The Mountain Bike Route - The Hills are Alive (with the sound of wheezing) - CycleBlaze

September 3, 2020

The Mountain Bike Route

Strobl — Bad Mittendorf

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Another dreamless sleep in the very quiet campsite, I awoke pretty early - to an absolutely beautiful day. The clear sky meant it was still a little cool, but I quickly started to warm up in the morning sunshine. After giving my camera a bit of a charge in the bathrooms, I lay the tent out in the sun and had a simple breakfast of coffee and chocolate (somehow - again - I had managed to eat all my bread products).

Sunshine! Shadows! It's going to be a nice one
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The plan today was to work my way to the last town on the series of lakes, Bad Aussee, from where I had a pretty decisive run to the east along the Salzkammergut Radweg - an off-road way to follow pretty much the only route headed into Styria, into the vicinity of the curiously free-standing mountain of Grimming. I had already learnt that there were a decent campsites in the town at the base of the mountain, Bad Mittendorf, from some phone-based research the night before (simultaneously, I also learnt that my network has an adult content filter turned on by default that wouldn't let me access the camp website, http://www.grimmingsicht.at - don't ask).

To reach Bad Aussee, I had an interesting choice. I could follow a sinuous route some distance to the south around the largest lake, the Hallstätter See. Alternatively, I had eyeballed a curious and more adventurous route, that cut up into the mountains directly to the east above the resort town of Bad Ischl. Closely approaching the rather lofty peak of the Loser (today would be a day of amusingly-named mountains), it was marked strictly no cars and with a couple of troubling double chevrons - but nevertheless also indicated that it was a formal cycleway.

Up until today, I had consciously followed a one-day-on/one-day-off pattern of strenuous climbing to straightforward valley days. What with the dodgy weather, this had allowed me to recover somewhat in between (even if, really, I ended up enjoying the strenuous days more). But I was feeling strong, and with conditions being so good my first choice was going to be to attack the mountain cycleway. Hopefully I wouldn't end up being the ultimate Loser in this scenario.

I knocked again on the farm door - they still hadn't taken any money off me and I needed to pay - most campsites in Austria seemed to be infinitely trusting in this way. It was a girl this time, shy but friendly, who seemed pleased I had the exact change - it was something like €11.50 I think.

Then I was off and away, quickly getting back to Strobl, which looked jolly and bright and in the sunshine. 

Leaving Strobl, a very handsome little town
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Since I was already on the cycleway, my first 25km stage was simply to follow it to Bad Ischl. Some roadworks were digging up both the road and the cycleway just outside Strobl, but as seems to be acceptable everywhere in the German-speaking world, I simply wheeled the bike through it. A workman even conscientiously lowered a rope that was baring off the end of the works for me so I could get past. I thanked him, crossed under the highway, and was soon on lovely quiet backroad roads.

After passing the small village of Ramsau, I crossed the highway again and elected to continue on the increasingly hilly backroads rather than a flatter branch of the cycleway that followed the main road. The hills were rolling rather than a continuous climb, and I was tackling fine despite somewhat tired legs. A big peloton of day riders, evidently headed out from Bad Ischl, passed me going the other way, pumping up the hill towards me. Typically I greet every rider that passes me, but there were several dozen of them, so I had to content myself with nods every 10 seconds or so as another group passed me by.

Crossing under the highway on the cycleway, with rather sweet municipal graffiti
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Tollgate gasthof on the main road
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I think this may take the prize for the tiniest horse I saw. Even smaller than back in Salzburgerland? I think so! For reference, that fence is roughly half my height (so, less than a metre). A standard horse could probably just step right over it.
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Gorgeous conditions and scenery
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This is more like it! Just a perfect road and conditions. No traffic to speak of at all.
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Good turret - house just coming into Bad Ischl
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I made good time to Bad Ischl, quickly spinning down to meet a broad riverside promenade beside the Traun, bustling with people. I had thought Strobl had been a classy spa town, Bad Ischl had an even greater air of  genteel prosperity. Amazingly, it was also the biggest town I'd set foot in since arriving in Austria, so I was a little disconcerted by the sudden crowds of tourists and felt a little out of place.

