Day 9: Grimselpass to Airolo

24 June 2010

I woke up to a mild sore throat and headed down to breakfast. Kekoa and Piaw reported the same, so I chalked it up to the dry air at the summit. Piaw's CPAP machine had stopped working in the middle of the night, and he didn't have the proper tools to repair it.

It was a brilliant morning.

Past Grimsel, the road takes a series of hairpin turns down to Gletsch, at the bottom of the valley, then back up to Furka, on the other side:

View of Gletsch and Furka from Grimsel

View of Grimsel from Gletsch

At the bottom of the descent, in Gletsch, I found Piaw and Lisa repairing a blown-out tire. Fortunately, the blowout had happened right as they were coming down to the stop sign at the bottom, rather than at one of the steep points along the descent.

We headed up to Furka. There was a long, straight segment, followed by hairpins. I stopped at Hotel Belvedere, which is most of the way up, to admire the view.

View from Hotel Belvedere

There was not a whole lot to see at the summit, but a bunch of obnoxious British Ferrari drivers had lined up their cars and were posing their trophy wives for pictures. Revolting.

Furka simmit

Descending from Furka, Piaw and Lisa had another blowout, and then a flat as we rolled into Realp. It turned out to be a bad tire, as after Piaw swapped it out he got no further trouble for the rest of the tour.

Descent from Furka

We had a nice lunch at the Hotel des Alps in Realp. After lunch, we headed towards Hospental, but there was an awful and demoralizing headwind. I pulled ahead of the tandem with the intention of catching up to Kekoa and Cynthia, who were perhaps just a hundred feet ahead. I never caught up with them, at least not until I got up to the summit of St. Gotthard.

Past Hospental, the road turned off to the side so that the headwind turned into a tailwind, and we started climbing up to St. Gotthard. In the middle, the road split off into two: the older cobblestone road, and the newer road overlooking it, which had a slide protection gallery. I didn't want to take the cobblestone road, but I didn't want to take the new road if it went through tunnels. Cynthia and Kekoa were too far ahead of me, and Piaw and Lisa too far behind, for me to ask whether the new road was suitable for bikes. So I took the cobblestone road.

Cobblestone road up to St. Gotthard

The cobblestone portion of that damn road must have gone on for miles, and made me ache a bit. Near the end I passed some sort of Swiss military exercise, where soldiers in uniform with loaded weapons were standing patrol pretty close to the road road and occasionally firing at something or someone. I don't have any pictures because when I hear live fire my survival instinct takes over.

I found Kekoa and Cynthia at the top of St. Gotthard. They had taken the paved road (and so had Piaw and Lisa, I would later learn).

St. Gotthard summit

There's not much to see at the summit of St. Gotthard, just a tiny iced-over lake. The descent, however, was exhilirating. The road goes through a kilometer-long tunnel near the top. There are few turns on the descent, so one can go very fast, and I must have gone up to about 75km/h (45 mph). Near the bottom, there's a flying hairpin:

Lisa shot the following video from the back of the tandem on the descent:

Just past the flying hairpin, I saw Piaw and Lisa waving from an offramp, so I pulled over. It turned out that Cynthia had not seen them and had continued down the car-only road down to the city. Piaw and Lisa had gotten Kekoa's attention, so he had continued along the road to chase Cynthia down. Meanwhile, Piaw, Lisa, and I continued down to Airolo along the bike path, which was not all that bike friendly. Between cobblestone paving and tight hairpins, one could not descend very quickly.

Fortunately, we were all reunited at the train station in Airolo. We had now entered the Italian-speaking regions. Though we were still in Switzerland, it felt as if we had crossed into another country entirely. We checked into a hotel nearby and had a three-course Italian dinner. There was a supermarket next to the hotel, so we stocked up on chocolate as well. I've never really loved chocolate, but damned if a chocolate hazelnut bar isn't just delicious when I'm running low on fuel.

This street just screamed "Italy" to me.

I really felt like I was starting to come down with something. I had started coughing, and my sore throat still hadn't gone away. I took a hot shower and tried to get some rest.

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