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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 8: Grimsel Pass Summit to Airolo

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I woke up in the middle of the night and wondered why it happened. Looking over, I realized that my CPAP machine had stopped working. I took my mask off and went back to sleep, hoping that the machine would fix itself in the morning.

By breakfast time, we were all as hungry but there was quite a bit of coughing amongst the party. I was not feeling so good myself, but it could easily have been the interrupted CPAP. Kekoa blamed the coughing on the extremely dry air. I thought it was more likely that we had contracted a virus.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Nevertheless, the view outside was nothing short of gorgeous, and I eagerly anticipated the descent on Grimsel pass, which was a series of hairpin turns that were fun and fast. I remember overtaking a motor-home on this stretch in 2003, and it was a good place for cyclists who were comfortable with their bikes.

Lisa and I hopped onto the tandem and zipped down the pass. Hairpin after hairpin zipped past, and then we were at the bottom, in Gletsch. As we rolled to the stop sign I heard a sound like a gunshot, and looked down and sure enough it was my front tire. I checked the rim and it was barely warm to touch. Examining the temperature labels Pardo had installed on the rim indicated that the temperature did not exceed 71C. I chalked it up to a mis-seated tire, and went ahead and replaced the tube. In retrospect, I should have been more suspicious.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

We started the Furka pass climb. While Furka pass (2436m) is taller than Grimsel (2165m), Gletsch (1762m) is also much higher than Innertkirchen (625m), so the climb up Furka pass was easier than yesterday's climb up Grimsel. We stopped at the Hotel Belvedere to get the classic shot of Grimsel pass from Furka's vantage point. The stop was also necessary because the climb up to Belvedere is the steepest part of the climb, after which the rest of the ride is comparatively gentle.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

At the summit, there was a bunch of expensive cars on a car rally, and women who were obviously trophy beauties of some sort were busy posing themselves for pictures with the cars at the summit, as though getting to these places by car was some sort of achievement. Fortunately, we also met other touring cyclists: Kyle Williams and Roger England:
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

Roger, in particular was riding a custom folding bike of his own design, and told me that he returned to the alps every year for a week to ride a few more passes. Since he lived in England, such short trips were not prohibitive in either time or money. Kyle was touring for the long haul, as he had a seasonal job that did not require him for a good part of the year.

We then descended Furka pass. It is very difficult to be fast on Furka pass, as not only is there a strong head-wind that turns into a side wind at times, the grade is mostly gentle when the road is straight, and steep only where there are several hairpin turns. Lisa shot a video of the descent, so I won't say much about it:

Furka Descent on tandem from Piaw Na on Vimeo.

We did suffer a blowout on the descent, as I pulled over to let an oncoming bus past. At that point, I decided that it was a bad tire (since once again the rim wasn't even warm), and replaced it with the Rivendell Rolly Poly I kept for these situations. While the Rolly Poly has a kevlar bead, since heat was not the factor in blowing off the Avocet 32, my guess was that it would hold. At this point, however, I was out of spare inner tubes.

Lunch at the Hotel Des Alpes was surprisingly good, but after lunch I discovered that my new tire was flat. The tube I had put into the new tire had a defective patch. I was out of gumption to patch the flat, so borrowed a spare tube from Kekoa. The dreaded headwind into Hospental was particularly strong that day, so we had a hard time getting to the start of the climb. We filled our water bottles at the corner (the restaurant charged us to do so), and then proceeded up the hill with a tail wind. Unfortunately, while the tandem doesn't feel the headwind as much, it also doesn't get as much assist from a tailwind as one might wish. The climb was slow but again, with Hospental at 1493m, it was only a relatively short climb up to the St. Gotthard summit (2106m). The last time Lisa and I climbed this road in 2003, it was shrouded in fog. This time, it was sunny and pretty. We eschewed the steeper and exposed old cobblestone road in favor of the shaded (by a slide-protection gallery) and gentler new road, from which we had plenty of time to see the old road and its environment.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

At the top, we saw the summit lake for the first time, but at 5pm, it was too late to visit the museum. The St. Gotthard descent, however, is fast, and almost now braking is required:

With the circumstances so changed from my memories of this descent I had a great time, swooping down from the heights and letting the tandem roll. With the new tire, I had confidence that I would not have to minimize braking.

After a gallery that terminated in a flying hairpin, I spied the sign that indicated that the rest of the main road was a freeway, and pulled over. We waited for others to catch up to us, but Cynthia rode right past us without seeing us. I felt like an idiot for not telling people that a blue sign with a car in it was indicative that the road was only for cars, not for bikes. Kekoa then did the same thing, but heard us scream at him as he pulled past, and when we told him what happened he gave chase to Cynthia, hoping to track her down. Phil was the only person to see us, and after that we descended the bicycle route.

That turned out to be a mistake, for the road was not as well designed as the main road. In the future I will simply ignore the freeway sign and take the main road all the way down to Airolo. Not only is it cobblestoned and bumpy, there were a lot of corners where you had to brake corner to corner, which made the road uncomfortable to ride and no fun whatsoever. Whatever the Swiss were thinking when they designated this the bike route, they were not thinking of bicyclists capable of 50+mph descents.

By the time we got down to the bottom, it was 6:00pm. We did see everyone at the train station, though Cynthia was mad as hell. I made my apologies and we ended up taking a room at a hotel right across the street, where we saw that other bicyclists were also staying. The grocery store was open, so lots of shopping was done. I tried to find torx wrenches with which to open up my CPAP machine, but to no avail.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010


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