Tour of the Alps 2002

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Jobst Brandt

05 Feb 03
Tour of the Alps 2002
On Thursday, 11 July, Richard Mlynarik and I flew with Lufthansa from San Francisco to Munich and on
to Zurich where we arrived on a rainy Friday afternoon, each with a bicycle, suitcase and small
carry-on as luggage. Edith Dierauer generously picked us up at the airport for the ride to their
place in Affoltern where we prepared ourselves for our departure the next morning. After a great
raclette cheese dinner we got to bed. It was still raining.

1. Saturday, 13 July (Affoltern - Rosenlaui; 120km, 2426m):

We departed from Affoltern am Albis at about 8:00 under a solid overcast with light rain. It's an
easy start because the first couple of kilometers are downhill to the Reuss followed by a short
climb to Merenschwand in canton Aargau. We rode up the Reuss Valley on an excellent bike path that
parallels the local road and Rt N25 beyond Sims. The bike path took us most of the way to Gisikon,
where we crossed the Reuss and took the N4 into Lucerne (436m). This street is busier than most that
enter Lucerne, but well-marked bicycle lanes make it a breeze. Although the drizzle had stopped, the
streets were still wet.

We dodged trolley buses and rode past the Bourbaki Panorama, where battlefield models with mural
backdrops depict scenes from the French-German war of 1871. The Panorama and the adjacent sculpture
of the Lucerne Lion and the Glacier Garden with interesting stone formations are worth a visit.

We stopped at the train station plaza to photograph the definitive postcard scene of Lucerne -- the
covered wooden bridge over the Reuss decorated with flower boxes, graceful swans swimming on the
river and the Pilatus Mountain as a backdrop. Today the Pilatus remained shrouded in clouds. We
arrived in time to see the flock of Alpine Swifts, one of the fastest flying birds, make their
warm-up laps around the bridge tower before departing to the mountains for a day of aerial foraging.

Through a misunderstanding we missed Mrs. Dierauer Sr. who lives on the Musegg, above the Armory.
She, with her husband, were our gracious hosts years ago on earlier tours. From Lucerne we headed to
Kriens with its parade grounds where the Swiss National Circus Knie sets up for a week in August.
From Hergiswil we rode along the lake and found partial shelter from a light drizzle under cover of
the elevated motorway on the way to Alpnachstadt.

We gave the Pilatus cogwheel railway, the world's steepest (48% grade), a quick inspection before
continuing to Sarnen, where we turned off to Flüeli-Ranft and the Melchtal. We took the small road
past the train station and crossed over the meter gauge adhesion and cogwheel Brünig Swiss Federal
Railway, known as the SBB, CFF, or FFS, depending on the regional language. Beyond the tracks we
passed a classic Schützenhaus (rifle range house) with carved wooden beams and decorative flower
boxes. This little-used road then climbed a limestone wall into a small forest of alder on the way
to Flüeli.

In Flüeli, we passed the large hotels of this pilgrimage town and the log cabin of ascetic Bruder
Klaus. The cabin looks like a replica and contains all his belongings, nothing but a Bible and a few
prayer books. It is said he used a stone for a pillow as he slept on wood planks. The faithful are
not bothered by any of this and on occasion flock there by the busload.

It's still a little climb past Ranft on a road that looks more like a driveway to some upper
residences. We passed a NO VEHICLES sign at the edge of a forest along the steep slopes above the
cascading Melch. After a gradual climb on this paved forest road, we crossed a covered bridge to
join the main road that climbs to the end of this box canyon.

We stopped for lunch at a Gasthaus in the town of Melchtal before continuing to Stockalp (1075m) at
the end of the valley. Here, a narrow road with hourly one-way traffic climbs seven kilometers at a
12% grade to the small ski area of Frut (1891m). At bicycle speeds, this climb can take longer than
an hour, but because the road is wide enough for cars to pass with care, timing is not a problem for
bicycles. The road is framed by steep overhanging cliffs as it makes its hairpin turns up to Frut on
the Melchsee.

Beyond the Melchsee, a short climb across the back of a dam took us to the Tannensee (1976m), which
had no snow or ice on it, as it had in other years. The road ends in Tannen, just beyond the lake,
at a large hostel next to a diary and some vacation cottages. We took a narrow hiking trail along
cliffs above the Gental to Engstelnalp
(1a). Here a paved restricted access road descends the Gental to the Gadmental and the Susten
Pass highway, which we took down to the Haslital at Inertkirchen (625m).

We crossed the Aar River and rode up the four hairpin turns of the Kirchet Pass (709m), climbing
over the Aareschlucht, a narrow gorge cut through solid rock by the Aar River. Just beyond the
summit, across from the Lammi restaurant, we took the road to Rosenlaui. The road is steep, still
mostly unpaved, and little more than one-lane wide as it climbs through a forest into the canyon of
the roaring Reichenbach. It was on the Reichenbach that Sherlock Holmes and
Dr. Moriarty met their deaths over the falls in 1891.

It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a
tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft
into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and
narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the
stream onward over its jagged lip.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A new Hotel Zwirgi was taking shape at the junction with the road from Meiringen where last year
only an enlarged parking lot remained after the old hotel burned to the ground. The climb to
Rosenlaui is no trifle as it rapidly gains altitude past hotel Kaltenbach and finally levels off in
the high Rosenlaui Valley. We got glimpses of the Rosenlaui Glacier through gaps in the clouds as we
approached Hotel Rosenlaui (1330m). The hotel was abuzz with guests, leaving us little chance to
talk to Andrea and Christina Kehrli, the proprietors. With the 5th floor dormitories full, we took a
comfortable room where we got a good night's rest after a hearty dinner with 58cl (Swiss standard
size) Eichhof beer and Coup Dänemark dessert.


2. Sunday, 14 July (Rosenlaui - Hospental; 136km, 2988m):

We started up to Grosse Scheidegg under low clouds but without rain. At Schwarzwaldalp, the end of
the public road, we worked hard up the steep 100m-long connector to the Grindelwald Bus Road. This
road, which is smoothly paved but not much wider than a bus, climbs steeply through meadows of
wildflowers with grazing cows. We passed a new wooden farmhouse with beautifully hand-carved beams,
windowsills, and flower boxes. An inscription with this year's date graced the main transom that,
like the rest of the building, radiated fresh yellow wood. The next 100 years will darken this wood
to become almost black as its neighbors have.

Above tree line, a light drizzle started and gradually turned into solid rain, shrouding even the
lower slopes of the Wetterhorn (3701m) with its glaciers and icefalls. As we began our descent from
the Grosse Scheidegg summit (1961m), only the lower parts of the Eiger were visible but we mentally
filled in the rest of the scene -- the dark Eiger (3970m), the Mönch (4099m), and the pure white
Jungfrau (4158m).

We returned to the public road in Grindelwald (1034m), where the Berner Oberlandbahn (BOB), meter
gauge adhesion and cogwheel railway was unloading passengers from Interlaken, and where the
Wengeralpbahn (WAB), 800mm gauge cogwheel train takes them up to the Kleine Scheidegg (2016m) to
connect with the famed meter gauge cogwheel Jungfrau Bahn that tunnels inside the Eiger to the
saddle at Jungfraujoch (3454m). These three railways use respectively Riggenbach, Abt, and Strub
cogwheel drive from the days when these designs were in competition as the latest advances in
railway technology.

