Do you remember me telling you about hearing church bells on a still evening in Portugal? Well, if you do, you will remember how the bells of the three churches were about four minutes apart as they sounded the hour. This morning at 7, we had two Swiss churches. You could probably guess that they were less than a second between them. Thus, is it alway so in Switzerland.
We start the day with a big 10% pull of 300m, all of which we immediately lose as the bike path drops back down to the road. We know we have the hardest climb of the tour so far just ahead and we wanted views to a crisp horizon as reward for our efforts. The weather forecast had promised a good day, so the low cloud, cold and light rain is a bit of a disappointment.
Switzerland is the hilliest country in Europe, and you could make a tour here with thousands of meters of altitude gain. You could, but you would be snickered. We had been following lakes and rivers so far, but today it was the Brunigpass.
The climb starts with a 550m long tunnel that corkscrews around on itself. Then you have a 600m gain in height at a leg busting 7,8,9, and 10% grade to take you up into the mist.
There is an airbase in the valley, pinned in by mountains in three directions. There is a handkerchief sized bit of sky to aim at, but as we climb, two jets take off. For no other reason, than they can, the Swiss spend an awful lot of money on defence. I am sure these are the state of the art planes, but hell they are loud. They scream past us, close enough to throw a stone at, but unseen.
Near the top of the climb a cyclist we met last night at the camp has taped a piece of paper to a sign. ” 60 Esther & Warren?”, Esther reads, and looks a bit puzzled. In the cold, I am steaming like a Grand National winner. It is just 13’c and time for us to drop all the way back down to the valley floor and grass meadows of Lungerin. It is a wet and steep descent. We grab a coffee, which we can hardly hold, with hands exhausted from pulling on the brakes.
We catch a ferry to the other side of the lake. Beckenried to Gersau, is about half an hour and costs a small fortune. It feels like poor form to moan at the price, as we have the ferry to ourselves. “I am going to have to go a bit faster than normal so you will have 5 minutes less on the water”. They had indeed sailed just for us.
We camp with the sound of dozens of sheep’s bells high above us – very high. There are hamlets up there, with churches and lives being lived at what looks like an angle of 45 degrees. That night, the house lights merge with the stars. It must be a bugger in the winter.
It is another big climbing day. As high as yesterday, but less steep. It is already 23’c, so we are grateful for grades of 3 to 5%. We spend all morning going up hill from Lake Vierwallstatter and back down to Lake Obersee.
We pick up Bike Route 32 towards Chur. This takes us along the main road and I count 7 Ferrari’s. It is now 30’c with thermals building, pushing up big white clouds. Kites and Buzzards are riding on the warm air, tracking across the sides of the mountains.
We are riding on easy grades along the side of the lake. So, it is a bit of a shock when the route throws in an unheralded 20% climb. We get off and walk. An early end to the day at the campground at Murg, with clouds building for a storm that never comes.
Across the lake there is a village of a hundred or more houses. Like many, this has no roads and is served by water taxi. It has a micro climate that grows grapes for fine wine, perhaps kept warm by the lake that plunges to 300m depth here.
In the morning we ride towards the Rhine. Again vines cover the lower slopes, which all feels wrong, but works somehow. You get a bit of everything in Switzerland. A bit of folk art for example, with a tree kept warm with a knitted cosy.
Seeing the Rhine for the first time is an important event. We will be following this north into Germany soon. It is quite exciting to see it, but I am sure we will be quite sick of it soon enough. Riding rivers, particularly, big canalised ones like this is never quite as nice as you imagine it to be.
Even on the short stretch into Chur it gets busy, as it, a railway and two big roads try to squeeze through, on flat land between the mountains. It has been a perfect few days of riding and we have started to see some of the heart of Switzerland. Chur is a place where we will stay with friends who we biked with last year in the USA. It is a time to give our kit and ourselves, a bit of well needed TLC.
“You have not seen Switzerland until you have climbed beyond the tree line”. Claudio, has a point. So, early next morning, we are not having the R&R we expected. Far from it, as we are walking up to the snow and beyond to witness the release of vultures being reintroduced to the mountains here. He is right of courses.