Tour of the Alps – 1985
The Alps have long been a summer and winter playground for vacationers around the world. They ski, they hike, they ride bikes. What better venue for the Tour de France than the Alps? After many years of reading and dreaming, I had an opportunity to see Europe by bike. As a free-lance writer working part-time at Palo Alto Bicycles, I had no commitments. It was 1985. Greg LeMond had nearly won the Tour de France and was competing in the World Championships in Italy. I decided to go see him race. A friend who was familiar with riding in Europe gave valuable advice.
At age 33 I finally found a need for a passport. Not only was I a neophyte traveler, I had never ridden more than two days in succession. I was living on a budget and traveling alone. I didn’t know anyone in Europe, but my German tutor’s family would welcome me and a friend knew someone I could visit.
August 25 – 26: San Francisco – Malpensa
Sunday, Aug 25. A TWA flight took me to Milan from San Francisco, with a transfer in New York City. I boxed the bike at the airport and labeled it “fragile.” Big mistake. The luggage handler said the fragile label meant I couldn’t insure the package.
I sat between two Europeans, an Italian cardiologist who spoke fluent English and a Lithuanian living in Milan. The doctor said Stelvio Pass, one of my planned routes, might have snow now, and that the pass usually closes in mid-October. I exchanged some money in New York City. $200 bought me 350,000 lira.
Monday, Aug. 26 — Malpensa – Milan
The 747 landed at Malpensa Airport, northwest of Milan outside the town of Gallarte (Linate Airport is much closer) at 11:30 a.m. Hayfields lined both sides of the runway in a rural setting. Passengers boarded a bus to the terminal. My bike was the last piece of luggage off the plane. As I assembled the bike, I thought, “What am I doing?” I don’t speak a word of Italian. Fortunately I felt “at home.” My mother’s parents were Italian immigrants. My father’s side of the family immigrated from Basel, Switzerland, in 1749.
A light drizzle greeted me, but it wasn’t cold. As I looked around, I marveled that an international airport could have so little car traffic. I noticed my Avocet cyclometer wasn’t working. I fixed it and I was on my way. My “water repellent” nylon bike bag, made by John Forrester, hung off the back seat.
I tried to buy a good map at the Italian Auto Club, but it was closed. I rode through suburbs and past factories, many of them abandoned, a familiar scene in Italy.
The Dolomites beckoned, shrouded in thunderclouds. As I approached Milan, I started looking for the Vigorelli. Fortunately it’s in the northwest part of Milan, on my route into the city. The second time I asked, I was only two blocks away. It’s easy to miss the track, tucked away in central Milan. About 15 riders followed a motor-powered pace bike around the track. As I watched, a “coach” tried to tell me my seat needed raising. I declined his more than pushy advance − vigorously. The Masi office beneath the stands was closed.
I found a place to stay at Hotel Lido, not far from the Vigorelli, cost 60,000 lira ($35 in 1985, about $80 in 2007). The room was cramped, but it had the essentials − shower, toilet, sink, bed. People were friendly.
I took the Metro to find a map for my trip. The subway was clean, efficient. I found a bookstore, but no good maps. After pizza at a family-style restaurant, I slept fitfully.
Tuesday, August 27 – Milan – Darfo
I got up at 8 a.m., and left without breakfast. I bought an orange soda and ice cream at a small store. My effort to find the Vigorelli turned into a 30-minute exercise of aimless wandering. I eventually found a track, but it wasn’t the Vigorelli, maybe an indoor track. When I finally found the Vigorelli, it was closed.
I headed east toward the Dolomites, feeling my way along, not sure if any one road was better than another. It was 10 a.m. and cars jockeyed for position on the narrow streets. I finally found a sign saying “Bergamo.” The countryside didn’t appear until late in the day as I passed through villages on the valley floor. The Dolomites rose in the distance under clear skies.
My plan was to go north of the freeway heading to Bergamo, but I decided to stay on roads south of the freeway until reaching Trezzo, where I stopped at a bar for a drink. The owner was a big, strong, good-looking Italian with a mustache. He spoke English and was very kind.
At the gorgeous Adda River running through Trezzo, I stopped at a bridge to take a picture. Off to Bergamo. Bergamo is a charming old city, the gateway to the Dolomites, and reminded me of Boulder, Colorado. I stopped and talked to some old men at a bar. One hefty fellow said he used to be a good bike rider. He told me how to get to Presolana Pass (1297 m, 4255 f). Still, I had to stop and ask for directions a half-dozen times. First there was the girl, then an old man who took a side trip to show me the way, followed by an owner of a toy store, who gave me a warm Coke.