We cruised through town and down the valley, following the cascading Schwarze Luetschine that joins
the Weisse Luetschine from Lauterbrunnen at Zweiluetschinen. Crossing the river on bridges engulfed
in icy fog was like passing the open door of a deep-freezer. We reached flatland at Wilderswil,
where the Schynige Plattebahn (SPB), 800mm gauge cogwheel train climbs to the Schynige Platte
(2061m) for a panorama of the Jungfrau group that is too close to appreciate from Grindelwald. With
the poor weather, not much was happening here today.

In Interlaken (563m) we looked across the large meadow in the middle of town for the usual view of
the Jungfrau but alas, saw only clouds. We crossed the Aar River and rode along the north shore of
the Brienzersee to Brienz, a small town in a narrows between the cliffs of the mountain and the deep
blue lake. Here the steam powered Brienzer Rothornbahn (BRB), 800mm Abt cogwheel railway climbs
through tunnels in rugged cliffs to the top of the Brienzer Rothorn (2353m). The pungent smell of
coal smoke from one of the locomotives wafted across the road as we passed.

In Meiringen, the home of meringue, we passed Sherlock Holmes, in life-sized bronze, with pipe,
cape, and deerstalker cap sitting in the middle of town. From here we rode through Willigen on our
way up the Kirchet (709m), where we stopped at the Lammi restaurant for lunch. Our "sun shade"
umbrella kept some drops off our table as we ate a good lunch of Schüblig and Rösti with a green
salad and a tall cool beer.

The climb up the Haslital to the Grimsel Pass has two reprieves, one in Guttannen, where there is a
good grocery store, and another at Handegg (1402m), where there are accommodations in case of foul
weather. The road continues between granite walls to huge concrete dams of the Kraftwerke Oberhhasli
(KWO) hydroelectric system, which is accessed by giant aerial trams in winter.

The road enters a one-kilometer tunnel above Handegg where bicyclists must take the old cobblestone
road, notched into the granite wall high above the Aar. It was drizzling again by the time we
emerged from under the cliffs to rejoin the main road. The mighty Finsteraarhorn
(2a), tallest peak in the Bernese Alps, was shrouded in fog with only the noses of the Unteraar
and Oberaar Glaciers at its base visible through the mist. We reached the Grimsel summit
(2165m) in thick fog, and Richard suggested that the hotel Grimselblick on the Grimsel Lake
might be a good place to stop since the weather was only getting worse.

However, looking through the gap beyond the lake, we discovered that the Rhone Valley was bathed
in sunlight with a clear view to the Furka Pass above the Hotel Belvedere and Rhone Glacier. The
warmth of the Rhone Valley was more inviting than the weather behind us, which although cold gave
us the benefit of little traffic. Beyond the Furka Pass, a solid cloud bank promised more rain
for tomorrow.

We descended a series of hairpin turns to Gletsch (1761m), directly below in the Rhone Valley, and
crossed the tracks of the Dampfbahn Furka-Bergstrecke (DFB) Railway. After inspecting their new
turntable, we started up the Furka. We posed for the obligatory picture in front of the glacier,
just below the Belvedere
(2b). Although the hotel was inviting, we chose not to stay fearing that we could get stuck there
by bad weather. The Furka Pass (2431m), 266m higher than the Grimsel, lies in the gap at the
head of this bare valley, swept clean except for some shrubs, by winter avalanches.
>From the Furka, we looked back at the Grimsel where fog was pouring
over the summit and down into Gletsch.

We crossed the Furka summit and coasted through Tiefenbach and Galenstock on the long gradual
descent to Realp (1538m). Although there was activity at the DFB engine house, we didn't stop, but
continued into a light headwind to Hospental (1452m) at the junction of the Gotthard and Furka Pass
roads. As usual, we found a good dinner and lodging at Hotel Rössli where we were welcomed as


3. Monday, 15 July (Hospental - Coggiola; 207km, 1416m):

After breakfast, we rode up the old cobblestone street, which was formerly the main road in the days
when highways connected towns and had no reason to bypass them. We got on the wide concrete Gotthard
highway at the junction with the Furka road and started climbing. Here, above tree line, only scrub
brush, grass, wildflowers, and alpenrosen decorate the landscape. The alpenrose is an azalea
prevalent throughout the Alps, and its pink and red blossoms against dark green leaves complement
the bouquets of deep blue gentians, pale blue forget-me-nots, and many varieties of daisies and
dandelions. Under the overcast, these islands of color brightened our route.

I posed for Richard to take my picture at the Gotthard summit (2108m) sign next to the lake as I had
on my first tour over 40 years ago. From the new road, we admired the serpentine curves of the old
road below in the Val Tremola before entering the long tunnel that emerges high above the Val
Bedretto on a flying hairpin, 520m above Fontana. Farther down, at the Fortezza (1551m), bicycles
must take the old ROUGH road of 10cm grey granite paving cubes whose center stripe is made of orange
granite cubes. Pavement is especially bad in curves because the stones have tilted from side forces.
The road levels off and returns to smooth pavement in Airolo (1165m), the south portal of the
Gotthard railway and highway tunnels.

From Airolo the road, motorway, railway and Ticino River cross each other often as they descend the
Valle Levantina. Below Airolo we rolled through the nearly level Ambri-Piotta Valley where long-haul
trucks were parked in a two-kilometer-long column along the road, waiting to enter the tunnel. Since
the October 2001 fire only one-way truck traffic is allowed, so there is always a waiting line at
both portals.

I found it amazing that the railway, which carried trucks and cars before the highway tunnel was
built, does not offer a more economical alternative to waiting one or more hours to drive under the
mountain. At Ambri a funicular railway, the world's steepest federal railway, connects a large SBB
hydroelectric plant with its reservoir, the Lago di Ritom.

At the end of the Rodi-Fieso Valley we descended from Rodi (925m) to Faido (711m), while trains,
some with distinctive freight and international passenger cars, passed us in both directions on the
adjacent doubletrack Gotthard railway. "Hey, haven't we seen that train somewhere before?" Indeed we
had, as the trains were using two corkscrew loop tunnels to lose or gain altitude on the steep
mountain slope.

We passed two more circular tunnels at Anzonico and then rolled into the wide and level valley just
above Bódio (371m), the south portal of a new 52km Gotthard railway Tunnel, which is being built to
get international trucks off Swiss highways. After taking pictures of tunneling machinery and the
crossing waterfalls in Biasca, we continued to Bellinzona (239m).

The sun hadn't made an appearance yet and from what we saw, it wasn't going to. We headed south
through Giubiasco and on to Cadenazzo, where most traffic heads south over the Monte Ceneri Pass
(559m) to Milano. Shortly beyond, at Quartino, most remaining traffic heads off toward Locarno on
the west shore of Lago Maggiore. We stayed on the east shore, stopping in San Nazzaro for lunch.
This time we ate indoors because rain seemed imminent. After a delicious meal the rain came, just
as we pushed off toward the Italian border at Zenna where no one noted our passing, as is the norm
for the EU.

