I reluctanly peddled away from the base of the the Grintovec mountain in Slovenia with a hangover and tired legs... not so much from the 6000 vertical foot ascent of the mountain, as the 6000 foot descent of the mountain. This is not uncommon for many of the mountain races here in Europe. Finish the race having given it your all. Turn around and walk down.
Biking the short distance through northern Slovenia towards Italy, I at first encountered another touring cyclist who measured two heads taller than me and about 100 pounds heavier. Max and I rode together for few hours before I left him in the dust on the ascent up and over a bridge. Only a short while later on the same day a different Slovenian cyclist rode up beside me and began talking. We rode and talked for the next couple hours. Roman was a policeman for several years before switching over to being a fireman. He bought me a beer in the next town and even offered to watch my bike while went into the market for some grocery shopping (pringles and beer). I camped that night in the Triglav National Park at the base of Slovenia's tallest mountain.
It took two more days of hard biking over one more Slovenian pass and several Italian passes to finally reach Telfes, Austria by Thursday evening. I worried up until the morning of the race on Sunday whether my legs would "switch over" from biking to running. Walking up the stairs they felt heavy and tired. Waking in the morning they were sore and every once in a while a muscle would cinch up without any warning.
The race: Up one of the many ski hills in the Stubai Valley just outside of Insbruck - 1300m/4000ft ascent over 10.5k/6.5miles. The profile didn't bother me so much as the start list. In Europe there is a "Grand Prix" for mountaia running - about five races over the course of the summer in Austria, Germany, Slovenia and sometimes Italy and Switzerland. Many of the best mountain runners show up to race, accumulate points and by the end of the season the person with the most amount of points wins the overall grand prix. The men's field included Jonothan Wyatt (#1 NZ), Marco Gaiardo (#2 Italy), Marcus Kroell (#1 Austria), Robert Krupicka (#1 Czeck Republic), and other top runners from France, Poland, Slovenia and Switzerland.
The race started off somewhat fast as the lead group (which I was hardly a part of) weaved through Metropolitan Telfes (pop. 570), into the wheat fields and to the base of the mountain. At the third kilometer I was in 11th place. My legs "switched over" shortly after and as we left the trees and moved into the meadow that marks the halfway point I found myself in second place, ten meters ahead of Marco Gaiardo. We exchanged places several times over the second half of the race. Approaching the final 50 meters of the race he had a good lead on me which I was nearly successful in closing but ended up losing by less than a second and settled for third place.
They served Kaiserschmarrn which is Germana for chopped pancakes with fruit preserves (apple sause). I had three servings. Then walked down. I traveled by train from Insbruck to Bolzano where I stayed with a friend who collects the following: barbed wire, letters (as in A, C, G etc.), bottles, mountaineering books, creamer tops, alpine club identification cards, beer mugs, climbing helmets, ice axes, pins and other things.
I'm at a different friend's house now about 80k away at the base of some of Italy's highest mountains. His beautiful house is converted from an old (in Europe, old is very old) hay barn - doors from the 1600's, a stove from the early 1800's etc. Tomorrow I leave for Bergamo where I will stay with an Italian family that I met last year. The father bailed out the US team for a Sky Relay race by running the marathon portion for us. And on Thursday I will travel to Norway for two races over the next couple of weeks. These races start deep in the fjords - one actually at sea level and finish high up on the nearby mountain tops.
The biking is keeping me very fit and allowing me to consume several thousands of calories per day. I'm regularly eating a half quart of yogurt in the morning mixed together with musli as part of my complete breakfast.
Thank you for the posts and e-mails. I appologize if I am not keeping in touch with people all that well. It is very difficult for me to get to a computer here.