See the Jobst Brandt's Tour of the Alps Collection under the section for Europe of the Trento Bike Pages.

Tour of the Alps 1992

By Jobst Brandt, Thu, 23 Apr 1998 16:56:45 PDT


As usual, I loaded my suitcase with a change of clothes and some gifts for my friends in Europe along with my bicycle saddlebag with all the things on my minimalist checklist for a long bike tour. The cranks, QR skewers, chain, and rear derailleur go into the suitcase together with tools necessary for assembly. The bike had the forks turned backwards, the wheels strapped to either side of the frame and the bars rotated and hooked up through the wheels. Front and rear 5/16 spreader bolts prevented damage to the forks. This configuration was covered with a clear plastic bag and taped shut.

Armed with two pieces of legal overseas air baggage, I can carry the two pieces and my small carry-on bag on trains when I arrive. It is permissible to ship whole bicycles by air but when you arrive, the bike cannot be carried onto most trains.

Thursday, 17 June

I flew to Paris and then Zurich with United Airlines arriving in the late afternoon instead of the morning the next day because there was a delay with connections in Paris. Meanwhile my riding companion and nephew, Marc, arrived ahead of me and proceeded from ZH to our friend Fredy Ruegg's bike shop in Affoltern a/Albis where he put his bike together and joined Fredy on a ride to see the day's stage of the Tour de Suisse in a nearby town. Fredy Ruegg, a former pro, won the TdS and held the amateur hour record for many years and now runs the best bike shop in Switzerland (CH). He is still a fast and fit rider.

Later that day, Thursday, we tuned up our bikes and baggage as a thundershower cooled the evening. Unfortunately the TV weather map for the next few days showed solid cloud cover from Ireland to Sicily, something I had already suspected from the air as I arrived in ZH.


1. Friday, 18 June

We wore our rain jackets as we rode off into the rain toward the mountains. The rain was reasonably warm as we coasted downhill to the Reuss river (that flows from Luzern to the Rhine) and crossed the valley into canton Aargau. In Luzern clouds obscured any view of the mountains but visibility on the lake was good in spite of the rain.

We stopped at the Glacier Garden where the Luzern Lion is carved a the rock wall. We took pictures in front of the reflecting pool that wouldn't reflect due to heavy rain. In the center of town, alpine swifts, that inhabit the prison tower on the famous wooden bridge. were warming up before departing for the day as they screamed and chased around in the sky above the tower in an apparent points race. These large black and white swifts have a wingspan of about 35 cm.

We dropped in on an Mrs Dierauer Sr and enjoyed some cake and hot chocolate before leaving town toward the Brunig Pass. The adventure of riding over Frut to Tannalp and Engsteln from Sarnen was out of the question because the snow level was about 1500 meters and I am not so hot on trails on cliffs in the snow. We rode over the Brunig (1008 m) and down to Meiringen, where we wolfed down some good bratwurst with potato(e) salad, hot soup, and good fresh whole-wheat bread. The beer is Eichhof and comes in 58cl bottles, the standard in CH.

The drops kept up a good steady beat as we left town, passing the Sherlock Holmes hotel named after the great sleuth who, according to Conan Doyle, died on the nearby Reichenbach waterfall in a deathgrip with Dr Moriarty. Anyway, we turned right at the bakery in Willigen next to the double water trough, to take the old road up to Rosenlaui, now reached by a wider road from the top of the Lammi Pass. The rain improved traction on the steep narrow dirt road as we climbed past Hotel Schwendi and on up to Hotel Zwirgi and finally Rosenlaui where Mrs Kehrli greeted us with her usual enthusiasm. There were a dozen other intrepid guests who didn't seem to think rain was all that bad either. It was one of those days when the rain never stopped.

2. Saturday, 20 June

The rain lifted in the morning as we rode up the Grosse Scheidegg (1961m), directly beneath the face of the Wetterhorn that was making artillery like sounds as enormous icefalls crashed down its walls before we broke out of the clouds. By the time we could see the mountain, the show was over. About 15 cm of new snow made a beautiful spring scene as we reached the summit where Eiger, Moench, and Jungfrau with their glacial appendages made a striking appearance in spite of grey skies.

We took it carefully down to Grindelwald through the snow in the wet tire tracks of the bus that plys this private road. From here we TT'd down the valley to Interlaken and had favorable winds all the way around the lake to Brienz, where we got a great lunch at the baker, butcher, and dairy store as the BRB cogwheel trains were getting up steam for the noon run up the Brienzer Rothorn. We didn't get to see their 1992 vintage steam locomotive because it was at the summit. In all, the BRB has ordered three new steamers from SLM, the builders of the original 70 year old locomotives that still look like new.

