The Grand Round

I went for a longer road ride the other day. After a couple of rides on the Mountain Bike, I’d been getting a bit bored with the stop start of finding new trails, post-holing through snow, and getting turned around by Thunderstorms appearing out of nowhere. It’s absolutely certain that road biking will never produce the same buzz for me that a good trail does, but riding on the road gives some different emotions that also need expressing sometimes.

Proudly respresenting the colours of Devon

Frustration. The feeling that things aren’t all running smoothly. For some people, I’ve heard that sitting down with a cup of warm beverage and reading a book is a good way to get rid of frustration. I need to do the opposite. Pedal it out of my system. Just keep riding and riding until something snaps, and my withered hollow frame can limp back home in a state of collapse; entirely empty – entirely devoid of the strength to feel such strong emotions as frustration. For me, its like pressing the reset button; pouring everything into turning the pedals, until you’re so low on energy that turning the pedals becomes the only thing you can do.

Looking at the Dreitorspitz from Leutasch, Austria

Living in the valley gives you a limited scope for riding big loops on the road – you end up riding out and back along the same roads with the same view – even if you take the alternative routes, up or down the other side of the valley, you have the same view and pass through the same towns. Sometimes you just have to escape a little – get out of the rut. I plotted out an ambitious loop through southern Germany to fill a day of pedalling on the road bike. 100 miles and 8000 feet of climbing.

The Reindlau

Up from the valley and into the Seefelder plateau – a little shelf of land that bridges the Alpine foothills in Bavaria with the big mountains in Tirol. From there I went over the Leutascher Pass and into the beautiful town of Mittenwald – about as far south as Germany extends. The picturesque town is filled with wooden cottages, churches and bustling cobbled streets. I wasn’t much in the mood for stopping though, so I pedalled on through without taking in all the beauty. I found a supermarket for a sugar refuel, then went north and out into the widening valley. Through the small town of Wallgau, I started to feel that other people were enjoying their day in a different way from me. They looked relaxed with coffees in hand, feet stretched out in front of them in the multiple cafe gardens I passed. Here I was, suffering for my enjoyment, trying to push all the energy out of my system, and other people were just as happy not spending any energy. It’s a disconnect I’m yet to understand. I hope I will never be that happy achieving nothing in my free time.

After Wallgau, I searched around until I found the turn into the Isar Valley. The Isar river flows off the Karwendal Mountains in Austria, forming a natural boundary on the northern side of the Alps. The valley formed the second side to my square; heading due east, further away from home. It was a much smaller road than I had pictured. The beginning was graced with a toll booth, evidently filtering the through-traffic away from the scenic river. This meant that the 25 km were empty save for other cyclists, who seemed to come into view and be passed as if they were standing still. That’s not to mention those riders who were standing still, looking up at the huge peaks and the blue water flowing down from them.

The Sylvensteinsee in Bavaria

The valley bottomed out at the Sylvensteinsee – a reservoir stretching right across the valley. This marked the second corner of my ride, and from here I entered the Achensee valley – south, back towards Austria. Of all the roads on my loop, I was most worried by this one. It looked just slightly more major in size and traffic. I didn’t have much choice but to take it though – my glimpses through the trees showed that the bike path was a standard affair – broken surface, winding around unneccessary corners, and baricaded by gates at every opportunity. And people wonder why cyclists choose the road instead.

After the beauty of the German lakes, I rode through a wooded valley which gradually opened out into meadows and farms. Not big farms, but family farms – people working slowly across the long grass with a scythe, and a relative following along with a pitchfork; slowly, methodically turning the grass until it dries to hay. The map belied the gradient – I knew it was a climb up to the Achensee, but I had no idea how big. With such a big distance to cover in the day, the profile had been spread out to make it look rolling; almost flat. It wasn’t. With the temperature creeping to the wrong side of 35 degrees, my body began to complain that it shouldn’t be pedalling so hard. That was the exact response I was looking for. Mind over matter. The heavy agricultural traffic was doing me a favour too; instead of being buzzed by a constant stream of cars going 70 mph, the traffic was bunched up behind tractors with huge loads of hay. Although being passed by 15 cars in a row isn’t very fun – its much more enjoyable when they’re only just going faster than you.

Achensee from the Northern shore

I crested the top of the pass, and eventually cruised down to the edge of the Achensee – perhaps one of the most famous Austrian lakes. The last time I was up here, It was deep winter and I was eyeballed as a strange specimen in a world of snow. Now, it was roasting, and I was far from the only rider around. The traffic was still heavy, but the breeze coming off the water reduced the temperature just enough to get back to being comfortable. Tied in with the slight downhill gradient, life was suddenly much better. Back in Austria, nearly back in the Inn valley.

The last 45 km were difficult. Its easy to think that flat is easy, but flat also means constant pedalling. When its flat, the only reason to stop pedalling is when you can’t take the pace any more. I didn’t want to mentally admit to that, so I just kept on going. Through the towns which are so familiar to me after six months of riding in the valley, each one seemed more spread out than before – just a little further apart than they should be. With only 30 minutes to go before I got home, I was suddenly really thirsty. My lips stuck together with every breathe as I pulled oxygen into my body, and the Lakeside breeze was just a distant memory. I had to stop. I saw a Spar flash by and that was all that needed to convince me that more sugar was needed. Some quirk of fate meant the supermarket was offering buy-one get-one-free on ice cold fizzy drinks, so I left with a litre of sugary water, and only 89 cents lighter. That was all that I needed to get me home, and the last couple of miles through the suburbs were a blur of avoiding cars, making turns and bunny hopping tram lines.

I think I may have lost some weight, too.