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.
The descent, now Rt.D902, the Route des Grandes Alpes, rolls through beautiful high alpine terrain along the Bachelard river whose course varies from steep narrow gorges to wide meadows in the shadow of the mountains. The descent is long and pleasant on this small road that has not been widened and straightened into a ski resort expressway as so many have. The mild grade up the south side required no more than a middle gear and it seemed this side would be at least as easy as I rode down to Barcelonnette (1150m). A sidewalk restaurant was serving lunch under the shade of large umbrellas so I joined others for the day's special of calamari over rice with vegetables and French bread. This, washed down with a large beer, settled well. I rode gradually up Rt.D902, the Route des Grandes Alpes, along the Ubaye river to Jausiers, Condamine, and the Col de Vars.
After the tunnel, beyond the junction with the Col de Larche (1991m) form Cuneo, I got a big drink of water and took a snooze on a shady bench in St. Paul (1470m) before attacking the climb up the Col de Vars (2111m). In several places the road had shifted by large hillside movements so that its 10% grade was more like a roller coaster with extra steep sections. At the summit I bought some postcards and a soda at the old shack that was already there in 1960 when I first rode here. The new and fancy place, recently completed, will some day be the only one but I'll remember the old folks who sold sheep skins, postcards, sandwiches, and refreshments in the lean-to under the rock overhang. After a short descent, a grand view to the north, up the Durance river toward Briancon, opened with Guillestre (1000m), far below, in the foreground.
With a fairly full tank, I got a yogurt and soda at the store in Guillestre before heading along the cliffs above the Guil river toward the Izoard pass. The road climbs along the crags, going in and out of bare rock tunnels, climbing very little to meet the cascading river farther upstream. At Chateau-Queyeras my route Rt.D902 takes a sharp turn left up the Riviere valley as the road to the Colle dell'Agnello (2809m) goes straight. The sky ahead was black as a few large drops made lone splotches on the warm asphalt. I tried to take a picture of the long lightning bolts that flashed across the horizon in white and lavender. One of these seemed to hang there for a second as I looked through the camera.
As I turned up toward the Izoard and Arvieux I could see that the thunderstorm had not yet gotten to this valley but by the sound of the thunder, it wouldn't take long. In Arvieux (1544m) I stopped at the store that has everything I could want to eat and loaded up before heading up the road to la Chalp as the clouds closed in. I found a good hotel and stopped for the night as it began to rain steadily.
The obelisk is a monument to military bravery of the Glory of France, a concept that has never moved me to find glory in war, but then much of French art is concerned with war. A museum across the street has an interesting collection of bicycles and racing memorabilia from early Tour de France epics, when roads were unpaved and gears on bicycles were few. I shoved off down the uninteresting descent that enters a thin forest of Larch and Pine. I hear Cuckoos give their clock like call as I slow for the hairpin turns. As the road emerges from the trees, it levels off and stays high on the east side of the canyon as the Cerveyrette river vanishes down the steep gorge.
Rt.D902 rolls into Briancon (1391m) with a few steep curves and joins Rt.N91 toward Grenoble as it begins the gradual slope to the Col du Lauteret (2095m). This road is wide and climbs just enough at 4% to 5% to not be considered flatland. The view up the valley exposes the summit of the Galibier, in the distance, to the experienced eye. It looks appreciably higher than the Luataret when seen from Briancon or even closer. It was still before noon when I stopped off at the Hotel des Glaciers where Paul Bonnabel formerly presided for so many years. His nephew now runs the place and informed me that M. Bonnabel was again in good health after a serious illness, which was good to hear. This has always been a great place for me to stay ever since I first stopped there 1960.
The ascent of the Galibier (2645m), back on Rt.D902, is a rewarding climb, not too flat and not too steep at about 8%, and at this time of year with plenty of snow at the roadside. The wildflowers between the large areas of melting snow were a sure sign of spring as I grabbed a handful of snow now and then to wet my whistle. The tall, two meter diameter, Stone column with a map of France and inscription honoring Henri Des Grange, the originator of the Tour de France, stands near the old one lane summit tunnel (2555m) that is now closed.
From here the road follows the old right-of-way that is irregular in width, grade and alignment to the top with a bit of 13% to wake up the sleepers. The view from the top is worth the extra climbing above the tunnel. The sign proclaiming "Route des Grandes Alpes" is redundant, but it is a good place to lean your bike for a photo. If the glaciers, of the Massif du Sorieller (4000m) to the south and those of the Massif de la Vanoise (3600m) to the north, don't make an impression, the sign won't help. From here the road winds in broad hairpins to Plan Lachat. Much of this section can be seen from the summit and is a common view in reports of the TdF. Speeds are about 60 km/h if you try hard, but "accidentally" get translated to 60 mph by TV commentators.
Just before Valloire (1430m), the road is steep and straight, and without a tailwind 80 km/h are possible, but then it isn't worth reporting because the riders are not banked into turns to make the speed palpable. From here the road climbs gradually up a mild but significant grade to the Telegraph (1570m), a Roman signal relay station and early French fortress that commands a clear view up and down the Maurienne valley and Arc river. The road descends from the Telegraph to St. Michel (712m) where it joins Rt.N6 to head toward the Col du Mont Cenis and Torino at Lanslebourg (1399m).
