A Trip Across the Swiss Alps – A Review

WOODBRIDGE, VIRGINIA, USA

Sometime in the winter when I knew that Ride the Rockies would not work out for this year I decided to ride across Switzerland. Over the Alps.

I did not want to “bikepack,” which is to carry all my clothes with me on my bike. I found and had been following the tours at BikeSwitzerland.com. They looked (and look) great but was a little more time and money than I wanted to spend.

I asked my friend, http://akada.org/business-plan-explanation/ business plan explanation Ben Zahler, if he knew how I could do this self-supported and he found Eurotrek, a company based in Zürich.

Me with Ben

Both companies offered a self-guided tour over the Alps via Panoramic bicycle Route 4. The cost differences were significant. BikeSwitzerland offered a couple extra days and a little extra riding from Geneva to the start in Aigle. Plus a return to Geneva.

Cost was a factor but so were logistics. BikeSwitzerland started in Geneva whereas Eurotrek started near Zürich. My base of operations would be in Zürich at my friend, Corinne Kolb’s, apartment.

Corinne and Stelvios

Both companies offered rental bikes. I never considered renting instead I flew with my own bike. I do not know what Eurotrek charged. But BikeSwitzerland offered my Trek Domane with Di2 shifting for 600 CHF.

I booked this trip with EuroTrek. They made all hotel arrangements and transported my luggage daily from one hotel to the next, otherwise it was self-supported.

Hotel Huber in Lichensteig

I flew my bike to Zürich. From Washington, D.C., American Airlines charged me $200. Returning, the same airline charged me 84 CHF ($87.50). I have no idea why the price difference. I liked the price coming back.

American Airlines 767 from ZRH to JFK

Day 1 was from St. Margrethen to Wattwill (Lichtensteig). The course was lumpy, even mountainous. Actually it had the most climbing of the seven days although it lacked an iconic mountain pass. I did not pre-load my map to GPS and could not always follow the Rte 4 signs. I also developed saddle sores (which I never get) and feared the worse.

Day 2 was from Wattwill (Lichtensteig) to Linthal. This was the shortest day. It started with a climb (once I could find it) and ended with 30 km of flat farm roads or trails. It was the perfect remedy for saddle sores.

Day 3 was from Linthal to Beckenreid via a ferry at Gersau. It was the best ride of the trip. It featured a hard climb out of the box over Klausenpass. But the rest of the day was super easy. A great descent of Klausenpass followed by the nice trail along a lake I have been one.

Day 4 was also nice but had the opposite profile of Day 3. This one had the lake riding first and ended with a climb up the Glaubenielen Pass down into Sörenberg.

enter Day 5 was from Sörenberg to Thun. I began the day by riding back up the mountain to the Sörenberg tram to the mountain overlooking Interlaken. Then, given a choice of adding an extra 12 km to Thun, I took the long way. I beat my luggage in then went swimming in the River Aare.

Day 6 was Thun to Gruyères. It felt more like a slog. I got lost in Fribourg. It was hot. Beautiful scenery but nothing breathtaking like Day 3.

follow Day 7 was Gruyères to Montreux. Somewhere I must have missed a Route 4 turn and just took the main road to Aigle. That was fine.

And that was it. Post trip I found that Eurotrek had GPX files I could have downloaded but I did not know to ask.

Only after the trip did I realize that perhaps a solo trip across the Alps was a bit risky. I mitigated some of the risk by carrying a hand pump with gauge and an extra tube. But a broken spoke or chain or worse, an accident, would have done me in.

As I updated my trip on Facebook I started adding Cycling Tips for Switzerland. The “numbers” were random, of course but here they are:

Tip #38 for cycling in Switzerland … Leave that finger at home. Number of times I’ve been buzzed (0), yelled at (0), thrown at (0), blown smoke on (0), honked at (0), had tires squealed at (0), cutoff (0). You just don’t need it as part of your cycling kit in Switzerland.

(This would end in Zürich on my last day when a woman pulled an impromptu U-turn in front of me causing me to take evasive action. I did not use a finger.)

Tip #19 for cycling in Switzerland  … If you see a house at the top of a mountain and think “isn’t that nice, I wonder how they get up there?” rest assured that after 60 minutes of sweating profusely you will pedal right by that house

Tip #1 for cycling in Switzerland … In small villages and big cities and in the countryside too, you will find the freshest water available for free. Don’t stay thirsty, my friends.

Tip #23 for cycling in Switzerland ... Be cool, wear a helmet. Most do. Gone is the time they knew you were American because you were the guy with a helmet.

Tip #29 for cycling in Switzerland … lose weight

There’s not much I would do differently. I was glad to have my own bike and starting two days after I arrived was perfect although I could have got my bike ready in one day. Well, there is one thing. I would not start on a Thursday or Friday because those days mean that Day 3, Klausenpass would be on a weekend day and I now know that is a popular “driving road” for sports cars and motorcycles.

It was a great trip which I highly recommend. And see Tip #29.

Goodbye Switzerland

ZÜRICH, SWITZERLAND

I started the morning in Nurmijärvi, Finland, not far from Helsinki.  I took a flight from Helsinki to Riga, Latvia, connecting to Zürich.

