Author’s note: Although this part of the sabbatical took place nearly 5 months ago, I wish to share the rest of the story with you, and I must continue the written journal of the experience. I hope you will enjoy reliving this experience just as I am reliving it while putting it down in print.
There are coffee mugs out there that remind us: it’s not just about the destination; it’s the journey. Leaving the wine country of Switzerland, some smellier than others, we mounted up for undoubtedly our most adventuresome day. It started out all so innocently and refreshing. Isn’t that how all things seem to start?
After a classic Swiss breakfast of cheese and oatmeal, we biked out of Sierre kissing the edge of the small lac de Geronde. All was well. There was a berm and the hint of an increased uphill climb. No worries.
After two miles of quaint cycling, we were swallowed by a mountain. The tunnel entrance appeared before us. With no known way around, we plunged head long into its mouth. The steady up hill grade and the blasting trucks instantly awoke us from our idyllic dream into a half-mile ride of terror. The light at the end of the tunnel never seemed more realistic at that moment. Once bathed in sunlight, we all stopped and said, “OK, let’s not do that again.” Ah, but it is adventure day today.
A bit further down the road, we squeezed through another short tunnel then a third. We spilled out to a bridge and a massive roundabout. We felt it best to take a road far less traveled to soothe our nerves. Spying a road across the river and checking with Google, we thought, “Now, there’s a road worth riding.” A bit of a climb to get to it, but nothing we weren’t going to face later. We skirted across the face of a mountain that tumbled down into the Rhone River. Etched along the face of the mountain, there were terraced vineyards. We had found our idyllic ride again! A beautiful and refreshing waterfall splashed playfully across the road, and we had no traffic. Strange.
Moments later, we came to a switchback. It descended to a house. Hmm. Alas, there was amountain trail that spurred off the switchback. “Hey Guys! Look at this. We could take this to a bridge.” A quick survey of our situation and
the narrowness of the path perched about 50 feet above the Rhone River helped us realize our ordeal through the tunnels was nothing compared to this next trek. We opted to back track and head for smooth ribbon of blacktop.
Back past the playful waterfall and down to the massive roundabout, we encountered a brand new bike trail. It was still being built, but we got to ride on a good chunk of the path. It was once again a dreamlike ride.
We plopped right into the middle of nice little town. Yet, surprises lurked in the cozy nooks of this place. We wanted to avoid as many main arteries as we possibly could, and Google had a wonderful suggestion that took us back across the Rhone to a riverside bike path.
I’ve never biked on a runway before, but to access the road to the bike path we cycled across a small regional airfield that serviced some of the more affluent tourist who had a hankering to visit Zermatt and the Matterhorn. The Matterhorn serves as the paramount symbol for Switzerland. With its unique crook at the top, it reminds most of us of Mt Crumpit. And we all know what happened at the top of that mountain! I dare say that anyone who visits Switzerland has a change of heart, because the natural beauty and the refreshing hospitality will melt any frozen Grinch-like spirit.
The Matterhorn was not on our itinerary. It was about a 20 mile deadend ride just to the train station to get to Zermatt. Although, Zermatt is a fascinating little town. When I was a teenager, we stopped in to visit. The town does not allow any cars, so one is free to roam the streets in a spirit of wonder as you take in the cathedral peaks that surround the town. In the winter, this place is skiing mecca.
Back to our story…we crossed the runway and the across the Rhone again to our quaint little bike path. All was good again. Alas, it is adventure day.
A lone cyclist blew past us, and our competitive spirit kicked in. Even though we were carrying at least 20 pounds of gear, we put the hammer down to keep up with this guy. He was like our pilot. We chugged along and had a great ride, he took a hard right across the river; we took a hard right across the river. He turned right again to head back down the river; we did not. We kept biking further up and further in (As CS Lewis would write). We were about to face our last battle before lunch. The bike trail spread like a sweet concrete blanket before us. We waved as we cycled past some railroad workers. They gave us a quizzical look. Not sure why.