At Lanslebourg all truck traffic seems to have vanished into either the Frejus tunnel or over Mont Cenis as I climbed the Col du Madeleine (1746m), a small but steep bump out of town on Rt.D902 to the high valley of the Arc. On the way to Bonneval sur Arc (1835m), where the climb to the Col d'Iseran begins, the side valleys expose views of glaciers and snow covered peaks. Bonneval is a small village of ancient grey stone buildings with stone roofs. I rode to the upper end of town where there are several hotels, that cater primarily to winter sports, and picked one that seemed least like a ski lodge for the night.
From here the grade is a bit steeper, varying between 8 and 10%, with a nearly continuous snow pack. A few diehard skiers were attempting to keep winter alive all summer. Some of the lifts seemed to be running on demand as I rounded the only hairpin turn and headed to the summit of the Iseran (2770m). I arrived at the large concrete road sign on the summit, just as about a dozen MTB'ers were getting their picture taken so I gave my camera to the volunteer and climbed up the sign into the middle of the crowd. This huge sign, or better, monument demands to be climbed. It seemed to be fairly new when I first got my picture taken in 1960 with two friends. Today it is still pretty solid although a bit faded.
The descent into Val d'Isere was once more picturesque, when the town was a mere mountain village, in contrast to todays endless chain of hotels, condominiums, and department stores that fill the valley. In spite of this, the mountains are impressively beautiful with glaciers on the 3700m peaks. Now, at mid morning, the clouds for the afternoon thundershower were beginning to form in beautiful white towers as I coasted briskly down through town and into the series of tunnels that lead to the Lac du Chevril (2000m). After the dam the road gets steeper for a swift descent to the valley and a flat ride into Seez (920m) at the junction of Rt.D902 and Rt.N90 to Aosta over the Petite St. Bernard (2188m) pass.
I rode down to Bourg St Maurice (840m) and turned north toward Les Chapieux and the Cormet de Roselend (1968m) on Rt.D217. It was cool and breezy at the summit, with puffy clouds and some thunderheads, as I coasted down to the lake behind the huge Barrage de Roselend (dam) 730m above Beaufort (743m). As I rolled into town, I could already taste the pizza "frutta di mare" from memory, that the first restaurant on the right serves. I pulled in, parked my bicycle next to a table under the awning and was not disappointed as I finished an excellent seven seafood pizza with a large Pelforth beer.
From Beaufort sur Doron, a road cuts north across the mountain over the Col des Saisies (1633m) to Flumet (917m). From here Rt.N212 stays high as it crosses to St. Gervais (807m) at the foot of Mont Blanc, that showed itself through the humid haze whenever the clouds made a favorable move. A cogwheel train climbs through St. Gervais up to the Nid d'Aigle (2300m). Its a short descent to le Fayet (589m) where I got on the elevated highway to Chamonix (1037m). The uphill lanes rise up the valley on an elevated three lane, one-way causeway while downhill traffic uses the old curvy highway along the hillside to the right. The afternoon heat was broken by gathering clouds that were getting ready for afternoon showers. The upper crags of Mont Blanc (4248m) were barely visible making the jagged glaciers look even higher than they are. The tunnels along the route also gave some amazingly cool air and a feeling of being "in" the mountains.
I took in the dense tourist scene downtown that fills a pleasant pedestrian zone where foot traffic is enough to make riding about as fast as walking. The meter gauge rail line that runs from Martigny in Switzerland through town is still powered by an unprotected 1000VDC third rail as it runs through the countryside. I headed east through Argentier and over the Col des Montets (1461m) to Valorcine (1260m), where I ducked into the hotel just before the clouds opened with a flash, a bang, and a steady rain that lasted all night.
Once down in the Rhone valley, the 100km flat run to Brig (648m) was easy for a change, because it was both morning and a rainy day (with no rain) so the usual down-valley wind was missing. I rode to Sion and on to Brig as one might expect from looking at the map. Of course there are a few bumps on the way up the valley, that is one of the famous wine growing regions of Switzerland. The valley becomes narrower and the hillsides steeper the farther I went. About 15km before Brig the BLS (Loetschberg) railway, 600m above, emerges from the Loetschental clings to the walls as it passes over graceful stone arched bridges and through many tunnels on its descent to Brig.
Brig had completed the redesign of the city center into a lovely pedestrian mall that is still open to busses and taxis by means of barrier posts in the street that hydraulically raise and lower by remote control. Although I could ride through, I waited to see the posts submerge when a bus came. Just the smooth motion of shiny steel cylinders vanishing in the surface of the street, only to re-emerge after the bus passed, gave an eerie sensation. Traffic in front of the train station had been reduced to a manageable trickle, unlike my recent experience with the driver who charged the crosswalk (while I and others were walking), and in whose car my fist left a dent as he stopped practically in contact with my leg.