Nevertheless, I could appreciate it's a really attractive place. I had resolved to find a decent bakery to try to pick up some lunch or something sweet, and spent a good 20 minutes wheeling my bike around the compact centre - it was too busy to ride - until I found one. There I bought a couple of "Ischlers", very rich chocolate brownies (for something like €3 each - this was clearly not the cheapest place in Austria).

The riverside promenade and market beside the river in Bad Ischl. It's a pretty place and clearly a well-established spa town.
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The main street in Bad Ischl, and also a junction for the bridge over the Traun. I hadn't seen much traffic in a few days, so dithered for far too long before crossing here (there were *some* cars when I wasn't taking pictures).
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Cafés, grand buildings and mountains behind in Bad Ischl
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More unusual buildings climbing out of Bad Ischl on the east side of the Traun
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I was now thoroughly set on trying out the climbing route, so I crossed the Traun and pulled my way up the slope on the east side of the town. After some tricky wayfinding through suburban streets, several of which were being resurfaced at the same time and being served by elaborate diversions, I picked up the quiet dead-end road that followed the Rettenbach stream further to the east and into the Totesgebirge behind the town.

The tarmac ended, but the surface was hard-packed gravel and easy going, with a reasonable gradient. We left the town behind, and started to follow quite an impressive gorge, with the river somewhere down below. It felt quite wild, but soon after setting off I started to see (and get passed by) cyclists of all different sorts: semi-road bikes, ebikes, and children's trailors - and started to relax. Clearly this was a well-established cycle route, just as the map promised.

Entering the dead-end dirt road that would take me up into mountains again
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I stopped by this shed to eat some chocolate. The bat stencil really does indicate a bat box. I think the jellyfish has been added as a joke.
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Continuing to climb up the gorge through thick, deciduous woodlands. I was passed by just a couple of cars in the 7km stretch.
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After less than 10km, the gorge opened out into a really stunning high Alpine meadow. This was the end of the line for cars, but there were clear signs indicating the way onwards to the (strangely-named) Blaa Alm, a guesthouse that marked the top of the climb of the marked route by the Loser, as well as various other mountain huts.

There were quite a few people about, and a number of them on bikes - and I was (rather prematurely) congratulating myself on picking such a nice and locally popular route. But wheeling across the relative flat on the meadow, on largely empty gravel roads in the bowl of the surrounding, verdant hills it was a pretty stunning prospect.

Opening out into the high alpine meadow, surrounded by the bowl of hills and the Loser in the distance
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End of the road for cars. The other signs indicate that the Ischlerhutte mountain refuge is open, as is the way to Blaa Alm and Bad Aussee.
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Some slightly bigger horses. I couldn't get over how sunny it was!
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Beautiful. Alpine pastures by the Rettenbach.
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Great wooden house. Our route is the clear gravel drive to the left, with some walkers in the distance.
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After reaching the edge of the meadow, the surface deteriorated a little, and I knew it would get steeper from here - so I braced myself for a more effortful ride. I was following a few other cyclists - a couple on e-Bikes and chap on a mountain bike - and as we turned the corner, I saw them rapidly slow down. This first climb was brief, but very steep - the elevation meter reckons on 19%, though only for a couple of hundred metres. Knowing that 16% is usually the point where even the granny gear becomes unsustainable for me on the loaded Shift, and considering the looseness of the surface, I was amazed to find that I could keep in the saddle - slowly, jerkily, and veering around the track. I passed the guy on his own, now understandably pushing, and the e-Bikes, which really seemed to struggle with such a gradient.

In fact, I was on such a role that when the other bikes turned off, I just kept going. It wasn't so bad now, though still over 10%, but I prided myself on keeping a steady 5kph progress up the slope. About 600m up, a septagenarian guy on a remarkable souped-up electric mountain bike (only in Austria!) came flying down the slope towards me. After greeting him he was very keen to tell me something in German, and despite me making it clear I didn't understand, kept at it - and I was glad he did, because it turns out I was going completely the wrong way. Climbing completely the wrong way, fully loaded, up towards the Ischlerhutte. He must have thought I was mad.

