Tour of the Alps 2006

by Jobst Brandt, Palo Alto, CA

At noon Sunday, 09 July, I flew with Virgin Atlantic and Swiss Airlines from San Francisco via Heathrow, to arrive Monday afternoon In Zurich. I took a through train from the ZRH airport to Schwyz where my friends, the Dierauers, picked me up for the short ride to their house in Ibach, home of Victor Inox, aka Swiss Army Knife. Edith and Turi Dierauer have been my gracious hosts for many bike tours, as were the senior Dierauers before them.

I unpacked my bicycle from my Nashbar soft-bag and assembled it installing the right crank, turning the fork and bars to the front and installing the rear derailleur and chain. Amazingly the Dierauer's house from last year was gone and a new airy and modern house stood in its place needing only final landscaping. After a great dinner I got a good night's rest in preparation of getting on the road the next morning, jet lag and all. Richard Mlynarik, my ride partner, had spent time with his wife in France and would arrive in the morning.

1. Tuesday, 11 July (Ibach - Goldswil (BE)); 144km, 3200m:

Richard arrived as planned and stowed his extra bags in the garage before we got going to Brunnen (435m) on the Vierwaldstettersee (aka Lake of Lucerne) to take the Axenstrasse along the east shore into Canton Uri (William Tell country). The end of the lake is at Flüelen where the Reuss river, that is fed from the Klausen, Susten, and Gotthard passes, enters the lake.

The Axenstrasse is hewn into the vertical granite walls above the lake, as it alternates between ledges and tunnels in the cliffs, a barrier that was only passable by boat in ancient times. Below the road, the Gotthard railway lies almost entirely in tunnels from Brunnen to Flüelen. Meanwhile, the freeway tunnels deep in the mountain for the entire stretch with no view of the Alps.

This road can be appreciated best from a bicycle because that way one can use the original tunnels and narrow road that are more exposed and give a panorama, shown in the web site above, instead of the current road with longer tunnels that leave no view of towering snow capped peaks and the lake. We passed the noted Tellsprung, where Wilhelm is said to have jumped to shore in a raging storm to escape from Austrians who had taken him captive.

In Altdorf, Richard took pictures of me posing in front of the Tell monument where he stands proudly, bigger than life, in bronze, son at his side, with crossbow (Swiss trade mark) over his shoulder in front of a mural of the Alps of canton Uri. We rode up the valley past Erstfeld (472m) the north portal of the huge SBB 57km Gotthard base tunnel that is nearing completion.

The climb toward the Gotthard pass begins abruptly on a stone-arch bridge over the Reuss at the SBB hydropower plant in Amsteg where the valley becomes a steep and narrow gorge. Our road wended its way along the granite walls while the double track SBB, in order to not exceed a 2.7% grade, uses helical tunnels to gain altitude on its way to the original 16km Gotthard Tunnel. As usual, traffic was light, because most of it stayed on the four lane Autobahn that remains mostly out of sight in tunnels and avalanche sheds. To our benefit, in spite of regular vacationer's traffic jams, most drivers choose to wait patiently for traffic to move rather than trying the old highway.

In Wassen (916m), where the road to the Susten pass takes off, we settled for a hearty grocery store lunch, it being before noon when stores close.

In Wassen, the Susten road starts with a classic tunnel-into-the-wall above the Meienreuss with a nearly uniform 8% grade to the Susten Pass. After the curved bare rock tunnel we crossed a stone arch bridge over a waterfall of the Reuss and entered another tunnel followed by more tunnels to climb into the Meiental above the narrow gorge that had, in earlier days, required arduous climbing over higher ground. The modern Susten Pass was completed in 1946 with a uniform grade that, above Meien village, is visible as a sloping contour line to the summit.

The Susten Pass is not well known for its great vistas and many glaciers, probably because it has no ski areas, but I choose to call it the glacier highway of Switzerland. After a 200m long summit tunnel, a large parking lot in front of an all day cafeteria allows tour busses and to cars stop in front of the breathtaking panorama of the Sustenhorn (3503m) and several other glacier covered peaks of nearly equal hight above the Steingletscher that ends 360m below, where the road passes the Steingletscher Hotel.

The road runs down the north side of the Gadmental, across from the glacier, passing through rough bare rock tunnels and along spectacular cliffs on its way to Innertkirchen in the Haslital. At Innertkirchen we crossed the Aare river and climbed the Kirchet (pass) of four short traverses between narrow hairpins to rise over the narrow slot, the Aareschlucht, through which the Aare river leaves the Haslital to reach the Brienzersee.

Just beyond the Kirchet we turned off onto the road to Rosenlaui where one of the great Swiss glaciers lies behind a similar narrows in granite walls. As we passed the Reichenbachfall at hotel Zwirgi, we listened carefully for the last utterances of Holmes and Moriarty as they went over the falls in Conan Doyle's works. The watering trough at the waterworks came in handy on this warm and sunny day. This is a steep but rewarding climb as it levels off just below the Rosenlaui Glacier with the backdrop of the magnificent Wetterhorn (3701m). We dropped in on Andras and Christina Kehrli, the proprietors of Hotel Rosenlaui, to say hello and down a delicious afternoon dessert before heading up the road to the end of the public road at Schwarzwaldalp.

The climb from Schwarzwaldalp (1454m) to the old bus turn-around was steep as always and required a bit of extra effort, but then the rest of the hill with its 12% grade went all right. The restricted road is smoothly paved but is only as wide as the bus that generally does not slow down for bicyclists, something that is stated with a picture of a bicyclist at the beginning of the road. The road climbs scenically through meadows with grazing cows amidst wildflowers on its way to Große Scheidegg (1961m) at the foot of the glacier crowned Wetterhorn.

We had heard of large rock falls on the Eiger north face but saw nothing from across the valley in Grindelwald (1034m) below. The grand trio of Eiger, Mönch, and pure white Jungfrau looked as good as ever as we cruised through town and descended next to the raging Lütschine.

It's all downhill along the icy Schwarze Lütschine that sends up a freezing air to the road at bridges and narrows. At Zweilütschinen (655m), where the Schwarze and Weisse Lütschinen join to flow down the nearly level valley to Interlaken (563m). We looked back across the large meadow in the middle of Interlaken for a postcard view up the Lauterbrunnental to the Jungfrau. After crossing Aare to the north shore of the Brienzersee we made the short climb to the Hotel Schönegg in Goldswil, which literally sits on a cliff overlooking the lake. Here we found good food and lodging that I had envisioned on other times I have passed here.

2. Wednesday, 12 July (Goldswil - Reuras); 122km, 2930m:

We rode along the north shore of the Brienzer lake to Brienz where we just missed the departure of the BRB 800mm (Abt cogwheel) steam train that goes to the top of the Brienzer Rothorn (2353m). From here, it's not far to Meiringen a few kilometers past the end of the lake.

We photographed Sherlock Holmes in the center of Meiringen in life-sized bronze, with pipe, cape, and deerstalker cap pensively sitting on a rock, probably thinking abut Dr. Moriarty. Leving town up the hill to Willigen, where a short climb took us ovr the Kirchet (709m) to back to Innertkirchen and up the Haslital to the Grimsel Pass. The Grimsel road has three reprieves, one in Guttannen (1057m), with a good grocery store, and another at Handegg (1402m), with good accommodations in case of foul weather and finally a hotel above the upper dam as the road follows the lakeshore. The road climbs between granite walls to lower and upper concrete dams of the KWO power company.

THis time there was no snow or ice on the summit lake on the Grimsel Pass (2154m), where the road passes through a gap from which a panorama of the Rhone Glacier, source of the Rhone, and the Furka pass to the southeast, opens. Although the Furka Pass is 267m higher then the Grimsel, it is not the climb it appears to be, even after the descent to Gletsch which makes it a 672m climb.

The Grimsel summit gave us a view to Gletsch (1759m) with its hotel, train station, and the Furka road junction nearly straight below beyond a series of hairpin turns of the Grimsel road. Above to the east, the Galenstock (3583m) and the gap of the Furka Pass make a fine backdrop for the Rhone Glacier and the adjacent Hotel Belvedere.

We stopped in Gletsch at the DFB (Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke) Furka Steam Railway train station, where a train full of tourists was getting ready to depart. I made the annual dues paying ritual with my M/C card which still seems to be a financial hurdle for these folks, as they use a manual "ratsch-ratsch" credit card printer (the reason for raised numbers on the card). The train started puffing up the cogwheel climb to the summit tunnel as we headed up the pass.

