Rainy, rainy rain. It began as a light smattering. A sprinkle, a dusting, a delicate shower. I thought, ‘I won’t grab the waterproofs out just yet – don’t want to get too hot and sticky; it’s still quite warm. It looks brighter over there, he won’t last long – this dreary newcomer to the trip.’ But, unfamiliar and unwelcome as he was, the rain proved insistent and my old friend the wind was not about to be bested by a rookie. So the two of them dogged my journey to Vienna. I was already on the wrong side of the Danube to the Eurovelo route because of the campsite location and rather than add 14km to my journey I checked the maps. I found a Vienna to Hainburg en Der Donau cycle route and saw a crossing to the north side just 10km upstream. Perfect. Despite inclement weather I was in good spirits, the thought of apfel strudel mit eis was keeping me motivated and after getting stuck on the wrong side of a railway track, and finally stopping to cover my now soaked, cotton K8 and K9 t-shirt, I followed the signs to the river and what I hoped would be a simple car ferry, you know – my fave. After all, it was a recommended cycle route so I figured it had to be vaguely bike-friendly.
I rolled down a steep hill that I knew I’d never get back up if I had to turn around and then the road just…turned into…off road. Rivers ran over cobbles the size (and vague shape) of footballs, as the path carved its way through wetland, rushes, muddy bogs and inlets. Huge trees added to the darkness of the day and the ducks eyed us menacingly. It was all beginning to feel a bit Jurassic Park. The ‘road’ ended at the river, a dirt track to the left with a battered sign high up in a tree commanding no bikes and a hilly continuation of the cement and rocks from before on the right. My map told me there was a ferry point to the right and so I cycled that way until it became clear that unless there truly was a ferry that way, it would be foolish to put Jeeves, trailer and Scout through the pain of the final 15 meters of ‘road’. I parked up, rain beginning to fall fat and loud around us and walked to the sign which I think told me to ring for the ferry and gave a number. My phone was with Jeeves. As I trudged back I could see another cyclist in the darkness of the trees ahead. They were only 30 meters away but KD (who was capturing the excitement on film) had to text me to let me know that a German speaking man was calling a ferry to the left – the wind and rain made conversation impossible, even with her far-reaching Australian tones.
But it looked like we were in business. Stefan and his 6 year old daughter, Wanda, had actually arrived at our campsite late last night and had come the same way as us towards Vienna where they were going to spend a few nights. She sat up on a seat just behind the handlebars and was the toughest little thing I’ve ever seen. Scout had a fully waterproofed carriage.She had a bright red rain mac. What an absolute hero.
A ferry man arrived and we pushed through sandy mud (my bike cleaning work swiftly undone) onto a rocky beach that pulled every wheel in a different direction but to my great relief there was a ramp from boat to beach just about the width of the trailer.We powered across the gushing river with rain and wind lashing at us terribly dramatically for about 45 seconds before the captain docked facing fully upstream alongside a floating boat/restaurant/pontoon, killing the motor with the exact amount of time to leap up to the stern and grab a securing rope so that the flow of the river landed us gently in line with the landing gate. Both Stefan and I commented on how precise and skilled our ferry man was as the bearded man casually opened the gate to the dock.
A little more difficult manoeuvring of bike and trailer, which I am not really getting much better at, and we paid the man, and said our goodbyes – they were going to have hot chocolate and coffee at the restaurant before moving on. A good idea perhaps but I had apfel strudel waiting just a 40km away, on the actual bike path. I was pushing on.
We found the bike path (woohooo) and the signs took me closer and closer to Vienna and apfel strudel. The rain let up and Scout got her second good run of the day – easily hitting 20kmph along the safe, wide and quiet tarmac cycle paths. But I was getting hungry. I was holding out for Strudel but a 45min stop to meet with KD and make central Vienna plans pushed my hunger over the edge, taking my phone battery over with it and allowed the rain to swoop back in on us. I relied on my Garmin to get me into town to a specific park KD suggested and, to be honest, I’m not sure I should have trusted it. It’s a robot. And it gets stuff wrong quite a lot. Anywho it was rainy and a bit cold and I had no idea where I was going in a very big city with big cars and all those things and confusing German bike signs that I hadn’t got used to yet and then I turned across some tram tracks and suddenly I wasn’t turning, I was spilling to the ground. My front tire had slipped happily into the tram track and my momentum hadn’t agreed with the decision at all. Jeeves pulled away from me and I toppled to the left, skidding along the ground a little and after taking the brunt of the impact with my wrist and side, my helmeted head tapped the tarmac sharply as I came to a stop. The trailer had remained upright and Scout was sat up, obviously concerned for my welfare (sure), and as I stood some people crossing the road asked if I was ok. It wasn’t a busy street and no cars had been near, thank goodness, and as I got up I realised I was fine, a little shaken and a slight fizz in my head but nothing I was concerned about having wiped out more than a few times while snowboarding. So I righted Jeeves and got back on the bloody thing, low blood sugar doing me more harm than the tumble, I reasoned, and blindly followed the Garmin, no idea how far I was from strudel but praying it was close. It wasn’t particularly, and when I finally found KD I was cold, wet, hangry as anything and thoroughly disillusioned with Vienna. Having a dog when it’s raining is quite a chore – sitting outside when it’s dry isn’t a problem but when you want to sit inside in the warm quite often der hund isn’t allowed. Not that I had time to be choosy, I ended up grabbing a salmon sandwich and chips at a sea food chain called NORDSEE – nothing the slightest bit Vienese about it but it was food and it was what I needed and they didn’t mind Scout sitting under the table with her Hungarian muzzle on (I removed it when they weren’t looking). It was the definition of an anticlimax and there was still no strudel. The cafes I’ve strudelled at before are grand affairs and I was soggy and muddy and I couldn’t be bothered to even begin to find one that would allow a dog and then find a place to leave Jeeves, preferably within my eyeline, just to sit and have my well earned strudel. So it never happened.
