Since we last wrote in Quingey, France, we’ve climbed 48,347 feet. That’s a lot of feet; 10,000 feet shy of biking up Mount Everest TWICE. BOOM.
We’ve been put through the ringer, but the last ten days have been some of the best riding we have ever done in our lives. During the hottest July ever recorded (eek), we have soaked in not just UV rays, but outstanding landscapes, life-affirming climbs, and breathless descents. We have EARNED the Alps. Now on the other side, in Zürich, we look back on a week full of rewards, worth every Swiss Franc and pedal stroke.
Day 38: July 15, Quingey to Nozeroy, 50.74 miles, 5,112 feet climbed
We awoke early to a fine French sunrise and set off in the cool semi-darkness. One of our last days in France, we enjoyed the distinctive “je ne sais quoi” of French towns and landscapes.
After a morning of flats, the Jura hit us flat in the face with steep climbs through beautiful forests, quiet except for the ferocious buzzing of carnivorous insects hell-bent on eating Christine alive (Ian, naturally, kept his cool). We enjoyed a proper French lunch by the President les Sapins, a massive tree deep in the Jura forest.
Our final climb to Nozeroy, a medieval hill-top walled town, hinted at the mountains to come and rewarded us with a tent-side view of the valleys below.
Day 39: July 16, Nozeroy to Saint-Claude, 68.6 miles, 6,503 feet cllimbed
Between Nozeroy and Switzerland, the Jura lies like a mussed up table-cloth; ridges one after the other in steep succession. We climbed up from fields of grain into high mountain pastures and forest, passing bemused cattle and roasting under the sun.
In one valley we came upon Lac Ilay, a beautiful turquoise oasis in the 95 degree heat. A lunch break was unanimously voted for, and we enjoyed baguettes and a quick leg-dip in the cool waters. Before we left we had a brainstorm: what if we soaked our shirts to keep us cool? As Christine is fond of saying: “GAME CHANGER.” The feeling of cold water on your skin in hot weather is an instant mood booster.
The day ended deep in a valley between ridges. We slept at the foot of one final mountain ridge: the gateway to Switzerland!
Day 40: July 17, Saint-Claude to Rolle (Switzerland!), 47.2 miles, 6,762 feet climbed
We awoke at 5 am ahead of traffic and heat and immediately found ourselves climbing steeply. Despite our pre-soaked shirts, we were soon sweating profusely. The road climbed along dizzying cliffs and under massive rock formations, a fitting overture for the Alps.
We proudly crested Col de Magnard, flew down to the small skiing town of Mijoux, and struggled yet again up the Col de la Faucille, which sounds way too much like “the Easy Pass.” Remember, sixth-grade French education.
On the crest we suddenly saw Lac Léman stretching below us, barely visible in the haze. Eager for that cool Swiss mountain air, we flew down the valley, our shirts freshly soaked. For every 100 meters we dropped, however, the temperature climbed. By the time we had reached the edge of the lake, we felt like we had been put through a high-heat tumble-dry cycle.
Luckily, our campsite in Rolle was directly on the lake. We got our first taste of Swiss prices (50 franc campsite!?), swam in the lake’s cool waters, ate our weight in food, and fell asleep, sweaty but content.
Day 41: July 18, Rolle to Aigle, 49.6 miles, 2,073 feet climbed
We awoke to a sunrise thunderstorm, and gleefully rolled onto the road in a cool rain.
The northern coast of Lac Léman is dotted with resort towns, but we soon retreated into the hills onto 15th century terraces of stone climbing the ridges, where famous Swiss wine is made. At the urging of a local rider we climbed an extra 500 feet or so in exchange for several extra miles of ridge-top riding.
The day felt like a real respite from the heat and climbing. We arrived early at our camp in Aigle, where we enjoyed a waterslide and pool underneath an afternoon sun, and fell asleep in preparation for the day ahead.
Day 42: July 19, Aigle to Estavannens, 39.3 miles, 5,052 feet climbed
Not our biggest climbing day by far, but it came all at once, in one leg-destroying, sweat-soaked, fear-inducing suffer fest. By 11am we had climbed for three hours on grades up to 18%. If this was our first Alpen pass, what would the rest be like?
Despite any crises of confidence, we arrived at the top to dazzling views and a long, slow, rolling descent to our hosts. We shall not waste time with adjectives. Look at the pictures and enjoy.
