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Homeboy: An Austrian Epic
Our Homeboy in Germany has resurfaced after an intense period of training, and Christmas, – with tales of an epic ride to the top of a snow covered mountain in Austria… and the secret to cycling success!

Well, it has already been a wild and great few weeks since my last little update. In the past 3-4 weeks, I finished up a brutal three weeks of training (followed by my deserved rest week), did my first Presentation as a German University Student, and most importantly, for the last 8 days I've been in Austria - in the town of Feffernitz.

My last three weeks of training were quite sufficiently tough, lots and lots of intervals and lots and lots of hours. I can definitely say that I am very well prepared for the coming three weeks of training camps. That is definitely a reassuring feeling, especially considering the fact that I've never really done a true training camp before. During the past three weeks I also started my first ever diet. Thanks to a little education from Frank Overton (FasCat Coaching), and my coach, Matt Russ, I finally realized the benefits of less weight. It's absolutely brilliant. All I have to do is lose about 10 pounds and voila, I will be faster.

I am doing myself some huge favors by dropping from a very skinny 6'2" and 155 pounds to an extra skinny 145 pounds or so. The performance benefits will be huge, hell, this is like legal doping or something. The best part is that I've already lost 5 pounds. Well, that was before my time in Austria...

The top of the world in Austria.

Kaernten = Eden
I have done a fair bit of travelling in my scant 20 years of existence, and I have come to the conclusion that there is no place better than Kaernten. It is my dream land, it has everything that I love. Kaernten is situated in the southern part of Austria, it nestles up against Slovenia and Italy and is very mountainous, but also blessed with an excellent climate. My family lives in a tiny little town between Spittal and Villach, called Feffernitz. The town is almost on the Drau (Drava) River, and is a few kilometers from the borders of Slovenia and Italy (directly over the mountains). It is absolutely gorgeous. Huge snow-capped mountains rise from each side of the valley, and continue forever it seems -- mountains everywhere, dramatic, jagged peaks, which very often seem to have very steep, little roads which twist narrowly and angrily ever higher. Call me odd, but there is just something about the awe inspiring slopes of the Austrian Alps that makes me feel like an enchanted child in Disneyland. Looking out the train window right now, I still can't help gawking. They are just so beautiful. I will dream about these mountains for the rest of my life, but I will be back before this year is out, that is my solemn oath.

Eden = Family Tree
However! Pretty mountains, spectacular mountain roads, beautiful weather, and bucolic lakes, streams, rivers, and fields, does not an Eden make. Nope, my little dream land has much more than that, it has family as well. Don't get me wrong, I love my most immediate family with all of my heart, but... The people in Feffernitz, oh man, it's just unbelievable. I have never met such a happy, jovial, warm, welcoming group of people in my life. The family is spread out between four houses. The two parents, Franz and Resi, had three children, all who grew up and now live 50 meters or so away in their own little houses, they all have their own children now, and thus there is quite the family present. It's so neat though, maybe because my relatives have always lived so far away from my family, I don't know, but there is most definitely something to be said for the life they lead.

It seems like everyday someone else makes the main meal and everyone piles in and eats a happy meal together. Food? Oh no, I shouldn't even try and dive into this wonderful segment of life. The food, oh wow, the food. I now have to wonder how it is possible for me to live like I do as a normal university student...on a diet. I have seen the light, how will I ever go back to packaged pasta dishes and canned tuna? That's a problem for the future though, more on life in Feffernitz... After a beautiful meal, that only the stomach can describe, the family might get together and play cards, or watch a World Cup ski race on TV, or just talk and laugh. Four different houses separate them, but it feels like one great big house. I could literally write a book about my experiences there, I think you could ask anyone that has ever felt the warmth of these people, they'll all tell you the same -- it's something special.

It's not just my family that is friendly and warm, everyone is like that here. I remember feeling so bitter a few weeks ago while riding my bike in Germany. I would wave to at least 10 other riders a day, and MAYBE one would wave back, or applaud my frantic greeting efforts with a little nod. I can't imagine not saying hello or waving to a co-conspirator in training, it's just the way it is, it's a commandment of the road.

