Vienna doesn't get the riot of fall color that either of us grew up with in the midwestern US. Only occasional bursts of dullish red and orange vary the tired yellow of the trees, fool's gold indeed, drained even further by the leaden skies. The air contains a warning edge that spurs me toward my bike; how many more Sundays before snow makes a ride impossible? I pump up my tires and pedal, legs and heart working against a variety of dragging weights.
North along the Donaukanal, I'm not paying attention to much. Bridge. Subway station. Riotously colored utility plant, yellow tree, yellow tree, yellow tree. Familiarity is turning this part of the ride invisible. I start to ascend a ramp that will take me across two bridges to the long island in the middle of the Danube. Over the water now, the wind is colder, bracing, and I lean into it gratefully, happy to push into something that pushes back. Lean men in tight spandex rush past me on their light bikes, and I pass a couple jogging and talking leisurely together, running as though the sun is shining. Cars drive past us on the long bridge.
On the island, the mist starts to organize itself toward rain, and no one's around on the long paths but long-haul bikers and runners plus the occasional practicing skier with poles and rollerskates. We smile at each other in an uncharacteristic way, a small congratulations for freezing together. The sky seems content to fall down on us slowly, one small drop at a time. Yellow tree, yellow tree, yellow tree. But then, a startling long canopy of yellow, burnished, lovely. From the heights of mid-island hills are expansive views of the admirable buildings of several centuries across the river on either side, big spired churches and hotels like ships and structures of glass reflecting the water and vice versa. The wind blows sharply, and the smell of the dying leaves struck by the new cold rain surprises me. The wind brings water from my eyes, my eyes take in the majestic city, my legs work at the bike pedals, my heart works.
Up another ramp onto another bridge, over the wide Donau. A barge of trash that says ГABAHA passes a barge of containers. The wind picks up, fighting the roar of traffic from the other side of the barrier. There is a collection of tiny houses and gardens at the west end of the bridge. A woman is covering some plants with a tarp, a man is bent over the open hood of a car. I steer into the Prater, right into some kind of race, people with numbers pinned to their raingear walking and running down the Hauptallee, rock music and laughter and tents and tables with water. There are suddenly families again, intrepid kids on tiny bikes, old people moving at a stately pace or jogging trim and clear-eyed, groups of parents and children or friends taking up leisurely amounts of space, insanely well-behaved Austrian dogs. Yellow tree, yellow tree, yellow tree.
The bridge back over the canal leads to some of the third district's prettiest houses, ornate balconies and turrets above a path suddenly ruddy. Die letzten roten Astern trag herbei. By the Urania, observe how the rain means business. I opt to stay by the water , under the bridges. My big and big-tired bike is good over the occasional cobblestones. My legs shiver under my wet sweatpants. The hydrofoils to Bratislava wait in vain for customers, and the sullen white-shirted waiters are smoking in the rain, scowling in unzipped jackets with the hoods pulled up. LESS! screams the graffiti on the Leopoldstadt side, big pictures of bloated red-white-blue zombies and an exploding globe. The Sunday morning exercisers in midtown wear Saturday night heavily as they pant past me, earbuds in place.
Friedensbrücke, last ramp, Glasergasse. I lock my bike in the rain and step into my warm house on slightly rubbery legs. The sky keeps slowly falling.