The Furka Pass (2431m), 267m higher than the Grimsel, lies in the gap at the head of this valley that is swept clean, except for some shrubs, by avalanches. The Furka has a great panorama that, as I experienced once on an exceptionally clear day, can include the Matterhorn to the west. We could see the portal of the DFB summit tunnel still showing a wisp of smoke from the train that just left Gletsch.

We passed the remnants of the glacier where barely any ice is visible above the cliff and rode around the historic Belvedere Hotel perched adjacent to the Glacier. From here the grade lets up even more so we cruised over the top and started the long gradual descent to Tiefenbach (2106m) where the grade gets steeper and the curves tighter on the way down to Realp (1538m) in the upper Reuss valley. In Realp we visited the roundhouse and shops of the DFB where the locomotive we had seen in Gletsch was already parked for the night.

Being too early to stop at my favorite hotel Rössli in Hospental, we rolled on through Andermatt (1447m) and headed east over the Oberalp Pass (2044m). This pass is a comfortable climb and crosses the FO cogwheel RR, the original Furka railway, as it climbs at a fairly steady 12% grade, while we made do with 8%. We stopped on the way down the Vorderrhein Vally in Reuras (1424m) just above Sedrun.

3. Thursday 13 July (Reuras - Samedan); 140km, 2260m:

With another beautiful sunny day, we rolled easily down the Vorderrhein Valley toward Ilanz, passing the Gotthard tunneling construction at Samedan where a cogwheel line descends over a temporary concrete bridge and tunnel to the site that is connected by elevators to the tunnel bore 925m below.

The road was amazingly better than the early days when it was barely two car width and many tight curves. Many of these improvements came about to make winter access by skiers more inviting. Other than that the scenery is as magnificent as ever and we saw it without headwinds. At Ilanz (698m) we took the road on the south side of the valley while the main route follows the north side and climbs continuously to a higher elevation at Flims (1081m) than our wiggly but scenic route over the narrows of the Vorderrhein through Versam (908m).

On this unspoiled road, we passed through several villages and came upon the landmark fountain, said to be the largest watering trough in the Alps in Carrera. We got a drink and took pictures while a photographer for a bicycling publication asked us to pose at the statue of lady bountiful that adorns the water spigots. From Carrera a gradual climb took us to the highpoint along this spectacular ravine with its white chalk cliffs and a thin line of the RhB railroad, on which the Glacier express carries many tourists, visible far below at river's edge.

In Bonaduz (655m) we headed south along the Hinterrhein to Thusis (760m) and Tiefencastel, where the Julier Pass heads south. At Filisur (1032m), famous for the magnificent stone arch Landwasser Viaduct of the RhB that crosses 65m above the Landwasser in a long curve ending spectacularly in a tunnel in a vertical granite wall. Davos, of winter sport fame, lies on the headwaters of the Landwasser.

From here we rode up the Albula canyon with the RhB zigzagging its way over loops and curved bridges as the road climbs steeply through this narrow valley. As in most of the central Alps, the vertical scale is amazing, often topped by snowy peaks whose names are common in tourist photos that seem like optical illusions for the height and beauty.

As we climbed, various trains went by, including a Glacier Express with air conditioned glass domed cars. Local trains, in contrast, allow opening windows to watch the scenery. Of course by bicycle the experience is more intense, especially in the marvelous weather we had. I recall the rides I have taken here since the days when many of these passes were unpaved. The Albula Pass (2312m), although now paved, has remained unblemished by development of hotels and ski slopes, pristine as it was when I first saw it.

An interesting feature of the railway is that fat tired descending "bicycles", without pedals, can be rented at the Preda (1789m) station, the south end of the summit tunnel, and returned at Bergün (1367m), the road being continuously downhill on this stretch. The bicycles have hand brakes, a normal saddle, and a scooter-like running board in the center, but look at first glance like regular bicycles.

The road climbs higher than the RR to the Albula summit (2312m) after which a brisk descent took us to the Inn Valley at Bever (1711m) we turned west toward St. Moritz, stopping in Samedan (1721m) at the Hotel Weisses Kreuz in the center of town, where I had stayed many times over the years years, recalling when the garage was still a barn with hay and cows. I think this was my last time, because the old man that ran the place was gone and the dining room was closed. Although we ate down the street, we got a good nights rest in the old hotel.

4. Friday, 14 July (Samedan - Borgomanero, 222km, 1200m)

We pushed off into a cool sunrise, choosing the urban route through Celerina and St. Moritz (1837m) to get a closeup view of the ritzy hotels, so called after hotelier César Ritz (1850-1918) who invented the genre in Paris. Among other things, we passed the giant aerial tram, the Signalbahn, that connects downtown with ski and hiking area toward Piz Nair (3056m).

Riding west along Lake Silvaplana, past Silvaplana (1815m), at the north ramp of the Julier Pass, the scene was right out of a tourist calendar. Farther on, we rode along the Silsersee, the source of the Inn River, to reach the one sided Maloja Pass (1815m). From here a curvy zigzag but brisk descent took us down the wall of the box canyon to the flat valley above Casaccia (1458m) and on down the valley toward the Italian border at Castasegna and finally Chiavenna (325m).

We crossed the Mera River to ride along the west side of Lago di Como to appreciate the many unbelievably ornate villas with manicured gardens surrounded by stone walls, fences of fancy ironwork, and neatly trimmed hedges. Sail- and motorboats were sailing on the lake and once in a while a ferry/cruise boat plied its course between the major towns around the lake.

Before I realized it, we had passed through Menaggio where I had planned to turn west to Lago di Lugano to view more villas, but we were doing all right here and continued to the outskirts of Como where we took secondary roads south of Varese to Borgomanero (538m). We found a wonderful hotel with a garden dining atrium at the end of a long cul-de-sac off the busy main street.

We parked our bicycles in the garage and got cleaned up to appear for dinner in our travel finery to enjoy a delicious Italian dinner on this comfortably warm summer evening. During dinner, alpine swifts darted overhead, picking off insects while giving their characteristic modulated chirp as they worked until dusk. After that, bats took over the task.

5. Saturday, 15 July (Borgomanero - Ivrea [Cuneo] 60km, 660m)

We started out in the direction of Biella (420m), cruising along the more or less flatland, taking a route northward from Biella to arrive in Ivrea (254m) before lunch. We gave Brian Tomlin, our local contact over the years, a call and he picked us up at the main bridge over the Dora Baltea, the river that drains the Val d'Aosta coming off the Great St. Bernard region. We followed Brian across town to his place and enjoyed a fine lunch that he prepared for us.

Richard's rear wheel had pulled a spoke out of the rim, so he needed a new one. Brian assured us that would be no problem because his bike shop was super at such jobs. As it turned out there was only one 36-hole rim in the shop and it took the same spoke length as the old one. For a mere 20EUR the job was done while I got some shuteye on Brian's sofa.

We decided that we didn't want to ride across the Po valley as in the past, through Torino traffic and the long haul to Cuneo. So we got train tickets for us and the bicycles (SUPPLEMENTO 24 ORE per transporto bici al seguito del viaggiatore) after getting to the train station with little time to spare. On the way to Torino, we were delayed by track work so that our connecting train from Torino had already left. This gave us an opportunity to take a bicycle cruise around town and find a good dinner before returning to FS Stazione Centrale for the next train to Cuneo.

In Cuneo we made a traditional stop at the huge fountain in front of the station where we got a drink before going into town to find nearby lodging at Hotel Fiamma for the next stage into les Alpes Maritime.

6. Sunday, 16 July (Cuneo - San Martin Vesubie; 153km, 3484m):

For old times sake, we crossed the high double decked bridge over the Stura di Demonte, the bridge over whose lower deck we arrived by train last night. The reason for this little backtrack was to savor the Japanese plums that are ripe at this time on trees that line the bridge approach. I recall one year when we arrived in heavy rain that did not deter us from stopping to eat plums. Yes, they were juicy and tart.

From Cuneo (587m), the road climbs gradually toward Borgo San Dalmazzo (641m) where SS20, the Tenda highway, turns south through Robilante to Limone. Although closed today, we noted the chain saw store with its unique commodity in the center of Robilante, and rode on to say hello to the folks at Albergo Aquila Reale where we have stayed often. Farther up the Valle Vermenagna we passed huge cement plants along the Vermenagna river while the Tenda Railway did its thing, being either on a bridge or in a tunnel as it climbs past Limone (990m) to the north portal of its tunnel (1184m) to emerge at Vievola (994m).

