The next day our camping place was covered in frost-kissed twigs and crunchy white leaves. We had cycled for a long time in the night, deep into the forest so that we’d be reasonably hidden. This morning we realised quite quickly that we were right next to a path where the joggers took their morning run. We greeted them cheerily nevertheless, and some greeted us back, while others just gawped.Adi relit the fire to take the edge off the morning chill. After we got packed up, the sun came out and warmed us some more.
We cycled up a 4km steady incline and the road sparkled as we rolled over the thin layer of frost.
On this particular route, we would have to cycle over three mountain passes: the Oberalppass, the Furkapass and the Grimselpass. We had no idea what to expect, but we hoped it would be no steeper than the hill we were cycling. Even though it would be much longer, on a low gear the steepness alone was quite manageable.
When we got to the top, a railed, comma-shaped pathway coiled above the edge of the road to give a brilliant birds-eye view of the Rhein and the mountains surrounding it. It was called the Ruinaulta (Rhein canyon). We carried on through typical Swiss backdrops until reaching the first of some strenuous uphill climbs. Again, we hoped our mountain passes would not be as steep as these, but given that our guidebook had classed this section as “moderate” and the mountainous sections as “difficult”, this was optimism at its most desperate.
As I reached the end of another stretch, red-faced, panting and visibly stressed, an old man was shouting something in Swiss-German, which according to Adi translated as: well done, you made it to the top!
I was very relieved that this was, in fact, the top and there were no more surprises waiting for me around the next bend.
We had reached a small village called Versam. We bought some snacks at the shop and got chatting to a bus driver who knew the mountains well. To our relief, he said that the Oberalppass (our first of three) was not as steep as the hill we just cycled, it was only longer.
Our long descent led us through many little Swiss villages and every scene was uniquely striking. We were already impressed by much of the countryside in France, now it seemed, Switzerland was just showing off.Winter wonderland
Eventually we got down to the river where everything was icy. Up above, to the right, the mountains looked clear and sunny, but here in the shadow side, all was cloaked in white with little crystals jutting out like bristles.We bought some more ingredients for mulled wine in a village, before cycling in the dark in search of our sleeping place. Everywhere was frozen, rocky terrain. We finally found somewhere with just enough space for our tent between large immovable rocks, so freezing cold and hungry, we took it. It also tempted us with what looked like a fireplace.
The fire took ages to make because of wet and icy wood, we couldn’t get the pegs in the ground without the aid of a large stone and lots of bashing, and our mats’ even refused to inflate. I woke many times in the night, shivering. It wasn’t the most inspiring promotion for a winter bike tour.
In the morning we forced ourselves to get up. The water in our bottles was solid. One bottle fell to the ground and the plastic was so brittle that a piece snapped off. The others’ lids were frozen on and when Adi tried to force one open, water sprayed out of a tiny hole. We didn’t attempt to unscrew anymore after that. We heated up the remainder of the last night’s pasta and tried to defrost our gloves at the same time. Adi’s jacket was crispy and stuck to the floor and I felt like my blood had also frozen in the night.We eventually got cycling and warmed up pretty quick with a few steep but small climbs. Once on the other side of the bridge, it was bright and sunny again and our bottles slowly began to defrost enough to unscrew the lids and obtain a few drops of water that had melted. We had to keep changing clothes as the path interchanged between sunny and shadow land and the temperature in each was dramatically different.At the bottom of another steep hill, we saw a crowd of goats grazing either side of our path.The Goat attack
Halfway up was a bench, so after struggling in the heat for a little while, we sat and had lunch. We spread the food across the bench and dipped and picked until our bellies were full. In the distance we heard bells getting gradually louder, followed by a couple of goats peeking over the hill. More appeared and came right up to us.
Having not had much experience with goats, I was a little naïve… thinking, “Wow, they aren’t very shy”, whilst tucking into the rest of my sandwich. Very quickly they had surrounded us, making a beeline for the casually sprawled bread, cheese, jam, butter, chocolate spread, and not disregarding the cutlery.
More of them advanced from different directions and we grabbed everything we could and dashed to the bikes. There were too many and we couldn’t get everything quick enough, so we left a bunch of them to fight for the few items still on the bench, whilst tackling the others that were trying to eat the food out of our hands. As we shoved food into panniers, more goats were diving into the bags and helping themselves. Adi ran back to get the rest of the stuff from the bench. One goat was licking the lid of our chocolate spread and another had a tube of my magnesium tablets in its mouth which Adi had to prize out. Meanwhile, I couldn’t move for goats around me and there were some even climbing on our bikes to reach the food I was holding up in the air. I panicked and shouted for Adi’s help. I had never even seen this many goats before, let alone had tens of them stalking my every move. Adi was pushing them away by their horns, but they kept coming back. I worried that they would bite us in defence. We shoved food and cutlery into any available opening we could, before quickly sealing off the panniers. Finally, once they realised they couldn’t get any more food, we managed to get away and they nonchalantly dispersed.
We cycled towards the town of Disentis and bought some bits at the shop. We were nearing the beginning of the Oberalppass, and were dreading it slightly, as it would be our first climb up a mountain. The steady ascent towards it was fairly easy so far, so we were still hopeful that it wouldn’t be as bad as we feared. As it was getting darker, we looked around for places to camp so that the next day we could tackle the mountain early. We cycled through a couple of villages and stopped at Sedrun to have a hot chocolate in the local pub and look at the map. I looked around and noticed that it was full of men. The table next to us were having a game of cards and speaking Romansch. They kept staring at us. I guess they weren’t used to seeing strangers, especially weird looking ones with bright high-vis cycling clothes. After taking full advantage of their toilet facilities and scented hand-soap, we went back out into the cold and moved up the hill in the dark.
We found a flat grassy spot by a church to camp and vowed to get up early in the morning before Sunday churchgoers delivered us some of their Christian wrath.Tomorrow would be the first of our mountain cycles, and we would once and for all find out whether we should have, in fact, opted for the lake route.