I used Avocet Road 700x28 wire-bead, non-Kevlar tires on Mavic MA-2 36 hole rims with 1.8-1.6mm DT spokes; Campagnolo Record brakes (Cool Stop red pads) and small flange hubs with a Sun Tour new winner pro 6- speed FW 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 24, Sun Tour Pro derailleur and down tube shift levers, and Shimano Dura Ace 180mm cranks with 47-50 CW, SPD 525 pedals and M110 shoes; the frame is steel and about 26" with oversized top and down tubes equipped with Avocet Racing Turbo Gel saddle on a two bolt Campagnolo Record seat post, steel bars and stem. I wear Avocet polypropylene shorts and jerseys.
My suitcase and bicycle, two pieces of legal overseas air baggage and my small carry-on bag can be taken on trains on arrival. Whole bicycles can be shipped by air but upon arrival the bicycle cannot be carried onto most trains. Sent as baggage, the bicycle can cause a days or more delay just when it is least convenient.
In Luzern the famous wooden bridge for which the city is best known had curiously burned to the water last winter from one end to the other while the fire department watched finding no equipment that could be brought to the bridge. A few years ago this same fire department watched while the train station burned to the ground. Skilled wood workers rebuilt the bridge to exactly replace what had stood for hundreds of years with identical materials and construction methods that were used by the ancients. I hope that before long the modern touch of fire sprinklers will be added.
After taking a picture at the Lion monument sculpted into a sandstone wall, I walked across the beautifully rebuilt bridge and headed off toward Kriens and the Alpnach leg of the lake where the Pilatus railway in Alpnachstadt climbs the steepest cogwheel route in the world at 48% grade. It uses two horizontally opposed gears that engage a two sided gear rack in the center of the 800 mm gauge track. A sample piece of rack with the two engaged gears is displayed as a sculpture on the lawn in front of a floral display.
Because it was fair weather I decided to cut over to the parallel Melchtal instead of taking the direct route over the Brunig Pass (1008m). At Sarnen, taking the road past the train station, I headed up a scenic and car free route that goes over the mountains to the Susten Pass road and into the Haslital. At Stockalp (1075m), at the end of the Melchtal, the road becomes narrow (timed one way traffic) and steep, climbing to the Melchsee in 7 km. Just before the lake, in Frut (1902m).
I picked up a snack at the general store before taking the scenic ride around the two lakes to Tannen (1976m) where the road ends at a large comfortable youth hostel and the Tannalp diary. Hiking trails head off in several directions of which one, that leads to Engsteln (1837 m), is partially cut into a granite wall as it enters the canyon. From Engsteln a narrow paved road descends down a classic alpine steep walled canyon to the sound of ubiquitous cowbells. After descending to the Susten Pass road I rolled down to Inertkirchen (625m) through sweeping curves and several curved tunnels. From Inertkirchen it's a small sprint up the four traverses of the Lammi pass (709m) that detours around the Aareschlucht, a narrow slot in the rock through which the Aar river slices. At the top of the Lammi I turned off onto the road to Rosenlaui and the Grosse Scheidegg pass. The sky was dark and let out a few drops now and then. It was good climbing weather and as I rode past Hotel Zwirgi next to the Reichenbach waterfall I thought of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Moriarty who went for a final vertical swim there, according to Conan Doyle. The Reichenbach gorge is a steady steep climb that only lets up just before Hotel Rosenlaui (1330 m).
On the way up, the usual dippers cavorted in the roaring Reichenbach and the large European jays were a counterpoint to the jangling cowbells. As I arrived at the hotel I noticed the parking lot was well stocked with cars and the famous bakery from Meiringen was unloading heaps of meringue (invented in this bakery and named after the town) specialties, as Christina Kehrli came out to tell me that a wedding party had reserved the entire hotel but that space 'could be found'. This was possible because the servants quarters are separate and I got a small room with a view to the glacier.
With only one menu (darn!), I had to eat at eight when the party was served. I was the only other guest (served in the coffee shop) and shared their dinner selection of a large mixed salad, trout with small yellow potatoes and steamed vegetables. I didn't get the cake but was amply satisfied with a generous fruit sundae. At midnight I awoke to fireworks that were as powerful and brilliant as any I had ever seen, except that these reverberated in the confines of granite walls.
As I rolled down the valley of the Schwarze Luetsch toward Interlaken (563m), the still air became icy every time I crossed the river or better said the cascade of the river. Having made an early start and with some favorable air along the lakeshore, I rode around the lake to Brienz (566m), took some pictures of the BRB steam/cog railway and continued on to Meiringen and up the Lammi where I ate lunch at the Gasthaus zum Lammi, it being Sunday, when restaurant meals are the rule.
From Inertkirchen the road climbs south into the granite walls of the upper Aar river to the Grimsel pass (2165m). The Aar has two sources that flow from the Unteraar and Oberaar glaciers on the east slope of the Finsteraarhorn (4275m), the highest peak of the Berner Oberland. There were some snow banks along the road as I got above Handegg, and making the clear but high overcast day interesting, a strong wind blew down from the pass. The wind was so stiff, as I tried to crest the first dam, that I had to dismount to avoid being knocked down, quite aside from not being able to move forward in bottom gear. Fortunately this was a quirk of the location so the rest of the climb was mostly with a crosswind. At the summit, with its lake still frozen and substantial walls of snow, the clear air made Gletsch (1761m) in the Rhone valley, 400 m nearly straight down seem close.
