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Into the Alps: The Großglockner (26 – 27 Sept 2009)

“From 768m to 2504m and back down again. Sometimes all you can do is slip into your lowest granny gear, set some Queen playing on your iPod, and grind your way to the top.”


Setting off we plan to get as close as we can to the start of the Großglockner Pass road. However we get distracted after finding a market, and then an enormous bike store, and then in Bad Reichenhall there are cakes, and internet. By the time we’re finished in Bad Reichenhall it’s after midday and the clouds have finally lifted, revealing the mountains surrounding us. Mountains! Rocky limestone alpine peaks, it feels just like home (well Canadian home). The rivers are aqua with glacier-chalk as well.


Afternoon views outside of Bad Reichenhall, all of a sudden we’re in the mountains


We’re a bit worried on reaching the end of Saalach-Stausee. The main road on to Unken and Lofer looks very bike unfriendly, but thankfully there’s a bike path to follow – we’re following Jakobsweg, and the Mozart Radweg, and a bunch of other signposted trails. After a steep gravelly start the path turns out ok, and happily keeps us away from the traffic. The day has turned out clear and sunny, and we’re cycling past rocky mountains, cliffs and rivers. We watch rock climbers and kayakers and yearn to be doing things besides cycling – but at least we get to be here cycling, rather than being stuck at work dreaming of being outside. Lofer is nice, and has a man playing a piano accordion outside a pub. It seems the quintessential Austrian Alps town.


Alex as we head into the Alps (note the beard getting alarmingly large)


As we get to Saalfelden, alpenglow is highlighting the mountains around us, and we arrive to set up camp in Maishofen a few minutes after sunset. Fall asleep to cow bells again.


Misty morning on the Zeller See, Austria



Riding through the foggy morning


After leaving Maishofen at 7.30am we rode into the fog south of Zeller See and saw a fogbow (like a rainbow, but with fog), and then heard a choir of children (who sounded disconcertingly like angels) singing in the church at Bruck. There wasn’t much climbing until we fit Fusch, and it was when we hit the tollgates that the ascent began in earnest (and we were quite grateful that we didn’t have to pay the outrageous amounts that cars or motorbikes were tolled).


The Großglockner High Road – 33km of road where anything could happen and probably will


Gradually more and more bikes appeared on the road. We didn’t overtake many, but on the plus side, not many were going much faster than us; although if we could have done, we would have happily changed down to a lower gear at some points.


Gaining altitude



Alpine views


Each switchback gained around 30 metres of altitude, so we were gaining height quickly. And each corner was sign-posted with name and altitude, which made measuring progress gratifyingly easy. There were also plenty of picnic benches and roadside stops, and different views to admire, so it was a very gradual progress uphill.


Achtung! Marmots!



Up and up



Hairpins bring us higher and higher


We tossed up cycling to the Edelweiß-spitze, but for another 200 metres of altitude over 2km, we decided to save our legs for the next few days – it wasn’t like this was the only pass we’d be cycling over. So instead we just cycled the main road along, descending, heading up through the tunnels, and reaching the high point of the main road of 2504 metres.


Alex on the final leg to the high point, cruising along at 2400m



The Surly LHT photo: 2504m above sea level



Alps through the looking glass


For the descent I decided to invest in some glacier goggles. You never know when they might come in handy. Then we kitted up in our warm clothes and began the descent… until we hit a roundabout and were flabbergasted by the fact we’d have to cycle uphill again! Oh well, that out of the way, we continued the descent to Heiligenblut, then a further 10km or so to a nice little campground with a chatty old Austrian man to talk to.


Glacier goggles



Down again into the Heiligenblut valley


Distance cycled: 172km
Sleeping arrangements: Campgrounds
Days of rain: 0/2 (wooo! the sunny spell continues)
Public toilets: Available
Bike friendliness: Good, lots of signed bike trails, or roads that are fine to cycle on
Free wifi availability: There was some in Bad Reichenhall

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got unicycles? (or ‘reasons you shouldn’t leave us alone in the house over a long wet weekend’)

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it were always rainin

And the worst part about the constant precipitation, is that it’s not actually quite cold enough for it to be falling as proper snow at any of the resorts. Can’t ski, can’t climb, can’t unicycle. AND WHY DID IT NOT SAVE ALL OF THE RAIN FOR DURING THE WEEK, HEY?

Note – Temporarily acquired unicycle has been thieved back by the person I borrowed it from. Just like when you were kids and neither of you were interested in playing with the pogo stick, until you decided one day that you felt like having a play on it and suddenly your brother decides he too wants to play on the pogo stick, and then you end up fighting and his front teeth get knocked loose and there is blood, and then neither of you gets to play on the pogo stick. Except in this case I don’t have a higher authority to whine to.


ghoti spells fish

And ghoughphtheightteeau spells potato.

The Guinness Book of Records, in its 1992 and subsequent editions, declared the longest real word in the English language to be floccinaucinihilipilification at 29 letters. Defined as ‘the act of estimating (something) as worthless’, its usage has been recorded as far back as 1741. Antidisestablishmentarianism (a 19th century movement in England opposed to the separation of church and state) at 28 letters is one of English’s longest words.

I’m beginning to see why people trying to learn English would complain though. There are over ten ways to pronounce ‘ough’ (cough enough bough though thought through borough hiccough sough jough hough lough – those last few are a bit of a stretch, they’re not exactly in common usage).

Note – Have temporarily acquired a unicycle. Am attempting to master phase one – sitting on the unicycle.

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Have been filled with the sudden desire to purchase a unicycle. I’m not sure if this is linked to the increasing amount on time I have been spending on my bicycles. Most of the weekend was spent cycling (when it wasn’t spent meandering around hippy markets, watching movies with pirates, lying collapsed on the loungeroom floor, or loitering in bars with art display type things happening, and willing the introduction of the no-smoking law). The single track around Lysterfield is most awesomely fun – including the Commonwealth Games track. I’d be a fan of less jumps/obstacles built by tree branches (nasty and slippery in the wet), and more with mounded dirt though.