I rode up the Rhone, whose valley floor reduces to nothing so that the raging river, the FO railway, and the road, fight for space as they cross on bridges and in tunnels to avoid the boss. The river always has priority. Not only that, it also has the power to take. From snow melt and thundershowers, it was raging mad and was touching the bottom girder of the FO railway bridge in Brig. Across the river I saw the entrance to the 20 km Simplon railway tunnel, with its two portals, 1905 and 1921, first single track and then the second parallel bore 16 years later. As I climbed to Fiesch (1062m), where the valley is steeper, the Rhone was a churning cascade with logs and debris riding high on the wave. Here the clouds began unload a steady light rain that became cooler the higher I got, but because it was all uphill I decided not to put on my rain cape.
At Ulrichen (1349m) I could see the first hairpin curves of the Nufenen pass (2478m) climb up into the clouds where I am certain it was snowing judging from the temperature here in the valley. I passed Oberwald (1371m) where the FO enters the new 8km Furka tunnel and the climb to the Grimsel and Furka passes begins. I rode the four km's up to Hotel Rhonequelle where I had stayed several times before over many years. I knew where to stash my bicycle and went in the back door to have the lady of the house say hello as though I had just been there last week. She gave me a key and said dinner is any time. This is the kind of place that warms the heart and draws me back to the Alps often.
The Oberalp pass has a long broad summit that it shares with the FO railway inside an avalanche shed along the Summit lake. There were a group of motorcyclists pushing off the summit just as I started down, so I joined them only to notice after a few turns that my back wheel wasn't tracking well around the curves. As I looked down I saw that my back tire was not soft but that the wheel was steering in the curve as I applied the rear brake. Then I saw that the right chainstay had separated about 30mm ahead of the dropout. This faulty tube had broken at midspan about two years ago, and was splinted and brazed.
I rode on to Sedrun, where I got a good lunch at the grocery store before looking around for a "welder" because it was noon, just before the stores close till 2:30PM or 14:30 as it is called everywhere but in the USA. Just down the street, in this small mountain town, I found a gas station-auto-repair-blacksmith-MTB sales shop. The owner would be back from lunch in an hour because he was in the process of replacing the underground fuel tanks, and this fortunately required his presence. I lay down in the meadow and slept for about an hour before, promptly at 13:30, the man returned and everything was abuzz.
He said he wasn't equipped for brazing, but that he could weld it with his big MIG welder. After looking at my bicycle he said "but not today". Sensing his problem I became "super mechanic" and yanked my touring bag off, removed the rear derailleur and chain, and without the rear wheel, held the stripped rear triangle in his face and said I didn't care how it looked but it had to hold. "This is not a beauty contest!". Now he and I were speaking the same language.
Even though "pickles and sauerkraut" was literally flying around our ears in the construction scene, he turned on his heavy industrial equipment MIG welder, that was able to eat a whole frame tube in a single blast of an unskilled hand, and welded with reassuring short bursts. I recognized immediately that he understood the frailty of thin walled bicycle tubing and its incompatibility with this welding machine. He was a real craftsman and in about 10 minutes I put my bike together, paid SFr15, thanked him and was on my way. I think he knew that I understood the significance of his abilities and accommodation.
The road slowly descends the upper reaches of the Vorderrhein past Disentis (1142m) where the Lukmanier Pass (1916m) heads south and on to Ilanz (699m) where the scenic route takes the south side of the valley through Carrera climbing to Verasam (908m), in contrast to the main route through Flims (1081m), that is longer, less scenic, and full of traffic. I was glad to see that the last km's into Versam were still not paved and would probably never be widened to a full two lanes if the locals can keep it that way. There is no skiing here, that's the big difference.
The descent from Versam to Bonaduz (655m) crosses a deep gorge and clings to the wall 300m above the Rhine river before a long gradual descent to the Hinterrhein valley. Turning south, I passed through Rhaezuens, the mineral water town, and to Thusis along the Rhein. From here, the road climbs through long tunnels up the Schyn valley and the Albula river through Tiefencastel (851m), where the Julier pass (2284m) heads south. Farther up the valley near Filisur the famed Landwasser viaduct carries the RhB railway across the gorge into a vertical granite wall. From Filisur the Albula road climbs up a 10% section to Berguen (1367m) where I found a comfortable place to stay. That evening the rains came after dinner and I slept well even without fireworks for the fourth.
I stopped at the famed Montebello railway curve/crossing an waited until a train appeared for my photo op. With a dull overcast, not much happened but I got a picture of trains in both directions. The stiff wind from the south put me in lower gears to the summit of the Bernina (2328m) where I stopped just long enough to have a couple from Leipzig take my picture, and me to take theirs. The descent was less than swift into the wind, but most of the road was dry in spite of recent showers. I was interested to see that the RhB was replacing rail in the narrow street sections in two villages instead of getting entirely away from this slippery contentious right of way. Bicyclists beware! Around Lago di Poschiavo and down to Brusio for a hearty meal and a big dish of home made ice cream at Hotel Bettoni. As I finished eating it started raining and I helped take the Cinzano umbrellas indoors before rolling on down the hill where I discovered that it had only rained in town. The road was dry just around the corner on the way down to Campocologno and Tirano. It was pleasantly cool for the time of day as I started up from Stazzona (396m) out of the Valtellina and the Adda river to the Aprica pass (1176m).