In Austria though, oh man, cyclists not only wave, they verbally greet you, pedestrians wave and verbally greet. People in cars even wave hello! What a difference! Just a week ago I was being threatened by a motorist, and this week I'm being cheered on by a guy who rolled down his window and says hup, hup, hup! During my rest week here in Austria, I rode about 15 hours, and was greeted by no less than 50 people, probably more.

On my first real day in Kaernten, I was scheduled for 4 hours of endurance work and then 50 minutes of tempo. What a perfect excuse to get out and ride my bike in perfect weather. I plotted out a course on my trusty map of Germany, Austria, and Italy -- a most excellent route that would take me over four major climbs, and hopefully around 5 hours of riding... Well, the first three hours went as planned, the weather was brilliant, the mountains were unbelievable, and the climbs were very steep (yet another plus of the area, some of the steepest climbs in the world), so all was well.

After riding in the cold shadows of a narrow mountain valley I turned left onto the Gerlitzen Gipfelstrasse. A 15 km, 12% climb that would take me to about 2000 meters from a beginning elevation of around 500 m (I think). Ahhh, and this is where hindsight is 20/20, for looking back now, a heavily salted and snowy road in the first 100 meters of a 15 km climb doesn't bode well for the coming kilometers. I wasn't to be denied though, this was going to be a great climb, so what if there was a little snow on the road, so what if I couldn't get out of my saddle because of the ice, so what if there was snow just loading up on my frame, my cassette, my worries! I was going to ride to the peak and then take the other, more travelled road, down the other side and then home. Except somewhere during my planning, I neglected to note that the peak road, did NOT connect to the other road like I thought it did. So I climbed ever higher and higher, and the road got snowier and snowier, until, I honestly could not ride my bike anymore, it was all snow.

I then started the cyclocross portion of my ride, and the last kilometer I walked to the top, but found to my most unfortunate amusement that there was nothing there, no intersection of roads, no other road. Upon realizing how incredibly bad of a position I was in (I'll keep the language clean here), I luckily met a friendly family who were notably SLEDDING. They directed me to a small hiking trail which would the lead me to a road, which would take me home. Ah, but to get to this lovely little trail, I first had to descend about 2 km -- 2 km of >15% snowed in road. Ever tried descending in a half foot of snow on a very steep road? It's quite entertaining. One foot clipped in, the right foot frantically trying to dig in and slow this locomotive down, as my brakes were most useless.

After a 2 km bike descent, it was on to a 2 km run through the jungle, and finally to a real road. If it wasn't 4:00 pm and rapidly getting darker by the second, I would have laughed my way down the ski/bike descent, the quasi-cross section, and the real descent, but the sky was getting most dark, and thus my descent was somewhat grim. Wow, that was a cold 12 km descent. Again though, STILL not finished, I STILL had 30 km of flat valley roads to get home, and I had already been on my bike for almost six hours. Here is where I finally realized that I am now in very fair condition. After six hours of mountain riding, I did the last 30 km in 45 minutes, and stumbled into the warm enclave of Feffernitz in pitch black darkness.

That was quite the ride, I've done epic rides before, everyone has. This ride definitely made my previous "epic" rides look rather pedestrian though. I am very glad that I got out of this one in good condition. I will wholeheartedly admit that I was not very clever in my decision to pursue glory atop Gerlitzen. So it goes I guess.

At the bare minimum, I got a great day's worth of training in, some great pictures, and most of all, I've got an excellent story to tell from now on. As I mentioned before, I'm on the train, heading north back to Heidelberg. I will hopefully get home tonight around 8, get a good night's sleep, and then tomorrow I'm back on the train, but this time to Stuttgart for a four day training camp on the track. After that, a day of rest in Heidelberg, and then back to Stuttgart to leave for the 10 day training camp in Mallorca. It should be a very busy two weeks, but I am absolutely frothing at the mouth to get out on the road and prove myself and get stronger and stronger. The season is a scant few months away!

Feel free to email me with any comments or questions, I'd love to hear from you.

If you are interested in seeing some more of my pictures, go here:

Gratuitous Sponsor Plug
Thanks to:
Golder Associates, my newest sponsor. Golder Associates is a premier global group of consulting companies, specializing in ground engineering and environmental science, take a look at their website, at , for all of your engineering needs.
Matt Russ, my most excellent coach, if you're ever looking for an excellent coach in the Atlanta area or around the world, send him an, or take a look at the website:


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