About 500 yards later, we jumped right into another literary classic by Shel Silverstein. Our sidewalk had ended…abruptly! Fortunately, all four of us had lights on up in the attic, albeit dimly. We decided to keep moving forward on the single track dirt trail. Not long after that we suffered our second flat tire of the trip. A quick change and then a reassessment. What to do. Google.
The map pointed out that there was a small access road on the other side of the train tracks. You may be thinking, “Oh that’s not so bad.” Remember, this is adventure day. There were 6 lines of rail; two of which serviced the Swiss high-speed rail. Pardon me for the following little diversion: There really is nothing more mechanically and engineeringly more beautiful than the Swiss train system. They certainly don’t let mountains get in the way of their railroad pursuits, and they have somehow figured out how to make their trains virtually silent. And on top of all this, these babies cook! I mean, they are smokin’ fast. You know that fun Roger Miller song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qk_hPTN50UE), well…there is no clickety clackity of the train wheels to inspire that song when you think about a Swiss train.
Being ones who are kings of the road, we needed to get off the goat path next to the rail line, so we timed our approach and ran like the dickens across the tracks only to be met by a hurricane fence across the road. With a bit of our own engineering, we found our way on to the road and back in the saddle of a sweet ride. Arriving in the tourist trap town of Visp, we stopped for lunch.
Somewhere along the way, we crossed the imaginary boundary between French and German. Up to this point, I was fairly able to get us through most predicaments with my rudimentary (emphasis on “Rude”) French. I turned to my son to see how well his 3 years of High School German would fare. Upon receiving the bill for our lunch, not so well! Somehow a regular two litre bottle of “sprite” cost us 16 euros. C’est la vie!
We had a good chuckle about that and were fully loaded with a classic Valais Germanic lunch: heavy on the potatoes and cheese with a speckling of meat. I was longing for a bed, but we had many miles before we could sleep this day. Besides, it’s adventure day!
After lunch, we rode out of town and into a refresher class about colors. Now, being a skier, I have deeply embedded into my psyche: Green is for beginner; Blue is for Intermediate. The road signs in Switzerland come in these two varieties of signs: Green and Blue. Simple enough. Throw in a roundabout and it just gets interesting. There I was leading the esteemed team up the road. We entered the roundabout, and I spied the two different road signs. Thinking about our safety I chose Green. If I were to be playing Pokemon Go, then I would have lost. I did not choose wisely. As we made our way on to the Green road, horns were honking; big trucks were blowing their horns. “What’s with all the racket?” It was then we realized we were on an on ramp for a super highway. Oops. Lord help the guy who is color blind!
We spun around and pushed our bikes back to the Blue road; crossed the river, again. The dear sweet bike path appeared like the good fairy godmother Gwendolyn. A road sign declared 5 kilometres to Brig. We were in the right direction and going strong. The trail turned rustic with looming trees overhead and roots beneath our wheels. No problems. We didn’t have horns up our backs! By the time we reached Bitsch, we touched the first hint of what was to come. We were officially on the Furkastrasse! The road began to resemble the name of the town with its incline and the Rhone began to tumble down stream a bit more vigorously.
We stopped at the incline for a nice diversion, but we missed the last service for the day. Besides we were nearly at our final resting spot for the day in Fiesch. I couldn’t wait. It had been a stiff day of riding. Just before entering Fiesch, there is a significant uphill. With legs like jell-o, one would hope there could be some kind of relief. A wise local displayed the option with a Cheshire cat like grin as he zoomed passed me in an electric assist bicycle. He called out in a German accent as he passed me, “I’m cheating!” I felt like Snoopy facing the Red Baron.
Before we pulled into the youth hostel at Fiesch, we had one more roundabout to navigate and one more hill to climb. It was all worth it when we arrived. What a place! They had everything there; including an indoor pool. This is definitely a place to revisit. The food was good and the swimming was perfect. We slept well that night.