The view down the valley was pretty good considering the humidity, and it became even better as I rounded the mountain up to the summit at Aprica. It was a pleasant roll all the way down to Edolo (675m). It's a mild climb from here to Temu' (1144m) where I stopped to say hello to Silvano Macculotti at his new hotel. It was early enough for me to use the time of day as an excuse to not stay. I can't stand the beds and "motel" furnishings made for the ski crowd. The old hotel across the street had been far more comfortable and about 2/3 as expensive.
I rode up through Ponte di Legno (1258m) where the Pso Tonale (1258m) heads south, as I turned up the road that climbs along the Frigidolfo river up through a forest of Larch to San Apollonia (1585m). Here the river suddenly loses its bite in a high valley where it only meanders through meadows. Across from the hotel S. Apollonia, a small pagoda has spigots of two flavors of Apollonia water that apparently is heavy in minerals and some fizz. A swig of this stuff is a good start for the Gavia. I got a swig of each and crossed the Frigidolfo to the hotel run by two old bachelors. I stashed the bike among the old farm machinery in the spacious barn and cleaned up for dinner. Apparently their season had not yet started. I was the only guest to appreciate their fine menu and cold Birra Spluga in the customary 0.6l size. I took a large cold bottle of aqua minerale to my room for a night and with the Frigidolfo gurgling directly beneath my window, I got a good night's sleep.
Tracciato Tortuoso e Stretto Privo di protezioni Marginate Possibile Piano Viabile Ghiacciato SS n300 del Passo Gavia dal Km 13+000 al Km 37+000 Dal 1 Settembre al 15 Luglio Obbligo di Catena a BordoSo it's a tortuous and narrow road with little protection from going over the side. The roadway may be covered with snow and chains are obligatory all but six weeks of the year. On top of that there is another sign with a "fill in the blanks" avalanche road closure:
Chiuso al Transito Dal Km____ al Km ____ Pericolo di ValangheWell that's a lot better than in years past when there was a barrier across the road that one had to drive around to proceed, absolving the highway department of liability. The road isn't all that tough, but with foul weather, it could be because there isn't much up there. It was a great Gavia day, with cool climbing air and clear visibility under high overcast. I stopped to take a picture where the road goes abruptly from wide two lane pavement to the old one way dirt road with more warning signs and the 16% sign that appeared in the poster and on Bike World magazine in 1975.
It is an amazingly pleasant climb because it seems to be traction and picking a course through the rocks that occupies the mind, so the steepness of the climb is masked. Soon the larch forest was left behind as the road climbs above tree line where there are only steep meadows strewn with rock from the walls above. Apollonia and Ponte di Legno, so far below, looked like the view from an aircraft.
I rode around the outside at the tunnel, to once more take a picture at "the cliff" for which the road was famous. A rock slide blocks the upper end of the section so I carried the bicycle over the pile of angular slate like rock to get back on the road. From here the road is paved the last three steep kilometers to the top. I dropped in at the Rifugio Bonetta, said hello, saw that my poster was in good condition on the wall and headed into the cool descent after zipping up my rain jacket and closing the hood around my face. It was crisp up here, next to the frozen lake and the snowfields.
I can't complain that the descent to Santa Caterina (1780m) is paved, there aren't any points for bumping over rocks. Besides, the road wasn't widened, only paved. Santa Caterina is a buffed up ski town with posh chalets, in contrast to its former sleepy village self, with summer youth camps of the Catholic Church. The road from here down to Bormio through the Valfurva, along the torrente Frodolfo, is a series of smooth fast, almost but not quite, straight sections, interrupted by a couple of towns. As I reached Bormio (1217m) the sun was mostly out, so I put away my jacket and ate lunch in the central park near the large Coop market, hidden in an ancient windowless stone building.
From Bormio the grade up Rt.N38 heads into the Val Braulio and up the Stelvio with Rt.N301 heading south to the Foscagno (2291m) and Eira (2208m) to connect to Livigno. Traffic was light except for some manner of car rally going the other way that included about any car you can imagine. There was everything from Alfa Romeos to 1958 Corvettes with California plates sporting big rally numbers. As I climbed, the whole canyon was filled with sunshine at times and then it was dark again. Just the same it was refreshingly cool with only a light breeze.
At the Swiss border and Umbrail summit (2498m), a few Motos were headed up the last 3.2 km to the top as I looked up there, 262m higher. I climbed the last ten sweeping hairpins recalling other times when it was snowing, and when it was stinking hot. Today it was pleasant and I felt good for a long ride. I took the usual pictures of the amazing road down the east side, below the towering Ortler (3905m) and its glacier dome that was just visible through the clouds. I bought a bunch of the famous postcard that is a colorized version of the one I first bought years ago in B&W, and headed down the 48 hairpin turns to Prato (913m).
