Crikey. Its been a while. Despite having finished this trip months ago, I wanted to post something about the final week heading across from Lac Leman to St Gallen… more for my own memory than anything else. So here are some notes from that week, as well as some photos.
Day 1 – New brake pads and more air in tyres for the tarmac ahead, headed along coast east from Nyon along Cycle Route 1. Surprisingly hard work, guess that’s constant pedalling in one position instead of the changes that come with hills and offroad. Cycle path headed up valleyside into vineyards. Great views but some impossibly steep sections and slower than main road (which is where map shows the route to actually go!) Vowed to try to follow the road a bit more and the map a bit less! Stopped in campsite just outside Vevey, on the lake shore. Realised no food and shops shut the next day (Sunday). Also, clothes stinking, so took Day 2 off to wash, catch up on admin and eat. Two dinners plus lunch in campsite restaurant must have cost £100 in total. They closed the day I left. Beautiful views of sunrise and sunset on Lac Leman though. Steak one night, horse steak the next, chatting with local woman who had been for dusk swim.
There are locals who live up the valley side who permanently camp at this site all summer – including the HR Director of one of the large pharma companies nearby. Apparently she can be seen fishing in the lack at night and then donning high heels and a suit the following morning. What a great way to introduce some outdoor life into a normal working summer. Met a french guy, a recent graduate, who had been in Switzerland for the summer looking for a permanent job. He said that work was pretty scarce in France but that things seemed much more positive in Switzerland. He’d found himself a permanent job and was about to move from the tent that was his home over the summer to something a bit more permanent.
Day 2 – Chilled day, ready for hill next morning (!).
Day 3 – Steep hill leaving town at the start of Cycle Route number 9 – the Lakes Route – which would take me the whole way across Switzerland… I knew this hill was coming but it was still hard work! Thank god I chose the road route and wasn’t still set on trying to negotiate the mountain bike trail. Worked out that I can just about ride up a hill marked on the routemap with two chevrons but potentially have to push up a three chevron hill. Made it across to Lake Thun, and nearly to Interlaken but was struggling to find campsite on the south side of the lake and it was getting dark. Found a youth hostel but when the woman on the desk checked, they said they were full. That was, until the hostel owner poked his head round the door, looked at the state of me in my salt stained top and shorts and decided I would probably be ok with the uncleaned room. Lovely old chalet buildings and very nice couple running it.
Day 4 – Headed out along the north of Lake Brienz, alternating between the main road at the lake shore and the smaller roads winding their way up the hillside. Thought the north side looked a bit less severe. The cycle map seem to show a big detour at the east of the lake to then head up the Brunig Pass – the main obstacle of this weeks riding. I’d read the cycle route was tough going with a really rough surface and so decided to keep things simple, take what looked like a short cut and head up the Brunig Pass on the main road. The map showed the road heading up without many steep chevrons, but I only really worked out afterwards that perhaps that was because the map I had focused on cycle routes, and probably didn’t show gradients on normal roads. Big mistake. This turned out to be a narrow main road snaking up to the pass with (at times) no proper barrier between the road and the steep edge (on the right, so the side I was cycling on!) with bloody lorries heading upwards, followed by queues of traffic. Not fun at all. Kept having to pull over to stop and let traffic pass. A massive morale boost near the top came from two heavily loaded touring cyclists heading downhill on the other side of the road ringing their bells and waving as they past, full of understanding of the effort involved in the uphill. Made it to the top about 2pm-ish. As most hills have been, the effort of getting up them makes it quite emotional being at the top, and joyous being able to just coast along without any more effort.
I decided to go for it and head for Lucerne – surely all down hill from here? Passed the Lungerersee, Sarnersee, Wichelsee, and skirted round the west edge of Lake Lucerne. Really tired and first campsite looked closed. Made mistake of speaking to someone in a campervan at the entrance rather than just pitching up somewhere secluded. Turned out they worked there and said I couldn’t stay, so had to head through Lucerne to other campsite. Dumped stuff, walked down to lake and took a chilly dusky dip. Lucerne looks lovely. 62 miles, including Brunig pass! Over half way to Seans. Better slow down!
Day 5 – Short mileage. Stopped early as found open campsite, and was pretty tired after the last two days. Passed the Zugersee (stopped for Lunch), and camped somewhere on the Agerisee, at the first site I found.