Finally, I was on my way through heavy traffic. Outside Fiorana I met a cyclist with all the gear, riding an Italian bike. We climbed together to Clusone (648 m, 2126 f). An old man wearing peculiar long socks passed us. I passed him back and it was a stalemate. During the day I saw a half-dozen riders. On the narrow road we rode side by side most of the time. We tried to talk, without a lot of success. In Castione I stopped for a banana, peach, and Coke.
Hotels lined the road where I began the climb up the Presolana, with its 10 percent grade. At the summit I stopped at a ski chalet before descending into a beautiful, remote, forested valley.
At the bottom of the pass I entered Dezzo, a rusting industrial town with an enormous gravel pit. I wanted to ride north to Schilpario, but leg cramps and a steep hill told me to go east, downhill, following the Dezzo River. On the narrow road I encountered my first unlit tunnel, or galleria. I waited for a car to come along, and followed. The driver understood my plight and turned on his flashers. I bounced over the rough, wet pavement.
By 6:30 p.m. it was growing dark as I arrived in Boano. All motels were sold out. Many Europeans were still on holiday.
Darfo was only three miles away. The first hotel I stopped at was full, but the second was available for 10,000 lire, about $6. The shower was shared, but my room was massive and from the back window of the stone building I saw a long drop to the Oglio River. The food was great, the people kind. After dinner I spoke to an Italian self-taught in English. I met a young man, age 14, with a Legnano bike who took an interest in my tour. The people tried to speak to me, but I didn’t speak a word of Italian. We had a good time until I excused myself and went to bed. (162 km, 100 miles)
Wednesday, August 28 – Darfo – Bormio
I got up at 8 a.m. and had a breakfast of bread and marmalade. It was another clear, warm day. After paying the bill of 24,000 lira, I rode downhill to the center of Darfo, an old, clean town, its narrow streets lined with shops. I tried to pump my tires at a gas station, but the valve didn’t fit, even with a presta converter. I rode north, headed for Gavia Pass, passing through towns crowded with factories and narrow roads.
About 30 miles into the ride I reached Capo di Ponte. The beautiful countryside lifted my spirits, but after another 15 kilometers of riding, I began feeling the effects of stress − an upset stomach. I met two Italians on racing bikes who were taking the regal tour with a follow car. One of the Italians told me he had been in the U.S. I think he was in the milk business.
In the beautiful town of Edolo (690 m, 1937 f) I had a lunch of ham, bread, soda, and fruit at a mini-market. From Edolo to Ponte di Legno, the gateway to Gavia Pass, the road climbed steadily. It was under repair in places. At Temu I stopped to talk to a motel owner and asked for mineral water. A waitress, seeing that I couldn’t speak Italian, used sign language and said something like “grande?” I said yes and she promptly brought out a 32 oz bottle of soda! I also mistakenly asked for two glasses, so she brought me two glasses! I meant to say a glass and a refill.
At Ponte de Legno, I took the right turn for Gavia Pass (2621 m, 8600 f). I should have gone left, as instructed. I finally found the Gavia and the adventure began.The road rises through a lush valley. High above I saw an inviting mountain village, Pezzo. The pass snakes over the snow-covered peaks. Soon the pavement ended at a sign that read “16 percent.” In 1985, the Gavia was one of the last classic passes still unpaved, and still part of the Giro de Italia [the road was paved in 1999].
I managed about 3-4 mph on the steep grade, stopping for water at a stream trickling down the side of the rocky mountain, already above tree line. I was exhausted. I blamed my condition on poor eating and a 42×21 low gear [I recommend a 42/24 low gear for strong riders]. With three more miles to the summit, I still had a lot of steep climbing on the rocky road. Shepherds tended their flocks on the snow-covered mountain. A WWII plaque commemorated an Italian military unit.
When I reached a rock overhang, there was no mistaking the location, where Jobst Brandt was photographed riding out of the saddle, his image portrayed on a Palo Alto Bicycles poster that’s now a collector’s item. A low wooden railing separated daring motorists from a thousand-foot drop. I found the framed poster hanging at the summit store.
At 4 p.m. the sun was low on the horizon. I took photos and ate snow. Near the summit there’s a small glacial lake. Hikers dotted the landscape. I stopped for a delicious drink of glacial water at a stream feeding into the lake. As I dismounted, my foot got stuck and I fell, bruising my hip and straining some leg muscles.