By the time we got to Luino, the road had puddles with plenty of splash. We picked up some euros
from the same bancomat that had previously given us lira. From Luino we rode along the lake in a
series of tunnels and slide protection galleries and then climbed over a hill to Laveno. We took the
ferry across the lake and landed in Verbania, on the fancier western shore with its famous resorts.

We followed the Toce River, which flows from the San Giacomo Pass to Lago Maggiore, and rode
around the Toce estuary to Fondo where we crossed the river to Gravellona and climbed a short
hill to Omegna
(3a). We passed weekend resorts and old villas along the east shore of Lago d'Orta and got a good
view of La basilica di San Giulio, a monastery in the midst of a dense cluster of buildings
on San Giulio island.

At the south end of the lake at Gozzano (367m) our road along the hills was closed for pipeline
construction, but we were able to get through, there being no activity due to wet weather. Climbing
a short steep hill got us to Pogno (461m), where the four-spigot fountain on the piazza came in
handy even in the rain. We climbed west up a canyon in a blooming chestnut forest, typical of the
southern slope of the Alps, and broke through the ridge at an unexpected tunnel (598m). From here it
was a straight descent to Borgosesia (359m).

We crossed the high stone arch bridge over the Sesia, which was a muddy torrent rushing through its
open flood gates. In other times it has been an azure lake with black swans and huge trout in the
deep clear waters.

Richard had begun to cough and wheeze earlier in the day, but was now rapidly getting worse. We
continued up to Gaggiola, where we found a small but comfortable hotel and had a delicious dinner.
Richard had a fitful night and felt weak and tired in the morning.


4. Tuesday, 16 July (Gaggiola - Ivrea; 75km, 360m):

The short climb to Valle Mosso was hard for Richard, who seemed to now also have a fever. Then came
the long descent to the valley and on to Pettinengo, where we crossed a few low ridges to
(4a). Following the edge of the hills westward, we skirted several glacial ridges that slope to
the Po Valley.

At Palazzo Canavese (492m) Richard called our bicycling friend Brian Tomlin in Ivrea for a ride,
while I rode over the ridge and descended to Ivrea (245m). It began to rain as I crossed the
bridge over the Dora Baltea in the center of town. I phoned Brian, who said he was only a few
hundred meters away and that I should follow him to his place, there being no room in his car for
my bicycle.

At Brian's place we showered, put on dry clothes, and ate well, benefiting from Brian's skills as an
Anglo-Italian chef. I got a lot of sleep on the sofa between lunch and dinner while Richard survived
in a spare "isolation" bedroom with his horrible cough. He obviously could not continue and, as it
turned out, stayed another day before taking the train back to Switzerland where he took several
days to get back on his feet.


5. Wednesday, 17 July (Ivrea - Robilante); 162km, 644m):

In the morning, under a few clouds, I took SS26, the straight route from Ivrea to Chivasso, where I
crossed the Po to stay on the east bank and bypass downtown Torino (239m). I crossed the Po again at
Moncalieri, taking the usual Rt SS20, the Tenda highway, south to Carignano, Carmagnola, and
Raconigi, the former residence of the Savoy family before Italy abolished its royalty. Today the
palace is a museum, where storks nest in large decorative urns atop the huge red sandstone facade.

With cool still air, the ride to Cuneo was a breeze, so to speak. Near Cuneo, the road turns west
along the north bank of the Stura di Demonte, where a beautifully restored bi-level stone arch
bridge carries road and railway high above the river. This time there were plenty of delicious ****
Japanese plums on the street trees near the bridge.

I took a right just after the bridge and stopped for a good drink from the huge fountain in front of
the train station. Then I continued to Borgo San Dalmazzo, where the Tenda Highway (SS20) turns
south to Robilante, and the SS21 heads west to the Col de Larche and France. I stopped in Robilante
to say hello to Eliano Giordanengo at the chainsaw store. He has hundreds of new and used chain saws
stacked in tiers in the catacombs of his building that looks no different than others on the piazza.

Fortunately the Ristorante-Albergo Aquila Riale, one of my favorite stops, was not closed on
Wednesdays as it had been the past two years, so I enjoyed their hospitality.


6. Thursday, 18 July (Robilante - St Martin Vesubie; 154km, 3564m):

I rode along the Vermenagna River below the Tenda rail line, famous for being either in a tunnel or
on a bridge most of the 80km from Borgo San Dalmazzo to Ventimiglia and Nice. The river and its
tributaries had ripped out bridges and carried away parts of the road in recent floods. While the
railway gained altitude in looping tunnels and bridges and vanished in the mountain for long
stretches, I cruised up the 4% grade to Limone (990m), where the climb to the highway tunnel begins
and the 8090m-long Tenda Railway Tunnel, completed in 1913, bores through the mountain to Vievola.

At 1279m the road enters the 3180m-long Tenda highway tunnel, which was completed in its present
form in 1882. A sign with the "bicycles prohibited" icon stands at the tunnel portal, across from a
small shop with refreshments and a good selection of local maps. Meanwhile, the old Tenda road,
looking like a hotel driveway, takes off across the street.20

This road had recently been repaved with smooth asphalt to the Tenda summit (1908m) where the view
exposes a panorama greater than the altitude might suggest. Not only is the summit a national border
but it seems to be a 100-year step back to a time before paved roads and comfortable hotels.
Pavement ends here and baseball-sized gravel begins on the 19th century road of the south side.
Partially collapsed stone roadhouses, that served travelers before the tunnel was built, lie along
the road, while huge empty fortifications stand guard on the ridges above as sentinels of history.

Sixty or so hairpin turns descend steeply into the ravine of the Roya River. Many of the loose and
deeply rutted turns are tough going even for a jeep. Although some curves had been paved with
asphalt, most of it was gone by now, washed away by the rains that had damaged the highway below.
Historic photographs of mule and horse teams, steam tractors, and solid-tired chain-driven trucks
that once traveled this road make today's "hardships" pale in comparison.

I rode more carefully than usual because the deeply rutted turns defied crossing if taken on the
wrong side of the road. Below, in the rocky gorge of the Roya River, I finally left the gravel and
got on the swift smooth curves of the Tende highway, French Rt N204, where it emerges from the
tunnel (1279m).

The railway emerges from its tunnel at Vievola (990m), only to vanish into a loop tunnel followed by
many bridges as it descends to Tende
(6a). The road gradient is about 8% here so it is not difficult to keep a good pace down into the
Soarge Gorge. The road to the town of Soarge heads into a tunnel, and few windows reveal its
route in the canyon wall as it climbs to Soarge, a strip of houses glued to the cliffs, some
with more than a hundred meter freefall from their windows.

I stopped in St. Dalmas for lunch at a grocery store before turning west up Rt D2204, before Breil
(286m), to the Col de Brauis
(6b). The landscape is Mediterranean with sparse vegetation, olive trees and blooming bright
yellow leafless broom (gorse) which has a pleasantly sweet scent. Looking southwest from the
summit, I saw only a short piece of railway, far below, crossing a stone arch bridge between
two long tunnels. That's all you get.

The descent is pleasantly gradual to Sospel (349m), the junction of the Brauis, Braus, and Turini
passes. I took a picture of the old stone arch bridge and its collage of buildings over the Bevera
River, reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. It was warm enough for a stop at the ice cream
store and deli where the proprietor, my favorite small town philosopher, presides. I got a sandwich
and dish of ice cream while he settled down to lunch with his family. Over the years, he has greeted
us as though we were regulars although visits are only once per year.

