African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why do I find myself singing "Climb every mountain . . . . . . from the sound of music????