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

Tour of the Alps 1996

By Jobst Brandt (, Mon, 16 Sep 1996 18:07:08 -0700. Revised: Thu, 11 Sep 1997 8:43:45 PDT
This report is also available in a four-parts version. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, the Index.

How and what I took along (Same story as before)

As in past years, I loaded my suitcase with a few clothes for off-the-bike activities and some gifts for my friends in Europe as well as my loaded bicycle saddlebag (weighing 4.6kg) with most of the items on minimalist checklist for a bike tour. The cranks, QR skewers, chain, and rear derailleur together with tools necessary for assembly also go into the suitcase. The bicycle, partly dismantled, had its handlebar and fork turned backwards, the wheels strapped to either side of the frame. I used 5/16-16 spreader bolts to protect the front and rear dropouts from being bent. I inflated the tires hard with my floor pump because I hate pumping with a frame fit pump and I didn't anticipate pumping again for at least six weeks. I covered the bicycle with a clear plastic bag and taped it shut.

I used Avocet Road 700x28 wire-bead, non-Kevlar tires on 36 hole Mavic MA-2 rims with 1.8-1.6mm DT spokes; Campagnolo Record brakes (Kool-Stop red pads), 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 46-50 CW, SPD 525 pedals and M110 shoes; the frame is steel and about 26" with oversized top and down tubes using an Avocet Racing Turbo Gel saddle on a two bolt Campagnolo Record seat post, steel Cinelli bars and Ritchey stem. I wear Avocet polypropylene shorts and jerseys.

My suitcase and bicycle go as two pieces of legal overseas air baggage and, with 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 one or more days delay just when it is least convenient.

The trip

On Monday, 1 July, Richard Mlynarik and I flew with United Airlines from San Francisco with a stop in Washington (Dulles) to Zurich. We took the train from the ZH airport to Affoltern am Albis (491m) where my friend Fredy Ruegg runs a top notch bike shop and where I have made my base camp with my friends, the Dierauer's for many years. We assembled our bicycles and, in an effort to not fall asleep before dinner, rode up the Albis pass (791m) and along the ridge to the Uetliberg overlooking Zurich. That ploy almost worked as we nodded off in mid sentence while sitting in the living room before dinner. The weather was cool and cloudy in contrast to most of June that, I am told, was sweltering and left the mountains with little spring snow.

Still suffering the aftermath of the flu that hit me on my second Sierra Nevada spring tour, I took a whole day in the sack while Richard took a ride over Aegeri to the Zurich Lake and over the Sattelegg (1190m) to Canton Glarus, where he sampled the beauties of the Glarner Alps and the Pragel Pass (1550m) that climbs through the steep walled Kloental and descends with a stiff steady 18% grade to Bisistal and Schwyz. Meanwhile, I seemed to gain enough strength to believe I could start, although I was still having hot spells that felt like fever but weren't.

1. Thursday, 4 July (Affoltern - Rosenlaui; 120km, 2436m):

We set out toward Luzern and the central Alps under cloudy skies, riding across the Reuss valley to the south to Merenschwand, in canton Aargau with its tall church steeple and red tile roofed houses with window boxes of geraniums. The Reuss, that originates on the Gotthard and Furka passes, and flows through Luzern and on to the Rhine, would greet us again a few times on this trip. The road through Aargau is lightly traveled and has an excellent bike path most of the way up the valley to Luzern. At Gisikon we crossed the Reuss again to get on the main road into Luzern where, at the city limits, two large redwood trees stand at either side of the road.

In Luzern (436m) we stopped for photos at the famous Lion sculpted into the cliff and at the (new) old wooden bridge across the Reuss with swans and the Pilatus (2120m) as a backdrop. We visited Mrs Dierauer Sr on the Musegg above the Armory at the city wall before riding on to the Alpnach leg of the lake. At Alpnachstadt the Pilatus railway 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. Here the beaches along the lake were empty and there was almost no holiday auto traffic even though school was out.

From Sarnen we headed toward the Melchtal instead of taking the direct route over the Brunig Pass (1008m). Taking the road past the train station, we headed up the scenic forest road to Flueli, and on up the Melchtal where we ate lunch before the climb to Frut at the Melchsee. At Stockalp (1075m), at the end of the valley, the road becomes narrow (timed one way traffic) and steep, climbing to Frut (1902m) and the Melchsee in seven kilometers. From Frut a scenic and car-free route goes over the ridge to the Susten Pass road and the Haslital.

We stopped at the general store in Frut before riding 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. Our trail (some walking required) heads down to Engsteln (1837m), cut into a granite wall high above the Engsteln canyon. From here we descended the small paved (restricted access) road through the narrow canyon to the chime of ubiquitous cowbells. After reaching the Susten Pass road, we descended the few kilometers to Inertkirchen (625m) through sweeping curves and curved bare rock tunnels.

We rode up the three hairpins of the Kirchet (709m) to the Lammi Gasthaus where we turned off to Rosenlaui. The road climbs steeply through a forest to the canyon of the roaring Reichenbach, where Sherlock Holmes and Dr Moriarty went over the falls to meet their deaths. As the road rises above the cascades of the Reichenbach, the Rosenlaui glacier and the Wetterhorn came into view. Here, in the high valley, we stopped at Hotel Rosenlaui (1330m), where Andreas and Christina Kehrli preside. After a hearty dinner of hackbraten with roesti and a tall (58dl) cool Eichhof beer we retired to the 5th floor dormitory accommodations where we were the only guests and got a good night's sleep to the sound of rain and the rushing creek.

2. Friday, 5 July (Rosenlaui - Hospental; 205km, 2976m):

With dry roads and high overcast, we headed up to Schwarzwaldalp and the high meadows above tree line on the private road of the Grindelwald bus company. The higher peaks were frosted in fresh snow from the night and the Wetterhorn (3701m), with plenty of snow, had icefalls that went off like artillery as they pulverized on the cliffs below. We could just see the tip of the Eiger as we approached the summit.

The Grosse Scheidegg pass (1961m), directly beneath the north face of the Wetterhorn, gives a view across the Eiger (3970m), Moench (4099m), and the pure white Jungfrau (4158m). At the bottom of the descent, where the road widens and becomes public, a wooden gondola built by von Roll stands at the edge of a parking lot to commemorate the world's first aerial tram that was built from here to a ledge half way up the Wetterhorn. There wasn't much going on in Grindelwald (1034m) as we rolled through town, inspected the BOB and WAB cog railways, and continued down the Luetschine river with a favorable breeze toward Interlaken. The weather was cool enough that we didn't notice the chill of the icy river.

In Wilderswil, the Schynige Platte (BOB) 800mm gauge cog trains were loading passengers that had just arrived from Interlaken on the BOB (Berner Oberland Bahn) meter gauge train. Not to let any rail activity go unnoticed, we inspected the operation carefully before heading off to Interlaken (563m) where we looked back across the large meadow in the middle of town for a look at the Eiger-Moench-Jungfrau. From here we headed east along the Brienzer Lake to Brienz where we checked out the BRB steam cog railway as we ate lunch, before riding on through Meiringen where a life sized bronze of Holmes now sits on the lawn in the middle of town, deerstalker hat, pipe, cape, and all.

We rode back over the Kirchet (709m) to Inertkirchen (625m) and up the Grimsel road to Gutannen and Handegg before climbing over the imposing dams of the Haslital Power Company that hold back the Aar river. Bits of blue were visible through the clouds as we climbed in refreshingly cool air and a trace of a drizzle to the top of the Grimsel pass (2165m). From above the upper lake, the Finsteraarhorn (4275m) where the Unteraar and Oberaar rivers originate, rose above the end of the valley to the west.

Unlike last summer, there was no ice on the summit lake and no snow because spring came with such a heat wave. We stopped for a hot chocolate at the last Gasthaus before descending to Gletsch (1761m) almost straight below in the Rhone valley. Descending the stacked hairpins opens a magnificent view of the Furka Pass (266m above), and the desolate glacial valley 400m below. Clouds and late afternoon lighting made for a classic stormy ambience that befits the Grimsel.

At Gletsch we dropped in on the DFB Furka Steam Railway station where I paid my annual dues and bought a pile of literature to be mailed. Then we headed up the Furka Pass (2431m) and took obligatory pictures in front of the Rhone Glacier. From the summit, we back to the Grimsel, where late afternoon fog cascaded through the gap to flood the valley where we had just been: a real Goetterdaemmerung ambience if ever there was one.

