Swiss Alps (Part 2)

(Note: This is a continuation from day 1, not that you’ll notice any continuity)

Day two woke with rustles and shouts from the hut next door about missing breakfast! After a super chilled night in the hut with a group of exchange students playing “the verevolf game” and drinking beers 7:30am really didn’t seem reasonable for a last call for breakfast, but it did mean we could all be up and have eaten before the sun rose about the Jungfrau. In the end there was even enough time for three coffees to find off the cold!

I am without word as to how cool the sunrise was, but to compensate here are some of the 60 photos I took!

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After sunrise I packed and departed for what would turn out to be an epically long day. I am yet to check my gps but I am pretty certain that over 24km I did about 600vm ascent and 2000vm descent which was ludicrously hard on my legs compared to the ascent.

Anyway from the hut it was down into the clouds for an hour or two before the sun burnt them away. My route took me down to the Sous river and then back up to a track below the Soushorn and Chometboden on the way to Murren.

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From here it was properly down, way more than my legs could handle with a 17kg pack as cycling really doesn’t help with down hill fitness! Eventually after lots of breaks and futile stretching I made it Stechelberg and I was in the famous Jungfrau valley full of paragliders and base jumpers as well as more spectacular views.

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I camped here overnight and discovered that using my tent without the inner in high condensation conditions is a recipe for being dripped on all night, but thank god for water resistant fabrics on sleeping bags! Pulling the sleeping back out in the morning all of the water immediately turned to ice so i guess it had been cold….

The highlight of my very short day 3 would have to be watching four base jumpers do there thing and then walking past them five minutes later to hear them discussing how they needed to do their tax. Turns out any crazy adventure can become vaguely  normal doesn’t it!

Swiss Alps (Day 1)

Ah the mountains. I thought I liked mountains based on my very limited experience from Tasmania, Scotland and Iceland; but after a few days in the Swiss Alps I think I have fallen in love with them.

From my base here in Basel my hosts Toby and Lucienne gave me a travel pack in which I stuffed a whole lot of gear into and so off I set with no real clue. Luckily my hosts had told me to head towards Interlaken, and the visitors centre had a topo map for sale with a few basic comments like “those are the mountains” and “the clouds are up to 1800”. So I was on my way!

My initial route was thoroughly unthought out as I took the “which path is closest to me” option and found myself climbing what I thought was a steep hill at the town. Now at this stage I was still below the cloud level but I could see the dense fog like clouds not far above my head. After a brief stroll the hills started in earnest. My lack of planning meant that I had found myself on a track that would take me from the lake at 570m towards a lake at 2000m. To add to the fun the map was at a scale of 1:60000 which I am not particularly good with so as I climbed and the route got steeper and steeper, and I climbed into the clouds, I began to realise this might not be a leisurely stroll I was getting into.

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Up and up I sweated my way through the clouds which were thick and wet such that I could often only see 50m and at one point through a large grass area was a little concerning when my track disappeared. However finding the track again and ditching my shirt because it was just too hot I kept climbing and slowly the clouds started to break and the promise of blue skies became a real prospect.

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Eventually I broke through into the sunshine and was rewarded with bright clear skies as I found myself above the tree line.

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Realising my route was to take me across a scree slope on the cold northern side of the mountain I decided to push on and cross the route in case the path iced up at all overnight (the forecast was for -2). The views crossing this path were spectacular, and the reward on getting to the other end was my first view of the Eiger, the Matterhorn and the Swiss Alps proper.

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Having crossed the shale slopes also meant I had the option of staying in the Lobhornhutte west of Sulwald.

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Sankt Martin, the Alsace and into Basel

Well it has been a pretty spectacular week riding up Basel slowly meandering my way between historic cities, vineyards, old villages, great campsites and three countries.

Not long after my last post I arrived in the small wine village of Sankt Martin in Germany which is nestled into a valley surrounded by forests of pine and chestnuts. Every building in the village is heavily involved in producing or consuming wine, typically both, and I was luck enough to meet a new friend Ingrid at the campsite my Garmin choose for me. A native german, but with a mixed accent mostly consisting of Irish and Canadian twangs we spent a few days hanging out and chatting about adventures. As with so many long term travelers (in this case through guiding) Ingrid seemed to be able to recall visits to every place I have been to on this trip which only served to provide inspiration to see some of the many things I have missed!