Still, I had only lost 10 minutes, and I was really pleased with my climbing performance on the bad surface - surely if I could manage this, the official way would be fine? Dropping rapidly back down the metres I had so slowly climbed, I found the turn and the reasonably well-maintained route that continued to follow the stream. The route clearly had been designed with cyclists in mind - while loose and steep in places, it also included tunnels blasted out of the rock. More literally, there were a surprising number of other bikes, the majority of them e-bikes and a number being ridden uphill. Unsurprisingly, no other loaded bikes though.

Climbing 10% gradients up the wrong way, on what transpired to be a track leading to a high mountain hut, the Ischlerhutte. Fortunately I was pointed in the right direction before I got too far.
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This is the formal route, running alongside the now quite little stream
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In places tunnels have been cut through the rock for better cycle access
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But it wasn't all a picnic - there were still extensive stretches which were steep and loose-surfaced
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In this way I climbed to about 700m. But I knew I wasn't out the woods yet - I was aware the trail topped out at around 900m, and there was precious little distance to go to climb those last two hundred metres.

And so it proved. An extensive slog of 15% of so carried me in the shade past high rock walls alongside the stream to gain most of the height. The surface was quite loose now, and I had a few moments where I wobbled and skidded at my extreme low speed - there were now no fellow cyclists around, or indeed anyone at all, and I got the sense that I'd continued beyond the point daytrippers would consider sensible.

But I got the Shift up without mishap or too much trouble, and saw that the route was bending around ahead to the right, to approach the big hairpin which was the last stretch and climb before Blaa Alm. The hairpin that was marked with the double chevron on my map.

At the base of the hairpin I saw cyclists again - in fact a whole group on e-bikes (some panniers!). They had stopped because this last push was really steep - certainly 20% this time. I had pretty much choked on 18% on good tarmac over Shauinsland, so I was dubious about my chances.

I got straight into the granny, and to my astonishment found myself gaining on the e-bikes, whose motors clearly weren't designed for these kind of slopes or this sort of dodgy surface. I exchanged cries of camaraderie as I passed the e-bike riders - both me and they were weaving rather unsteadily around the track, the situation wasn't helped by mountain bikes coming downhill very fast and there was a dodgy moment when we almost had the lowest-speed collision possible, but we kept it under control.

One e-biker lost momentum - this was fatal, as there was no way to get back on, and he had to push. Eventually I lost purchase, and had to push a few dozen metres myself, before getting back on to finish the climb.

Sweating and wobbling, I rounded the corner and finished pulling the Shift up the steepest 150m I'd ever ridden up. It continued uphill, but at this point 10% felt like an easy cruise. A whole gang of e-bikers were waiting at the top, and cheered me as I went passed with cries of "Bravo!". I grinned at them and got a few words of German out while pointing to the slope: "Stark ... Schaden!" and continued on.

The killer steep section, at 20%, with the stalled e-bikers. Definitely the steepest thing I've done on the loaded bike.
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After this last push it almost felt like a cruise to the top of the trail and the Blaa Alm gasthof. As I reached the top, the landscape opened out to reveal another lovely high-Alpine meadow, filled with the sound of dimly clanging cowbells. I was at 900m now - 400 metres climbed from the first meadow - it never ceased to surprise me how there could be these little idylls perched high up in the mountains, which you would never suspect were up there amongst the peaks and pines.

Alpine cows everywhere! There was a little more climbing, but it didn't really register after that last push
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I started to see more signs for Blaa Alm, and knew I was going the right way. It does have a very strange name though, sounds quite un-Austrian...
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At the top, it all opened out to lush Alpine meadows
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Highland cattle in the pastures
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This, on the otherhand, is quite Austrian
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A close look reveals the ubiquitous cowbells to be quite ornate. I wondered how old they were, and how many cows had worn this one.
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Blaa Alm was really quite a huge establishment, and bustlingly busy on this sunny lunchtime. An impressive number of bikes - including some e-bike charging on the stations set up - were parked in front on an extensive bike rack - it really was geared up for cyclists.