We rolled over the broad summit down a nearly empty road above the Furka Reuss canyon toward Realp (1538m) with the Oberalp Pass visible in the distance beyond Andermatt. In Realp, we stopped at the DFB (Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke) engine house. Richard warmed his hands on the immaculately restored cogwheel steam engines that were still hot from a day's service on the hill. A light rain began to fall as we rode the nearly level road to Hospental (1452m) where we stopped for the day at Hotel Sternen.

3. Saturday, 6 July (Hospental - Trivero; 205km, 1444m):

Under dark skies we headed up the wide concrete paved Gotthard highway whose ramp begins in Hospental. Here, above tree line, only scrub brush, grass, wildflowers, and alpenrosen decorate the landscape. The alpenrose is an azalea that is prevalent throughout the Alps adding a lovely bouquet of pink and red among the many small flowers, like the striking deep blue gentians, forget-me-nots, and the many varieties of daisies and dandelions. There was no trace of the usual huge piles of snow left from winter snow removal at the Gotthard summit.

We took pictures of the old road through breaks in the fog, below in the Val Tremola, with its stack of hairpins and Roman road that cuts through it. In Airolo (1165m) the road levels off and cruises through town before descending to the valley of Ambri-Piotta and Rodi-Fiesso, where the Ritom funicular railway rises at 100% gradient to Lago di Ritom. From here we descended to Faido and finally to the main valley in Roveredo. Although the double track Gotthard railway with corkscrew tunnels and many bridges is impressive, it is dwarfed by the enormous bridges and tunnels of the split level motorway, so high above that it is out of one's field of vision. The cost of such roads is seldom questioned because it allows the public to ride this amusement park without a perceptible entry fee. The otherwise roaring Ticino River is mostly diverted from its polished granite bed for hydro power leaving only a token flow of clear mountain water.

We stopped for lunch at the super market in Biasca near the railway station, where a multistage waterfall descends from practically out of the clouds to the valley, finally crossing over itself in two opposing streams that flow from a swimming hole about 100m above. We rode on to Bellinzona, Cadenazzo, and along the east shore of Lago Maggiore toward Italy (193m) under cloudy skies, passing holiday homes with gardens of sweet smelling wisteria and hydrangia. After we crossed the border and because it was Saturday, we stopped in Luino at the bancomat for Italian money. The convenience of using an ATM card to access my home bank is a great leap forward from the days of cashing travelers checks, banks never being open when you need one. The lake looked refreshing but the air temperature didn't encourage swimming. Just as well, because it was the kind of cool air that suits bicycling. We took the ferry from Laveno to the busy side of the lake in Verbania from where we crossed the Toce river that originates on the Simplon Pass. From here it's a small climb to Omegna (298m) and the Lago d'Orta where traffic again dwindled to nothing after the town as we rode along the east shore of the lago d'Orta that has an island with a picturesque red stone castle.

Turning west at Gozzano (367m), we climbed to Pogno (461m) where the evening bells were ringing in the slow rhythm common in this region. In contrast to Gothic bells, these bells are suspended near their center of gravity, giving them a slow and peaceful peal. With accompaniment of the carillon, we climbed a small road through a forest of chestnut trees that are common all over the Piemonte. At the end of the canyon, that ends abruptly where the road enters a tunnel (598m), we descended to Borgosesia (359m). Here the beautiful Sesia flows through a deep rough granite riverbed with large trout and swans that made a peaceful scene as we crossed the high arched stone bridge out of the city.

Continuing toward Biella through valleys with moribund textile mills, we stopped for the day in Trivero (580m) where we found a hotel with a good looking dining room. We were not disappointed, as Richard savored a delicious porcini mushroom dinner and I had some fine pasta and vitello. After swatting the resident mosquitos, we got a good night's rest.

4. Sunday, 7 July (Trivero - Robilante; 222km, 1432m):

We continued up the road to Valle Mosso and turned to Mosso Santa Maria so Richard could see the "bridge to nowhere" to Pistolesa (655m). Large signs just above Santa Maria proclaiming "Bungee Center" seem to have finally given the bridge recognition for something other than carrying practically no traffic. The eight foot high safety fence now has a wide gate at midspan that can be opened for jumpers for whom a red carpet covers the walkway in front of the gate. The height of the bridge is impressive no matter in what context you see it. After taking some pictures, we headed on through the hills to Biella (410m) and Ivrea (245m). This route crosses several conspicuous ridges of huge ice age glacial moraines from the Val d'Aosta.

In Ivrea, we rode around the castle and descended to the old bridge in the narrows of the Dora Baltea while swifts screamed in the air above, chasing each other around the old fortress. I phoned Brian Tomlin, a bikie who works here at Olivetti and with whom I have ridden in the Alps, but his wife said he (among 2100 others) was off racing the Fausto Coppi (Cuneo...Cuneo 243km, 4200m; over the Col d'Agnello, Col de Vars, and Col de Larche). Because we planned to pass through Cuneo today anyway, we said we hoped to see him and continued south to Chivasso (184m) and Torino (239m). In Chivasso we discovered the bridge across the Po river was still out, two years after the big washout, although construction was in progress. We took the expressway along the north shore to Torino where, in the middle of town, we found a good restaurant near the river just before the kitchen closed at 2PM.

After lunch we headed south on Rt N20, the Tenda Highway, with 87km of flat road to Cuneo (587m), where about 10km from Cuneo the mountains began to emerge emerge from the summer haze of the great Po valley. Soon we crossed the high stone arch road and rail viaduct over the Stura di Demonte into Cuneo. The city was full of bike racers coming down through the center of town with the police directed traffic on the affected thoroughfares as groups of riders arrived. We watched but soon realized that there was no hope in finding Brian. After a drink of water at the great fountain in front of the train station, we headed west. The stream of incoming riders continued until Borgo San Dalmazzo (641m), where we turned south toward Robilante (686m) and the Albergo Ristorante Aquila Reale for the night.

5. Monday, 8 July (Robilante - San Martin Vesubie; 137km, 3344m):

As we rode up the valley along the rail line, famous for being either in a tunnel or on a bridge most of the 80km from Borgo San Dalmazzo to Ventimiglia, we saw only a local passenger train. While the railway gained altitude in looping tunnels and bridges and vanished in the mountain for long stretches, we pushed up the 4% grade to Limone (1010m) where the road gets steeper and the 8.09km Tenda railway tunnel, completed in 1913, bores through the mountain to Vievola. Farther up, the highway enters the 3.18km Tenda highway tunnel (1320m) that was completed in its present form in 1882. We headed up to the pass on the old road that has been smoothly paved nearly to the Tenda summit (1908m) by the ski concessionaire.

Pavement ends at the border as the road reverts to its 19th century surface, a kilometer before the top, giving us practice climbing on baseball sized gravel. The view at the summit exposes a greater panorama than the altitude might suggest, in addition to stone roadhouses that served travelers before the turn of the century, huge fortifications, some of which were part of the Maginot line, stand empty as sentinels of history.

Today the road's harsh ancient roadbed is gradually being paved, a few curves at a time. Historic photographs of animal teams, steam tractors, and solid tired chain driven trucks that traveled this road, make today's "hardships" pale in comparison. The south side is still a real 19th century road, steep and with more than sixty loose surfaced hairpin turns that make tight going even for a jeep. The road drops into the rocky gorge of the Roya river where it rejoins the tunnel highway. We made our way carefully down the deeply rutted turns as moto-cross bikes roared uphill, visibly relishing the challenge of the old road.

We rejoined Italian Rt N20 as French Rt N204 at the south portal of the tunnel and rolled swiftly down the generous sweeping turns of the new and improved road. At Vievola the railway emerges from its tunnel only to vanish into a loop tunnel followed by many bridges as it descends to Tende (816m). We stopped for lunch in Tende and visited the ATM for French money.

After lunch we coasted down the Roya canyon through the vertical and overhanging walls of the Soarge Gorge. We could barely make out the road to the town of Soarge as it bores trough cliffs high above, and whose tunnels have few windows to reveal the route. Soarge is a linear cluster of houses glued to cliffs with houses that have more than a hundred meter freefall from their windows. As most of these hill towns, Soarge is surrounded by olive trees that find root between the rocks. Besides olives we found figs and a late fruiting "glass" cherry tree that offered its bounty as a pleasant adjunct to water from fountains along the route.