At Limone the road gets steeper with hairpin turns in the narrowing valley on its way to the Tenda highway tunnel (1321m) that descends to (1279m) at its south portal. We made a pit stop at the small store and bar at the tunnel entrance to get something to drink and peruse the great collection of maps offered there before heading up through Quota (1400m) to the old summit, laid idle by the tunnel in 1913.

With good asphalt pavement we climbed through ski slopes on the old road to the top of the ancient pass (1962m) in ideal cool weather with puffy clouds in a blue sky. The road was in excellent shape because last year a stage of the Giro d'Italia finished on the top of the pass. However, pavement ended at the French border so we were on the rocky course of the ancient road that was replaced by the tunnel so long ago. The top of the pass was full of parked cars of people who came for a Sunday hike and picnic.

We had the usual slow descent over the rutted rocky road with its myriad hairpin turns until we reached the new road where it emerges from the tunnel. From here it's a gentle descent to Tende (1089m) with the railway almost entirely in tunnels and making a loop to lose altitude. Tende was its usual picturesque self with its ancient tower and houses plastered on the steel slopes.

We continued down the rough the Gorge du Saorge with the lineal village high above at the rim of the abyss. One house in particular has roughly a fifty meter drop from the kitchen window to the Roya River. The sad part of this is that a tunnel is being completed that will carry the road through the dark at this beautiful location.

The gorge barely opens wider as the Tende Railway crosses on bridges as it enters and leaves helical tunnels that help it change altitude. Above Breil, at La Giandola (350m), we headed west up the Brouis Pass (879m) to Sospel (349m) in beautiful Mediterranean weather. As we cruised through town we noticed that the sweet shop abd resaurant, with the proprieter I call the village philosopher, was closed for remodeling with no one in sight.

We headed north along the Bèvera river, crossing the railway line to Nice where it ducks into a long tunnel, and began climbing the Turini Pass, first to the gap at Notre Dame de Menour and to the back of the canyon to Moulinet, before climbing through a pine forest to the Turini summit (1607m).

This is not a spectacular pass if you see it in summer, although there are great panoramas on the west side. Its significance has mainly been found in the Monte Carlo Auto Rallye whose route passes here, often before the snows of winter have melted. The many hairpin turns make this a favorite for auto race fans.

In contrast, we had mild weather with a lovely descent past such photogenic sights as la Bollene-Vesubie (650m) set in the midst of Alpes Maritime.

At the bottom of the descent we arrived in the Gorge de Vesubie (520m) where we turned north toward St. Martin (975m). This is a gradual climb that was once a route of the Chemin de Fer de Provence, the train station and sheds still visible on the town square.

We found a good place to stay and had a fine dinner. It was another marvelous day with cool sunny weather.

7. Monday 17 July (St Martin-Vesubie - Barcelonnette; 165km, 3620m):

The climb to the Colmain (Col St. Martin 1500m) begins at the edge of town, just beyond the old train shed, looping up the canyon wall so that we soon had a panorama with St Martin so far below that it seemed unlikely that we had just been down there. The road, notched into cliffs, passes through rough hewn tunnels in which Crag Martins darted past us, undaunted by passing motor traffic.

These gray-brown, swallow-like birds, tend their nests in the rocky tunnel ceilings where their young are safe from predators. Traffic and diesel exhaust seem not to bother them. Beyond the flat summit of green meadows and a ski area, we descended the Valdeblore to the Tinée where the terrain is dry with sparse vegetation in the red rock Gorges de Valabre (503m).

Across the Gorges de Valabre, roads that are tiring just to look at, follow tortuous paths climbing through cliffs to mountain villages like Ilonse (1200m). We crossed the Tinée at St Sauveur (510m) on Rt-D30, the Col de la Couillole (1678m), near whose summit the ghost town Roubion a typical picturesque hill town located on steep terrain above impassable cliffs that dissuaded intruders. From the Couillole we descended to Beuil (1450m) and climbed to Croix de Valberg (1829m).

We took the "back" road, Rt D29, down to Guillaumes (1200m) where we got a great lunch but were careful not to repeat the excesses of a couple of years ago, when my friend and I spent more than two hours savoring the fine food and drink. In pleasant sunny weather, we rode up Rt N2202 in the Gorges de Daluis along the Var River toward the Col de la Cayolle (2327m).

I find this road especially appealing because it lies in the Parc National du Mercantour with no ski areas and accompanying development, having only villages with simple accommodations. The Cayolle has remained unchanged since my first ride here in 1960. For me, nostalgia puts a special accent on some of these roads. It's been awhile!

The climb, and especially the summit, is set in the midst of steep green alpine meadows, rich with a beautiful wildflowers. Only a small stone monument marks the summit across from a short parking strip. As we descended through the Gorges du Bachelard along the Torrente Bachelard toward Barcelonnette (1136m) a thunderstorm approaching from the west remained just off course enough that we got a few sprinkles when the canyon went too far to that side.

I had in mind to ride to Condamine to the Hotel du Midi where I have stopped often, but as we turned east toward Jausiers (at the foot of Col de la Bonette) we faced a nearly black sky with occasional flashes of light. Just before Jausiers, turbulent wind with rain and hail hit us with gusts that made riding straight, difficult. We continued to town and found the hotels full, so I thought there was a possibility of finding something in Condamine which is a flat run from here.

Now it was coming down steady with a crescendo of Thor's timpani at work. We rode to Condamine (1267m) at the foot of the Col de Larch and Col de Vars but found the dining room full of motorcyclists who had no rooms, the hotel having been filled with he first thunder clap. We had no alternative but to return to Barcelonnette 13km back.

There the man in charge of the hotel we tried said there was no room left in town but that knew of a place a mere five kilometers from here, and that if we wished they would send a car to pick us up. I didn't get it at first but these five kilometers were all uphill to a ski hotel. We said OK and left our bicycles there, taking our bags with us for a wonderful hotel stay above town. In the morning skies were again blue as we took a taxi back to town.

8. Tuesday, 18 July (Barcelonnette - Monetier les Bains 117km, 2520m):

Retracing our steps from yesterday, we rode past Jausiers and Condamine with clear cool weather as we rode up the Ubey River past the huge Fort de Tournoux from past wars high, above on cliffs full of passages that tunnel from the valley to the top (1700m) and today keeping silent vigil for enemies long gone. In the valley, empty buildings, their plaster riddled with bullet holes, remain as combat mementos.

We rode up the Ubey on the Route des Grande Alpes (D902) and began climbing the Col de Vars (2111m) that starts just beyond the junction with the Col de Larche (1991m), aka Colle della Maddalena, from the Italian side. Interestingly, Col de Vars has kilometer posts with distance to the summit and average gradient, with a randonneur sign-in stamp at the summit, something we didn't notice elsewhere. That way you can have "proof-of-purchase" in you log book.

On the descent to Guillestre (1000m), we could make out the gap of the Galibier Pass in the distant panorama of snowy peaks and glaciers above the Durance Valley.

We came down the Col de Vars into Guillestre just after midday, shortly before the Tour (Stage 15, from Gap to l'Alpe d'Huez) came up the Durance valley and passed through town. We didn't realize how lucky we were not to have come sooner because the road had been closed to all traffic for about two hours. As it was, the last of the sponsors' entourage of advertising vehicles blasted through two abreast as we arrived.

We waited about 40 minutes for the riders and the following support vehicles to pass.

What we had missed was the the huge preceding, spread-out, hours-long advertising procession.

It wasn't long before the lead race vehicles came by and then a small group of riders, the ones that mattered, came by at speeds one generally expects in flat time trials. Then after a gap of a couple of minutes, the main field arrived after which domestique riders who had expended their abilities came by working hard to make closing time to stay in the race.

Rather than get into the tail of the event, we went to a nearby supermarket (the Champion supermarket chain, as it happened; sponsor of the red polka dot climber's jersey) where we bought the usual bread, cheese, salami, melons and yogurt and ate in the meager shade in the parking lot, which itself was filled with tour merchandise vendors and an "ecran géant" (giant screen) showing the TV race coverage but with live local commentary.

About 2pm we followed the Tour course up the Combe du Queyras toward the col d'Izoard where we met many TdF fans in cars, RVs and on bicycles, heading back down the valley from their race-watching spots along the road.

