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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Going Underground

Wednesday, August 27
Ulrichen to Bergun

Rising up over Grimsel pass was quite the experience. And, as I was here on a TOUR, it seemed that I needed to be sure and pursue all of the opportunities. So today, I decided to start out in a tunnel. UNDER Furka pass. In a train. Seriously, did you see the picture of Furka in the last post? While Bill, Bob and Earnie would choose to go over the pass, I was happy to join the rest of the group in going from Ulrichen to Andermatt by rail. There would be a pass, of course. There's always a pass. Or two. But not Furka. Not this year.

Waiting for the Train in Ulrichen
I'd ride with Chris and Paula today and, as it turns out, Laurenz as he led the way out of Andermatt and up Oberalp Pass. This was a really nice ride. A good road climbing through rolling hills under a brilliant blue sky.

On the Climb to Oberalp Pass
There was, however, this tunnel. Nothing at all like the one between Ulrichen and Andermatt, but I did that one in a train. This one, on the way up to Oberalp, was not so long, but it curved around enough that you could not see the exit when you entered. And when you enter from bright sun wearing shades, well it gets dark in a hurry. This was about as disconcerting a feeling as I have had on a bike. There was just enough light to make out the walls of the tunnel allowing me to stay in the right lane, but you could not see the surface of the road at all. For some reason, I found it very much like floating across a fluid surface. It was not so long before I was in far enough to see the exit. While this helped, I had to get very near getting out of the tunnel before I could get a glimpse of the surface and feel stable again. I do not think this tunnel had a bypass, but I was sure that when I got to the next tunnel, I'd be looking hard for a away around it.


After pictures and coffee at the top of Oberalp, it was back down along the main road through a number of picturesque towns, one of which provides the setting for a leisurely lunch at a restaurant with outdoor seating...my only restaurant lunch of the tour. Paula was feeling poorly, to say the least, but decided to ride on as we were approaching a must-see part of the ride, according to Laurenz. We get off the main road at Iilanz and start climbing up above the Rhine Gorge, Switzerland's Grand Canyon. The road wound up through forested hillsides, occasionally breaking out onto a section hung right off the sheer walls. Every turn provided a different look at the Rhine falling away as the climb continued. At the top, the road turns sharply away from the river and descends through tall, dark pines. Back and forth around numerous switchbacks we go until we finally reach the lower level where a mile-long straight, moderately downhill run carries me to the outskirts of Bonaduz.

Road Above Rhine Gorge
As I get to the edge of town, I am treated to a demonstration as to just how much the Swiss do not want vehicles to collide with trains at crossings. With bells ringing and lights flashing, the crossing gates drop. Stepping out of the pedals, I notice that the cars coming up behind me turn off their engines (well the drivers turned off the cars' engines, but you know what I mean). They know something. We are there for several minutes and still no train. A few more minutes. Then, distinctive red cars of the Swiss Rail train appear around the corner, roll through the crossing and continue on into the town of Bonaduz. Every car on both sides that was there at this time could have crossed the tracks three times. Slowly. And still have beaten the train by a comfortable margin. Better safe than sorry, though. I just hoped I wasn't going to be late for the train from Bonaduz.

Laurenz had suggested the train at least as far as Tiefencastle, as he said the road was busy and less interesting. From Tiefencastle, the choices were to continue on by rail to Bergun or get off and ride the remaining 17 kilometers. Earnie, who I met as I rode into the small station, and I decide to ride from Tiefencastle. Chris and Paula, who made the train only because it stopped when Chris raced up and pushed the "Open Door" button, decide on the train option, Paula still not feeling at all well.

Laurenz might have mentioned that we could opt to ride UP from Tiefencastle to Bergun. I don't know. But I do know - now - that it is an up sort of a ride. We climb and climb, the road getting steeper as we go. As I push up, I think, "If I had known, I'd still be on that train." But I didn't. And I wasn't. So climb it was. At one point, my chain came off and got stuck behind the inner ring. I freed it up without any trouble, but once back on the bike I'd lost the "rhythm" and found the climbing even more difficult. And it was getting late. And the road kept going up and some concern about being able to finish the ride enters my thinking. I do ride all the way to the top though and after stopping in town three times to ask directions, I pull up in front of the hotel with every bit of 30 minutes to spare before dinner.

Bill and Bob? Well, they did Furka and Oberalp (as did Earnie, by the way) then decided to take the train a few stops down the line. It didn't quite work out as they had planned, though, as they somehow ended up in Chur. Chur NOT on the way to Bergun. The backtracking required to recover from this detour ate up a lot of time and, in the end, they railroaded all the way to Bergun. Not that there is anything to regret here. Did you catch the Furka AND Oberalp thing?

Would I have really taken the train from Tiefencastle? Probably. I did know that there would be some climbing to get to Bergun, but it was much more of a challenge than I had figured on. But making that climb at the end of an already long day was a turning point, of sorts. I think Bob had the explanation, saying, "When you did that ride, you proved you COULD do it." He was right. I do not lack confidence, but thinking maybe you can't finish a climb is a weight that you have to carry up the hill. If you can shed that weight, the climbs are easier. My climbs got easier after this day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Your photo of Oberalp Pass is gorgeous!