We turned west just before Breil (286m) on Rt D2204 up the Col de Brauis (879m). Although the weather was cool, the southern exposure and lack of wind made the climb noticeably warm, making the roadside spring under the willows 2/3 of the way up a pleasure. The landscape here is Mediterranean with sparse vegetation, olive trees and leafless broom (gorse) blooming bright yellow with the smell of honey. As we descended, the west portal of the relatively short rail tunnel from Breil to Sospel (349m) was visible far below as fog from the sea rolled over the ridges to the south. With cool weather the great ice cream store and bar at the junction of the Brauis, Braus, and Turini lost its draw as we took pictures of the old stone arch bridge over the Bevera, reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence with its collage of buildings.

We rode north up the valley on Rt D70 to the Turini pass (1607m), that figures prominently in the Monte Carlo Automobile Rallye. The climb starts gradually as the road heads into the ever narrower rocky canyon of the Bevera before it passes through the monastery of Notre Dame de Menour that straddles the road at a high narrows of the canyon. From here the road is fairly flat through Moulinet, after which it is mostly in the shade through a pine forest on the way to the summit. Without stopping because there is no view at the forested summit, we descended toward the Vesubie river where, in a few kilometers, a huge panorama opened with the walled village of la Bollene-Vesubie perched picturesquely on a knoll in the foreground amid the dry hills of olives, gorse, and golden grass.

The road descended to the Vesubie where it joins Rt D2565 that climbs gradually to St Martin Vesubie (930m), a pleasant town before the narrows at the foot of the Col St Martin (1500m). It was about the right time and the pass was a bit far to reach before dinner, so we called it a day in the lovely old Hotel Les Tres Ponts within the walls of the old city. We ate at a restaurant up the main passage from the hotel and watched the street litter being swept away by water rushing down a stone flume in the center. In the morning, just before sunrise, the water was turned up high enough to wash the whole street. The sound of cascading water down the stone steps was enough to get my attention from my bed near the open window.

6. Tuesday, 9 July (San Martin Vesubie - Col d'Allos; 129km, 3772m):

The climb up the Colmain or Col St Martin exposes a beautiful view down the Vesubie valley as the road clings to rock walls between rough hewn tunnels along the upper part of the pass. Martins, swallow like buff brown birds, were flying through these tunnels where they nest in the crags of the ceilings. The summit exposed a large grassy ski area on the west slope through which the road descends into dry and sparse vegetation of the Tinee river gorge.

This descent reveals an entirely different panorama of mountains, with roads that are tiring just to look at, as they thread a tortuous path along barren rocky walls to high mountain villages. On the final descent to the Tinee river and Rt D220, we traversed rugged rock walls where the river seemed to be directly beneath us as we rode through tunnels connected by bridges. We followed the Tinee, gradually climbing toward St Sauveur sur Tinee (496m), where we turned west up Rt D30 to Rubion and the Col de la Couillole (1678m). We stopped briefly at the summit hotel, hoping to say hello to Sophie the proprietor, but she was not in. We rode on to Beuil (1435m) and Valberg (1829m) where we took the "back" road, Rt D28, that descends next to a huge steep rocky riverbed, to Guillaumes (819m) where we ate a hearty lunch in the shade of garden umbrellas.

We followed Rt D2202, that had practically no traffic, up the Var river toward the Col de la Cayolle, enjoying pleasantly cool air. We crossed the "temporary" Bailey bridges over the Var that looked just as permanent as they did in previous years. We stopped for a snack refresher in San Martin d'Entraunes (1260m), the sleepy village at the foot of the Col de Cayolle (2327m), before heading up the Col de Champs (2191m) that, like the Cayolle, lies in the Parc National du Mercantour, a nature preserve with wildflowers instead of ski lifts, hotels, and kiosks. The serenity (and lack of mostly diesel powered cars of France) on this route through high meadows made this a wonderful experience. The descent to Colmars (1235m) is over an even smaller rough asphalt road that is mostly hidden in a forest of larch. From Colmars the road climbs gradually to la Foux d'Allos (1425m), where we stopped for the night at a mostly empty ski hotel with a good menu.

7. Wednesday, 10 July (Allos - Col du Lauteret) 157km; 3708m):

From Allos the road got smaller as the ski influence waned and we climbed higher into fields of wildflowers with grazing sheep and cows. The road made the last traverses on bridges and revetments as it clung to the steep slope on the way to the top of the Col d'Allos (2250m). The 21km descent was again in the park as it traversed pristine high alpine terrain along the canyon of the Bachelard river to Barcelonnette (1150m) to join Rt D902, the Route des Grandes Alpes.

Here in the Ubaye valley we rode to Jausiers (1215m) where the road from the Bonette (2780m), a scenically less rewarding but higher route, comes in from the south. Above Condamine, the Col d'Larche (1991m) took most traffic to Cuneo as our road got smaller. At the base of the climb we stopped in St Paul sur Ubaye (1470m) for a grocery store snack before climbing the Col de Vars (2111m). We bought some postcards and a soda at the old sheet metal shack on the summit that was already decrepit in 1960 when I first rode here. The difference is that they have power now and offer refrigerated drinks. After a short descent a panorama to the north, up the Durance river toward Briancon, opened with Guillestre (1000m) far below in the foreground.

We arrived in Guillestre just before noon and bought a grocery store lunch that we enjoyed in the shade of the church on the main square. Well sated, we headed toward the Izoard pass along the cliffs above the Guil river, where the road climbs gradually along the crags, going in and out of bare rock tunnels, before joining the rushing river above a dam. At Chateau Queyeras our route D902 takes a sharp left up the Riviere valley while the road to the Colle dell'Agnello (2758m) goes straight. We arrived in Arvieux (1544m) at about 2PM, as the otherwise closed grocery store was receiving supplies and the owner invited us to shop for what we needed, a convenient serendipity.

Above at Brunissard, the road was under construction without much attention to dust abatement, so it was loose and dusty right at the steepest part of the climb. Traffic control was so poor that the little traffic there was caused a snarl of cars in the midst of the construction for the next couple of kilometers. Once past this obstacle, things got normal and we rolled over the false summit, took pictures at the Coppi monument, and rode to the top of the Col d'Izoard (2361m) with its museum of bicycle racing memorabilia from the Tour de France when alpine passes were unpaved and gears on bicycles were few.

It was fair sailing down to Briancon (1391m), with a mixture of sun and clouds, and without the headwind that usually blows up the valley. Just before town, Richard's seat post broke off at the joint between head and post, but because the road was so rough, he wasn't sitting at the moment of failure. Fortunately we were a stone's throw from an excellent bike shop and got a Vitus replacement that looked sturdier than the old post. From Briancon we rolled up Rt N91 with its gradual slope at 4% to 5% to the Col du Lauteret (2095m) while in the distance, at the end of the valley, the summit of the Galibier was visible to the experienced eye. We stopped for the night at the Hotel du Glaciers on the summit of the Lauteret where my old friend Paul Bonnabel had turned over the operation to his nephew Domenic who seemed to have the kitchen and other things well in hand.

8. Thursday, 11 July (Lauteret - Seez; 157km, 2976m):

We set out in the morning under a clear cold sky that called for a jacket for the first few kilometers before reaching the lee side of the mountain where the sun did some warm-ups. Here, only two days earlier, the Tour de France had been turned back by snowstorms. We, on the other hand, found green wildflower bedecked fields with scattered patches of new snow and marmots that whistled sharply as they ran to their burrows at our approach. Above the old summit tunnel (2555m) the road follows the older right-of-way, irregular in width, grade, and alignment, and with a bit of 13% to wake up the sleepers before the top of the Galibier (2645m). Here we took pictures of glaciers glistening with fresh white coats and the long valleys to the south and north. If the glaciers, of the Massif du Sorieller (4000m) to the south and the Massif de la Vanoise (3600m) to the north, don't make an impression, the sign proclaiming their beauty couldn't help.

From here the road, covered in graffiti for this year's canceled TdF stage, descends in broad curves to Plan Lachat. Much of this section is visible from the summit and is a common scene in TV reports of the Tour de France. Speeds are about 60km/h if you try hard, but often these "accidentally" get translated to 60mph by TV commentators.

