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.

 

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Three Country Ride

SISSACH, SWITZERLAND

I had never been to Germany and a few months ago I told Ben Zahler that we should ride (or that he should design) a ride that takes us from Switzerland to Germany. And he designed a good one.

I took the train from Zürich to Sissach, met Ben, and went over to Stonebite bike shop, right down the street from the train station. Met a very nice guy working there. I grabbed a Trek Madone with Di2 (electronic) shifting and he fit me to the bike. One problem though. When I tried to shift I discovered the battery was missing and he couldn’t find it. But a couple of phone calls and 45 minutes later we were off and riding – the train.

(Actually there was a second problem. The bike was too large for me and a seat I could not lower. I would be uncomfortable for a day. Oh well.)

Ben, giving a Turkish Couple directions

We took the train to Basel to begin our tour. Winding our way via bike paths, we found our way across and then beside the Rhine River. It was navigating by feel. Within six kilometers we were crossing into Germany.

And almost immediately once we were in Germany, we were leaving Germany. We crossed the Three Countries Bridge into France. I was in Germany for 600 meters. But it counts.

Three Countries Bridge

Once in France we were on pancake flat roads, parallel to the Rhine River and the Grand Canal of Alsace but never quite seeing it. The road was a chip and tar road and a bit difficult to pedal. After 12 kilometers we turned towards the river and followed a road back to a hydro-electric power plant on the river at Krembs.

Hyrdoelectric Plant at Krembs on the Rhine River

No cars but we could cross the damn on bikes. We stopped to watch a ship come through the lock.

Ship coming through the lock at Krembs

Once we crossed the dam we followed the canal south until crossing into Germany. We jumped on a bike bath which was paved but turned to dirt and gravel. Germany has many bike paths next to roads, most are paved but this one wasn’t. We rode it for a few kilometers before finding another path/road which was paved.

Bike path in Germany ran out of pavement

Ben had printed out directions but we seemed to be off cue as much as on and it sure was fun. We followed open roads to wherever they led – which was not to lunch.

Closed on Mondays

Hungry, my breakfast was a Snickers bar in the train station, we found a restaurant/tavern which was closed on Mondays. Then another. And another. Finally we found a place in Kandern in the Black Forest which may have been Pizzeria Sanlorenzo, but I can’t say for sure. After a cyclists’ lunch of pizza, we headed out and up – up a beautiful road through the Black Forest.

Black Forest

Occasionally at a town or intersection Ben would check GPS but just as often we would say – “let’s go that way” as long as it was headed south or west – back towards his home in Sissach.

Ben and a Bike Path in Germany

We were on country roads, for the most part not heavily traveled, but just as often we jumped on the paved bike paths which followed the roads.

Reaching Rheinfelden, Germany, Ben mostly knew the way except that a landmark old building was missing. A quick question to a tourist and we were headed across the bridge crossing the Rhine back into Switzerland, to Rheinfelden, Switzerland. Two questions really. Which way to Switzerland and is that water (in the fountain) potable? (It wasn’t)

Rheinfelden, Switzerland

Ben said from Rheinfelden it would be 15 km more – all uphill. Before leaving, we found a water fountain with potable water and filled our bottles.

Ben, filling his water bottle

Once we left Rheinfelden we were on a somewhat traveled road until going through Magden. And there the climb began. In earnest.

 

Bridge over River Rhine at Rheinfelden Germany and Switzerland

In the morning we had been riding on dead flat roads along the Rhine in Basel and in France. But in Germany we picked up some hills in the Black Forest and now we had a small mountain to get over. My Garmin was showing it was mostly 11-12%. This was a mini Mt. Washington – 12% but for only two kilometers and not 12 kilometers.

Ben at the summit before Sissach

And it was raining. Cloudy in the morning and sunny in Germany, the rain was coming down in Switzerland. But it felt good on the climb. Once over the top we had 3k back to town. I was able to drop the bike, change, and catch my train, all in a matter of a few minutes.

Meanwhile, back at the bike shop

Three countries on a bike. What a great ride!

