Mountain Bike Ride in the Austrian Alps



It is day 9 of our 2 week vacation in Europe – also the last day of the soccer world cup in Germany with the finals tonight. After 6 consecutive days of sunshine and summer heat the weather of the last two days had given us a breather to relax a bit and take it easy due to rain showers and cooler temperatures. This morning, however, we would have some sunshine early in the day, so my cousin Helmut and I decided to get up really early and take off with our mountain bikes for a ½ day trip up the local mountains.


Sunday, July 9, 2006

The alarm clock rings at 5:45am. We get up, get dressed and ready to leave without much talking. By 6:00am we are pedaling into the fresh morning air. The sky is overcast, but we suspect it is a thin layer of clouds with plenty of sunshine above those clouds. We hope to find out soon.

The beginning is cool and gray – the road is still wet from the rain overnight. We start to climb towards the end of a valley with some skilifts. So far we haven’t seen any sun yet, but we continue to hope…

Helmut shows me a small mountain road which leads all the way up to a dam which was built here some 40 years ago to generate electricity. This is a nice single lane road, paved all the way up into the clouds, above the treeline and (hopefully) into the sun. Halfway up we encounter two happy critters, who muster us with great curiosity and appetite for our salty backpacks and shoes.

Shortly after this welcome little stop we see the clouds breaking up and light blue color peeking through the uniform white-gray sky. One or two more switch back turns and we climb clear of the clouds, soaking up the warming sun and the brilliant panorama.

Helmut enjoys the fact that we did get up so early, which now provides us with the reward of being the first on this mountain and certain to enjoy at least a few hours of sunshine until the thunderstorms will come back again in the afternoon.

I take quite a few pictures with my new digital camera (Canon PowerShot A540), in particular the self-timed shots always seem to come out nice. Look at the view over the top of the clouds against the mountains in the distance!

Yesterday I was still sleeping at the time this picture was taken (8:45am) – and probably some of our family members are still sleeping today. I often think that if you do get up early in the morning for an outdoor trip, you certainly do have more experiences. While it is often uncomfortable to leave the warm bed, I have never regretted it once I’m out there…

We continue up higher along this road, climbing towards the dam and the lake called “Tauernmoossee”. Other than the horses only some cows are up here, otherwise it is the solitude of two early riders.

I remark that on a day like this you can leave all the worries of everyday life down below in the valley – and that living in the flat world of Florida is not a real suitable long-term prospect. The mountains just offer too many great experiences as to not enjoy them at least a couple of weeks every year!

Soon the road reaches a saddle and opens up the view towards the lake.

We take the dirt road to the left to climb up a bit further towards another small lake and a little grass summit on the side. From there we enjoy sweeping views of the valley we came from.

I experiment with my camera and its panoramic stitching mode. With high resolution I take 15 pictures turning around – too many pixels for my image processing software! I first have to scale the pictures back prior to stiching them back together… (see also my panorama page on my website.)

After we come back down we stop again for some more pictures with the dam and the lake in the background. After all, we want to take the little detour to ride on the dam.

It’s only about 100m down to the lake. The dam itself is more than 1100m long – I believe it is the longest in the Alps. This dam generates 10% of the entire electricity for the Austrian railway. It was built in the years 1969-1974.

Helmut manages to shoot a real nice video clip while riding along the dam. Unfortunately, at 10MB it is still quite large to download off a website…

It is around 10:00am and we have been on the road for 4 hours with no food or breakfast. I am hungry. On the way back we fly down the same steep road we worked our way up. What a fun experience to ride down from one switch back to the next. We only have to pay attention to break soon enough after zooming down with 60 km/h in between switch backs…

We stop at the “Jausenstation Vorhofalm”, an old farmhouse turned restaurant for the visitors driving by – a typical sight in the Austrian or Bavarian Alps.

There is some sort of old-timer rally going on with lots of very old cars and motorcycles huffing and puffing up the mountain – some of them stop at the same restaurant for a refreshing drink or two.

I am craving sugar and so I order the traditional Austrian delicacy called “Kaiserschmarrn” – sugar powdered pancakes with raisins and sweet berry marmelade, hmmmm…

We trace back our route down the valley and then just a few km across the Salzach river back to my aunt’s house in Stuhlfelden. At one point my odometer climbs up to 68 km/h. When I start braking a bit late for the next switch back, I get some adrenalin pumping as for a moment I’m not sure whether I can stop before the turning road. A few tense seconds later I have everything under control again – I’m reminded of German bicycle champion Jan Ullrich riding off the road on one of the many descents during the Tour de France when misjudging the speed approaching a turn.

Finally it is almost exactly 12:00pm noon when we arrive back at my Aunt Rosi’s house. The clouds are moving in and soon there will be a few raindrops in some spots all over the valley. Lunch has rarely tasted any better, and thanks to the digital pictures my relatives can see the beautiful views we just had enjoyed up there a few hours ago.

As you can see, today I also didn’t regret getting up before 6:00am! If you have trouble motivating yourself, try this sort of bike ride – I bet you won’t be disappointed!