From Valloire (1430m), the road climbs gradually up a mild but significant rise to the Telegraph (1570m), a Roman signal relay station and early French fortress that commands a clear view up and down the Maurienne valley of the Arc river. The road descends with many turns in a pine forest from the Telegraph to St Michel (712m) where it joins Rt N6. We headed up the valley toward Modane (1057m), the portal of the Frejus road and railway tunnels, where we stopped at the Super Marche for lunch. We checked out the large rail yard at the passenger station were several SNCF 1500VDC (French) locomotives were parked on the south side of the voltage division and a bunch of "brown bomber" 3000VDC FS (Italian) locomotives on the north end. Diesel locomotives handle movements that cross the voltage change and each railway uses switchable voltage tracks to bring trains into the yard. Dual voltage passenger locomotives travel straight through.

Above Modane, below in the valley at la Bourget, we saw the supersonic wind tunnel that seems out of place, there being no major airstrip nearby. Our road leveled off as we arrived high above the narrows at Avrieux. Here a huge fortress covers most of the rocky ridge that blocks the gorge of the Arc while the Pont du Diable, a spindly suspension foot bridge that spans the chasm, makes it look even more threateningly deep. Farther up the valley at Lanslebourg (1399m), where the Col du Mont Cenis heads south to Torino, we turned north up the Col du Madeleine (1746m), a short steep bump on Rt D902 to the high valley of the Arc.

This beautiful flat valley, with side valleys to the east that expose views of glacier covered peaks, ends at Bonneval sur Arc (1783m). Bonneval, at the foot of the climb to the Col d'Iseran is a small village of ancient grey stone buildings with stone roofs and catacomb like cellars. In the sun it has a friendly appearance in stark contrast to its deathly grey when under cloudy skies. We got a snack and headed up the hill toward the first high valley where the falls that cascaded from the higher valley were not as spectacular as in other years because most of the snow had already melted. The road crosses the river and sweeps up the steep north slope to begin the second climb to the narrows above the falls. The road levels off on a bench in the rock above the falls and passes through several tunnels before crossing the river again and climbing up the side of the highest valley with its ski slopes and piles of avalanche snow.

At the end of this valley we rounded its only hairpin and headed up the last kilometer to the summit of the Iseran (2770m) where we had our pictures taken sitting on the large concrete and stone road sign that is more a monument than a sign. The sign, that demands to be climbed, seemed fairly new when I first had my picture taken on it in 1960 with two friends. Today it is still pretty solid although a bit faded.

The pavement on the descent to Val d'Isere was pleasantly smooth and with light traffic for a change. As always, the mountains with glaciers on 3700m peaks were impressive. We coasted briskly right through town and climbed the little bump before entering the series of tunnels down to the Lac du Chevril (2000m) dam. After the dam, the road descent is steeper with some fairly swift sections before it levels out at the bottom of the valley to Seez (920m), the junction of Rt D902 and Rt N90, the Petit St Bernard (2188m) pass to Aosta. We stopped before Seez in a hotel that I discovered a few years ago.

9. Friday, 12 July (Seez - Argentier; 134km, 3112m):

We rode through Seez and down to Bourg St Maurice (840m), where we turned north toward Les Chapieux (1552m) and the Cormet de Roselend (1968m) on Rt D217. The climb was pleasantly cool and as we passed Les Chapieux we could see the Col de la Seigne (2516m) off to the east beneath Mont Blanc. We met an antique car rallye at the summit with Amilcars, Bentleys, Bugattis, and Model-A Fords of all things. We rolled through a large herd of cows and a smaller herd of rallye cars that were still making their way to the summit, as we coasted down to the lake and the huge Barrage de Roselend [dam] (1475m). From the dam the road drops precipitously into the Defile d'Enteroches, an almost closed canyon just above Beaufort (743m). In the first restaurant on the right, as we entered town, I enjoyed a "frutta di mare" seven seafood pizza with a large Pelforth beer.

From Beaufort sur Doron, a road cuts north across the mountain over the Col des Saisies (1633m) to Flumet (917m). From here Rt N212 stays high as it crosses to St Gervais (807m) above which we could just make out Mont Blanc through the haze. A cogwheel train climbs through St Gervais (807m) up to the Nid d'Aigle (2386m). It's a short descent to le Fayet (589m) where we took the elevated highway to Chamonix (1037m). As we approached town, we could see bits of Mont Blanc (4248m) directly above with its glaciers descending almost to the valley floor. Foot traffic in the center of Chamonix, a pedestrian zone, was dense enough to make walking faster than riding.

We finished the day, four hairpin turns above Argentier (1257m), at a friend's house located on a meadow overlooking the valley. As luck would have it, he was home, although several earlier telephone attempts to make contact had been unsuccessful. Before turning in, we watched the Argentier Bastille day fireworks, celebrated two days early to not conflict with the next night's show in Chamonix.

10. Saturday, 13 July (Argentier - Argentier; 0km, 2805m):

We got a good breakfast, dressed like civilians, and drove into town to take the aerial tram to the Aiguille du Midi (3842m) on Mont Blanc, a rise of 2805m, nearly straight up in two swings. With perfectly clear skies, zero degrees C, and no wind, we enjoyed perfect viewing of the mountain, the many climbers, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa in Switzerland, and a solid panorama of white peaks to the south as we stood on the observation platform. This is the way to enjoy a rest day. We stayed up there about two hours, after which we visited the outdoor market and bought groceries including a bag of chanterelles and some fine cheeses. That evening Chamonix put on its fireworks one day early to avoid celebrating the holiday on a hangover Sunday night.

11. Sunday, 14 July (Argentier - Hospental; 190km, 2524m):

As we rode over the Col des Montets (1461m) we saw that the meter gauge rail line, that runs from Martigny in Switzerland to Chamonix, is still powered by an unprotected 1000VDC third rail as it runs through the countryside. We mailed postcards with French postage and crossed into Switzerland, descending to the turn-off to Finhaut (1224m), just before the climb to the Col de la Forclaz (1520m). We rode along the north side of the Gorge del Trient, to the one lane restricted access road that parallels the rail line. This is a major scenic shortcut to Martigny (417m) and the Rhone valley.

In Martigny we got something to eat, changed money, and headed up the valley toward Sion and Brig, a flat 82km away on Rt N9. The weather was cool with blue skies and scattered puffs of clouds as we caught the favorable breeze that gets stronger throughout the day in the summer. As we rode through well tended vineyards that cover most of the valley's floor and its terraced lower slopes, traffic was anywhere but here. It was a great day for an easy cruise. We stopped in Sion (512m) at a store that happened to be open for our lunch and again at a fruit stand where we wolfed down a large basket of dark red cherries and chatted with some Dutch motorcyclists. At about Susten, above the narrows in the valley, the language changes from French to German, making the canton Valaise into the canton Wallis.

About 15km before Brig, the BLS (Bern-Loetschberg-Simplon) railway, 600m above, emerges from the Loetschental, clinging to the walls as it passes over graceful stone-arch bridges and through many tunnels on its descent to Brig (648m). We rode through the center of Brig where the streets are now pedestrian malls and allow only busses to enter by ingenious 30cm diameter hydraulic barrier posts that lower into the street when a bus approaches. After checking out the FO and BVZ trains in the Bahnhofplatz, we headed east on Rt N19 toward the Furka pass. As we left town we saw the dual portal of the 20km Simplon railway tunnel with the dates 1905 and 1921, first the single track bore and parallel air shaft that was completed before the advent of pneumatic drills, and then the enlargement of the air shaft as the second track, sixteen years later. As we climbed to Fiesch (1062m) where the valley is steeper, the Rhone was full of clear rushing water in contrast to the roaring grey snow-melt of spring.

As everywhere in Switzerland, hay was being gathered in the lowlands while the cows were in the high country, eating the grass that's too hard to reach. The lowland growth is dried green and stored for winter when the cows remain indoors all day. Gathering hay is a family affair in which the city relatives come out to the farm to help. The growing season is short and the winter long up here in the north, considering that Naples and New York are on the same latitude.

As we passed Bretten and Fiesch, we saw large parking lots, hotels, and cableways that take visitors northward to the ridge above the giant Aletsch glacier that starts at the Jungfrau and reaches 23km nearly to Brig. At both of these towns, the road makes a major climb, the railway switches to cogwheel drive, the Rhone becomes a cascade, and we shifted into lower gears. After that, it was a breeze to the end of the valley. At Ulrichen (1349m) we could see the start of the Nufenen pass (2478m) vanish into a narrow dark valley as we rode on to Oberwald (1371m) where the FO enters the new 10km Furka tunnel and the climb to the Grimsel and Furka passes begins. Three kilometers up, the Hotel Rhonequelle, a good place to stay, was closed for a complete renovation. I hope it doesn't lose its welcoming friendly nature. From here it is only a short climb to Gletsch (1759m) where the still dormant DFB cogwheel right-of-way enters a 270 degree loop tunnel to gain nearly 50m as it enters the mountain far below the highway only to emerge in the inside of a hairpin turn a short way up the road.