After lunch on the steamer dock, we made a quick run for a second pass through Willigen, up and over the Lammi (700 m), a rise of about 110 meters, that passes the Aar gorge, to Inertkirchen. Here the Susten Pass heads east and the Grimsel (2165 m) south into the granite walls of the upper Aar river. From the pass, the Finsteraarhorn (4275 m), the highest peak of the Berner Oberland lies off to the west, the source of the two branches of the Aar that practically encircle the mountain.

As we climbed, drops began falling again as we neared the summit with its huge snow drifts from the winter winds of the Rhone valley nearly vertically below. The air was cool at the summit, but not enough to snow, having gotten warmer during the day. We caught a hot chocolate at the hotel before descending to Gletsch (1761 m), the junction with the Furka Pass. Now that the hotel was reopened, the Kiosk that had served good snacks was gone. As we headed up the Furka, the weather lightened up as it often does, and we got some good pictures at the Glacier. That's where it became apparent, as we rested, that the additional altitude of the Furka (2431 m) got us into distinctly colder air because now it was snowing, but only lightly.

As we rounded the last hairpin for the long run to the top we faced a biting wind that swept over the summit. As we watched, the hairpin turns nearly straight below vanished in the swirls of snow leaving only the road a short distance ahead. Riding into the wind was hard, because snow slid into my face from the hood of my rain cape with the steamy body heat inside. The wind died just beyond the summit, allowing us to relax as we rolled down the long descent that stays almost flat for a long stretch before gradually sloping into the final dive to the valley at Realp (1538m).

From Realp it's a flat and smooth cruise to Hospental and the Hotel Sternen, an old and comfortable inn (but no more restaurant). The ladies that run the place were glad to see us again. As usual we parked our bikes in the laundry room and changed into our "formal" dinner outfits for a feast at a place down the street with everything you can want to eat after a long ride. A large Coup Danemark (chocolate sundae) went down well after all was done.

3. Sunday, 21 June

The morning started with a light drizzle as we rolled out of town up the cobbled main street toward the St Gotthard Pass (2108 m) highway. It lightened up a bit and looked almost like sunshine as we reached the summit. Descending the old Val Tremola road of granite paving stones was practically without traffic, being "closed" for a small slide that partially blocked the road. We descended the many hairpins into warmer but overcast skies and cruised through Airolo, the south portal of the rail and highway tunnels. From there we rolled down to Faido, Biasca and Bellinzona where we got a lunch snack at a gas station mini-mart before heading down the east shore of Lago Maggiore into Italy.

Just before the lake, most traffic turns toward Locarno and the west shore with all the big name resorts. The east shore is quieter with accesses to the water many small beaches and marinas. We rode south to Luino and Laveno where we took a ferry across to Verbania, at the mouth of the Valle d'Ossola from the Simplon Pass and Domodossola. A short way up we crossed the Toce river and headed south to Omegna and Lago d'Orta, another beautiful lake with a good swim (when it's not raining) here in the Piemonte district, the edge of the Alps.

We rode along the east shore of the lake and headed west over the hills to Borgosesia on the Sesia river. On the way, a gradual climb heads into the hills but doesn't seem to climb enough as it goes farther into a canyon where, around a curve as in the proverbial bicyclist's joke, we entered a 300 m long one lane tunnel through the mountain. We dropped in on a restaurant I had discovered a few years ago just across the Sesia bridge. We had the best and most plentiful gourmet Italian dining, served here by a host who takes pleasure in showing us what he can produce.

4. Monday, 22 June

It was still raining in the morning as we headed west through the foothills to Biella and Ivrea from whence we took the direct route to Torino on the way to the Mediterranean Alps. We took a break for lunch in a small town where we stocked up on goods just before closing time (noon) and stuffed ourselves with bread, cheese, and sausage, and a selection of fruit. On clear spring days, the backdrop of Torino is a continuous crown of white peaks to the west. I remember that sight as if I could see it even on this rainy day.

As we rode through the city center and south toward Cuneo, I was disappointed to notice that Torino had finally abandoned their trolley poles with brass contact wheels, for pantographs. The sound of a trolley wheel on the overhead is now only a memory. I recall the sound vividly from Market Street in SF with its four tracks and heavy tram traffic. Torino had lost that sound.

Although the day was long,it was without climbing and a good recovery day out of the mountains and with cool weather. It rained off and on, making sitting-on a gritty dentifrice but otherwise OK. The weather this spring produced a good crop of cherries and plums. As we approached Cuneo (587m), where the road is lined with Japanese plums, loaded with tart fruit, we munched plums interrupted by the staccato popping of large rain drops on our hoods. The rain made little difference other than making my white socks black with road slime.

