Saturday, August 19, 2017

Grindelwald


Though I had heard of this enchanted place, I admit to primarily associating the name with the character from the Harry Potter books who was young Dumbledore's friend before becoming his foe, the forerunner to He Who Shall Not Be Named. But not any longer. 

We arrived here Thursday afternoon, and Friday was a rest day. We were free to explore - to hike, to take one of many trams up mountainsides, to laze around or to go for a short ride up to Launterbrunnen. I, along with others, opted for the ride. It is an amazingly beautiful place, and we were blessed once again by the weather gods with stunningly beautiful blue skies and sunshine.

The Fensteraarhorn

The Eiger



Riding above Lauterbrunnen. The Jungfrau was visible to our left as we rode up. More stunning scenery.

Tom and me, yesterday evening during happy hour before the thunderstorm

View from my hotel window of the Wetterhorn after a thunderstorm rolled through yesterday evening.

This morning, we are off to Vitznau. We were originally going up and over the Grosse Scheidegge, but a thousand or so competitors in an ironman competition are heading up the other side. So we are being rerouted through Interlaken, then along the north shore of the Brienzerzee before continuing on to Vitznau. Our weather luck has temporarily run out, and it is raining. Should be an interesting day.

Today's route


Friday, August 18, 2017

Stupefying: The Furka and Grimsel Passes


As long as I live, I don't think I'll ever forget how I felt yesterday when the scene pictured above (it's real) first came into view just below the Furka Pass in the Swiss Alps. Words fail to describe the majesty, wonder, astonishment and sheer breathlessness evoked by such a scene. Stretching out below me was the descent I would shortly ride and, beyond that in the distance, the climb up to the Grimsel Pass. 

Apart from the sense, as one of our riders put it, that one couldn't possibly take it all in - it was too large, too grand, too immense - was the profound sense of gratitude for being there at that moment. Gratitude for the opportunity of being here on this trip, gratitude for the near-perfect weather and gratitude that, as a cyclist, I had been able to climb up Furka and now be privileged to make what is surely one of the most amazing descents in the world. It truly was a profoundly spiritual moment when one feels intensely the majesty of life and of one's place in it.

A group of us in Andermatt just before setting out for the day

We had started our day in Andermatt and began our ascent toward Furka after traversing a long valley floor. Then began the climb. Something happened to me on that climb. I felt like, for the first time on this trip, I really found my mojo, my climbing rhythm. It was a fairly steady 8% grade up long switchbacks, but I did just fine. I settled into a speed that seemed to be good for my breathing, heart rate and legs, and I just kept going. That experience in itself was almost spiritual for me - to find something inside myself that I didn't know was there.

Beginning the climb, the switchbacks ahead clearly visible

The spot where I scattered some of Mark's ashes. The valley stretches toward Andermatt in the distance.

The upper part of the climb to the Furka Pass. The road is the line stretching through the middle of the photograph.


After taking in the view below the Furka Pass, I headed down the epic descent, the engineering of which was, like so many other feats of engineering seen here in Switzerland, mind-blowing. From the bottom, I could look up and see a waterfall, way up there - the source of the Rhone River:


After eating a quick picnic lunch provided by our support vans at the top of the Grimsel Pass, we began a long, long descent that took us through more dramatic and varied scenery, such as this gorge:


Many in the group, including a number who hadn't done the Furka Pass climb, made one more ascent that afternoon up and over the Grosse Scheidegg. I was content with my two climbs for the day and, along with others, rode in the support vans on to Grindelwald.

It had been an epic day, one that closed with this twilight view of the Finsteraarhorn from our hotel in Grindelwald:


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Picture Postcard Perfect: Splügen to Andermatt


The days are all starting to run together now as the end of our tour is in sight. So much is packed into each day. So many sights, so many "wow" moments, so many experiences on and off the bike.

We started off Wednesday in Splügen and descended the gorges we had climbed up the previous day. There was a light rain falling for most of the descent, which marked the longest period of time I've ever ridden in the rain (during my extensive cycling career of five years). On the way down, I stopped and spread more of Mark's ashes at another beautiful spot overlooking a particularly steep spot in the gorge:


Once we exited the gorge, the rain stopped, and we had improving weather all the rest of the day. As we rode, it seemed that everywhere I looked I saw scenes that could have been used for picture postcards or those 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Green valleys, dark forests, scores of churches perched on mountainsides, quaint houses. It went on and on.