It looked like "off-season" as we rode up the Furka (2431m) for the second time. The DFB railway was constructing a new crossing on the Furka road and had made amazing progress since our previous visit nine days earlier. In contrast to our first crossing, today was a bright sunny day, yet as we reached the summit, we looked back to the Grimsel to see the icy fog pour down from the pass toward Gletsch as usual. The descent to Realp (1538m) was swift as we overtook a large platoon of twenty or so cars that seemed to move almost as a team. We stopped in Hospental (1452m) where our usual digs were full, so we stayed at the hotel St Gotthard that turned out to have great food and comfort, but was expensive. The plush surroundings with heated towel racks was good for a change as we dried laundry and slept comfortably.

12. Monday, 15 July (Hospental - Brusio; 208km, 3107m):

We headed down to Andermatt (1447m) at the foot of the Oberalp pass (2044m). The Oberalp road climbs through meadows alongside the FO railway to the summit, where it shares the shore of the lake for about a kilometer in an avalanche shed. After an initial steep descent with hairpin turns, the descent becomes more gradual along the upper (Vorder-)Rhein valley past Disentis (1142m) where the Lukmanier Pass (1916m) heads south. Here the FO railway hands off the Glacier Express to the RhB (Rhaetische Bahn) railway on its trip to St Moritz. In Ilanz (699m) we took the scenic route along the south side of the valley through Carrera, climbing to Verasam (908m), in contrast to the main highway through Flims (1081m), that is longer, less scenic, and full of traffic. The last unpaved km's, just before Vesam were finally being paved even though there is no skiing there to pay for the roadwork.

The descent from Vesam to Bonaduz (655m) crosses 200m above the gorge of the Habiusa river with a great view of its confluence with the Vorderrhein in the narrow canyon. At Bonaduz we turned south up the Hinterrhein valley, passing through Rhaezuens, the mineral water town, on the way to Thusis. From here, the road climbs through long tunnels up the Schyn valley along the Albula river to Tiefencastel (851m), where the Julier pass (2284m) heads south to St Moritz. We stopped at the RhB train station there to place my annual order of RhB scenic wall calendars.

Farther up the valley, as we approached Filisur (1023m), we saw the famous Landwasser viaduct, where the RhB crosses the gorge and vanishes into a tunnel in a vertical granite wall. In Berguen (1386m), the RhB has one of its Krokodil locomotives on display in front of the station of this town that has no level streets. After Berguen the road climbs some 12% sections amidst the looping bridges of the railway as it climbs to the 8km Albula tunnel at Preda (1789m). The road threads its way under and over the rail line that takes 18km to cover airline 5km, making the experience almost as good as riding the Glacier or Bernina express.

The sky became cloudy as we continued up the Albula pass (2315m) with its high meadows in full bloom. Traffic is usually light here because most traffic blasts over the shorter and straighter Julier pass to the west. The Albula remained one of the last unpaved roads and has kept its bucolic nature even today through its remoteness. The descent to La Punt (1687m) in the Inn valley is fairly steep but with a good surface (its first pavement) so that hard braking comes easily. Once in the valley, we headed west to Samedan and then south to Pontresina, where we made a big grocery store fuel stop before heading up the Bernina pass (2328m).

We failed to get a train shot at the famed Montebello railway curve/ crossing, although a train came downhill just after we headed up. It wasn't a big loss though, because it was dark and overcast and the Morteratsch glacier was mostly obscured, and no sign of Piz Bernina. We got to the summit and took pictures under threatening skies at about 6:30. Before pushing off we exchanged road stories with two riders who had arrived at the same time as we, one who had come from Livigno and the other who was going there.

After a few kilometers the descent became less than swift because the road was wet from recent showers that were still drizzling a bit here and there. Farther down the rain had not reached Poschiavo so the road was dry from there onward past La Prese and Miralago on Lago di Poschiavo (962m), before the final blast down to Hotel Bettoni in Brusio (780m) for the day's stop. We were well taken care of by Mr and Mrs Beti who run this fine establishment.

13. Tuesday, 16 July (Brusio - San Antonio; 110km, 3070m):

We heard the howl of wheel flanges from trains on the 7% grade coming up the Brusio 360 degree loop bridge. As we got to Campocologno, where the RhB and road cross the Poschiavino river on the same bridge, a train approached, causing the crossing gates at both ends of the bridge to close while the train crossed diagonally between them. At Madonna di Tirano we turned left to Tirano (433m) and Tovo (526m) where we turned up the Passo di Mortirolo, a pass renowned for its effect on the Giro d'Italia. The road was not marked by a conventional road sign but had a brown one used for parks and scenic areas. The road is just wide enough for one car, is well paved with asphalt, and starts right out with some steep jabs. After awhile the steepness becomes constant as the road climbs through deciduous woods with few vistas to the valley.

On some 20% grade sections, graffiti of encouragement for Italian racers covered the road. Occasionally there was one with "Bugno 52-12" just when the 20% grade was getting tiring. The summit is actually the Passo della Foppa (1852m) but this seems to constitute the modern summit of the Mortirolo. This climb is decidedly steeper and higher than the long way around over the Passo d'Aprica (1176m).

Near the summit we saw cars of mushroom hunters who were busy searching the woods. The road joins Rt N42 at Monno (868m) where we headed up toward Ponte di Legno. Mushroom hunters sat at the roadside here and there with their cache, holding up a porcini for the passing gourmet. We arrived in Temu' (1144m), at the Hotel Veduta dell Adamello, in time for Silvano Macculotti to serve up a great lunch of gnocchi, vitello, and tiramisu. True power food that nearly stopped me in mid afternoon at the base of the Gavia.

We rode through Ponte di Legno (1258m), where the Pso Tonale (1883m) heads south while we followed the ice cold and raging Oglio Frigidolfo river to San Apollonia (1585m). Here the river suddenly loses its bite where it meanders through meadows in the high Valle del Messi. I drank a soda and went to sleep in the grass near the Hotel San Apollonia. After I settled my heavy lunch with a short snooze we sampled both flavors of Apollonia water, heavy in minerals and some fizz, and went up the hill to the Passo di Gavia (2621m).

The Gavia, although steep, has always been an easy climb because it is so scenic and so "civilized". Its steepness is always balanced by easier sections that seem to come along just when you want them. Its warnings also seem more severe than the terrain suggests:

Tracciato Tortuoso e Stretto
Privo di protezioni Marginate
Possibile Piano Viabile Ghiacciato
SS n300 del Passo Gavia
dal Km 13+000 al Km 37+000
Dal 1 Settembre al 15 Luglio
Obbligo di Catena a Bordo
So it's a tortuous and narrow road with little protection from going over the side. The roadway may be covered with snow and chains are obligatory all but six weeks of the year. On top of that there is another sign with a "fill in the blanks" avalanche road closure.
Chiuso al Transito Dal Km____ al Km ____
Pericolo di Valanghe

For a change, I rode through he tunnel instead of walking around the now closed cliff section, where rock-fall has made passage more difficult every year since the tunnel was built. At the summit, my poster of the cliff passage was in good shape and the owner poured me a drink on the house as has been the custom all these years while Richard ate a blueberry tart. We descended under light clouds with great visibility along the high valley where the glacier covered peaks of the Ortler, Gran Zebru, and neighbors showed off their fresh snow. After Santa Caterina (1780m), we rolled down the long swift straight sections against a light breeze and stopped in San Antonio (1339m) just above Bormio.

14. Wednesday, 17 July (S Antonio - Welschenofen; 156km, 2600m):

We were still a bit above Bormio (1225) so we coasted down to town where we checked out the still sleeping downtown before heading up Rt N38 to the Val Braulio and the Stelvio pass. There was almost no traffic after we passed Rt N301 that branches north over the Foscagno (2291m) and Eira (2208m) to Livigno at the edge of Bormio. We climbed under a mixture of sunshine and clouds with refreshingly cool air and no wind.

