st. Gotthard

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Few words about the bike and equipment. I tried to change the bike as little as possible so that it remains the one that it always has been - I never had a puncture with this bike for example, so even the tyres and tubes were the same as 8 years ago. However I had to make quite some compromises. First, the pedals were old fashioned ones designed to work with straps and are a pain in the a**e to cycle if you don't use this - as I don't. I changed them for cheap plastic ones. Then there were brake pads. They were totally worn and as I intended to live through this year I had to replace them.

Further, the gears were far from appropriate for mountain tour: 2 front rings (52/42) and a freewheel of 11 to 24 teeth. I didn't want to go for larger cogs, but instead got rid of some parts in order to reduce some weight. So I removed the big front ring, front derailleur, shifter and cables, saving 480 g. Stock bolts were too long for single ring and I couldn't get short ones, so I used washers left over from roof repair. I was sceptical if this would work more then for 50 km, however, to my pleasant surprise the ride with one ring turned out to be excellent show of simplicity and enjoyment - apart from climbing hills steeper than 5%. The bike had other deficiencies as play in the rear axle, play in the bottom bracket and bent rear axle, but I couldn't fix this by myself and didn't want someone else's hand to touch it, so I just went with it. Apart from the pedal that fell off on the third day (probably because of the loose BB) I had no problems with the bike.

It was essentially a "credit card tour" - sleeping and eating in hotels. This enabled me to go far below my usual luggage weight - which already is an unbelievable minimum to most of cycle tourers (see the weight page). Beside the cycling clothes and shoes on myself I carried things in jersey pockets, in a small bag on the handlebar and in a bag attached to seat post with bungee cord and supported by bottle cage for added stability. So there were no racks, this also saved me half a kilo.

List of things included: cycling clothes and shoes, long trousers, fleece pullover, rain jacket, underwear, gloves, nylon stockings, tools, digital camera, medical kit, sewing kit, razor and tooth brush, skin ointment, card with riding directions (substitute for a map), ID and credit cards, pencil and paper, spare tube, spare glasses and some plastic bags. Total weight: 2950 g, with water in a bottle at most 3950 g.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


The weather forecast last evening was shocking. The rain front is approaching southern Switzerland, will be around Gotthard by noon and will last three days. It means there is a strong possibility I will have to drop my plan and go back less then 10 km away from the finish line! At 7:00 it's sunny. I get ready and start around 8:30. It's a bit chilly, I cycle first with rain jacket, then only with "light arm warmers" i.e. nylons stockings. If you pedal hard they are good enough insulation. Oberalppass is an obstacle before the final act. It's only 50 m lower then Gotthard - not a warm up that I would wish at this point. The wind picks up on the downhill part and when I race into Andermatt a few snowflakes are flying around. The skies are gray and menacing, however it's only 14 km from the S.G. and I can't stop now. 4 km later there is road sign where Gothardpass name is taped over - it hasn't been opened yet this year. But the direction is obvious, so I start the climb. It's 9 km up and 690 m altitude gain - an easy stroll in fine weather. After 1 km the rain starts. After 4 km I am totally wet. 4 km from the top the storm is blowing snow in my face. A car approaches from the oposite direction, with a couple of passanges looking at me incredibly, I stop for a moment and think "It's better to go back and start early tomorrow in better weather". I look back, then go 10 meters forward, then another 10, another 50. Fortunately I see a gallery further up, I reach it and rest. It's only 2.5 km to the top!! My hands are freezing, I warm them in my crotch. The top of the pass is rather flat and soon I can see an orange house. Yes that's it, I've made it. I am only one at the top, the pass is closed as well as everything else. I make a quick picture at the sign, then anxiously turn down.

The ride down was one of the memorable painful moments. The heat was evaporating rapidly from my wet hands, and every gallery on the way down meant a refuge like coming home. I brake intermittently with one hand, sucking the water out of the glove on the other one. Behind the road barrier I can't see anything, it's total whiteness, I'm riding through the cloud. Could be like heaven if I weren't soaked to the bones. Just before the sign for Airolo there was a steel bar prohibiting the cars to go up, fortunately high enough that I could go under. A few further turns on badly cobbed road didn't intimidate me any more: the snow had already turned to rain, it was recognizably warmer and I had reached my goal. Few minutes later in a hotel lobby, wet, freezing and shivering, I was happy to hear affirmative answer to my question: "Avete camerre con ducha calda?".

Day 6: 90 km, 6h 1min. Total: 750 km.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


I thought of taking a day of rest, but took an aspirin instead and moved on. Very slowly to Lichtenstein, mostly on cycling paths far across fields and away from traffic. Then crossing Rhein into Switzerland and following it on Radweg 2, one of excelently posted cycling paths here. At that point I felt strong enought to leave the path and follow the road to Chur. Then the road left the valley and went up. I was slow on the narrow road and the traffic was horrible. The truck driver that had to wait for a moment behind me was honking and wawing his hand. What did he mean? "Get off the road and go cycle on the bloody Radweg that we biult for you"?

Day 5: 126 km, 7h 12m.