The lady at the hotel desk looked at me as if I were crazy, leaving in the rain and cold to go “enjoy some cycling.”
“What is to enjoy?” she asked. “It is like saying I going to dentist for enjoyment. It’s crazy.”
“Crazy can be its own kind of fun,” I replied.
I only had an hour and a half because I’d been informed that we were taking a day trip to Bratislava and we had to leave no later than 10:30. I didn’t want to go to Bratislava. I wanted to ride in the rain.
Every time I’ve climbed Johann-Staud Strasse, I’ve gone down this insane descent called Ulmenstrasse. If I were still on Strava I could tell you all the stats but using a non-#socmed description it is long AF, twisty AF, steep AF, and begging to be climbed.
The problem is that I’m not the kind of person who will go down a hill then flip a u-turn and go back up it. I have to actually be using the road as part of a route. I know, stupid.
So today’s stupid involved finding the base of Ulmenstrasse without going out Johann-Staud Strasse. After plenty of map recon to boost my hippocampus I headed out a major street, the rain soaking through to my feet pretty quickly but everything else staying dry. Ish.
You always hear about how good Euros are handling their bikes, and it’s when you get out in the rain on a day like today that you understand why. The street had two sets of streetcar rails laid into the asphalt, and the gaps parallel to the rails were just the right width to devour a bike tire and bring you down on your skull.
Next to the gaps was a section of concrete, not very wide, that had bolts drilled down into it. If you were riding on this section it was bumpy, not a good sensation so close to the deep, wheel-eating grooves. It also put me far enough out into the lane to back up traffic and I could feel the anger. The next section of pavement, further to the right, was very smooth but also very narrow, maybe two feet wide, and it ran flush against a row of parked cars. People were forever getting in and out, so the risk of being doored was constant, and people were pulling away from the curb, so you also had the risk of getting hit. My blazing strobe headlight saved me over and over.
Then, every kilometer or less there would be a traffic island for the streetcars to pull up at. The island ate up the street side parking lane and therefore the parked cars, which was fine, but also the narrow strip of good pavement, narrowing suddenly into just the rails and bolt-studded strip of concrete next to them. So I had to hop over onto the bolt-concrete, which was now flush up against the streetcar island, which itself was a good four or five-inch curb, about the right height to catch a pedal and send your front wheel into the crevice of death next to the streetcar rails.
It was tense going and I made a mental note to find a different route the next time, on a street that didn’t have streetcars. Eventually I got to the street I was looking for, Rosentalergasse. I think it means Pink Valley Street.
Turning up this street was wholly unnecessary, by the way, but it looked twisty on the map and twisty around here usually means a climb. Who doesn’t like to start their ride with a climb?
The road jerked straight up and suddenly I was away from all the traffic and noise. I could hear myself pant as the road got steeper until I was going at that speed where, when you pass a pedestrian, you can see the bloodshot in their eyeballs. No attaboys in Austria, but lots of “Whatthe fukkerya doin’ ridin’ up here?” looks.
Riding a new climb, sort of found, but also sort of lost because you don’t know when the climb will end, I slowed to whatever is slower than a crawl because Rosentalergasse is nasty. Will you think there’s something wrong with me if I tell you I was wet and it was cold and I was inching my way up a steep-ass hill and I was happy?
I made some guess-turns and the climb dumped me out 3/4 of the way up my old buddy Johann-Staud Strasse, but if I continued it would take me down the street I wanted to go up, Ulmenstrasse, so I turned around and got lost trying to find my way out.
And “found” is what I got. Cue second best feeling known to man.
Eventually I reached the base of Ulmenstrasse and after a few minutes I could only think “Dan Cobley.” Dan would love this climb. It was hard beyond belief and long and steep and the oncoming bus filled the whole road so I had to hop the cobbled curb and thread a utility pole and a stone wall and a parked car and then hop back into the lane, all the while struggling uphill.
I felt pretty Euro-ish, and my legs felt great. If Dan had been with me he would have kicked it at the halfway mark and I would have mounted a futile chase and he would have looked back and laughed and either pedaled away or sat up and waited, depending on his mood. But he would have loved this climb, the kind of road that even the locals seem to give a wide berth. And Dan would always be down for it. He wouldn’t care if it were raining or colding or pointlessing as long as it was gritty and hard and steep and it fuggin’ hurt.
I bombed the forested descent back into town, fairly scared because of that carbon-on-carbon, not-so-great-braking feel that fancy wheels have when wet. I navigated back streets to the hotel, avoiding all of the streetcars named desire as well as the ones named knock-down-the-cyclist.
The chunky hotel lady was taking a cigarette break. “Where have you been?”
“Where is there here to ride around? It is nothing but cold and wet and cars and shitty. To ride a bicycle in Vienna is what I think of when I think of hell.”
“I climbed up Rosentalergasse and Ulmenstrasse. Do you know them?”
She shook her head in reply, pulling happily on the warm cigarette. “Should I?”
“Nope,” I said.
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