A relaxed lunch stop at Zug
Forest trails near Zurich
View from Fluelen campsite
Rachel on a suspension bridge in the valley below Andermatt
the famous pumpkin soup in its bread bowl
view down the valley
goodbye to the first power bar
catching our breath on the steep bit
Rachel has a wee lie down in Andermatt
Day 2 to St Gotthard before the weather closed in
grim skies at 1500m
Rachel munches the second power bar
at the top of the pass!
a well deserved feast while our waterproofs dried in the cafe
river en route to Bellinzona
The night before we left London, we went out for dinner with some of our lovely 3 Mills neighbours. They gave us some great little pressies for our trip, including two ‘Power Bars’, designed to give ‘maximum energy performance’. Lucy very strictly told me that these were for energy emergencies only, and not to be eaten on the first hill out of London (she knows my appetite well… ) Well Lucy, I can proudly say that those bars have travelled all the way to the Alps with us and if I hadn’t eaten them over the last two days I think I would have fallen off the bike!
We set off from Fluelen in the most appalling headwind but with lovely blue skies and lots of sun. Thankfully by the time we got to the bottom of the pass, the huge mountain we were about to climb was sheltering us from the wind… The sun and blue skies stayed with us for most of the way up too which was fab considering what came next…
But I’m jumping ahead. The first day on the pass was just 50kms long but 25k of that was up. We were aiming for Andermatt, about two thirds of the way up the pass at 1447m,knowing we wouldn’t have the strength to do all of it in one day. Splitting it into 2 days meant a climb of 1000m the first day and then 500m the next day. The St Gotthard is at 2109m.
The road started off reasonably gently with some bits of flat and even some down to break up the gradient. We stopped in a little place called Gurtnellen for lunch quite early on and thought we’d just have a little something to keep us going. We both ordered soup, not fully understanding the German menu. I knew mine would have pumpkin in it but I wasn’t prepared for it to arrive in a bread bowl! (See photo). It was quite simply the best soup I think I have ever eaten and John’s wasn’t bad either.
The soup gave us the energy we needed to get to within 6km of the top. At this point the first power bar was eaten… And we needed it! Steve, you weren’t wrong about that ‘kick’ up to Andermatt! Unfortunately you join a bigger road for the last few kms so as well as struggling up a 10% gradient hill, you’ve also got a stream of cars and motorbikes whizzing past you constantly, the horrendous noise amplified by all the snow sheds you go through. And it was getting colder and the sun had gone in. It wasn’t much fun… Up until that point, the roads had been pretty quiet, the scenery in glorious technicolour and the gradient reasonably steady. Oh well, it wouldn’t have felt the same without a bit of misery!
Finally reaching Andermatt felt great and we treated ourselves to a hotel room (courtesy of Better Bankside’s leaving present to me – thanks guys!) and a good hot meal (not cooked on our camping stove!) to celebrate. The weather was nowhere near as bad as we’d thought it might be and there wasn’t a patch of snow to be found.
Yesterday morning we set off at a reasonable time feeling that the worst was over. We just had 12k of climbing to the top and then 70k of whizzing downhill! There was a spot of rain in the air and it was overcast but we weren’t unduly worried. As we climbed, the rain came down harder and it was obvious we weren’t going to be seeing any breathtaking views from the top but the gradient was steady and we were feeling strong. Fairly soon we could see what looked very like the top and were jubilant at the thought of hot chocolate in the cafe and somewhere dry to layer up for the descent. Instead, we turned the corner into a howling gale, a complete white out, lashing rain and the smooth tarmac having magically turned onto greasy cobblestones… Well, it was all going a bit too well wasn’t it?! Having found a boulder to shelter behind, we quickly shoved on as many layers as possible and set off again thinking, ‘it can’t be far now’. It was probably only another 4km but it felt like 40… We could barely see the road in front of us, the rain drove in under every piece of waterproof clothing we had on and it was cold. The second power bar was eaten, ski gloves, hats and scarves were donned and we pedalled as fast as our very tired legs would let us. Going quickly uphill on a heavily laden tandem in your biggest granny gear is no mean feat…
Needless to say, we made it eventually, the cafe at the top was open and all the other tourists who’d driven up on their warm cars looked at us as if we’d just stepped out of a UFO!
We hung up our wet waterproofs to dry, fuelled up on bratwurst and chips and then realised it was almost 2pm and we’d only ridden 12kms! Braving the elements once again, we added even more layers and set off down the ‘Via Tremolo Airolo’ (still cobbled) with a certain amount of trepidation. The rain was still lashing down, we were completely in the cloud so could barely see the next hairpin bend and there were no safety barriers at the edge of what we could only assume was a terrifying precipice. John’s fabulous piloting skills got us safely down below the cloud level without mishap though so now at least we could see where we were going (and how far the drop down was…)
Despite the continuing drizzle, the scenery was beautiful, very ethereal, shrouded in mist and very dramatic. The route was lovely, the roads quiet and it really was almost all downhill. Up until the point when I said to John, let’s follow the main road into Bellinzona, it’s shorter than the signed cycle path and it can only be all downhill. Cue three hills in quick succession… Ah well, it kept us warm at least!
So now we’re in Bellinzona, staying in the youth hostel as it’s still raining and we thought our chances of drying out on a campsite were fairly slim. We’re having a rest day today and following the weather forecast closely to see what Northern Italy has in store for us over the next few days and weeks.