Instead of heading north up the valley on Rt D70 to the Turini Pass
(6c) of Monte Carlo Automobile Rallye fame, I took the road to the Col de Braus (1002m), a low
pass with a tunnel at the summit. Before the tunnel I headed west along the ridge on a small
road that heads toward Piera Cave, a small hill town where I have stopped for the day years
ago. The road was as empty as ever and showed little signs of use except for the ABS brake
skid marks entering some sharper turns. I suspect that some drivers were trying to emulate
the great racers of the Monte Carlo Rallye.

After a long gradual descent, I climbed a series of hairpin turns to Piera Cava (1450m), where the
road briefly levels off before climbing to the Col de Turini (1607m). This looked OK until I reached
the summit, where the sky suddenly opened with buckets of rain while lightning struck nearby.
Waiting didn't seem reasonable, so I headed downhill. About two-thirds of the way down, at the
overlook above La Bollene-Vesubie, the rain stopped and I took a photo of this beautiful mountain
village on a knoll with shade trees and houses clustered around a church, an island rising above a
green backdrop.

I descended to Rt D2565 on the Vesubie (520m) and climbed the gradual grade to St. Martin Vesubie
(930m), a pleasant town lying at the foot of the narrows leading to Col St. Martin (1500m). I stayed
at what was called the Hotel Les Tres Ponts but is now the Hotel Le Gelas. Although under new
management, it seems to be as good as ever. The steep and narrow village street in front of the
hotel has a gargouille down its center, a stone sluice that gurgles with running water all day and
serves as a drain when the street is cleaned by flooding at night.


7. Friday, 19 July (St. Martin Vesubie - Condamine; 150km, 3620m):

The climb up the Colmain, or Col St. Martin, exposes a view down the Vesubie Valley as the road
clings to cliffs between rough hewn tunnels. In several of these tunnels... swoosh! Crag Martins
barreled past me, darting between cars and trucks. These grey-brown swallow-like birds tend their
nests in the rocky tunnel ceilings where their young are safe from predators. Apparently the traffic
doesn't bother them.

Beyond the summit, I descended westward, first through a large grassy ski area, and then into dry
sparse vegetation in the red rocky gorge of the Tinée River.

Across the canyon, roads that are tiring just to look at follow tortuous paths up through cliffs to
mountain villages like Ilonse
(7a). I crossed the Tinée, heading westward on Rt D30, and climbed past the ancient village of
Roubion on the way over the Col de la Couillole (1678m). Then I descended to Beuil (1450m)
and climbed to Croix de Valberg (1829m).

I took the "back" road down to Guillaumes (1200m) and headed up Rt N2202 along the Var River in the
Gorges de Daluis toward the Col de la Cayolle (2327m). This area has special appeal for me because
most of it lies in a national park with no ski areas and accompanying development, offering only
villages with simple accommodations. The Cayolle is also the first 2000m pass I rode over on my 1960
tour and remains unchanged. The summit is set in the midst of steep alpine meadows covered with
wildflowers and has nothing more than a narrow parking strip along the road.

I descended through the Gorges du Bachelard along the Torrente Bachelard to Guillestre (1000m) and
was happy to find that the tailwind I had all day would last for the run from Guillestre up the Ubey
River to Condamine. Here, I stayed at the Hotel du Midi, as I have on many tours beginning in 1960.
Just above town, the mountain is riddled with tunnels from the valley floor to cliffs above, where
huge fortifications keep a silent vigil for enemies long gone. Only bullet holes in the buildings
remain as combat mementos.


8. Saturday, 20 July (Condamine - Lautaret; 117km, 3024m):

Illuminated by low-angle sunlight, fortifications high above stood out in the clear morning air as I
rode up the Ubey on the Route des Grand Alpes (D902). I began climbing the Col de Vars (2111m) just
beyond the junction with the road to the Col de Larche (1991m), aka Colle della Maddalena from the
Italian side. Interestingly, Col de Vars has kilometer posts with distance to the summit and average
gradient, and there is a randonneur sign-in booklet at the summit.

As I climbed I noticed that landslides had steepened some sections and flattened others. With the
road covered with droppings for the last few kilometers, I was lucky that the usual flock of sheep
had already made its trek up the road from the valley and was now grazing next to the road. My
experience has been that sheep herds on the road are impenetrable without intercession from the
shepherd and his motley dog. And you must wait for the shepherd to decide where the right place is.

At the summit the ramshackle corrugated steel shed, that I first saw in 1960, had collapsed during
the winter and not been repaired. The old folks who had offered postcards, maps, sodas, and coffee
there all these years may have decided it was time to quit.

On the descent to Guillestre (1000m), I could make out the gap of the Galibier Pass, where I was
headed, in a distant panorama of snowy peaks and glaciers above the Durance Valley. I stayed on the
Route des Grand Alpes (D902) instead of taking the main route (N94) up the valley to Briancon. My
road followed the rugged gorge of the Guil River and turned up the Riviere canyon where it met the
Passo Agnello route (D947). It was easy going up to Arvieux, where I stopped for lunch at the
grocery store. Across the street from the store, an alcove under the city hall with a bench, water
fountain, and public restroom, served as my lunch room.

Although lunch was satisfying, the weather was not. My pleasant following breeze turned into a
stiff headwind as I started up a straight steep section from Arvieux past Brunnisard on the way to
the Col d'Izoard. The going got easier above Brunnisard, where the grade eased while the road went
into traverses and hairpin turns that gave shelter from the wind. At the false summit I could see
the rest of the climb across the canyon, zig-zagging to the obelisk that marks the summit. With a
short descent and a bit of climbing, I arrived at the Coppi memorial where a bronze caricature of
Fausto is mounted on a marble plaque. This treeless landscape looks like the moon, with vast slopes
of dark grey scree at the angle of repose. The exposure makes this climb especially difficult in
warm weather.

From the Izoard (2361m), the gap of the Galibier Pass was again visible in the distance. Descending
the unspectacular road, I arrived in Briancon (1391m), a large town overrun with tourists and
traffic, where I took Rt N91 (also D902) with its gentle slope of 2% to 4% to the Col du Lautaret
(2058m). A headwind made it seem steeper than in times past.

On the Lautaret, the new Hotel des Glaciers, now known as Hotel Bonnabel, was splendidly built
after the old hotel burned three years ago. The new hotel was designed around the grand dining room
and centerpiece of grandfather Bonnabel's unfinished project. I was glad to meet Paul Bonnabel, who
ran the hotel before his nephew Dominique took over, and had a long chat with him about old times.
After an elegant dinner I retired to a split level room that was one of the least expensive, but
still excessively posh for bicycle touring. It made me think adieu Hotel des Glaciers and the
simpler days of yore.


9. Sunday, 21 July (Lautaret - Bourg St. Maurice; 166km, 3012m):

I had an ample and tasty buffet breakfast with more than I needed before heading up the Galibier.
Rain clouds darkened the skies and began to drizzle part way up the easy climb to the old summit and
huge sandstone pillar honoring Henri des Grange, originator of the Tour de France. I took the old
road, with its 13% grade and narrow hairpin turns, to the summit of the Galibier (2645m) and then
returned to ride through the newly refurbished one-lane summit tunnel (2555m) that had just been
reopened after more than 40 years. The tunnel is no wider now than it was, but is well lighted,
repaved, and controlled by smart traffic lights. The tunnel makes it possible for tour busses to
once again offer this as a scenic route. There is a hitch: No Bicycles! But then, no one was there
to complain.

