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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Riding on the Shoulder

Friday, September 5
Sumiswald to Madiswil Langenthal

FWUMP!!!! The reverie of the grand descent is shattered... the bike suddenly goes into an erratic wobble as I process the image of something in the road. Odd. My first impression is of the channels I have ridden over numerous times on the trip: steel-lined grooves running from shoulder to shoulder that can be traversed with little more than a soft bump, sort of like going over a very well laid out railroad crossing. What is it with this one? There really isn't a lot of time to sort it all out as, failing to regain control, the bike swerves sharply to the right, throwing me violently down onto the pavement. Landing on my left side, I start a long slide on the shoulder ~ MY shoulder ~ across the rough surface of the narrow road.

The harsh skkkrrritccch'ing sound of helmet on pavement adds a soundtrack to the surreal sequence of events that my conscious train of thought has yet to catch up with. When all of the skittering across tarmac finally comes to an end, I lay on the road, dazed and confused. My feet are no longer clipped into the pedals and the bike is down on the ground a few feet away. I'm thinking, "Nothing good is going to come from this." But maybe that's just me.

Looking back up the road, I see that the farmer here had run what was basically a fire hose from the house on one side of the road towards the barn on the other side. He had placed two wooden ramps over it so cars could go over without crushing it and it was one of these that I had hit head on, not seeing it until the moment of impact. Coming down the hill, I had concluded that the road was clear. I had not seen the small, generic warning triangle by the side of the road up from the turn. Nor had I seen the road SURFACE. So there I was in a post-crash heap on the side of a road in rural Switzerland.

Here are some of the things I remember from the next few minutes. Much of what happened is still pretty clear in my mind, but I'm fuzzy on the chronology:

I get up and look at my calf, finding a large, ugly abrasion. Same for my left knee and elbow. My left hip is very sore and from the condition of my shorts, I know there is a big patch of road rash there too. When I reach up to my left shoulder, I feel a protuberance which I am pretty sure wasn't there when I got dressed this morning. My jersey is torn and I can tell that there is another abrasion. The injuries, or maybe more to the point, the thoughts of the injuries, give rise to a sort of deep-down sick feeling so I lower myself back to the gravel on the side of the road.

As I get back to the ground, Ruppert comes down the hill, followed closely by Bob. They have descended more slowly and apparently more alertly than I had. And of course my bike lying in the road with me sitting next to it raised a warning sign or two. They either stopped before getting to the hose or made it over it at low speed. I'm not sure. As Ruppert came over to me, Bob had the presence of mind to turn around and shout back up the hill, "BILL! SLOW DOWN! SLOW DOWN NOW! JACK'S DOWN! SLOW DOWN!"

Bill, Bob and Ruppert are soon in front of me, asking questions such as, "What is your name?," and "Where are you?" As challenging as these questions are, I get the answers right and we all relax a little. Ruppert gets on the phone, trying to reach Laurenz. Bill retreives my helmet (not sure when I took it off) and after looking at it, comes back quickly and starts to poke around on the back of my head, asking about how I feel and if there is any pain. My helmet, it turns out, is cracked, the plastic shell is eroded to paper-thinnesss at one spot and the foam on the left side is crushed. It did its job as not only was my head not injured, I didn't even know I had banged it on the pavement, which clearly I had.

Ruppert reaches Laurenz who is almost to Basel on a run to pick up the bike boxes for those leaving the tour tomorrow. It will be hours before he can get back. We will have to deal with this without his help. I stand up once again and Bill fashions a splint / sling thingy from two pair of tights. Orthopaedic trauma is not his specialty, but he does a well above average job and the support and protection offered by this makeshift rig provide some relief. Checking my shoulder, he figures out right away that I have broken my clavicle, a.k.a. collar bone and, in German, Schlusselbein. When he is done, I get back down on the ground, this time on my knees, my head resting on the rocky ground.

The farmer has appeared and is talking with Ruppert and Bob (Ruppert translating, I'm sure). Then the farmer's wife joins the growing crowd in the road. I ask Ruppert to tell the couple that the accident was my fault. At some point, Bill reports that the wife has suggested she take me into the next small town to the local doctor. We discuss the logistics of this. Bob says to leave the bike on the side of the road. He'll mark the location on his GPS and will be able to guide Laurenz to it when he gets back to the area. My first reaction is reluctance to accept this idea, although I have no idea what else to do. As the discussion rolls on, Bill hears the word hospital (Spital) and jumps in and says to Ruppert, "Yes. The hospital. Tell them that we really should get to a hospital." Or something reasonably akin this.

The hospital is in Langenthal, about 15 miles away and the farmer's wife says she will take me in their car. Bill says he'll ride there on his bike, but it turns out that the car is big enough for Bill and me AND the bikes. So I get into the front seat under a nice, warm quilt graciously provided by the wife (which I bloody thanks to the injuries on my leg and elbow) and Bill climbs into the back seat. Deja vu. Only the chicken is missing (private joke). Ruppert will let Laurenz know where we are and we pull away, leaving him and Bob to continue on with their ride.