As I descended, I saw more than twenty people pushing MTB's up the hill as far as 15 km below the summit. They apparently had no experience and had been talked into this by someone who told them that 24 gears would make it easy. I stopped in Prato for a bit of freewheel maintenance because something had broken in there and had to come out. After removing the chips of steel from the seal ring, I put all the balls back in and this time made sure the cone was securely screwed down. A couple of drops of oil at the gas station and I was off down the Val Venosta and the Adige river to Merano (302m).
As I rode down the valley I caught up to a couple of old bikies, who didn't look like pushovers, with shaved legs and light baggage, so I tagged along behind for awhile. Unfortunately they had "middle of the road" syndrome and caused all sorts of problems for passing cars so I got away down the hill into Silandro (722m) but they teamed up to close the gap again and sit on. I moved to the rear and waited for another chance. That chance came at a traffic jam in a town where I took to the sidewalk, past some lane blocking trucks, and got away.
I coasted down the long hill, past the huge Forst brewery, and into Merano, the center of this beautiful region. Other than the Italian signs the architecture, dress, and language would lead one to believe it was Austria, not Italy. In Merano, the pedestrian mall in the old town was nearly finished and the 30cm wide flat granite water slide down the middle of the cobbled street had smooth laminar water running its length.
I turned north up the Passeiertal on Rt.N44 toward St. Leonard (688m) at the base of the Pso Rombo (2491m) and the Pso Giovo (2099m). It was still cherry season so I bought a big bag of fat ones and rode up the gradual slope, riding no-hands and munching big sweet cherries. The lush green valley is a string of fruit orchards and vineyards, and is a favorite vacation area for northerners. I rode through St. Leonard and up to a hotel at 1000m elevation, where I had stopped last year, just as it started to rain.
I went into town because I had infected my right hand in the crotch of the thumb and needed a suitable antibiotic to fight the swelling of the whole hand that wasn't getting better. I found the Doctor and he went through a nonsense routine before he gave me some sample pills and charged me an arm and a leg for nothing. Over the next days the infection receded and I couldn't complain except that it was blackmail at Lit56000 ($30). Sterzing was getting a beautiful facelift at the expense of driving out the old merchants in exchange for glossy pricey tourist oriented stores. I recall when the downtown was the main highway and it was a local economy. It's hard to say that it isn't better because the real stores are still there but not on the mall.
I rode south on the old and deserted main highway, while the traffic was on the Brenner Autostrada and going fast. It's a pleasant ride down the Eisack (Isarco) to Franzensfeste (Fortezza) (742m), a great fortress that spans the narrows of the valley. The fortress was carefully preserved when the rail line to Lienz was built through it, and when the Highway and Autostrada were enlarged. I cut over to the road toward Bruneck, and headed south at St. Lorenzen (Loronzo) (818m) up the Val Badia to Zwischenwasser (Longega) (1005m).
Here, above Zwischenwasser the Ennetal (val di Merebbe) has a short steep spot to Enneberg (Marebbe) (1193m) after which the road rises pleasantly at a mild grade to the end of the valley at Rifugio Pederu' (1540m). This is a lovely smooth road that passes through manicured parkland with burbling brooks and mowed grass between the sparse but lush forest. A fantastic backdrop of cathedral spires of the Dolomites rises to all sides as the road ends in the large parking lot around a hotel.
I heard turbine like sounds coming from the rock walls of Dolomite above and after parking my bicycle I saw them. Four wheel drive Landrover like vehicles climbing horrendously steep roads in the rock walls. Now I understood why the map said "strada privata". I got myself a tall half liter Coca Cola for Lit5000 and headed up the steeper of the two roads. Most of the hikers were using ski poles to prevent falling on their faces in the event of a slip. The road zigzagged up the in the wall in short traverses at more than 30% grade. The inside of the turns were 100% grade and it was apparent that inexperienced jeep drivers could make only one mistake, their last, because a slip could not be corrected and the car would tumble to the valley floor. This was serious grade with loose rock.
With my right hand over the back of my saddle and my left on the bars in front of my nose, I leaned into the grade, the front wheel was so light that it wouldn't steer. I lifted it easily back into line when it strayed off. I met some MTB'ers who assured me it could not be ridden, even down, except under ideal conditions such as when it was wet. Although it wasn't hot, I was running with sweat as if someone had hosed me down. I could move at about 3 km/h which was as fast as I could go. After about two km's, the grade let up and I could ride for short bursts before reaching Fodara Vedla (1966m) a small livestock village with no facilities.
I had passed up a shortcut because I had hoped to ride some of the way to the Rifugio Sennes (2116m). Although most of it was too steep, I was glad I took the road because the view south to le Tofane (3243m) and to the east to Monte Cristallo (3221m) and Crodo Rossa (3146m) were so overwhelming I was moved to tears. I just stood there for a long while. It is a fantastic mountain panorama, the Dolomites with their million spires in white and shades of orange and grey reaching into the clouds are more than the imagination could ask.
