Our ill fortune holds. We wake to a dense fog and cold blown winds outside our hotel room. The temperature is about 50 and conditions are fluctuating between poor and miserable. After breakfast, we load into the van to ride back down the mountain to the Danube river. As we sit huddled together for warmth, waiting for the Italians to join us, the rain begins to pound on the metal roof overhead. The owner of the hotel tells us that “they” (whomever they might be) were discouraging bicyclists today, as the conditions were supposed to worsen. Terrific. Mary has secured a copy of the ferry schedule, and we realize that we can take a two hour cruise that will cut around 35 kilometers off the day's journey. At this point, the decision seems self-evident.
But not for everyone. Our Italian comrades have a long, impassioned debate about whether to take the ferry or look for a bus. After a lengthy, passionate conversation, they also bow to the inevitable. We will all take the water route. Unfortunately, when we reach the river, the ferry is nowhere to be seen. We huddle under the sheltering side of a building for an hour, waiting for the ferry. Cold August rain sluices down, washing the dust off the sun-poached river valley.
Our ferry arrives and we push our bikes through the dining area, storing them on the afterdeck in the rain. The ferry does not seem as plush as the cruise ships I admired yesterday, but it places us out of the precipitation. The engines engage, the propellers begin to churn the gray-green water, and in minutes we are out in the center of the river, carried downstream like a wood chip on the strong current of the rain swollen torrent.
At Schlogen, the next stop, a vast herd of bicyclists comes aboard – there must have been 75 or 80. This distresses the deckhands. The ferry is already running 15 minutes late, due, no doubt, to all of the bicyclists they have been loading. The afterdeck now looks like a typical Chinese city street, every square foot covered with spoked wheels. The swelling number of cyclists who are abandoning the day's trip is a growing comfort; our decision to abandon the day's ride is ratified by the large number of seasoned cyclists who are doing the same thing. We're not weak, we're savvy.
We pass through a lock upriver from Aschach, and then it is time for us to disembark. Only a handful of cyclists unload at Aschach; at least fifty more cyclists wait on the dock to join the ship. These are the riders who are a day ahead of us on the trip, probably bound for Linz, tomorrow's destination.
The rain has not slackened. We pedal away from Aschach on a broad cycle path that parallels the river. When we reach Brandstaff, we turn south. Our destination for the evening is Eferding, a small farming town about three kilometers from the Danube. We follow thin roads through truck farms, chock full of cabbages, carrots, potatoes and other vegetative delights. Eventually we arrive at Eferding and after a few minutes, find our hotel.
Checked in, we look for a place to eat a delayed lunch (it is now 2:00). They roll up the streets on Saturday afternoons; most of the businesses in the main square are closed. We find a small cafe and make educated guesses off the German menu. I follow my practice of picking a random entree when I cannot work out what to have. This time I decided to try Schlemmerweckerl because it had an interesting name. The ladies order variants of ham and cheese baguettes. When my dish comes, it turns out to be a layered salad on bread. Two slices of thick crusty bread serve as the base, followed by layers of cheese, ham, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, hard boiled eggs, and finally, cherry tomatoes stuffed with some kind of salad dressing. Interesting and tasty.
After our late lunch, with rain still falling, we retreat to the shelter of our hotel room. We drape our wet clothes and sodden shoes over the steam radiators, which, unexpectedly, are still turned on in the middle of August. Perhaps the locals know something about the local climate that we should have known.
Evening arrives. We walk through the shuttered town. There isn't much happening in Eferding on a Saturday night. Miraculously there are breaks in the cloudy sky; blue sky peeps through the odd vent in the dull gray. Dare we hope for a change in the weather? We find another Chinese restaurant but after our bad experience in Scharding, Mary is reluctant to cast her bread upon these waters again. The girls persuade her, and in we troupe. As it turns out, the food is marvelous, the staff is genial, and the place is packed – always a good sign. I don't normally offer free endorsements, but if you ever find yourself in Eferding and want an excellent place to eat, I strongly recommend the Golden Sterner Chinese Restaurant. It would even be worth a ride on the bus if you were stuck in Scharding...
After dinner we take a stroll through town, down the street to St Hippolytus church. I see an unusual glow emanating from the bell tower which I do not recognize at first. Then it hits me: it's the red glow of the setting sun. The sun is out! Minutes later it vanishes over the horizon in a burst of gold flame. Is there hope for tomorrow?