A circumnavigation of Switzerland, clockwise.
That had been on the books for a while, just waiting to get money and time in sync.
However Basel was just too hot and stuffy for rational thought and stewing in the city was starting to grate on my nerves, so sod the money, it was time to head for the hills.
Kick the tires and light the fires. Iron pig II had been waiting for my attention in the sun for the last two days.
I Loaded the camping stuff and gingerly ouched myself onto the molten seat, at the moment my ass made contact my hemorrhoids encountered the anti-christ…
..and burst into flames..
...this made the three hour run to Lake Constance…
By the time I reached Zürich I was seriously thinking about the medicinal use of popsicles and how to apply the treatment without getting myself arrested.
But! Slammer is a tough bugger and so I soldiered on, by the afternoon I was riding in cool air up the Via Mala gorge to the St. Bernadino, birthplace of the River Rhine, I had the choice of the Bernadino Pass or the Splügen, of course I went for the Splügen, or as I like to use the Italian name "Passo dello Spluga"
The German name sounds like you just Splügt last nights ten pints and a undercooked Döner down the toilet.
Spluga is in my opinion the godzilla of passes, at 2113 cruel meters Spluga is battleship gray and sharp and pointy with a fuck you attitude to all riders, once past the village and the lake at the top, the road simply falls off a cliff, there are no gentle curves and no bends, just kinks on the way down.
Mary Shelly describes it best:
"A few years ago, there was no path except across this mountain, which being very exposed, and difficult even to danger, the Splugen was only traversed by shepherds and travellers of the country on mules or on foot. But now, a new and most marvellous road has been constructed - the mountain in question is, to the extent of several miles, cleft from the summit to the base, and a sheer precipice of 4000 feet rises on either side. The Rhine, swift and strong, but in width a span, flows in the narrow depth below. The road has been constructed on the face of the precipice, now cut into the side, now perforated through the living rock into galleries: it passes, at intervals, from one side of the ravine to the other, and bridges of a single arch span the chasm. The precipices, indeed approach so near, in parts, that a fallen tree could not reach the river below, but lay wedged in mid-way. It may be imagined how singular and sublime this pass is, in its naked simplicity. After proceeding about a mile, you look back and see the country you had left, through the narrow opening of the gigantic crags, set like a painting in this cloud-reaching frame. It is giddy work to look down over the parapet that protects the road, and mark the arrowy rushing of the imprisoned river. Mid-way in the pass, the precipices approach so near that you might fancy that a strong man could leap across."
No wonder her novel "Frankenstein" was in so bleak a setting.
Top of the Spluga, welcome to Italy.
And on the way down, the camera perspective just don't do justice.
I rode past Chiavenna and stayed the night at a camping site on Lago Como, North Italy was hot, hotter even than Basel and I spent the night with all tent flaps open and still I was unable to breath I was stuck to my air bed, drenched in sweat and gasping for a waft of cool air.
In the morning I broke camp and headed back into the mountains aiming for the Gotthard pass, I went north only this time using the St Bernadino, not for being a wimp but out of pure convenience.
I shot a fast run through Graubünden, past Chur, past Sargans and the amazing Fjord-like Walensee and headed to the Klausenpass in Kanton Glarus and Kanton Uri.
Klausen is a playground pass and relatively close to Basel, just the thing to spend a Sunday afternoon going up and down it a few times.
Till the cows come home.
Don' fall of the edge. In my mind I hear a "GAHHHHH!" as somebody runs off the side.
At the top I stopped for a coffee and watched the landscape. A group of cyclists entered and the room filled with the deep bass note of sweaty cyclist, rancid enough to curdle urine and make Slammer retch, I quickly paid up and headed to Gotthard.
I have been over the Gotthard a few times but I had never been able to find the crossing using the "old" Gotthard road, this time I was determined to find the bugger.
I rode past Andermatt and headed for the pass, the road had gotten a fresh lick of Macadam and was still slick with water pearling on the surface. Just a few miles up I saw a small white sign proclaiming "Gotthard" that was it, the "old" road.
