July 4-5, 2015
A weekend get-away to enjoy the cool air of the mountains.
At least that’s what I was hoping for. I wanted to combine a motorcycle ride with a little bit of outdoor activity and figured that going up into the Alps would be the perfect solution. The forecast of 38C (100F) in Basel was another reason to escape Baselland.
I carefully researched a great klettersteig route far in an area of Switzerland that I wasn’t familiar with, found a nearby campground and chose a route that would avoid the Friday afternoon traffic through Zurich. It would be perfect! But when we got home from work on Friday we agreed that the temperatures were too high and we’d delay our departure until Saturday morning. I took the time to pack up our gear, stowing everything on the bikes so we’d be ready when we got up.
In order to make the best time possible, we stuck to the motorways. I knew that it would be hot by the time we reached our destination, but I was hoping to get there as early in the day as possible. Imagine my dismay when I saw the line up for the Gotthard tunnel…
I knew that the Gotthard was usually backed up on the weekends, but I didn’t expect it this far from our turn off at Andermatt. It was 33C, humid and the sun beat down mercilessly. I asked Dan if he was willing to lane split. He agreed immediately and we began to thread our way through the traffic. It actually went quite well. Perhaps it was our official-looking hi-viz jackets, our flashing hazard lights or just the fact that the Swiss understood the misery we were in, but they parted before us, moving to the far sides of their lanes so we could get by. Even buses and caravans moved, once they noticed us!
Like Moses and the Red Sea…
At one point we caught up to five cruisers splitting, but they did so poorly, weaving in and out of traffic, and even over to the breakdown lane when there wasn’t room to filter. We left them behind before catching up with another cruiser. This one seemed concerned about splitting, which is fine because I know that it isn’t for everyone, but it irritated me to no end that he would not move over and let us pass. After 15km of off and on stopped traffic we reached our exit.
That’s when Dan’s bike died.
He called to me over the Sena that his bike was acting strange, at first thinking that the clutch had overheated. The bike re-started and he was able to get to the exit lane, where I was waiting for him. His bike continued to run – poorly – and we continued on our way to Andermatt.
Then his bike died again and wouldn’t restart.
Göschenen Pass, where Dan’s bike died. Again.
He pulled off to the side (thank goodness we were on a section with wide edges!) and I pulled off further up the pass. Dan carries a 1L bottle of fuel and he poured the contents into the bike, knowing that he could get more fuel just a few kilometers away. The bike started up immediately and we were once again on our way!
We pulled into Andermatt without further mishap and queued up at the gas pump. One bike had just pulled away but we couldn’t take his place because a man was standing there, talking to someone in the store. He had pulled off the cover of the payment stand and looked like he wasn’t in any hurry to let us fuel up. He never even once glanced up at us or acknowledged our presence in any other way. I checked the GPS and saw another gas station at the other end of town. We pulled back out onto the streets, but got caught behind the Gotthard Pass Stagecoach, so it was slower than expected and I learned that a five-horse stagecoach can go about four KPH. We finally reached the point on the GPS that said “gas”. Except that there was no gas station. We didn’t have much choice and rode back to the first station to see if anything had changed. Unfortunately it had: for the worse. The pump was out of order and there was no way to get any gas.
In order to minimize any more roadside issues, I took the empty fuel bottle and looked for the nearest station, leaving Dan in the comfort of the shade. Fortunately the nearest station was just up the road in Hospental, where I had to wait for a Sevenesque kit car (?) to fuel up before filling up my own tank and the fuel bottle. As I waited, the stagecoach blew its horn as it slowly went around the nearby round about. It looked like a slow way to travel…
Waiting for gas in Hospental
I got back to Dan, transferred the fuel and then both went back to the station at Hospental (now even busier as others realized that there was no fuel in Andermatt) and then finally took off for Oberalp Pass. It was already well after noon and only getting warmer.
One of dozens that passed by
Always a train near by
Traffic wasn’t too bad and we were taking our time anyway. In fact, we waved a few riders by us as we took in the sights and longed for cooler temperatures. So far it was still hovering around 34C.
The pass at Oberalp
Oberalp Pass is known for being the headwaters of the Rhine. To mark this distinction, a completely out-of-place lighthouse was erected at the top of the pass. It was too hot to stop and I was too slow to whip out the camera. Imagine a big red lighthouse on the top of a mountain and that’s about it.
The east side of the pass was much tighter and slower as we descended into the long valley called the Vorderrhein, where the Rhine begins to add to its volume. It was a beautiful valley, pocked with picturesque villages and the occasional ski area.
Rueras, Switzerland (I think)
One of many rail trestles
There wasn’t much along this hour-long stretch other than the valley, the mountains, the river, the villages… yeah, it was rough.