After my exertions it all seemed to me like a mirage in the desert, and since it was lunchtime and that was my climbing done for the day, there was no reason at all not to stop for lunch. There was even the perfect small outside table in the shade waiting for me, so I parked up the Shift - not even bothering to lock it at this stage - and claimed it. 

A wheat beer and a really nice meal of pancakes later, and I felt wonderfully happy and relaxed. There's a special pleasure in knowing you've already covered the hard part of a ride, got to somewhere really picturesque, and have plenty of time to work out the rest of the day.

Some squinting at the map and GPS indicated that I'd just crossed out of Upper Austria and into my fourth state, Styria. My route was straightforward from here - I'd descend into Bad Aussee beneath the Loser, hit up an ATM to get some cash (I'd last picked some up in the first Zell), and then continue along the Salkammergut Radweg towards Bad Mittendorf. The way things were going, I'd be there by mid-afternoon, giving me plenty of options for accommodation.

Welcome to Blaa Alm! For some reason when I saw this I thought it was a badger, even though it's *clearly not*
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Well-earned lunchtime meal at Blaa Alm. A good place this, and I took it easy with some reading and studying the map while avoiding the midday sun.
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Rather wobblily re-mounting the Shift, I continued on the trail, which fortunately almost immediately began to descend and become a surfaced, public road. At first I descended quickly through dense forest, but then landscape opened out and I got great views for the first time of the high, distinctive limestone peak of the Loser. It really was dramatic and made a picture-postcard backdrop to the chalets and wooden hotels that are dotted up the slope.

Aside from the frequent stops to attempt to capture the photogenic scenery, I made quick progress to Bad Aussee, only getting a little lost in the small town of Altaussee. The last part of the descent was very steep indeed, 20% or so and I kept a tight reign on the Shift. The brakes were still doing OK, but I knew they'd had much more wear over a week than they'd had in a year of southern England, so I needed to keep an eye on them.

What's this? It's a climbing adventure playground
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The Loser and ski-lift. As I always say, you know when you see ski-lifts that things are serious.
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The distinctive limestone battlements of the Loser, high above the road
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Look at that massive Loser!
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It was still quiet and a really nice road, and I was glad to have a better surface for descending
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Impressive wooden hotel, with mountainscape backdrop
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Kathleen JonesThat crane looks like it's attached to the mountain. That gave things a very weird perspective. I eventually figured it out though.
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3 months ago
The cycleway followed a series of back roads from Altaussee down, which are very attractive in their own right but which I probably didn't give due attention to, flying down them at some speed
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What a location!
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Bet it's bloody cold in winter mind...
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In the distance to the East, I could see very high mountains indeed, their peaks well-covered in snow
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It's summer down here, but I bet it's pretty wintry conditions up there
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Very steep descent just before Bad Aussee. It didn't want to come a cropper here at the final hurdle, so took it very slowly done here.
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Minor streets named after some famous Austrians
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Looking down over Bad Aussee. Technically, this is a terrible photo by just about every standard of composition. I still kind of like it though.
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Bad Aussee, like Bad Ischl, is a reasonably substantial place, was fairly busy, and follows a twisting medieval street plan down which was funnelled most of the town's traffic. This combined to mean that the one task I intended to perform - find a bankomat and get some more euros - took me about twenty minutes, as I rode up and down the main street, continually worrying about the traffic and failing to see any ATMs. Eventually after deciding that the main bank didn't have any, I returned there and realised that (of course) they were just inside entrance. 

Now I was solvent again, there followed another slightly tricky bit of navigation to pick up the main Salzkammergut cycleway out of town and to the East. This seemed to involve following a cycleway that I had no idea existed - the Anschluss Radweg - through a slightly Escher-like multiple levels of suburbs of Bad Aussee, finally emerging back at the Traun. I have a feeling my lunchtime beer might have hindered me in my navigation at this point.

