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September 7, 2007

Weather Most Foul

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LOCATION: Strengberg, Austria
Longitude: N:48deg.08'31.
Latitude: E: 014deg.39'12.
Kms from Istanbul: 1,980

Tonight finds me in the small Austrian town of Strengberg, just short of Linz. Merlin, you left at just the right time you jammy swine. Yesterday on leaving Vienna the temperature dropped to single digits and it's been raining ever since. To the south it's even snowing above 1000 metres. I haven't experienced such miserably cold conditions since coming off Lalung Pass in Tibet nearly a year ago to the day. The difference on this occasion however is that aside from a 'waterproof' K2-Summit jacket (a Chinese knock-off that unsurprisingly leaks like a sieve) I have no cold weather gear with me at all. If I had more time I could just hole up in a cheap penzion somewhere and wait the weather out but there's no cushion in the itinerary anymore, so I need to keep going. Expectation of a cruisey last ride through Europe has subsequently been rather turned on its head. Quite fitting that man-induced climate change, if this is indeed what has prompted the unprecedented turn in the weather, should make an appearance in the final furlong of this zero-emissions project and give it one last boot in the backside.


The route west has taken me through undulating farmland strictly divided into neat, rectangular sections cultivated with crops such as corn and pumpkins, bordering onto fallow ground, in turn bordering onto newly planted winter crops. The entire landscape is framed by interlinking wooded areas and networks of hedgerows, no doubt one of the requirements from the EU to allow corridors for the free movement of wildlife. Huge electricity-generating windmills appear everywhere: high profile reminders of how progressive this region of the world is in terms of setting and attaining targets for sustainable fuel resources.


I tried biking on the much acclaimed cycle path that runs for several hundred kilometers along the Danube all the way to Passau and beyond but the self-indulgent twists and turns to accommodate for the meandering whims of the river became irritating. After 20 kms I tried to make it back to the larger 'B' road that shadows the main highway (that cyclists are prohibited from riding on) and ended up getting horribly lost in a maze of backwater tracks and lanes that all seemed to lead off into nowhere. After 6 hours of riding in the rain I had accomplished only 80 kms of which 60 where in the right direction. I began to reminisce of the roads in Asia, Africa and the Middle East which, although filled with terrifying drivers, are relatively few in number and thus pretty much guaranteed to get you where you want to go. In Europe there is almost too much choice, and the road planning authorities treat you like an idiot, so you're not even allowed to make a choice between the fast or slow road in the first place.


Today when passing a good sized bike shop in the town of Amstetten I thought all my cold weather problems where solved. I'd been having to stop at petrol stations every 15 kms throughout the morning to thaw my fingers out enough to change gears, and the waterproof Goretex clothing displayed in the window looked too good to be true. The price tags soon put me back on my heals though. Just a pair of waterproof trousers, gloves and shoes would set me back $600! I reckoned I could spend a third of that on whiskey for the remainder of the trip and still keep warm enough to pedal. Overhearing my mutterings about outrageous European prices the store manager starting rummaging around in a box of discounted items. After a short while he produced a pair of women's trousers half-off (stop sniggering at the back) at a mere 40 euros (still outrageous) and a pair of what looked like gloves either made for Kermit the Frog or someone with only three fingers. "They're not very popular any more" he told me, "I can sell them half price also". It didn't seem likely that a frog would need waterproof gloves, and I suppressed the urge to ask where the once thriving population of three-fingered cyclists living in the town of Amstetten had suddenly disappeared to. I just paid the man in soggy euros and went on my way: a little dryer and happier as a result, even if the trousers do only reach halfway down my legs and two fingers on each hand are squished together in a space designed for only one.


Posted on September 7, 2007 1:09 PM