More wandering around Salzburg in the morning. Lots of nooks and crannies in which to get lost so I do just that. I can't afford the museum so continue to wander the streets like a vagrant until I find an internet cafe. I see a cool place called the 'Afro Cafe'. It has very funky decor and serves a vast array of teas and coffees. It turns out to be a nice place to read a paper and dodge the rain for a while. This is very welcome as we have a tough day ahead if we are to get to our accommodation in Linz around 140km away.
We leave Salzburg at 12:30 and follow the bank of lake Attersee. Even in the grey cloud, the water is the kind of blue you'd expect from a Caribbean beach. It looks amazing and I'm itching to go for a swim. Many campsites litter the shoreline and I'm gutted we don't have time to stop. I get a sensation that perhaps mine and Mihailo's trips are ill matched but I remind myself that had I continued on alone I would have missed the experience anyway. As I spend a little time pondering my detour decision, I decide the positives outweigh the negatives many times over.
At 17:00 we take a quick lunch break knowing that there's 90km left to cover. Afterwards, we get off to a great pace. Assisted somewhat by a tailwind, we are able to ride at over 30kph. This is great as it gives you a feeling of being much fitter than you actually are. We stop to call our potential host in Linz and get some bad news. She can't, or doesn't want to host us. She is after all a contact of a contact rather than someone we know personally. Pity, I was quite excited about sleeping in a Serbian church!
We ride on from Vocklabruck making the most of the assisting wind. Then after a while we stop to take some photos. The barren remains of this season's wheat fields extend all the way to the horizon where the remnants of the Alps disappear up into the clouds. The wind that's been pushing us all day is moving the clouds at an impressive pace and we take a moment to appreciate the scene before us.
We reflect on the day, which has been a good one. Funny how our mood can be coloured by the direction of the wind. I find I'm also excited by the prospect of wild camping again later. Wild camping is several steps removed from arriving in a town without a hotel booking and going in search of a bed. Seeking out the most suitable location to camp and weighing up all the factors involved can be challenging but quite good fun. Every night is a new learning experience:
- What's the proximity to houses/roads?
- How deep is the grass? (surprising how wet you can get walking through long grass on a dewy morn)
- What's the ground like? (plants, rocks and roots make for an uncomfortable night)
- Where's the wind coming from?
- Are there any trees for shelter if the wind/rain direction doesn't suit?
- Am I in a hollow that will fill with water if it rains? (you only make this mistake once)
- Will my 'wild poo' be discovered?
We press on for a while longer. The rain has turned the road to a glossy black strip through the countryside. Advanced porous tarmacadam has yet to find it's way to this part of Austria. During a piss stop down a little country lane, we decide the location could prove suitable for camping. We eventually settle on a track off the minor road which is covered with pine needles in various stages of decomposition. This will make for good insulation and a warm night.
Once we're setup, I use the last of the light to have a wander through the woods. After only 100m or so I come to an animal feeder - an odd location for such a thing, given that I'm in the middle of a pine forest! The feeder is still in use because I notice it's surrounded by animal poop. (Check out Sherlock here! Sadly, my country upbringing lets me down as I am unable to specify either the species, the age of the shit or indeed the direction in which the 'shitee' left. All in good time hey!)
Back at camp, we adopt a new technique with Mihailo's shelter, suspending the tarp from trees and setting up the inner tent underneath. It would look quite 'Survival' if the tarp was Cammo rather than Sky Blue. I heat some calorific tins on the stove. We eat in the dark and then head off to bed. I've always been crap at going to sleep so I lie in my tent staring into the infinite black...
After a little while, I hear a noise!! "What the fuck was that!!" I whisper (to myself as much as anyone else). It's clear that it's an animal and it's not too far from my tent. It scares me a lot because I can't tell what it is. My country upbringing fails me again because it's like no sound I have heard before. Back home, I live near to a copse and am quite used to hearing various animals eating, fighting and shagging. But having never heard such a noise I quiver, not feeling quite so invincible in my thin nylon enclosure.