I reached the summit at 4:30, about 2.5 hours for 20 kilometers. I bought a small Coke for 750 lira at the summit hut, and met a British couple that had ridden up the pass from Bormio. They said a few days earlier they were caught in a nasty storm on the Stelvio. They had classic British cloth bags mounted behind their seats. Their 5-speed bikes were made by the British frame builder Jack Taylor. After about 10 minutes of conversation we said goodbye.
The road to Bormio sent me rocketing through a thick pine forest on a dirt road for the first three miles. Finally, smooth pavement provided welcome relief to my tired arms and legs.
In Bormio, a popular ski resort, (1225 m, 4018 f) I looked for a room in the center of town. The multi-story pine-shuttered Hotel Everest looked expensive, but I decided to try it anyway. The price of 34,000 lira seemed reasonable, and included dinner and breakfast. I’ve never had better pasta and wine, served in a splendid dining room fit for royalty. (110 km, 68 miles)
Thursday, August 29 – Bormio – Cardano
I checked out at 9, but before leaving I bought a bottle of wine for the distinguished owner and thanked him for the fine service. After about 15 minutes on Stelvio Pass, I met up with the British couple. We rode together for a half hour.
The road wound its way switchback after switchback up to Stelvio Pass (2757 m, 9054 f). I passed through a long, open tunnel, followed by more switchbacks before the road straightened for the final run to the top. I reached the summit about noon, to find several hotels and lots of people milling about in the sun. I met famed Italian bike racer Gianni Motta (winner of the 1966 Giro d’Italia), who was out for a ride. The 42-year-old veteran took my picture, and then I began the descent. I was a little concerned about the famed twisty descent, but it was OK once I got going.
On the way down I saw Greg LeMond riding up the pass with his teammates. I yelled “Greg!” He saw me and waved.
Gradually, the road straightened and leveled out as I reached the wide Adige River valley blanketed by orchards. I turned right at the main junction and stopped at Silandro restaurant near Schlanders.
After a bite to eat, I rode to Merano. The road went from wide with light traffic to narrow and crowded with cars. I stopped for fruit at one of the many fruit stands. The ride to Bolzano was heavily traveled, especially as the hour neared 4:30. On a long downhill lots of cars backed up. Bolzano has its share of cars during rush hour. I rode through town without stopping and picked up the road heading northeast toward Tiers.
I stopped at the first motel, a store with sleeping rooms upstairs located next to a swiftly flowing creek at the base of the mountains in the town of Cornedo. The owners, a mother and her daughter, showed genuine kindness to a complete stranger. The daughter spoke English. She gave me a lift to town for dinner. I ate a calzone at a pizza ria. The zimmer cost 15,000 lira. 130 km, 80 miles)
Friday, August 30 — Cardano – Quero
After a good sleep, I had breakfast at 8 a.m., tea and bread with marmalade served by the owner in a well-furnished room with an impressive wood foyer. The owner left to go to town and shop. Under warm, sunny skies, I headed northeast looking for the turnoff to the road to Tiers. I found it about six kilometers down the road and began climbing up a narrow valley lined with cottages alongside a rushing creek.
The road gradually steepened. I saw a 24 percent grade sign, but even though I was warned about the steep road ahead, I didn’t believe it. Wrong! Soon enough I was straining with all my might to turn the cranks, gasping for breath. Just as I was about to dismount and walk, the road leveled out.
The views from Tiers gives pause to even the most experienced European traveler − partly cloudy skies, mountain village, steeple church, against a backdrop of the rugged Marmolada range, the Catinaccio Rosengarten, and the Latemark with their 9,000-foot peaks. Leaving Tiers, a cyclist passed me. I caught up and we talked. I showed him my Avocet cyclometer [it was a novelty then]. The Swiss riders was competing with a Swiss racing bike. We talked a bit until Negro Pass (1690 m, 5545 f). I caught up with another English-speaking member of his group, and we talked about the Giro. They were sleeping in a VW van while riding their bikes through Europe.
The view riding down Costalunga Pass took my breath away − verdant valleys dotted with wildflowers, shimmering snow-covered peaks. At the road junction in the town of Vigo, with its distinctive red-roofed cottages, I decided to ride south through Moena and Predazzo to reach the road to Rolle Pass (1970 m, 6463 f). The gray granite Cimon d. Pala, a rugged spire of Paledi S. Martino at the summit, stood out against deep-blue skies. With little traffic, I started a long, fast descent with many switchbacks and excellent views. Summer resorts and hotels lined the way.
