August 5, 2013
I waved good bye to the guys from the comfort of my bed and promptly went back to sleep for another hour. I still wasn’t sure how I was going to get home that day, but no matter which way I went, I knew that it would be cold out there at 6am. Why hurry?
By 8:15 I was on the road. I was in the middle of Switzerland and could go any direction I wanted, so I turned the bike south, back to Gotthard Pass. There was a nice little loop I could take, including a pass that I hadn’t been on yet, and then the opportunity to add or subtract roads as I felt the whim.
The roads were mostly empty at this time of day and my attack on the pass was unhindered. I knew the road better now, and had taken the photos I wanted, so I focused on the corners and the rhythm. The bike felt solid beneath me and the air wasn’t nearly as cold as I had been anticipating. It was another perfect day in the Alps.
I realize that I haven’t said much about the Transalp during this trip and you can take that as good or bad. I like to think that it is good, because that means that the bike is doing what it needs to do without making itself obvious. Others might find it bad, because they want to feel the bike under them, or be reminded of the horsepower at their finger tips. The Transalp is a good, quiet, workhorse. It does what it needs to do without fuss. It carries me well, although it is still a little short for my liking, and it pulls through corners without hesitation. If pressed, I could list shortfalls as being the lack of height and the short range (approximately 260km). And maybe, just maybe, I could comment on the gearing set up that sometimes makes me downshift earlier at slow speeds, or finds me looking for the next highest gear when there isn’t one. So I guess I’m saying that while the motorcycle allows me to take motorcycle rides, it by itself is not the reason for the ride. And on that note, let’s continue this ride!
I was nearing the summit of Gotthard Pass and happened to glance down at the GPS at the perfect moment for me to see that a road branched off around the next corner. I took the turn and immediately realized that I was on the Old Gotthard Pass (known as Tremola Pass). I was impressed with the build quality of this road, as it was all cobblestone, including a nice brick center line.
The cobblestone was mostly smooth, with occasional bumps where the ground had settled beneath the stones. A couple of campers and tents were settled in along various pull offs but it was a very quiet ride.
There was a little bit of backtracking to get through the built up area at the top of the pass but I was able to regain the cobblestone route. I stopped for photos as four motorcycles came up the pass, waving as they went by. I could see vague outlines of an even older road carved into the hillside, now long forgotten and slowly fading back into the landscape. I guess a road with a history as long as this one has, you’re bound to get “improvements” along the way. And even from where I stood, I could see the current “improvement” looming on the mountainside in front of me.
The top of Gotthard Pass
New, old and older roads over the Gotthard are visible
I stood at the top of Tremola Pass and looked down. And down. The road was impossibly twisted, with short straight sections before turning back on itself. And unlike most pass roads I’d seen so far, there wasn’t a simple 7-8 switchbacks before the road stretched out to follow the mountainside at a more leisurely rate. No, this pass was 7-8 switchbacks before rounding a bend of the mountain before adding another 7-8 switchbacks with another bend and then more switchbacks. This road was serious about getting down in the smallest amount of space. And it was all cobblestone.
The Shetland Pony
The process of the descent was slow, by my own fault and the road’s. The corners were tight to the point of parking lot speed turns, the cobblestone, while in good repair, was not confidence inspiring for traction, and I stopped every few meters for yet another photo. This road fascinated me. I imagined the stage coaches that used to make the run over the mountain to Andermatt, amazed that anything could make it up this without an engine. That being said, I did wave at the two bicyclists who were working their way up. They looked happy enough. I’ll never under bicyclists.
The new road high up on the hill
Once the cobblestone ended, the road speed picked up considerably. I’m glad that I had a GPS at this point, as the route to my next pass was convoluted due to the complexity of the roads in the valley. I was on the way to the next pass before I knew it, running through a small village before all civilization melted away.
I was on the Passo della Novena and it was heavenly. There was very little traffic, the road was smooth and predictable and was nestled at the bottom of a very beautiful valley. This went on for many, many miles.
The road started its assent suddenly but unfortunately the views were marred by obtrusive power lines. I am guessing that this pass isn’t as popular simply because of these intrusive towers, because the road itself is fantastic. It climbs up the north side of the mountains with ease and offers a fantastic view back down the valley I had just come up. And just as suddenly as the climb had begun, I was at the top.
The views to the north were expansive – and steep. I couldn’t imagine how the road could physically get to the bottom of the valley below me. I saw no evidence of the path it took, nor could I guess as to which way it would go. Apparently I would have to do some exploring.
I was taking my time on this road, just like I had been doing all day, and even stopped to smell the flowers along the way. I waved a car by me, as he obviously knew the road and had somewhere to be. I saw less than half a dozen bikes and even fewer cars – it was my road.
A long way to go
The road revels its secrets
After an enjoyably long time, the road settled into the valley floor and wended its way through the mountains. It spit me out into a wide, green valley dotted with a couple of densely built villages.
And then the road went back up.
What’s that in the background?
Because I had looked at the map I knew that I’d be coming to Grimsel Pass from the south, but I was still unprepared for the visual feast that this approach gave me. It was difficult to keep both hands on the bars as I kept taking pictures. But then a bus came around one of the switchbacks and I had to focus to keep out of its way. Ok, time to enjoy the pavement for a bit.
Looking at Grimsel Pass
Looking back; there’s the bus!
It was an uneventful ride up. I didn’t bother with many pictures this time; instead I just relaxed and enjoyed the roads. The morning was slipping by and more and more motorcycles were coming my way. And other vehicles, as well.
This was a fine car to follow while coming down the pass
Traffic got heavier the further north I went and the temperatures had reached a layer-shedding plateau. I stopped in the town of Meiringen to remove layers and pick up some snacks. It was a good place to take a break, as the town was lively with tourists and activity of all sorts. Many bicycles, motorcycles, cars and pedestrians wandered by to amuse me while I ate. Other than its ideal place at the base of the Alps, Meiringen is also the location for Sherlock Holmes’ presumed death – and the birthplace of meringue! I would like to come back and walk around a bit more and check out the details of this town.
The quickest way home from here would be to hop on the A6 to Bern, but there were more interesting things to see along the way. At Interlaken I crossed over to the other side of Lake Thun. I’d been on this road once before, but in a bus, and I wanted to check it out on two wheels and I’m glad I did. The road followed the shore and cut deep into the side of the mountain and I was torn between the beauty of the lake and the beauty of the road.
Eventually the charm of the road faded and I was tossed into the fray of city roads, roundabouts and urban buildings. I decided that it was time to just head home and get the laundry done.
And for those who like to keep track, the entire trip was somewhere over 1,400km, and I was on the road on the last day for 5 hours. I hope that you enjoyed following along!