Riga, Latvia

I have been watching the weather in Bormio, Italy, with my decision to be either to travel to Italy or go home early. My return flight is planned for July 3.

After I arrived I checked the weather forecast for Bormio which showed 100% chance of rain for the next three days. It was almost that same percent chance I would go home instead.

The forecast for Zürich was about the same although I didn’t have to worry about snow on the mountain. But having arrived it was a beautiful afternoon.

If I was going home, it would be on Thursday. With rain forecast for tomorrow, I will be tearing down my bike. Today will be my last time to ride in Switzerland.

City riding is not ideal but the ride around Lake Zürich is nice. But I didn’t want to circumvent the entire lake.

I loved the ferry that crosses over the lake. The price is right (CHF 3) and it is a lovely ride.

Program sold at Kiosk at the ferry

I simply went for a ride around the lake. It was beautiful.

The main road was blocked headed back to Zürich. Looked like a rich boat owner had an accident and a crane stretched across one lane of the road to lift it out of the water.

I stopped at the river and took a couple more photos. A commuter passed me and I followed her wheel which took me under the highway to the street I needed to return to Wollishofen.

Zürich – I will miss you. Except for that Barney Fife cop.

 




Three Country Ride Part Deux

SISSACH, SWITZERLAND

Three years ago Ben Zahler and I went for a three country ride. I asked him to come up with one again. He did.

We took a train to Laufer for the start. My train ticket was 13 CHF. My bike ticket was 20 CHF. For a country which is cycle-centric, or maybe it isn’t, I think their train bike passes cost at least twice what they should be.

Welcome to France. I think. I think I can also read this sign. Speed limits in towns is 50 kph (31 mph); in the country it’s 90 kph (56 mph), and on super highways it’s 130 kph (81mph).

Laufer is near the French border of the Alsace-Lorraine region. We rode about 15 km before coming to a French sign. Ben pointed out another sign which noted that Swiss soldiers were not allowed to be on this road in uniform.

Ferrett, France

The road turned up and Ben rode ahead. We quickly established that on this day I would be first down the mountains and he would be first up. We went through some French villages although we were in the outskirts of a much bigger town, St. Louis, when I suggested we stop at a bakery.

Ferrett, France

We both got a chocolate-strawberry croissant then rode to a shade location to eat. We ended up next to a school where students were practicing a dance routine. Never quite figured out what kind of school that was.

Bakery in St. Louis, France

We found our way to the Three Country Bridge that connects France and Germany but looks at Switzerland. Close enough.

Ben led us through Basel, looking for a road back to the town and the climb we did three years ago. We made some sketchy moves in traffic, i.e., probably not riding where we should have.

But we got through Basel and back into Germany until crossing back over at a dam on the River Rhine.

Hello Germany

It was hot, with temperatures in the low 90s. I carried two bottles and was going through those fast while Ben had just one.

Three Country Bridge that connects France and Germany

We looked for water – easier in Switzerland than France or Germany. I didn’t feel I was getting enough and I know Ben couldn’t have.

It wasn’t all pavement today

We began the last climb which would take us over the “hill” to Sissach. It was quite a formidable climb. Ben took off and 2-3 times pulled over until I dragged my butt up to him. I was in a granny gear and wasn’t going to work any harder.

At the top Ben was lightheaded. His wife had biked up from Sissach (quite impressive actually) and he had planned lunch at a restaurant up the hill from the summit. A second summit.

But he said he was so light headed couldn’t control his bike. He rested and gathered himself and then we descended, with me being the fastest.

Ben Zahler

On the descent I hit 75 kph which is 47.5 mph. Had I known I would have pushed it to 50 mph. But it was my fastest speed of the time I was in Switzerland.

Switzerland. France. Germany. It was a most excellent trip. Thanks Ben!

Me. Ben. The last day I wore those ripped shorts.

 

<


 


My Last Day

MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND

This was a bittersweet day. It would be a day of accomplishment but a little sadness as I knew my trip across Switzerland through the Alps would be ending.

I had a nice breakfast at the Hotel Gruyères. It was a very pleasant morning but going to be hot again.

I sat out on the patio enjoying the cool morning weather. I had no complaints about the weather. No rain the entire trip. And really never needed arm warmers.

The first few kilometers would be downhill as I left the hotel but then try, for the last time, to find Route 4. It started OK as I was soon on farm roads.

Train station in Gruyères

In Grand Villard I missed a turn at a traffic circle but soon corrected it as I could see my Garmin showed I was “off course.”

Grand Villard

The back road took me off the main road for a while. A mostly single lane very lightly traveled road, I even stopped to watch a fox.

Eventually the roads would converge and I would be on the main highway.

This road kicked up to 18% but only for a short stretch

I was tired. Physically, I didn’t feel tired but perhaps skipping dinner last night or just seven days in the Alps was wearing on my mind.

Montbovon

I came to a construction area and did not see a turn. Garmin soon warned me I was off course. I went back and surveyed the area. Yes, I missed the turn to Route 9. There was no way through but I hoped the main road would be parallel where I should be.