After stopping at a gas station in Primiero to adjust my squeaking brakes, I headed for Feltre (271 m, 889 f). The narrow road follows the Cismon River through a rock-wall canyon. The many tunnels were short and well lit. In Feltre I met up again with the Swiss riders, who passed me in the canyon. I decide to continue on so I could be closer to the World Championship race.
When I reached the town of Quero, I decided to have a look a short climb off the main road. I found a bar and hotel with a room. This was no tourist mecca, but it had small-town Italian charm. It’s also near here, in WW I, where Erwin Rommel fought some battles.
I went downstairs and asked the owner for a towel. Suddenly someone said to me in perfect English, “What can I do for ya?” It was an Australian. He bought me a beer and we had a good talk. He lived in Australia for 40 years, but was born in Quero. The man sitting with him was the mayor of Quero. I had my clothes washed and bought some sweets. The owners served dinner family-style, and wine to go with it. Cost for a room and meal: 27,000 lira. The building must be 200 years old, and to the rats of Quero it was home. (151 km, 94 miles)
Saturday, Aug. 31 — Quero – Montebelluna
I got up at 8:15 to ride to the World Championships. The local man in the bar said the race was being held in Corduna, only seven miles south. I headed out down the canyon feeling fine. It felt strange to be riding without the seat bag. The countryside had rows and rows of corn fields. I didn’t see a race at Corduna, so I headed to Montebelluna. I remembered seeing race billboards plastered all over downtown Quero.
No race again, so I started asking. A couple who spoke English said I needed to continue south. A car driver stopped to ask me about the race. I wasn’t the only one lost. Then I saw a team car for some Austrian riders. One man, a journalist who spoke English, gave directions. When I arrived, the women’s race was well underway, but I couldn’t see a thing behind the crowd lining the course. It was a hot, muggy day. As the women rode by, I noticed Rebecca Twigg wearing the distinctive U.S. blue and red jersey. She finished in third behind Jeannie Longo of France and Maria Canins of Italy. Helicopters beat the air and police manned checkpoints to keep the crowd back. The fee was 35,000 lira to have a closer look.
When the race was over, Twigg left the course with two other Americans who didn’t do so well. Heading back to Quero, I was passed by Twigg and another U.S. team member, Bunki Bunkitis, with her fiance. We four rode together for five miles until I had to go.
Back in Quero, I watched the men’s amateur race on TV. Later in the day, I took a walk around town and bought some delicious Italian ice cream. In a grocery store I met two beautiful women who spoke English with an Australian accent. I told them about Vince. They said many Italians and Australians live in both countries. I would have liked to stay longer in Quero… but alas I had to go. Later in the evening the flu struck. (40 km, 24 miles)
Sunday, Sept. 1, Quero
My illness worsened during the night. The owner, Rita, treated me like family with offerings of tea and aspirin. While recuperating I watched the last 20 minutes of the World Championship on TV downstairs in the bar. Joop Zoetemelk won in the last kilometer, pulling away from LeMond and Argentin, who were more interested in racing themselves than Joop. By the evening I felt better. The owner kept trying to speak to me in Italian. “Io sono, Io sono.” A year later, after taking a class in Italian, I realized he was telling me his name.
Monday, Sept. 2 — Quero – Dont
I felt well in the morning and decided to leave at 9:30. I said goodbye to the gracious owners and then wheeled away. Before leaving, I exchanged some money $1 = 1,856 Lira.
I passed four riders in a paceline, averaging 18 mph. When we arrived at a junction, I was greeted by one of the riders, who indicated he was Swiss. When I get a good look at another rider, I realized they were the ones I met on the way to Quero several days ago.
My goal was to find Lago de Mis and a road through the mountains. After one aborted attempt, I found the right road through St. Guistino. After much up and down, I reached Lago de Mis reservoir. I was going to take a road shown on the map, but after riding up a canyon along a creek, the road turned to dirt and then a trail. I walked for a short distance across a rock slide, but it didn’t look promising. I turned around and returned the way I came, and then headed north following the Cordevole River. I suspected the trail went through, but I wasn’t going to try it without knowing. [I may have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Google Maps clearly shows a road.]
I ate lunch in Agorno, a four-way junction, before taking on Duran Pass (1605 m, 5266 f). The gorgeous climb through lush, grassy hillsides had sections as steep as 15 percent. At the summit, cows contentedly mowed the grass, bells dangling. I took a photo and enjoyed the pastoral setting.