Above the serpentine road of the Braulio and after the Swiss border at the Umbrail summit (2498m), there was a little traffic up the last 3.2km to the top, 262m higher. As we got within 300m of the summit, I felt drawn to the top of this great pass, that I had first ridden in 1959, and began to sprint effortlessly at any speed I liked, accelerating all the way over the top. It was an emotional experience to once more blast over this great climb. We took the usual pictures of the amazing road down the east side, below the towering Ortler (3905m) with its glacier dome, brilliant with fresh snow. I bought a dozen or so of the famous postcard that shows the endless stack of hairpins, now again available in its original black and white, before heading down the 48 turns to Prato (913m).

We got some lunch in Prato and rode to Spondinig (885m) where we crossed the now defunct FS (Italian Federal Railway) rail line to Malles and headed down the Adige [Etsch] river in the Val Venosta to Merano (302m). In Merano we inspected the newly refurbished main street with its classy terrazzo and much too sanitary water flume down the center, before heading to Bolzano (262m). Bolzano has a marvelous city center with a great mix of classic architecture, narrow stone paved pedestrian malls, and an endless array of shops and specialty stores as well as elegant public buildings on its classic main square. From here it was a short run up the Isarco [Eisack] valley to Cardano where we turned up the Eggental Rt N241 toward the Costalunga pass.

The Eggenbach flows from a wall of rock behind Cardano that seems to defy penetration, except that the road is cut into the vertical dark red stone walls above the river, diving through tunnels where the river has cut a crooked gorge through the cliffs. The road climbs with 16% grades through this gorge, where it receives little sunshine even at high noon. The cliffs gradually gave way to grassy valleys and forested uplands as we gained altitude. Signs posted throughout the region prohibit mushroom gathering. I'm not sure that this has as much to do with protecting mushrooms as it does with protecting the mushroom market. Gradually meadows and dairyland became the foreground to glimpses of the beautiful Dolomites as we approached Welschenofen (1182m). We stopped for the day at the Hotel Diana where the road leveled off above town, a short distance below the Lago di Carezza.

15. Thursday, 18 July (Welschenofen - Cortina; 121km, 2800m):

We pulled out of plush Hotel Diana after a hearty breakfast with all the steep stuff behind us, and rolled to the beautiful Lago di Carezza with its deep blue-green waters through which we could see to the bottom while the myriad spires of the Latemar (2842m) reflected on the surface. On the great meadows below the Rosengarten (2981m), aptly named for its overwhelming sunset displays, was the Hotel Carezza, a beautiful vestige of grand hotel architecture from the turn of the century, with massive gabled roofs and dormer windows that accentuate its mass. This and other landmark hotels took years to restore after damage and disuse during and after WW2.

After the junction with the Nigerjoch Pass (part of which is the 24% road to Tiers), it was only a couple of hairpin curves to the top of the Costalunga (1745m) and the long gradual descent to Vigo di Fassa (1400m) and on to Pozza di Fassa up Rt N48 along the Torrente Avisio to Canazei (1465m) at the base of the Pordoi and Sella passes. We headed up the Pordoi, turning north on Rt N242 to the Sella, under the walls of the Gruppo di Sella and Piz Boe'(3152m) directly above. The Dolomites are almost entirely vertical walls with millions of spires of white and orange, weathered stone. We could make out several climbing parties against the towering cliffs. Unpaved roads in the area expose the white stone so that riding there is as hard on the eyes as is skiing without sun glasses.

The view from the Sella pass (2213m) revealed the Marmolada glacier (3343m) and Pordoi pass (2339m)to the south, and the Sasso Lungo (3179m) to the west. From the summit we could see the road descend toward Ortisei and the junction with Rt N243 (1780m) to the Gardena pass on the other side of the Gruppo di Sella. There seemed to be a million cars parked everywhere with people reveling in the brilliant weather even though traffic was light as we descended toward the junction. Several hairpin turns took us up through fields of wildflowers to the long straight flat run in the shade of the north side of the Sella before the hairpins to the Gardena summit (2121m).

From the Gardena it was all downhill for the next 30km as we rode through Corvara (1555m) and on Rt N244 down the Val Badia along the Torrente Gadera, stopping for lunch in Piccolino. After lunch it got warmer, so we stopped again farther down the road to eat a watermelon from a roadside stand. At Lonega [Zwischenwasser] (1005m) wee turned southeast up the gradually climbing long straight Val di Marebbe, and Val di San Vigilio that ends at Rifugio Pederu' (1540m). Here private roads, open only to hikers and bicycles, head up into the mountains. Last year I took the route to Rifugio Sennes (2126m), so this time we rode up the other valley to Rifugio Fanes (2060m). This turned out to be a longer and less steep road, but also less scenic.

Richard managed to ride most of the way to the Rifugio, but then the road got looser, rougher and steeper. I made do with walking the steeper sections and riding about 2/3 the way which didn't slow us down much because there was still some steep bike pushing ahead before we got to the top. From here the road was just a rocky trail because there was little jeep traffic and finally the road became a rocky trace. Sections farther down had been improved by the park service but they were isolated by long sections that were not and were awash with large rock. Not having a tire fat enough to absorb the rocks, we chose to walk some of the roughest parts but it was good to see that riders with suitable tires could ride.

As we descended the Val di Fanes, we came upon a bridge aptly named the Ponte Alto, that spanned the Rio Travenanzes more than 100m below this otherwise unremarkable bridge over an insignificantly wide crevasse at edge of a meadow. As on the other road I took last year, some of the steepest parts of this barely passable trail were paved with continuous roughly finished concrete to prevent erosion. Finally we passed a gate at a parking lot, after which the trail became a smoothly paved one lane road. We rolled down to Rt N51 on which we found a good hotel just outside of Cortina d'Ampezzo (1210m).

16. Friday, 19 July (Cortina - Strassen; 158km, 3408m):

The sun was out although we were still in the shadows of the Pomagagnon ridge that hid Monte Cristallo (3221m) and Crodo Rossa (3146m) from view. We rode through Cortina and up the Falzarego road Rt N48 with le Tofane (3243m) overhead as we rode to Pocol (1453m), taking in the panorama of Cortina below, surrounded by the magnificent Dolomites. Here we took Rt N638, the Pso di Giau (2233m). The road climbs as though the terrain had been tilted after the road was built so that some runs are steep while others are inexplicably flat. Meanwhile the many peaks that can be seen from the Giau gradually came into view. As we were taking pictures on the summit, we met the rider whom we had first met days before on the Bernina pass and once in between. We compared routes and experiences before heading down the south side that is much steeper than the side we just rode up, but its broad curves make it a pleasant descent.

At the bottom we joined Rt N251 at Selva di Cadore, stopped at the grocery store for a bite and headed up the valley along the Torrente Fiorentina to the Forcla Staulanza (1773m) in the shadow of towering Monte Pelmo (3168m) just about straight overhead. We rolled down the Rio Conedo to Forno (810m) and headed north up Rt N347, the Pso Cibiana (1530m). We looked for a good place to eat lunch but found neither an open grocery store nor a restaurant along this small but pleasant road. We eventually came upon a small hotel a few kilometers before the summit that seemed to be expecting us. We had a huge plate of pasta with a rich meat sauce to carry us over the top.

We descended through the town of Cibiana and descended to a high bridge across the Torrente Boite before a short steep grunt up to Rt N51 the same road we were on as we rode into Cortina earlier in the day. Just below the junction we noticed an odd building, here, in the middle of nowhere. We recognized it as a train station and upon closer inspection found that the shady side had a display of photos of the meter gauge electric railway that used to pass here on its way to Cortina and beyond. The man who lived in the old station came out to tell us more about about it but our command of Italian was not good enough to take advantage of his knowledge. Today, although much of the right-of-way is a local dirt road or hiking trail, rails and cross ties are still visible in the pavement at crossings and places where the railway ran in streetcar fashion on the highway. I recall seeing these trains on my early rides in the Dolomites, and I also saw it enter the Cortina station in Peter Sellers' first Pink Panther movie.