[Many lakes heading mostly downhill after the Brunig Pass]
Day 6 – It hammered it down in night and was v cold in morning. Made me realise that it was in fact October, and I’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather so far. Unfortunately, that luck has run out. Headed uphill in very cold rain, driving wind and then vicious hail! Had to literally take shelter in a cafe for coffee and apple cake. Skipped a huge detour on the cycle route by heading down the main road to cut some miles. Was a bit worried it might turn into a motorway but it had cycle route most of way so was ok – I saved a huge amount of time and was pretty smooth riding, despite my wet fingers being absolutely freezing. Had to stop about three times to get some feeling back into them. Heading down towards the Zurichsee, the weather got a little clearer, and this felt like a real milestone because there are virtually no hills left (apart from the last one into St Gallen). Crossed the Zurichsee, headed along the northern edge of the Obersee and then followed the valley to the Walensee. The road along the southern edge is right in mountain at times and to accomodate a bike route the have at times, literally bolted one onto the outside of the road, overhanging the lake edge and at other times, carved a tunnel out of the rock underneath the road. Very spooky! After a couple of very short steep sections up and down I found a campsite at Murg, not wanting to go further in case next one was shut. I deliberated on camping right by the lake edge but thought might be too windy with a storm coming. So I wimped out and opted for the dull tent field. Of course there was no storm. I spent most of the evening in the shower room trying to dry my soaking clothes under a bar heater and hand dryer…! Think I can get to St Gallen tomorrow if I cut out the detour that the cycle route takes around the edge of the Bodensee…
Day 7 – What a day. It was freezing. The temperature has dropped from nearly 30 to about 3 degrees. This day was just a slog. Not wanting to do any hills, I followed the Rhine (yes – back on the Rhine again) valley around the mountains between the Walensee and St Gallen. Very flat riding, windy and cold all day long. Cloud sitting halfway up the valley side, with snow above to be seen when the cloud briefly cleared. I couldn’t seem to get warm all day. The muscles at the top of my leg/groin seemed to have been getting tired the past few days and now with the cold, refused to work when I wanted to swing my leg over the bike Sean was following my route through the Spot website and sent me a Facebook message that I picked up when I stopped for a coffee to warm up. It went something like this:
Sean: I’m watching your progress live – which way are you going? Go up the pass to Appenzell! It’s down hill from there!
Me: It [the route] takes you around to Rorschach and then back to St Gallen, to avoid anything with the word ‘pass’ in it!!
Sean: ok, the long way round… we’ll keep a light on 😉
By the time I got to Rorschach I was pretty dead, and not looking forward to the uphill from the Bodensee to St Gallen. Stopped and stuffed some cake and Coke down to try to get some sugar for the last ten miles. Slowly plodded my way up the never-ending hill to St Gallen. Stopped at the edge of town, took some photos of the “St Gallen” town sign, and turned on the iPhone to plot a route through town to Sean’s place. Only a couple of miles!! As I turned up the main road to his street, it was getting pretty dark. As I got close to the end of Sean’s road, I could see him, his trademark bush rainhat silhouetted in the streetlight. He’d seen the Spot register me being on the edge of town and had legged it down to the end of his road to meet me, and low and behold there was my flashing front light as I came up the hill. Poor Sean – I refused to stop until I had got as close to his front door as I could, and he had to run back up with me. He took some video (which captured the words “I never want to do today again”) but I think between the two of us we’ve lost it in the transfer from his computer to mine.
This last day was the longest of the trip, in every way. Something like 74 miles, although I’ve misplaced my notebook and can’t remember the exact figure. Whereas the previous hills and long slogs had been kind of euphoric upon completion, there was none of that. This day was just horrible, cold, tiring, hard work. It was all I could do to just keep pedalling. My body felt like it had no energy, that it couldn’t adjust to the cold after 6 weeks of mostly gorgeous weather (apart from those very wet first couple of days). But I gave myself no choice. I didn’t want to camp anywhere so relatively close to Sean’s. I didn’t want to do any more hills than I really had to, especially with snow on the valley sides above. Everything was wet and cold and I wasn’t that keen on another day feeling cold and wet. So I just kept pedalling. And eventually I got there.