So I'm off to finish the tour in a most unexpected way. To be continued...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Grand Descent

Friday, September 5
Sumiswald to Madiswil

Brzzzt! Brzzzt! Brzzzt! The little cell phone Laurenz has provided goes off insistently at about 5:00 a.m. Looking at the small screen, I see that there is a message. A text message. It is in German, but not too hard to read. It suggests I respond to the call, then punch in a few random numbers. You know, things like my age, the length, in centimeters, of the Gothard tunnel, the number of days since my last haircut*. Stuff like that. Doing this, I am told, will result in my receiving a special message, prepared JUST FOR ME! In addition to this intriguing invitation, there is the suggestion that I forward the message to 14 people within the next 42 minutes. Oh. And failure to follow these instructions will result in five years of bad luck. The clock starts ticking on that one as I erase the message and crawl back under the covers for a few more minutes of rest before rising for the last ride of the tour.

* Poetic license invoked: these aren't really the numbers I was supposed to type in, but I forget what was actually suggested in the message.

This is going to be a big day for Bill, one he has been talking about for years, actually. A chance to return to Affoltern and the cheese factory. In a country where good cheese is a source of great pride, you might guess this would be the top of the top in cheeses. And you might be right. But that's not the attraction. Actually, we are going there to visit the men's room. I am NOT making this up. This is a BIG DEAL for Bill. It seems as if there is some sort of robotic toilet seat cleaning device in use there. Bill has seen it before. Apparently he was so impressed he has just spent three weeks on a bicycle in Switzerland for the chance to see it again. Me? I can't wait, of course.

Our little group collects at the back of the building to load suitcases into the trailer and prepare the bikes for the ride. It is, as has often been the case, cool and the iridescent yellow-green favored by cyclists is in evidence in the morning's clothing choices. Ruppert, Bob, Bill and I head off to the east in search of a route across the multiple hill-valley combinations that radiate like fingers around the base of Mount Napf. It is foggy as we follow the road along to Wassen where we turn off and start climbing the first of the hills. Just after the turn, my chain comes off and gets caught between the ring and frame. Getting this straightened out takes a few minutes and, since I'm stopped, I decide to remove the tights. The fog has cleared and the morning is getting more pleasant by the minute.

Preparing for the Ride out of Sumiswald

I try to make up ground during the climb, but do not catch up until the next descent. This up-down process will be repeated at least two more times before we get to Willisau where we plan to turn to the north than back to the west to go through Hutwil on the way to Affoltern. The top of the next rise finds us out in open farmland. We stop at an intersection but the road running off to the left has all the earmarks of being solely for access to the next farm over so we decide quickly to forge ahead.

The road does not descend too rapidly at first and takes us through another of the small, dense woods that we have found scattered across the countryside. Following the group, I brake off and on, not wanting to have to pass on the narrow roads. Emerging from the wood, we come to another of the uncountable Kodak Moment stops. A few cows across the road in the dark green grass. Grass that cascades down the slopes to the town below. The sun is out. The sky is blue. We are on a white road with what appears to be a nice long descent ahead. Oh my goodness.

In the Hills Above Eriswil
Bill suggests that, since I am the quickest descender in the group, I go on first. The road sweeps us down into Eriswill and we then head back up once again. Near the top of the rise we stop for a navigation discussion. It is not absolutely clear where we are, but maps, GPS's, a road sign pointing towards Luthern and a little dead reckoning help us orient ourselves, this leading us to turn left where we climb a bit more then head down. At the bottom of this descent we expect the road to "T" into a north-south road, where we will need to turn south to pick up the road to Willisau.

It is a grand descent as the road sweeps down, winding back and forth through a series of switchbacks. Knowing that the hard won altitude gain of the last climb is being given up and will have to be earned again does not take away even one bit of the enjoyment of this part of the ride. Nearing the bottom, the road offers up one final switchback. As the road straightens again, I can look down see that it drops to the level of the valley floor then takes a right turn. There is a farm just past the turn and a little farther on, the intersection at which we will be turning.

There are no cars on the road, no tractors, no cows nor are there any people around down near the farmhouse. The road is clear. I brake a little coming down to the turn. Once through, I let my momentum carry me along as I look up at the intersection a hundred yards or so past a small bridge on the far side of the. FWUMP!!!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Looking Up

Thursday, September 4

"...when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow." Jerry Chin

It was a day for looking up. There was too much rain and not enough desire for riding; so, we decide a field trip is in order. Lucerne it is. The first order of business was a walk to the small train station near the sports center. As luck would have it, we find a little hardware store and we do have a short time to browse. The stuff on the entry level was pretty pedestrian, but the basement... now this is more like it. The company Swiss Tools has a major operation in town and their products are sold here. "Shirley will really appreciate these fine screwdrivers," I think. Bill and Bob have higher ambitions, looking at bigger, fancier things. However, they eventually back off to select tools-that-can-be-packed-in-checked-bags, including screw drivers and a nifty magnetic driver bit. The day has been a success already.

We'd stay longer, but feared missing our train. But here's the thing. We get to the station and Bob buys his half-price ticket in what should have been just in the nick of time. But the train does not show up on time. Omigosh~a Swiss train is late! Where is the Eyewitness News Team when you need them. We may have been all of 7 minutes late when we FINALLY left. Things are in the hand basket...

Does this Train Look Late?
There are very few passengers and the trip to Lucern is nice; we speed along quietly on the continuous rails, damp, green panoramas moving swiftly by the large windows of the red and white train.

