I used Avocet Road 700x28 wire-bead, non-Kevlar tires on 36 hole Mavic MA-2 rims with 1.8-1.6mm DT spokes; Campagnolo Record brakes (Kool Stop red pads) and small flange hubs with a Sun Tour new winner pro 6- speed FW 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 24, Sun Tour Pro derailleur and down tube shift levers, and Shimano Dura Ace 180mm cranks with 47-50 CW, SPD 525 pedals and M110 shoes; the frame is steel and about 26" with oversized top and down tubes using an Avocet Racing Turbo Gel saddle on a two bolt Campagnolo Record seat post, steel bars and stem. I wear Avocet polypropylene shorts and jerseys.
My suitcase and bicycle, go as two pieces of legal overseas air baggage and, with my small carry-on bag, can be taken on trains on arrival. Whole bicycles can be shipped by air but upon arrival the bicycle cannot be carried onto most trains. Sent as baggage, the bicycle can cause one or more days delay just when it is least convenient.
In Luzern (436m) the sun was out and I got a picture of the new old wooden bridge across the Reuss with swans that decorate the lakes in summer and the Pilatus (2120m) as a backdrop. I dropped in briefly to visit Mrs. Dierauer Sr. up on the Musegg above the old Armory building at the city wall before rolling off toward Kriens. There was even a favorable breeze as I headed up the Alpnach leg of the lake where the Pilatus railway, in Alpnachstadt, climbs the steepest cogwheel route in the world at 48% grade. It uses two horizontally opposed gears that engage a two sided gear rack in the center of the 800 mm gauge track.
There was almost no traffic and there were no vacationers or even weekend windsurfers on the lake. There was a general winter mentality from the long cold spring. I decided to take the parallel Melchtal instead of taking the direct route over the Brunig Pass (1008m). At Sarnen, taking the road past the train station, I headed up a scenic and car free route to Flueli, and on up to Melchtal where I ate lunch. The Lady at the hotel told me that no snow had been removed beyond Frut because it had snowed so much recently. Being alone, I decided not to walk the snowfields and attempt the trail to Engsteln that might be hazardous with snow. Instead I retraced my route to Flueli where I took the road south to the Sarner Lake and over the Brunig Pass to Meiringen (595m).
After a food stop at the big M (Migros market) I rode up to Willigen where, at the bakery and the double water trough, the road to the Grosse Scheidegg Pass turns off to Schwendi (a hotel). This is a narrow and steep one lane road that was formerly the main route and is still the most direct way up the hill. The sky had just enough clouds for me to ride in the shade part of the way to the forested part up to the canyon of the roaring Reichenbach. The canyon gradually widens as the road rises steeply out of the cascades of the river to expose the grand panorama of the Wetterhorn and its neighboring mountains. I passed the Rosenlaui hotel (1330m), where I have often stayed, in mid afternoon and said hello to the Kehrlis who run the place, before heading up to Schwarzwaldalp and the high meadows above tree line.
Although summer weather came late, there wasn't more snow than usual near the road. The Wetterhorn (3701m), in contrast, had plenty of snow and icefalls that could be heard and seen as the ice pulverized on the cliffs. The Grosse Scheidegg (1961m) is directly beneath the north face of the Wetterhorn and gives a view of the Eiger (3970m), Moench (4099m), and Jungfrau (4158m) and their glaciers, but their heads remained in the clouds. Grindelwald (1034m) was easy compared to high season because the streets were not full of pedestrians wandering in all direction. As I rolled down the river toward Interlaken, the clouds united into a solid blanket, and a light breeze blew in my favor. I could feel the icy Luetschine river in the air that felt as though someone had just opened freezer whenever the road went near the water.
I stopped in Interlaken (563m) long enough to take a picture of the Jungfrau across the great meadow in the center of town. I continued around the lake to Brienz and Meiringen. Bits of blue sky suggested that the clouds were an afternoon effect, that would give way to fair weather, as I rode high along the north shore of the Brienzer Lake. A freeway runs along the south shore, mostly in tunnels. I stopped briefly in Brienz to photograph the BRB steam cog railway and to get a snack before heading up the valley to Meiringen and Willigen where I stopped for the day in the Hotel Tourist of all places. It ain't bad for a hotel with a corny name.
Unlike last summer, with hurricane winds, the air was still and clear with practically no traffic. I grabbed scoops of fresh snow from the walls at the edge of the road to wet my mouth as I rode by. At the Grimsel summit (2165m), the road curved around the frozen lake and sliced through giant snowdrifts that pile up in winter from the wind out of the Rhone Valley from Gletsch (1761m) almost straight below. As I passed through the gap into the Rhone valley, the magnificent view of the Furka Pass, 266m higher, and the desolate valley 400m and many hairpin turns below, opened before me.