From the summit the glistening glaciers of the Massif de la Vanoise
(9a) and the Massif du Sorieller (4000m) made a marginal showing above the valleys to the north
and south. The descent isn't steep enough to reach high speeds and, at Plan Lachat, even
requires pedaling over a long flat section. I didn't get much speed entering Valloire on the
only fast spot because I had a headwind and a wet road. I rode with intermittent drizzle
from Valloire (1430m), over the Telegraph (1570m) and down to St Michel du Maurienne (712m).

Descending many hairpin turns of the Telegraph through a thin larch forest went slowly in the wet.
In St. Michel I got on the main route from Torino to Chambery, served by Rt N6, Motorway N6, and a
doubletrack rail line. I rode up Rt N6 which is still under siege as the motorway is being bored
through adjacent canyon walls for greater truck traffic to the 12.9km Frejus highway tunnel to
Torino. Meanwhile a base railway tunnel has been started to undercut all of these efforts. The
gradual climb, which goes in fits and jerks, helped warm me up on the way to Modane, the south
portal of the Frejus Railway Tunnel.

Above Modane (1057m), after most traffic took the highway tunnel, I climbed a pleasantly empty road
that rises above Avrieux, the site of subsonic to hypersonic wind tunnels, located here after WWII
because hydropower was abundant. Above Avrieux the road levels off next to a deep defile of the Arc
River, a natural obstacle guarded by a huge fortress. Tourists cross the breathtaking gorge to the
fort on the Pont du Diable, a slender truss foot bridge that accentuates the depth of the chasm.
Beyond the gorge, I descended to the valley floor and rolled gradually up to Termignon (1300m). From
here, it's a short climb up the valley to Lanslebourg (1399m), the foot of the Col du Mont Cenis
(2083m), which heads south to Torino. I stopped for a restaurant lunch in Lanslevillard, the upper
end of Lanslebourg.

After Lanslebourg an unexpected steep climb to the Col du Madeleine
(9b) sneaks up on the casual map reader. From the col, the road dips into the high valley of the
Arc, an alpine paradise of steep walls, towering crags, and remote side valleys that expose
the huge glaciers of the Croce Rossa (3526m), Via del Ciamarella (3676m), and Albaron
(3627m). At the head of the flat valley, I rode through Bonneval sur Arc (1835m) and took
the big sweeping turn that begins the main climb to the Iseran Pass.

I traversed the steep slope to reach the Gorge de la Lenta and climbed the east wall of the gorge
over waterfalls and through bare rock tunnels. Near the top of the cliff, the Lenta cascades into
the gorge through a slot. A short way beyond the lip of the gorge, the road crosses the river on a
stone bridge and takes two long traverses to reach the summit. Here I was rewarded with a panorama
of the entire climb backed by snow-capped peaks.

After a photo stop at the large concrete sign at the summit, I put on my jacket and descended to Val
d'Isere where I ran into heavy rain. At Ste. Foy-Tarentaise the rain stopped, and I continued
descending to Seez, at the junction with Rt N90, the road to Col du Petit St. Bernard road.

I found no rooms in either of the two hotels where I usually stay in Seez and continued down to
Bourg St. Maurice where the situation wasn't much better. After I had tried a couple of hotels, the
lady in one hotel suggested, "Go back to the hotel across the way. I'm sure they have something
left, though perhaps not a single room." I did that and took a double room in the Hotel SARL, just
as more people arrived to find nothing left.

At dinner I noticed a side dining room full of American bicyclists whose tour leader told me that
they were from New Hampshire. He told me that the whole town was overrun with bicyclists who planned
to ride a stage of the Tour de France tomorrow, the day before the race would take the same route.
He estimated that there were more than 7000 bicyclists participating, something that became more
believable the next day.


10. Monday 22 July (Bourg St. Maurice - Martigny; 135km, 2900m):

After breakfast I pushed off into beautiful sunny weather and within a kilometer of the hotel came
to the roundabout on Rt D217 where the road heads up the Cormet de Roselend. The road was closed and
all motor traffic was being directed elsewhere as I rode through the roadblock. Oops, that didn't
last long, as a policeman waved even hikers and bicyclists off the road onto a grassy area.

Soon a police car, with blue lights flashing and its famous two-tone klaxon blasting away, went by,
and then... for the next hour, bicyclists came up the road wall-to-wall, wheel-on-wheel. This got
dull after an hour, so I sized up the action and when riders of my speed began to pass, I hopped in.
As it turned out, not soon enough. Farther up, hairpin turns slowed the column to stalling speed so
everyone walked the next 200 or so meters. The next time this happened I saw that I could cut across
the steep meadow and pass more than a hundred riders to get to clearer air, so to speak.

The riders up front were a bit swifter and didn't stall on curves. I talked to some of them but
their preoccupation with technique and strategy was too serious for me. Fortunately, I had planned
to turn off at les Chapieux (1552m), half way up the Cormet de Roselend. From the junction I could
see the road high above clinging to the ledges and carrying a stream of bicyclists.

From les Chapieux, a little used road heads into the Vallee des Glaciers to Ville des Glaciers
(1781m), from which the trail to the Col de la Seigne crosses the river to a pack station with
donkeys and a small restaurant with hot food. I got a snack and then ambled up the path, which in
places was steep enough to require carrying, rather than pushing or pulling the bicycle. Unlike two
years ago, when I did this with John Woodfill in the snow, today was a beautiful breezy day with
puffs of clouds. All the while the various peaks of Mont Blanc with large glaciers rose above the
ridges ahead.

The summit of the Col de la Seigne (2516m) was marked by a stone pedestal with a large engraved
bronze disk identifying the various peaks and their elevations. I rode down most of the rocky trail
that appears to get more traffic than the side I came up. Although fatter tires would have been
welcome for the rough stuff, I managed to reach pavement at la Visaille in the Vallee Veneay without
a flat. I stopped for a hot lunch at a restaurant with an outdoor deck.

I descended steeply to Entreves (1380m), above Courmayeur, the entrance to the Mt. Blanc tunnel, and
then climbed an equally steep grade up the Val Ferret. The road leveled off after a bit, but to make
up for the lesser grade, it soon ran out of pavement. I stopped at Refuge Elena (2062) at the end of
the road, opposite the Glacier de Triolet, for food and drink before picking up my bicycle to scale
the Grand Col Ferret from the steep side. I hadn't tried both Col de la Seigne and Grand Col Ferret
on the same day before, and the steepness of the trail impressed me this time. Much of the ascent
required carrying the bicycle, but to make up for that, the green meadows with wildflowers under a
sunny sky over Mont Blanc made it hard to complain.