I don't quite know how to describe the noise but it isn't pleasant. I'm no Dr Dolittle but I can be sure it isn't an "I'm happy...... Isn't my life great" sort of sound. It's more like "FFUUUCCCKKK!! I'm being attacked by a baddy... AAARRRRGGGGHH... Please don't kill me... PPLLLEAAASEE!!!". I hope you get the idea.
After a while, the noise sounds like it's moving further away and it eventually disappears. Unfortunately, by this time fear and imagination are operating in perfect harmony and rationale is taking a back seat. Now for the most part, I like to think I'm a pretty level headed type but you won't believe the hideous beasties my mind is creating and positioning just outside my tent. Fear is an interesting thing and wild camping brings you much closer to the natural world. That is, I feel much more in touch when I do it. So I guess to begin with, it must be surrounded by an air of vunerability which I suspect will be diluted by time.
The frightening sound saga happens once more in the night. To be honest, I couldn't tell if I'd been to sleep in between or not (it didn't feel like it). I was however certain that not enough time had elapsed yet for the fear to be diluted in any way!
I wake up to rain after my night of fun. Mihailo is no fan of the rain and is somewhat reluctant to get going. I have no timescale so I'm happy to wait as well. He sits in his tent amazed that I am just standing around in the rain. Coming from a country as dry as Serbia, it probably makes sense to wait for the rain to stop. But I don't like to use rain as an excuse for inaction. We devour a box of cereal for breakfast and then make our way to Linz. I ask Mihailo if he heard the animal noise. The git slept right through it!! Maybe I was dreaming?
In Linz, we try to contact our prospective host from last night as she did express an interest in showing us around. She doesn't answer so we explore of our own accord. Mihailo would like to get some Wifi and escape the rain. McDonald's it is then! Actually, it turns out their Wifi is pretty unreliable. Thankfully, the quality of their coffee and salty fries is more reliable. Still in McDonald's, we see two cycle tourists park their bikes next to ours and head inside. Dan and Claire are a recently married couple who are currently on sabbatical. They are cycling to Ethiopia from Scotland.
If you would like to follow their progress then here's a link to their blog:
We find some Wifi in an interesting building next to the tourist information office. The upper floors of the building appear to be for business use but the ground floor lobby area is visited by tourists. The reason for this is that the floor is covered by a huge, Google Maps style image of the city which is maybe 20m x 30m in size.
With our emailing done, we head back into the rain. Fuelled by hunger and rain, Mihailos is not in a great mood. I feel my own irritation rising also. Funny what an empty stomach can do to you! We decide to split up for a bit. I go to do the shopping while Mihailo bodges some waterproof cover for his legs. This consists of two plastic bags which are cut down the sides and secured around him with white electrical tape... I like this guy!!
After laughing at his outrageous appearance, we head out of town and crack on down the bike path. The rain eases briefly so we snap some pictures next to the grim greyness of the Danube and eat some cookies.
I then discover an untapped seam of energy and lead the pace at 24kph (no tailwind) feeling like I would never need to stop. Unfortunately, because of my trailer, Mihailo is unable to draft behind me. He asks if we can drop the pace and we take it a bit easier. I think he's had a lull in energy today, perhaps because of the spirit crushing rain. By contrast, I'm as happy as a pig in shit. Maybe this is an advantage of living in rainy England. I observe that we both find it difficult not to ride at our maximum sustainable pace. I know that I particularly have struggled with that from the beginning.
At 20.00 we roll by a wooden hut seemingly for cycle tourists. One of the walls is covered with maps and information relating to the local area and its cycle paths. The hut itself is around 8' x 16', of wooden construction and has a flat concrete floor. Although we were hoping to get further tonight, we decide it makes a very reasonably priced hotel with the opportunity for a dry night's sleep. We unpack and check in. the hut's only disadvantage its that it is visible from the road. Every time a car passes, we shuffle to its corners and turn off our torches. After eating tins of stew in the dark, we settle down for an early night.