After descending to Gletsch I headed up the Furka Pass (2431m) and stopped to take the obligatory picture in front of the Rhone Glacier. For lack of the usual flood of tourists, I found no Photographer and had to let my bicycle pose alone. I rode past the grand old Hotel Belvedere and over the summit in mild sunny weather. I rolled on a nearly empty road to Realp (1538m) with a clear view of the upper Reuss valley and the Oberalp Pass above Andermatt in the distance. In Realp, I dropped in on the DFB (Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke) and paid my membership dues and bought a picture calendar of the steam cog railway in action.
I rolled on to Hospental (1452m) and stopped to say hello to the sisters that run the Hotel Sternen where I have stayed often. I got a drink at the fountain and headed up the wide concrete paved Gotthard highway where, above tree line, there is only scrub brush, alpenrosen, wildflowers and grass. The alpenrose is an azalea that is prevalent throughout the Alps and adds a lovely bouquet of pink and red among the many small flowers like the blue gentian with striking deep blue trumpets or the edelweiss with starfish like blossoms of silvery plush. Although the summit lake had a little ice at one shore, there were no huge piles of snow that often fill the sides of the road.
I took the new road down to the Fortezza where bicycles must exit to the old road that is paved with small granite blocks and isn't getting any smoother. For MTB riders that believe their frames are subjected to greater stress than road bicycles, this is a place where this myth is quickly dispelled. The road shock through hard tires gives a convincing feel of the road through the frame. In Airolo (1165m) the road levels off and cruises through town before descending into the high valley from Ambri-Piotta to Rodi-Fiesso from which the road drops to Faido and finally to the main valley in Roveredo. The Ticino River was clear and fast as it tumbled down its granite bed that showed the effects of high water on the smoothly polished white granite far up the banks.
I stopped at the big market in Biasca for a mid afternoon food stop before heading south to the Italian border. Here, across the tracks, a multistage waterfall descends from practically out of the clouds toward the train station, finally crossing itself in two opposed streams that flow from a swimming hole about 200m above the valley. Well fueled, I rode on to Bellinzona and south, along the east shore of Lago Maggiore (193m), to Italy and Maccagno. There are two pleasant hotels here and good swimming access to the lake. This time I wasn't up for a swim because the weather was cool and partly cloudy.
I rode around the east shore of the lake to Gozzano (367m) and headed west past Pogno through the foothills to Borgosesia (359m) and on to Valle Mosso, where I headed up the hill to Mosso Santa Maria, so I could ride to Pistolesa (655m) over the "bridge to nowhere". This is a bridge that I used to see only from the valley below before my friend Brian from Ivrea discovered the road on a ride in the hills. I always wondered who, if anyone, used it. The answer is, hardly anyone. It is amazingly high and seldom used and looks like a pork barrel job. However, it took me over small roads through hillside villages that I might not have seen other than in travel brochures.
From Borgosesia it's not far to Biella (410m) where, for a change, I took a different route because I planned to visit Brian Tomlin (with whom I rode last year) in Perosa Canavese near Ivrea. I had the rest of the afternoon to get there from Biella. There is the direct route through the hills, a route through the flatlands that skirts the hills, and a high road. I took the high road, that beyond having almost no traffic, passed through several small hill towns that turned out to be beautifully situated on the steep hillsides. The road climbed high on the huge glacial moraine that was formed by the glacier that once swept through Ivrea, the gateway from the Valle d'Aosta into the Lombardia.
The road climbed more than I had anticipated but that usually happens when I undertake such "shortcuts". As it turned out, I was on the long and casual ramp of this route through towns like Gragli, Netro, Donato, and finally crossing the ridge at Croce Serra (853m) to Andrate, from which the road dropped in one big series of hairpins and sweeping turns to Borgofranco just a few kilometers north of Ivrea (254m). On the way down, it was apparent that this was a favorite hill climb by the distances and names of local heroes that were painted on the street.
In Ivrea the usual dense flock of swifts were darting around the castle while traffic in the streets below was almost equally dense. I crossed the Dora Baltea that had been a roaring torrent this spring during the floods of the Po that it feeds. I rode through the southwest corner of town and about 10km more to Perosa where I got some rest before Brian came home from Olivetti. He prepared a delicious dinner with good Italian wine and a chaser of Grappa as we exchanged accounts of some interesting rides since we rode last summer.