Here we saw mountains, but only as a dark silhouettes rising into the clouds as we crossed the high double decked viaduct that carries the highway and railroad into Cuneo over the Stura di Demonte. We turned right after the bridge, passing the piazza in front of the train station where we usually cool off at the large fountain. Today that wasn't part of the schedule so we rolled on up the gradual grade to Borgo San Dalmazzo where, at the lower end of town, we headed south. The railroad and highway head toward the Tenda Pass to France and our stage stop at Robilante, the small town with the chainsaw store that goes on and on, in catacomb like rooms filled with every chainsaw ever made.

I recalled from previous years that the hotel (Albergo Ristorante Minerve), where we usually stop, is closed on Wednesdays and this was Wednesday. I suspected that the regular long term residents didn't go by this schedule, and because we always ate in the rear dining room with them, I was fairly certain that we were also exempt. Because the place was buttoned up and roll cases covered the windows and doors, we rode around back and up the driveway into the inner courtyard. The kitchen door was open and I could see that food was being prepared.

As I spooked around, the manager came out of a back room, smiled hello, gave me a key and said "you know where the room is" and we were in. We parked our bikes in the supply room, showered, and made like civilians in our formal dinner clothing. The choice was red wine or beer. The beer in Italy comes in 600 ml bottles and usually has a German name like Forst or Splugenbrau. Pasta or minestrone followed by an entree with vegetables, all with great Italian seasoning.

5. Tuesday, 23 June

Only a few clouds hung in the sky in the morning, although the road was still wet as we started the gradual climb past several huge cement plants, a closed steel mill and finally past Limone (990 m), the last town and the place where the railway enters its tunnel. Here the road is steeper as it heads up to the Tenda Pass (1908 m). We got a snack and soda pop at the bar-and-money-change joint at the summit tunnel (1871 m) and headed up the unmarked road across the street that seems to serve only the ski area. With bicycles not allowed through the tunnel, it is the obvious way.

After the large ski hotels (closed and dead looking) the old Tende road, now smoothly paved, rises through immaculately graded grassy ski slopes, devoid of trees up to the rocky crags near the top, where pavement ends abruptly, with only rocky road beyond. We were surrounded by tatters of clouds ripping by with bursts of sunshine, as we neared the summit. I got out my camera, but alas, the clouds closed and all I got was a rider in the fog.

We got a great view of the 100 hairpin turns on the descent, some of which are tight even for a jeep and about as wide. Above, peeking through the clouds now and then, were the huge fortresses of past wars looming as silent sentinels. Far below, we rejoined the new road at the south portal of the tunnel. We swished past the turn where I crashed and broke a hip five years ago,continuing down into the gorge of the Roya river past Tende and scenic Soarge, a hill town that hangs from the rocky walls high above the river. Both towns offer (photo opportunity) scenic calendar splendor.

We stopped for lunch in Breil (268m), a small picturesque town with no visible stores because they all open onto a narrow stone slab paved alley over which the ancient buildings practically blot out the sky. We ate lunch on a bench at the Roya's edge under the shade of catalpa trees. Well fed, we headed up the Col de Brauis (1879 m) over to picturesque Sospel (349m) where the road splits in several directions that lead one way or another to the Turini Pass.

We took the scenic but longer route up the Col de Braus (1002 m) and rode to Piera-Cava (1450m) to a hotel that has served me well in the past. The lady who used to run the place was gone and so was the comfort and care. To make up for that, the scenery toward Cannes was as great as ever, with a thunderstorm moving across the mountains from the west. Cuckoos sounded off in the forest below and swifts were screaming at max speed in their evening criterium around the buildings in this tiny town on the ridge.

6. Wednesday, 24 June

The morning the sky looked friendlier as we rode along the ridge gaining 400 meters to the top of the Turini (1607m). This pass, with snow, makes the Monte Carlo auto Rally the driving test that it is. As we started down, the sky let go, and it was rain cape time again. This seemingly endless descent exposes more downhill each time it looks like the bottom. Finally we reached the the Vesubie river and turned up the valley to St Martin where we grabbed a bite at the big market in the hairpin turn in town. Then we headed up the Col St Martin (1500 m) in moderate but warm rain. By now rain isn't something new.

Most of these roads have spectacular vistas as they cling to rock walls and dive in and out of rough hewn tunnels. In spite of the weather, the west side exposed a huge panorama of mountains with many roads that crisscross them and demand to be visited by bicycle. The rain let up as we descended to the Tinee river and turned upstream to St Sauveur, where we headed west up to Rubion and the Couillole Pass (1678m). It was hot when the sun came out now and then, so rain sprinkles felt good as we rode past Rubion, a town literally cut into the rock above the canyon.