Distance 97km, Jam of choice: Plum
We wake early to a crisp morning. At various stages throughout the night, I remember hearing the hourly chimes of many of the local clocks. And thanks again to the lack of air in my mattress, I didn't get the best night's sleep. But mist is rising from the fields and the sky is cloudless. Today will be a good day.
Once packed up and on our way, the 'Donau Radweg' signs make for easy navigation. This, coupled with our leisuely pace makes for a relaxing morning. We pass through a few towns but the majority of the morning's route is rural and the post-rain smell from the air that fills my lungs feels great.
At lunchtime we arrive at Melk. Good weather flatters most places and Melk is no exception. It really does seem worth the visit. We notice that a street basketball tournament is on using two courts in the middle of the main street. We work out that two teams of three are playing with one net. We don't stop quite long enough to work out what score they're playing to, or the duration of each game, but we notice the teams rotate quite quickly.
All around us, throngs of people are drinking beer and enjoying the sun while bars play chilled sunny hiphop. The place has a good vibe. But alas, we can't find either a WiFi connection or tourist information office so we move on out of town and on our way.
Still intent on scrumping success, I liberate some apples from a tree but they turn out to be slightly under ripe cooking apples - failed yet again! Later, we stop to snap some pics of a cool castle, which turns out to be owned by the Catholic church. As we're pulling off, I notice my trailer flailing around behing me. On closer inspection I see I've lost a rather integral bolt that holds the trailer chassis in place. At first I think the situation is terminal, but thanks to my rather generous collection of supplies, the problem is quickly fixed. Being handy with the spanner has been useful several times - and not just for me. Back in Linz, I helped a guy whose brakes were sticking. I not only fixed his problem but showed him how to sort things himself next time. And my good deed earlier today, was helping a lady who got her chain jammed in its guard.
By 16:30, we've done 100km. This could be a new record for me. Not for Mihailo though. He has only been riding a bike for one year but has already managed to fit in serveral big rides/tours each with daily distances in excess of 100km. As my position in the 'daily distance' pecking order is becoming established, he chooses this moment impart some of his biking wisdom:
"There is one good thing and one bad thing about cycle touring... When you return, you're so fit that you can fuck for hours. But because you haven't fucked for months, it lasts only five minutes!"We laugh along for what seems to be several kilometres on our way towards Tulln. The journey seems to go on forever. This is probably because every 5km, we spot a signpost indicating 12km to Tulln!
At last we arrive. The riverside area of the town is very nice. Many restaurants overlook the river and several float on it. Couples walk hand in hand silhouetted by the setting sun. As the two of us are not feeling particularly romantic, we just take the opportunity to fill our water bottles and continue on with the Danube. Knowing that this will be my record day it seems like a good opportunity for me to push the pace. Side by side (and I imagine, silhouetted by the setting sun), we steam down the cycle path at 32kph. At this stage of the day, it's nice to know there's still something left in the tank - and it's quite good fun. I think we're both secretly quite competitive.
The path doesn't display many camping possibilities. The left bank drops 2m to the river and the right bank drops 10m to a road. Mihailo is also concerned about our proximity to residential areas but as we're now only 15km outside of Vienna, things are not likely to improve. We carry on in the last scraps of the day's light and eventually spot and area of river bank just big enough for two tents - perfect. I toy with the idea of christening my mosquito net but Mihailo reminds me of the dew in the morning so I chicken out and setup the tent instead. I had a monstrous pizza earlier so I don't feel the need for food. I opt instead for a gander down the riverbank and speak to Jess on the phone.
On my return to the tent, I spy what at first looks like the stars reflecting in the river. Upon closer inspection, I realise they are tiny insects glowing like tiny white LEDs. I give in to sleep easily this time...
Distance 165km, Jam: Plum, Music: Richard Thompson