The road parallels the rail line that is famous for being either in a tunnel or on a bridge most of the next 80km from Robilante to Ventimiglia on the Mediterranean Sea. I stopped in Robilante (686m) for a tall cool beer at the Albergo Ristorante Minerva where I have stayed on many previous rides. From here the road begins to climb gently while the railroad gains altitude with looping tunnels and bridges, vanishing in the mountain for long stretches, on the way to Limone (1010m). Here the 8.09km Tenda railroad tunnel, completed in 1913, cuts through the mountain to Vievola. The road becomes steeper in Limone as it climbs to the entrance of the 3.18km Tende highway tunnel (1320m), completed in its present form in 1882.
No bicycles are allowed in the tunnel, and although it might be an adventure riding through a hole, I headed up the road that climbs the old summit (1908m) that lies just beyond the Italian-French border. The road was paved up to the border, where it reverts to its 19th century self a kilometer before the top, to give a little taste of climbing on baseball sized gravel. The descent is a real 19th century road with more than sixty hairpin turns that are tight going for a jeep as well as being steep with a loose surface as it drops into the rocky gorge of the Roya river.
Ancient stone roadhouses that served travelers before the turn of the century and huge fortifications, some that were part of the Maginot line, stand mostly empty as sentinels of history. Today the road's ancient harsh roadbed is gradually being paved, a few curves at a time. Historic photographs of animal teams, steam tractors, and solid tired, chain driven trucks that traveled this road make today's "hardships" pale in comparison.
As I rejoined the highway French Rt.N204, at the south portal of highway tunnel, I could roll swiftly down the generous sweeping turns of the new and improved road. Here at Vievola, where the railroad appears from its tunnel only to vanish into a loop tunnel and many bridges, as both it and the road descend to the town of Tende (816m), the highway becomes narrower and the curves tighter. I stopped for the day in Tende at a hotel with simple comfortable rooms that we had found last year. I visited the ATM for some French money and enjoyed a great dinner before taking a walk around the ancient town that is mostly built on the steep rocky canyon walls.
The road Rt.D2204 up the Col de Brauis (879m) heads west just before Breil (286m). The warmth of the sun started to become noticeable in the cool morning air as I began to climb. Although it was cooler than other times, I enjoyed the roadside spring 2/3 of the way up and the cherry trees. The landscape here is Mediterranean with sparse vegetation, olive trees and broom (gorse) blooming bright yellow. From the summit, the other end of the relatively short rail tunnel from Breil became visible far below as I descend to Sospel (349m) and the great ice cream store and bar at junction of the Brauis and Turini passes, and tunnel roads. This picturesque town on the Bevera river has a bridge reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence with buildings on the stone arch span.
I headed out of town after a large dish of ice cream, a large soda, and a few words with the barkeep who has greeted me there for many years. Rt.D70, the Turini pass (1607m), that figures prominently in the Monte Carlo Automobile Rally, climbs gradually into the ever narrower canyon of the Bevera. I was glad that the summer hadn't turned up its full heat yet as I climbed toward the upper forested part that is mostly shaded. Without stopping at the summit where there is no view for the dense forest, I descended toward the Vesubie valley where, after a few kilometers, the panorama of the valley opens with la Bollene-Vesubie perched in picturesque beauty on a small knoll above the dry hillsides. The road descends to the Vesubie river and heads up Rt.D2565, a gradual climb to St Martin Vesubie (930m), a pleasant town where the valley narrows at the foot of the Col St Martin (1500m). The road exposes spectacular vistas as it clings to rock walls between rough hewn tunnels for the last kilometers to the top. The summit is back in the forest but that doesn't last long as the road descends into the dry and sparse vegetation of the Tinee river gorge.
This descent exposes an entirely different panorama of mountains, with roads that are tiring just to look at, as their tortuous curves thread a path to distant villages, high in the mountains. The road finally drops along a rugged rock wall to the Tinee river with the main road, Rt.D2205 and river, seem to be vertically beneath the road as it winds through tunnels and over bridges. The road follows the Tinee in a gradual climb toward St Sauveur sur Tinee (496m), where I turned west up Rt.D30 to Rubion and the Col de la Couillole (1678m). I stopped for the night at the summit hotel with comfortable lodging that I found a few years ago with my nephew Marc. Sophie, the proprietor, recalled our visit and the one that Marc made last year. After a hearty dinner and a tall beer, I retired to the spartan room under the rafters for a good rest.