The road kept us guessing as it went into one valley, crossing over into the earlier one and back as though it didn't really matter. At the summit we stopped at a small unassuming wooden chalet style hotel, where a couple of locals were taking a nip, but there were no other guests. After a hot soup and sitting around for awhile it seemed a good idea to call it a day, the weather being what it was and the late afternoon not getting any warmer for the descent. Sophie, the proprietor, fed us like kings, after which we slept like logs in a low ceiling bare beam room with a tiny window that we left open.

7. Thursday, 25 June

After a big breakfast of fresh bread, cheeses, jam and hot chocolate milk, we said goodbye and rolled down hill to the junction with the road from the Gorge du Cains that I had last been on in 1960. From here we climbed to the town and pass of Valberg (1829m). We took the smaller of two routes to Guillaumes (819m) through Peones. Peones lies on the edge of the huge practically dry Tuebi gulch of boulders that apparently move when it RAINS in contrast to the moisture we were experiencing. From Guillaumes, the ride up the Col de la Cayolle (2327m) was nostalgic for me, because I hadn't seen this region since 1960 and it hadn't changed one bit as one might expect in places like this. I knew what was up the road as we rounded every corner. There wasn't even a kiosk at the top, just beautiful meadows of wildflowers.

Under threatening clouds we descended to Barcelonnette (1150m) where we came across a GAN insurance office sporting the familiar turquoise-white-navy team colors that both of us were wearing from the 1970's French equipe. I bought these jerseys years ago when this was the hot pro team with Joop Zoetemelk and Poulidor. So we went in and asked the lady behind the counter whether she could sell us some more of these shirts. She was speechless, having probably never seen a GAN jersey. If rumors are right, we may see them again. This town has many unkempt mansions that look like vacation villas of the 1930's. We rode on past Jausiers to Condamine for a stage stop at the comfortable hotel with the Great Pyrenees dog that greats the guests.

8. Friday, 26 June

The rock walls of the gorge at Condamine are full of tunnels from bottom to top where huge fortifications keep their silent vigil for enemies long gone. The Col de Larche (Colle della Maddalena) from Borgo San Dalmazzo joins the Route des Grandes Alpes here, at the foot of the Col de Vars, where we expect to get stuck in sheep herds being driven to the high country. We missed the sheep but rode through miles of sheep dung that caked our tires. Sheep on the road came several days later on another pass.

Farther up, the our skies cleared and after rounding the last 10% turns of the Col de Vars (2111m) we got a perspective of our insignificance with majestic peaks, freshly dusted with snow, rising all around us. We got a couple of showers on the way down but it dried out just as I got one of those "Michelin flats" in my back tire, caused by a stainless steel wire from a steel belted radial. It went down slowly so I discovered it in a big fast bend as I crossed-up in a slide before regaining control.

We made a visit to the center of lovely Guillestre (1000m), a wonderfully inviting town, before heading up the Vars river for lunch at Arvieux and the Izoard Pass. The grocery store has a bench and water fountain with a public restroom under the city hall across the street. Since stores close at noon, this stop has in the past required an all-out effort to get there in time. Today, planning left plenty of time. From Arvieux the work began as we headed up the Izoard, fairly steep at the start before the hairpin turns that make the major part of the climb.

The climb crosses a false summit from which the rest of the road is visible on the opposite side of the canyon. After stopping at the Coppi memorial for a picture I found mysterious power for the last two kilometers and rode like 30 years ago feeling no limits but the size of the carburetor bore as I breathed at max volume. Marc asked, "what happened back there?" when he arrived at the top. It was great!

At Briancon we rode up to the old fortified and walled part of town to ride up and down the two steep main streets that have a flume down the middle into which small garbage is swept and carried away. Below town there is a trap that puts this stuff into a truck. I found the town overrun with tourists to whom most of the stores cater. It was no longer what it had been in simpler times, on my first visit, before it had been "discovered". Form here it's a great TT to the Col du Lauteret (2058m) and the Hotel des Glaciers where Paul Bonnabel presides. The black clouds and blue sky with curtains of rain in the afternoon sun made a striking picture with glimpses of the Galibier summit in the distant gap, way up there 600 meters higher. We ate formidably, got a good night's sleep, and a good breakfast.

9. Saturday, 27 June

The Galibier is a great way to start a day because it gets right to work, not too steep, and develops a great panorama from the start. At the old one lane summit tunnel, now closed, the road changes nature, following the ancient alignment with up to 13% grade near the top. The summit is actually a hairpin turn from which both sides are visible in breathtaking splendor. You can see all the way to Briancon to the south and to many snow capped peaks to the north, including the mountains near the Col de l'Iseran, our next adventure. The descent has a couple of fast places in it just before Valloire (1430 m) where the road again starts climbing to the Col de la Telegraph (1570 m) and the big descent to St Michel du Maurienne (890 m) on the Arc river where we stopped for a before-lunch snack.

