Having finished our event on Saturday, and a perfect rest day on Sunday, today I was to start my journey towards Berchtesgaden on the other side of the Alps, to meet Martin and Anja of Life On 2 Wheels.
Today’s journey would see me retrace some of the roads that we had done during the race- it turns out theres not too many ways out of valleys!
All was going well in the scorching heat, wonderous vistas all around, until reaching the second of a series of short climbs near the start, when that familiar haunting click click click returned. This time however the spoke had not broken, but merely fallen out of the hub flange. Strange. Well, I could loosen it off the nipple and pop it back through and see how far that gets me..?! Eventually I got it back in place, and the wheel was reasonably true.
The nearest bike shop was in Chamonix, about 10km away. There was only one shop open at that time so at least I didn’t have to decide which one to go to..! The wheel held fine until I reached there, but the man working there said they had no mechanic working at present.. Sympathetic to my predicament, and clearly mechanically minded enough himself, he buckled (sorry) and got the wheel back to decent tension and trueness himself.
Back on the road, I had the duo of Col de Montets and Col de Forclaz to summit. If there was one descent from the Tour of Mont Blanc I really wanted to do again, the long and fast swoop down after Forclaz was it, so sooo awesome 😛
After the early climbs, now a long road along the Rhône river followed. Baking hot in the valley and with loop the looping stunt planes up above, a fortuitous tailwind was helping me make good progress.
French was moulding into German on the roadside features I passed, and my onward march was interrupted only to fill up water, and to pick up fresh and maaahhhhaaagically juicey Valais apricots. At basically every roadside stop. And there were a lot. xD
I finished my day with a short climb up to my hosts for the evening- a lovely and well travelled Dutch couple, who shared some experiences over a meal with produce from their garden.
Day 2: Brig to Corti
This was always going to be a long day. Just how long I wasn’t sure.. My destination was Corti, reached over the Furka, San Gottardo, San Bernardino and Splügen passes. A lot of climbing. Tired legs. Immense heat. You need to actually get to the Furka first, and indeed the prelude to reach it was longer than the main course. 25 km of climbing in alternating pitches saw me reach the foot of the 16 km actual ascent.
The climb itself is one that just keeps on giving. Following a gorgeous mountain river, each view opens up more impressive than the last. First there is a short tunnel, then a view of the criss crossed hairpins of the adjacent Grimselpass, before finally this awesome theatre expands before you to reveal its majesty. Sheer grey rock with glacial ice on one side, the other is the freshest green.
The centre is taken up by the ascending hairpins and the iconic Hotel Belvedere. Built into the third last hairpin, it is quite a sight to behold. Cresting the 2429 m summit shortly after, the other side scurried back downhill into the next valley, revealing the corners that provided the impressive backdrop for the car chase in the James Bond classic Goldfinger.
Sailing down the hairpins, I came to the foot of the San Gottardo pass shortly after. This climb is fabled for the cobbled old road that is still open. I was doing it the wrong way around unfortunately- climbing on the good surface, and bumping down the cobbles, one neatly laid Swiss stone at a time. What a labour of love, a memorable place.
Airolo lies at the bottom of the pass, and from here I had a 50km rolling descent down to Bellinzona. I was making a huge detour to get to Splügen pass, but a colossal mountain lay in the way with no road across, ergo so be it!
The joy of the downward valley was thwarted by a cruel and infernally warm headwind, like hairdriers scalding my skin off and arresting any forward motion. I was having to push as hard as on any of the climbs here, and about halfway, catching a kebab shop from the corner of my eye, in an instant I was stood ordering a falafel wrap, no yogurt.
Man, as soon as I tasted it the hugest smile spread across my face. The tomato, the lettuce, the warm calorific goodness. This was clearly a subconscious craving. Satisfied. Om nom nom. Many roadworks also tried to hold me up, being done by a company called Ferrari- but who seemed to work with little of the speed the red speedsters of their namesake imply..
Eventually I reached Bellinzona, to be honest, very fatigued by now. I had dropped down to less than 300 m elevation, and now faced the task of scaling back up to over 2000 via the Passo San Bernardino. Nearly 40km of climbing lay ahead, and just as I was getting started, another cyclist passed me. After initially letting him go, I thought, its not so steep yet, I can benefit from some wind shelter in their draft.
He- Bernard- was riding a very irregular rhythm, and between short conversation, I put up with this for the first 10 km or so. Once the gradient pitched steeper, I let him sail away as I saved my legs. Besides, I had had enough of Bernards by now: Col de Grand St Bernard and Col de Petit St Bernard on Saturday, and now Bernard on the San Bernardino pass xD
The climb had plenty of steep pitches, and it cost me a lot of the little remaining daylight before I crested it, at a cold mountain lake.
Hurrying down the tight switchbacks of the other side, I reached a glorious rollercoaster road towards Splügen- think repeated ski jumps, where the lead in is long enough to let you fly over the other side without a pedal stroke- awesome!
Ok, and then the last climb: Splügenpass. Light was fading but I wasn’t worried- I thought my accommodation was just over the crest. Reaching the top after 22:00, all suggestion of light was gone. Down the other side I went, with extensive road work having been done here recently- usually awesome, but they hadn’t added the white lines yet, which are a godsend when descending at night with a crappy light.
The incompleteness became even more marked later, as the surface had only been ripped up and not re-layed yet in places, and then best of all, a diversion just when I really thought I was actually home..! Holy cow was I glad to see the streetlights of Corti when I finally reached it- halfway down the descent- not at all just over the crest !
Ufff. 252 km and 12 hrs 12 mins ride time. I collapsed into the only open bar in town and ate everything...