Five Passes of Fun

July 1, 2013
503km, 12 hours

Grimsel Pass, Furka Pass, Susten Pass, Goschenen Pass, Brunig Pass

Map Link

The invitation showed up in my inbox: “The weather is supposed to be good on Monday. Do you want to go for a ride?” and then named some places I wasn’t familiar with. The sender (she’s a bit shy, so we’ll just call her “Cindy Crawford”) was someone I’ve never met but only knew via digital media, but hey! Who am I to decline an invitation like that? Besides, my calendar was empty and the gas tank full. I was ready!

We were to meet on the other side of Bern, an easy hour from Basel, at 10am. I left at 8:15, thinking I might take some less-direct roads there along the way. I’m glad I did leave as early as I did, as the traffic was horrendous! What normally takes me 30 minutes to cover took me an hour! I have no idea what the hold up was, but at one point all three lanes were full of stopped vehicles. It had been stopped long enough that people were standing around outside of their cars, rearranging the kids in the back seat or just chillin’ with the radio. I sat on the bike for at least 5 minutes, looking longingly at the gaps between the lanes and thinking of my California riding days. But everything I read about Switzerland said that not only was it illegal to filter/lane share here, it was also enforced. I like my license, so I stayed put.

But then a motorcycle puttered up alongside me. I waved him down and he stopped. Through very bad German, I asked him if what he was doing was legal. He grinned and gave me a “eh, not so much” hand signal. I told him that I’d like to follow him and I’m glad I did: we covered about a kilometer of ground, weaving around open doors and loitering pedestrians. Then the traffic started to move, we merged back into the lanes and were on our way. I have no idea what caused the back up, unless it was some sort of construction in the tunnel just ahead of the back up.

As I neared Bern I could see the Alps, brilliant against the blue sky. Naturally, I took a picture of something else:

Traffic continued to be tedious, with the typical “yo-yo” effect of speeding up only to brake at the next on ramp. Eventually I reached Bern and the rest area where Cindy and I agreed to meet. My 30 minute buffer had been eaten up and I pulled in at exactly 10am. Ah ha! My Swiss timing is impeccable!

We introduced ourselves and Cindy outlined the plan: head to the town of Meiringen and then up and over Grimsel Pass, pop over Furka Pass and then return via Susten Pass. Ah! I knew those names after all! Ok, I was game for this!

Cindy led the way, setting up a spirited pace, passing cars and trucks along the way. The Alps were clear today – the clearest I’ve ever seen them. My camera (or me) seems to have trouble with the whole “white snow-capped mountains and light sky” balance thing, but you get the idea:

We reached Meiringen and away from the traffic, up a lovely green valley. Motorcycles were everywhere and you’d think that it was a Sunday morning, not Monday. But we’ve had a horribly wet and cold spring and I could only imagine riders who just called into work and said that they were suffering from eye problems: “I can’t see myself coming into work today.”

We stopped just below the top of Grimsel Pass. Cindy asked if I wanted to have lunch at the “fancy” Grimsel Hospiz or go elsewhere. It looked like a nice setting, and “fancy” food sounded quite good so I said that here would do.


My Transalp and Cindy’s F800GS


View from the restaurant

Our waitress seemed a bit slow, but we eventually got our food and it was pretty good. We paid our bill (the waitress’ math was bad and Cindy got quite a good deal on her lunch!) and went out to the bikes. Parked next to ours was this old beast from 1949. It left its mark, and made the owner work pretty hard to start it – and keep it running. Then again, if I was riding a 60 year old bike, I’d just be happy that it could get me across town, let alone over a 2165m pass!

There wasn’t much left to get to the top of Grimsel Pass: just half a dozen or so switchbacks and a fantastic view.


Looking up to the top of the pass


The view from the top (looking south)

The parking lot was full of motorcycles! Again, it was easy to forget that it was Monday, and I can only imagine the headache a road like this must be on a weekend. But the weather – it was perfect! Fluffy clouds sailed through a deep clear blue sky. The snow was still thick on the mountains and the valleys were lush with new growth. The roads were clean and only a few spots were dampened by snowmelt.