From here it's a gradual climb past Modane where most traffic goes through the Frejus highway and railway tunnels to Torino. Old timers go on to Lanslebourg and over the Col du Mont Cenis, but after that it really got quiet as we climbed the Col du Madeleine (1764 m), a small but steep bump out of Lanslebourg, and into the high valley toward the Iseran. The side valleys exposed views to glaciers and snow covered peaks as we approached Bonneval sur Arc (1783m), a grey village of stone buildings with stone roofs. A tourist store that is "always" open, had just what we needed to go to the top of the big one, the Col de l'Iseran (2770m).

From Bonneval, the first climb goes into the upper valley, a second climb into the high valley and the last steep climb goes to the top. Considering the elevation of Bonneval, it seems unduly far to the summit. I have always had the urge to leave soon, once at the top, because, even with "good" weather, it is high enough and surrounded by even higher mountains the weather can change rapidly. The view down to Val d'Isere is amazing but the valley has been filled chock full of ski hotels and commercial amenities, and all the mountains are scarred with avalanche protection berms and structures. It looked great on TV for the Olympic downhill when all was covered in snow.

The descent from Val d'Isere was a bit wet but fast. As we reached the valley floor we gradually dried out, as we cruised into Seez. A torrential downpour started just as we looked for accommodations. With one hotel under remodeling and the other two full, we decide to eat a big dinner right there rather than get wet. Afterward we cruised down to Bourg St Maurice for a downtown hotel.

10. Sunday, 28 June

The sun promised a dry day as we headed up the Cormet de Roselend (1968m), a small and lightly traveled road. Two thirds of the way up it enters a valley where it connects with the Col de la Seigne (2516m) that I crossed two years ago from Courmayeur. This pass is about the greatest single track I've ever ridden. All of it was great riding except one river crossing that was a portage. On that ride we met MTB riders who were in over their heads. When they saw us go by on road bikes it gave them lockjaw.

After the road junction we caught up to a huge heard of sheep on its way to the high country, and as always the sheep dog, on command from the shepherd, cut a path through the flock. On the way down we got a little sprinkle as we rode down into the "hole" below the huge dam to Beaufort. Although a good descent, the frost heaved prevent made going slower than the road would otherwise allow. We cruised right through town to head up the Col des Saisies (1633m). The 1992 winter Olympics left their mark at these places with large new developments. From here it's a long gradual descent to Flumet and a similar climb to Megeve and then down to St Gervais and Le Favel where we got on the freeway, the only route to Chamonix. Bicycles are permitted here.

On the way, massive Mont Blanc, loomed larger than life, like an image seen through a telescope, as a striking backdrop to the landscape as it appeared shining white between the clouds. It seems threateningly huge with its 4810m elevation at this latitude. At the lower end of town the Glacier des Bossons practically reaches the road. The visitor hubbub is the same all year around in this special town. On the north side the sky was full of descending paragliders as we rode eastward through Argentier (1257m) and up the set of hairpin turns to drop in on a friend who has a small place with a view of the whole show from his front door.

11. Monday 29 June

Rest and cool heels above Argentier while drying laundry. The rest got us into shape for the dash to the Gavia and Stelvio,... at the other end of Switzerland.

11. Tuesday, 30 June

We rode over the Col des Montets (1461m) and into Switzerland where we took the "shortcut" through Finhaut and down the bike/hike trail to Salvan, over the great bridge that crosses the Trient river 200m below, followed by a 1000m tunnel on the way down to Martigny (467m). The 50km to Brig are usually a breeze with a brisk tailwind, but with the rainy weather it was stiff riding into the wind. It was a long haul but it was good to get onto the hill of the Simplon Pass (2009m) where we left the winds and the traffic below in the Rhone valley.

The weather outlook at the top was promising as we rolled down between the sheer granite walls of the Simplon, reminiscent of Yosemite except that both walls drop straight into the river. The grade flattens out at Gondo where the Simplon RR tunnel emerges at Iselle after being in the hole for nearly 20 km from Brig. Finally there's Varzo where the road climbs over a narrows in the canyon into town. It's a great challenge to hit it fast and sprint in top gear up to the bridge and city limit. From here it's a gradual descent to Crevoladossola where we took the cutoff to Masera (305m), climbed up the Valle Vigezzo to Druogno (831m) and rolled down to Camedo at the CH border for the night.

12. Wednesday, 1 July

We rolled down to Locarno and along the north side of Lago Maggiore to Gorduno and across the valley to Arbedo where we turned off up the Val Mesolcina along the Moesa river toward the San Bernardino Pass. We passed Grono, the town where Kiwi helmets are made, and on up to Mesocco where things start going up. From here it's a nice climb to Pian San Giacomo from which the main climb goes up to the town of San Bernardino, the south portal of the freeway tunnel. From here there is even less traffic than below as the small road follows the Roman road to the summit, but not as steeply.