Barry and Ben
Barry and Ben

A big SHOUT OUT to Ben and Corinne Kolb, my hosts on this day. They were both exchange students in the 90s who I have kept in close contact with. And on this day they were both texting each other as to my whereabouts. I was staying with Corinne and she seemed very worried I would miss my train connections to Ben. And when I left Ben texted her with my EPA. Love you both!

I Love France (and You Too Switzerland)

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

Once upon a time I thought I’d use this day to circumvent Lake Geneva, a distance of about 110 miles. However, I realized the bike rental location I was going to use wanted a two day rental at 40 CHF per day. Plus the weather forecast called for a 90% chance of thunderstorms. The ride was off.

Train Station
Geneva, Switzerland

Well, the big ride was off. Staying one block from the train station, I found a bike rental location called Geneva Roule which was on the other side of the train station. For 25 CHF I rented a BMC road bike for the day. I thought that was a good deal.

Geneva Roule

I did not know where I was going. I was negotiating 100% by “feel” and just a little knowledge. This can be dangerous. Or fun. I knew the train station was north and west of the Rhône river so I looked at the sun and headed south. And east.

Geneva, Switzerland

There are many bike lanes in Geneva. Some are marked along with bus and taxi lanes and many run the same direction as the trolley tracks. Be very careful my friends.

Geneva, Switzerland

I crossed a bridge and then started my ride following Lake Geneva. I reasoned if I stayed closed to the lake I could not get lost. My original ride plan which would take me around the lake was simply using the roads that were hugging the lake.

 

Geneva, Switzerland
Rhône River

I was on city streets and saw there was a bike path next to the lake so I jumped on it. At Vesanaz the road peeled away from the lake. I went through a construction area and dropped most of the traffic as I continued on the back road.

 

Bike Lane painted leaving traffic with 1 1/2 lanes

On the road out of Geneva the bike lane is a bit higher than the regular lane and a bit lower than the walking lane. Each separated by an angled “curb.” Or sometimes the pedestrian lane was simply divided by paint.

Bike Lane with angled curb

And then it happened. I was going through Hermance, Switzerland and was going up the road, a slight climb, with some gravel on the road and a park and soccer field to the left. Maybe it was Chens le Pont or Sous le Cret. Or maybe even Lagraie. Little towns within two kilometers (one mile) of one another.

 

I think the Province/Region sign is behind this construction sign
Welcome to France

It just seemed French and no longer Swiss. And I noticed a road sign, D 20.

I AM IN FRANCE!

French Road Signs
I am in France!

I think I was expecting a welcome sign. A Bienvenue sign. I doubted there would be passport control. But I was riding and had this moment — I am riding in France. And it was great. I was smiling.

I liked Italy. I like Switzerland. But there is just something about France. I love riding here.

Commune de Nernier, France

I had angst yesterday traveling from Tirano to Geneva. It was a long, but beautiful, day on multiple (four) trains. I worried about being stuck in a smoking room in Geneva (I wasn’t). When I arrived I didn’t know where the hotel was. But getting on the bike and riding in France, that just made everything better.

Commune de Nernier, France

In Chens-Sur-Leman I passed a bakery and cursed myself for not bringing those couple of 2€ coins I still had left. They were in my pants I left in the bike shop and would be so better used stopping and enjoying a chocolate croissant.

Always use SPF 1000 on your feet

As I was riding on a beautiful country road I saw an old church and diverted to it. There I discovered a community called Commune de Nernier. What a neat old village right on Lake Geneva. It was gated and I don’t know if I was allowed to bike in it but I did.

I was just so happy riding for part of a day in France. If I had any doubts how much I love riding in France the smile on my face said it all today.

Commune de Nernier, France

I returned to Geneva and used some time to explore parts of the town. It is a great city and I don’t want to diminish how much I like it here too by raving about riding in France.

Geneva, Switzerland
Rhône River

Looking back, I had a week of climbing some classic cols. That brings a satisfaction, especially Stelvio, unlike anything else. But riding in France today — pure joy!

Geneva, Switzerland
Rhône River