I arrived in Dont at 4:30 and picked out a nice hotel in this ski town. The owner looked to be about 30, with a trim, muscular physique. He told me he was a bike racer and I couldn’t help but notice a wall lined with bicycle racing trophies. He seemed like a proud person, but someone too young to be retired to the quiet life of a hotel owner in Dont, population 200.
The Dont church had been around for 1,200 years; the town had 100 houses, two stores, a school, and the hotel. About 10 men gathered at the hotel for dinner. The owner’s wife and two children worked in the hotel. The son was about 10, the daughter about 9. I had pork chops and white wine, vegetables, and bread. (106 km, 66 miles)
Tuesday, Sept. 3 — Dont – Cortina
I rose at 8 a.m., feeling fine, but it was cloudy and foggy outside. The owner was not around. I had the usual breakfast of hard rolls, marmalade, and tea before leaving at 8:30.
I headed up Staulanza Pass (1773 m, 5817 f), a good hustle of 15 percent. All alone, I wound down the pass to Caprile, and from here rode up Fadaia Pass (2057 m, 6748 f). It’s steep, about 16 percent for several miles. Unfortunately, it’s hardly a scenic climb. I saw road construction near the summit, where there’s a ski lift and resort. It was cold and windy at the summit. so I put on all my clothes for the descent. The lake reservoir has a nice road around it. During the descent I saw more military vehicles, and a woman riding alone. I enjoyed a long descent to Canazei, a tourist resort.
Pordoi Pass (2239 m, 7346 f) came next, with its 27 numbered hairpins chipped in stone, each stone showing the altitude. Cobblestones lined some of the turns. On the 10 percent grade I averaged about 7.5 mph. Pordoi must be quite a sight in clear weather, but I was surrounded by thick clouds. I descended on a beautiful winding road through fog and clouds, climbing again to Falzarego Pass (2105 m, 6906 f). The grade was the same as Pordoi. At the top I saw another cluster of ski resorts, but now rain was falling. I quickly wrapped up and headed down to the ski town of Cortina (1210 m, 3970 f). A great descent!
I stopped at a resort on the hill, but they wanted 60,000 lira, more than I cared to pay. I saw a sign for a pension and headed there. A beautiful woman answered the door. Cost was 22,000 lira for pension Villa Gaia (shown here).
The accommodations were clean and quiet. That night I dined on pizza at Ristorante da Franco and struck up a conversation with a Brit employed by the BBC. He was vacationing by car and heading to Venice. (135 km., 82 miles)
Wednesday, September 4 — Cortina – Matrei
It rained overnight, but in the morning I was greeted by an incredible view of the Dolomites. After a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, I was surprised when the owner gave me a ham sandwich for lunch. Thank yous were offered. I left at 9 a.m., headed north. I had a climb to 1500 meters, with the Le Tofane mountains on my left and the Cristallo range on my right. The climbing kept me warm in the morning’s cool mountain air.
As I rode along I was reminded of the Sierra Nevada, where I have done many two-day rides over the high passes. While we do have military bases in the Sierra Nevada, we never see military roadblocks like the one I went by without stopping. In Dobiacco I headed west for Brenner Pass, the gateway to Austria through the Zillertaller Alps. I was rewarded with a pleasant ride along the Rienz River valley. Quaint towns and warm weather made for a fun ride as I averaged 16-17 mph. In Bruneck I encountered a huge traffic jam, caused by a road bypass in the works. Outside of Bruneck I stopped by the roadside for lunch and enjoyed views of the lush green farmland.
I took a right turn at the freeway to Brenner. I knew I was close to Austria because Italian names for towns on road signs were painted over. I stopped at a fancy hotel and had two drinks of Fanta. Finally I reached the Brenner Pass (1375 m, 4511 f) at about 3:15. It’s not much of a climb. Outdoor stalls at the summit reminded me of a Middle East bazaar. I bought a nectarine from one of the fruit stands. The border checkpoint guard didn’t hassle me and I changed my money in five minutes. The rate was 19,800 schillings for $100.
I descended the pass under partly cloudy skies, with mountain peaks obscured in the clouds. A small side road caught my attention and I saw it would take me to Hall Tirol.
In Matrei I started to look for a room, but there was not much around. In the distance hay stacks dotted the freshly cut fields of green. I found a room in a roadsideguest house − 500 schillings, dinner included. The grand old white building looks like the kind of place wandering minstrels stayed at in the days of Chaucer. I wanted to bring my bike inside but they refused, so I put it outside against the building. I was assured it would be safe here in the countryside.