The entire landscape is wet with running water, as we rode with light sprinkles up to the summit of the San Bernardino Pass (2063m). Then we rolled down to the Hinterrhein valley, near the source of the Gotthard Rhine. Swiss artillery practices its specialty here, guaranteeing thunder in any weather. A bit of sun broke through as we ate an outdoor hot lunch in the town of Splugen at the restaurant at the junction before heading up the Splugen Pass.

The Splugen pass (2113m) stayed sort of dry as we rolled down the south side with its spectacular tunnels and hairpin turns carved into the granite wall. A little drizzle greeted us in Chiavenna and as we rode up toward the Maloja Pass it got wetter. After the hill to the Frisea mineral water plant, we stopped at a roadside refreshment park under the trees, and wolfed down some ice cream and soda pop before riding on up to the border at Castasegna, as it rained. We stopped at the Hotel Bregalia in Promontogno as the rain got into real big drops. This old hotel is a relic from the 30's and is a working museum. It has a great view of the valley and Bondo, a beautiful mountain town below. Soglio, the much photographed mountain village, is on the hillside above and a view of snow capped peaks opens to the south.

13. Thursday, July 2

We headed up the Val Bregaglia to Cassaccia just below the final climb to the Maloja Pass (1815m). From Cassaccia a Roman road heads south over the Septimer Pass (2310m) that has been unused since ancient times and still has the huge stone slabs and curb stones. We climbed the Maloja in light rain and found a pleasant wind blowing our way as we crossed the summit; the summit that has no descent to the east. We rode along the Silser See, the source of the Inn river that flows through Innsbruck and past St Moritz to catch some lunch at the Migros market in Pontresina before rolling up the moderate grade of the Bernina Pass (2328m). On the way up we tried to get the classic photo of the Bernina RR at the Montebello horseshoe curve with Piz Bernina, Piz Palu, the Morteratsch Glacier, and a red train coming around the curve. It was late so we settled for Marc riding his bike down the tracks under a dark sky. I have plenty of train shots from sunnier times anyway.

Over the summit and down the endless descent to Poschiavo, we escaped the rain that started to wet the road and rode on dry pavement. Around the lake and down the last hill to Brusio where the Bernina RR makes a corkscrew loop on a stone arch bridge, we got a hot plate of afternoon spaghetti at Signora Beti's hotel. With our fuel tanks topped off, we crossed the border at Campodolcino, took a right at Madonna di Tirano and a left to Stazzona to take a shortcut to the Aprica Pass (1176m).

The Aprica cuts around the mountains to Edolo and Ponte di Legno, at the foot of the Tonale and Gavia passes. Just before Ponte di Legno we stopped in Temu, where Silvano Macculotti runs one of the best little hotels in the Alps. What makes such places great is the food. Every meal is a creation that comes without a menu. He has always made my stops worthwhile. This time he added a fat slice of a huge porcini mushroom that he had found that afternoon. For this we thanked him and the rain that made the mushroom grow. We were lulled to sleep by the sound of pouring rain outside the open window.

14. Friday, 3 July

We rode up through Ponte di Legno staying on the left side of the Frigidolfo that cascades through the narrow town so close that you can reach out and touch the icy standing waves. It rained for a while as we climbed through a larch forest along the east side of the canyon before we broke into the high valley at Apollonia. There, near the small hotel, is a Gazebo in which spigots of mineral water on the floor pour forth two flavors of rusty carbonated water. Legend has it that they give strength that helps flatten the Gavia to a manageable hill.

A group of antique M/C riders showed up on ancient Moto Guzzi's, an NSU, a Matchless and a Harley, all from before the 1940's. We checked them out before heading up the hill that looked like a civilized road. After a couple of km's pavement ends, the road narrows and a sign proclaims 16% just as it did in the Palo Alto Bicycles poster of 1975 for which I took the picture. The one lane road took us to within five km's of the top where the road is again paved for the rest of the pass. We chose to ride around the cliff instead of using the new tunnel, so we could take the obligatory picture that today is more precarious because the road is abandoned.