Aforementioned Damp, Green Panorama
We pull into the station late in the morning and walk out into the large lakefront plaza to get our bearings.

We are not Alone in Not Bicycle Riding Today
Lucerne reveals itself to be a large city that leans towards quaint Swiss town. The lake gives an open feel and provided Swiss engineers a reason for constructing the wonderful Kapellbrueke or Chapel Bridge.


We cross the bridge and enter a square just off of the lakeshore. It begins to rain harder and we settle on an outdoor table under a canvas roof. Beer and brats provide warmth, each in their own way, and thus fortified, we go off in search of, well, Swiss Army knives, it turns out. What says "I was thinking of you while gadding about Europe," better than a little knife/scissors/light/pen/flash drive combo? Right; I can't think of anything else either.

Rain in Lucerne
We make a big loop and eventually end up back at the cavernous station. Bob has had enough and works out a plan to return to Sumiswald. I'd like to visit the Art Museum and Bill concurs so we bid Bob bye-bye and set off in search of culture. It doesn't take long to find the museum, as it is connected to the station atrium. Our SwissPass gets us in for free; almost immediately I think that this is a really good thing, as the first exhibits are not anything I'd want to pay to look at. Dark, war themed, visions that are passed by not quickly enough. But then we get to collections from Swiss artists and the tour turns in an ever so much more pleasant direction.

A bit more than an hour and we've seen (OK, at least walked past) all the good stuff and we follow Bob's example and train back in to Sumiswald. End of the trip conversation really takes over at the evening meal ~ it is the official farewell dinner. It is here that Bill makes his now famous, and never to be repeated if he knows what's good for him, remark about losing trailers, to which Corinne responded with her even more famous, "Bill, that's not a funny story" rejoinder.

While the tour ends with a short ride to Basel on Sunday, tomorrow is the last day of the ride for several of us, by plan. Chris and Paula have a mid-day flight from Zurich on Saturday, so they will leave the tour Saturday morning for the airport. Bob has decided he needs to be home earlier than planned and he has re-scheduled such that he, too, will take the early train to Zurich. My plan all along has been to leave for Zurich after sleeping in on Saturday and disassembling and packing my bike. I have a hotel room at the Zurich airport so that I can easily make my 7:10 a.m. flight to Brussels on Sunday morning. Even Lorenz and Corinne will leave the tour Saturday, as they need to be at a family birthday celebration in the afternoon. This leaves Bill, Earne, Ruppert and Art and Pat to make the short ride to Basel.

But tomorrow, Friday, is a riding day for us all and once again we gather around the warm glow of the big Swiss maps and plot our attacks on the route from Sumiswald to Madiswill, a very short ride as the crow flies. But a few of us crows decide on a plan that would take us first out to the east of Sumiswald, then looping around to the north before beginning the run west to Affoltern and the cheese factory. Finally, we will swing north, looking for that last "white road" ride before ending the day at the Hotel Baeren in Madiswil.

It's good to have a plan when you turn in. I had one. And I did. Good night!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rocky Climbing

Wednesday, September 3
Grindelwald to Sumiswald

This turned out to be a unique day in the tour. You might not think it would be so, this being a CYCLING tour, but today was the only day of the ride that did not include at least one leg ridden on the train. It was a great route and another beautiful day.

The good thing about climbing up to your evening's destination is that you get to descend to start out on the day you leave. So it was as we left Grindelwald. Once again going in the opposite direction of the tour buses, we drop down the not-too-steep descent with little traffic to contend with. The navigation issues experienced two days ago in Interlaken are all in the past as we fairly efficiently get through the city and out on Seestrasse, the highway that skirts the north shore of Thuner See.

Along the Lake Road
In spite of the fact that they had a perfectly good lake to hold the road at an even level, we climb on the hills and soon get well above shoreline. This is OK though, as we are afforded wonderful views of the lake and the opposite shore. The road is winding, hugging the hillside on the right, with a few short tunnels adding to the cozy feel. There is not much traffic and we make really good time, passing through the towns of Neuhaus, Sundlauenen, Beatenbucht, Merligen, Usserdorf, Gunten and Laengenschachen before getting to the outskirts of Thun.

On the Way to Stefisburg
We follow the highway that runs just to the east of Thun up to Stefisburg. This is an urban area with lots of traffic and many opportunities to make a wrong turn, so we pull over a few times to check the map and GPS. We stop once at a multi-option intersection and ask a store clerk which one of the several roads leading in more or less the direction we want will eventually get us to Eggiwil, one of the landmark towns along the way. We are soon out of Stefisberg and into Unter Emberg, where we stop for lunch. There is a small store where we get cheese, fruit and something to drink, but they don't have the bread we want. The clerk directs us to a bakery around the corner where we get the small rolls that go well with the cheese and sit at the town fountain to eat.

Traffic doesn't taper off as much as expected as the ride continues out of Stefisberg, but conditions improve at the turn to the north at the appropriately named Kreuzweq. Here the road rolls - boom- over the high farmland, green grass - boom- kept clipped by the Swiss cows, -boom- the clingh, clangh of their bells backed up -boom- by the sound of the Swiss army on bass, apparently training on the -boom- finer points of firing off artillery pieces. As has been the case on many sections of the ride, the road takes us through a short section of dense woods, cool and dark enough to make the re-emergence into the light of the open road almost startling. Turning to the east at Jassbach, the road treats us to a long downhill run into Eggiswil.

