Friday, November 7, 2008

The Swiss Triple Bypass

Of all the rides we've done in Europe, two stand out as my favorite; Mt Tremalzo in Italy and the Swiss Triple Bypass which we did this year with Becky and Jeff. I have already posted about that weekend, reporting on both the bypass and the Grosse Scheidegg ride. However, I think the epicness of our Triple Bypass warrants its own attention.

Lately, the memories of that surreal day have been playing over and over in my mind. I only hope my memory lasts a little while, because it's moments like that that make life worth living and memories worth savoring. By photodocumenting, I hope to inspire the dreamers out there to make those visions a reality. So, here's an account of our route in case you need a little help in mapping out an agenda.

I won't waste your time with too much blabber because pictures say much more than words can ever say. Here's a photo recap of one of my most memorable days in the saddle in 20 years of cycling. Sit back and relax, this bypass won't hurt you a bit.

Jeff had cooked up the scheme for our spontaneous ride, and Raja backed him up fully. All I heard were things like, "12,000' climbing" and "7 hours of riding". A little concerned over how this would be possible, I questioned Raja in private. "Um, honey, I've never climbed over 10,000' before. Will I be able to do this?" Neither he, Jeff, or Becky seemed the least bit worried over the chosen route, so I decided not to be either. So far, a carefree attitude had served me well for this trip and its over the top cycling agenda. It was as though the Swiss air was filled with a magical ingredient that empowered us to do unusual feats. I figured I might as well enjoy it while it lasted.

The four of us packed up the cars early Tuesday morning and headed to Meiringen, our temporary base camp for the next 2 days. Parking at the train station, we kept a look out for Kate who was to join us as well. With complete ignorance at what this ride had in store for me, I wanted to keep it that way. I've learned that it is often the best way to take on a new challenge. If you don't know what you're up against, you have nothing of which to be afraid.

The only thing I was afraid of today were Kate and Becky's calves. You could build a small city with their chiseled muscles, and I envied the secret power they must house. At least I had a triple on my drivetrain, and could spin or walk, if need be, up any mountain.

We took off through town to begin our journey as the morning sunlight helped to warm up our legs.

A very short climb and short descent led us to the start of our first ascent. Already I was liking what I was seeing. Little did I know this was Nuthin' compared to the scenery on tap for the day.

We worked our way up through a valley,

over crystal clear waters of rushing rivers. It did not really occur to me at the time that we would eventually be climbing up to the glaciers that fed these very waters.

It did not take long before we found the sign we were to follow. Susten and Grimsel, two of the climbs for the day. We would take on Grimsel first.

The climb was gradual in the beginning with tunnels dotting the way. Kate quickly pulled away while the rest of us stayed in formation.

I am not overly keen on riding through tunnels, especially the longer ones. Bypasses to the side on the old roads are always a welcome relief. If you see them, always take them.

Some of the detours were uber neat! It was like going back in time.

We are still a long way from putting a dent in this climb.

This is Kate.

And these are weeds. I know so, because Kate told me they were.

It didn't matter if you looked forward, sideways, or backwards, mountains were all around us.

If I had a euro for every time we passed by a rushing waterfall, I could buy a plane ticket for another Swiss trip.

I don't recall it being terribly steep. Just a gradual grind.

A long gradual grind.

This was one of the funnest little bypass sections that avoided a really long tunnel.

Part of it was cool cobblestone.

We passed by a climbing rope that dropped down a rather severe cliff. Being a climber, Kate was intrigued. Being a mere human, I was terrified.

I wish this section could have gone on forever. This is still the little bypass around the tunnel. No cars, just cycling bliss.

Back on the road. Check out the glacier in the upper right side of the pic.

Approaching the dam. Kinda cool.

Thinking we're getting near the top. Not a chance. Still have a ways to go.

There's that glacier.

This section begs for a motorcycle.

The top of the first dam. A good place to stop and refuel.

The infamous "Loreeeeeee, Thaaaay're just weeeeeeeds," picture.

You stop feeling all smug about yourself when other cyclists come up lugging panniers.

Break time is over, continue climbing.

The dam grows distant behind us and we fall in the shadow of the towering mountains.

The landscape at this point becomes very craggy and rocky.

Each switchback gives you a chance to look back from where you came. It looks so small from up here.

