st. Gotthard

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.


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