Lost Among All the Signs

LICHTENSTEIG, SWITZERLAND

Today was the start of my Panoramic Alpine adventure. My friend, with whom I was staying, 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.

Train to St. Margrethen

After I boarded the train 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 and don’t discover it until they are underway?

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 to his backroom. I wondered all day if it would be delivered to my 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 smaller and 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. I planned to rely on Garmin today for directions. The hardcopy maps that Eurotrek provided me were in my checked luggage. At the train station. I would have to follow the Bike Route 4 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 soda. 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

But going off course in Appenzell actually 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, a 10 is can’t or 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.

My hotel in Lichtensteig, Switzerland

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 worked if I left my bedroom door open. But the bed is comfortable and that is what I needed most. And my luggage did arrive.

L’Angolino Pizzeria, Lichtensteig, Swizterland

In the end, it 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. Dinner was at the L’Angolino Pizzeria and then off to bed – with the door open for Wifi and air circulation.



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