At the Grand Col Ferret summit (2537m), I was surprised to find a directional bronze disk similar to
the one on the Col de la Seigne and a newly graded trail into Switzerland. Unfortunately the trail
had cross-drains too sharp-edged and deep to ride over. Jumping over them while braking down the
steep grade was too risky for me. Although I could ride around some of them on the high side, many
required a dismount. After the dairy at les Ars (1800m), I was back on a faster road and made good
time to Orsieres (901m) and Martigny (417m), which lies on the junction of Val du Rhone, Val
d'Entremont, and the Val du Trient. I found good food and lodging at the Hotel Grand Quai.


11. Tuesday 23 July (Martigny - Baceno; 135km, 1988m):

Under a clear sky with a favorable breeze, I rolled easily up the Rhone Valley on Rt N9 toward Brig,
82km away. Traffic was light, because most of it was on the parallel A9 motorway. This broad valley
is the great fruit basket of Switzerland, just as the Alto Adige is in Italy. Orchards and vineyards
fill the valley and reach high above on sunny terraced hillsides. Most vineyards are practically
paved with flat river bed rocks to conserve water.

I took a picture on-the-fly of the castles in Sion as I cruised on to Sierre (533m) and Susten
(630m), where the Swiss Federal Railway (CFF) recently completed the last piece of doubletrack on
its Milano-Simplon-Genéve route. I ran ahead of a tailwind all the way to Brig, and by the time I
got there the day had warmed up. I took the old highway into town and turned up toward Brig-Ried
along the Saltina and got on the new highway just before it says "No Bicycles". I have never
understood this restriction because it is only for a short straight section past Ried. I suspect
that their chamber of commerce had a hand in this.

I rode through the curved Schallberg tunnel to reach level ground in the Gantertal, high above the
Saltina, the river that flows through Brig. The Saltina flooded on 24 September 1993, putting most
of the town under as much as two meters of water and gravel. About a kilometer farther, a high
concrete suspension bridge crosses the Gantertal to Berisal (1520m).

From Berisal I continued in the shade of a larch forest up to treeline where I entered long
avalanche shelters that cover the road most of the distance to the Simplon summit (2005m). The climb
was pleasant, and although clouds obscured the Eiger and the Aletsch Glacier to the north, the
summit and high peaks to the south were clear. The Simplon Pass is one of the more exciting and
scenic routes in the Alps. Unlike other major passes, it has no highway tunnel beneath it, yet has
remarkably little traffic.

Today was a no-traffic day as I swept down into the galleries along the granite walls of the Gondo
gorge, high above the Diveria River in the Val Divedro. After a long zigzag down the wall, I rode
through Gabi and Gondo, where I could still see severe damage from the landslides in October 2000.
At Iselle (672m) the 20km Simplon railway tunnel emerges from its south portal to vanish again into
a tunnel that makes a loop in the mountain to lose elevation.

The bridge over a creek before Varzo (532m) was still washed out from the floods of several years
ago and may not be rebuilt because a bypass around the whole town is being built over the Diveria.
The detour over a bumpy temporary bridge is so slow that we can no longer swoop across the creek and
sprint uphill to the Varzo city limit.

About a kilometer above Crevoladossola (337m), which lies at the end of the narrow part of the
canyon, the highway enters an autos-only tunnel where bicycles must (and prefer to) take the old
road into town. I took a picture of the graceful and ancient stone arch bridge before
Crevoladossola, where I turned east into the Val Antigorio through Crodo (the home of Crodo Acqua
Minerale) and on to Baceno
(11a) at the confluence of the Toce and Devero rivers. As I looked for a hotel in Baceno,
screaming Swifts made their last fast laps around town in what looked like a super fast
bicycle criterium, emitting high pitched screams as they flew. Swifts always scream when
they are having fun.


12. Wednesday 24 July (Baceno - Mesocco); 150km, 2252m):

Breakfast was late in this "retirement" hotel so I didn't get on the road until 9:00. I made my way
up the Val Formazza, the narrow canyon of the Toce, where the road climbs steep sections between
breathers. Quarries that mine the high quality seamless granite here dot the canyon walls, their
locations revealed by spindly cranes standing over rectangular notches in the cliffs.

Now and then, after sounding sirens three times, one of the quarries would set off a blast with a
deafening echo. If well executed, a block as big as a dumpster separated from the cliff with nothing
more than a tell-tail whiff of white dust. As I rode up, trucks nearly as wide as the road crawled
down, their compression brakes roaring, carrying their blocks to factories to be cut and finished
for building materials.

Besides granite quarrying, hydropower is the big industry here. I was not lucky enough to be here on
Sunday or Thursday afternoon, when the Toce River flows down the Val Formazza instead of in
penstocks to an Ente Nazionale per l'Energia Elettrica (ENEL) power plant. At the head of the valley
I could see only a trickle instead of the 143m Cascata del Toce that draws huge crowds on weekends.
I climbed under the zigzag avalanche shed up the wall to the l'Albergo Cascata del Toce (1675m) that
stands at the edge of the waterfall.

Surprisingly, the 2003 Giro d'Italia will have a stage finish at the top of the falls. A first for
the Val Antigorio.

19th Stage, Friday 30 May CANELLI - CASCATA DEL TOCE (236km). The last 18.3 km climb to the
finish atop the falls.

Above the Hotel Cascata del Toce di Riale, at La Frua (1681m), the road climbs gradually to the
small village of Riale (1728m), where the road to the San Giacomo Pass turns off to the right in the
Valle di Morasco to start its climb up the south wall. This unpaved road is well graded in times of
use by ENEL, which this was not. Navigating the rough surface exposed by recent heavy rains required
walking in rocky sections where streams ran down the road, whereas other sections could be ridden
easily. The solitude and striking landscape make this one of the great roads in the Alps.

The road levels off in the Val Toggia (2000m) and then climbs above the dam of Lago Toggia (2191m).
I have seen this lake in deep snow and ice in other years, but today it was emerald blue and
surrounded by green meadows and wildflowers. The road rises gradually past the lake to the San
Giacomo Pass (2313m), where a small stone house at the end of the road marks the Swiss border. From
here only hiking trails continue. Over the years I have tried mainly one route, the one marked for
the Gries Pass (2479m). From this trail I took a branch that descends steeply to the Nufenen Pass
road in the Val Bedretto.

This time I took the main trail marked on my map that descended to a knoll from which I saw a
substantial cow shed with attached residence below at the edge of a meadow. Thinking that there must
be a road to supply this facility, I continued, only to discover that it was a former military
building that had been built by helicopter. There was no road and the cows that I saw had come over
the pass just as I had. There was no way down the mountain other than the well-marked but
precipitous trail through which no cow could pass.

The farther I descended, the more difficult the trail got, passing between huge boulders overgrown
with juniper, alpenrosen, and larch trees. A hiker coming up warned me that the trail got worse.
Worse? She was right. The trail was so impassable for me with my bicycle that I had to bushwhack an
alternate path around some sections. The trail did not improve until reaching the bottom, in the Val
Bedretto, where I discovered that my saddlebag holder had bent and had nearly separated from the
saddle from all the bouncing on trails yesterday and the drop-offs over boulders today.

Once on the road (1814m) I coasted down to Airolo and on down the Valle Laventina on Rt N2 hoping my
saddlebag would not fall off. In Biasca I found a first-class bicycle shop with all that I needed to
repair my bag holder.

