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Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Walk in the Woods

Monday, August 25
Zermatt to Ulrichen

We set out on a bike ride this morning but part way through the day, a hike broke out. Just one of many new (to me) aspects of bicycle touring wrought by the rugged Swiss topology. The lay of the land? Pretty much vertical. As the week progresses, I come to see that the engineers here have yet to eye a piece of the landscape that doesn't look like a building site, a roadbed or a good place to lay railroad tracks. When they do encounter a particularly obstreperous stretch of real estate, they simply tunnel under it or run a cable car over it.

It is raining as we wind our way through the narrow streets of Zermatt. We pass the train station and make our way to the northern edge of the city before getting out on the "open road." Zermatt is more or less car free although we encounter a few delivery trucks on this stretch. The ban on cars ends at Tasch and things get a bit busier. Bob leads us onto a secondary road which, in addition to having no traffic, allows us to bypass a construction zone in which cars and trucks are backed up in both directions. By now my feet are soaked; I was glad it wasn't cold. As we enter Visp, I think. "That wasn't so bad. What's all this whoop-tee-do about riding in Switzerland?" It was, of course, downhill all the way. Whoop-tee-do was coming.

We load our bikes on a train and bypass the busy corridor between Visp and Brig, getting off in the small town of Moerel. It's here that Bill, Bob and I set out on one of the white roads - secondary roads marked by white lines on our maps. We start climbing right away and quickly come to a sign that promises "10 km, 19%." Bob has stopped to check things out on his GPS. He soon calls out, "Do you know what this road.....?" the rest of the sentence trailing off as we round the first switchback. We don't know, so we keep going. Bob, we realize later, doesn't follow us.

On the "White Road" Above Moerel
It is, at first, a great road, winding around through the small farms that adorn the hills. Soon, however, the pavement gives way to a hard gravel surface. Not too bad. Then, a looser gravel as the road narrows to, let's call it a path. It's about here that I ride past a tree with a crucifix nailed on it. I wonder, is this where you pray that you'll make it to the other end or where those coming from that direction give thanks that they've arrived? Oh well, it works both ways, I suppose.

Time to Reflect...
After crossing over a short bridge, we are at the bottom of a really steep stretch of two narrow lanes of wet cobblestone with grass in between. Time to walk. Although I'm not sure the barometric pressure VDO computers are accurate on short climbs, Bill reports that his reads 24% at one point. At the top, we are able to ride on a bit more but finally have to dismount for good as the surface morphs into deep, loose gravel on a series of very steep descents and climbs.

You might think that this is a big disappointment, us being on a bicycle tour and all. But it was, in fact, a very enjoyable hour as we walk in deep woods, look down on crystal clear pools in the stream flowing through the valley and come across a stone bridge. The plaque here says this was once an important route over the Albrun Pass to Italy and while the exact date of its construction isn't known, it is likely it was built in the 1600's.

A Walk in the Woods
Eventually we reach another paved road and are once again on the bikes, headed now for Ausserbin. When we arrive, I ask a couple about finding a store where we can get something for our lunch. They tell me there is a market in the building just behind us. And, it being between noon and 2 p.m., it is, as are all such markets, closed. So we ride on. It is not until about 2:30, some 7 hours after breakfast, that we are able to buy provisions in Reckingen. We sit on the steps in a small square (it was round, actually) across from the church; cheese, bread, a peach and chocolate milk. I decide right there that I am not setting out on the road again without some food in my pack. We also get the chance to fill up our water bottles at a fountain near the church. Everywhere we go, we find clean water in the town fountains. I seldom get into my second water bottle.

Cool Water
It is only a short ride to the hotel in Ulrichen, where we will be for the next two nights. That's it. A rainy descent, a train ride, a white road (that degenerated into a "gray" road), a walk in the woods and a late lunch. And this is only the first day of the ride.

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