I took a cold shower and got dressed in a drafty room. The food put me in a better mood − bratwurst and sauerkraut. I never liked even the thought of eating sauerkraut, but I was pleasantly surprised by the taste. I downed the food with a cold beer and then called Herman’s sister to confirm our meeting the next day. (154 km, 95 miles)
Thursday, Sept. 5 — Matrei – Hall Tirol
I woke to cloudy skies and the threat of rain, leaving without eating breakfast. The bill came to only 173 schillings. The road to Hall Tirol was like a roller coaster. When I reached Hall, I asked four people before finding Irme’s house, the mother of my tutor in Palo Alto, Herman Ebenhoach. She opened the door to the 800-year-old stone house with three-foot-thick walls.
Irme spoke a few words of English. After talking briefly, I went to buy some wine and fruit to celebrate. We dined that evening on plum bread ball! Irme’s husband, Fritz, was a quiet, gentle, tall man, the music director at the church. Their daughter Brigetta came over for lunch and brought her daughter Cathleen and son Conan. Hall Tirol is a clean, quiet town at the base of the Karwendelgebirge mountains rising knife-like from the valley floor. In the evening Irme and Fritz went for a walk. I had bratwurst and watched TV. (30 km, 18 miles)
Friday, Sept. 6 — Hall Tirol – Gnadenwald
In the morning it was raining, but I wanted to go for a ride, so Irme suggested Gnadenwald, an old mine outside of town up in the hills. I was excited about the prospect of riding up a 30% grade! I rode off in a light rain toward mountains obscured in mist. I took a wrong turn, but found a road which narrows until it’s one lane, more of a hiking trail than a road. The trail steepened as it cut through meadows and forests. I had to cross two wet metal grates over the road, and worried that I might slip.
I arrived at the summit, 1450 meters (4757 feet), after seven kilometers. On the way down from the old salt mine, I saw a sign that said 32 percent! But I didn’t believe it. I decided to get a picture of me with the sign. I asked an elderly couple to take my photo, but they missed the sign!
That afternoon I went shopping with Irme and visited her son’s house/wife/twins. That night we went back to Fritz Jr. house and talked about computers. (20 km, 12 miles)
Saturday, Sept. 7 — Hall Tirol – Bludenz
Under clear skies and a tail wind I said good-bye to my gracious hosts. I got away at 9:15, stopping at a bike shop for air. I bypassed Innsbruck. On the flat road, I averaged 20 mph as I passed miles of farmland. On the way I saw Herman Ebenhoech’s birthplace and took photos. I traded money at the train station ($1 bought 1.9 Swiss Francs). If I hadn’t changed my money, I couldn’t have gone to Switzerland on Sunday.
I rode through Imst and Landeck, then over Arlberg Pass (1793 m, 5882 f), an easy grade. It has one good stretch of 12 percent, and a nice descent. During the ride down a VW bus lost its tail pipe right in front of me. Most of the long tunnels were open on one side.
I reached Bludenz at 5:30, where a rock concert was underway. I rented a room at the swank Hotel Daneu. It cost only 300 schillings, or $15. Dinner was a treat. I met a nice man, retired now, who worked at Lockheed and lived in Los Altos, California, near where I live. (157 km, 98 miles)
Sunday, Sept. 8 — Bludenz – Walenstadt
I got up at 8 a.m. after a deep sleep. Breakfast consisted of tea, bread, and jelly. I left at 9 a.m. for Silvretta Pass (2036 m, 6679 f). It was flat riding through a beautiful valley most of the way. There was a toll entrance, but I didn’t have to pay because I was on a bike.
The road had many switchbacks on the 4.7-mile climb almost to the top from the toll booth. I was greeted by a reservoir and a glacier near the summit. I turned around and descended behind a tour bus. In Bludenz at the main highway I had lunch. Most stores were closed. I continued to Lichtenstein, where the Pope was visiting Feldkirch, a walled city. Masses of people walked on the road.