It would not occur to me until the end of my ride that I wasn’t to follow Route 9. All week I have been on Route 4 and now I confused them. I still don’t know where I should have gone.

I was comfortable following Garmin but if there was a real Route 4 I wanted to be on it. But I stayed on the main road.

I came to what I knew would be my climb over my last mountain. Then I saw a sign for Route 9 to the left. Down in a valley. I followed it for 300 meters and just knew it didn’t feel right. At the point I said “screw following the sign” not even aware it was the wrong sign. The mind was tired.

I think I was on the right road but who knows. But I began the climb confident I would get to Montreux.

The views were great and I had no regrets. I was passed by perhaps 30 sports cars, many of those vintage cars.

At the top was a ski area. I didn’t spend much time here but instead would begin my descent to Aigle.

It was a great ride down. With hairpin turns, I never could really let the bike roll but I wasn’t here for speed.

I came to one snow shed and plenty of picturesque vantage points. I enjoyed the descent constantly scanning taking in the views.

Reaching the bottom I could see Aigle and the figurative end.

I also knew I was in France. Well, not really but very close. I had thought about riding an extra 10-15 km to “end” in France (and come back) but decided I needed to keep going to my real destination in Montreux.

One of three “bikes” in Aigle I found. The other two were pink and yellow.

Beautiful vineyards on the hillside dotted the landscape. Aigle is the home of the UCI, Union of International Cyclists or Union Cycliste Internationale in French.

Those cars came down Bike Route 4

As I reached the flat section of the town I saw a sign for Route 4. Then it dawned on me I had been looking for the wrong signs.

The last Route 4 sign I would see. I still don’t know where the official terminus is.

I saw the cars that had passed me coming off a mountain road. Route 4. The one I was supposed to be on. Oh well. I have no regrets about the route I took but wonder what I missed. And if I should go back someday.

This round portion of UCI is a velodrome

I said goodbye to Route 4 and was going to head to Montreux. But I saw a sign for UCI and decided to see what it was all about. Well, it was about a building. A velodrome. I did not leave a pee sample. (But it would have been clean.)

Vineyards in Aigle

Since there was no longer a bike route, I had mapped my route to Montreux but briefly lost my way. I started to get on Super Highway A9. Oops. I walked the bike back down the entrance ramp when I saw I could not jump the fence with my bike to an alternate road.

In Montreux I had planned to eat. Maybe to celebrate. Never really thought about dipping a wheel into Lake Geneva or lifting my bike but never had a chance. I followed a street into town, I knew I was getting near the train station and the street went under the tracks. When I emerged I was in a shopping area and saw an escalator up to the train station. I grabbed my bike, went up to ticketing, and just like that, it was over.

Seven Days. Switzerland. Over.

 

 



Gruyères

GRUYÈRES, SWITZERLAND

I knew it would be a long day and I hit the road before 8:00 a.m. for the ride out of Thun. It projected to be a lumpy ride and it certainly was. At 103 km, it was the longest day, and at 1,736 m, it would be the second most climbing.

As I got ready to go outside the hotel there was a group of Chinese tourists. One by one they told their friends to come over and lift my bike. Then gave me a thumbs up.

My plan was to follow the Rte 4 signs first and the GPS I had mapped out second. And that mostly worked.

The first 5-6 km in Thun were pancake flat. Then, boom!, the road turned up. First I was on a small highway then Route 4 turned to a paved farm road. And it kicked up. Short but up to 18%.

At a house in the country but still near Thun

This was mostly an uneventful day. Halfway through I had a great descent out of one village – the kind you know the road it going to bottom out and kick up again.

It did. I went over a river just past an out of commission covered bridge, and entered the canton of Fribourg.

Fribourg city was an adventure. I followed the signs for a while but at the top of a bridge/retaining road was a traffic circle. The way back was marked with an arrow but the way forward was not. I had to choose. I chose wrongly.

Sometimes when I choose wrong, if my GPS file is showing I am parallel to where it thinks I should be going, I just keep going hoping they will come back together. It was clear I was blazing a new trail in the wrong direction.

Fribourg

I stopped at a bike shop for directions. They weren’t perfect but they got me onto the trail where eventually I picked up a sign again. In all I probably spent 30 additional minutes in Fribourg trying to pick up the scent. Maybe even longer.

MyWay Bikes

The day was mostly full of rollers. And lots (five) of covered bridges.

MyWay Bikes – These guys got me back on track

It was pretty but did not come close to matching the scenery on Day 3 going up Klausenpass to Beckenreid. And there was this one kicker near Gruyères that went up over 20% but was no more than 75 meters.

In Gruyères I found a bakery. I got a roll and some salami and a big bottle of grapefruit soda. Then I climbed the hill to the castle. Or chalet. I didn’t know it but that would be my dinner.

Lake of Gruyères

Although the man who dropped my luggage in Thun asked if it could be ready at 8:30 a.m. (instead of 9:00), I still beat my luggage. I wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, I just took a hot shower then sat naked on my bed until my clothes arrived.

In the early evening I decided to walk down into town. Clothed. By down I mean down. Two mountain bikers were coming up that old cobbled walkway. Chapeau!

