Cycling Switzerland: My first solo journey

Day 3 | Hospental – Bellinzona (125 km)

What a day this turned out to be! To start, I did not sleep well. The co-ed thing did not bother me since it is a common thing to do in hostels and I was sharing the room with a couple and their children and another guy who looked quite harmless. I am not certain harmless is the correct term to use since he snored so loud I was convinced a freight train was right next to my bed the entire night! Anyway, all was well and I was up bright and early and ready to face not one but two passes. The Oberalp Pass at 2048m and the Lukmanier Pass at 1920m. Before I left I took a short walk around the village, checked my bike, and left my luggage at the reception.

My legs were cramping the second I left town and I knew it would be a rough day. Again, the Oberalp Pass started right at the limits of Andermatt but I was encouraged when I saw two other cyclists climbing ahead of me. My competitive side came out and I passed them…I guess things were looking up for me! Unfortunately the wind hit and I had to climb against the wind almost the entire way. I took it easy and paced myself. There was a long stretch of road with little or no incline before the actual Oberalp Pass however there was little reprieve from the wind. A long tunnel led the way to the final stretch until I reached the summit.

The summit was beautiful however the wind was very strong so I did not stay very long. I had stuffed extra clothes in airtight, waterproof bags so I quickly added layers. A cycling friend of mine had given me this trick and I was so grateful I had listened. Since I had all my extra clothes stuffed into the back of my cycling jersey, everything would have been drenched in sweat and I would have been freezing during the descent. There were times when the weather was 20C in the valley and 5C at the summit…dressing appropriately was very important, as I would discover in the coming days.

The descent was intense…there were sections with no rails and I have to admit I felt a little vertigo at times. I reached the valley and went through the small town of Disentis but decided not to break since I still had the Lukmanier Pass to complete. I realized at this moment that having my luggage sent ahead was great since I was not weighed down however, there were times when I would have enjoyed staying in a little town for an extra day to explore.

The climb up to the Lukmanier Pass was different from the other climbs I had done. It was mainly a straight road with only a few turns and a really strong wind against me the entire time. I kept going and going when suddenly a huge dam appeared ahead of me. It was HUGE! I stopped and had my picture taken and later found out that this was the Contra Dam and was in the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye!

 

I was not certain how many more kilometres I had ahead of me so I continued. The Lukmanier Pass was not very far from the dam and I arrived quickly!I started the descent towards Biasca…it was approximately a 50 kilometre descent! It was so beautiful and what really amazed me was when the route diverged off the main road and took me to a small country road away from traffic and into small villages with cobble stone roads, children playing outside and old houses. I have never been to Italy but I imagine this is what certain areas might resemble.

I arrived in Biasca and I was so happy…everything had gone so well once again! I was thinking Bellinzona was close to Biasca, like it had been with Andermatt and Hospental, I was mistaken. Bellinzona was 25 kilometres away and I realized I had not done any research before I left on this trip. It had been decided so last-minute and I thought the maps and guides from SwissTrails were going to be very clear. I was not too concerned about the additional 25 kilometres, I thought this would be more cycling and more scenery. That is how I felt until I got lost!

I was following the signs and suddenly there were no more signs. Not taking the time to look at the map and not being overly prepared, I took a wrong turn at an intersection and many more wrong turns until I ended up on a crazy gravel road in the middle of nowhere by the side of the highway! This time I stopped, looked at the map and realized I was not on the correct side of the river. I turned back and somehow found my way, no thanks to the signs. No problem I thought, I am happy to be back on the correct course and will be enjoying a nice Campari in no time at all! Unfortunately that was not the case and the route led me down gravel roads, construction sites, and industrial parts of town. I was not happy and my bike was not happy! As I peddled all I could think of was: “why did I not research this more before I left, why would they suggest this route for road bikes, why, why, why!!!”. I am not one to complain usually and I can “rough it out” however I did not expect this on this trip. Everyone had told me how great the roads were to cycle on in Europe…and this? 😉

I had no choice but to continue and when I saw the city limits of Bellinzona I was relieved! It was short lived…I could not find my hostel.  The map provided had no street names and the hostel was not marked. I stopped at a campground and someone there printed out a map of the city but not all the streets were named and I was lost again! You would think I had just crawled out from under a rock and had never travelled before the way I was acting! Finally I stopped in a post office and the woman gave me precise directions and I found the hostel. The second I rode through the old city of Bellinzona and arrived at the Villa Montebello, all my frustrations went away. The city reminded me of Barcelona and all I could think of was that Campari on ice!

I went to the hostel, cleaned my bike and locked it for the night and showered. I went to a local bar and had a few drinks to relax. I walked around the old city for a while, got some pizza, and returned to the hostel. I decided it was a great opportunity to review my maps and become more familiar with the routes. As I looked at Day 4, I realized I would have to go through the same gravel road to return to Biasca and the Gotthard Pass. I looked at the weather forecast for the next day and they were calling for huge storms. I made a decision that night that I would take the train from Bellinzona to Andermatt the next day and go hiking instead. I was heartbroken since the Gotthard Pass is supposed to be the most amazing pass of the trip however I could not chance the weather.