Ever since coming back from New Zealand I’ve been cycling on an almost daily basis, as a commuter, for training and always for fun. I regularly use my bike to go off and explore new places. When I’m doing my evening cycles I rarely take the same route twice. I veer off on back roads to see where they take me and try to use my instincts and sense of direction not to get lost (although getting lost happens often and can be exciting). Sometimes I leer over a map and make up ‘missions’ for myself such as, cycle to the Czech boarder and back or cycle up the tallest hill in the area and climb the watch tower.
These ‘missions’ are great fun to plan and even better to actually do but everything I have done since New Zealand has been achievable within the space of a day. Multi-day trips and cycle touring in general have taken a back seat but since coming to Austria I’ve been looking towards (on a map) the Salzkammergut region. An area of exceptional beauty in the southern part of Upper Austria, dominated by big lakes and even bigger mountains, captured my imagination and I knew I wanted to experience it in a multi-day bike tour. I organised four days off work and went about the planning.
From cycle touring in the past, I already had most of the gear I needed but we never replaced the tent we left behind in New Zealand. We did months of research on tents and we knew the exact one we wanted, a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3. A very light weight but durable tent but very hard to source in Europe and very expensive too. We had given up our search until a week before I left when Jasmin found a second hand one online, only used for 5 nights, at a very reasonable price. We ordered it straight away and luckily it arrived on time before the start of the trip.
So, with the tent my gear requirements were complete. The pack list reads:
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 tent
Exped 600 Loft Down sleeping bag
Thermarest NeoAir ground mat
Cocoon Travel Pillow
La Sportiva shorts (for cycling)
3 x T-shirts (one for cycling the others for off the bike)
Haglöffs micro fleece (for cycling in the mornings and for off the bike in the evenings)
Salewa rain jacket
A pair of jeans (for off the bike of course)
3 x Underwear/socks
Fujifilm X30 camera
Petzl head torch
Swiss Army knife
Bike tool/tire levers/cable ties/spare tube (basic repair kit)
2 x Stainless steel water bottles
…and lots of snacks
With everything in place I packed the night before so that I could get an early start on Sunday morning.
For the first day of the trip I cycled from my apartment in Linz to Altmünster on the shores of the Traunsee (‘See’ means ‘lake’ in German, Lake Traun would be the English version). The first 10km or so were pretty uneventful as I cycle on roads known to me in order to get out of Linz. Once clear of the city I joined up with the R4 bike path which follows the Traun river to the Traunsee some 80 km away. Although the path follows the course of the Traun river, long stretches of it are on secondary roads through farm land and the river is not always visible. I ended up getting lost at one stage when I missed a sign. I managed to find my way again by back tracking and then cycling on the main road for a few kilometers. My mistake turned the 80 km cycle into a 90 km cycle.
After cycling down some steep streets as I entered Gmunden, I was literally blown away by the lake and mountains that only presented themselves as I reached the promenade. Arriving in such a powerful yet beautiful environment made me really excited for the next few days of cycling. I soaked in the view for a few minutes, drank some water and gave my legs a small rest before heading down the shore to the next town Altmünster, where I planned to camp.
The reason I chose to camp in Altmünster was because Jasmin was attending a two week workshop in natural building and I planned to visit her. When I had my camp setup, I went for a quick dip in the lake and then freshened up before cycling down to the school where Jasmin was staying.
The students attending the work shop had organised a barbecue on a small beach and I was able to join in and eat and drink with them. It was great to meet Jasmin again who had already been attending the workshop for a week. We drank radler beer, ate some stuffed capsicum from the bbq and I ended up having another dip in the lake. I stayed until well after dark but once we seen a few lightning flashes away in the distance, I decided I better get back to the tent before the weather got bad. Once back at camp I had 98 km on the clock.
On the second day I woke up early and packed up camp, eager to get on the road. The day promised to be very hot so I hoped to get some distance in in the cool morning air. Cycling south along the Traunsee, I passed so many walk ways and paths that lead down to private, secluded beaches. Curiosity got the better of me more than once and I was off the bike exploring what was at the end of them.
Despite the numerous stops I made it to the town of Bad Ischl in good time and decided to stop for second breakfast (I had already eaten some fruit, nuts and a croissant earlier that morning). A good friend of mine recommended that if I’m in Bad Ischl I should try a Zauner Kipferl. So once breakfast was done I went on a hunt for dessert.