As we approached Cortina being determined to not take the circuitous route through town, I spotted the proper place to take the "rails to trails" path into town that comes in high at the railway station, that now serves only buses, right at the junction with the road we wanted to take out of town. It worked perfectly as we rode over the viaduct under which the main route climbs steeply from downtown to the station. From here we headed up Rt N48 to the Pso Tre Croci (1809m) from where we could look back on the beauty of the bowl in which Cortina lies surrounded by many great peaks, the Pso di Giau just visible on the far side. From here it is a short descent to the junction to Misurina and the Col San Angelo (1756m), also known as the Misurina pass. The summit lake was smooth enough to serve as a reflecting pool for the Tre Cime di Laveredo (3003m) standing bright in the late afternoon light. From here the descent is swift at first but the long haul down the Valle di Landro is easy only if there is no headwind. There was none as we again joined Rt N51 and followed the right-of-way of the same abandoned railway that once connected Cortina to the FS at Dobiacco [Toblach] (1241m). Dobiacco lies on a broad saddle from which we turned east down the Pustertal along the Drau river into Austria, stopping at Strassen (1140m). After passing up the Sport Hotel in the center of town, deterred by the many sport utility vehicles with mountain bikes, we found a comfortable hotel above town far from the highway.

17. Saturday, 20 July (Strassen - Wald; 164km, 2900m):

Clear cool weather greeted us for the morning as we headed down the valley to Lienz (673m) and up Rt N107 to the Iselsberg (1204m) a steep 13% grunt for the first section that climbs over the ridge into the Moelltal and on to the Gross Glockner pass. The Iselsberg has a beautiful broad top that gives a last view back to the Dolomites as well as a view of the Alps to the north. We stopped at the grocery store at the road junction in Winklern (958m) for a mid morning snack before dropping to the bottom of the valley at 900m. From here the road rises gradually to Heiligenblut (1301m) at the base of the climb. In Heiligenblut the grocery store at the junction of the main street and the highway was open as it is everyday, all year. Here we put away a substantial lunch before pushing off into the 12% grade that starts abruptly right in front of the store.

The climb was marvelously refreshing because we had an almost chilling breeze under clear skies. There were other tourists and car assisted riders on the road, and one of these had his wife photographing him at nearly every turn. She also took our pictures often and at the top offered to send us prints. I took her to be a bit over enthusiastic but Richard couldn't leave well enough alone and gave her his camera to take a couple of shots. As it turned out she shot up about 20 pictures of his last roll of film before we got to the top. I am curious what these show. From the 200m long Hochtor (2505m) tunnel, it's a brisk descent to the lake at the Mittletoerl (2328m) tunnel and a steep climb to Fuschertoerl (2428m). The brisk wind made me think of disk wheels because even my slender MA-2 rims made descending a bit wobbly. Meanwhile, Richard spotted a couple of hawks hovering on the updrafts while surveying the lush meadows for a rodent lunch.

From Fuschertoerl the Glockner (3798m) was glistening white as it peeked through the clouds across the gorge. From here the descent went swiftly as it always does with a 12% grade and good pavement, and the final swoop to the toll gate was no exception. On the way down we passed several motorcycles that had to rely more on their brakes and less on wind resistance than we. From the Bison park at the toll gate it was fairly warm as we rolled down to Bruck (757m) on the Salzach river and headed to Zell am See and up the Pinzgau valley to Mittersill and Wald (867m) at the foot of the old Gerlos pass. We rode up the old and steep one-lane road to Hotel Grubl just before the 500m of 18% grade, where I had stayed in the past. I thought we ought to stop, even if only to say hello. As it turned out, Mrs Kaiser greeted us and said she had expected (!) us because her son had seen us down the valley as he drove to Mittersill. Had we not stopped there I would have had big egg on my face. It was well worth the stop because the hospitality was great and the next stage was the longest.

18. Sunday, 21 July (Wald - Fuldera; 259km, 2620m):

After a full breakfast with boiled egg, cold cuts, cheese, hot rolls and jam, and fruit, we headed up the 18% wall that levels off at the next hotel. It is a good hustle and it takes all my breath. The rest of the hill is a snap except for one other steep spot that is only a short sprint around a curve before crossing the headwaters of the Salzach, the river that flows through Salzburg. As we climbed, we could see to the end of the Pinzgau valley at the town of Krimml, still lying in the shadow of the mountains, with its huge waterfall erupting from the wall above town. The top of the old Gerlos pass (1486m) is as unspectacular as the subsequent view, high over the artificial Gerlos lake reflecting the magnificent peaks to the south, is spectacular.

The road hangs on the side of the mountain as it gradually descends to the town of Gerlos (1245m) and on to Hainzenberg (905m) where it dives to Zell am Ziller (575m) and the Zillertal Bahn with its 760mm gauge steam train. From here it's a long flat haul down the valley to Strass (523m) at the Inn river, where we turned west toward Innsbruck. This is a nice route because the freeway has drained off most traffic and the wind often blows upstream in the summer. In spite of this, we rode past a long traffic jam in Wattens that was caused by a Sunday parade of local marching bands with traditional folk costumes and banners. We rolled along nicely in such pleasant weather that we didn't notice cool air from riding near the icy river. Last year it was so hot that any breeze that came off the Inn was like a blast from a refrigerator in contrast.

We toured the center of Innsbruck (574m), saw the golden roofed porch, the MacDonalds hamburgers across the way from that and all the beautiful buildings the travel brochures extol. I find Bolzano more inviting. We left town staying on the north side of the river, crossing over at Zirl to Rt N7 and stopped in Hatming for a relaxing and leisurely lunch in the hotel's chestnut shaded yard. We got a late start and a slow run up to the Oetztal (Timmelsjoch, Pso Rombo). Here, on high bridges, the road first crosses the Ache river at the mouth of the Oetztal, and then the Inn, before a two kilometer climb before descending toward Imst. Instead of going up the main road to Imst, that lies high on the side of the valley, we took the turnoff to the river rafting set-in, where a bicycle path parallels the river on the most direct and level route toward Landeck (816m). In Landeck we headed south on Rt N187 toward the Reschen pass.

The road from Landeck is narrow and winding as it climbs along the wall of the Inn canyon, but farther up where the road widens, a sign declares it an autoroute (no bicycles). I have used this road in the past with no problem, but this time an irate driver honked and gesticulated as she drove off. Fortunately we made good time and were a kilometer or so from Pfunds, the end of the section, before the police arrived to shunt us onto a circuitous and hilly side road, the "bike route". From Pfunds (971m) the road climbs out of the Inn valley, clinging to the rocky canyon walls as it winds through tunnels and ledges and finally through the Finstermuetz fortress to break out onto high meadows at Nauders (1365m). A short way past the Italian border we reached the summit of the Reschen pass (1508m) with its 10km ride around the Reschen lake. Only the church steeple of a village that was there before the dam was built stands in the water today. At San Valentino (1470m) around the Lago di Muta, the road climbs again for a while before the real descent.

As we approached the south end of the Lago di Muta we could see the glacier capped peaks of the Ortler (3899m), Gran Zebru (3859m), Cima Venezia (3338m), Giovaretta (3438m), and several others. Such a grand panorama in the late afternoon sun makes the heart laugh and relegate the effort of the long day to the insignificant. On our right, as we sped down the hill, the huge white hotel-castle at Burgeis glistened from the mountain like a fairy-tale castle. From here we coasted down the huge sweeping no-brakes turns that snake down to Malles (1051m) where a road cuts across Laudes (967m) and back up to Taufers at the Swiss border, and to Muestair (1248m) and Santa Maria (1375m) from where the Umbrail pass climbs to the Stelvio.

From Laudes it's a steep climb, especially at the end of a long day after which the steep piece from Santa Maria to Fuldera is a good preparation for a big dinner. By the time we reached Fuldera it was 8:30 because we had taken our time about sight seeing in Innsbruck and taken an hour and a half for lunch. As we got to Hotel Staila in Fuldera (1638m), Mrs Hohenegger gave us a warm welcome and said, "take your time; you know where the bicycle room is" and gave us the room key. This is a top quality hotel that likes bikies.

19. Monday, 22 July (Fuldera - Urigen; 212km, 3640m):

After a major buffet breakfast with everything you can imagine on the table, we paid the not inconsequential bill before rolling up the "flat" valley to the final climb of the Passo dal Fuorn [Ofenpass] (2149m) with its 13% grade. Even with a good warm-up before the steep stuff, it's stiff hustle to the top. We met the early PTT bus whose famous three tone horn echoed from the walls that evokes the image of a bugler of old on a horse drawn postal coach. From the top we looked back at the white dome of the Ortler rising high above the mountains through which we had ridden earlier. We descended through the pine forest of the Buendner National Park to Punt la Drossa (1706m), the north portal of the two kilometer uphill tunnel to Livigno, and the foot of our climb over the gorge Val dal Spoell where the road climbs to Ova Spin (1900m) before descending to Zernez (1473m). From Zernez it's a short ride down the Inn valley to Susch (1426m) at the base of the Fluela pass.