I turned east at Castione (242m), up the Val Mesolcina, on the road to the San Bernardino Pass (Rt
21). The road was nearly flat up the valley to Soazza, where it climbs smartly to Mesocco (790m),
the former terminus of the abandoned Rhätische Bahn (RhB) Railway from Bellinzona. This line was
once planned to cross the mountains into the Rhine Valley to join the rest of the RhB network.

I stopped by Ristorante Beer in Mesocco where the same host has presided for as many years as I can
remember. He is notable for his ability to recite complex menus from memory and to keep in his head
what every guest ordered without notes. Unfortunately for the second year in a row I arrived on
Wednesday, the day off, and had to go up the road to the place where I stayed last year.


13. Thursday, 25 July (Mesocco - Brusio; 180km, 4096m):

I started up the granite paving stones of Mesocco's 13% main street with a slight headwind and under
cloudy skies toward the San Bernardino Pass. The grade eased a bit at the end of the cobbles as the
road climbed hairpin turns up to Pian San Giacomo (1170m), where it crosses under the motorway. From
here the road meanders across the plain and climbs over a ridge to San Bernardino (1607m), a
charming little town in a glacial depression with a lake. The motorway takes a tunnel from here into
the Hinterrhein Valley, making the connection that the RhB Railway had once planned.

After a snack at the store, I rode up the most scenic part of this climb through glacial formations,
with running water and green meadows of wildflowers, bog cotton, and alpenrosen. Remnants of the
ancient Roman road, with large edge stones, was visible in a few places where it had not been
obliterated by the new road.

As I passed the monastery on top of the San Bernardino Pass (2603m), I saw no dogs with rum kegs
hanging from their collars like those in the gift shop, and I'm not sure there ever were any.

I descended a series of hairpin turns into the Hinterrheintal, where a branch of the Rhine
originates on the slopes of the Rheinwaldshorn
(13a) in the Adula group. Today the valley was pleasantly still without the usual gunnery practice
on the huge artillery range up the valley. I crossed the Hinterrhein River near the motorway
tunnel portal, passed the town of Hinterrhein (1624m), and took the frontage road down to
Splugen (1457m) into a headwind. After stopping for some food at the market I turned south
up the Splugen Pass where my headwind became a tailwind, although the overcast with
intermittent drizzle remained.

The lush green meadows of the upper valley were rich with the usual wildflowers and orange
dandelions that seem to thrive at higher elevations. I saw only wagtails along the creek where in
past years I had seen Dippers, odd birds that walk under water. A Swiss Customs house lies above a
stack of hairpin turns, a couple of kilometers below the summit, standing forlornly on an
outcropping in the eye of a hairpin turn. Border guards have a sweeping view of the road from the
valley up to the summit. Neither this station nor the one at the Splugen summit (2117m) wanted
anything from me and I got waved through. But farther down at the Italian station, they waited to
see whether I was going to stop before allowing me to pass. Not showing a readiness to stop caused
us a long delay on one ride.

Monte Spluga (1908m), a small village with granite houses at the upper end of a large hydroelectric
lake, looked as grey and depressing as ever, and it wasn't even winter. It doesn't look much better
in sunshine. The grey stone facade of the dam is decorated with a relief of its construction date in
giant green granite Roman numerals
MDIVXXXV. This road is unusual in that much of it lies in avalanche protection tunnels, some of
which are hairpin turns, stacked one above the other in cliffs. Although most of its
one-lane sections have been widened, tour busses still avoid it for its tight curves.

Once down to Pianazzo (1386m) in the Val San Giacomo, I descended the valley floor to Chiavenna
(333m) in the Val Bregaglia, where I met with clear skies and warming sunshine. Turning east toward
the Maloja Pass and St. Moritz, I crossed into Switzerland at Castasegna (696m) and continued past
the lovely old fashioned Post Hotel Bregaglia in Bondo, where I have stayed often.

I climbed the gradual grade to Casaccia (1458m) where the Septimer Pass (2310m), a Roman road, heads
north, an interesting climbing adventure that I once took over to Bivio (1769m) on the Julier Pass
(2284m). From Casaccia the road climbs steeply into a bowl and ascends the south wall to the
Maloja Pass. Unstable land in this steep terrain has warped the once uniform grade into
humps and dips.

The Maloja Pass (1815m) has no descent to the east, which the road convincingly demonstrates as it
follows the shore of the Silsersee. After some ups and downs along the slightly lower Silvaplanasee,
I arrived at the St. Moritzersee and descended a steep section to the junction with the Bernina road
at Champagna (1714m). I headed south through Pontresina (1805m), where I made a quick stop for some
food at a grocery store.

Leaving the sun and clear sky behind, I rode up the Val Bernina to the railway crossing at the
Bellavista curve (1950m) of the RhB Railway, where there was no train to photograph in front of the
glacier as I had often done. In the upper Val Bernina, after the Diavolezza and Lagalp funiculars,
the road climbs the last bump to the Bernina summit
(2284n) above two lakes that lie on opposite sides of the divide. The waters of deep blue Lago Negro
flow via the Inn and Danube rivers to the Black Sea, while those of milky white Lago Bianco
flow via the Cavaliasco and Adda rivers to the Po and the Adriatic Sea. I hurried over the
summit to beat rain and darkness. It was 19:30 with clouds closing in.

The south side of the Bernina Pass has one of the longest uninterrupted descents in the Alps. As I
swooped around the nearly circular curve at the turn-off to Livigno, I got some rain from clouds
approaching from the east. Fortunately the road heads west as it cuts through a ridge into the Val
Poschiavo, where the narrow bumpy road makes a long almost straight descent. Even without pedaling,
descending fast on such a bumpy road takes effort. This helped keep me warm as did the thought of
hotel Bottoni in Brusio where Mr. and Mrs. Beti preside and serve great dinners.

I leveled off at San Carlo and continued through towns where the RhB runs on tracks in the narrow
one-lane highway, taking the right-of-way from cars in San Antonio and La Prese. With a tailwind, I
rode easily in top gear around Lago Poschiavo to Miralago and descended the fast section to Brusio
(781m), where I stopped at Hotel Bottoni, one of my favorite spots for lunch and overnight. After a
hot shower and change of clothes, I savored a delicious meal and got lots of rest.


2285. Friday, 26 July (Brusio - Brusio; 0km, 0m): Rest day.

I ate and slept and watched trains go around the famous Brusio loop. On the 7% grade, the steady hum
of electric motors going both up and downhill can be heard long before trains pass.


2286. Saturday, 27 July (Brusio - Bormio; 104km, 2620m):

In the morning I passed the Brusio loop and made the short swift descent past the border at
Campocologno and on to Tirano (430m) in the Valtellina. I turned left to Stazzona a short way down
the valley from Madonna di Tirano and rode up through the woods to intersect the Aprica Pass road
(Rt N39). From the town of Aprica (1176m) on the summit, I descended the gentle grade to Edolo
(690m) and then passed the foot of the Mortirolo Pass (1896m) at Monno (868m). I have taken the
Mortirolo, a shortcut from Tirano to Monno, but with 20% grades and no scenery above Tovo (526m),
it's not worth the effort.