Now I have a new favorite, miles and miles of the bendyest-wendyest, curvy-wurvyest bliss ever to roll under my tires. It had sheer drops, tight hair bends, all the fun things you expect from a mountain pass and to boot the road was Cobble-stoney enough to rattle kidney stones to two bags of gravel.
God help the bugger with a hard suspension.
Monument to the pack horeses and those who cross the pass.
The old Gotthard road and the new one, the easy one, to the right top hand side.
I spent the night in the Hospiz on the top, surprised that the room "only" cost 60 Chuff's a night. the other shoe dropped later in the restaurant when I paid 78 Chuff's for a tea-cup full of ravioli, a salad. a beer and two glasses of wine.
I know that Switzerland has expensive written in the constitution but this made my EC-card gag.
78 Chuff's! Came to about 3,50 Franks a ravioli. Honestly.
During the night snow had fallen giving everything a light dusting of white, the ice-king was starting to reclaim his realm and in a few short weeks from now the passes would be again closed for the long months of winter.
By midday I was heading up the Nufenenpass, a bit of a let down after the Gotthard, a pass where lorries and coaches can traverse will not have many surprises to offer for the biker.
However the view from the top is fantastic and simply breathtaking, well worth the ride up, had it not been for a coach full of loud, annoying German pensioners gasping for breath in the thin air whilst trying to haggle with the vendors of tourist tat, it would have been perfection.
Nufenen, without the Germans.
The rest of the day was spent on the road and by afternoon I was over the Simplon heading towards Domodossola, or DOmoDOssOla, or DomoDOSSola or DoMODOssolA, or any of the couple of hundred ways one can pronounce the name.
And if you think that is hard, try to pronounce the neighboring town of "Crevoladossola":-)
Which ever way you want to pronounce it, Domodossola is the gateway to the valley of Cannobia, a thin winding valley that leads from the mountains to Cannobia on the shore of Lago Maggiore, I know a camping site in Cannobia and decided to take a break.
It is a rough road, frost, neglect and heavy rain have broken it to clinker in quite a few places and so narrow that two Fiat's would have trouble passing each other.
Overhung with mighty chestnut trees who's leaves filtered the suns rays, turning the light around me into a darkish green, even riding very slowly I occasionally would have to take a branch slap on the helmet.
Cannobia valley and a frightening bridge.
How about a house here, just need enough red wine.
Fed by water from the mountains, a fast running river has gouged out the living rock like flowing arabic script cut into the landscape.
Along the way small villages dotted the landscape, built from stone and stone alone, even the roofs were covered by flat stone, these villages and houses are stuck to the cliffside by nothing more than god's love and hope, I noticed that a lot of houses had a "vendita" sign, for sale, and a lot of these houses were in the various stages of collapse, as beautiful as the valley may be, the people here have clearly seen better times.
I found myself wondering if I could afford such a house, maybe a place for Slammer in his dotage.
We will see.
Although the valley is only 40 Kilometers long the journey took over three hours. I reached the campsite, pitched the tent and spent the rest of the evening sitting in a trattoria on the waterfront, making love to a carafe of a very excellent local fizzy red and watching the girls in summer dresses flirt by, walking arm in arm they were propelled along the promenade by the breeze made from the sighs of a hundred failed Humbert's.
On the way down.
Lago Maggorie, just the place for a swim.
A storm was making it's way up the valley and lightning flicked and fanned out among the mountains, silhouetting the peaks in a strobe light and putting on quite a show, later the storm broke and rainwater sluiced from the marquise in great shimmering sheets.
Somebody must have done something clever in the football as everybody suddenly jumped up and hugged their neighbors and shouted or just stood there with chest puffed and arms outstretched, then they all sat down drank wine and talked in a exited buzz.
Autumn had arrived with the storm and it went cold. Time to head back,
A ride back over a rainy Simplon and past Lake Geneva back to Basel,
Home, staring at the ceiling again by eight.