Another dam!

Geez, how far does this thing go?

Apparently forever.

The glacier water makes for a strange color in the dam. Looks like green milk.

Other cyclists coming down cannot resist the urge to stop and enjoy the view as we continue up forever and forever.
Wow! Could we actually be at the top?!

Yes!, we've made the top of the first climb.
Grimsel Pass: 14 miles and 5,000' of climbing.
This is the sign we're interested in.

But this is the view we worked for.

Becky is definitely a PassHo.

You come down the other side of Grimsel Pass and this is what you see.

Yep, going down that and then UP the other side. Doesn't really compute when you look at the picture if you've never been there. Now it all makes sense to me.

Down we go. The road in the background is the next climb we'll do up Furka.

If you ride with Kate, you take Kate Breaks!

Raja didn't seem to mind.

Yikes, we're going up There!?!

There's that river again, with our next climb in the background.

Heading up Furka. The easiest of the 3 climbs for the day.

Riiiiiight. Looks real easy from here.

I think people say easy in reference to the distance. That's all I can figure.

You can see the terraced bridged switchbacks layered above Raja.

Excuse me, self portrait. The road that's "coming out from my helmet" is the descent we just did of Grimsel. Then we crossed the river and took the road on the left side of the picture which begins the climb up Furka.

Raja didn't think it was an easy climb either.

Looking back down from where we started.

Last of the switchbacks.

Jeff taunts us on the steep switchbacks below.

Still not at the top top.

Getting used to seeing glaciers.

Finally the official top.
Furka Pass: 7 miles and 2,200' of climbing.

It's cold, so layer up for the descent.
This one scared me a wee bit. Narrow roads and the occasional showdown between a Giant Tour Bus, car, and cyclist. At least this section had a guard rail.

This is usually what "guard rails" look like. Just big enough to really hurt you if you ran into it.

These long descents hurt my hands with braking.

Eventually we'll get to the valley floor.

Ah, relief for my hands.

I've never ridden past a train as it zoomed by so close.

Nice fast valley road heading to the final climb of Susten.

But first, a Kate break in this little town.

Then Kate really does take a break and has to jump on the train. She has a schedule to keep. Bye Kate!

Remember, if you're ever on a big ole ride in Switzerland and you're tuckered out, you can always hop a train.
With almost 3 hrs ride time remaining and the clock striking 5:00, we had a rider's meeting. Do we take a train, or go for the gold? Raja and I were not about to bail out now. Show me Susten Pass.

The fateful turn for the day. Jeff said it was probably about a 2 hr climb from here.

We were racing against the clock as our light is fading.

But it was still light just over my shoulder.

Getting dark up here.

Still light back there.

You can see the road as it cuts into the side of the mtn. You can also see the
water cascading down the side. We must have passed that a zillion times and it sounded like Niagara Falls.

Climbing at day's last light makes for pretty dramatic scenery.

Looking back from where I'd climbed.

What an unbelieveable day!

One last look at the climb below me before going through a tunnel to pop out on the other side.

And this is the first thing I saw when I came out of the tunnel.

The sun was blinding me, so I popped over the top of the crest.

At this point we felt pretty much like Hercules!
Susten Pass: 11 miles and 4,100' of climbing.
We were stoked!

But with darkness fast approaching and another hour to go, we had to keep on going. We were above the clouds.

As long as I live I will never forget this moment as I came around the first turn and was greeted with the most stunning view I've ever seen.

The descent is tight and twisty and full of tunnels. I don't recommend it in the dark and fog, but it sure made for the most surreal experience I've ever had. I will never forget that descent!
It was warmer in the valley, but darkness was still falling.

We descended forever and ever, about 16 miles in reality, but it felt like 100. Then we had a short mile climb up a bump in the road to another little descent that brought us back to the train station. Fortunately, the light rain had barely begun and it didn't dampen our spirits one bit.

It only added to the epicness of the day. 7 hours of ride time over 82 miles with 12,000' of climbing ending in the dark and cool is that!???!!!!!!

I hope you all can do this ride one day. If a little 5'2", 115 lb girl can do it, then anybody can do it. Trust me, it's a day you'll remember and cherish forever.
The Swiss Triple Bypass is guaranteed to open up your heart in ways you never imagined!