Although there was a restaurant in town and a few at the chateau by where I was staying, I didn’t feel like paying the high prices of dining out. The bakery closed just 15 minutes earlier. So I decided I was done eating for the day and would wait for breakfast.

Dining in Switzerland is generally expensive. On my third and fourth nights I had nice dinners but at a cost of 35-40 CHF ($36-$42) each. For one.

Bakery/store in Gruyères

But last night’s meal at McDonalds (8,90 CHF) in Thun and skipping dinner tonight would be kind on the budget.

Hotel de Gruyères. Notice the jerk who hung cycling shorts in the bedroom window.

This was the only place I watched TV. Three soccer matches. Confederations Cup between Mexico and New Zealand. A friendly (I think) between Italy and Croatia and Denmark vs. Germany. Not sure those last two games were live. They may have been old but they were new to me.

A good night’s sleep and I will be ready to roll in the morning.

 


Thun

THUN, SWITZERLAND

Headed to Thun today. Happy birthday my friends!

The stay last night was at the Hotel Rischli. I really enjoyed it. The desk clerk, Yvonne, was very nice. She had presented me with a complimentary card which I could use for the aerial tram. Although I did not use it yesterday.

But first – goats. Just outside the dining patio was an enclosure of the cutest goats. They also had an enclosure of rabbits too.

Yesterday when I went by the gondola I did not feel like pedaling the 4.5 km back up the mountain. Today I looked at it differently, one from a fresh mind.

The ride over to Thul was supposed to be a short one and why should I be in a hurry. I decided I would bike back up to the gondola.

I had no clue where I was but in looking at the advertisements I saw they also advertised a cog railway. My friend, Purchase A Dissertation 101 Corinne Kolb, and I took that three years ago and it dawned on me that we saw a gondola come up the mountain.

I rode to the base, presented my comp pass, and saved 38 CHF (which was about $40).

It was cool being back there. This time I could look down and see the cog railway engine sputtering away.

On the ride back down on the gondola the “conductor” made sure to point out where there were mountain goats. He asked me if we have them in the U.S. and I told him Colorado (of course other states do too).

It was a quick descent back to Söreneberg and a stop at the hotel. Since my luggage hadn’t been picked up, I decided I would carry a set of clothes just in case I got to Thun quicker. I couldn’t imagine I would with the trip being so short and now it was after 11:00 a.m.

But first there was time for a ride on their Alpine slide. This one was cool because the ski lift dragged the rider and sled to the top on an enclosed course.


At the top the pool automatically disengaged and it was a quick ride down the mountain. Pretending I’m a kid.

Sign in Schangnau looking back to Sörenberg

About one km out of town, maybe farther, I came to a sign which showed to directions to Thun (actually Schangnau). Why I didn’t capture that picture, I don’t know. I just wasn’t thinking I might want to display it in a blog.

But it would be an additional 13 km to go the long way, which is, of course, what I opted for.

There was some pretty scenery Nothing iconic like I saw this morning or at Lake Luzerne though.

It was just a nice ride through the Swiss countryside.

Oh, there was one climb. Up to the Schallenberg.

That would have been the high point of today’s ride if I hadn’t gone back up the mountain and started at the tram in Söreneberg.

The ride down the pass was great and then I was treated to some back county farm roads. It was all downhill or flat.

When I saw the John Deere tractor I thought of my dad. He loved his Deeres.

Getting near Thun the bike route stayed high while the main road descended. That meant one thing: A fast run down to Thun when it came.

I went looking for the River Aare as a landmark. I found the river which had a swimming area built into it. This side of the river was fast moving but not nearly as fast as the other side or as it travels through Bern.

My hotel, Hotel am Schloss, was situated just below a castle. The room was small, the window did not open enough for air (no A/C) and it was hot. And my luggage did not arrive until 5:45 p.m.

Still, I managed to go swimming in the river, in the process burning the bottoms of my feet on the scorching asphalt.

I swam in the River Aare three years ago in Bern. I knew I had to do it again. There were some bridge jumpers although the bridge wasn’t nearly as high as in Bern. Instead I followed a couple as they found some steps to the river.

The river in Thun is split by an island and this swimming channel was clearly slower than the other side. But one only needed to jump in and float and be carried away. Pretty fun!

Dinner tonight was at McDonalds – 8,90 instead of 35 or 40 CHF. My only issue was I went for WiFi and a little A/C. But it seems WiFi is available only if you have a code which will be texted to you – if you have WiFi to receive the text. Sigh.

The hotel was AM Schloss. It had no A/C and only a small window over a busy street. It was pretty miserable sleeping.

 


 

Covered Bridges and another Mountain

SÖRENBERG, SWITZERLAND

The day started with breakfast at the Seerausch Hotel in Beckenreid. It was the first hotel where they had a full buffet including eggs. So good but the view of Lake Luzerne was better.

The Panoramic Alpine Route 4 would quickly take a lakefront road. There standing in the grass close to the lake was a topless woman talking to another person. She was probably getting ready to catch some rays.

The water of the lake is clear. The morning was perfect, about 68 degrees (20 C).