Day 43: July 20, Estavannens to Seftigen, 57 miles, 4,531 feet climbed
Up until this point, Christine had endured Ian’s terrible French as our main form of communication, but on this day, upon leaving the gothic city of Fribourg, we left la Suisse and entered die Schweiz! Sweet communicative relief!
We road from classic Swiss city to picturesque Swiss chalets, giddy with the landscape’s beauty and lack of passes. It was too good to be true, however. On a steep climb out of a river gorge, 20 miles from our destination, we heard a series of metallic pops, and watched with dread as something small and important looking flew off our rear wheel and rolled away. Upon inspection, we found our rear derailleur had somehow gotten caught in our wheel spokes and twisted into modern art.
Stuck in hilly Switzerland, we chose problem-solve over panic, and turned to our maps and Google. The closest bike shop was at our destination, up a gentle climb and a steep descent. With the Swiss hills in mind, we transformed the Golden Tandem into a single-speed. The most hipster.
With a maximum pedalling speed of eight miles per hour, we made our stately and leisurely way to town. At first we gritted our teeth at the enforced slowness. But we remdined ourselves that this simply meant we had more time to enjoy the landscape.
Hurrah for mechanics. After an hour, our bike shop savior had cannibalized one of his new bikes to rebuild our own, and even trued our wheels. We still don’t think he charged us full price.
Another night with another incredibly hospitable Swiss family. Well slept without the fly under stars and next to a field of clanking cattle.
Day 44: July 21, Seftigen to Alpnach, 75.9 miles, 9,463 feet climbed
Nine thousand, four hundred sixty-three feet climbed. We feel we need to say it twice. We’re rather proud.
Yes it was hot, but good lord, what a day. Switzerland’s bike route 4 took us through clean, quaint towns, each with a water fountain that we could drink from and soak our shirts.
Our day was centered on two passes, which rushed by in an endorphin-soaked haze. Again, we simply want you to enjoy the pictures. Feast your eyes.
By the end we had been reduced to two year-olds emotionally, and whimpered our way up one final climb to our hosts in Alpnach. It was all worth it; again we were welcomed by characteristically Swiss generosity, this time in a beautiful home perched on a steep mountain slope. We ate dinner and slept under the stars, while thunderstorms lit up the horizon.
Day 45: July 22, Alpnach to Klontaler See, 48.3 miles, 7,421 feet climbed
At this point we had entered physically sketchy territory. Our knees ached, our backs twitched, and our butts had reached a new level of hot and saucy. The scenery, however, drew us on. It’s impossible not to grin a big, goofy grin as you grind up 15% grades in these mountain valleys. We weaved around tractors delivering mountain-side harvests, and smiled our way into the hills.
This day we had cloud-cover, for which we were truly grateful, but as the day wore on and Pragel Pass crept closer, the clouds towered above us and promised thunder. Four thousand feet up and exposed,we heeded a concerned driver and found some cover in a river gully as a massive storm system roared over head. We assumed the fetal position for an hour, crouched together with a bar of chocolate and some peanut butter as water ran down our necks and lightening flashed directly over head.
The minute the sky lightened we continued on, determined to cross into the next valley before getting hit by another thunderhead. Our adrenaline sparked a second wind, and we flew (relatively) up the mountain.
Down the other side we found a lake deep in the crook of a mountain valley. We fumbled our way through dinner and set up camp as gray clouds ripped across the peaks overhead.
Day 46: July 23, Klontaler See to Au, 40.2 miles, only 1,430 feet climbed, thankfully
and Day 47: July 24, Au, REST DAY
Sweet, sweet relief. We were sore, wet, and impressively smelly. We hadn’t done laundry for over a week, and the stains on our riding shirts were drawing unwanted attention.
Our goal for the day: reach Christine’s cousin Renate and her partner Daniel in Au, near Zürich, and enjoy a day of rest and recovery with family.
We made it by mid day and immediately were taken care of: laundry, a massive food shop, and a barbecue by the Zurich See. This is our first stay with family since London, and there is truly something special about feeling a sense of home here.
Home, indeed. Tomorrow we leave Switzerland and enter Germany, Christine’s second home. Soon we’ll ride with Ian’s parents, and then Christine’s. Amazingly, the end of our trip draws near!