I changed out of my wet under clothes and then we went sight seeing so that KD could get some nice K8 and K9 in the city footage. I’ve had a lovely few days in Vienna with the Globe and a few times since then but today, and with a bike and a dog in the rain, I was disenchanted with it and wanted to set up camp outside the city and start making my way through Austria, finding little towns with little cafes for my strudel fix instead. That’s something I am fast discovering – cities are not the most friendly places to be when you’re on a bike on your own with a dog. I have fond memories of Vienna and I’ll go again but probably on foot or by car. It rained that evening but I showered and warmed up and Scout met a hedgehog that was happily snuffling its way around the campsite – utterly unfazed by the attentions of a curious pup and surprisingly swift! Scout reeeeallly wanted to play with it but I was quite mean and didn’t let her, couldn’t really be bothered with a vet visit, to be honest.
We had a slow morning as the day dawned with the promise of sun in Klosterneuberg and beyond. I’d already found the cycle path the evening before and from here on out Donauradweg (Danube Cycle Way) was all I needed to know. The signs were pretty good and I just double checked with my app when I needed to but mostly you could be either side of the Danube and there was always a cycle path to follow. KD popped up every now and then to film me whizzing by, or struggling up a rare hill, and document (far better than me) the changing landscape as we charged through Austria. The Danube sometimes cuts through vineyard strewn hills, sometimes rocky, tall, pine treed slopes, other times open fields of drooping sunflowers or proud and swaying corn. We had pretty amazing weather, although the wind was almost always against me and I was one of the very few people travelling East to West because, apparently, it’s always slightly up hill that way. Great. There were so many cyclists though, it was amazing to see. Especially older people. Bikes are awesome. For everyone. I love bikes.
There are several companies that hire bikes and panniers to you and by the looks of things there are several options you can take from a group tour with a guide and your bags dropped at the next hotel by van; no guide but bags dropped at the next hotel of your choosing; or simple hire of bikes and more bags and the freedom to camp or hotel wherever you fancy. Something for everyone. Even electric bikes. The number of old people whizzing past me up hills on their electric bikes…yeah, not jealous at all. Not at all. In all honesty I tend to smile when I see them. I love the fact that they can still get out there and enjoy the beauty of the Donauradweg, I hope I’m still chasing adventures at their age.
Then, just after my lunch at Dernstein and halfway down a steep hill to rejoin the bike path a man yelled ‘Kate!’ and pulled over on the hill. ‘Are you talking to me?’ I said, surprised. ‘Are there any other Kates on the street?’ he crowed back. ‘Do I know you?’ I uttered, still trying to make sense of the situation, ‘We know you!’ he replied as his wife joined him. Jeff* and Glenda Miller from Adelaide had had breakfast with KD in Vienna before getting the train to Passau to rent bikes and cycle back, and she headed west to find me.
They’re fans of CTM and endeavoured to keep an eye out for me and lo and behold they’d managed it. 10 minutes earlier and I’d still have been eating my lunch and they might not have seen the trailer. It was a remarkable coincidence and a delightful boost. Some more lovely Australians to add to the pile I seem to be encountering in Europe.There have been plenty of others too though – a Swedish over 70s cycle group wished me good luck and commended me, lots of Italian tourers did the same, and I’ve had more than a few photos taken. Hopefully they visit the website and share it – £10,000 is a huge amount and unless I can get more people interested I’m afraid we aren’t going to get there!
Fingers crossed the sign on the back is getting some traffic to the website and get the idea – I really should have had home pages made in different languages – the amount of times I’ve explained the website to people; ‘in English it’s sort of a funny way to write my name and also the scientific name for the dog species…so, it’s sort of, me and the dog…’ you know what they say – if you have to explain it…sigh.
Oh well, please, please share this amongst your English speaking friends and help spread the word – Street Hearts have already started making things happen with some of the money so far and I give you my word that it all goes to Scout’s old mates in Bulgaria so they can find their feet and their forever homes.
* or Geoff – sorry I didn’t check
BONUS: Pictures from KD from Hungary to Vienna © @kdvideo