I would follow the Blue Route 4 signs where I could find them and rely on my Garmin as backup. And I would need them.

A real surprise was coming to a covered bridge. I couldn’t tell when it was built…

…but it sure had sweet decking (floor).

The first direction decision came at a culvert. There was a sign and I thought I followed it correctly but it took me in this 100 meter loop under the road I was just on.

I didn’t mind it one bit because it gave me a unique view of the mountains.

I got of course a bit in the little town of Stanstad. I did a two block loop, looked closer at the signs and compared to Garmin and kept going.

This was 10 meters from the turn for Route 4 at Lake Luzerne but sure is pretty

I crossed a bridge then followed Rte 4 on a lake road to Alpnachstad.

I followed the road next to the lake. There was a “sidewalk” which was really a boardwalk.

The Pilatus-Bahn cog railway

I was expecting about a 30 km (19 mile) easy cruising ride this morning and that is what I got. Cobbles. But for a short ride.

The town of Saren is beautiful. In the center was fresh water, which I would need. And the fad of 2017, Fidget Spinners, is global.

On my way out I entered a forested area then crossed what appeared to be a stream project. Had I looked to the right, and maybe I did, I would have seen what I was in store for.

Along the lake I was back on a highway. Some roads have bike lanes which is really one meter to the right. The lines presumably make the drivers aware that we are there.

At Giswil I came to a second covered bridge. It’s not quite Bedford Co., Pa., but I was a happy camper. Or rider.

Leaving Giswil, I uncharacteristically made a good biking decision. I stopped for a photo then jumped in behind two riders who looked like they were riding the Alpine route.

Ahead I could see a road climbing, steeply, to the left. I knew I had a left turn coming up. They turned and the one guy turned back. I passed him and started climbing. It was steep.

I checked Garmin and it said I was “Off Course.” Well, sometimes one can be 10 meters off and it says I’m off so I was going to ignore it. I started climbing higher and could see I was going away from the route I mapped.

The two men has stopped already and I asked (MAJOR LANGUAGE BARRIER – not sure they were German speaking) if this was Route 4 (I held up four fingers). They said it was.

I thought back to the turn. There was a sign but I didn’t look. The thought of going back down those steep 400 meters to check the sign then climb it again disturbed me but not more than taking the wrong route. I grabbed a quick photo and went back down.

I was glad I checked. I was right. Rte 4 continued straight for another 400 meters before turning onto Panorama Strasse.

Hey, that looks like my RAV4

This road was mostly a one lane road. Two cars could not pass. But there were some sections every 400-500 meters or so where a car could pull over to let one pass in the opposite direction.

I looked up and figured I would pass by every house on the mountain. I was right.

There was room for a car and a bike but only inches between a bus (city) and this bike. Thank you bus.

I was sweating profusely. On the lower slopes were simply farms and no trees. I was exposed to the blazing sun.

The climb was 11.8 kilometers (7.3 miles). Much of the way the grind was 8-9%.

Looking back to the washed out stream I had crossed

In my mind I had calculated the climb to be 11 kilometers but as I watched Garmin I had a math error. I was off by one kilometer. It’s tough when you think you’re at the summit but you’re not.

Somewhere, and I have no idea where, the open section gave way to woods. It was a welcome relief from the sun.

In the wooded section the Garmin showed higher grades. It was registering 11-12% and even up to 18% (which I know it wasn’t – my body knows 18%).

Actually a 7-8% upgrade here

Unlike Klausen Pass yesterday, where I was passed by 203 motorbikes, today I would be passed by 13 and only one “was in a hurry.”

I went long stretches not hearing anything but birds of the forest and the occasional cow bell.

The higher I went the more cows I heard. I crossed a cattle guard and was in an open cattle area.

On this corner was an air sock and this guy sitting with his toy. He showed no interested in interacting with me even as I stopped and took an obvious photo.

I went through those two bottles and saw a water fountain. I stopped and filled up. Very cold water. They would last me another 2-3 kilometers.

I came upon perhaps 40 school kids on a hike. For a while they seemed to be walking at the same pace I was climbing. But I soon passed them. A couple kids tried to run alongside of me but they didn’t last long although I thought they may beat me to the summit.

What I thought was the summit was still 1200 meters from the top. A man sat their with his toy airplane. Their was a windsock attached to a pole and he brought along his own wind sock. I thought about asking him for a photo of me climbing but he had no interest in even making eye contact.

The views on the descent weren’t nearly as breathtaking as those on the ascent. Or maybe I had more time to take them in on the climb.

Right before Sörenberg I stopped at a cable tram. Interesting, but I didn’t know where it went. Although I would find out later.

Going through Sörenberg I saw some young ladies in front of a school for Hospitality Management.

I stopped and asked if they spoke English (the sign was in English). They all did. Four young women from Vietnam. I also asked if I should go to Vietnam for bike riding and they laughed and said “Oh no.”

I checked into Rischli and the desk clerk offered me a discount card for the tram. As she was showing me the brochure it also included a cog railway. Then I realized this approach was the back side of the mountain that get Corinne Kolb and I had traveled three years ago. Had I spent the money to see the views from “up there” I certainly would have been surprised. And maybe pissed. LOL.