Many RVs were still parked along the road, with satellite TVs to make TdF tourism of the day, or maybe just waiting to see us ride by? Some of these can be seen

We were in bright hot sun for the first steep grunt through the fields above Arvieux (1544m), but after Brunnisard we reached the forest where the grade lets up and the road zigzags to the first summit. Meanwhile the afternoon storm, that had been chasing us, arrived and dumped rain an hail for about 20 minutes. Afterward, where the wind was right and in the shade, hail remained next to the road looking like light snowfall.

The barren landscape looks more like the moon, with slopes of dark gray scree at the angle of repose as we descended and began climbing to the main summit, passing the Fausto Coppi monument. The Izoard (2361m) climb was pleasantly cool and drying off. Wearing Parka and gloves we made the cool descent to Briançon passing some slow RV's. As Richard stopped for photos he got passed by them and also on the short uphill in the gorge of the Cerveyrette past the corrugated-iron-roofed village of Cervières at the outskirts of Briançon.

From the Izoard (2361m), we could see the gap of the Galibier on the horizon while we made the unspectacular descent to Briançon (1391m). The difference from other times was that we could readily see the road because it was lined with white campers of TdF fans. Having once experienced the "no room at the inn" and what we knew of the TdF, we rode to Monetier les Bains and fou8nd a hotel, instead of going to the Lauteret summit and the Hotel Bonnabel (aka Hotel des Glaciers) for the night.

9. Tuesday, 19 July (Monetier les Bains - Bonneval; 77km, 1840m)

Starting as early as hotel breakfast permits, we got on the road and headed for the Galibier (2645m) with a stream of cars and more and more RV's parked along the road. We stopped briefly on the Lautaret (2058m) to say hello to Domenic Bonnabel and head up the hill on the road that was still open to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The summit tunnel (2555m) being closed to bicyclists makes them go over the old Galibier (2645m) reached by a narrow twisty uneven climb of up to 12% in places. From the top, a panorama of the glaciers of the Massif de la Vanoise (3600m) and the Massif du Sorieller (4000m) were gleaming in bright sunshine.

Foolishly, we stayed on top long enough to approach total road closure and had difficulty bluffing our way through the many gendarmes, a few of which made us dismount and walk our bicycles behind the fences. Not taking many pictures, I got farther than Richard but alas, I to was stuck in Plan Lachat (1961m), where I resigned to watch the commercial parade for the next two hours.

Finally, the deedle-deedle of a police car came racing down the road after which the same or similar lead group we saw yesterday came whizzing through town as the fans screamed. You need to know your heroes well to recognize them when they flash by with helmets and wrap-around dark glasses. About an hour later, Richard was able to come down the hill and we rode to Valloire (1430m) and up the 5km climb to the Télégraphe (1570m), from which it's a steep winding descent to the Arc river at St. Michel du Maurienne (711m).

With the autoroute taking most traffic, route N6 is again nearly as pleasant as it was years ago. At Modane (1057m), the railway heads into the Frejus tunnel (built in 1871) to Torino and the autoroute heads to its 12.9km tunnel leaving us on a nearly empty Rt N6 toward Lanslebourg.

This year the supersonic wind tunnel at la Bourget had a new light blue colored storage tank to replaced its four spherical ones typical of such installations, meaning they are still at work. Two years ago we had the pleasure of hearing a test run that sounds like a 747 at full power standing still for more than a minute.

Above Avrieux we climbed over the narrows of the Arc at the the Barriere de l'Esseillon canyon where huge Le fort Victor-Emmanuel stands and was a formidable obstacle to invaders in ancient times.

The road levels off across from the fortress and clings to the wall of the deep defile of the Arc River, passing through tunnels and narrow cuts in the wall. Tourists cross the breathtaking gorge to the fort on the Pont du Diable, a slender truss foot bridge that accentuates the depth of the chasm. Beyond the gorge, we descended to Arc and rolled gradually up to Termignon (1300m). From here, it's a short climb to Lanslebourg (1399m), from where the Col du Mont Cenis (2083m) connects to Torino.

We got some food and drink in Lanslevillard, the upper end of Lanslebourg, before the Col du Madeleine (1746m), a short but steep climb into the high valley of the Arc that has sparse traffic in summer. Great panoramas of the Glaciers de Evettes on the slopes of the Croce Rossa (3546m), Via di Ciamarella (3676m), and l'Albaron (3638m) opened to the east on the way to our days stop in Bonneval sur Arc (1835m).

10. Thursday 21 July (Bonneval sur Arc - Ferret; 110km, 2690m)"

After an early breakfast, we headed up the Col d'Iseran that starts here with two long traverses to the Gorge de la Lenta, a box canyon that lies south of the pass and from which the road climbs the east wall to rise over waterfalls as it passes through bare rock tunnels. Here, above the box canyon, the Lenta cascades into the gorge through a slot, above which the road crosses the river on a stone bridge and takes two long traverses in a narrow valley to the summit of the Col d'Iseran (2764m).

Being another cool sunny day, this was a pleasant climb. This side of the pass is not as marred by ski development as the north side that Jean Claude Killy made famous though his three gold medals at the 1968 winter Olympics in Grenoble. Val d'Isère (1840m) is so entirely ski oriented that snowfall should be expected any minute, judging from the crowds.

Below Val d'Isère the road climbs a bit, passe through a few tunnels and runs along the Lac du Chevril before descending to Ste Foy (1051m) where we took a "short cut" to Rosiere (1850m) on the Petite St. Bernard pass. Although cutting a diagonal to Rosiere and not descending to Seez (984m), this road has its ups and downs that I forgot from previous rides.

We got on the main road that has a moderate grade and good alignment to cruise to the top next to the old monastery and Statue of the great saint. Descending to Pré St. Didier (1004m) in the val d'Aosta we turned north toward the Mont Blanc tunnel past Courmayeur to Entreves (1306m) at the tunnel portal and turned east up the Val Ferret. This is a small steep road that sees little traffic except hikers and mountain climbers, there being almost no major ski facilities. After Planpincieux (1579m), the road levels off into a moderate climb to the end of the val Ferret.

We stopped at Lavachey (1642m) where we found good lodging and with a great view of the valley.

11. Friday, 21 July (Lavachey - Varzo; 190km, 2485m):

We started out up the valley riding past the end of pavement and up to Rifugio Elena (2218m) which is looking more substantial than in earlier times.

It was here that I was disappointed to see one of my favorite glacial shots, melted away. We took a picture for comparison.

The road ends here and the hiking trail heads abruptly up the steep grassy slope where the mode is push or carry depending on the steepness. The trail is well maintained and the most difficult steep sections replaced with longer traverses. Intermittent riding was possible as we got close to the summit. Just the same, the Col Ferret (2537m) is a short climb. After a summit picture we descended into Switzerland, making use of the sections that could be ridden down to where the trail meets a farm road to Orsieres (901m) where we joined the Grande St. Bernard road to Martigny (417m) and the Rhone valley.

From here we hoped to catch the afternoon wind up the Rhone Valley but it was merely a breeze. Just the same, we made good time to Brig viewing the construction site of the BLS Lötschberg base tunnel work that looks much like the work on the Gotthard with piles of granite and tunneling machines. At Brig (684m), we headed up the Simplon Pass and stayed on the new road over the bridge past Ried, just after town as I usually have.

It's a gentle climb up to the Schallberg tunnel, where the road turns south and up the Saltina gorge to go around the mountain into the Gantertal (1840m), where a curved concrete suspension Berisal bridge crosses over the Gantertal cutting off the old loop to the back of the valley. Cars were being diverted onto that old road to avoid construction at the bridge but we weaseled our way through.

Above here, we were back in the Salzach valley with the road clinging to the east wall, ducking in and out of tunnels and avalanche sheds that are completely enclosed with glass bricks as windows to the canyon. The Simplon being and all year highway, is well covered in the areas where snow hazard exists.

At the kiosk at the top of the grade, near the famous granite eagle sculpture, I bought a couple of postcards of the monument to send to an old bikie friend who rode tandem here with his wife. They had cold and snowy weather, both here and in Zermatt, from where I received one of these post cards mark at the top of the pedestal claiming "snow was up to here". Upon seeing his slide show, I was sure there was snow but only a few inches deep, not several feet to the base of the eagles talons. Therefore, I have since then always sent them this card with the notation, the snow was up to here.

From the Simplon (2005m) summit,'s a gradual descent passes the old summit hotel (1472m) and Monastery below the road before entering the Gondo gorge, a spectacular granite walled slot in the mountains from which Gabi (1228m) can be seen a good 200m meters seemingly straight below as the road winds through bare granite tunnels.

Below Gabi, we passed Iselle (673m), where the south portal of the 20km Simplon railway tunnel (completed May 19, 1906,) lies directly next to the road. Shortly beyond that we started the short climb to Varzo (532m) that lies on the top of an alluvial fan on the east side of the Val Divedro. The heat of the day had already been displaced by an approaching thunderstorm but now that it was here, it blew ferociously with intense flashes of nearby lightning strikes along with simultaneous dry crackle of thunder. In a narrow canyon with bare rock walls, this was an amazing experience. First rain, then hail and finally 10mm hail stones.

At the height of the downpour we were in front of the hotel Locanda Hollander where we ducked in, stowed our bicycles and cleaned up for a well deserved diner. During the night I was surprised at the density of freight trains that pass through the Simplon, having seen mostly occasional passenger trains during the day. This reminded me of the days when I worked on the railroad as a summer job and bunked in a railway car near the mainline. Those trains didn't interrupt my sleep much either, other than to note that they were passing.

12. Saturday, 22 July (Varzo - Cama; 150km, 2299m):

In the morning there was no sign of yesterday's harsh weather, showing that this sort of weather occurs often enough to leave much of a mark. Soon Varzo will also have a quieter main street, an elevated autoroute being nearly finished after five or so years of construction. The new elevated road will span from Iselle to just above Crevola d'Ossola where the autoroute enters a tunnel to Domodossola.

Just above the tunnel, we took the old road, as bicycles must, and stopped at the classic stone arch bridge over the Diveria, the bridge looking as sturdy as if it had been built yesterday, although it has surely been there more than a couple of centuries. At Crevola d'Ossola (530m) above the Valle d'Ossola, we turned northeast toward Crodo (539m), the source of bottled Crodo mineral water and up the Val Formazza past Baceno (655m). Today was not the day to appreciate the Toce river because it is diverted into penstocks by ENEL the national power company, except on Sunday and Thursday afternoon.

In spite of that, it is a lovely valley with steep walls from which "cutters" are sawing huge 2x2x4 meter blocks of the finest structural granite. Large trucks carry single stones down the valley to be processed and cut to custom sizes such as table tops in factories in the Valle d'Ossola. Four years ago a stage of the Giro d'Italia finished at the top of the falls, the "Cascada del Toce" just below Riale (1728m), so the pavement in this remote dead end valley was excellent.

The road to the finish line in front of the hotel at the top of the falls, climbs in concrete avalanche sheds up the canyon wall with a ten percent grade. We stopped to view what is otherwise a spectacular cascade but today was a trickle over dry polished cliffs. From here the road is flat to Riale in the high valley where we turned off onto the unpaved Passo San Giacomo, an ancient road that ends on the summit.

In the years I have ridden this road, I have seldom seen even one car go by. The road is also not plowed so it is often covered by snow even in summer. On the way up it passes old stone arch railings before going past the north side of a hydro-electric lake Lago Toggia (2191m). Today the road was clear and relatively smooth so that we could ride to the old stone border shack at the San Giacomo summit (2313m) where a great panorama exposes the Val Bedretto to Airolo (the base of the Gotthard Pass) and the peaks of the Bernese Alps to the north.

In spite of having been here often, I picked the wrong hiking trail for our descent, there being several that descend into the Val Bedretto to the Nufenen Pass road (1812m). We were on one of the steeper ones on which we met hikers going up. They were sure they had the best route, but I assured them there are better ones. In any event, we got to the bottom, crossed the Ticino river and were on our way down to Airolo (1141m).

We were headed for the Val Mesolcina and the San Bernardino pass so it was one long descent into a warm headwind down the Valle Laventina along the Ticino river. The road comes in relatively flat steps between steep sections, the first just below Airolo, the Ambri-Piotta and Rodi-Fiesso valley (976m), then Faido (711m), and finally down to Bodio each with narrows and steep sections with tunnels next to helical railway tunnels that help trains climb the 2.7% grade. The autoroute crosses the valley on amazingly high bridges from which not much of the valley is visible.

At Bodio (330m), we passed the southern portal of the new 57km Gotthard rail tunnel, continuing to Biasca (303m) where the Valle Santa Maria from Olivone (889m) on the Passo del Lucomagno (1915m) connects. The remains of the RhB meter gauge railroad that went up this valley are still visible at the Biasca train station where a split waterfall was doing its thing with its legs crossing over each other.

At Castione (242m) we turned east into the Valle Mesolcina and noted that this branch line of the RhB railway was dead, although the tracks and overhead wire were still functional and had a yard full of old rolling stock parked near the Arbedo SBB train station. We rode up the flat part of the valley before the climb to Mesocco and stopped at Cama (320m) the end of track for the RhB,and found a pleasant hotel.

13. Sunday, 23 July (Cama - Bregaglia; 110km 2850m):

About 20km from Cama we reached the end of the flat valley where the road the road began to climb past Soazza and up to Mesocco (790m). As the road turns into town, it dips through the old railway crossing in front of the grocery store and climbs the straight cobbled main street that climbs at an 8% grade out of town and up to Pian San Giacomo (1170m) where we pass under the concrete arch bridge of the autoroute.

As the name implies, this is a plane with grassy wet meadows from which the next climb took us to San Bernardino (1608m) with a bump before town so that we could coast down the main street. The town is the north portal of the highway tunnel but doesn't seem to be affected by it considering that I have stayed here for the night without noticing any traffic.

From here the road is especially charming as it winds through rolling terrain with traces of the Roman road that served the ancients and water flowing abundantly in the scrub pines, alpenrosen and blueberries. As with many alpine passes, there is a natural lake at the summit with trout and a hotel with a gift store with the required stuffed toy St. Bernard dogs.

We descended into the upper Rhine valley of the Hinterrhein to the town of the same name under a blue sky with puffy clouds. Today, maybe because it was Sunday, the usual thunder from the Swiss artillery range, that occupies the upper end of this remote valley was missing. The autoroute emerges from the tunnel at the edge of this gently sloping glacial valley and deigns to give us a frontage road down to Splügen (1457m), the small town at the road junction where we will turn up the Splügen pass. We took a table on the terrace at the restaurant and had a tasty lunch while taking in the sunshine in the pleasant high altitude air.

The climb is moderate and changes landscape as it goes from cow pastures to high country with cliffs and water falls. Although we have often seen dippers (Cinclidae) in the creek next to the road, we did not see any of them this time. These brown birds with a white breast and a stubby tail live along fast flowing mountain streams and have the ability to walk under water by holding onto rocks as they search for bugs. When standing on shore they most often do a series of random squats as if getting ready to launch into flight with their short wings that they flap at a high cadence. To make up for that, we saw them later in other streams.

As the road leaves the riverbed, it makes a series of traverses up to the old Swiss border guard house that appeared empty now that we have the EU. From here we were in and out of avalanche sheds to the summit from which the south side appears as a rocky steep and barren landscape with the town of Monte Spluga below at the shore of a large hydro-electric lake. The town always looks as dead an remote as the mountains and was probably originally housing for ENEL the national electric company. The granite houses have roofs of granite slabs and the streets are paved in granite to make a gray town even when the sun is shining as today. In the rain it looks even drearier.

The road passes the dam on a causeway that is a dam in itself because toward the shore, there is no water in an apparent natural crevasse into which the contents of the lake would spill were it not blocked off. The dam has the date 1931 in huge granite roman numerals across its face.

From here the road dives into avalanche tunnels that once were like others in the alps, one lane dark obstacles. As a bicyclist in earlier times I often wondered how two way traffic ever made it through these things and heard from people who had the experience that it was absurd. Today most of the tunnels are two land but tight and the road has a length restriction for trucks and buses.

Just the same, it is a fantastic experience to descend in stacked short tunneling hairpin turns that descend in the granite wall with spectacular waterfalls next to the road. The road returns to earth, so to speak, at Campodolcino (1104m) where it reverts to a fairly straight mountain road to Chiavenna (325m). The striking part of the descent was that we got to the heat wave (40C) that we kept reading about as we approached town. At the same time the afternoon thunderstorm of which we hat the best example at Varzo, came rolling in with clouds and wind to blow us up to the Swiss border at Castasegna (686m).

From here its a mild climb to Bondo/Sottoponte/Promontogno (821m), three towns that overlap at the hotel Bregaglia our goal for the day on which we decided when we passed here a week ago. The old hotel was as spacious as ever with its 3 meter high ceilings and grand stairs. We cleaned up and had an outdoor dinner in the patio before the rains came.

