Every now and then the walls in my one-room-under-the-roof-pokey-hole in the centre of Basel starts to close in on me, a lot like the waste compactor on the death star, when this happens I need to jump on Iron Pig and blow Dodge.
This weekend the walls closed in big time and an hour later the pig was fuelled and oiled up and I headed for the more pointer bits of Switzerland.
Actually we (the Pig and I) fancied Pizza for tea so we set course for Italy, in our mind's eye a round trip, Basel, Bern, take the car train from Kandersteg into Valis, then over the Simplon pass to Domodossola ( or DOMOdossola, or DOmoDOssola or DomoDOSSola, or any of the other hundred ways you can pronounce Domodossola) then Lago Maggiore then over the Gotthard back to Basel…
…Good plan, just needs to work!
We got to Domodossola, but the weather closed in and it started to rain with a vengeance so we decided to return to Simplon village for the night and go back to Basel over the Simplon pass.
…Another good plan, again, it just needs to work!
The next day however the weather was even worse, the higher we climbed the colder it got and the blattering rain that had followed us from the valley went from rain to sleet and then to a full blown blizzard in gale force winds.
I ride in all weathers and all year round, sometimes doing stupid things but always listening to what Iron Pig tells me, now it told me that we were getting into trouble.
I started to feel the loss of traction and above all the grip as the road began to freeze, by now ice was forming on the bike and had started to turn into horizontal icicles on the edge of the windscreen, time to call uncle and turn back, I let the bike roll to a stop, too scared to use the brakes and gently did a three point turn, my feet on the ground like training wheels.
On a backward glimpse I noticed a phenomenon that I had seen only once before, the gale strength winds were blowing the slush on the road into waves, like blowing the foam on a Latte Macchiato, this was happening right in front of my eyes and as fast as I dared to ride, it was not fast enough, the waves started overtaking me, the build up was in seconds, I was now riding on crunchy, corrugated ice.
The winter-king was reclaiming his realm and I had been deemed persona non grata.
Later, under the snow-line I consulted the Samsung, the Simplon pass was closed for me and the Alpine pass report on my smartphone told me that the passes were closing one by one.
It's a good thing that if you can't go over the Simplon, then you go under it. I rode down the mountain to Iselle di Trasquera and to the car train to Brig.
On the way down I noticed a turn off to one of the old mountain roads, nowadays the Alpine transit is on well built roads and motorways that cut through the mountains like a laser, however most of the older passes are now opened up for the tourist wanting the "Alpine experience package" but you still can find roads that have been forgotten by the glossy brochures of the tourist board.
This was one of them; snaking around rocky outcrops and following the river, rough and unkempt and slowly chewed to rubble by the relentless environment of the high alps, it was as pretty a picture as you can find. Napoleon and his troops came down these roads and left his mark, in medieval times these roads were often the only way over the alps, they go a long, long way back, a direct link to prehistory when man first crossed the alps and lining the road are millennia of forgotten and abandoned houses and guesthouses.
Come and have a look…!
Off the beaten track, hard to see, but it is snowing in the picture.
The creepy tunnel, hewn into the living rock, always wanted to say that☺
They built the roads with what they had: Stone!
Inside a gap in one of the many tunnels.
An abandoned guesthouse complex on the old, old road to Domodossola, I wonder if there is a "Napoleon slept 'ere" sign somewhere.
A bit further down, I would think it a way-station for fresh horses, the foundation of a stable would suggest that, abandoned and simply left to the elements when the road closed.
Back on the main road, another empty house, a hopeful "Vende" sign on the door, good luck with that.
The end of the road and the loading bay at Iselle di Trasquera.
We were back in Basel by the evening, wet to the bone-marrow and emitting that particular wet biker aroma that sets off the smoke alarm.