Dinner was out on the patio. I wanted to order Rösti although at the time I did not know the name. I settled for a Pork Cordon Bleu dish which is what I had yesterday in Beckenreid. It was delicious but at 35 CHF a bit pricey for this traveler.

 


A Gorgeous Lake

BECKENRIED, SWITZERLAND

I am blown away at the view of Lake Luzerne and it’s hard to remember what an awesome day in the saddle it was. Or out of the saddle.

Just 55 degrees at 8:00 a.m. I put on arm warmers which would last all of about half a kilometer. I was prepared for how tough a climb last night by meeting the couple from Zürich. I saw them this morning at breakfast too. “Tough,” he said.

The cobbles would last about 150 meters through the first switchback

I would be climbing the Klausen Pass. I studied the route map and new what exactly to expect. Just not cobblestones.

I would normally ride without stopping but I figure this will be the only time I am ever here. So I said I would stop for photos. The first was the snow shed and I also turned on my lights.

Gorgeous snow sheds or tunnels.

The snow sheds had windows to the outside world and breathtaking views. However, I did not capture enough. As I climbed higher I sometimes thought there would be better vistas only to find the road went straight into the forest and I was no longer able to see the valley below.

Cows. Lots of cows.

The climb up to the pass was 23 km. At 10 it was a plateau (mostly), sort of like Big Meadows in Skyline Drive in Virginia. To the right I could hear the symphony of cowbells playing in the distance. I wondered if they needed a director.

The white building to the right, ahead, is the Wilhelm Tell Hotel

In the plateau area, a false flat mostly for about five kilometers, are free range cattle.

Just another gorgeous view

I would go through a small village of Urnerboden. To the right was the Hotel Wilhelm Tell. I didn’t think much of it at the time but this was said to be the birthplace of Swiss Hero go here William Tell. (The area, not the actual hotel.)

Urnerboden
The plateau area
Bees, lots of bees.

After the second section the road kicked up again to the summit, this time about eight kilometers.

The solitude of the climb was interrupted by motorcycles passing me, one within inches. In addition were lots of sports cars, Porsche, Jaguars, even saw four Deloreans. Unfortunately, many drivers treated this road as their race course.

On the climb I passed two cyclists, a man and a woman, and got passed by three, two men and a woman. And 203 motorcycles.

I would characterize the climb has hard but not the hardest. Four climbs: Mount Washington; Hurricane Mountain Road (NH); San Pellegrino (Italy); and maybe Henrietta Road (PA), all brought me to my knees making me think I should quit. This ride never did it. It was just a slog, a 2.5 hour slog to be sure, but I knew I would make it.

With the hard part over and drenched in sweat, it was time for the easy part of the day. The descent.

I thought I might bomb the descent but instead took it easy. The words of Wayne Stetina resonated with me when he told me four years ago that he never bombs a descent he hadn’t seen before. I decided I would take it easy.

I stopped frequently for the views. In addition, the road was too beat up and too windy to let the bike roll.

It’s pretty far down there
I held the camera and said “Cheese,” a universal word.
Altdorf

I descended into Altdorf, a beautiful town. And then I saw it. Lake Luzerne.

Lake Luzerne

Leaving town I found a bike path to avoid riding with the cars in the tunnels, of which there were five or six.

Lake Luzerne

The bike lanes in Altdorf were well marked. Once I was in a dedicated lane sometimes it was bike-only and sometimes it was bikes and pedestrians.

Lake Luzerne

In the tunnels, often the bike lane would go in with the cars and the pedestrian path would be on the outside of the tunnel, high above the lake. Sometimes the bike lane would be outside as well. Simply gorgeous.

The one thing to watch out for is bike paths could become sidewalks without notice. And there are penalties for riding on the sidewalks.

As the road got closer to Brunnen it was harder to determine where the bike lane was. But I managed to find my way, at times following two locals (I presume).

Lake Luzerne

 

Lake Luzerne

 

Brunnen
The signs in Brunnen

I came to a small stadium for FCB (Footballclub Brunnen). Either it was too late in the match to collect admission or the game was free but it was free for me. I wanted to see the referees of which there was one. Two thoughts: I was surprised they were using just one referee and my refs in Woodbridge are better.

The rest of the ride was lakeside to the ferry at Gersau. What a beautiful road.

On board I saw a cyclist. Everything about her could have been American. She was on a Cervélo bike (which is Canadian and more likely in the U.S. than Europe), wore a Specialized kit (based in California), rode Speedplay cleats and had a Garmin 500 GPS. But she was a local who ride halfway around the lake (60 km) then took the ferry back.

I saw the hotel but went looking for the Klewenalp. This where Ashley and I went with Ben Zahler seven years ago.

Ferry from Gersau to Beckenreid

It was enjoyable riding along the lake in Beckenreid.

I found it, then bought some ice cream and watched the paddle steamer. We rode that boat in 2010.

Only then did I check into the hotel. I was told when my luggage was dropped off the guy wondered if I beat him. He said I always do. I didn’t know it was a race. But actually I arrived an hour earlier and had spent the time riding around.