At the rifugio, I got another ice cold half liter Lit5000 Coke and sized the place up for lodging. Some day I'll stay here for the night and experience sunset and sunrise. Many happy hikers were relaxing on the old military airstrip that was the only boulder free area. It was covered by grass, picnickers, and wildflowers. I headed down the "road" to Cortina d'Ampezzo only to find that it seldom, if ever, was used by vehicles. It was a gulch of baseball to volleyball sized roundish rough rock. I rode where I could but walked most of it. It is not the side to come up, because it is less steep, and therefore, a longer walk. I met some MTB'ers who were pushing and who told me I couldn't go there with "that kind of bike". I asked them whether it made any difference how wide the tires were when walking.
A ways down at Stua (1965m), the grade got milder and the road smoother. I could ride along the rushing river whose water had an azure, south sea color as it rushed down its bed of white dolomite. It was so clear that it was almost invisible except for the froth in the rapids. Cuckoos reminded me to look at my watch and notice it was getting late as I reached the gate at the end of pavement. From here the road got steeper and descended at about 18% the rest of the way to Schloss Hubertus (1450m), where I got on Rt.N51 to Cortina (1211m). From here it was a pleasant roll to a good hotel just before city limits. Everything in Cortina is winter sport oriented but they give the summer a good try.
At Selva di Cadore (1335m), I turned east on Rt.N251 up the Forcla Staulanza (1773m), through a lush green landscape topped by jagged dolomite spires that vanished in the brilliant haze as I rode south over the pass. I had briefly looked at my map and knew I needed to head north in Forno di Zoldo (810m), to head over the Passo Cibiana (1530m) but didn't notice that here were several roads heading north. I headed up the road that had the common warning signs that I have seen often in the mountains, but as it turned out these were real.
As I rounded a curve on the climb, I came upon a field full of parked cars and a huge rock slide across the road. The weekend visitors had apparently taken a steep trail through the woods that didn't invite me. The backhoe shovel parked at the far side of the slide obviously was accessed from here so I followed the well worn footpath over the boulders and continued to ride up the grade. Then came a hairpin and I realized the road was recrossing the face of the cliff from which the slide had come. It was worse than that, the upper crossing showed no clear path and it was reposing at the critical angle. I saw that some people had crossed by climbing over a higher route and proceeded carrying my bicycle on my shoulder as I often have on hiking sections.
As I was descending from the rock pile I heard sections of the part I had just crossed moving. I could hear thunder from the larger boulders as they bounded down, far below. I did not look back but got off the rocks and rode away concentrating on the fact that the road was not going to double back once more. As I arrived in Zoppa (1461m) it all became clear. I had taken one road too soon and was on a dead end. I rode to the end of town where two small roads, shown on my map, fizzled out to nowhere.
There were plenty of cars parked in town so I was sure there was another exit. It was siesta time and only a few hearty tourists who had hiked up through the forest were to be seen in this beautiful village with breathtaking vistas. Fortunately their guide was abreast of things and told me to take the "dead end" road behind the church that would get pretty thin but eventually, and without much climbing, lead me down to Cortina. He mentioned that the descent was a bit steep. With new zest I followed the road that dwindled to two brilliantly white, dolomite-gravelled tire tracks in the grass. As he said, it was rideable and didn't climb, but then it began to descend. First it was just steep and narrow but then there was fresh asphalt and it got very steep, about 25% and it continued that way.
It was obvious that this farm road had been paved so that villagers could get in and out, because no two wheel drive car could make the grade otherwise. In some spots the road was in a slot, one car wide, for long sections, but the grade did not let up. Because there were no creeks, I waited two times for several minutes to cool my wheels during the descent, to avoid blowing the tires off the rims. Although the rims didn't sizzle with a wet finger, they were burning hot to the touch. I was amazed that the grade did not let up until the Torrente Boite where I crossed a bridge to Borca di Cadore (942m).
Back on Rt.N51, I rode down to Pieve and Lozzo di Cadore (705m) but it wasn't all downhill. It was getting pretty warm as I turned up Rt.N48 to Auronzo di Cadore (862m) located on the shores of a hydroelectric lake. I found a shady bar with a good pizza, ice cream, and soda pop to make up for the heat. Here I headed north on Rt.N532 to the Passo San Antonio (1476m) where the first car that came toward me stunk of overheated brakes, not a good sign on a hot afternoon. I was not disappointed as I found myself dodging back and fourth across the 14% road from one spot of shade to the next. It was hot. Even the descent into Padola (1215m) at the junction with Rt.N52 to Dobbiaco (Toblach) was hot. The climb from there up the Passo di Monte Croce (1636m) was a mild 5% as it rolled easily through forest and meadow.
There was no doubt about the national identity beyond the summit. It looked like Austria, the people dressed like Austrians and the language was German, as were most of the tourists, whose big cars were parked in front of the hotels. Looking south into the mountains, the 3000m high Tre Cime di Laveredo (die drei Zinnen) made a magnificent backdrop to the picturesque village. It was cooling off now as I rode down to San Candido (1174m), down Rt.N49 to Austria, and on to Panzendorf where I found a comfortable hotel with an outdoor restaurant for the day's stop. No clouds this evening.