14. Monday, 17 July (Bregaglia - Temù; 140km, 2768m):

After an early breakfast we headed out past the duck and goose pond onto the granite cobbles and through the short tunnel to start up to the Maloja Pass. I suspect that the leaning rock was preserved more fro necessity than historic preservation because the hillside would come down if it were removed.

Farther up, Richard took the aerial tram to Lago dell'Albigna (2653m), a single span of 1250m vertical gain, a spectacular rise above the val Bregaglia. I rode up to Casaccia (1458m) where the Septimer Pass (a Roman road) cuts over to the Julier pass. It was here that the road had its steepest part as it climbed to the valley at the base of the Maloja wall. This grade was mitigated by a large ess-bend making it easy for tour buses.

The zig-zags to the top of the Maloja Pass (1815m), that seemed so steep when descending were easy riding and as I mentioned, there is no downhill after the summit. I rode past the Silser, Silvaplana, and St. Moritz lakes down to Punt Murgal (1728m) in the val Bernina. Above Pontresina, at the Bellavista curve on the RhB railway with its panorama of the Morteratsch Glacier and Piz Bernina (4049m). I got a good picture but without a red train in the foreground.

From here the road climbs gradually past the Diavolezza aerial tram that takes passengers to a magnificent view of Piz Bernina and Piz Palü and the glaciers that surround them. A short way farther, the Lagalp aerial tram for skiers climbs the other side of the valley before the road begins to climb to the summit lakes. Richard reached the Bellavista curve of the RhB at a better time and got a train in the foreground.

We rode over the relatively flat Bernina Pass (2328m), took some pictures and descended the long and fast runs down to Poschiavo (1014m) and squeezed through the narrows of San Antonio where the RhB tracks pass between buildings in the middle of a one lane street.

It's a flat run to where we joined forces once more Lago di Poschiavo and Miralago from which we descended to Brusio for a rich lunch with the finest home made ice cream as a topper at Hotel Bottoni, located just above the helical railway viaduct. From there it's a short descent to Tirano and Italy where we rode a kilometer or so down the Valtellina to cut across to Stazzona, the shortcut to the Aprica Pass.

It was a moderately warm day but the climb was pleasant as it made its way through a chestnut forest. Farther up on the main road there was less shade but we were already higher up in the cooler air. Just the same, the rich lunch and cool beers caught up with me and required a rest stop where there was some grass and shade. After that, the rest of the climb to Aprica (1176m) seemed almost flat. On my first ride through here I was surprised what large crowds came up here to escape the muggy summer air of the Lombardia.

From Aprica a long gradual descent took us to Édolo (675m) from which a similarly gradual climb took us past the junction of the Mortirolo from Tirano and on to Temú (1144m) where we had hoped to stay at Silvano Macculotti's hotel, Veduta dell'Adamello. I had not expected the hotel to be full but it was, so Silvano got on the phone and found us an ideal hotel just up the road.

We found good food and lodging at the Hotel Nationale that seemed to be a chartered place. All of the guests were men and diner was served at one sitting without menu with a standard but excellent dinner. Later that night we got a raging thunderstorm, assure us the roads would be washed for the next day.

15. Tuesday, 25 July (Temù - Naturno; 128km, 250m):

We pushed of in refreshing air after the rains of the night and rode through Ponte di Legno (1258m) that lies on both sides of the raging Frigidolfo rapids that cascades through this town with its elegant tiled old main street that is now a pedestrian mall, At the upper end of the mall, we ducked under the house that once was the height limiting gate for traffic up the Gavia Pass and began the gradual climb to Apollonia above which the Frigidolfo meanders across lush meadows at the base of the Gavia.

I stopped at the gazebo where natural rusty carbonated water comes out of the ground to give strength to those who dare to ride a bicycle up this road. It's an old tradition and I don't want to violate sacred rites so a sipped a bit of water for good luck. The road starts off in more than oriental splendor with smooth toe lane highway width, but... there is a bunch of signs that warn of snow, ice, rock fall and narrows ahead.

True to form, the old road begins there where the 16% sign stands under the trees. It has no center stripe and barely wide enough for two cars to pass with carefully. The road has a good asphalt surface today but is no less steep, curvy, and narrow than it was 100 years ago.

Much of the upper part is in avalanche territory, without trees, only shrubbery and wildflowers, and a marvelous panorama. We didn't take the tunnel at the cliff but went around the old road for pictures before climbing the last three kilometers to the Rifugio Bonetta on the Gavia summit (2621m).

Sig. Bonetta greeted us with a what'll you have to drink and said he had a present. He pulled out a package of postcards of the picture at the cliff from 1978 that hangs as a poster on his wall. Then he got his family together so we could make a group photograph on the steps of his hotel. I happened to be wearing the same jersey I had on for that poster picture to close the loop for the occasion.

We headed for Bormio In bright sunshine and puffy clouds while being aware what a rare summer this was with such pleasant weather. I always mention that it can snow any day of the year in the alps, and has on many of my tours. After Santa Caterina (1734m), a ski area, the road is wider as it descends the Valfurva Valley where there is a steep dash from the town Valfurva (1339m) to Bormio (1197m).

In Bormio, we cruised the main drag that has become a lovely pedestrian mall, at the upper end of which is the Braulio liqueur store and pizza shop across the street. This restaurant was once a great place to eat and meet but today its large front windows, that made eating there a sidewalk affair, are gone and apparently its fornaio as well.

We got on the road and headed into the Val Braulio up to the Stelvio. Not much has changed here and the scenery is as grandiose as ever. The approach to this pass is like a great symphony with more emphasis as the enormity of the landscape unfolds. I find it the greatest road I have ridden, but that may be because I first saw it as an unpaved ancient road. Coming from Bormio, the view at the Stelvio summit (2765m) of the Ortler (3905m) and Gran Zebru (3851m) across the abyss of the Val di Trafoi, is intimidating.

The descent into that abyss is also a unique experience of making a near full stop at the end of each traverse, because they end in a buttressed narrow hairpin turn, all together 48 of them. The road levels off after the fortress in Trafoi and reaches the valley in Prato (913m).

It's a pretty flat run from here to Spondigna (887m) across the Val Venosta from Prato, we crossed the tracks of the newly refurbished FS railway line that had been abandoned a few years earlier. Now it is the Ferrovia della Val Venosta with half hourly two car self propelled trains per hour with good patronage. Running against a slight headwind we rolled easily down the Val Venosta to Naturno (529m) for a pleasant hotel Bad Kochenmoos in south Tirol.

16. Wednesday, 26 July (Naturno - Corte; 131km, 2500m):

Without any wind, the ride down this valley is a breeze so to speak, it being mostly down to Merano (302m) where the huge Forst brewery sits on the only steep part of this descent near the city limit. The buildings are painted in a huge green and white checkerboard. A large outdoor bier garden and restaurant is across the street from th plant that fairly fills the upper end of town.

We rolled into the valley and took old N38, the Stelvio Highway, south to Bolzano. This time I was prepared for the misleading road signs and so was the Italian highway department that likes to send all traffic to the autostrada tollway. Now there were also indicators that there is another way at the many new roundabouts at many road junctions.

Although I wasn't sure about the roads in town, I knew we had to pass the train station so we followed signs that got us there. Although both Merano and Bolzano have charming city centers, we skipped those in favor of riding int the Dolomites and enjoying the small towns of the area. Heading north on N12, the Brenner highway, along the Isarco river, we found route N241 and the bottom of the Val d'Ega (Eggental), a spectacular narrow cut in the solid rock through which the Ega flows.

The first 1.2km of this road, that was once a challenge at 16% grade and much rockfall, has been replaced by a 1.2km well lighted tunnel that doesn't impress the visitor with the challenge to the ancients who first built the road by chiseling a bench in the wall above the roaring stream. I once thought that this wasn't so bad because the rest of the road was still an amazing sight.

But not to worry, the skiers don't even want that, so at least two more tunnels, being built, will out the whole Ega out of sight. That is a great loss. When I first saw this road many years ago, I never thought that skiers had enough commercial clout to erase this wonder from the scene.

Just as surprising is the lush green agricultural valley above the narrows as we climbed to Welschenofen and the Costalunga Pass (1745m) just above the Lago di Carezza with its azure green waters that reflect the Latemar (2842m) with its myriad Dolomite spires. The Rosengarten (3002m), so named for the colors its grey-white stone face reflects at sunset, lies to the north of the pass presenting an inspiring view even at noon.