Lichtenstein – Switzerland
I passed through Lichtenstein and then entered Switzerland, heading south along the Rhine River valley. I then turned north and followed the Seez River, calling it a day in Walenstadt. There weren’t any rooms available at two places, but I finally find a room at Hotel Hirschen for 25 Franks, breakfast included. I ate dinner downstairs − spaghetti, salad, bread, beer, ice cream, for 18 Franks, with tip, or about $9. I decided to visit Lucerne tomorrow and take it easy. After dinner I went outside and watched the sun set on Walensee Lake. (90 miles)
Monday, Sept. 9 — Walenstadt – Cham
I had breakfast at 8:45, consisting of rolls, jam, and tea, then went to the bank, visited a fruit stand, and bought a Swiss Touring Club map. I started riding to Lucerne on bike paths, with cliffs on one side and lakes on the other. My route took me up to Mollis through Obstalden and Filzbach. The views are so Swiss! Then I went back down to a pedestrian stretch of road, north from Nafels to Siebnen, where there’s a small, winding road rising through a beautiful dark forest to Sattelegg Pass (1190 m, 3904 f), with a modest ski chalet.
In 16 kilometers I crossed the remote Sihlsee Lake on a 2- kilometer bridge, at lake-level. I continued to Einsiedeln with its lovely hotels. Finally there’s another climb to Agerisee Lake and then a descent to downtown Zug on the Zugersee Lake, then a few more miles to Cham. Cham is a small town with many new shops on Zugersee. I called Norma/Sergio and arranged to stay a night. I would ride up the Grimsel the next day. (105 km, 65 miles)
Tuesday, Sept. 10 — Cham – Lauterbrunen
I got up early and had breakfast with my hosts. It was 9:30 before I left for Grindewald under overcast skies. I took side roads to Luzern and arrived at about 11 a.m. I had lunch at a lake and rode over to the famed covered bridge and bought some figs.
I rode hard heading south to Sarnen, filling my water bottle from the town fountain. Next came Brunig Pass (1008 m, 3307 f), which has two climbs. The second part is harder.
I descended to an intersection and turned left toward Meiringen. I thought I could cut across to Grindelwald on a small road, but I couldn’t find it. Instead, I backtracked seven miles to the intersection and continued to Interlaken, a mostly flat ride. I passed some American tourists with camping gear. Interlaken was crowded with tourists. I saw the Jungfrau in the distance and hustled 10 kilometers up to Lauterbrunen, where I found a room at Hotel Horner with a view of the Jungfrau and a waterfall. The motel room was $16 a day, with breakfast. Dinner was great! I had pizza, bread, beer, salad, ice cream. What a way to end the day! (125 km, 77 miles)
Wednesday, Sept. 11 — Lauterbrunnen – Grindelwald
I got up at 8 a.m. for breakfast. The sun was was shining and it was a warm day. I got to the train station and bought a ticket to Grindelwald. The train and bike cost 10 Franks.
I left at 11 a.m. after napping. The train was nice and had big windows. We stopped at Zweilutscheinen for a 45-minute layover. While there I listened to a group of British tourists. One Brit told me about two mice in his car. One got out, but the other died in the dashboard and made quite a stink.
This was to be an easy day. I wanted to find the valley with the glacier photographed by a friend for a bike poster. I thought the valley would be easy to get to, but when I figured out where it was, I realized it would require some climbing. The glacier was on the other side of Grosse Scheidegg, a 1980 meter (6495 f) pass. The climb was 6.8 miles. I looked down on the green valley and over at the Eiger. Grosse Scheidegg was covered by a massive glacier. Along the way I saw many hikers enjoying the sun and warm weather. At the top I soaked in the sun, the Alps, and jet fighters flying by.
I asked a lady working at a food stand at the summit about Hotel Rosenlaui and she said it was down the hill. I started down and saw buses at the bottom. I finally reached the hotel and the valley I knew from a bike poster. On the way back up the pass, I rode through cattle stoppers, electrified wires across the road. I could just get through without being zapped. I heard a tremendous crashing sound on Grosse Scheidegg as a big chunk of ice fell off the glacier.
Back at the top I asked the lady at the rest/food stand if she know of my friend. She remembered him and a friend (Peter Johnson). I descended on the narrow road (no wider than a tour bus) and rode back to Lauterbrunnen for dinner. (40 km, 24 miles)
Thursday, Sept. 12 — Lauterbrunen – Andermott
It was cold, but clear and dry at 8:30 a.m. I paid 64 Franks for two nights. Dinners cost about 25 Franks. The descent to Interlaken was cold, but it warmed up and I needed only a short-sleeve jersey. I averaged 17 mph for one hour while riding along the lake, filling my bottle at the town fountain along Brienzer Lake.
The climb to Grimsel Pass (2165 m, 7103 f) was long, but not so steep. There was even a short descent. I stopped at a beautiful section of old road that goes around a new tunnel. The cobbled road, with a rock overhang, ran along a narrow gorge and the Aare River below. I soaked up the sun and watched the river.
