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The Chairman in the Austrian Mountains

Can I claim a Fiasco first?

I love summer. It means slightly better weather, the odd glorious morning and hollibobs. This year Famille Pike were quite late on the holiday game, Strava was already recording the well documented Fiasco members’ exploits on Ventoux well before we left the White Cliffs in our wake.

Eventually our time came and we headed for the Austrian Alps after a wonderful three wein-fuelled days in the Schwarzwald. We had a trek across southern Deutschland and ended up 30km from Salzburg, nestled amongst the glorious mountains on Austria’s Wolfgangsee.

It was idyllic and our campervan provided us with the perfect haus on the lake. Mountains really do something for me; they inspire and make me tremendously happy. They make me grin from ear to ear. They wink at me and beg me to climb them. My 12 year-old daughter, Martha, disagreed and as we commenced the 2000m climb up Schafberg on foot. Bless her, she swore at me for the first time, “All my friends are on a beach in Greece and you are making me climb up this flipping (sic) mountain!” Three hours later we reached the top and she was euphoric, as was I. The €6 can of Stiegl tasted sweet.

That night I researched a route and embarked on a solitary ride into the mountains the next morning. I eased my way in, along the valley floor, following the contours of the lake before heading “inland” towards the mountains. My route followed a progressively rising river that was glacier blue and heart-stoppingly cold. This dragged me towards the first climb, Pass Gschutt, which took me up to 969m above sea level. The road was busy but kind from a gradient perspective – medium enjoyment. The descent was 10km of glorious speed and indulgence, where I barely turned the pedals and some of the highest mountains in Austria came into view. I honestly thought I was nearly home when I hit the pit of the valley. According to Garmin, I was 17km from the campsite and I was aching for that Stiegl on the lake shore. Then I saw what stood between me and that Stiegl. Garmin re-iterated it. The profile for the next 11km looked 90 degrees to level. Actually, 11 for 11. Eleven percent for eleven kilometers.

The scenery was just stunning, the temperature was nudging towards 35 deg C and the atmosphere was still. My two water bottles had heated-up to ambient temperature and were running on empty. I had fuelled-up on a sausage and egg–based breakfast first thing, so what was the wurst that could happen? My first bonk of the holiday, that’s what.

After 45 minutes of 11%, my body basically told me to piss off. I was half-way up a mountain, my heart rate was racing at 165bpm and not reducing, I was overheating and the water bottles were now empty. I was pretty screwed and was cursing the half liter of grünerveltliner I had consumed the night before. I fell off the bike and headed into the woods, searching for a stream, a river or even a tepid canal to help me cool down.

Then an oasis appeared.

A lovely mat of green, moist moss presented itself and provided the perfect body-cooling- delivery-system. I lay down on the moss – it was bliss. I drifted-off, day-dreamed about mountains and woke-up a full 45 minutes later totally refreshed and delighted that I had realized that I am the first Fiascan to have a proper kip half-way up a mountain. Strava doesn’t record that.

I totally mullered the remaining 6km of 11%, flew over the top of the Paß Postalm and dropped down the descent to the lake in Oli time and arrived at the campsite with a massive smile on my face. I even legged it into the lake in my bibs. The girls were perfectly embarrassed but the ice-cold Stiegl that followed was just amazing.

Austria is great.

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