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:

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