Just Another Picture Post Card Town
Getting nearer to our destination, we cross the river to a highway that looks like it is going to be busy. Checking the maps, we decide to head up into the hills and wander around a bit. This is one of those hard-to-explain bits of a ride that can really make the day. We climb up on the slopes, again finding one of those single lane roads that serve the farmers in the area. The climb does have its steep sections, but overall isn't too difficult and it rewards us with another awe-inspiring view of the valley below. And, once again, we ride into a deep wood, this time on the descent. We come to another more heavily traveled road (well, it is two lanes, anyway) and decide to finish out the ride using the more direct route afforded. It isn't too long before we pull into the Sports Center in Sumiswald, a sort of super YMCA. Bill and I are first in and get beer and chips; as in "chips", not "pommes frits." To our disappointment, we find out later that we could have actually had french fries. Bummer.

Above the Main Road Near Sumiswald
It is not too long and Lorenz arrives, allowing us to get our keys. We take care of the bikes and go check out the room which is such that Bill is moved to remark, "Not bad for a minimum security facility." It is, in fact, basic. But it is also large and comfortable with a bath and lots of hot water. Can't ask for much else.

We have a basic meal, as befitting the surroundings, and during this meal we start the process of ending the trip. Only two more days and discussion at the table is leans a bit towards reminiscing. But the tour is not over yet, so the evening ends with some discussion of tomorrow's ride options. There is, however,a heavy dose of not-riding options as the weather does not look promising.

On the way back to the room, we are treated to quite the display of youthful energy as a group of climbers are practicing on the faux rock wall which rises from the basement level up to the fourth floor. One old couple ~ they must have been every bit of 35 ~ are taking turns climbing and spotting, negotiating their chosen paths with graceful efficiency. The two young ladies there each make several climbs on some of the more difficult sections. I deduce that there are various routes defined by the colors of the "rocks" bolted to the wall, each route with a different set of challenges. The routes cross each other and the climbers meticulously avoid all but their chosen color for the climb they are on. Must be some sort of a grand score keeping system that metes out penalties based on bad color choices. I wonder what kind of scores we bikers would get with our helmet/jersey/shorts/socks/shoes fashion statements?

And then there are the two young men. They climb the most difficult of routes with speed and agility that are quite amazing. At one point, one of them quite literally throws himself away from the wall to negotiate an overhang. Then he looks to see if the girls are watching. It is easy to see from where he gets some of his rock wall elan. And later, he hung from his feet like a bat in a rack at the bottom of the wall and knocked out about 10 upside down sit ups. Having just eaten, I decided I wouldn't join him. But I could have done it. Really.

The Faux Rock Wall
It was a great day, every minute of it spent on the bike. Tired from the ride and absolutely worn out from watching the rock climbing, I turn in with my iPod plugged in for a bit, then drift off...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

View from the Top

Tuesday, September 2

The ride today was short, but intense, as you might guess from the previous post describing that climb up to Grosse Scheidegg. The rest of the day was spent in making a BIG climb. Using trains. We rode up through Kleine Scheidegg and then up to Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. After a 129 word and falling-well-short-of-capturing-the-wonder description of the day, the experience is described in 13,000 words worth of pictures.

A cogwheel train takes us up to Kleine Scheidegg where we transfer to another to carry us on an amazing ride to, and through, the Eiger, the Monch and finally the Jungfrau. After leaving Kleine Scheidegg, the train stops at the Eigergletscher (Eiger Glacier) station then enters the long tunnel, starting on the north face of the Eiger. This tunnel is almost 4.5 miles long, hewn out of the solid rock of the Swiss alps. It climbs over 3,000 feet and has grades up to 25%. Along the way, the train stops at "Viewing Stations" where you have five minutes to get out and peer through thick glass windows in the faces of the mountains. After a 52 minute journey, we arrive at the truly amazing Top of Europe.

Here is the afternoon, in pictures:

On the Ride up to Kleine Scheidegg

At the Eigergletscher Station

Viewing Station on the Eiger


Pommes Frits, cake and beer...

What a day!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Going Postal

Tuesday, September 2
Grosse Scheidegg

The mountains are still standing large as I go out and get ready for the morning ride. Bill says it is one of his favorite climbs, the ride on the Post Bus road up to Grosse Scheidegg. The hotel is already up on the slopes so it is climbing from the first push on the pedals. This information about the hotel location might just be a bit redundant in that you already know we are up in a mountain town where all buildings are either on the slopes or on the steep slopes.

The first part of the ride takes us through the outskirts of town, winding through neighborhoods of wooden houses. It is not so long when the road reaches an inn and expands into a parking lot. It is here that the Post Bus road starts. The road is intended only for the bright yellow buses of the Swiss Post and is accordingly exactly the same width as the wheel track of the buses ~ I don't know which came first. Anyway, while in theory buses are the only vehicles allowed on the road, we will encounter a few cars and trucks as there are people living and working here on the mountainside.