A room with a view!

Tomorrow he doesn’t stand a chance.

The hotel was Seerausch. Simply gorgeous. I would love to return here.


Lost Among All the Signs

LICHTENSTEIG, SWITZERLAND

This is the start of my Panoramic Alpine adventure. Corrine Kolb got up earlier than normal and took the tram to the train station in Zürich with my suitcase while I biked there. I beat her.

After I boarded I thought I saw no identifying marks on the train and wasn’t 100% sure if I was on the right one. I thought I had remembered boarding on Platform 8 and we went with that. I wonder how many people board the wrong trains?

The Austrian side of the River Rhine

I arrived St. Margrethen then found one guy working behind the counter. I explained that I needed to leave my luggage at the luggage counter. At first he didn’t understand but then took the bag in his back room. I wondered all day if it would be delivered to the hotel.

Well hello Austria!

Jumping on my bike I went exploring for a gateway to Austria. The one I had mapped out I didn’t find but found another. After asking two policemen if it was safe for bikes, they showed me a bike path on the bridge and I quickly crossed the River Rhine. The river was much narrower than I anticipated.

The first Bike 4 sign I found

I found a willing participant to take my photo with an Austrian flag, then gave her the flag for her son. I then crossed back into Switzerland to begin my journey. Time spent in Austria: 15 minutes.

Bike shop in St. Margrethen

There was but one problem. And I hoped that it would not be a huge problem. Actually it wasn’t huge other than causing me a lot of angst. A lot.

On the first climb

I mapped out the ride on Ride With GPS but forgot to upload it to my Garmin. Stupid me. The maps that Eurotrek provided me were in my checked luggage. At the train station. I would have to follow bike signs.

Panoramic Alpine Route 4 is a road bicycle route that is marked across Switzerland. My tour papers said it is well marked. I say that it is not.

Street sign in Oberegg. I did not get to descend this one.

I found the first sign for Rte 4, followed it, then quickly lost it. In St. Margrethen. I came to an intersection and there was no sign which way to turn. I turned right. I did a loop.

Stopped for water and thought I’d try this blue Fanta even though I don’t drink sods. I still don’t know what that was.

I saw a bike shop that were authorized dealers for Trek. I didn’t see any Treks inside. I asked them where to pick up the route (1). They sent me back on the loop I just did. They did not seem real interested that I stopped in.

Oberegg

I came back to the same spot. This time I went straight. Eventually I saw another sign. I was on the right road after all.

Water stop in Oberegg

Leaving St. Margrethen I turned onto a side street, if a mountain road with switchbacks is a side street. For the next seven miles I would be climbing while profusely dripping with sweat. Much of the climb seemed to be 10-12%. I won’t say I wasn’t prepared, I will just say I wasn’t expecting that. OK, I wasn’t prepared.

Cows playing bells

Climbing through heavy forest I welcomed the sound of cow bells. Lots of them. I didn’t welcome the smell of cow manure. Lots of it. But I guess that comes with cow bells.

I kept my eyes peeled throughout the ride for more signs. Mostly they were there but sometimes they were not or perhaps perfectly hidden. In one small town I completely “lost the scent” and asked a young man on a bike (2).

He knew nothing about Rte 4 but suggested I go back to the traffic circle and this time go straight. I came to a T and there were the signs. He also told me I may have to “Ask (my way) Across Switzerland.”

Trogen

Actually absent any signs one would assume to go straight so that one wasn’t a problem. It’s where there were turns but no signs.

Maybe an ancestral home for me?

In Appenzell I last saw signs right before I reached the town but at the traffic circle there was nothing. So I went straight. I only went a few blocks and ran into two cyclists, apparently local, who knew nothing about this bike route (3).

Teufen

I went back to traffic circle and saw nothing. But I did see a police sign so I went to the police station and asked them (4). They knew nothing about the route but they knew Google maps. They printed out a map for me. But I still didn’t know how to get out of town.

Appenzell

I saw a bike shop and stopped (5). The owner vacations in Fort Lauderdale and was very gracious. He filled my water bottles and told me how to get to next town. I followed his directions – 1km and turn left – and those worked.

Bike shop in Appenzell

As we talked he told me I would turn left then go up this “little hill.” It was a mountain! Actually, looking at it now that I did it, it was only a mile. A little hill.

Appenzell

Actually, going off course in Appenzell worked out. I saw some neat shit I wouldn’t have otherwise. The town center is pretty. Horses came by and one dropped a load. One of the staff grabbed a shovel and bucket and cleaned it up in less than one minute than ran and jumped back on the wagon.

I went seven miles to the next town, Urnäsch and came to a T. There was the Rte 4 sign and I had been on it the entire time. Not only didn’t I know it but I figured my bike friend just got me headed for Wattwill the best way he knew how.

Urnäsch. I was on the right road the entire time.

Maybe with so many miles in my legs made the last section seem the toughest. Near Hemberg I had been descending when I turned and started down another descent. I didn’t know this one would bottom out and throw another nasty ascent of a mountain at me. I had had enough.

I guess this was the high elevation for the day. It was the only marker I saw about altitude.

