The Alps

In the next 100km, there were four big passes which would add up to over 4000m of climbing. I decided to try and do it all in one day because, well, why not?

The first climb began gradually enough, on a fairly busy road, until I reached the town of Grindelwald. From here the road was supposedly off limits to cars (though I saw a few). The gradient here was steep, and I was glad for the shade keeping me cool.

After about 1300m climbing, I reached the Grosse Scheidegg pass. From here there was a steep descent all the way from 1900m to 600m.

As soon as the descend ended, the climbing began, this time gaining 1500m as I climbed to the Grimselpass at above 2100m. I was feeling quite tired by the end of this one!

There were some tunnels, the longest of which had alternative routes around for bikes
There was a big dam and a reservoir near the end of the climb

From the pass, I could see the switchbacks heading down the mountainside then back up the other side. This time there was just a short drop down about 500m before a climb to 2400m. I got a bit of a second wind here and made good time on my way to the Furkapass.

Looking over from pass 2 to pass 3. Shame about the cloud!

After the steep drop from the pass, the road levelled out and for a few kilometres I had the closest thing to flat riding for the day, as I cycled to the town of Andermatt.

The first part of this descent was through the clouds

Here I began the fourth, final and – thankfully – shortest climb. I’d actually ridden this road before on my previous trip through Switzerland, though in the opposite direction. About 600 metres of climbing brought me to the Oberalppass, just before sunset.

As I made my way downhill, it was at first too steep to camp. Then there were several towns. By the time I managed to actually find a spot it had been dark for some time.

The first thing I needed to do in the morning was change my front brake pads. All of yesterday’s descending had worn them right down to the metal.

The downhill continued, gradually, until the town of Ilanz, where I picked up some food. As part of my goal to climb 4000m yesterday I’d not stopped to buy food, so I was now completely out. I also tried to get my headset bearings replaced at a couple bike shops, but neither would do it. Both only sold e-bikes!

From Ilanz there were some small hills but compared to the last few days it was relatively flat for some time, which made for pleasant riding.

At last, a long climb did of course begin. This one had a number of tunnels, several over a kilometre long. One in particular was very unpleasant. There was heavy traffic, which due to the echoing was extremely loud. There was a small raised path on the edge which I could cycle on, so it was safe enough, but not fun.

Thankfully the bulk of the climbing took place after I turned off onto a smaller road. I was feeling quite tired now, so upward progress was slow.

Looking back
The pass

I put on some extra layers then rode down into the Inn valley, and rode along a series of bike paths. There were lots of good spots to camp but I carried on because I needed to collect water. Of course, after that I couldn’t find anywhere! I ended up in what amounted to a thick hedge between a golf course and a footpath.

The descent

I’d been riding for a week now, and I decided it was time for a rest day. There was a campsite about 10 km away, so I decided to slowly make my way there.

It turned out to be quite a nice campsite. The pitches were spread out, it was quiet, and the facilities were clean. They even gave me a long extension lead so I had electricity in my tent. I had a fairly productive day – mostly working on my blog, but also getting batteries charged and doing laundry.

My day off the bike left me feeling fresh and I set off early, starting up the first pass of the day. It was cold, so I set off with extra layers on, but soon warmed up from exertion and had to take them off. That was a pattern throughout the day, adding clothes for descents then removing them again for climbs. I simply considered it practice for my future career as a catwalk model.

The first pass was a short one, as was the ensuing descent – a few hundred metres each. The next one was of a similar size, but somewhat busier, as it was on the way to the Italian border.

After finishing the second short descent, I turned and was glad to find the road much quieter again. There were another couple of small passes once I was in Italy – the Alps definitely involve a lot of climbing!

After the fourth pass of the day there was a proper descent, dropping down over a thousand metres.

However, that only meant the next climb was going to be a big one! This was the climb up to the Passo Stelvio, a famous pass amongst road cyclists. I had a 1500 metre climb ahead of me, to get up to 2700 metres – the highest pass so far of this trip.

Looking back down from about halfway up

The weather forecast had been snow and rain, but in reality this amounted to drizzle, one small shower, and a few flakes of snow. As I reached the pass the sun came out and the clouds cleared, so I figured it was worth making the (very) short extra climb to get to the good viewpoint.

Near the top people had written their names over the road
Ready to descend!