Our destination that day was Andermatt. It's not a very big place, but it oozes quaintness. It was fun to walk around and take pictures before a very happy happy-hour.





Nancy and Glenn, our tour operators

Tom and John, the other members of the rainbow contingent on the tour

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Splügen (aka Brigadoon)


That was what I started to call it on our afternoon climb yesterday: Brigadoon. We knew how far we had to go, yet Splügen seemed to not be real because the climb never seemed to end. We just continued through forests and glades, no town in view, and literally didn't stop climbing until we reached the hotel door. Fortunately, it had been a beautiful climb.

Our day started in Pontresina. We went through St. Moritz, the famed ski town playground for the rich and famous, but we frankly weren't impressed. Pontresina was much prettier. From there, we started climbing immediately up to and over the Julierpas. Then came a long, long descent through beautiful, pastoral valleys and gorges.

After a lunch stop in Thusis, we started our ascent to Splügen, a very small village. For most of the way, we passed through one gorge after another formed by the Hinterhein River. From one bridge crossing one of the gorges, I spread more of Mark's ashes. The following photograph doesn't really do justice to the place, but it is a commemoration of one more special place on the journey I've been on for the past week.


My friends, Ross and Patti, pulled up on their tandem just after I had released the ashes. They approved of the spot, which meant a lot to me because they had known Mark for a long time, Ross having been one of Mark's ER partners. Later that afternoon, some time after we had arrived at our hotel in Splügen, they approached me as I was coming back into the hotel after having gone on a walk. 

"Joseph," Patti exclaimed, "you must come and see this heart-shaped rock in the river!" She was referring to the Hinterhein River that flows through town, then goes on to form the gorges to the north. Together, the three of us walked down to a bridge. There, Patti showed me the rock, as if it was yet another sign:


It is always intensely gratifying to me when people honor the love that Mark and I felt for one another.

**********

Here are some photos I took on my walk around Splügen late yesterday afternoon.









Monday, August 14, 2017

From Bormio to Bernina


I saw one of the most beautiful awe-inspiring scenes of my life yesterday as we descended from the Bernina Pass - the Bernina Glacier. It was here, with the view pictured above, that I scattered Mark's ashes yesterday in a beautiful Alpine meadow. I think he would approve.

We had started yesterday morning in Bormio, Italy, riding down valley to Tirano before heading up valley again to Bernina. The weather was beautiful, as it promises to be again today. Grateful for that.

Tirano

There was a steady climb from Tirano for 15 kilometers or so before we stopped for a picnic lunch. Then a number of us, myself included, opted to take the van from there to the Bernina Pass, then do the descent into Pontresina.


One of the great things about these cycling trips that I have always enjoyed are those spontaneous times when great memories are made along the way with new and old friends. On our first tour in Corsica in 2012, it was the night we drank shots of limoncello and skinny-dipped in the bay at Propriano. 

At Propriano, before dinner, as we all sat and watched the sun set. Those present then who are on this current tour: Ross and Patti, Kathy, Tom and Dan. It's been great being with people who knew Mark.

On the Geneva to Nice tour, there were numerous "smaller" but no less memorable moments. As I've thought about it, the memories I cherish most from that tour were moments with Mark, such as wrapping my arm in his as we sat awaiting dinner at our hotel in Castellane:


Or enjoying our last lunch on that tour, in Gourdon, high above Nice and the Mediterranean; or starting our last descent of that trip, our last European descent that we would take together:



Yesterday afternoon was one of those times when lasting memories were made as a group of us walked down to the Hotel Walther, a grand old dame of a hotel, where we had bottle after bottle of delicious Swiss Pinot Noir rosé, soaking up the afternoon sun, laughing, talking. It turned out to be a pricey afternoon, but one that I will long remember.





Today, we set off from Pontresina, our destination this evening being Splügen. About 90 kilometers, 4000' feet of climbing over two climbs. The sky is virtually cloudless. It promises to be a great day, stopping for morning coffee in St. Moritz -- because of course, it's St. Moritz.