Not just two wheels came out today

I could see the famous valley below me. It was almost surreal to realize that after seeing pictures of this place for so many years I was actually standing here, on Grimsel Pass. The roads snaked up the sides of the mountains in all directions and I could see tiny black dots of motorcyclists enjoying themselves. It was time to join them!

We stopped ever-so-briefly at Furka Pass if only to confirm that we didn’t need to stop. I know, makes a lot of sense, right? But I still took a couple of pictures since we were stopped. Before we even met at the rest area, I had mentioned to Cindy that I really like to take pictures. A LOT of pictures. If not only for myself, but for you guys. I mean, here I am, “living the life!” and I want to be able to share each aspect of it with you. But that means a lot of stops, which I personally don’t mind at all. But if I’m with someone then I feel very self conscious about stopping. Even when they give me full blessings to stop as often as I like, and let me lead so I can stop when I want…it just adds some level of restriction to my mental comfort of stopping. So I passed a few places I would have liked to have stopped at, or even back track to. But on the other hand, I can always go back later. (And Cindy, if you’re reading this: thank you for your eternal patience with me!).

One other problem with regard to photographing on a ride like this is that there is often simply no place to stop. I solved this problem, albeit poorly, by connecting my Cannon PowerShot to my tank back with a retractable key chain. The camera rests in the side pocket of my Wolfman tankbag, easily removed/returned without having to fumble or even take my eyes off the road. And if something comes up while the camera’s in hand I don’t even hesitate to drop it, knowing that it’ll be hanging around once things clear up. Of course the photo quality is always at risk using the “on the fly” method, and I’ve had to delete numerous photos of my tank bag, my instruments, the ground and of course, blurry and crooked photos.

The roads were busy, but not too busy to be inconvenient. It has been quite a few years since I’ve ridden a motorcycle in a “sporting fashion” and I admit that I was rather leery of the switchbacks, blind corners and potential gravel in the corners. Cindy (who has always lived in Switzerland and knew these roads like the back of her hand) had no such problems. I also tried to keep an eye on my mirrors and wave past any motorcyclists behind me (which was actually quite a few). I only passed two bikes the entire day, both of them obvious beginners complete with the big blue “L” on the bike. Eh, I was having fun sightseeing.


Bonus “on the fly” unintentional picture


Did I mention how great the weather was?

When we got to the town of Andermatt we meandered north until we hit the town of Wassen. Much to my surprise we road through the area known for the Devil’s Bridge, a structure that I recognized from our rail trip through Switzerland in 2010. I didn’t realize where it was located in relation to where we were riding and I was pleased to have seen it again. I definitely want to go back with Dan and hike around the area.

From Wassen the road once again climbed up the valley walls, but this time only for a short time through dense forests. Then the road traced one side of a middle-sized valley, the old “Sustenpassstrasse” visible on the valley floor below me. This was my favorite pass by far, with the road undulating along the side of the valley wall and not as many flow-restricting switchbacks for me to navigate.


Looking back down the valley


Saw this parked along the way


You can see my modifications here: crash bars and skid plate, primarily.

We reached the stop of Susten Pass and took a few minutes to plan the rest of the trip. There weren’t any more “real” passes between here and home, but there were always some good choices of roads to be made. Cindy told me about a lovely valley full of waterfalls that we could explore, and then stop for a drink before heading home. Another good choice! But first we had to get there, and there was still a mountain to descend.

If you look at the dead center of the photo above, you can barely make out the remnants of the original road as it snaked around the outside of the mountainside. Then they put in a tunnel, raised the road a bit and progress had been made. Or so they say.

And now for the valley of waterfalls! It was really quite amazing, this quiet place. The road was a dead end but still had a surprising amount of traffic on it (I think I counted 6 cars and 1 scooter).