It seems as if the road has become steeper in proportion to the change in width. And I am feeling tired already, possibly the accumulated fatigue of the last week, as yesterday's riding, what there was of it, was not particularly taxing. Whatever, it was a very difficult climb right from the start. My first vehicle encounter was with a car going up and it was able to go by without my having to get off the bike. Not long after this, I heard the tootling of a Post bus rolling up from the road behind me. It was kind of a "Dukes of Hazard" anthem, only a little out of character here in the heights above Grindelwald. "How did they come up with THAT?," I wondered. I pulled over to let the bus go by, but looking back, I could see none. Sound travels well. So for the first time, I get back into the pedals and try get going from a dead standstill on this steep road. It is not easy. RIght about the time I get to a particularly steep section, the bus appears in my mirror so it is off the bike and wait as it goes by. I get going again, again with some difficulty, and reach a sharp and very steep switchback just as the second bus comes up; I did not know they traveled in pairs! There is a sheer rock wall on the right with about two feet of gravel between it and the road and I squeeze myself and the bike in as close as I can as the bus inches by and disappears around the curve. This time it is really hard getting back into the pedals. In fact, my right foot slips off as I try to get the crank turning and I rake the back of my calf on the chain ring - I look like I have been attacked by an angry wolverine. I am tired, tense, sweating and now bleeding. This bicycle touring is just great!

On the Way up to Grosse Scheidegg
It doesn't really get any better. At one point a really sturdy looking truck comes trundling up behind me and I pull off once again, muttering out loud my complaint regarding the upcoming attempt to once again get the bike moving. It is at times like this that I am glad there is no tape recorder on my computer :-) As the truck goes by, I am amazed at its cargo. We are sharing a road carved into a bizillion tons of stone and this guy is hauling ROCKS. Big rocks. There aren't enough scattered around on the slopes? Carrying coals to Newcastle makes more sense.

As I swing around at the last switchback (poetic license invoked; what I was doing at this point bore no resemblance to fluidity of swinging), I can look up and see the pathway to the lookout point, complete with the white-cross-on-bright-red Swiss flag. A young lady is standing there, as straight as the flagpole, her arms outstretched and her eyes raised to the heavens, which are a a bit closer now, I might add. I think, "She must be as glad to be here as I am." Bill later points out that he has been observing her and her photographer companion for some time ~ they are on a photo shoot.

At the Top. Finally.

Looking back Down on the Climb
The first thing I tell Bill is that I do not intend to ride down that blasted hill. He agrees and we retire to the restaurant to wait for the post bus. When it arrives, I ask the driver about using the SwissPass and am informed it isn't valid for this route; the fare down for each person with bike is 27 francs, about $25. This little twist, plus the fact that I'm feeling a little better after two coffees and about an hour of rest, changes my mind about riding so we take off on the bike after all. Just below the first switchback, we encounter Bob, walking his bike up towards the summit. As we stop and chat, I see a couple riding up. They are on mountain bikes, dad pumping away as he climbs, pulling his young son in one of those drag behind, two wheeled carts. PULLING A CART!!!! Sheesh. Being truly impressed by this, I applaud as he rides by.

The ride down is actually quite pleasant although I again find it challenging to get clipped into the pedals on this steep road, albeit a challenge of a different sort. Back at the hotel we clean up, put away the bikes and prepare for the rest of the day. That story will be in the next post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

How much of human life a good ride is lost in waiting.
With apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, September 1
Rigi to Grindelwald

Today has to be less eventful than yesterday. RIght? Actually, there were no uneventful days on the Swiss ride, but some were sure more stressful than others. Read the post about yesterday's ride, for example.

But, today (in the "we are back in August on the Swiss ride" sense) is a new day with new adventures awaiting. And wait they did. Given our perch high up on Rigi we were quite limited in our options. We could a) take the 7 a.m. train with all of the school kids down to Goldau or b) wait for the 9:30 train. Having to get up, dressed, packed and breakfasted in time to walk down to the station for a 7:00 a.m. train did not seem to be the best idea so 9:30 it was. This did provide the opportunity to ride the train UP to the last stop for a view from the top, the very thing Laurenz had brought us up here for. So, we dutifully marched down to the station around 8:30 to wait for the train. It so happens that there are web-cams on the mountain and they were sharing the views via a monitor on the platform. And the view from the top was fog. Or clouds, from the inside, if it really matters. This certainly changes things. We can ride up and put our heads in the clouds or go back to the hotel and have some more coffee. And the answer is...

Well, Laurenz was disappointed that we did not get up to the top, but what can you do about the weather?

Coming Down from Rigi
By the time we got back to Goldau, retrieved our bikes and got instructions for getting out of town it must have been around 10:30. Now for any bicycle tour, this is a really LATE start. And, true to form, Laurenz directs us out of town on a bike route that turns into a cattle path almost as soon as we leave the station area. We mountain bike down towards the highway, inappropriately outfitted for this segment of the ride with lightweight bikes sporting narrow, high pressure tires. It is not clear that we are going the right way, but Bob is confident. The same Bob who confidently sent us up the walking path towards Rickin, I might add. But, not having a better idea, we follow and eventually make it to the lakeshore town of Brunnen. From here, we follow a very nice lakeside road around through Gersau to the Vierwaldstattersee ferry dock. There is no ferry at the time, so we retire to the restaurant for coffee.

