Winter is coming!

Day 48, Rolle, 4.302 km

It seems that winter is coming (scientists agree that it begins around December 21, let’s see if it’s like that this year again…) and the last days have shown me that I was clearly not equipped for it… Cycling in the rain, all right, but in the snow, not all right… A night in the tent, fine, when it’s less than 5 degrees, not fine… Fortunately, I leave the high altitudes for a little while so I will have time to enhance my equipment for the harsh winter days ahead…

I’m leaving Interlaken, the lakes tour is over and I’m heading into the Alps. The weather is terrible, they predicted rain all day and even snow at high altitude (yes, I knew it, but I told myself that it would not last too long, that it would be ok … if I had known…). Before leaving, I discuss with two Swiss girls who will be riding the same route I did the day before in the opposite direction, we will be at least 3 on the road today!! I make the preparations take a bit longer, hoping that the rain will calm down a bit (this technique never works…) and I end up telling myself, “Wet for wet, I might as well go!”. The start of the stage is nice, I’m wet, yes, but prepared for it and that makes it almost acceptable. It is not too cold. I go along the lake of Brienze on the North coast (for a change) then the valley of the Aare, it is very pretty and the rain gives a slightly blurred side to all these landscapes, it is quite nice… I have a little thought for the Swiss girls seeing the road going up and thinking with emotion about the descent of the day before. I hope they arrived safely… The road is empty (probably because of the rain) and I think that there were in total 11 cyclists on the road that day (yes yes, I counted them!!). I’m riding fast and find myself at the beginning of the big difficulty of the day: the Grimsel pass.

Waterfall in the Aare valley
A lumberjack who encourages me at the beginning of the pass

Let’s go for 30 kilometers of ascent, 7.5% average, peaks at 12-15%: out of category classification here, but placed a little too far from the finish to create real gaps in the standings… And rain. The start of the climb goes well, the landscapes are superb, the mountain is overflowing with waterfalls, the colors stand out in the rain, the summits suddenly emerge from the clouds, I am speechless at what is before my eyes. The road is nice even if a little busy (especially in the tunnels, where I have the impression that a train is approaching every time a car passes me). So far, so good…

These colors…
The road in the clouds

The overflowing mountain

I’m starting to feel my feet. Cold. I am using the thermometer function of my speedometer for the first time. 8 degrees. Still OK. I continue to climb. Some cars that pass me are covered in snow. I hope it’s because they were parked at the summit and not just by passing by that they got covered like that, otherwise it will be complicated for me. The temperature is still going down. 5 degrees. I try to move my feet to get the blood flowing a bit. 3 degrees. At the start of the day I had told myself that if it was too hard I would turn around. The problem is, I’m only 5 kilometers away from the top. I’m not going back now… 2 degrees. It is starting to snow. The fog rises. I stop looking at the thermometer and just focus on pedaling. I pass by retention lakes, those famous Swiss dams. It’s great although I’m a little worried about my feet so I don’t linger too much. 3 kilometers. I wonder if I’m not going to lose some toes. There is wind too. Snow. I can’t see 20 meters away. Great. The bends seem endless to me. It’s still going up. It is snowing harder and harder. And cold… I finally see the pass sign, I scream with relief. People look at me strangely when I pass by. I try to dry off and warm my feet for 20 minutes at the top, change my socks and we’re off for the descent!

Lake Räterischsboden
At the top!

I tell myself, it’s okay, I’m saved, we’re going down now! What a mistake! He should have thought about the wind and the speed. After 400 m of descent I no longer feel my hands and I am barely able to brake. Problem. I am looking for the gloves I had planned for this occasion. Ah! But I hadn’t planned any gloves. A pair of socks will do. The descent is magnificent although I must admit that I don’t appreciate it as much as I should (I have the feeling that I am in more suffering than during the climb, interesting). Fortunately, the rain stops, I emerge from the fog, and the sun is even showing up when I reach the valley. I’m still cold though and pedaling like crazy thinking about the hot shower that awaits me when I arrive. I pass by hunters (the Swiss call it sport apparently), hikers (when it doesn’t rain anymore it’s easier), a suspension bridge over the Rhône (yes, already the Rhône) and I end up arriving in Fiesch . I write barely better than my 2 years old niece when I fill out the campsite contact form and rush to the shower. A quarter of an hour later I feel a little better. An hour, a beer and a part of raclette later, much better! What a day!

