Cycling Switzerland: My first solo journey

Day 4 | Bellinzona – Hospental (125KM)

What is that expression that people say: “Always trust your first instinct” or something like that? Well, I did not follow my own advice from the previous night and let stubbornness get the best of me and made some really dangerous mistakes on day 4. This was by far my worst day of cycling! Mostly my fault, I got lost, stuck in a huge thunder-storm, and almost suffered from hypothermia. Yes, I said it, mostly my fault! Before I share this part of my journey with you, I must admit I now understand how quickly things can degenerate when you are at the mercy of nature. Luckily, there are very good people out there and I wish I could thank them again.

Mistake #1: I ignored my original plan to take the train from Bellinzona to Andermatt and decided on the morning of day 4 that I would take a chance with the weather and attempt the Gotthard Pass. I did decide however that I would avoid that dirt road and find another way to Biasca. The previous day I had seen cyclists traveling on another road so I decided to ask the receptionist at the hostel to provide me with directions. I do not know if there was a confusion with the language but the outcome was that I misunderstood her warning. I understood that I SHOULD follow the GREEN signs to Biasca. Well, I did, and for those who live or who have travelled in Europe, the GREEN signs are used for high-speed highways. As I followed the signs, I suddenly found myself on a high-speed highway with no way to turn around! Cars were honking at me and I was trying to find a way out. I saw a gas station ahead and decided that was the best option available for me. You should have seen the look on the clerk’s face behind the counter when I appeared in full cycling gear with cycling shoes, Spandex, a helmet and a road bike out of nowhere…her face said: “How did she get here?, “Is she crazy?”, “Must be a tourist!”.

The clerk did not speak English or French and we could not communicate. I was asking her if there was a back road or a way to return to Bellinzona or Biasca but to no avail. Suddenly, a man who was waiting in line spoke French and asked if I needed help. I explained my predicament and asked him to provide me with directions, instead, he offered to give me a ride to Bellinzona! I could not believe it and to this day was not sure what I would have done if he had not appeared. He loaded my bike in his trunk and explained that he was a cyclist as well and that he wanted to help. Normally I would have never agreed to this however he appeared safe enough! The next think you know, we were off to Bellinzona in a nice warm car with heated seats. He dropped me off and wished me luck and I was on my way. This time I found the BLUE signs and made my way to Biasca.

Mistake #2: I underestimated the storm and was not dressed warm enough. As I cycled toward Biasca, the rain began to fall. It only started as a few drops then soon became a downpour – it was bad. In a matter of seconds I was completely soaked. I quickly put on my windbreaker but kept some of my other clothes dry. That was the first smart thing I did that day. I had already rode so far that there was no point returning to Bellinzona so I continued to Biasca. I arrived at the train station and took cover to decide what to do next. There was a couple on bikes on the platform as well so I went to speak with them. They were debating going up the Gotthard Pass as well but were much more equipped than I was to face the storm and cold weather at the summit. The woman said if I wanted to go up it was now or never as the worst of the storm was quickly rolling in. I do not know why I did this but I purchased a train ticket in the event I would change my mind and have to hop on a train later. As the rain slowed, I decided to try it one last time. I followed cycling route 3 and was on the gravel road again. The river raged brown next to me and was overflowing. The rain fell harder and harder and I could hardly see. I was riding alone along this dirt road thinking more and more that this was a very bad idea. Suddenly a tremendous BANG resonated right next to me and I was so startled. I was convinced they were detonating explosives in the valley…it felt surreal. This was just the sound of the thunder bouncing off the mountains around me.  As the storm grew closer and closer, so did the thunder and lightning, and I decided my journey had to come to an end. Emerging from the gravel road “of death”, I arrived at a bus stop and took shelter. What was I thinking? What was I trying to prove? I returned to the train station in Biasca and waited for the next train to Andermatt.

I had about 45 minutes to wait until the train arrived and I was freezing. I went to a little restaurant across the street and changed clothes and tried to warm up as much as possible. An older gentleman offered to buy me a coffee. He was so kind and we spoke until I had to return to the train station. I did not want to leave as our conversation was so interesting however I was ready for this day to be over!

Mistake #3: Out of all the mistakes I made, this was the smallest mistake, I had not read the rules and regulations for bringing a bike on a train in Switzerland and took my bike on the train thinking there would be stands. I had seen them before when traveling in Europe and just assumed they were available in all cars. A mistake, there are specific cars for bikes and I was quickly reminded of this when the controller came for my ticket. I think she took pity on me with my wet clothes, blue lips and shivering limbs and helped me escort my bike to another car. Of course, she took the time to lecture me on Swiss weather and being well prepared for the cold. I almost said something to the effect of ” I am Canadian and know what cold is” but decided against it since I had caused enough trouble and she was kind enough to help and not charge me for my bike. Perhaps I should have read more on the SBB Bike rules & regulations before I left!

Mistake #4: I could not stop shaking. My hands were white and my lips were blue. I should have been better prepared for the weather and packed more dry clothes. Something to remember for next time…if there is a next time! Lesson learned in day 4 was to avoid storms in the Alps and listen to myself the first time!

After transferring trains in Goschenen, I arrived in Andermatt. I got on my bike and quickly made my way to my hostel in Hospental and had finally arrived! As luck would have it, my luggage had already arrived and I was the first one in the hostel. I immediately took a long hot shower to warm up and wrapped myself in multiple layers of clothing. I organized my things and went to the hotel Burg restaurant for a nice coffee and sandwich. I returned to my room and slept for about 1.5hrs and finally felt alive again!

I finished the day with a nice walk around Hospental where I explored some of the hiking trails, watched a beautiful sunset, and reflected on my day.