Rupert Enjoying the Wait for the Ferry
We wait about 45 minutes, during which time the rest of the riders, save Earne, arrive then motor across the lake to Oberdorf where we finally continue the ride. It has been several hours since breakfast, only about one of which has actually been spent attached to the bike.

Corinne and Laurenz on the Ferry to Oberdorf
It is a cool, gray day with drizzle off an on. We ride west, the plan being to get over to Meiringen. At one point, Bob follows me up to a bike path which soon deteriorates into a difficult riding surface. Bob suddenly turns off of the path into the deep grass of the field to our right and I follow. We plow through the field a short way before reaching the road which we follow into Waltersberg. We have separated from the rest of the group, so we stop to wait, assuming they will come up on the main road we have reached. Bob soon gets a call from the group...Chris has a problem and is looking for a chain tool. They are on the bike path near the airfield, so we head in that direction. It doesn't take long to find the riders ~ they are approaching the road on which we are riding and it is obvious that Chris has already solved his mechanical problems.

Now Which Way?
We ride on a bit, but upon considering the lateness of the hour and the relatively little progress we have made so far, we make a major change in the plan for the day. Bill and I decide to ride into the small town of Stans to get a train to Interlaken. From here, we can ride up into the mountains, something Bill has suggested from his experience is something we really want to do. We JUST MISS the train at Stans and have to spend another 45 minutes waiting. It is a long ride as we have to go to Luzern, change trains and backtrack a bit before going on through Meiringen then along the lake to Interlaken. After lunch in the square in front of the Interlaken Ost train station, we take off, now having given up on the idea of a ride to Lauterbrunnen before going up to the day's final destination of Grindelwald.

We get a bit turned around as we leave Interlaken and, at one point, stop and ask some soldiers, who seem to be guarding a speed bump, if we are on the road to Grindelwald. They reply that they do not know. "Perhaps this is how the Swiss army succeeded in invading Liechtenstein", muses Bill. We finally get everything sorted out and are on the way up. It is a marvelous ride in the late afternoon; there is little traffic as most of the tour busses are coming down, making their return trips to Interlaken, mostly loaded with tourists from Japan. I wonder who is watching the country.

Lost Near Interlaken

Approaching Grindelwald
I am blown away by Grindelwald. In the hotel room, I look out - and UP - to an amazing view of the tallest of the Swiss mountains. I call Shirley and can only say, "You just would not believe what I am looking at!" She tells me later that I said this a lot when I called, but this time, I really MEANT it!


Rugged mountains rise up almost startlingly from the high valley. You can close your eyes and still feel their massive presence. Towering, steep, right there in-your-face mountains, the sharp edges not even begun to be worn down by the winds of time. There are clouds around the peaks early on. As they clear later, one of the peaks is exposed, a glacier glowing like a golden beacon in the late afternoon sun.

OhMyGoodness! Reprise
Click on the image for an up close view of the glacier
It was an unusual day as cycle touring days go, with a lot of waiting. But as I looked out on the dark falling down upon the mountains, I think it was well worth the wait.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Hills are Alive...

Sunday, August 31
Steinegg to Rigi

*** Warning. Long Post Ahead ***

Music is part of my life. MyPod is plugged in a lot; sometimes just for background, especially doing programming at work. And sometimes so I can really listen, especially on long plane trips. But never on the bike. You really don't want anything sneaking up behind you. Yet the sound of music was a part of today's ride from Steinegg to Rigi. It was just another of the many absolutely perfect riding days that made up the two weeks of the tour that I enjoyed.

Leaving Steinegg, we climb a little as we wend our way through the farmland here in northeast Switzerland, green grass on the slopes, neat-as-a-pin farmhouses wearing window boxes overflowing with pink and white blooms. Bliss road by character if not by name.

On the Road out of Steinegg
The first leg is the gentle climb of about 450 feet to Gonten, where a white steeple with a sharply pointed black roof rises from the front corner of the church in the center of town. Sturdy buildings line the road, celebrating successful protection of their occupants during what I am sure was long winter by joining their country kin in the wearing of summer flowers.

In Gonten
Then, it's down into the town of Urnasch, only to climb again, this time about 1,000 feet, to Schonau. It's around here where we are far enough from towns and traffic that you can stop and listen. To nothing. Except the music of the cowbells. Not a tinkly clink nor a tinny clank. No, it is a combination of mellow sounds ~ clankh, clangh, clankh. No need for the iPod here. There are cows (and sheep and goats) with bells everywhere, but it just seemed so, well you know, SWISS here on this cool clear morning.

Cows on a Swiss Hilltop
But soon it is time to go. A really nice descent awaits as we have about 8 miles to go to reach Watwil, some 2,000 feet down from the high point. Hemberg is about halfway and it is here we stop for a navigation check, finding an inn with hiking boots on the sills serving as window boxes. After determining the proper route, we drop into a heavily wooded section of road, dark and cool, very nearly a tunnel. Down we go until we sweep into Watwil and stop to check maps and GPS's at the fairly busy road that is the combination of highways 8 and 16. I look at the map briefly, but Bill and Bob are pushing buttons and comparing views on their screens so I soon take on the role of spectator and part-time referee. It is finally decided that we will go left onto the highway, then bear right as we leave town on our way to Rickin and beyond. Seems easy enough so we ride out.