At Temú (1144m), just below Ponte di Legno, I stopped at the Locanda Veduta dell'Adamello just in
time for lunch. Silvano Macculotti, the proprietor, was preparing to serve lunch for his family and
I tailgated their feast with gusto. Well fed, I rode through Temú along the Frigidolfo, a torrent
that rages through the middle of Ponte di Legno (1258m) as though intent on jumping its banks.
Staying on the north side of the river, I reached the nearly flat, lush green valley below Pezzo
where the road makes one large S-bend to start its climb.

Pezzo is a typically picturesque hill town, glued to the side of the mountain in what appears to be
high-risk avalanche territory, where the shape of the slopes above town apparently protects it from
the white death. I climbed through the larch forest to break out into the Val delle Massi at
Appolonia (1585m). Here the Frigidolfo meanders across the flat valley with no hint of its cascades
below or the waterfalls above.

I stopped at the gazebo which currently offers only one flavor of rusty bubbly mineral water instead
of the former two. This water is thought to give strength to bicyclists who dare climb the Gavia or
at least to those who dare to drink. After getting past the warning signs of landslides, rockfall,
dangerous narrow road, and a requirement to have tire chains on board from September to July, I was
on my way. Past the first hairpin, reality strikes as the road goes from highway to driveway width,
and the 16% sign of poster fame sets the tone. The road is only that steep in places, but the signs
are a warning for vehicles that cannot restart on such a grade after meeting a descending vehicle.
The bicyclist can always walk past such obstacles.

Fortunately plans of the highway department to widen and pave the entire route have been laid to
rest for now. The march of man against nature has stopped right there where the road meets the
mountain. The road has lost nothing in character through paving and remains the same narrow one-lane
Gavia that it always was. There is not much more traffic now, because the road is often closed by
slides and rockfall.

I paused at the cliff where I had been photographed years ago for the poster picture that hangs on
the wall in the Rifugio Bonetta on the summit. At the Rifugio, I stopped in to say hello and met
some German bicyclists who had stories about these mountains similar to mine. Just then Mr. Bonetta
came out of the kitchen and said "Jobst, you have mail". There, taped to the glass over my poster
were two notes, one from Sterling McBride and another from Jan Johnson, the wife of my frame builder
and good riding companion, who had been there a few days earlier. Mr. Bonetta asked me to add the
date (1978) to my autograph on the poster. I thanked him for his hospitality and rolled off across
the broad summit.

Or, The descent is much easier on pavement than it had been on gravel, giving more time to
appreciate the view. The Ortler (3905m) and Gran Zebru (3851m) with their glacial caps and perpetual
glistening snow rise to the east, while the Valfurva Valley stretches out to the north. The Val di
Gavia, that steepens after Rifugio Breni (2543m), got me down to the main road in Santa Caterina
(1734m) quickly. Bormio
(2286a) at the foot of the Valfurva Valley is a steep dash from the town of Valfurva (1339m). I
stopped at my favorite hotel, the Albergo St Ignazio in a courtyard just off the Via Roma,
the main street of Bormio, which has been remade into a pedestrian mall. To my
disappointment, Braulio liqueur HQ had lost its rustic facade and interior in a remodel and
now looked like any other liquor store. After a great pizza at the large pizzeria across
from Braulio, I got a good night's rest for a long day to the Dolomites.


2287. Sunday, 28 July (Bormio - Pozza di Fassa; 172km, 3132m):

Under clear skies and with no wind, I headed into the barren Val Braulio, where the road clings to
the south side below slopes of scree, ducking into the mountain in long avalanche tunnels before
reaching the headwall at Spondalunga. Here the road makes ten traverses to climb to the Bocca di
Braulio, a curved valley that leads to the Umbrail gap (2502m) and the Stelvio summit (2757m). From
the Umbrail, only 3km remain but they are an unrelenting 10% climb.

As usual, many motorcyclists and bicyclists were gathered at the summit as I made my way to the edge
of the precipice to the east. Here I had a clear view of the road, glued to the wall, as it makes 48
hairpin turns down the Val di Trafoi. A local bicycle hill climb was being held on this side from
Prato, a climb that used to take me two hours. In contrast today I took three hours for the lesser
climb from Bormio but enjoyed it just as much.

I descended the Val Trafoi along the Solda River, through Trafoi
(2287a) and Gomagoi (1267m) before rolling out of the canyon at Prato
(2287b) and taking the short straight run to Spondigna (885m), where I ate lunch. From here it's
50km down the Val Venosta to Merano (302m) and another flat 30km run to Bolzano (262m), a
charming south Tyrolean city on the edge of the Dolomites.

I headed north past the Bolzano tra

As always, a great tour report. I have a couple logistics questions for a seasoned veteran of
European touring:

1. How do you package your bike for plane travel?
2. Assuming you arrive and depart at the same airport, where do you store your bike box and luggage
for the return flight?

terry morse Palo Alto, CA
Terry Morse writes:

> As always, a great tour report. I have a couple logistics questions for a seasoned veteran of
> European touring:

> 1. How do you package your bike for plane travel?

That is explained in a few of the write-ups like:

> 2. Assuming you arrive and depart at the same airport, where do you store your bike box and
> luggage for the return flight?

You could do this at a convenient hotel somewhere away from the big city by taking a train to, for
instance Affoltern and operating out of a hotel where they would allow you to leave the stuff. As
you see, I have always found a landing zone with friends. Pick a small town on, for instance on the
Gotthard line so you have a direct train from and to the airport. Brunnen, canton Schwyz (on the
'Lake of Lucerne" aka Vierwaldstettersee) would be a good spot, being at the foot of the Gotthard,
Furka, Susten, Pragel and other less noted passes.

Jobst Brandt [email protected] Palo Alto CA
Terry Morse <[email protected]> wrote:

>1. How do you package your bike for plane travel?
>2. Assuming you arrive and depart at the same airport, where do you store your bike box and luggage
> for the return flight?

These are darn good questions and something that concerned me when I did my first overseas trip in
October. There is a good website, Travelling with bicycles, at

If you go to the Vienna page you will see my experience described.

Terry Morse writes:

> As always, a great tour report. I have a couple logistics questions for a seasoned veteran of
> European touring:

> 1. How do you package your bike for plane travel?

That is explained in a few of the write-ups like:

> 2. Assuming you arrive and depart at the same airport, where do you store your bike box and
> luggage for the return flight?

You could do this at a convenient hotel somewhere away from the big city by taking a train to, for
instance Affoltern and operating out of a hotel where they would allow you to leave the stuff. As
you see, I have always found a landing zone with friends. Pick a small town, for instance on the
Gotthard line so you have a direct train from and to the airport. International trains stop in the
ZH airport. Brunnen, canton Schwyz (on the 'Lake of Lucerne" aka Vierwaldstettersee) would be a good
spot, being at the foot of the Gotthard, Furka, Susten, Pragel and other less noted passes.

Jobst Brandt [email protected] Palo Alto CA
Great report Jobst! I really enjoyed reading it. Nice photos too. I hope you find your
missing files.

Matt O.
> 1. How do you package your bike for plane travel?

We get cardboard bike boxes from any bike shop. They protect the bike well and are generally free.

> 2. Assuming you arrive and depart at the same airport, where do you store your bike box and
> luggage for the return flight?

In Europe you can easily pick up a new box. Boxing up bikes in Geneva,
after an eight week ride.

Same goes for Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, though in some 3d world countries it may not
be possible.

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