Just beyond the summit a giant panorama across the Val did Fassa, with views up several smaller valleys, the San Pellegrino and San Nicolo, mostly unspoiled by their natural open ski slopes. After a gentle descent, over terrain that seems to be moving because no one would build a road so undulating, we dropped into Vigo di Fassa (1382m) and continued up the valley to Canazei (1465m), the junction of the Pordoi and Fedaia passes.

Although the Fedaia pass crosses just under the Marmolada (3342m) having the only Glacier of the Dolomites, there was more to see on a dash over the Pordoi Pass(2239m) and the view of the Marmolada and Cinque Torri from the north as we rode along the high ground in the Val di Livinallongo to Corte (1475m) for the days goal. Only great photography can do these mountains justice. They are truly awe inspiring.

With a wonderful dinner over which we recalled other rides over these mountains and reveled in the great weather we were having.

17. Thursday, 27 July (Corte - Barcis ; 127km, 2344m):

After a buffet breakfast we rolled off along the canyon wall to the Falzarego Pass (2477m) that starts climbing in Cernadoi (1495m), the junction with the road from Caprile (992m) at the bottom of the Fedaia. After a short descent with a beautiful view of Cortina d'Ampezzo, we turned south on the Passo Giau (2236m) whose new alignment, after the early days when it as horribly steep, is still steep in places with short parts of 16% grades but it's not high from this side so we cruised over the top in good form. At the summit we had a view to the northeast to Cortina d' Ampezzo and Passo Tre Croci, while southwest was the Marmolada, Monte Civetta (3220m)

I was disappointed to see the famous Rifugio Piezza, one kilometer beyond the summit, seemed to be renamed to Rifugio Aurelio, which by searching the web seems to still be the gourmet dinner spot that it has been these past years. This slope seems to be steeper than the north side but then that happens often when descending to Selva di Cadore (1335m) where we stopped for some grocery supplies before heading up the Val Fiorentina toward Monte Pelmo (3168m), a beautiful dolomite peak in the distance.

We descended briskly down to Selva di Cadore (1335m) over where I had once seen as a rocky unpaved road and was now a smoothly paved road. At Selva we headed east to the Forcella Staulanza (1766m) along the Torrente Fiorentina, all the while heading straight for Monte Pelmo (3168m). The Staulanza is an easy pass and comes as a surprise because there is no apparent gap past Monte Pelmo. After a few hairpin turns at the foot of the mountain we were over the pass.

Typical of the Dolomites, this route is a scenic wonder. We descended to Longarone (472m), notorious for the dam disaster at 22:42 on 09 October 1963, when the town was destroyed by a "tidal wave", that a landslide from Monte Toc (1921m) had forced over a dam and through a narrow gulch across from the town, claiming 1909 lives. We rode past the memorial church designed by Le Corbusier stands in the center of town and a similar smaller chapel, above at the dam that still stands.

Instead of a ride around a lake, we climbed over the remains of Monte Toc to Erto and over Passo di San Osvado (827m) and down to Barcis (409m) on the azure blue Torrente Cellina that once filled the lake along this vacation town. Boat docks and diving boards were a good 30m higher than the water level as a result of a new hydro project that drains the lake into a tenfold larger lake below.

We found a comfortable hotel, and a fine dinner and were glad we had no plans on water sports, because there were none. 18. Friday, 28 July (Barcis - Most na Soci ; 148km, 1400m):

As we left Barcis we saw the abyss and the tiny dam that formerly held back Lago di Barcis as we headed south past the new dam that was just finished. This project will flood the fantastic road through the deep crevasse that we bypassed though a 4.2km long tunnel. Blow the dam we went west to Maniago (283m) and Tarcento (230m) where Rt646 heads east into Slovenia. This pleasant road climbs gradually along the Torrente Torre, to the low Passo di Tanamea (848m) a few kilometers before the border.

This time we showed out passports at border and rolled down to Zaga (579m) on the Soca River where we turned south to Tolmin (200m), stopping at Most na Soci a short distance beyond at the railway station. Here we found an excellent Hotel "Hack Stefan S.P." whose inn keeper spoke several languages including English. There we reviewed the timetable so we could catch the tunnel train that would get us through the mountain that I had ridden over in past years and found had no tourist value but exercise.

We seemed to be the only guests for dinner, so we had a long chat with the host who served us fine food. We heard one or two trains in the night but not much else. This is not a moan route by road or train.

19. Saturday, 29 July (Most na Soci - Oberdrauburg; 175km, 2020m):

After breakfast we had a bit of time before the train came along so we rode up the valley knowing there were several railway stops before Podbrdo at the tunnel, so we kept track of the hour and picked a station where we could buy a ticket and catch the train. Unlike in the past, there was now a bicycle baggage car and the train always stops at Podbrdo.

We got off at Bohinjska at the other portal and rode through this beautiful landscape down the Sava Bohinjska to Bled (504m) that is the epitome of an Alpine vacation spot, unspoiled by commerce. Marshall Tito's Dacha is across the lake and looking good as ever while swans cruise across in front of the row boat rental pier.

After soaking up the scene, we rolled down to Lesce on the main east-west highway N1 from Kranj to Tarvisio. I was amazed how towns here change when we rode through Jesenice that on my first visit looked more like Gary Indiana steel town except that the smog was pink. Today, the town is as pristine as the beauty of the Karavanka mountains of this region.

We rode up the Sava Dohinka river valley past Gozd:

Continuing up the valley with the beautiful Karavankas to the south, we reached Podkoren (936m) where we headed up the Würzen Pass (1073m) to Austria and the Drautal. This pass looks formidable on the map with its 18% grade, but these are only short bumps from the Slovenian side in contrast to the longer ones on the Austrian slope. It's a short climb and then, with care, the descent is not the hazard one might think for brake heating if done with that in mind.

We crossed into Austria and descended into the lush green Gailtal (520m) that is green for the plentiful rain that keeps it that way. In contrast, we were graced with sunshine for the entire trip, with a passing thunderstorm now and then. Upstream at Kötschach (708m), we turned north over the Gailberg Sattel (982m), a small but steep climb in parts, to get over the divide to the Oberdrautal of the Drau river. We stopped for the day in Oberdrauburg (621m).

20. Sunday, 30 July (Oberdrauburg - Wald; 167km, 2930m):

We made a discovery that Richard had a well developed crack in his left crank that meant, from my experience with many crank failures at the pedal eye, that it could be made to last over the hill if no climbing while standing were done. It is the standing load at the bottom of the stroke that causes these failures and the crank was already visibly cracked.

Today was the big one, the Gross Glockner, but first the preamble, the Iselsberg pass (1204m) got us out of the Drautal over the hill into the Mölltal at Winklern (958m), the Möll being the river that flows from the glaciers of the Großglockner (3798m). The Iselsberg has its steep parts as most Austrian roads do, but it's not long and is rewarding with great panoramas on both sides of the pass.

From Winklern its a gradual climb to the upper end of the valley and Heiligenblut (1288m) where we got lunch at the corner grocery that stands right where the road begins its climb to the summit, 1217m up. The store is open daily for the tourist, unlike many stores in Europe.

Time came to put the bicycle in low gear and start the main part of the climb with the toll station about one kilometer up the road that levels off at Kasereck (1911m) with a grand view of the Großglockner south side before descending slightly to the junction with the road to the glacier. Under a blue sky with billowing clouds hovering over the peaks, it was a great ride to the summit Hochtor tunnel (2505m).

Of course, after Hochtor there is a descent to Mitteltörl (2328m) with its short tunnel, more descent and a climb with a 12% hustle to Fuscher Törl (2428m) from which a breathtaking panorama of the Großglockner rises above the abyss of the Fuschertal more than a thousand meters below.

The descent to the valley is mostly 12%, but it does not make high speeds possible because it not only curvy but has hairpin turns that require nearly stopping. Just the same, the last bit straightens and allows the bicyclist to blast through the toll station in Fusch (807m) at a swift clip because only motor vehicles pay.

From Fusch it's a gradual descent to Bruck (757m) on the Salzach river. We headed west through Zell am See and followed the river toward Mittersill, noting that the Pinzgaubahn 760mm (30") narrow gauge was all but abandoned with the tracks between Mittersill and Krimml being gone. That was sad, as another antique bites the dust.

About here, we made a decision based on Richard's cracked crank. The Gerlos pass with its 18% parts and the subsequent climbs would be too much for the hardware, so Richard rode back to the train station in Zell am See and used his rail pass for the rest of the trip while I continued up the Pinzgau to Wald (868m), where the old Gerlos Pass starts, and rode up to Gasthaus Grubl where Frau Kaiser presides over a comfortable inn with fine food.