On my scale of 1-10 for difficulty, 10 is can’t/won’t do it. A 9 is have to stop but will carry on. An 8 is lots of swearing at the mountain. Today was an 8. A solid 8.

I got to Wattwill where I had to ask two more people directions (6,7). They were in front of a post office soliciting people about swimming pools. That’s not happening in front of a USPS office.

 

They were both early 20s so I figured, correctly, their English would be superb. And it was. They directed me the last four miles (although they teased me with 4km) but I checked into the Hotel Huber. No A/C (still waiting for mountain air to cool down – it will) and WiFi only works if I leave my bedroom door open. But the bed is comfortable and that is what I need most. And my luggage did arrive.

In the end if was a pretty hard day. It was made even worse by not having directions or a map with me. I ended up asking seven people in my Ask Across Switzerland tour. Diner was at the L’Angolino Pizzeria and then off to bed – with the door open for Wifi.

 



Pissed in Zürich

ZÜRICH, SWITZERLAND

I arrived yesterday and quickly built my bike. Something was wrong. I felt a rattle in the fork although things were tight. I caught up to a cyclist at a light and asked for a bike shop.

Unknown cyclist but nice guy who towed me to Cyclone Bikes

He took me to Cyclone Bikes where a young woman wrench (that’s cyclist talk for a mechanic) told me I simply had tightened the screws on the fork before the top. I just needed to reverse the order. I did and felt ready for the Alps. I also bought a CO2 cartridge.

Things worked perfectly after that and my exploring and warmup would be finished for the day. I went back to the apartment of Corinne Kolb who graciously let me store my stuff while I biked across Switzerland.

Corinne Kolb and Stelvios

Today was a beautiful day, I tried to map a ride which would do more than circumvent the lake although that looked like a nice ride. I added some of the hillier terrain in town.

My plan was to head up to the zoo which is next door to FIFA headquarters. From there I would stay north of lake before coming back to it at its southeastern end.

From downtown I started climbing immediately. It’s about two miles all uphill all the way to the zoo. I visited the FIFA HQ then could not have Garmin pick up the way out of there. With the lake as a landmark, I started back towards the lake, although sooner than I wanted to.

Hotel Restaurant Erlibacherhof

But the route along the lake is nice. I came to a ferry, which took me by surprise. I should have adjusted but I didn’t.

I went to the Kiosk concession stand by the ferry and had a nice conversation with the woman making me a hot dog. I admired the ferry and she said I should take it. I told her I was going around the lake and that would cut my workout short. What she should have done is what I thought of as I rode back towards Zürich.

She should have suggested that I cross the lake on the ferry then ride south back up to the ferry on the east side. Take it back over and complete a figure eight. In other words, I was going clockwise and could cross the lake then go counterclockwise back to the ferry and cross again, finishing clockwise. A perfect figure eight.

Instead I crossed at south end as planned and as I was riding up the west side of the lake I thought about the ferry more. When I got there I went to the front of the line and never made my final decision until the ferry worker waved me on. So I did an over and back. Same distance but not as sexy as if I had one a figure eight.

I really enjoyed the time crossing the lake but it would have been better one quarter of the way across and again at three quarters of the way.

When you ride on the streets in Zürich there are sometimes bike lanes which is basically 1/4 of the full lane. Sometimes the lane ends abruptly and directs you up onto a sidewalk for a few meters or a couple hundred. Some are marked better than others.

Transition from walk to bike lane

Corinne had told me horror stories her cyclist-boss had said about the police. They set up traps and wait. I found one.

Going uphill on the lake road, I came to a construction zone. There was a red light and I was first at the light. To go, I would be first and slow up a hill, holding up traffic. There was no bike lane because of the construction.

To the right was a bike path. So I thought. There was nobody on it as far as I could see and it looked like any of the many bike lanes I had seen. I rode up it when I heard someone calling. It was a policeman. I suspect I could have ignored him (not heard him) but I went over to him.

He started speaking Swiss-German which I did not understand. When it was apparent, and I was wearing my AUSTIN, TEXAS Livestrong jersey, he switched to English to tell me I was on a sidewalk. I apologized, told him I truly didn’t know, and hoped that would be end of it.

Instead he said that would cost me 40 CHF and asked if I had cash. I did not. But he would take a credit card. He explained how on a bike I might hit people. I started to ask “what people?” (there were none) but thought better of it.

I was pissed. I tried to do everything right and police should have some discretion to educate and not just punish. But he was young and perhaps hadn’t learned when to bend. He got his 40 CHF and left me with a negative feeling about biking in Zürich.

Nearing the apartment I turned on Widmerstrasse (or the street leading to it). I went under some tracks and there was a couple walking bikes. Strange, I thought. The road kicked up a little for 25 meters.

Couple pushing their bikes up the street with steps

And then it turned hard right. And straight up. I couldn’t even look down at Garmin. My guess is more than 25%. On my left the sidewalk was steps. Steps!

I think DO NOT ENTER except Bikes and Buses. I think.

I was less than two km from the apartment then went and sent Corinne my adventure. Told her that I told the cop I knew a good lawyer but they didn’t know her. She laughed at me.

The week can only go better.