Amazing old wooden house coming into Bad Aussee
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Murals on municipal buildings, Bad Aussee
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Main church and intriguingly faded fresco
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Where I finally found an ATM, on the main street in Bad Aussee (the clue is that green and blue "B" for bankomat hanging above). The reason I surreptitiously took this photo, though, was to capture the lady in traditional dress buying a parking ticket. There seemed to be an inordinate number of lederhosen-ed and costumed people about, and I got the impression that this was genuine formal wear for them, as there were far more than just those putting on a show for tourists.
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Once I'd finally figured out the connecting cycleway, picking up the easy-going Salzkammergut Radweg to head to the east again. The weather continues to be perfect, of course.
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It was now early afternoon, conditions were still great - sunny and warm, and just a minor cross wind blowing from the north - and I had what seemed to be a fairly easy cruise on an off-road route.

To my surprise, then, I found myself flagging quite significantly on this next stretch. It was gravelly, empty - I saw nobody else - and at time a little bleak. At the time I blamed the big lunch for my lethargy, but actually looking at the GPS trace I can see this is a classic example of psychology at work: for what I expected to be a simple riverside cruise is actually nothing of the sort, but a protracted climb all the way back up to 850m, through what is essentially a broad pass by the Grimming above the Enns valley beyond.  Though it really wasn't that bad on the ground, I wasn't prepared for another uphill slog, and so took this stretch quite slowly.

After mulling peeling off to cycle through some woodlands - probably more picturesque, but not less effort - and crossing and re-crossing the stream (now running towards me and back towards Bad Aussee and the Traun), eventually I emerged out onto tarmacked backroads, and the going became easier. The cycleway still had a habit of weaving back and forth, sometimes adding a kilometre or two to the route, to avoid even a short section on the main road, so it wasn't exactly direct, but I found myself picking up speed again.

Finally I saw Bad Mittendorf below me, in the shadow of the mighty Grimming - a 2,350m outcrop, apparently standing alone at the confluence of two valleys. I was a bit concerned because from up here it look tiny, and I was worried it really wouldn't have any services.

A temporary bridge crossing the stream for the Radweg. I wonder what proportion of cyclists actually obey the sign and dismount? (I know I didn't!)
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A lot of the cycleway was really loose gravel, climbing steadily uphill and crammed into the narrow valley with the rail line and main road. I started to flag a bit on this stretch.
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Finally opening up and back on better surface, I rallied and picked up speed
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Just a perfect depiction of the conditions, even down to the little wind sock indicating the cross-wind from the North
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I find it strange that even in the middle of tiny villages, there'll be road signs to the state capitals. Graz is appearing as well as Salzburg now we're in Styria.
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Looking down at my destination, Bad Mittendorf, it really did look too tiny to have a campsite/shop/restaurant, especially when compared to the mighty Grimming mountain behind.
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But I needn't have worried. Coming into Bad Mittendorf, I passed a Donkey sanctuary, and even this was open (with a cafe). In a few hundred metres I stopped short, as there was the entrance to the campsite. Easy as that!

It was still only just gone 3pm, so before I went in I sat a while on a park bench and contemplated my options. It didn't take long: I could of course press on, I'd only covered 60km and there was plenty of day left - but there were no obvious campsites for some distance, and this looked like a really nice place. Hesitation over, in I went.

The very new and bright reception and bathroom block was open, but there was nobody around - hardly unexpected, as I was there at an oddly early hour. Since there were plenty of campers set up, and plenty of space, I figured I'd get settled in. I hung the tent up in the sun - despite the dry night it often could use a dry following a night's condensation - and went to get showered.

As I emerged, a friendly Dutch chap tending to the ground waved to me, and turned out to be the proprietor. With the apparently unlimited helpfulness it seems the Dutch have, he got me set up on a raised, lightly grassed, perfectly flat area by the children's play area. "It gets wet down there otherwise - don't worry, we have no children!" he told me.