What followed was – you guessed it – a long descent. The steep part of the descent lasted until about 900 metres, where I reached a river and from then on enjoyed a more gradual descent.

I ended up on a bike path which really surprised me with how good it was. Bike paths are usually decent for getting around within a town or city, but not for long distance travel. This one, though, went on a long way, was well signposted, quite direct, well surfaced and didn’t involve too much stopping to give way. To top it all off it was downhill and there was a tailwind. I really enjoyed this part of the ride.

This valley was absolutely covered with orchards – anywhere there was flat ground, it was used. That made it somewhat difficult to find a place to camp. I tried taking a path that led to woods, but these woods were on the practically sheer mountain side. Eventually I found a small footpath that led through some woodland. The only somewhat flat space was quite close to the path, but it would have to do. I resolved to pack up early in the morning

I accidentally slept in, and didn’t wake up until about an hour after sunrise. None of the people who walked past my tent seemed to notice me, not that it really would have mattered if they did.

The day began with a continuation of the cycle path from yesterday, bringing me to the city of Bolzano over the course of a couple of hours. For much of this I drafted behind some other riders, so I was moving fast.

In Bolzano, I made a beeline for my favourite shop – Decathlon. There are always things needing repairing or replacing while touring, so I maintain a list. I managed to cross off several of those today.

Leaving Decathlon behind, I approached the start of the next climb – I’d had 100km or so of flat riding, but it was over now. The road I’d intended to take up into the mountains began with a tunnel for over 3km, with a 7% grade or so. I decided against that and took a longer, but more pleasant route.

Since I’d dropped so low (to about 250m), this climb was a long one – about 1500m. I was now entering the Dolomites.

I assure you, if it’s a 14% grade I will be staying below 50 km/h!

A short drop followed this pass, then an hour or so of climbing up to the next one. Shortly before this second pass, it began to rain. Then hail. The hail didn’t last long but the rain did and I ended up thoroughly soaked.

The descent was steep to begin and my disk brakes were embarrassingly loud in the wet. Thankfully the rain stopped before I reached any towns.

I mostly dried off by the time I needed to find a campsite. As I approached a tunnel, there was an old disused road that went around it. I rode a short distance down there then set up camp.

I remembered to take this picture only after packing up my tent. The two rocks shown were used instead of pegs, as the ground was too hard.

I was up early and resumed what was left of the descent. This took me to the town of Belluno. One item I wanted to buy yesterday, but couldn’t, was tri-bars. They had some here – they weren’t the exact type I wanted, but I decided to try them.

It became clear quite quickly that there were a few problems. The pads are not very comfortable. They’re raised above the handlebars, which negates a bit of the aerodynamic advantage. Most importantly though due to their shape there was nowhere I could mount my phone. For now I mounted it on the bars themselves but I couldn’t see the screen very clearly, especially in the sun.

I had a look on the Decathlon website, and there were some of the type I’ve previously used in stock in Udine, which was pretty much on my way. I placed an order and headed over that way.

There was just one last pass to cross – but with a climb from 400m to 800m, it barely counted after the last few days.

There were a lot of tunnels on this section

The descent was very gradual, which was great. Instead of pulling hard on the brakes as I go round hairpin after hairpin, I was able to pedal along in top gear and make full use of the gravitational potential I’d built up.

By the time I reached Udine I was well and truly out of the mountains and into the plains. I made my way to Decathlon, and collected the bars I’d ordered. While I was there, there were some other foreigners complaining angrily (in English) about something not being in stock, after they’d driven hundreds of kilometres. The woman at customer service suggested they check online at future, but said there was nothing she could do – she couldn’t sell them things they didn’t have. They continued to complain and were talking to a manager when I left. I felt bad for the people working there.

Once I’d finished setting up the new bars, I set off again. It wasn’t far to Slovenia so I aimed to get there this evening. The way there was a long, flat road so I was able to try out the new bars – I’m much happier with these ones.

I’m sure I’ll tweak it over time, but I’m happy with the setup for now

I crossed into Slovenia, which is in the Schengen area – so border control was an empty building. I made my way out of the border town and set up camp.

August 26: 131 km

August 27: 135 km

August 28: 8 km

August 29: 154 km

August 30: 135 km

August 31: 199 km

3 thoughts on “The Alps

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