It is not long at all before Bob, who is just a short way behind us, calls out, "Here. Turn right, here." It doesn't seem like we have gone far enough, but he has turned off so we turn around and follow him. We are now climbing in fairly serious terms. Still in town, we go up and up, past houses and finally, at the edge of town, a school. Up and up we climb, Bill forging ahead, Bob falling behind, I hold on to the middle position. Coming around one curve, I can look down on Watwil. I mean DOWN.

Looking Back Down to Watwil
Head down, I pedal on. Then, I hear it. Singing. A female voice, obviously raised in song, although I cannot make out the words. An angel, perhaps? Have I passed on from the exertion? No, everything still hurts. Sirens? Not near enough the Rhine, I think. Then, I look up and see a rope strung across the road. Curiouser and curiouser.

As I approach the mini-blockade, I began to make sense of what is happening. There is a young lady standing by an open gate, calling out in her sing-song way to a herd of cows up in the barnyard. She is trying to entice them down and across the road to a pasture on the other side. I get to where she is before the cows do and she holds up the rope, strung there to keep the cows from heading up the road, so I can ride under it. Then she goes back to her singing and the cows slowly drift across to the other side where the grass is actually greener. The hills are alive...

I get up the road a ways and stop to look back on the scene. I can just barely see the cows still going across the road. There is no sign of Bob and I assume he has had to wait for the bovine parade to pass before he can follow me up. After a brief respite, I get back to working my way up the hill. Along this stretch, I come to a farm that offers accommodation to city folk wanting to get a taste of the rural life. "Sleep in the Hay," offers a sign at the entrance to the barnyard. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me, but I pass and pedal on.

The road has been narrowing on the way up, but now it gets serious. The paved roadway gives way to two roughly paved strips separated by a grass strip. And it gets really steep. Steeper, I am sure, than anything I've tried to ride up in my brief cycling career. It really does not seem right, yet the only choice is up or turn around. Up it is. I struggle climbing on the narrow paved lane on the right, looking up and watching the top of the hill not getting any closer. As I am SERIOUSLY considering getting off the bike, I notice the sound of bells coming from the top of the hill. A few of the brown and white cows that populate the country are moving slowly through the field, their bells softly clankh, clangh-ing. I decide I'll keep my head down and just ride to the sound of the bells. No looking up to see how far, just climb until I reach the bells. It works! I struggle every foot of the way, but make it to the top. The lane flattens a bit and I see I am approaching a farmhouse. As I get closer, it appears as if the path leads right to the front door! And it very nearly does. As I get to the farm, I find myself in the drive between the house and barn. And it looks as if this is the end of the road. I cannot believe this and am already mentally trying to gear up to turn around and try to find where I went wrong. Getting off the bike, I walk it across the rough gravel and realize that the path does continue on. I just couldn't see it because it dropped off the edge of the barnyard on the other side. It was steeper going down this side than it was coming up. I get on the seat, clip in with my left foot and look down and think about how I am going to ride down on the narrow paved strip then stop at the gate part way down. Wisely, it turns out, I think my way out of riding down. It was all I could do to walk down without falling. I had to stay in the grass to get footholds and soon my arms ached at the effort of holding the bike back from its plan to go hurtling to the bottom without me.

It was Steeper than it Looks Here!
The path widened at the bottom and soon turned into a real roadway again. This would have been more encouraging had I had the slightest idea as to where I was. I knew I was heading west and that was good. And there was no way I was going back the way I came. So it wasn't really much of a problem to decide to ride on. I eventually come to the first intersection since we turned up out of Watwil. There are signposts here pointing west towards Walde, the road also being bike route 4, and south towards Rickin. Now I had a problem. Laurenz had talked about following bike route 4 all the way to Rapperswill, yet we had also talked about going via Rickin. Which way had Bill gone from here? I called his cell phone, but got the "This is not a working number" message. I finally decided to ride into Rickin where I did, in fact, find Bill. He asked me if I had seen Bob and I told him he had to be a long way behind me. Bill said no, that he was sure he had seen Bob and Rupert ride through an intersection just down from where we were and wondered how it was that I did not see him. We quickly came to the realization, later verified by Bob, that we made a wrong turn at Watwil and that Bob, at about the time he got to the singing cowgirl, realized this and turned around and got back on the more direct (and considerably flatter) route. Sheesh*.

Well, it has been quite a day. But it is not even lunchtime! So, dear reader, you might want to take a break, get some coffee and relax a bit before continuing on with this day's journey. There is MUCH more to tell.

OK, are we ready? Good! Let's go... We ride a busy road on in to Rapperswill where we have a few navigational challenges that are eventually sorted out. We find an open store and get provisions for lunch which we eat in a park near the bridge we need to take to cross the lake to Pfaeffikon. After we cross over, we see Laurenz with the car in a parking lot just across from the bridge. He is having a serious conversation with Corinne. We are soon to learn that as she was driving up, the trailer (with ALL of our luggage) separated from the car, unbeknownst to her for quite some time. I could write about this some more, but when Bill made a comment at dinner a few nights later regarding the losing trailers, he was told by Corinne that "that's not a funny story." No more about trailers it is.