Ah yes, the cows. We came around a bend and the cows were scattered casually around the road, munching happily on the lush grass. I thought that a picture or two might be fun so I pulled to one side and got off of the motorcycle. The cows immediately took interest, a couple of them wandering over to see what was going on. One cow rubbed against the handguard, fortunately not very hard. Cindy had also parked her bike and a cow walked over to say hi to her as well. These were indeed the friendliest cows I’ve ever met, and very well behaved, too. Well, except for the one that took a liking to one of Cindy’s gloves that she had left on her tank.


“Dan! She followed me home. Can we keep her?”


Life with Cows

They seemed truly curious about us and our motorcycles and we had to use a bit of force to encourage them to move away from the bikes.

And to those who might not realize just how big a cow is:

I took a short video of the cows before we left, mostly just to get the sound of the cowbells for my Swiss mother-in-law who misses these sounds. I can see how she could miss them; they really do add a special feeling to the countryside.

Friendly Swiss Cows video

The rest of the ride up the valley was cow-less but enjoyable. The road was narrow with many blind corners, so it was wise to keep the speeds down. Not only that, but the sights were so lovely that it was hard to keep my eyes on the road as it was.

After parking the bikes at the end of the valley, having a couple of drinks and then walking over the next hill to a small lake, we decided it was time to head home. Cindy suggested an alternate way route back which was quite pleasant. Who am I kidding? The entire country is “quite pleasant”

We parted ways in the village of Waldegg, her parting gift being a couple of road suggestions for the way home if I was up for it. Heck, it was only 5pm – I had hours of daylight left! We said our farewells and I immediately took the wrong turn. Fortunately Cindy saw me sitting on the side of the road attempting to program the GPS and pointed me in the right direction. Ok, off I go (again)!

A couple of miles later I passed a lovely overlook of the town of Lungern. I took the opportunity of being alone to back track and take a picture…

I reached the town of Griswil and then planned to follow the GPS over two more nice roads before hitting the main roads and bee-lining for home. I missed a turn.

But the GPS said that the my new route would intersect with the original road, so I dismissed the “dead end” sign and the “no motorized vehicles” sign and kept on going. I ended up on a very quiet and shaded forest road with a very different “feel” than the other roads from today. I liked it; too bad I wasn’t supposed to be on it.

Then I joined up with Panoramastrasse, my original route, and I was good to go!


Looking back at Lungernsee

And then I was on my way home. I had only 67km of highway to travel before I was back in Basel. Not a bad day at all.

17 comments

  1. Carolyn says:

    Awesome!! <3<3 I love the cow pics. I encountered some affectionate cows on my XT225 once and it was kind of scary. You were braver than I! 😉

  2. Linda says:

    Thanks for the tour, absolutely gorgeous scenery! Grimsel Pass, Griswil, and the greens of the last photo. I know that STNrs will love the roads pictured (and be über envious), but I love those sweet cows- and the cowbells!

  3. Uncle Don says:

    How lucky that you are living in a place just made for biking through absolutely gorgeous countryside,

  4. Gerry says:

    What is it with you and bovines? I seem to remember another incident in South Dakota. Didn’t see you hugging them though…

  5. Ray says:

    The traffic at a standstill is called (a la Claudine) SHTOW (phonet). You often hear that on the radio traffic reports. Getting out of the car, wandering around etc is quite normal.

  6. Sally says:

    What fun that you mention the town of Lungren, where Duane and I spent a week in 1990. You must agree it was an excellen location from which to see this beautiful scenery. We also took some great hikes in the area.

  7. Roy says:

    again, another beautiful tour of Switzerland with great pictures. After seeing all that is close to you it sounds like Seattle would now be a second best place to live. Love, Mom & Dad

  8. Tom says:

    Stunning barely covers it!! My wife and I are planning a 2½ week trip to Switzerland and Italy in just about a year (our 25th). Although we will be in a car 🙁 we plan to take this drive. Even more so now. Thank you for the great pics and narrative.

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