The Grocery store at the corner where the steep grade starts is always open and right through the noon hours too. Someone in government had pity on the poor tourists who were otherwise stranded without the necessities of travel, with all the legislated store closings in Europe. I ate a good lunch of fresh baked rolls, cheese, mortadella washed down with a liter of milk and a large strawberry yogurt for desert. I was ready. In fact I was so ready that the hill went away better than it had in years. Although the sky was crystal clear, the air was cool, and I made one water stop at the junction.
The Glockner (3798m) was glistening white in the distance as I wound my way up the sweeping curves. I saw a bicyclist above me now and then, and he was always walking. Obviously he got on and rode when I didn't see him because I wasn't gaining as fast as I would on a hiker. About a 300m from the top, I finally caught up to him as he exploded with an anguished "Ich kann es nicht", as I rode by and realized that he was racing. His friends were waiting at the top and offered me food and drink because they were sure that someone without a water bottle was dehydrated and famished. They should have eaten lunch first.
The summit is in a 200m long tunnel called Hochtor (2505m), that exposes the Salzburger Land to the north. A brisk descent passes through the Mittletoerl (2328m), and a 12% climb rises to Fuschertoerl (2328m). This last climb, although no steeper than the rest, is a kicker because it seems so close yet is so far. The view from here exposes the Glockner from the other side, along with a whole range of high glacier covered mountains, that seem all the higher when seen across the deep and narrow Fuschertal. First in big sweepers and then in straight runs between hairpins, the road dives down with a 12% grade, suitable for great speed. Traffic is light as I take advantage of the long runs.
As I reach the bottom at the toll gate, a wall of hot air hits me as if I had come out of a freezer. It was the heat that I had seen yesterday, except I was down in the flatlands in Zell am See (758m). I cooled my heels on the grass at the edge of the lake and enjoyed a snack before dropping in on my friend F. Alexander Porsche at his design studio. Then I headed up the Pinzgau along the Salzach river to Mittersill and Wald (867m), where the old Gerlos Pass road starts with a jolt. The hot weather gave way to great white towers of thunderclouds that saw fit to drop some rain for a few minutes as the shadows began to fall across the valley. From Wald I rode up to the 17% section, where the family run Hotel Muehlbach has enthusiastic friendly service, comfortable rooms, and great food.
After crossing the Gerlos river the road hangs on the south wall of the canyon for a long gradual slope to Gmuend (1192m), whence it dives down in usual alpine pass style to the Zillertal in Zell am Ziller (575m). Here after crossing the 760mm Zillertal steam railway and the Ziller, the old road rolls along through several villages and for 25km to Strass (560m) on the Inn river. There is an old road that snakes its way through hill and dale, but since the freeway on the other side of the Inn opened, the new highway near the river is a pleasant bike route to Innsbruck. The Inn is at full snow-melt level and its cold water is apparent whenever the road comes within a hundred meters of its raging waters.
I stopped for food and drink in Hall im Tirol and rode on to Innsbruck (574m) where I took the outer city loop to head up the south side of the valley. Having seen the tourist crush in the city center, I decided to appreciate the ambiance by riding through other parts of the city and on toward Kematen. As it got warmer, I realized that I had gotten a sunburn on the Glockner, in spite of my dark tan. The sun on the backs of my legs and my arms made that hot feeling, but only the discerning eye would detect the chestnut color that invaded my otherwise dark brown tan.
As I approached the Oetztal (Timmelsjoch, Pso Rombo) and crossed Ache river, the air got perceptibly cooler. Here the road first crosses the Ache and then the Inn on high bridges to begin a two kilometer climb before descending to Imst. Instead of going into town, I took the turn to the Rafting set-in, where a bicycle path parallels the river on the most direct route toward Landeck. The alternative is a climb through Imst and back down to the river. I rolled into Landeck for a refueling and headed up Rt.A187 to the Reschen pass (1508m).
On the way out of Landeck, the road clings to the side of cliffs over the Inn and might be a hassle in heavy traffic because there is no shoulder. Soon the road widens and rolls along fairly flat until the valley becomes wider. Here there is a "freeway no bicycles" sign, although it is neither a freeway or even a bicycle unfriendly road. The road is wide and has ample paved shoulders, and as usual, I rode on. I also noticed other bicyclists heading the other way. Just after Pfunds (971m) the road crosses the river and begins to climb to the high valley beyond Nauders (1365m), and on to the town of Reschen and the summit lake.
At first the lake seems small but it soon becomes evident that it is a long ride to the other end, where the road finally begins to descend at the dam. The descent doesn't last long and at San Valentino (1470m) at the Lago di Muta, the road climbs again for a while. The real descent is a full speed road with wide sweeping bends that snake down to Mals (1051m), where a road cuts across Laudes (967m) to Muestair and Santa Maria in Switzerland where the Umbrail pass climbs south to the Stelvio.
The afternoon clouds consolidated to a dark overcast with the shades of dusk as I crossed the border. A food stop in Muestair gave the fuel to climb the steep pitches from here through Santa Maria (1375m) to the upper valley of the Ofen pass and Fuldera (1638m) my goal for the day. I put my bicycle in the garage just as it began to drizzle and noticed that I was an hour earlier than I thought. The dark sky had been deceptive.