Laurenz suggests we forego the very steep ride up to Einsiedeln and just take the train. We decide to take his advice and so spend some time waiting at the station. Time well spent, though, as it provided a chance to procure and consume some ice cream. As we ride up the hill in the cogwheel train, I'm thinking this was a good decision. Einsiedeln is a bustling place and there are numerous roads leading away from the station. While Bill tries to coax directions from his GPS, I go talk to a bus driver who explains how it is we should get out of town and on our way. He then asks where our final destination is and I tell him we are riding down to Schwyz then on to Goldau. He looks at me and says, "Dass ist eine lange Strecke!" Meaning, "That's a LONG way!" I am not making this up!

We have planned our way around to the lake and have decided to not cross the bridge, but ride on the western shore over to Unteriberg. It takes some doing to get out of town as there is a fair of some sort in progress, but we do make it and are soon making good time. I stopped to shed a layer of clothing and Bill got far enough ahead to get out of sight. Just after I got up to speed again, I had two close encounters with vehicles and decided I would cross over onto the path next to the road. In many places, there is a cobblestone strip marking the boundary of the road and sidewalk / bike path. I looked down and saw the white line on the strip of small, square stones and moved over. There was only one problem: It wasn't a divider between road and sidewalk I was seeing. It was about a four inch high curb. My front wheel hit the edge and I was down on the walkway in a heartbeat, crashing onto my right hip and elbow. My glasses went flying as I slid to a stop. A quick assessment told me I was OK and I only needed to re-insert my lenses into the frames and loosen and re-tighten my front wheel to get going again. I quickly caught up with Bill who had stopped, wondering what to do ~ he thought I had forgotten the plan and had gone ahead and crossed the bridge. He was a bit angry, but turned quickly when I told him of the spill. All of the parts were still working so we took off, maintaining an even quicker pace as we realized that it was getting late (we had no idea just how late it was ~ read on) and that it was a "long way" to our destination. We rode through Unteriberg (Lower Iberg) and on to Oberiberg (Upper Iberg), a climb of about 700 feet. A check of the map reveled that Ibergeregg Pass was the next milestone and it was almost 900 feet up from where we were. I was now concerned. What time would it get dark? But there being no other choice, it was on to the pass. And it was not such a bad climb. Once over the top, it was a long, steep descent to Schwyz.

Looking Down from Near Ibergeregg to Schwyz
I must have had a pretty good ride down as I very nearly caught up with Bill at the bottom, even though he had climbed over the pass well ahead of me. We navigated the complicated route through Schwyz in good shape and were making good time on the road to Goldau. Just as we passed the Goldau sign, my phone rang. It was Laurenz, wanting to know where we were. I said we thought we had just come into Goldau and should be at the train station shortly. As we rode on, we realized we were out in the country so we turned back and rode to the Goldau sign. It was NOT the city limit sign, but rather the sign at the edge of the town of Steinen, informing us that Goldau was the NEXT town. Turning around again, we headed towards Goldau, having to climb a bit along the way. My phone rang again and I stopped and told Laurenz about what had happened. He said to keep riding and to look for him at the train station as soon as we got into town.

We were to spend the night on Rigi, at a hotel that we could (realistically) only reach by train, so Laurenz would wait at the station, show us where we would keep the bikes and then ride up with us. We rode on and soon came into Goldau, a big enough place to make it difficult to figure out where the train station was. Bill pointed down a main road and we headed off. I wasn't so sure so I stopped and asked a young man at a bus stop who said we needed to turn around, go back to the intersection we had come from then turn right to find the station. At said intersection, my phone rang again. "Where are you now?" asked Laurenz. When I told him, he said "OK, but you need to hurry. The last train to Rigi leaves at 6:00 p.m." It was 5:50. LAST TRAIN! We had not heard anything, until this very moment, about a deadline for arriving in Goldau. We sped down the road and soon had the station in sight. It was a real struggle, however, figuring out how to actually get into it. KInd of like one of those dreams where you want to run but can only creep along. We rode under it once then came back, this time finding a ramp. I got to the main platform but did not see Laurenz, so I called. He said there was ANOTHER station! But not to worry, it was connected to the end of the one we were in so we only had to negotiate a 100 meters. We did and finally found Laurenz. Bikes were stashed in a warehouse and we actually had to wait a few minutes for the train.

What a day. LAST TRAIN!?!? We would have been sleeping on the benches had we been 10 minutes later. But all's well that ends well. It was a spectacular ride up the steep slope to the hotel where Bruno, the hotel Saint Bernard, and the rest of the tour riders were awaiting us. DEADLINE?!?!

* OK, here's the rest of the story on our being mislead by Bob. We should have ridden on in Watwil just a short distance farther where we would have found the split in highways 8 and 16. Here, we would have followed 8, a red road (main trunk route) on the map, to RIckin, a mere 3 miles from and 500 feet higher than Watwil. But Bob, seeing a sign (it was a hiking route sign) pointing towards Rickin, led us onto not a "white road" (a secondary road) but a "gray road", denoting a road, track or footpath. This road went to a high point almost 2,200 feet above Watwil and we rode every foot of it. Bob had in fact, stopped for the cow crossing and used his waiting time to look more closely at his map and GPS. He figured it out and went back down to the originally planned route. We did not get the easier ride of the "correct" route, but we sure got a better story.