In Gletsch, I stopped off at the DFB (Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke) train station where a raft of books and post cards about the days before electrification and the restoration of steam operation on this line is available. They have a snack bar from which all proceeds go to the DFB. I got filled in on the latest developments and hope some day to take a steam train from Realp to Gletsch or even farther to Oberwald.
I headed up the Furka (2431m) where the sun seems to shine more often than not, and stopped to take the obligatory picture in front of the Rhone Glacier. As often is the case, the afternoon chilled fog was already pouring over the Grimsel and down the wall onto Gletsch, there where I had just ridden in clear air. As I approached the summit the clouds got thicker and began leaking a bit but quit as I began down the hill. It was relatively warm for the late afternoon making it a pleasant descent to Realp (1538m) with a good view of the upper Reuss valley and the Oberalp pass above Andermatt at the far end of the valley. In Realp I dropped in on the DFB roundhouse where newly rebuilt locomotives DFB#1 Furkahorn and DFB#2 Grimselhorn (two of the original locomotives #1 and #2 of the Furka RR that were recovered from Vietnam) along with DFB#7 Weisshorn were being shut down after a day on the hill.
With a rare tailwind, I cruised to Hospental (1452m) and the Hotel Sternen, an old and comfortable inn. I parked my bike downstairs, showered and changed into "formal" dinner wear for a tall Eichhof (58cl) beer and hearty fare at the Hotel Gotthard down the street with everything you can want to eat after a day on the bike. Outside, the weather gods seemed to be taking flash photos while watering down the granite paved streets with monster drops.
At Ilanz (699m), I borrowed a wrench to tighten my head bearings that I had just installed for the trip. It's about time someone made a head bearing that fits fork crowns more easily and doesn't creep into position. I ate a hearty grocery store lunch with a 1/2 liter fruit yogurt and fresh bread with mortadella and cheese and a couple of apples. From here the main road goes up over the chalks where the Rhine cuts through sheer white cliffs. The climb is gratuitously high at 382m up to Flims (1081m), so I stayed on the south side on the small and untraveled and mostly paved road, climbing only 209m to Vesam (908m) and rolling down to Bonaduz (655m) with appreciably better scenery.
At Bonaduz I turned south to Thusis and Tiefencastel along the Hinterrhein. This was once an unbelievably remote area where a one- lane dirt road with long hillside tunnels weaved its way up the canyon to Davos, and where freeways and wide highways carry vacationers over the Alps today. I am glad that I was able to ride these roads before progress intruded. At Tiefencastel I turned up the Julier pass (2284m) that starts up out of town with a jolt of 13% but gets civilized after a few km's. I hadn't been on this road for 33 years and was pleasantly surprised by its scenic beauty. The last time I rode it was in the other direction, Easter 1961 in the snow. Mixed clouds made for comfortable riding with light traffic.
As I descended into Silvaplana (1816m) I could see that the sunshine running out and a wall of clouds pushing east over the rim of the Maloja pass. While I rode into a brisk wind along the lake, sailboarders darted across the chop on the lake. The road was sheltered near the hillside along the lake but as it reached the Silsersee the wind came from straight ahead. Mentally I was already descending the Maloja so I didn't notice it so much. The water and mountains had an animated character in the fleeting sunshine under the dark sky. As I "crested" the Maloja pass (1815m), with its flat approach from St Moritz, I dived into the clouds but found dry pavement down to Vicosoprano where it had just stopped raining. I got to the Bregalia, the old grand hotel, getting only my feet wet before the sky let go. That was great timing and the dinner with some Swedes, who were on a climbing holiday, was first class.
From Lugano I headed off to Ponte Tresa and over the hills to Laveno on the Lago Maggiore (193m) riding through the back hills on smaller roads. I had a map from the 1950's that showed a railroad on this route but all I could find were the train stations that seemed unchanged except that there was no sign of a roadbed. The partly cloudy weather gave the landscape unusual contrast and spared me the muggy air common at this time of year. At Laveno I got on the ferry, that seems to run so often that I have never had to wait more than a few minutes, and crossed to Verbania. I rode to Gravellona, up the valley of the Toce that leads to Domodossola and the Simplon pass, and turned south to Omegna (298m). This former big steel town is now a pleasant vacation spot on the end of the Lago d'Orta and whose economy I don't understand.
The Lago d'Orta, as most of these lakes at the southern edge of the Alps, is drinking clean and has beautiful shores, some of which are not cut off by vacation villas of regal proportions, although these also exist. A rustic castle occupies a small island with chestnut forested hills rising on all sides of the lake. I rode to the south end of the lake and headed west after climbing a small ridge. The road rises to Pogno and then winds slowly up to a divide with a tunnel at 598m before descending to Borgosesia (359m). I said hello to the innkeeper who formerly also had rooms but I neither wanted to stay in the hotel in town nor stop so early so I headed off to Croce di Mosso where I thought I could find lodgings. One innkeeper after another explained that they were booked up with people who had come to enjoy the football game (Spain-Italy I think) so I went on to the next until I found a place in Biella. I joined the crowd and watched football instead of bicycling.
I took some pictures, rode on down to Mosso Santa Maria for a store where I could get some lunch and returned over the bridge to ride on some obscure Piemontese roads behind Biella and on to Ivrea. I found my way to Brian's house in Perosa Canavese were I cooled my heels for a needed rest. I seemed to be burdened with after-effects to anti venom serum that was still coursing in my veins from a recent bout with a rattle snake bite. It was hot and the snooze felt good.