21. Monday, 31 July (Wald - Nederle a Silvretta; 197km, 1600m):

After a good buffet breakfast I bid Mrs. Kaiser good by and headed for the 400m section of 17% that starts at the front door of the Gasthaus Grubl. The day started cool cloudy with a bit of drizzle which wasn't bad for the climb, especially because the sky cleared and left me with balmy weather as I got to the top of the old Gerlos Pass (1486m), where the road was already dry as I descended to the new road from which I could see the trace of the old Gerlos descend into the hydro-electric lake that displaced it. I descended past the huge earthen dam to Gerlos (1245m) where the road stays high while the Gerlos River rushes down the narrow defile of the Gerlostal. At Hainzenberg (1000m), the road finally gets steep, taking a series of hairpin turns to descend to Zell am Ziller (575m) in the Zillertal.

I stayed on the main road that runs parallel to the quaint Zillertalbahn, also a 760mm gauge RR, that has a better attraction than the Pinzgaubahn, which is part of the ÖBB federal railway. That might be much of the problem. The Zillertalbahn has good publicity and a good vacation goal.

I followed the RR to Straß (559m), crossed over to the north side if the Inn river, and rode a tailwind along the county road to Hall and Innsbruck. After a brief look at town I got blown west along the south side of the Inn to Telfs by a pleasant tailwind. From this road a great view of the gigantic smooth granite Martinswand rises across th river revealing windows where the railway climbs through a tunnel to the Zirlerberg Pass (1180m).

Meanwhile the road does a classic Austrian Climb that is so steep that the surface of th road is visible from the valley and bicycles are prohibited down. In spite of that, bicyclists often climb this grade, that is hazardous descending because it causes tire blow-off. The road has six runaway tracks for trucks.

At Telfs, I was back on the main road N1 the Arlberg Route that remains fairly flat until until it passes the Ötztal, from whose upper end the Timmelsjoch (Passo Rombo; 2474m) crosses to St Leonhard and Merano in South Tyrol. Making a short descent after crossing Ache River of the Ötztal, I crossed to the north side of the Inn to climb a gradual two kilometer grade over the narrows of the valley followed by a two kilometer descent to the turnoff to Bahnhof Imst and the river rafting set-in to take the bicycle path to Landeck.

The paved path lies between the autobahn and the river, avoiding the climb to Imst and Imsterberg that the local highway makes. At Landeck (816m) I remained on the Arlberg highway and turned off at Pians (859m) to the Silvretta Hochalpenstraße (toll road Rt A188), the Bielerhöhe Pass to Bludenz in the Montafontal.

The Silvretta road drops down into the Sanna River and heads up the Paznauntal along the Trisanna River, passing under the high railway bridge of the Arlberg Line. These are much sought after white water rivers.

Our road remained fairly flat until Haiming, the mouth of the Ötztal, from whose upper end the Timmelsjoch (Passo Rombo; 2474m) crosses to St Leonhard and Merano in South Tyrol. With mini-markets at most gas stations along this route, we were well supplied with food and drink. We crossed the high bridge over Ache River from the Ötztal and crossed to the north side of the Inn to climb two kilometers over the narrows of the valley.

After the climb and a two kilometer descent, we turned off to Bahnhof Imst and the river rafting set-in to take the bicycle path to Landeck. The path lies between the autobahn and the river, avoiding the climb to Imst and Imsterberg that the local highway makes. At Landeck (816m) we took the Arlberg highway (Rt N1), and turned off at Pians into the Paznauntal and the Silvretta Hochalpenstraße (toll road Rt A188), the Bielerhöhe Pass to Bludenz in the Montafontal.

The Silvretta road drops down into the Sanna River and heads up the Paznauntal along the Trisanna River, passing under the high railway bridge of the Arlberg Line. These are much sought after white water rivers.

I stopped in Nederle (Kappl) (1258m) under a blue sky with rosy clouds colored by the setting sun.

21. Tuesday, 01 August (Nederle a Silvretta - Linthal; 185km, 1690m):

Today was William Tell day, or the Swiss national holiday equivalent to the fourth of July in the USA. With light tailwind on dry roads, but with a high overcast, I rode up the gradual climb along the Trisanna River to Galtür where road gets steeper up the desolate valley that is inhabited by skiers nowadays, but only in winter. The cows reign in summer. The last kilometer to the dam of the summit lake of 12% got us to the Bielerhöhe Pass (2032m). The Silvretta lake straddles the summit and is contained by an earthen dam on the east and a concrete dam on the west.

The overcast blocked the magnificent view of glacier-covered Eckhorn (3117m), Wiesbadenerhöhe (2490m), Piz Silvretta (3248m), and Piz Buin (3312m). Having been here often, I filled in the blanks from memory before heading down the Montafontal along the Ill river:

The descent down 32 hairpin turns to Partenen (1027m) is easy because there are no tight turns, all of them being gentle sweepers but tight enough to not reach terminal velocity on the 11% grade. From Partenen I cruised into a slight headwind under clearing skies to Schruns (690m) where it began to rain lightly as I continued to Bludenz (559m) and Feldkirch (455m) in the Rhine valley.

From Feldkirch (455m) I headed south and crossed to the west bank of the the Rhine past Vaduz, the capital of Lichtenstein and on to Sargans (482m) Switzerland in dry weather. I took the bike path to the lake and rode to Mühlehorn (427m) where I took the main route over Kerenzerberg through Filzbach (740m) to Näfels (437m) in canton Glarus.

The rain returned for the rest of the day but after Glarus (472m) traffic as I rode up the gradual slope of the Linth valley to Linthal (648m). I got a hearty dinner with a good 0,6l Eichhof Bier and wholewheat country bread before getting a good night's sleep for tomorrow's end of the ride.

22. Wednesday, 02 August (Linthal - Ibach; 57.3km, 844m):

Linthal (662m) is the end of the valley and the SBB rail line through Glarus lying at the base of the Klausen Pass. Here the road turns into the rock wall of the canyon and begins its zig-zag climb into a higher valley above, the Urnerboden, that belongs to canton Uri by a quirk of border demarcation.

This climb may be tiring to someone who doesn't know how far it goes because only the valley below is rather than the top of the climb. Once in the Urnerboden, the road gently rises to Port (1372m) before once more climbing a rock wall up to the Klausen Pass (1948m). The upper part of this pass is spectacularly scenic as it passes through the U-shaped Urnerboden and climbs the granite walls at the head of the valley. My experience has always been that the mountains look extra high here because their tops seem to always vanish in clouds. Today was no exception.

The top of the pass is fairly flat and starts its descent gradually as a glorious panorama to the north opens underscored by the Schächental, a box canyon that drops off precipitously, shortly after the summit. The road clings to the edge passing through rough rock tunnels as it gives vertical views of roofs of farm sheds nearly straight below as the Staübifall traces its route from the glaciers of the Tödi (3620m) to the lip of the canyon from which it free-falls and is blown to mist before reaching the ground thereby earning its well deserved name.

I stopped at Posthaus Urigen (1200m) for lunch and a hello to Stefan and Karin Truschner who own and operate the hotel. Their daughter, Joël, is about in her her teens, reminding me how many years I have been stopping there. Although they had a full house for lunch, Stefan complained about the cool weather. As usual, I ate outside under a Sinalco umbrella as the Postauto came up from the valley sounding its famous three tone bugle salute, the essence of swiss mountain roads.

After a short dash to Spiringen (995m) in the Schächental, there is a little climb before the stretch down to Altdorf and the statue of William Tell and son that we passed on the first day of the trip.

Many of the places mentioned in this report can be seen at:

That was 3160km and 51545m climbing.

Jobst Brandt
Palo Alto CA

1. Tuesday 11 July
2. Wednesday 12 July
3. Thursday 13 July
4. Friday 14 July
5. Saturday 15 July
6. Sunday 16 July
7. Monday 17 July
8. Tuesday 18 July
9. Wednesday 19 July
10. Thursday 20 July
11. Friday 21 July
12. Saturday 22 July
13. Sunday 23 July
14. Monday 24 July
15. Tuesday 25 July
16. Wednesday 26 July
17. Thursday 27 July
18. Friday 28 July
19. Saturday 29 July
20. Sunday 30 July
21. Monday 31 July
22. Tuesday 01 August
23. Friday 02 August