Saturday, May 9, 2015

Switzerland part 2

The lady at the tourist information centre was very clear: all passes on the roads we had planned to ride were still closed... and would remain closed until June! As we were heading south-east, we had 3 options according to her: go back to France and ride south into Italy, or ride back to Luzern and take the highway through the Gotthard tunnel into Italy, or go to Zurich and then into Austria... Not what we had hoped for. What we had hoped is for her to tell us that we could ride the Sustenstrasse and Susten pass tomorrow and continue east from there. But if all were closed until June then our ride through Switzerland would be quite short... Now what?

The day had started good. Although we hadn't been able to find a free spot last night, the campground we stayed at was apparently still closed. The grass had just been mowed and we had cold water and a toilet. The sinks weren't connected yet but we basically had all we need. There were plenty of farm houses around but no-one came to collect the camping fee, although we left quite late that morning. I guess we had found a free spot after all! 

We decided to head for Luzern, then take the highway to the Gotthard tunnel and ask again before entering the tunnel. A good choice as we found the OberAlp pass open! There was no way of finding out if the Julier and Bernina pass would be open but at least we could ride this one and back again if needed. We were tempting faith a bit when we took the highway as we didn't have the Swiss toll vignette, which is 40 Euros per bike, as we hadn't intended to take a highway. The vignette is valid for a full year, so perhaps not even that expensive if you're a travelling salesman, but for a week it's a bit stiff. Even more so as bikes pay the same as a car!

With the benefit of hindsight it's amazing that the OberAlp pass was open! The amount of snow still around caught us by surprise. It felt like we were riding through Switzerland in winter! We rode through walls of snow and winter-wonderland landscapes that simply took our breath away. During one of the photo stops we made, Mike came up to me and said 'Thank you for letting me see this!' It was an emotional moment. After all the setbacks we had endured over the last weeks/months we now finally could enjoy the rewards. For me it was even more than that. Some 30 years ago I had wanted to buy a travel bike and travel all over Europe. That never happened as my then partner wasn't in for it. Long weekends or a week away to places like Switzerland was at the top of my list, but never happened. Now I could finally do it, and what's even better I could ride here with my own son! I couldn't be happier. Even if the trip to Australia had to end now, it would have been worth it for this journey through Switzerland alone.

But it didn't end here! The Julier pass was open too and so we continued... We rode through Wilhelm Tell landscapes, avoiding the highways and instead seeing the real Switzerland. The mountain views were stunning. I'm struggling to find words that do it justice, I'm not a writer and that shows at times like this. We rode through towns which have probably been here for thousands of years, enjoyed winter-like views we hadn't expected to find anymore end April. The ride up to the pass was seriously bloody cold, but it didn't bother us. The impressive landscapes and incredible views made more than up for it. The rest of the day was cold too but again it didn't bother us one bit. No doubt it would have been different had we not had good bike gear though...

We were over the moon when we saw the Bernina pass was open as well! How lucky were we? Again it became colder and colder as we rode up... until we got caught up in a snow storm! Snow covered our visors and started to freeze to it... both inside and out! Fingers started to go numb and our feet became cold too. Overall it didn't seem that much colder than the OberAlp pass... until the cold suddenly grabbed me... in a matter of seconds I became so cold that I was hardly in control of the bike anymore. Shivering from the cold with 300kg bikes and frozen visors we rode on, slowly. Surely things would get better once we were over the pass I thought. But I was wrong. We had descended down to 1,000 mtr but I was still shivering!

That night we took a campsite, had a hot shower and were lucky that we could pitch the tent under an extended balcony and thus had a roof over the tent. It still surprised me that the cold took such a hold of me, and so quickly. It had happened before somewhere but I couldn't remember where or what the problem was... and then it suddenly hit me: I was hungry! We were desperately trying to loose weight and quickly, so we had skipped lunch and just a small breakfast for the past week. My body was simply out of food and thus had no energy to keep me warm. We ate a can of Spaghetti that night and things improved quickly (even though the Spaghetti had been at best hand-warm). Looking at my Wolfman bags, I realised I hadn't even used the rain cover on both the tank bag and tail bag... through a snow storm... and found them both dry. Just as well as my camera is in the tank bag!

PS Andreas from Switzerland replied to this post with a very useful link from the Swiss Automobile Club TCS which shows every pass that is open in green. Click on the link and select Pässe: