On to the Rhône

Wow. Riding though the Alps has been spectacular! I had a long, tough day on Saturday, climbing about 4800 feet over 36 miles to get to the top of Oberalp pass, and the source of the Rhine – but it was absolutely worth it! Erin and I rode together as far as Disentis, where she smartly took the train to the top of the pass, leaving me to do the last 3000 feet / 13 miles on my own. It was a beautiful, amazing ride, full of jaw-dropping views and tight switchbacks. I only wish I had done it on a weekday, so as not to have to share the road with so many Ferraris, Maseratis, and many, many motorcyclists, all trying to take the hairpins as fast as possible.

One pass down
The olberalpsee at the top of the pass
View of Andermatt, about halfway down the pass

I was pretty wrecked by the time I met Erin at the bottom of the pass – what a ride that descent was – in the tourist ski-town of Andermatt, so we took Sunday off as a rest day. Too bad we forgot that the grocery stores are always closed on Sundays! Meals at Swiss restaurants are crazy pricey.

This morning (after resupplying as soon as the market opened) we set off to do our second Alpine pass, the Furka. This was was even more beautiful than the last! It was also pretty tough – nearly 3000 feet over 7.5 miles, an average grade of 7.2%, but oh, so worth it!

Switchbacks up Furka pass – as seen in Goldfinger!
Go Erin go!
A mountain stream on furka pass
Greg tries an alternate route up the mountain
We made it!!
On top of the world

After making it to the top, we started our rocket-ride down towards the newborn Rhone river, but not before making a stop to walk inside a freaking glacier!!! The Rhone is formed out of a glacial lake at the base of the Rhone glacier, and they have cut out an ice grotto you can walk through, preserved by layers of heavy UV resistant fabric. It was truly incredible – you could see little pockets of air that have been trapped in the glacier for hundreds of years. It was a little depressing to read all the signs about how much the glacier had retreated, and that it will pretty much be gone by the end of the century.

The Rhône glacier – you can see the preserved ice grotto at the base
Walking inside the glacier!!!
Erin searches for The Thing
Greg finds an ice bench

After touring the glacier, we continued our descent, eventually meeting up with the river and following it through more cute little mountain towns. Luckily, we made it to our campsite and set up the tent just before a thunderstorm started dumping hail down on us!

In nearly every village, and often between villages, there are little spring-fed water fountains – a life saver in a country where a litre bottle of water can cost $4

En Français

We’re definitely in Francophone territory now, though we’ve found more people who speak a little German than English. The last few days have taken us through the Rhône valley, which while flat and hot is still surrounded by snow-capped peaks on three sides. The Rhône river has grown up and is no longer the baby stream we saw at its source.

Lots of riding along little forest paths
There was an avalanche on the bike path (later on we would meet a guy who showed us a video his brother took of the avalanche happening!)
Much wider now!

Interestingly, the bike route we are following also is an official inline skating route, of which we have seen several in Switzerland. I’m not sure if skating is actually that popular here (I’ve only noticed one person with skates on the path) or if these signs were just all put up in the early 90s.

Tubular shredding along the Rhône

Now the sad news. At the end of the day – after already having had to fix two flats – Greg heard a loud ‘chunk’ and discovered that his frame had actually cracked in two at the chainstay. Nooo!

Umm…. That’s not how it’s supposed to look

Fortunately we were only a mile from the next town, so Greg walked it while I rode ahead to book us into a hotel. After some broken conversation in a mix of French, German, and English, some locals drinking at the hotel bar were able to help us find a welder to fix it. We were instructed to get up at 7 the next morning and find the guy drinking coffee in the lobby, because he always got his coffee there before going to work, and ask him for help. We did, and after he’d inspected the break he skeptically asked if it was aluminium. Greg told him it was steel, and immediately he said something like ‘oh, well no problem then,’ and threw the bike in his van and took off. A few hours later he returned the bike with the crack welded back together, strong and ready to roll!

We cruised down to Lake Geneva, where we got rained on a bit. Riding around the south shore of the lake took us back into France, and we ended up staying the night at a super deluxe French campground that was like half the price of anything we’d found in Switzerland. After popping back into Switzerland in Geneva, we headed south on some unpleasantly busy roads, but then we got to Annecy, a cute little city on a beautiful lake. We got there just as France won a World Cup game against Uruguay, and the streets were full of people waving flags, honking horns, and setting off fireworks. We then found a great lakeside campground and took a dunk in the water – so much nicer than any other lake we’ve seen on this trip!

This is the picture you’re supposed to take when in Geneva
Fresh from a swim in Lac D’Annecy