In Bad Ischl I already had 35 km behind me but to get to my planned camp site I still had almost 70 km to go. It was still only late morning but I decided to take fewer breaks for the rest of the days riding. I did stop in St Gilgen though, on the shores of the Wolfgangsee, for lunch where I ate a pizza. Later on, I did an almost full lap of the Mondsee with the lofty Drachenwand (Dragon Wall in english) looming above the south shore.
I arrived at the camp site on the Attersee by early evening, very happy with the days ride. The camp site had a river running through it so once I had the tent setup I jumped in for a dip to soothe my aching legs. Shortly afterwards I took a quick power nap and then headed out to look for food and to catch the sunset.
I went to bed early that night, tired and full. It rained pretty heavy as I slept but Big Agnes did a wonderful job in keeping me dry. I woke up at 6.30 am to find the rain had stopped. I used this break in the weather to get everything packed up but I could tell more rain was on the way. I ate a banana and a few figs and was on the road by 7.15. My plan for the day was to ride around the Attersee and then take the road from Steinbach, across the mounatin pass, back to Altmünster, completing a 140 km loop. The day started good although it rained for about half an hour in the morning.
After 25 kms I stopped in Seewalchen for a proper breakfast and some coffee and by the time I was done the sun was up, the clouds were gone and I could tell it was going to be a scorcher. The stretch from Seewalchen to Steinbach was a beautiful 20 km of road riding which I flew down in no time. I took a left turn in Steinbach where the biggest challenge of the day began. I started up the road which lead up over the hills, reaching a height of 837m and down the other side. I really noticed the the weight of the bike even though I was travelling relatively light for touring. For the next 7km I stood up on the pedals, took deep steady breaths and just got through it. It was hard work but I love the effort involved in big climbs. The ultimate reward though was the 15 km of downhill riding that lead all the way back to Altmünster.
I arrived in Altmünster at 1 pm having cycled 62 km. I went about what was turning into a daily routine of setting up camp, going for a swim and eating some food. Still feeling fresh and with a good meal in me I decided to head out on the bike again that afternoon. I had found a free tourists map at the reception of the campsite which had some plainly marked out hiking trails on it. My plan was to see if I could navigate some of the trails, on my now unloaded bike, and reach some of the summits on the surrounding hills. This turned out to be a good plan for the most part and I was nimbly making my way up some steep assents. Closer to the top though all roads turned to gravel which made progress quiet slow and my back wheel was spinning as it struggled to gain purchase on the looser sections. But, once again, the reward was totally worth the effort. I enjoyed a refreshment at the enchanting Laudachsee and let my eyes feast on the vivid, late afternoon views over the lake from the top of Grünberg.
To round out the days cycling, I descended into Gmunden and then took a spin to the base of the Traunstein before heading back to camp. This was my longest day on the bike for this trip with 114 km on the clock by the end of it. Surprisingly I was still feeling really good after cycling 100 km for three days in a row. I guess the fresh air, exercise, peaceful landscapes and the daily swims really did me a lot of good. Even with all the psychical exertion I was somehow left feeling rejuvenated.
That evening I meet up with Jasmin for pizza before heading back to the tent for a final night of camping. In the morning I packed up and drank a coffee to get myself motivated for the long cycle home. I took pretty much the same route back as I did coming but every now and then I took an alternative path or road. This added a few extra kilometers to the cycle but it meant I wasn’t completely doubling back on myself the whole time.
Trips like this are what its all about for me. Not just the cycling but the adventure, the exercise, the swimming, the camping and just being outside in general. This trip I dedicated to cycling but I could very easily come back on a climbing, hiking or a trail running trip at some stage. The Salzkammergut is awe inspiring and epic and although I did get to see a lot, there is so much left to be discovered…I will be back.
Another thing I’m learning is how important experiences like this are because life is relatively short if you waste it. Routine makes time pass quickly and free time is at a premium. Sitting around gets you nowhere and leaves you with nothing. Free time should be spent doing something worth while that will leave you with fond memories. For me I achieve this by getting outside and being active, exploring whats on offer around me and squeezing as much enjoyment out if it as I can. For you it may be something totally different but if it makes you feel good, do more of it! If you fill your life with experiences, milestones, events and goals then you will live a long and happy one. There’s no excuse for saying where did the last 10 (or 20) years go, you should have plenty to say about them.
If you really want my advice though, I’d say, go ride a bike 🙂