Monday, Aug 16, 2021
When I landed in Zurich two weeks ago, I was told that the weather this year was unusually rainy. I haven’t really seen anything extreme, but I understand from talking to the locals that a month earlier there had been some dramatic flooding.
So be it. For me, riding in the summer rain is not a problem. The rivers are full, though some are silty. The lakes are still very beautiful. So far the weather has not been much of a problem. The camping gear stays dry through the night. When heavy rains are predicted for the day, I look for a dry place with good WiFi to update the blog.
I laid out a rough plan, taking a more direct, flat route from Zurich airport to Geneva. The plan was to meet up with Nicole in Geneva or possibly along the way to Geneva. On the return from Geneva to Zurich, I would take a more scenic route.
The first day out, we met in Aarau, just 50km from Zurich. Nicole drove a few hundred kilometers from Geneva. We had an impromptu picnic of things we bought at the farmer’s market there. Nicole was not excited about spending a rainy night in a tent. We decided to meet later on in Geneva.
On the way to Geneva
Nicole speaks four languages fluently and is always learning more. She is teaching yoga and permaculture. She has been involved in many housing coops, gardens and farms in Geneva. Long ago she was involved with Swiss television making documentary films. She doesn’t like having her picture taken.
Nicole and I are both homeless, having committed to traveling the world instead. I met her on a beach in Oaxaca, Mexico in July and we have been keeping in touch remotely. Geneva is where she grew up. She has lots of friends and family there.
She was apartment sitting for a friend when I arrived and could host me for nearly a week in Geneva. It was great to get her local perspective of Geneva. With a fully equipped apartment, I was also able to bake an apple pie while I was there.
We had a few days of exploring the city by bike. We visited the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, which I highly recommend. On the way back from the LHC we followed trails through the woods were Nicole rode her horse when she was a teenager.
Road to Interlaken
Komoot, my navigation app will automatically find off road routes for me. Usually this provides a pleasant roll down farm roads and wooden paths. However, it will occasionally put me in difficult situations.
After a 1000m climb on my 50kg bicycle, which took most of the day. I found myself at what I thought was the top of the pass. I was looking forward to a long downhill roll back into civilization.
What I didn’t figure on is that the gravel road I was taking turned into a poorly marked trail through a vertical cow pasture. I got off my bike to survey the trail before plunging in.
Luckily I came across a hiker who was coming the other way. He did not speak English, but I could get some useful information by speaking German. He said the trail gets quite steep and could be tricky on a bike. Komoot was reporting there were stretches of -20% grade.
Together we walked back towards my bike. When he finally saw my heavily laden bike, it became quite clear he didn’t think it was possible. I told him I might consider it. Then stewed on the question while he walked off behind me.
Fortunately on this hilltop there was signal enough so that I could investigate other possible routes down. I did find other routes but they too involved technical single track. I started walking along some of the alternatives but was not feeling very sure about this.
I had a few hours of daylight left. I had camping equipment enough to spend the night if need be, assuming I could find some level ground to pitch a tent. The one sure bet was to simply surrender much of the elevation I had gained, back up and follow the main road over the pass.
I remembered a story I heard from Charles-Henry who thought he and his wife, Dauphine would take the faster route back to civilization around a volcano crater he had been riding all day in Chile. They decided to forge ahead on scant evidence of a trail continuing the rest of the way around the volcano. They were expecting to get back to civilization before dark. They finally arrived a few days later. On at least one occasion they had to scratch out a level section of ground to set up their tent.
It makes a great story, but I decided to take the safe way out. I kept thinking it might be really hard to set up my tent with a broken leg. Chris Eisenbarth gave me a SPOT device, which would allow me to send an SOS signal via satellite, should things go badly. I decided that owning this fine device, should not make it OK to take unnecessary risks.
I easily rolled back down to the main road and realized I only needed to climb another 400m to the pass. Along the climb back up, I started looking for potential places to set up my tent. Daylight was running out.
I got to the top of Jaunpass as the sun was setting. I set myself up for night riding and headed down the long set of switchbacks toward civilization. I managed to find a hotel in Boltigen that was not on Booking.com. I was very thankful they had a room for me.
That evening in the restaurant I spoke with a Swiss mountain biker named Sam. He also uses Komoot and warned me not to let it pick the route unsupervised.
Interlaken and Jungfraujoch
Interlaken gets its name from the fact that it is nestled between two lakes in a large mountain valley. When I came over the pass, it became clear that I was very much in a different region of Switzerland.
Here there are mountains everywhere, near and far. The daytime sky always has paragliders descending into town from launch points in these mountains. Perhaps pictures say it best.
So, here I am still in Interlaken which sits not far from Jungfrau. At 4158m, she is one of the tallest peaks in Europe. Jungfraujoch is a nearby mountain pass. At 3454m it is the highest point in Europe that can be reached by train or cable car. So, sometimes this is refered to as ‘Top of Europe’
This seems like a suitable substitute for the adventure I passed up on Jaunpass earlier. I will head up there tomorrow by train for my top down view. It should be snowing there now and clearing up by morning.