After lunch, I passed a huge stone monument of a man with a jackhammer, built to commemorate the road and other public works projects. I rode around a long tunnel on a side road. No cars allowed. The grade increased to 11 percent. Road work for 3.3 kilometers made for some unpleasant riding. Near the top I passed the Raterichsbodensee Reservoir and then the larger Grimselsee Reservoir. I bought a Coke and ice cream at the summit in a small store. I couldn’t believe the warm weather in the Alps.
A five-kilometer descent to Gletschen followed. On the way, I passed an army truck with soldiers inside. In the town I could see the long climb up Furka Pass, (2431 m, 7975 f). The climb wasn’t all that steep. I passed a cut in the road where a railroad was being built, and stopped for water at the historic Belvedere motel next to the Rhone Glacier (left), the source of the Rhone River. Near the summit I stopped at a turnout and took some photos. A motorcyclist took my picture as I looked back at the Grimsel Pass.
The descent to Andermott (1477 m, 4845 f) revealed another broad glacial valley and the Furka River. I found a nice room at Hotel Bergidyll for 32 Franks at the ski resort. It was only 3:45 p.m., so I had time to wash my clothes. (112 km, 70 miles)
Friday, Sept. 13 — Andermatt – Kussnacht
Another beautiful, clear day. I rode up Olberalp Pass (2044 m, 6705 f), an easy climb. A helicopter flew by with materials for building a snow fence. I turned around at the summit and rode back, enjoying a cold descent to Luzern through a rocky canyon. I stopped at Altdorf for pizza and then rode down to St. Atter See and picked up a beautiful road following the lake to Luzern. My riding ended at Kussnacht, a town on the Wierwald See, about 10 kilometers east of Luzern. Kussnacht reminded me of the plight of many U.S. towns. It has many nice new houses, but the downtown was run down. I didn’t see any tourists. I circled around looking for a room, but didn’t have any luck.
Finally, I chose the Bahnof Hotel. My good fortune was that it cost only 25 Franks, with breakfast. My bad luck was that the bike had to sit out back without a lock. The owner assured me it was safe. There was a nice walkway along the lake, with a fountain.
I ate dinner in the hotel, where all the local old-timers congregated. The owner had liquor on his breath. It was raining hard and all I could think about was my bike outside getting wet or being stolen. Local residents talked it up downstairs. At 10:30 p.m., to the sounds of thunder, I stormed downstairs for my bike and put it in my room. (116 km, 72 miles)
Saturday, Sept. 14– Kussnacht – Cham
In the morning I felt a cold coming on, but continued riding the short distance to Luzern. As I walked downtown I saw two men blowing Swiss Alp horns about 10 feet long. The sound was like that of a bassoon, soothing. In the market I was surrounded by historic stone buildings hundreds of years old. I looked in ancient store windows at thousands of modern Swiss watches.
I visited the transportation museum and saw old trains, a jet, ships, cars. On arrival in Luzern I broke a rear-wheel spoke on the freewheel side. I had to remove the freewheel, so I went to an auto shop and borrowed a wrench. But the guy told me to go to a bike shop. I saw a bench vice and pointed to it. He let me take the wheel and torque off the freewheel using the vice.
I left town and rode through a strip development. I decided to go to Cham and stay at the Raben Hotel for 50 Franks. (30 km, 18 miles)
Sunday, Sept. 15 — Cham – Luzern
I get up feeling sick. It was cloudy and cold. I decided to take the train from Zug to the Zurich airport and from there ride to a nearby motel in Kloten. The train was only 15 Franks with bike. It took me right into the airport. I mounted up and rode away, finding a room at the nearby Welcome Inn. I put the bike in the underground garage and retired to bed with a high fever.
Monday, Sept. 16. — Zurich airport
I felt much better in the morning and the fever was mostly gone. The rain had stopped as well. I put on my street clothes and rode the bike to the airport. This time I packed it in a clear plastic bag provided by the airline.
So ended my first trip to Europe, after 1,186 miles of riding over 22 days, 54 miles per day average.
Looking back on the experience, I wished I had studied Italian. French, German, and Italian are the three languages spoken in the Alps, and it would have helped knowing some of each. While English is the language of business around the world, it’s not commonly spoken among Europeans living in mountain towns.
Hotels are abundant and reasonably priced. On several nights during heavy rains I gave thanks I wasn’t a bike tourist camping.
I would take another trip in 1986, this time with Jobst Brandt.