I just returned yesterday from a cycling trip in Switzerland. It was… an experience.
The adventure started on Friday, 8 August, really, when I went to my local bike shop to have the bicycle packed for the flight. It was a busy time for Danny, the bicycle mechanic, with people in and out, a pile of other bikes waiting for attention and me not only watching (I’d have to put it back together again myself when I arrived in Switzerland and pack it again when I left), but also constantly picking things up to look at them and interrupting with a hundred questions.
Saturday morning we got up at 3:30am and left for Dublin airport at 4am. My flight left for Basel airport at 6:30. I got through checkin with my bicycle no problem, as I’d booked it beforehand and packed it according to Ryanair’s instructions. However, when I arrived in Basel and opened the box to assemble the bike… I found that in the previous day’s chaos, my bike’s saddle had been left behind.
No problem. I closed the box again and got on a bus to Bahnhof Basel SBB (train station), hefted my 15kg luggage which was packed in panniers and a bag very suited for cycling but hell to carry. I dragged my boxed bicycle, a total weight of another fifteen kilograms, after me. Lucky for me there was a bicycle shop just near the station, and I bought a saddle and seat post for the journey. Here is the bike at the entrance to the station when at last I had it ready:
Basel SBB was an experience in itself. There must have been a fancy dress something on somewhere, as people looking like this were all over the place. One lady wearing a teddy and suspenders was ahead of me in line to buy a train ticket.
When you get in the train, there’s a special little compartment for bicycles. Here’s Ronan, my bicycle, snug and ready for our journey.
It took me more time to make my way to Meiringen, where I spent the first night, than you’d imagine, as I am directionally challenged and awfully scatterbrained in spite of my best efforts. That night in my tent I had the Swiss version of a Mars Bar. The interior of the tent was soon in chaos.
There were loads of other cyclists at the campsite. Mine is the little green tent.
Next morning I set off on the route I intended to do. I aimed to complete Route 61, but back to front, as I wanted to get the longer train journey between Meiringen and Basel out of the way on the first day. I also wanted to get the worst part of the route, the climb up to Grosse Scheidegg, out of the way on the first day, not at the end when I would be knackered. What a wise girl I am. Here’s the starting point of the route.
It was Steep with a capital S. After two kilometres I texted Micky that I couldn’t do the route and wanted to give up. I was considering just doing some day cycles out from Meiringen instead. Micky sent me an encouraging text back, and I decided to change my tactics. I would pedal 100m, rest, then pedal another 100m.
In this way, I managed to make my way ever farther up the route. This was the first serious giant of the Alps that I saw.
Typical Swiss house I saw on the route. It’s interesting to see the piles of firewood stacked against the walls outside.
I managed a giggle when I saw this sign, thinking, “Darn, and I lugged my bugle all this way specially to blow it right in this spot.”
At this point, according to the height profile, I should have been another two kilometres from the high point. But as I sat here, I stared at that particular way the road winds, twisting back on itself, and it looked familiar. I whipped out my map, and true as bob, this was what the road looked like just before Grosse Scheidegg. I tried not to get happy, but I was right. The high point was just around the corner.
Looking out over this monster mountain, I sat at Hotel Grosse Scheidegg and had an ice cold juice. It had taken me seven hours to cover sixteen kilometres.
This is the Eiger, seen from Grosse Scheidegg.
It was downhill all the way from Grosse Scheidegg. I passed through Grindelwald in a flash, and went on to Wilderswil, just before Interlaken, where I camped for the night. Here’s the view of the Jungfrau, I think, from the campsite. At night I could see the lights of the Jungfrau railway right on the saddle between those two mountains.
And there’s my little green tent:
After a long search for a place to eat that wasn’t a restaurant, but just a plain old spot where I could sit with my wrinkled clothes and my messed up hair, I had the best hamburger and chips I have ever tasted here at the snack shack:
Next day I left for Thun, taking an easier path, along the lake, instead of the more difficult route I had planned to do. At first it was a bit of an epic finding the starting point of cycle route 8/9, but with the help of a lovely lady called Cathy, I was on the right road at last and pedalled along the edge of the lake. The water was crystal clear and the route beautiful.
This is Spiez, the last town I went through before reaching Thun:
All in all a wonderful experience, though it was one of the worst I’d had in a way. The cycling difficultly was way too much for me. However, I did it. While travelling along the flat, calm route to Thun, I swore I would never do something like the previous day’s nightmare again. Yet last night I already found myself thinking, “Now if I train more specifically for hill cycling, and if perhaps I attempt the route without fifteen kilograms luggage on the bike, I can try again and see if I can do it in less than seven hours…”
Day 1, Sunday 10 August: Height gain of 1364m (4 475 feet) over a distance of 16km (10 miles), achieved in seven hours. Average speed (when I moved) 6km/h (3.75mph) After that another 32 km (20 miles) done in an hour and a half. Yes, the rest of the route was downhill all the way (thank God). Total distance on day 1 was 48km (30 miles) over a total of eight and a half hours.
Day 2, Monday 11 August: Flat route of 37km (23 miles), done in four hours.
Note, 28 November 2009: I see I didn’t mention it at the time for whatever reason, but I felt as if I was developing a cold on the last day’s trip. When I arrived at the hotel, I had to first pack my bicycle for the next morning’s very early flight. It had started raining heavily by then, and I spent half an hour outside, soaked and chilled. Less than an hour later I knew I was very sick indeed. There were, fortunately, two single beds in my room, because I sweated so much I had to change from one to the other in the middle of the night. I was in pretty bad shape on the flight back. Back home, the doctor diagnosed my dry cough and illness as a combination of dehydration, overexertion and altitude sickness. Next time, I’ll have to spend two days adjusting to the altitude before tackling Grosse Scheidegg.
Yes, I did say next time.
Except if I can go cycling in Norway instead. We’ll see.