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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.