After three years on the bike it hadn’t lasted long until we felt acute urge for this life again. Life simplicity originating from the problems like what to eat and where to sleep. And so we set off to Austria because high mountains catch our hearts the most and in the Alps we’d get plenty of them. Today after more than three weeks back in the saddle, I’m sitting in a guesthouse because literally buckets of water have been coming down from heaven for the past two days. I’ll try to summarise our feelings from biketouring in Europe which are, let’s say, mixed.
There are several things that are fundamentally different from what we were experiencing everyday in the countries of Latin America.
Spontaneity of people.
We can’t say that Europeans would be mean or nasty. Well, apart from a German guy who wanted to call police on us because we were taking photos late in the evening on a lookout in a national park and he thought we were planning to sleep there. The locals don’t just start chatting with us. Maybe because there’s so many people on the bikes around that we blend in. In the Americas we were quite a sight at some places where they saw a cycletourist twice before. In addition, there are bike trailers everywhere, most of them do contain children though but we also met some cycling dogs and two dachshunds on a tractor at Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse.
Everything is readily available. We don’t have to carry few days worth of food, it’s easy to buy fresh food everyday apart from Sunday. Water is potable in every village. The trains are accessible when the bike is broken. Planning everything too much time ahead is missing. Uncertainty is missing. Is adventure also missing then? Well, to a certain degree for sure. That’s why we’re pushed onto the narrow mountain paths, where we get raised eyebrows first for bicycles and then the dropping jaws because of the trailer. The passersby don’t get why we do it. The truth is, there’s not much left if we want silence without engines. We have to push and carry the bikes. We have to carry the trailer.
The amount of e-bikes in Austria left us speechless. At some sections we met 90% cyclists on them. We’re totally for them when they’re really needed but 90%? This change is something we’ll have to work out in ourselves as we don’t see only the benefits. What we know now already is this: It will be more and more difficult to get off the beaten path because the engine will bring more people to places where they would have never come before. Which is both good and bad, depends how you look at it. And the only places that will be left without the quiet buzzing, will be the paths at which you are raising your eyebrows why we’re bothering to get there by bikes.
Asphalt is everywhere.
Forest paths, roads leading to three houses, most of the official cyclepaths, everything is asphalted. We came to Austria to map new bikepacking routes and to keep the ratio asphalt vs. off-road in favour of the off-road is really pushing us to include few kilometres long hike-a-bike sections. While we were used to being in countries where two roads are asphalted and the rest is dirt, here is the exact opposite. In addition, often there’s no middle ground but either you roam carefree on the cyclepaths or are forced to give herculean performance on a singletrack with roots and rocks.
So what to do with this knowledge about biketouring in Europe?
Please understand that this is not a complaint how biketouring in Europe is awful. Only us two have changed by those three years away and we’d like more from a good cycletrip than just breathtaking views. Those are plentiful. We’d like to be challenged, physically and culturally. We’d like to find connection with the locals. In any case we have to acknowledge that if you’re beginning with biketouring, Europe and Austria especially are ideal. On the cycleroutes along the rivers you will be pampered by the signage, ease and proximity of a bike shop in every small town. We started that way as well and in 2010 it was the best summer trip. We can’t go back there though. That’s why we have to continue climbing those tiny mountain paths, remake our setup (find better place for the doggies than two wheel trailer) and carry on looking for new challenges. You know how it is.
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.Martin Luther King Jr.