European Wilderness Volunteer DiaryThe Diary of the European Wilderness Society Volunteers

A Tale of Two Bike Rides

A race against Dutch legs and the magic of peanut butter ice cream.

Tamsweg is surround by miles of bike trails, glorious paths that take you through valleys, through mountains if you’re ambitious, and always through beautiful scenery. I’ve been enjoying these paths since my bicycle graced my life, and this weekend I set my eye on the Mittebergrunde. It’s a circular route that I can start from Tamsweg, and Nick told me about it. He had cycled it and tracked his ride with an app, and showed me the route, his statistics, and his time.

Well, Nick wasn’t here this weekend and the little voice in the back of my head whispered ‘challenge accepted’. Now logically I am aware that I cannot beat Nick’s time of 31km in 1 hour and 5 minutes, but that won’t stop me trying. So I packed my bag, and set off, feeling fresh and determined and ready for whatever the Austrian countryside wanted to throw at me

The journey

Every time I leave my room, I am still astounded by the beauty of this area. My eyes are still drawn to the valleys, the forests, the clear rivers, the greenery everywhere. I feel so grateful that I get to be here, amongst this landscape. And this cycle was no less beautiful; I cycled along the river, heading up the valley through Austrian villages, with their farms and their many-coloured homes. I continued uphill towards a castle, imagining how medieval soldiers might have felt having to run up the hill to attack (I don’t know if this is a real historic event but it made my cycle easier…. I might be cycling uphill but at least I’m not wearing a suit of armour! Perhaps part of my consciousness is still back in time at the Medieval Festival.)

So I pootled up to Moosham Castle (magnificent) and then further along to Mauterndorf, which also has a castle, set against steep mountain cliffs. Here I lost the trail and resorted to google maps, which tried to send me four, five different ways on to the main road. At this point I was wailing at my phone ‘I want the bike path not the highway’. Eventually I just picked a path myself where I could see cows ahead, a sign that it was probably not the highway. This is testament to how frustrated I was because any chance normally that I would have to cycle past a cow would be a hell no moment. But I found the cycle path, the cows were in another field and the storm still hadn’t broken so in my eyes everything was just fine.

Yes, there is nearly always a thunderstorm brewing here. I cycled through a forest path, and then suddenly out of nowhere I hear a choo chooooo and the steam train passes by. I stopped my bike in delight and waved at the passengers with gusto. And then it rained. Of course! I laughed and pedalled fast, my glasses fogging up and the wind whipping the raindrops over, under, round my glasses into my eyes. This is where I feel most alive, when nature puts me in my place.

I made it back to Tamsweg, the rain disappearing as fast as it appeared. I checked the time… Over 2 hours cycling. Yes there had been time for photos and getting lost and an all-important banana break, but no I had not beaten Nick’s time. But I had a smile that stretched from ear to ear and I’d found a new favourite bike ride and really those felt more important. It was all about the journey. And there was a tub of peanut butter vegan ice cream in my freezer that was calling me.

Sunday Funday

Sunday dawned and I woke slowly, stretching my legs… actually they weren’t too bad, I’d expected them to be hurting. The magic of peanut butter ice cream. I grinned, pulled my leggings on and went out for a short run along the river. I came back and made coffee, sipping it and looking out the window. I’d read a page of my book, look out the window. Clean my dishes, look out the window. Sort my laundry, look out the window. There was a little voice whispering in the back of my head, and it took me two hours before I gave in and just got my bike out.

Before I quite knew what I was doing, I was cycling the Mitterbergrunde again. This time I knew where I was going… I could be quicker right? I raced another thunderstorm round, the purple clouds always in the corner of my eye. I whizzed along the river and past the castle and the forest and the steam train, feeling great. Wheat fields were glowing in the light, the forest floor was covered in moss, lemon coloured butterflies danced in the wildflowers along the side of the path.

I zoomed back into Tamsweg, feeling as if I had barely just left. That must have been a quick time, right? And for me, yes. We’ll go with that, because I probably won’t get any faster! I was just over an hour and a half. My legs were like jelly and that big smile was on my face again. But I can’t help wondering. What would those fields have felt like if I’d run my hands through the fronds of wheat? What if I’d stopped and sunk my toes into the moss, would it have been soft? Warm, cool, wet…? And were there any distinguishing marks on the butterfly that would help identify it?

And I know there’ll be other times where I can see what those feel like, and perhaps I’m only saying this because I wasn’t fast enough to beat Nick’s Dutch legs, but there’s a different beauty to going slow and taking your time. I think I’ll cycle it again next weekend, and if there aren’t purple clouds in the sky, I know I’ll be packing a book and a picnic and taking my time.