At the Gavia summit (2618m) in the Rifugio Bonetta, the real poster of the cliff hangs under glass with a youthful rider. I wore the same GAN jersey as in the poster and as usual the Proprietor offered us a drink. We drank and thanked and hurried off, not wanting to be caught by the rain that seemed to be chasing. Almost as last year, we got down the hill just ahead of the rain but below Santa Caterina we got wet before Bormio. Not having a lot of time to waste, we headed right up the Stelvio that took on a special atmosphere under dark skies and light rain. The tunnels were welcome shelters off and on, and then it cleared up a bit on the top (2759m). As we sat at the restaurant and got a hot chocolate the usual parade of bicycles, recumbents, Pedersen thin (no bending stress) tubed bikes and the old M/C group came by. As we rode down the 48 hairpin turns through 1800m, the Ortler, with its white icy dome, kept vigil with its fresh snow that gave the lower slopes a look as though they were greying.

My new rims had worn down to hollow cheeks and black tires from all the descents in the rain, so I took it easy down the hill in the light rain, using only my rear brake, lest I have a rim separation on the front wheel. When it was dry I didn't worry because I know how little wear occurs when the brakes are clean. We rode to Laas as the last stop for our trip. The next day Marc had to return to ZH which he made that evening by train from Zernez after riding back over the Stelvio and Passo dal Fuorn (2149m).

14. Saturday, 4 July

I rode to Bolzano and up the Eisack to Blumau to try the road to Tiers once more. I had not been here for several years and recall that each of the last rides up this road convinced me I could not do it again. The old road goes up the left side of the river that crosses the highway in Blumau. It is not marked anymore. After going up the canyon about six km's, a sign warns of 24% grades. This condition prevails for nearly two km's and the last 500m is all 24%. Once more I was able to ride it non stop with the same gears that I always rode. It made me feel pretty strong and I rode up the rest of the Nigerjoch (1689m) thinking how easy the 13% stuff felt.

After descending the Costalunga (1753m) to Canazei, I ran into a group of Berkeley riders with Gary Erickson of Cliff Bars. He was having a great time but his recruits, who had never seen so many mountains, were pretty long in the face. He sent them on to Canazei, out of the steady rain that we hardly noticed as we exchanged adventures of our rides. I headed over the Fedaia (2054m) that passes under the base of the Marmolada with the great glacier cap that was invisible in the rain, and headed down the max speed descent on the east side. Alas, it began to dump buckets after the top as I emerged from the dry tunnel along the north side of the summit lake.

I was disappointed in not getting to see whether my speedometer would top 100km's this time. I think I didn't get much over 60km's with the wind and rain. It rained harder and harder as I rode into Caprile and headed up to Selva di Cadore and the Giau. It got pretty dark but climbing kept me warm inside my rain shell although soaking wet. It was fun to ride this road that had once been a rocky challenge (and the Coppa de Coppi) in the heat, now in pouring rain on smooth pavement. I stopped at the rifugio one km below the summit for a hearty meal and a private dormitory of six beds.

15. Sunday, 5 July

Although the sun came out for breakfast, that was the last time I saw it that day. On the Giau (2236m) I saw nothing of the vast Panorama of Cortina d'Ampezzo and the majestic Le Tofane, Monte Cristallo, Monte Cadini and the Marmorola. The view from here is about as breathtaking as you can get without doing some serious mountain climbing. Today it was pouring and I decided to head home. I put out 210km yesterday and if I could match that for a few days I could make some tracks.

I turned left at the junction above Cortina and climbed the Pso Falzarego (2105m) and its sidekick the Valparola (2192m) and rolled down to Bruneck, turned left to the Franzensfeste and up the Eisack once again and north to Sterzing. From here it was up the Pso Giovo (2234m) in a downpour and down to St Leonhard (593 m) where it was pleasant and the roads were dry although the weather was overcast.

From St Leonhard I rode west up the Pso Rombo or Timmelsjoch. As I was working up the steep stuff, two tourists with lots of bags came suffering down the hill telling me it was awful up there. This didn't worry me because I neither intended to go over the pass tonight nor do I like to suffer from the weather that I suspect prevailed at the time they rode up there. I stopped at the last hotel that lies about six km's below the summit. It is a small, comfortable, family run hotel with few guests. The South Tyroleans understand how to feed a good appetite and with fresh washed and dried clothes I was ready for a long day tomorrow. Today was a 215km hill climb, tomorrow should go well.

16. Monday, 6 July

The sun didn't say good morning but it looked great out, with clear air and a threatening black sky above. It was only snowing lightly as I entered the long summit tunnel (2483m). At the exit and at the next tunnel the snow was pretty dense but after the Austrian border, the road dives at 13% or so, and although these were pretty good snow fields, I came out of the clouds pretty quickly and rolled down the infinite speed run with my rain cape and hood up.

In spite of my spinnaker like apparel I reached amazing speed. In tight clothing this has been good for more than 100km/h but not today. Things got drier as I reached Obergurgel and Untergurgel. The wind wasn't entirely favorable but the road was downhill. I arrive at the junction at the Inn river, turned west and headed over the hill to Imst and onward to Landeck. Here I headed south toward the Reschen Pass into a bit of a headwind. I decided that the no bikes sign and a headwind were to much, so I ignored the sign and stayed on the main road. There was hardly any traffic anyway in this weather.