Suspension bridge
The Rhône in the valley

The 102 kilometers of this crazy stage have brought me to a total of 4,000 km since the start in Hamburg, and to celebrate that I go to see the Aletsch Glacier the next day. Beautiful monument for future pilgrims. The weather is a little overcast but I still take the funicular to go up to Eggishorn viewpoint, at 2,869 m. When I get to the top, the sky clears. The view is beautiful. The glacier is superb. When I come back down 20 minutes later, the sky is cloudy again. Nice timing!

The Aletsch Glacier

Down below the sun is shining. All my things are dry. The day is looking good! I descend the Rhône valley to Visp and set off on the ascent to Zermatt, from where you can admire Switzerland’s highest peak, the Matterhorn. The climb is great: not too violent, with small descents from time to time to recover, and above all I am in the sun all the time! It’s almost too easy! To add a little more difficulty, I take the wrong path and find myself on a mountain bike trail for the last 4 kilometers. I don’t know who is going up this trail but for my part I do a good deal of it on foot. And Jay is a bit heavy to be pushed… Zermatt finally. Ski resort. Hotels everywhere. And everything is so expensive… But the view of the Matterhorn is worth the detour. And it’s cold (1,600 m altitude). Especially in the last hours of the night. It wakes me up. And I had the good idea to install my tent next to a lamppost that comes on at 4.30am. Great. Impossible to sleep again so I go for a walk, hoping to have nice views of the Matterhorn at dawn. Bad luck, it’s cloudy. The walk was still nice. And the views over Zermatt too…

The Matterhorn
It’s 5 a.m., Zermatt is waking up

Descent towards the Rhône again then I follow the valley towards Lake Geneva. It’s very industrial. A bit ugly unfortunately. But the cycle path is nice. Then, around Sion, I arrive in the vineyards. It’s much nicer. Nice view of the two castles in the city (Tourbillon, in ruins, and Valère, under construction) which I also visit. The views from the top of the hill are stunning. The rest of the way to Martigny is pretty ordinary. I lose myself and end up on a highway interchange. I got off with a little scare but no damage. There’s a lot of wind. The end of the stage is long. Martigny finally. To sum up, the view from the campsite is more interesting than the city center. It say everything about the city… Chat with my tent neighbors until late at night. They go from Sierre to Geneva by bicycle. Very nice. Jay also has a little problem with the brakes, luckily there is a bicycle shop next door, I’ll go early tomorrow…

The Rhône, Valère and Sion

To sum up: new pads and a disc brake to change. The guy looks at me with wide eyes when I tell him I have made 4,000 kilometers. “Normally you have to change the pads every 1,500 km sir” Yes. Thank you. How much is it? I eat my wallet. Within two days I could have done that in France and it would have cost me 30% less… Ah Switzerland. Then off to Lake Geneva. The weather is nice and warm. I arrive on the lake: Villeneuve, the castle of Chillon, Montreux, Vevey, Lausanne and finally Rolle. The views are superb, I find a nice spot to bathe recommended by one of the Interlaken cyclists but I dare not to go swimming: not a single shade and I think that leaving Jay and all the gear in the sun for 20 minutes is not a great idea. I ask a guy on the road where the next access to the lake is and he directs me to a little pearl. Amazing! Only downside, leaving Lausanne: I breathe car exhaustion for 20 kilometers before finally arriving at Rolle (which, as my brother rightly points out to me, is not far from Gland). The welcome is royal. Thank you Valentin and Sara!!

The lake and the castle of Chillon
Montreux
My little private beach

So that you don’t get completely lost, the usual maps:

Interlaken – Fiesch
Fiesch – Zermatt
Zermatt – Martigny
Martigny – Rolle

Now that Switzerland is over, let’s go to France, family and even more friends!

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