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From Sankt Martin it was time to head south, and the French Alsace wine region beckoned with its beautifully marked cycle routes twisting through the freshly harvested vines that became more golden and autumnal as I headed further south. These trails and flat roads were to dominate the rest of the week with great little interludes to such beautiful cities as Strasbourg and Colmar. I have a feeling I have been particularly lucky with the sunny weather and enough cloud to stop me getting too sun burnt over the past week.

Last night I finally arrived in Basel which is a pretty spectacular city full of old buildings, bustling streets all situated on a magnificent cliff lined bend in the Rhine. Switzerland is phenomenally expensive, but Basel is so close to France and Germany that tomorrow morning I’ll ride over the border to do a big grocery shop and then I’ll be catching a train somewhere to go hiking!

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Lower Rhine (Rhine Part 1)

The Rhine is long. It is roughly divided into three parts, so I’ll blog each section as I ride it and as I am starting from Utrecht which is no where near the end it won’t be complete but I think the bottom 250km that I didn’t ride were probably much like the 400km I have ridden.

First let me get this out of the way. It is boring.

Now let me get onto why. Firstly it is flat. I am going to hate myself for writing this ince I get into the alps I am sure, but it is a ling hard slog riding 80+km a day on flat ground with or without a headwind. Now I am riding a decently heavy bike with silly tyres and although i hold it is the most comfortable tourung rig out there I won’t deny the rolling resistance is noticable. Also flat ground is hard work as you never get a break which is why I am having a half day today 6 days after leaving Utrecht and having covered 420km. The temptation to push on/faster has strained a few muscles I think I need to take care of for the next 7 weeks.

Next, the Rhine is industrialised. Up until Bonn the Rhine ias basically a continuous band of factories and power stations with farming on the opposite bank, then there are the boats and trains. Whilst corn fields, canals and cows are scenic and the indusyrial works make my inner engineer impressed it is a bit wearing. Also the noise is constant so bring your ear plugs, seriously!

Finally campsites on the lower Rhine are few and far between. As soon as you reach Bonn and the middle Rhine they are everywhere but until then theu can be hard to find or are often a long way from the river. This adds distance and means at the end of the day you have to navigate country lanes hoping to find a campsite that accepts tents as a lot don’t. My illusion based on other blogs of millions of options (as long as you accept the odd nudist camp site) has been dashed!

That said I don’t want to deter anyone. As a wise well travelled cyclist explaindd the reason you ride the Rhine from the mouth up is so when you do reach the middle Rhine you really appeeciate it. It is worth it people! I got to the middle Rhine and was gobsmacked and it is getting better as I go.

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Belgium and the Netherlands

A week ago I arrived in continental Europe after my three months in the UK and Iceland to sunny skies and a whole lot of hope about what the next two months had in store for me.

The first weekend proved a massive success and I have been riding on a bit of a high ever since thanks to good company, four nights in a row in beds and a swim at the beach. For any non-aussies reading this post it is easy to under estimate just how important salt water and swimming is to the average Australian, and I am certainly no exception so the swim did me a world of good.

Anyway after that great weekend the weather set in and it has been raining ever since. I have been wearing my full rain gear (helmet cover, jacket, pants, overshoes, GTX shoes) the entire time and I am still getting wet occasionally. Yesterday the weather was so bad that on my way to Thomas’ house I had to stop twice to poor the water out of my shoes.

I am now in Utrecht staying with Thomas the slightly crazy dutchman who I met while cycling in Tasmania, and who stayed with me in Sydney and Brisbane as he rode around the country. In the next few days I will finish the replacement of my brake pads, chain and front chain ring and then I am off to finish this little tour of mine with a 1600km slog through to Vienna along the Rhine and Danube (if I don’t change my plans).

For now though here are some stats on my trip so far.

Distance: 3,113.26 km
Time: 216:47:08 h:m:s
Elevation Gain: 30,991 m
Avg Speed: 14.4 km/h

Brugge to the North Sea via the Dutch Border

A day out in Brugge! Thanks for writing this up far better than I would have @smilingleaf

Smiling Leaf

How to fill a day with a forecast for rain until 8pm and a visit from my cycle touring buddy the Graceful Cyclist? By hiring a Dutch city bike and taking a trip down Napoleon History Lane.

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