The donkey sanctuary just outside Bad M. I like their metal standard, but feel it might be a bit more dynamic than the average donkey.
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Drying out the tent in the sun and taking it easy in the campground
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Camping Grimmingsicht in Bad Mittendorf. Hands down the best campsite of the trip.
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Setting up the tent on the raised area was perfect. Also pictured is a hat that I'd found by the side of the road a few days earlier. I find a baseball cap *every time* I go touring, and I've now become ridiculously superstitious about picking them up. Indeed, if I don't find one I start to get worried. I now have four hats in my garage at home, collected on each of my four main tours.
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I had plenty of time to think about food - and think I did, as my calorie deficit was now quite large and I was pretty much hungry all the time. I decided that one restaurant meal was enough in a day, and I'd pick up a load of food at a supermarket - I'd seen a "Billa" with its distinctive sign on the outskirts of town - and have something of a barbeque.

If I get hold of grilling cheese or halloumi, buns and salad then I can sort-of grill the cheese on my frying pan and make decent burgers. It turned out the Billa was actually just a five minute ride up the backroad, and I had a great time wondering the aisles and filling my basket with way too much food. As is the rule in the Germanic world, the beer was just ludicrously cheap (and high quality) - for €5 I could have had six bottles of wheat beer, but obviously I couldn't/shouldn't carry/drink that, so buying the nicest stuff managed to spend about €3.50 on it in total. On the downside, no bags again so I fairly staggered out the shop with my groceries cradled in my arms, to be dumped straight in a pannier bag.

Amongst the many excellent amenities in the campsite was a fridge and freezer that anyone could use, so I transferred all my meltable food into one (the cheese and chocolate I'd been carrying had suffered a bit on this first really hot day) and put the beer into the freezer to chill it down nice and quick.

I sat in the sunset, listened to podcasts, read and played with the campsite cat ("please do not feed any of the cats around the campsite" a sign by reception said - I wondered how many there were) - and then ate and ate. A simple evening, but pretty much perfect. 

Once the sun had gone down, it got cool quite quickly. I sat out, sipping a drink, before turning in and pretty much passing out, safe in the knowledge that there would be no rain for tonight - and it looked like the next few days as well.

Even the supermarket was aesthetically pleasing this evening
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The countryside and backroad outside the campsite
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Camp cat. I didn't feed him.
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Pre-dinner snack. I really was hungry.
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Sun going down over the campsite
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This makes for a really quite satisfying meal. Next time I won't add sun-tan lotion though.
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Dusk at the end of a good day
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Today's ride: 59 km (37 miles)
Total: 475 km (295 miles)

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Kathleen JonesI had just been wondering "I wonder if he'll go through Bad Mitterndorf" but hadn't actually gotten around to looking up where it was located. I spent Christmas 1980 in Bad Mitterndorf at the start of 18 months of traveling around Europe and Africa. I was there with my brother and his wife, who lived in Heidelberg, and my sister, who was attending Reading U for the year. We had a lot of fun there; going to the bad was an everyday activity. I forgot about Grimming and how it dominated the valley. Great to see it again. You earned that meal at the campground. Spectacular day.
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3 months ago
Jon AylingTo Kathleen JonesThanks Kathleen - that's amazing, I guess the valleys tend to funnel people to the same destinations, but it's still pretty remarkable as it's not like Bad Mittendorf is that big a place. Yeah, it's a really dramatic location and seems to be a lovely town - in some ways I wish I could have got to know it a bit better. I was lucky to have good conditions and needed to make the most of them!
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3 months ago
Kathleen JonesTo Kathleen JonesIt was actually 1985 that I was in Bad Mitterndorf. A minor point but I'd rather it was only 35 years ago and not 40. Which I can't believe it was that long ago anyway. Your photos brought it all back so easily.
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3 weeks ago
Jon AylingTo Kathleen Jones1985 - good year! Glad it's recognisable from the photos - I guess it probably hasn't changed enormously!
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3 weeks ago