Sunday, 9.24.00 Durnstein, Austria to Bratislava, Slovakia
Judith refers to today as the biking day from hell. Everything that could go wrong did. The biggest problem was that it was too much to do in one day, and the alternatives (trains, etc.) were not as easy to figure out. The scheduled route for today was listed as 145 km. There were some problems in the queue sheets however, and the marking of the paths that were to be followed which resulted in some people getting lost for a time. We thought we made very few mistakes, but we ended up riding 160 km, or close to 100 miles.
Most of the riders all left together and we followed one of the tour leaders through some cobblestone streets on a route that was proving to be very slow going. The idea was to stay together and not get lost, but we finally decided to take off and try to find the path along the Danube by ourselves. We first tried to figure out where we were on a map since the leader was not following the route sheets. In the end, we decided to head in a direction that we thought would get us to the river and hoped. We were semi-lucky and eventually found it, but probably not the most direct route.
I was still not 100% (I decided that I might have pulled a muscle last week as I was constantly fighting cramps whenever I tried to pick up the pace), so I was drafting Judith through some miserable headwinds for the first 70K. Fortunately, I came back to life later on in the day and was able to help hammer through some of the afternoon headwinds, but she was still leading at a faster speed than I was.
Even with headwinds, numerous snack stops for both of us (Judith gets hypoglycemic after about 10 miles and I was feeling a little hungry and dehydrated), rest stops for me to massage my leg cramps, change of clothing stops, and the ever demanding Kodak moments, we thought we were making fairly good time. However, Vienna ended that.
Lets see Vienna, a Sunday afternoon, a beautiful park with miles of path used by bicyclists, skaters, scooters, pedestrians, baby carriages, tricycles and also the only means for us to get from point A to point B.
This could be a potential recipe for disaster. Ahh! I know. Lets add an event that will attract thousands of people. You guessed it a total mess.
We arrived about noon to find out that there was a huge event on the river that involved homemade aircraft attempting to fly off the end of a ramp. The path was jammed with people for miles and nowhere to ride. A fair had been set up on top of everything, which even closed off part of the trail. We could have crossed one of the many bridges to the main part of Vienna (we noticed a lot of pedestrian/skate/bike bridges), but figured it might be worse. We could go out on the road but it looked like an L.A. freeway. So we decided to walk the bikes through the event, and start riding again when the crown thinned out.
We lost a good two hours in Vienna. Even when we started riding again, the path was still crowded and we couldnt go very fast. Fortunately the throngs ultimately thinned and Judiths 30K pace was once again allowing us to make pretty good time, even with an ice cream stop.
By now we were ready for almost anything to happen. We just had this gut feeling that the trials and tribulations were only beginning. Correctomundo! The next test involved riding on a trail over a former railroad track. Doesnt this sound interesting?
Imagine miles and miles and miles (we do not want to know how many please dont tell us) of rails as far as the eye can see (in a perfectly straight line), covered with dirt and cement or some kind of mud in which rocks were added on top. But all of the rocks were glued down with the pointy side up. Now ride through the forest on this raised platform of spikes with skinny high-pressure tires. Got the visual?
Add to the picture the unchanging scenery and it was like being on a rough treadmill. We kept waiting for the end of the trail and were starting to worry that there wasnt any. We tried to think of songs to sing for entertainment. Finally it ended.
The trail turned into two very narrow single paths (tire tracks) which were really deep ruts in high grass. We asked someone out hiking if this would take us to Hainburg and the bridge to Bratislava, and he said yes. Riding a skinny rut through fields at speed was interesting. One wrong move of the wheel and the bike would be out of control. Were really having fun now!
We eventually found the bridge and crossed the Danube, but we still had a ways to go before we would reach Bratislava. Just before the border, we had to join the car and truck traffic to show our passports to the Austrian police and then the Slovakian police. From there we got back on the bike path and raced.
We made it to the hotel about 5:00 PM. The majority arrived at about 6:45 PM when it was starting to get pretty dark, and one couple that had gotten lost during the day didn't arrive until 8:45 PM. We at least got to see the town, and it was very nice, even though it was too dark to take pictures. We wish we could have been able to do a little more shopping, but at this point, we were just glad that the day was over and looked forward to a good nights sleep.
The dinner was actually a buffet that did not have the greatest selection, but after a day like today, it looked pretty darn good. We knew that Slovakia and Hungary were countries that were still developing and we did not expect to find the luxuries of the west. We managed to find enough to eat, and I may have made a few too many visits to the dessert table.