November 24, 2010

A bike ride in Switzerland, part II

We pedaled out from the town of Livigno, Italy under heavy skies and snow-cloaked summits. Mick waited impatiently while I stopped to chat with a fisherman along the river at the edge of town. He was anxious to get over Chaschauna Pass before the predicted afternoon storms arrived, but I wasn't in a hurry. The way the churlish clouds were descending I figured we were getting clobbered no matter what.

Of course, there are many ways to get clobbered. Besides mountain storms and snow-choked passes, another good way is to push your bike up savagely steep mountains trails for 3,000 feet...

Once we hit the true snowline (and ducked behind a closed-for-the-season, high-mountain refugio for shelter from the wind), Mick made a power move into GoreTex socks. Which soon came in handy as we pushed through the snow and frigid winds at the pass. Though we were slowly turning blue, and my hands were way too cold to take pictures, we were thrilled. For days we'd been told we wouldn't make it over the pass, but here we were making it over the pass.

Of course, we hadn't made it down the other side yet. As we pushed forward, clouds obscured the mountains, snow concealed the trail, and I would have gladly traded my bike in for a pair of skis. Somehow we'd been transported to the Himalayas.

But eventually we found our way to the trail and proceeded to hurl ourselves down it. After barely holding a virtual nose-wheely down a plunging, rocky, snow-packed switchback, I realized that in my rush to get out of the snow and cold I'd forgotten to put my helmet on. Darwin award narrowly averted.

As we plummeted down the kind of obscenely technical trail I'd sworn years ago I was done riding, staying on the bike took every ounce of skill we had. Or at least that I had. Mick could have used a couple more ounces, apparently, as he soon chunked it and took a shot to the ribs, marking his second crash of the trip.

Perpetual crashing (and unfortunate body odor) notwithstanding, Mick is a good guy to take a trip like this with — besides being an ex-bike mechanic, he's also an ER doctor. I never needed his expertise, but he had plenty of opportunities to self-diagnose. Which led to him saying things like, "Hey Teas, don't take this the wrong way, but if I pass out it's because I've ruptured my spleen and need a surgeon."

"Good to know," I replied. Not that I could have done much about it up on the mountainside.

Mick would later attempt to pulverize his hip on a rock but, to my amazement, was able to tough it out and continue riding. Being his first multi-day trip in a foreign land, he hadn't quite learned the art of dialing it back, but at least he was durable, because missing the last couple days of the trip would have been tragic.

Though the route turned away from the high, wild mountain passes of the first five days in favor of the more developed valleys of central Switzerland, it delivered plenty of intrigue by linking together a thrilling blend of technical trails, unrelentingly stunning scenery, and guerilla-style riding through industrial sites, farmyards, and tunnels boring through sheer cliff faces...

If you're a cyclist with an itch to explore (are there any other kind?) I mightily recommend adding the Swiss Alpine Bike route to your bucket list. It serves up some of the finest, most interesting and scenic riding this planet has to offer. Of course, Mick and I only rode about one-third of it, which means we're due to go back and ride the rest soon...


  1. These images are top notch! Fantastic job.

  2. Wow! These photos are so great! You really had a great time in your adventure. Thanks a lot!

  3. Hi, nice photos. We have found your blog by chance and we are amazed by your trips. You are Welcome to Belarus!

  4. Neat blog. Afraid my adventures are tame by comparison...
    More a cerebral trip into bicycling culture, group dynamics, politics.

  5. My wife and I are headed over to ride the alpine loop this September and were wondering if you used your own bike or did you rent a bike thru swiss trails. Which would you recommend?

  6. Great pics! Crazy you made that high mountain pass in the snow. Actually planning to ride the whole route unasisted some time next summer.

  7. Whew! If someone would ask what real biking adventure is, your post provides all the answers. Your adventure was truly exciting and heart-wrenching. But with the kind of place you've visited, that ride of yours was truly worth it.

  8. Pack transported by car, hotel reservation is a solution. Autonomy and camping is another. You have the choice.