The wind let up above the Italian border as I rolled over the top (1508m) into Reschen. The lake was as beautiful as an artificial lake can get with a good chop from the wind but no rain. A look back over the lake from the south revealed a black sky closing in behind me. I cruised down the hill toward Malles where I took the shortcut to Glorenza and Prato allo Stelvio (913m) from where it is 31 km to the top. I tanked up on a liter of soda pop and some fruit and headed up THE HILL. If you ever ride in the Alps, it's spelled "Stelvio" or "Silfserjoch" and it comes in three flavors: form Bormio, from Prato and from Santa Maria. Don't miss it!

It was a glorious climb with beautiful lighting that included rain squalls on the walls above, sun columns on the glaciers and clouds above and below between which the road played peek-a-boo. At the top I wolfed a hot bratwurst and a beer and pushed off toward the Umbrail Pass (2508m) below with exactly 200 km behind me. From Santa Maria (1375m) I headed up the Passo dal Fuorn to Fuldera with its small first class hotel with both fancy and my kind of rooms. The food is all top class and a good buffet for dinner and breakfast. The owner turned out to be a good bikie friend of Fredy Ruegg my friend in Affoltern. After 230 km's that day I got a good nights rest.

17. Tuesday, 7 July

Up over the Passo dal Fuorn (2149m) and down to Zernez and down the Inn valley to Susch (1426m) where I turned left up the Fluela Pass (2383m) over to Davos, Klosters and Landquart. At Landquart I was on the Rhine river rolling along to Bad Ragaz and Sargans where I took the bike path (road) to the Walen See.

Part way down the lake I could take either the bike path along the water and through the old railroad tunnels to Weesen or take the "shortcut" over the Karenzerberg to Mollis and Netstal. There's a good cherry tree on this road and the view across the lake is great. It climbs a bit but the view is worth it with the walls of the Kurfirsten mountains dropping almost vertically into the water and the sculptured thunderheads over the dark blue waters made a great panorama as a light drizzle moistened the road.

From here it's a quick run to Glarus and Linthal (662m) from where the road starts literally climbing walls. Glarus is a canton of nearly vertical walls whose steepness makes up for their moderate heights. In spite of that, there are abundant glaciers. The first climb starts out in tight rough hewn one way tunnels and breaks out into the high valley (1372m), the Urnerboden. Although on the Glarner side of the pass, this valley belongs to canton Uri on the other side.

It seems the border setting party from Glarus had a horrendous hangover the day they were to jointly establish the border with Uri. The Urners arrived at the pass finding no one and proceeded down to the end of the high valley, looked down the cliffs and said this is enough and drove the stakes. From Urnerboden the final climb rises to the Klausen Pass at 1948m to descend into the vertical walled box canyon of the Schaechental with free falling waterfalls and glacier fields of the Toedi above.

A steep hiking trail finds its way into the canyon along rock strata and ledges. The road is carved in the sheer rock on ledges connected by tunnels. From the road, only rooftops of the farm sheds 500 meters below are visible and cows appear as mere specks in the green. There is no guard rail here, only a 3 inch pipe handrail one meter off the ground. I don't take these corners fast. The scenery is exciting enough. I finished the day at Hotel Urigen where Steffan Truschner, whom I know from his apprenticeship here at Andre's Swiss pastries in Menlo Park CA, runs the family hotel.

18. Wednesday, 8 July

The last day brought some brightness and the sun came out for the climb from Amsteg up the Gotthard to Wassen and on up the Susten Pass (2224m) with all its glaciers. A sunny sky held for the climb and descent into Inertkirchen where I looked forward to a good lunch at the Gasthaus zum Lammi on the little pass (700m) over the Aar cleft. Two riders at the next table were going to ride over Grosse Scheidegg to Grindelwald. I encouraged them with descriptions of the road and what it would bring on this lovely day. I rolled down to Meiringen and up over the Brunig (1008m) with a clean shot to Luzern and Affoltern with cloudy skies that attempted to rain with only dribbling success. The last days were long ones but riding alone generally leads to longer contemplative days than with company.

After my return home I sectioned my rims and measured the remaining side walls. The rims, that were originally 1.5mm thick, had worn to just over 0,5mm thick in the rear and just under 0,5mm in the front. The brake pads were also showing their wear but were still good for a few miles. The rest of the equipment survived OK, as did I.

I always take pictures on slides because only the big screen (using the term loosely) can do the landscape justice. The real thing is bigger than life and it can't be captured on film, it's only a glimpse.

Ride bike,... and ride the alps.