From Susch the road starts right out with its initial continuous grade of 13% up the narrow canyon before leveling off to about 10% in the upper Suasca valley. Near the top we witnessed some elegant construction work that used a helicopter at high elevation. It seems all helicopters in the Alps use turbine engines that have a classic but pleasant, drafty high pitch wheeze. We again saw the Ortler, this time more distant, one last time before we crossed into the final valley with hairpin turns rising to the Fluela pass (2389m). The summit lakes were ice free and even the avalanches had melted to one small heap on the far side. The descent to Davos (1560m) is undistinguished except the first few kilometers from the top.

We turned right in Davos and rode around the Davosersee and over the Wolfgang pass (1625m), descending fairly swiftly in places as the road sweeps down through the forest to Klosters (1200m). We stopped just before noon for a large grocery store lunch and proceeded down the Praetigau along the Landquart river to Landquart (530m) on the Rhine river. We crossed the Rhine and had favorable breezes to Bad Ragaz and Sargans (483m) where we got on the bike path along the Seez Kanal from Mels to Walenstadt (427m) on the Walensee.

We rode along the lake to just before Muehlehorn where the road cuts off over the Karenzerberg (743m), a small pass over the corner of the mountain to Mollis (448m) in canton Glarus. From Mollis a small road and a bicycle path head up the valley to Glarus (475m), after which traffic on Rt N17 to the end of the Linth valley in Linthal (662m) is light. The Glarner Alps were especially beautiful because the highest peak, the Toedi (3614m), framed by the walls of the valley in a canton with almost no flatland, had its glaciers dusted with fresh snow and was gleaming in the evening light. From Glarus, we could see up the especially narrow Kloental to the west, that has a lake filling the bottom of the high valley that ends on the Pragel pass (1550m) where Richard rode alone on the first day.

The real climb of the Klausen pass starts after Linthal, where the road heads into the cliffs with a pair of one way rough hewn tunnels that were replaced this year by a long well lit tunnel. Richard took the old tunnels that were still passable and reported them as dimly lit and wet as always. Above the tunnel the road finds its bench in the steep slope as it winds up long traverses through a hardwood forest. The road breaks out into the Urner Boden at 1300m, a long 500m wide valley with near vertical walls on three sides.

The road then climbs the wall at the end of the Urner Boden (1400m) box canyon past free falling waterfalls and private dairy cableways, whose cables drape from ledges high on the canyon walls where they vanished from sight in the sky in single spans several hundred meters up. At the summit of the Klausen pass (1948m), the Toedi came back into view high above while the valley of the Schaechental opened with a top view of farm buildings 700m below in Aesch (1234m). Here, across the valley, the free falling Steubi falls reach the ground.

The road, cut into the granite wall, was in excellent condition, but just the same we took it carefully because there was not even a functional guard rail between us and a huge free-fall. After we got off the "wall" we blasted down to Hotel Urigen (1300m) where a Dutch Harley Davidson trio in full "Easy Rider" regalia had stopped. Steffan Truschner, the owner, was glad to see us and showed off his newborn daughter Joel. We took the usual room, with bath down the hall, in the beautiful annex with carved wooden beams that were colorfully decorated with painted verses. We had a great dinner followed by the dessert of the day, a Coup Romanoff (ice cream sundae with fresh sugared strawberries topped with plenty real whipped cream).

20. Tuesday, 23 July (Urigen - Affoltern; 181km, 2636m):

The start was easy after a breakfast of fresh rolls that Steffan managed to serve us just after he got out of bed. We discovered how he pulled this off when we saw the first PTT bus of the morning parked below the hotel for its return trip. The bus brings the bakery goods shortly before 8:00 and that's why there isn't any breakfast before then. As we coasted down to Unterschaechen (995m), the next PTT bus came up, blowing its three tone bugle signature in the quiet air. The road is too narrow for bus and moving car to pass but bicycles can blast by unhindered.

After a small climb out of the valley, the rest was downhill to Altdorf (458m) where we rode to the center of town to see the twice life sized bronze of Wilhelm Tell with crossbow on shoulder and hand resting on his son's shoulder, a more than macho looking image, exuberant with national pride. Richard claimed that the ability to sculpt such images has been lost today and I think he is right. We backtracked a little and rode up the Reuss valley to Erstfeld (472m), where the heavily used Gotthard railway abruptly begins its climb with a 2.7% grade at the end of the marshaling yard. We took note of a retired and famous articulated "crocodile" locomotive on display across from the train station.

Our climb started in Amsteg where the road abruptly begins climbing after the huge SBB (federal railway) power plant, whose size is being tripled by new turbines and penstocks, entirely underground in the granite walls behind the old plant. From here the road offers a canyon of rock walls, penetrated by railway tunnels and bridges with the roaring Reuss below. Nearly all traffic uses the parallel motorway so we had a nearly private road to Wassen (916m) at the junction with the Susten road. Here the train station has large warnings that trains travel opposite to their logical destinations because the town is in the middle of several reversing loops from which passengers see its church spire four times. Rt N20, the Susten pass, heads into the rock wall to the north right from the center of town.

I call the Susten pass the glacier highway of Switzerland for its many great ice flows and snowy peaks. This climb can also be a little defeating, because farther up nearly the entire continuous grade up the long curved valley becomes visible. In spite of its good alignment, it is neither steep enough nor smooth enough to make a high speed descent. For some who expect to go fast, descending the south slope is disappointing bicycling, that is, if its scenic beauty is ignored. Midway up the valley the long paved detour around the rock slide that blocked the road for four years had, in true Swiss environmental style, been de-paved, planted with natural grasses, and had boulders placed at regular intervals to dissuade MTB riders from descending the grade that was still kept in reserve in the event of future road closures. An even steeper trace of the old Roman road can be seen zig zagging its way up over the old summit.

Passing through the Susten summit tunnel (2224m) brought a panorama of the Sustenhorn (3503m) and its huge Steingletcher that spreads ice to the valley far below the road. The ride down the Gadmental is exciting and beautiful, with broad curved tunnels opening vistas to ice fields and waterfalls that go over some of the short tunnels. The peaks of the Berner Oberland became visible as we broke out into the Haslital and dropped to Inertkirchen (625m). We sprinted up the four legs of the Kirchet (700m) to the Gasthaus Lammi that was closed on Tuesdays to my disappointment, so we coasted down to the Hotel Tourist in Willigen (600m) where we took an outdoor table in the shade of a horse chestnut tree to escape the hot sun.

As we sat there, Richard mused that we had a great ride and that I had shown him more than he expected, but... we had not experienced an Alpine rain storm. Facing west, I sat across from Richard as we quaffed our steins of beer and noticed a dark wall of clouds over the Brienzersee, about 10 kilometers away. As the clouds got closer, I moved the menus and condiment trays from the four tables on the deck indoors. Soon the warm still air had an unrest to it that didn't seem to have any specific direction, but I moved our bicycles to the lee side of the building just the same. Then it hit, tablecloths, table umbrellas, and chairs went flying as the twister-like wind hit and the heavens thundered. We scrambled to move the umbrellas and tablecloths inside, stack chairs, and drop the folding tops of the concrete based tables, as heavy low angled rain tore leaves from the trees.

Mission accomplished, we sat just inside the open doorway and watched the weather do its thing as we enjoyed our lunch, no one making much of an event that is common in the summer. After we finished a delicious dessert and watched the rain move off toward the Susten pass, the lady in charge told us the dessert was on the house for our efforts. We put on our jackets and rode off through Meiringen (595m) in a faint drizzle (for which Sherlock was properly dressed) that dried up as we started the grunt up the 13% part of the Brunig pass (1008m).

The weather was great with scattered clouds, no wind and mild temperatures as we rolled down to Lungern (752m), around the lake and then down to Giswil (485m) on the Sarner lake. It tried to rain on us just as we got under the elevated freeway before Hergiswil but it soon quit. In Horw on the military parade and football field, Zirkus Knie, the premier circus of Switzerland, had its tents set up for the week. We rode on through Luzern and "home" under pleasant skies.

Summing up...

Richard had one Michelin-wire flat with two repeats before we found the wire, two broken spokes, and one seat post failure. I had no mechanical problems after the snake bite on the warm-up ride. That was OK for 3150km, 54378m, and 18 days on the road.
This report is also available in a four-parts version. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, the Index.