the first day in Albania, we decided to rework our itinerary to shorten the days we would be ascending over the Alps. Justin did most of the planning when we took some extra time in Kotor, Montenegro. Today was the most obvious realization of this plan. Our distance was shortened to only 55 miles because of one epic climb.
Because we didn't have much distance to go today, we decided to sleep in a bit (or we slept past our alarms). We managed a quick session of silly stretches, then finally left our apartment around 7:15 am. The first hour of riding followed a nearly flat, train-grade ascent into Spittal an der Drau. Here, we found a sweet bakery in a strip mall and continued on with plenty of carbs to fuel us.
The route changed from following train tracks to following a river. Here, the grade became steeper, but we maintained a steady and quick pace. The real climb was to start at mile 41. Fortunately, there was an authentic Austrian mountain-side town right at that point so we decided to stop there for lunch.
We ate traditional Austrian food and saved room for a little dessert.
Our kind waitress showed us a small continuously running spigot we could fill our water bottles from. While hesitant given our previous GI illnesses, we assumed the water was from a deep well and went for it.
Once filled up, we set off with mild trepidation for what was to come. We were headed up 1500 feet over the course of 4 miles. Getting up the pass was no joke, requiring a couple of rest stops and about 1000 grunts, but we eventually made it to the peak! We stopped for a picture, and let the quad fires extinguish.
We love descending, but what was to come was far too dangerous for anyone to let off the brakes for more than 3 seconds. It was nearly vertical (ok, a sustained 17% decline). Not surprisingly, I took no pictures for fear of dying if I took even one hand off the brakes. We coasted down into a valley and into our home town for the night, Mauterndorf.
As we reached our hotel, we were met by a traditional wedding procession. We stopped to take pictures and cheer them through the town. Patrick and Justin ran to the store while Don and I took showers. They returned with post-ride snacks and our new obsession, Radlers! To our surprise, we learned that these drinks were made especially for cyclists. In 1922, Franz Kugler whipped up a half-beer half-lemonade drink when a large group of cyclists came through his inn in Deisenhofen, Germany. The common name of Radler (called a shandy in my household) comes from the word "Radlermass," which literally means "cyclist liter."
Next up was our favorite time of day, dinner! And tonight's was going to be one for the books. Our dinner was going to be in a castle! Built in 1250 (what?), the tower and palace are the oldest structures in the Lungau region of the Alps. The castle was used both as a regional seat of government as well as a fortress to secure the Tauern trade route from attack. Coincidentally, we rode on most of the trade route today and will again tomorrow - currently, it's a small highway from Villach all the way to Salzburg. The trade route typically was used to bring wine, fruit, and luxury items from Italy and gold and silver back from the mountains.
Our dinners were all local fare: hearty and absolutely delicious. Our bellies are stuffed, and we are in bed early. We might actually get 8 hours of sleep tonight!
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ABOUT DAVE YOUNG