I coasted down the canyon to Punt la Drossa (1706m), the north portal of the uphill tunnel to Livigno and the foot of the climb over the gorge of the Val dal Spoell. The road climbs to Ova Spin (1900m) before descending to Zernez (1473m). From Zernez it's a short ride down the Inn valley to Susch (1426m) at the base of the Fluela pass, that starts right out in town with its ruling grade of 13% up the narrow canyon. The road has been improved immensely over the years that I have ridden it, from the days of a one lane dirt road, to a smooth two lane highway. The clouds had a pleasant cooling effect although this wasn't good for the scenery. I could see the Ortler (above the Stelvio) from the Ofen Pass, but I saw no distant mountains from the Fluela where the view is usually better than from the Ofen pass.
The descent to Davos (1560m) is undistinguished except the first few curves from the top, after which there is little to see and the road is bland. Davos was looking as neat and tidy as it always does as I rode around the Davosersee and over the Wolfgang pass 1625m). The descent to Klosters is fairly swift in places, as it sweeps down through the forest. I stopped for a large grocery store early lunch and proceeded down the Praetigau along the Landquart river to Landquart (530m) on the Rhine river. In Mastrils, just across the Rhine, I caught a hot lunch and cool beer before heading on to Bad Ragaz and Sargans (483m).
An excellent bicycle path connects Sargans with the Walensee and canton Glarus. I took the path from Mels to the lake at Walenstadt (427m) and rode along the lake to where the road to Karenzerberg (743m) a small pass that cuts off just before Muehlehorn to go over the corner of the mountain into canton Glarus. From Mollis a small road heads up the valley and a bicycle path leads all the way into Glarus. Traffic on Rt N17 is light from Glarus to the end of the Linth valley. It is partially overcast as I head toward Linthal (662m). The Glarner Alps are spectacular as always because the mountains, although not exceptionally high, rise steeply around the narrow valley to vanish in the haze, making them seem immense. The Kloental to the west of Glarus is especially narrow with a lake filling the bottom of the high valley that ends on the Pragel pass (1550m) to Schwyz.
The first climb up the pass starts after Linthal, where the road heads into the cliffs through a pair of one way rough hewn tunnels that are being replaced by a long modern one that has been under construction for nearly three years. As all the hillsides here, this one is steep but the road finds benches as it winds up long traverses through a hardwood forest. The road finally breaks out into the Urner Boden at 1300m, a long broad high valley with near vertical walls on three sides.
At the upper end of the Urner Boden (1400m), the road begins to climb the end of the box canyon as the Toedi (3614m) and its surrounding glacial peaks become visible. Free falling waterfalls and the private cableways, whose cables vanish in the distance in single spans that appear to rise nearly a thousand meters, underscore the steepness of the terrain. The mountains were obscured on the last section to the summit but opened to view just beyond the top of the Klausen pass (1948m) above the floor of the Schaechental 700m below.
By now the clouds closed in for their evening percussion concert and washdown, in preparation for a beautiful morning. Still the view straight down into the Schaechental onto the roofs in Aesch (1234m) was breathtaking, especially with the flimsy railing that borders the edge of the abyss. For emphasis a waterfall falls freely into the village from several hundred meters above, where it separates from the wall of the canyon. The road was in excellent condition, so I could blast down to Hotel Urigen (1300m) where an American motorcycling couple that I had seen on the way up had stopped. They chose to eat outdoors but I decided to avoid the rain that soon came and finished my dinner inside before joining them under the eaves at their outdoor table. We talked mountain roads till late.
I like to call the Susten pass (2224m) the glacier highway of Switzerland for the great ice flows and snowy peaks. The climb is also a little defeating, because nearly the entire continuous grade can be seen at once on the way up the long curved valley. In spite of its good alignment, it is neither steep enough nor smooth enough to make a high speed descent. For some who expect to go fast, descending the south slope is disappointing bicycling, if you ignore the scenic compensation. Although the pass opened late this year, it had less snow at the top than in other years.
The view and ride down the Gadmental is exciting and beautiful, with broad curved tunnels opening vistas to ice fields and waterfalls that go over some of the short tunnels. The Berner Oberland becomes visible as the road breaks out into the Haslital and drops to Inertkirchen (625m). It was a short sprint up the four legs of the Lammi (700m), where I stopped for a hearty lunch and joined three other bikies of about my category and type of equipment. We got talking about rides of years ago, before I remembered that I had a ways to go and they had to backtrack for a pooped out rider.
Its a short coast down past the Hotel Tourist and into Meiringen (595m) before the grunt up the 13% part of the Brunig pass (1008m). The weather was great with scattered clouds, no wind and mild temperatures as I rolled down to Lungern (752m), around the lake and down to Giswil (485m) on the Sarner lake. I stopped at the Pilatus dual cogwheel railway and bought some postcards before riding on to Luzern and the Reuss valley. No flats, no spokes, no crashes; only a broken frame and jammed freewheel. That was OK for 2900km and 19 days on the road.
You might wonder why this report doesn't list daily distances and climbs. I lost my notebook after the trip and could only give those days that coincided with ones from previous years.