The GPS had a different opinion of the route
Dan coming through the tunnel
It was hot. The temperature still hovered around 34C – sometimes dropping to a blissful 32! – and we were eager to park the bikes and shed our gear. We crept through the tiny hamlet of Carrera, looking for the campground sign. To give you and idea of the size of the hamlet, there were only 16 houses and the nearest ‘big’ village has a population of 298.
I had emailed the campground a couple of days prior to reserve our spot and the hostess emailed back with a welcome and a positive response to our reservation. We parked the bikes and were greeted with the news that the campground was full. It was the campground’s ten year anniversary and they were having a grill and a live band and every space was taken. I explained that I had emailed and she had replied with her confirmation that we had a place. She took my name and checked a list. “Oh yes. First. You’re in place #5.” Whew!
We shed our gear, parked the bikes and set up camp. Now what?
Our hi-viz jackets are barely visible
Bike parking with a view
The original plan had been to ride to the other side of the valley and tackle the Pinut klettersteig. I was looking forward to it, but it wasn’t going to happen. The climb was on an exposed south-facing rock and we would be there at the hottest portion of the day. We decided to find some shade and read our books.
Not content with that, I eventually went and found our hosts. Googlemaps showed a small Rhine tributary nearby and I asked how to access it. She pointed out the trail at the end of the campground but emphasized that it was a steep trail down. It wasn’t far, so I left my comfy Crocs on my feet, dragged Dan out of the shade and we headed down.
It was a steep slope indeed but I made it down without incident. I imagined a flowing river of cold water swirling under a canopy of trees where we could sit back and read in cool air, resting on soft grassy banks. My imagination was much more optimistic than what nature presented to us. The river was lined with odd-shaped rocks, the trees were far back from the banks and the soil was stoney and speckled with pokey plants. We dipped our feet into the deliciously cold waters before we got bored. We had seen a wanderweg sign leading back to Carrera and decided to follow it back, instead of climbing up the steep trail we had come down.
Easily re-built bridge
This was a mistake. I was still wearing only my Crocs and the alternative trail was still steep in places. The path was smooth though, and thick grass had been recently cut and still covered the way. The trail was wide and smooth and dipped in and out of the trees, always going up.
A view into the Rhine valley
We made it back to the campground and immediately showered and put on some dry clothes. Temporary relief. The band was setting up and it looked like they would be interesting. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t take any pictures or audio, but it sounded a lot like this. There were just three musicians who shared a drum, tuba, accordion, clarinet and probably some other instruments that I couldn’t recognize. The campground had set up a grill, which was fortunte for us because there were no restaurants in the area and we hadn’t brought any food. The original plan had assumed that we’d stop to eat on our way back from climbing.
The campground was full of kayakers. We learned later that this is a prime spot on the Rhine for paddling and kayaking and it was obvious that most of the people here knew that. The night was peaceful after the band had finished their third set and I drifted off to sleep to the sound of crickets.
The next morning we slept in. It felt good to just lay in the tent and listen to the other campers start their day. Eventually we crawled out of the tent and packed up the camp, packed the bikes and put our gear back on. The temperature felt good – as long as I didn’t move. The sun was coming up high and there was again a slight haze in the sky. We decided to take the most non-direct route home, one that would be as enjoyable as possible yet get us home in a reasonable amount of time. First step: go back over Oberalp Pass.
Taking advantage of the cold water in the neighboring village of Valendas
The Rhine with the Alps in the distance
Nicely stacked logs
Rail avalanche shed
The climb up to Oberalp seemed to go quicker than the descent and this time we stopped at the top to see the lighthouse. Actually, we stopped because I hadn’t eaten yet, but it was as good an excuse as any.
Because we had started so close to the pass, we were there before a lot of the other riders. It was nice to have most of the roads to ourselves.
We cruised through Andermatt and back down Göschenen to the town of Wassen. I love the infrastructure and history of Göschenen and mentioned to Dan that some day, when its not quite so hot, I’d love to park the bikes and explore on foot.
Inside an avalanche shed
Outside of an avalanche shed
The next destination was Sustenpass, my favorite pass so far in Switzerland. I love this pass, as it isn’t as tight as the more famous passes like Grimsel and Furka, yet it gives great views and wonderfully curvy roads on both sides.
The northern approach to Sustenpass
Dan discussing how he’d like to bicycle over this pass. Dan is crazy
View near the top
Approaching the gate that kept us out last time
The south side of the pass
The rest of the way home wasn’t much to talk about. We determined that Dan’s gas gauge was no longer working, which is what led to him to run out of gas yesterday. We stopped to fill up one more time and then skirted around Brenzersee and Thunersees, before shooting down the motorway towards home. The temperatures reached almost 38C by the time we rolled into Basel and it was with relief we parked the bikes and took refuge in the cool-ish dark of our apartment.