Lesson time

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When you get all excited and pumped about schooling the Austrians on the finer points of beatdown riding, it is important to follow the One Rule: Don’t be late.

The ride went off at 9:30 but at 9:00 I was just waking up, you know, that panicked “fuck” feeling when you’re going to miss a ride and you do the hammer math that calculates no matter how hard you hammer you aren’t going to make it. I was disappointed until I got underway at ten and my legs felt like jet-lead, heavy as concrete, a nice combo of biorhythms doing the fandango and having woken up at 1:30 and not nodding off again until half past three.

The day was cold and overcast and I meticulously retraced my route from the day before, figuring I’d meet up with someone somewhere, but meticulous turned to sloppy AF and soon enough I was lost leaving town. That’s when I followed my Wayfinding Rule Number One: If you can choose between flat, down, and up, always choose up.

Off Thalianstrasse I hooked a left up a formidable-looking bump called Johann Staud Strasse, and it went up hard, but since there aren’t any big hills in Vienna I knew it would end soon. It did, but not “soon.” It climbed for a couple of miles, with the last half-mile incredibly steep, and most of the entire route ensconced in the forest with carpets of  orange and yellow leaves littering the road. I got passed by two cars in half an hour.

On the descent I heard my brakes making funny noises because there was hardly any brake pad left, front or back. I recalled a couple of Sundays ago when Joey Cooney was behind me making smartass remarks about my worn-down brakes and I how I’d gone out of my way not to replace them JUST BECAUSE. The descent was screaming, hairy, twisty, and skinning the last shreds of carbon off the pads, but I didn’t dare use them full gas because that might trash my full carbon 100% all carbon rims which were made of pure carbon and nothing but carbon and if you have to choose between rims and a cracked skull, that’s easy.

At the bottom I made some wrong turns, proving that no matter how closely you study the map you will always go the wrong way when there’s a choice, and after a couple of kilometers I stopped to read a bus stop map at the very moment a cyclist whizzed by. I chased him down and asked where I was.

“In Austria,” he replied, helpfully.

“Where does this road go?”

“Where would you like it to go?” he asked. I was learning that Austrians are dialectical rather than didactic.

“I’m trying to get in two or three hours and want to end up in Wien.”

“Ah,” he said, and pulled over. Then he gave me very explicit directions, repeated them slowly three times, and watched my blank stare as I tried to repeat the impossible place name of “Tulbingerkogel.” He nodded sadly, I thanked him, and continued on.

There was one small climb to get to the top of the unpronounceable Tulbingerkogel, then an infinite downhill on perfectly paved roads that twisted and rushed to the river’s floodplain, and from there it was an easy 10k to the city of Tulln an der Donau. I found the bike path and no sooner had I gotten on it than I spied a chunky dude in an ancient Gerolsteiner kit up ahead.

I didn’t want to chase him and pass him but I didn’t want him dangling out ahead forever, either, so after a couple of km I rolled slowly by, slapped my ass in the universal biker speak of “grab my wheel” and started to roll. He was about my age and had that flatland hammer look to him.

The bike path along the Donau is flat fucking amazing. The river is so beautiful and the path is paved like the autobahn with zero traffic. There was a pretty solid headwind and it was slightly uphill, but with Walter on my wheel it was easy to put my head down and pound. The only problem of course is that I didn’t know how far Tulln was from Wien (hint: 50km), and after about an hour I was completely shot.

Walter pulled up alongside me. “Thank you for the excellent pacemaking! Where are you going?”

“I don’t really know,” I said. “Where are we?”

“On the Donau,” he said helpfully. And then more helpfully, “Let me show you how to get into Wien from here.” I was wrecked from the wind and the pace and he was pretty pooped just sitting on, so we had a great time going slowly and talking. Cycling is the world’s best friend maker. First you try to beat the shit out of the other person, then they try to beat the shit out of you, then you trade names and have a great friendly chat.

Walter dropped me off so that there was no way I could get lost, which I promptly did despite knowing the city like the back of my hand. In retrospect, I hope I never have to pick the back of my hand out of a lineup. The forecast for tomorrow is rain with a 100% chance of exhausted legs. So it will be my day off, a good time to replace my carbon brakes, do some laundry, and explore the city some more, this time on foot.


Touristy write-up of the A&O Hotel Hostel, or home for wayward hostel youth:

Our nightly rate was about $80 for two people in a tiny broom closet with a double bed. That’s a crazy good price for Vienna as long as you’re not one of those people for whom luxury is an external thing. If a big part of your trip is name dropping when you get back home, this probably isn’t the place for you, as it’s the kind of name that, when you drop it, lands on your foot like a brick.

Anyway, I took a bunch of photos and put little descriptions in them. A&O has two hostel hotels in Vienna, one downtown and one in Stadthalle. We stayed in Stadthalle which is a lot quieter than downtown, with only 3.2 screaming drunken fistfights per night out on the sidewalk as opposed to 4.8 downtown. As I mentioned before, the deal of the century is the breakfast buffet, but there’s actually a better way to eat than that for even less. More about that later.

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