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Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's a Long Way!

Thursday, August 21 - Sunday, August 24
Travel to Switzerland
Weekend in Zermatt

Bill found himself lost on a ride through Switzerland a few years ago. I know this is hard to fathom, but it did happen. And I know you'll think I'm making this up, too, but his situation was so desperate that he actually stopped and asked for directions. When he explained where he wanted to go, the wide-eyed response was, "That's a LONG WAY!"

It has been a long way from that first ride up Bliss Road. The path has run through Washington, Idaho, Montana and Colorado, not to mention the many miles ridden on the rural roads around La Crosse. Now I'm ready to board my flight to Chicago. From there, it is on to Brussels, Zurich and, finally, Zermatt, Switzerland. It's a long way. And I added considerably to my biking experiences during the two weeks of the tour in Switzerland. Miles, meters and adventures. I'll share just some of this in my Swiss Ride posts. Let's get started...

Travel just isn't what it used to be. I settled into my seat on the American Airlines flight to Brussels, this entailing getting out my iPod and headphones, a book, my journal, a few crosswords and Sudokos clipped from the paper, a pencil and a pen, all to be stuffed into the seatback pocket which already contained my Diet Coke. Just after buckling my seatbelt, one of the gate agents approached; he told me they were trying to accommodate some standby passengers and asked if I'd mind taking another seat. I had to drag my backpack out from under the seat, re-pack the aforementioned items and repeat the settling in process at my new seat. The things you have to put up with these days. Oh. Did I mention that my new seat was in business class?

Zermatt is, in fact, a long way from La Crosse. But after a mere twenty-four hours, 4 airports, 3 planes, 2 trains and 1 electric-powered taxicab I was tucked away at the Hotel Europe.

Saturday brings the opportunity to assemble my bike ~ during which time I discover I have left my pump at home !#$@#!& ~ and explore the city before the tour riders come in later in the day. In the course of my ramblings I visited a church with a small cemetery planted on the slopes behind the building, A pathway wound down through the rows of gravestones. There were switchbacks at the end of each row. We are definitely in Switzerland!

It can be pleasant strolling through the stillness of a cemetery. At the same time, it provides opportunity for reflection - knowing that there are stories of real people behind the names chiseled into the cold, gray stones. In many cases, part of the story is told in the epitaphs, such as the one that reads, "Died on the Matterhorn." On the grave of a young man from New York are written the words, "I chose to climb." He died trying to scale the Breithorn. Ice axes adorn a few of the graves. Poignant.

I Chose to Climb...
As sobering as the experience was, I reflected that I would not be scaling sheer rock walls and was somewhat further encouraged that none of the burial sites were marked by twisted bicycle parts.

At about 2 p.m. I spied Bill and Bob pushing their bikes up the narrow, crowded street leading to the hotel. My ride had, in a way, started. That evening I was finally able to meet Laurenz, Corinne and the other riders of their "Switzerland at its Best" tour: Art and Pat, Chris and Paula, Earne, and Bret and May-Yee (who were leaving the tour here). Aranka, Laurenz and Corinne's wonderful little dog, also made an appearance. We enjoyed an excellent meal in the hotel restaurant which, I was to see at breakfast on Sunday, provided a post card worthy view of the Matterhorn.

The Matterhorn from the Church Square in Zermatt
On Sunday, it was up to Gornergrat on the cogwheel train, "The Matterhorn Railway," one of the many marvels of Swiss engineering experienced during the tour. The burnt orange train sped up the really steep slopes, the only sound being the quiet hum of the powerful electric motors. And yes, I did wonder what sort of fail-safe system they had for the brakes.

We were soon in the bleak, rocky heights about 4,300 feet above the station in Zermatt. There wasn't much to see from the top, only sweeping panoramas of the alps and glaciers in the high valleys, all against a deep blue sky.

At Gornergrat
After a walk around Zermatt and a frustratingly unsuccessful search for a jersey I had seen at a bike shop (they only had a few smalls), we meet for dinner and a review of tomorrow's riding. Unlike the Cycle America tours, this isn't a discussion of THE ROUTE, but a review of the many options available. We spread out maps, get suggestions from Laurenz and riders who've been here before (everyone but me) and decide, more or less, on what we'll do. We then retire to our rooms to pack up and, in my case, wonder what riding in Switzerland will be like.

It's been a long way. And now it's time to ride.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Twisted bicycle parts . . .