Earlier this summer I packed up my bike, a tent and not much else and headed to the Swiss Alps for 10 days of cycling, camping and general exploring. I’d just come to the end of incredibly busy few months and was long overdue some time in the saddle.
I boxed my bike up and took the tube to London City Airport. As all my kit came in under 23kg Swiss Air didn’t charge me anything extra for my bike and a couple hours later I was in Zurich. It’s normally a massive stress getting your bike and kit abroad but this couldn’t have been simpler.
Nothing beats that nervous excitement you get at the beginning of a bike tour. Has the airline lost my bike? Has the airline destroyed my bike? Where can I build it up? Have I forgotten any vital components? How the hell do I ride out from the airport without hitting a motorway? Where am I?! Overcoming all of this, especially on a solo trip, and riding off into an unknown country is as good as it gets.
One day’s ride and a surprisingly painful climb over the Etzel Pass in 35 degree heat and I was already in mountain country:
My target was a place called Meiringen, a small town surrounded by large mountains, forests and waterfalls. As well as being the start point for some of Switzerland’s greatest mountain passes it was also, apparently, the setting for Sherlock Holmes’s death and the supposed birth place of the Meringue. What more could you ask for?
The roads to Meiringen were spectacular with postcard perfect turquoise lakes around every corner:
Meiringen was a cool little town, I found a waterfall and soaked my legs in the ice cold water before heading to a campsite in the middle of the valley.
That night I drank beer and ate bratwurst with a group local pig farmers who refused to let me pay for anything, one of those odd experiences you could only have whilst touring. The next day I’d take on the first real challenge of the trip – the 2,164m Grimsel Pass.
The Grimsel was a big, long climb. Alpine cycling at its absolute best. Over 26km the road climbs around 1,500m, winding its way up the valley through forests, turning to rock and eventually snow.
The best bit about it though were these old paved cliff roads that you could turn onto to avoid the dangerous tunnels. Now totally free of traffic they were first built as a route over the mountain back in 1894.
With sheer drops of 100’s of feet down to the river below they made for interesting cycling.
The final few kilometres were made up of unending switch back roads, however eventually I crawled to the top after a good 4 hours or so of climbing. A few roadies with their ultra-light carbon road bikes gave me a nod of respect as I rolled past. By touring standards I was travelling light but in their eyes I was a mad man.
Excuse the cliché but what goes up must come down, and when you’ve been climbing all day you know there’s going to be a pretty special downhill waiting for you! The descent down the back of the Grimsel definitely didn’t disappoint, in fact I’d go as far as to say that the ascent and descent of the Grimsel was one of my most enjoyable days ever on a bike.
The view on my descent looked onto another epic mountain climb called the Furka Pass.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be going over this yet, for now my priority was to set up camp and get some food and a beer. I’d look at my maps the next morning and work out where I’d head next…