Monster climbs, Rapid Descents & the Sound of Music!
We’re now sitting in France having crossed the Alps and cycled through Switzerland. That part of the journey was pretty epic in terms of biking with some serious climbing. Cycling through Switzerland was a mixed bag of fish for want of a better phrase! It had some of the most amazing scenery you could wish for mixed with some great roads and well thought out cycle friendly lanes in towns & cities and main roads. It also had some of the worst drivers we’ve encountered so far, who had a blatant disregard for cyclists. Maybe we were spoilt in the north of Italy?
Anyway, we left the beautiful Omegna and made for the Alps. That part of journey I will leave for Louise to describe but before you read this, take note that this is someone who has never been on a road bike in her life until the day we landed in Italy. She has jumped on, carried her 3 weeks worth of equipment and racked up over 630km so far this trip. To say I am impressed by her commitment and drive, nevermind her fitness is an understatement. In saying that though she does have an iphone packed with motivational tunes, whereas I don’t and I spent at least 3 hours cycling with the sound of music song stuck in my head, as if a 2000 metre climb was not challenging enough!
It’s hard to put into words how hard the ride was. Not only was it the steepest and highest ascent I have ever had to climb but the obscene heat, the thinning air and extra weight I had to carry made it one of the most physically demanding and mentally challenging things I have ever done.
The distance from Domodossola in Italy, where the climb begins, to Brig in Switzerland where the descent ends, is 65km long. There and parts of the route that are hideously steep, but in general the climbs are sweeping and manageable once you find your pace, but they are also relentless.
We took a break on the way up at a small cafe in Varso. It was very tempting to lengthen our rest period knowing the challenge that was ahead of us but we didn’t. We replenished on pizza and stocked up on chocolate and sweets before setting off again.
As we drudged our way towards the pass, we encountered the first of many tunnels. Initially we seen the tunnels as a welcome break where we were able to shelter out of the blistering sun. We soon realised however that these tunnels were not our friends but untrusting, dark and windy passages, busy with trucks, buses, cars and camping vehicles all apparently competing with each other to see who can get the closest to the cyclists carrying panniers! The noise of the trucks echoing through the tunnel as they hurtled towards us was unnerving. They actually made your body vibrate inside and the blast of hot air as the heavy trucks and buses passed caused the bike to wobble, not a pleasant experience.
The physical pain was another issue that we had to overcome but strangely it wasn’t the leg muscles that were the issue, it was the neck, shoulder, groin and back that smashed the pain threshold.
It was remarkable though how the mind overcomes the exhaustion. Every ache, strain and pain we were experiencing was just pushed aside because there was nothing else for it. The only way was up and it’s just not in either of our natures to quit.
As we neared the Simplon Pass the views became more breath taking with the snow capped mountains rolling out as far as the eye could see. The sky was clear, the air was clean and fresh and we stopped just short of the top to absorb every inch of the stunning scenery. We breathed deeply and with each inhalation the pain and exhaustion lessened. It was at that moment we realised every push of the pedal was worth it.
After we had our fill of the views and were satisfied we had at least one photograph that done them justice, the fun began and the decent commenced.
With 23km of steep downhill to enjoy there was no holding Rob back. He was off and I soon lost sight of him. I pushed myself on around the hairpin bends and through the tunnels and I must admit I found it difficult to remove the ridiculously huge grin from my face! Although it was wiped off when I crossed the bridge near the bottom and was hit was cross winds at the same time as a lorry passed me causing me to have a serious wobble and hit the brakes hard. It wasn’t long before I was at top gear again though, trying to get my top speed ever on a push bike and I succeeded!
As we reached Brig the memory of the monstrous exhausting assent had now morphed into a tremendous ride and we recognised it was an awesome achievement.
So there we have it, the real feelings of the climb & descent. It was an amazing experience and one that seems so long ago already! The best part was definitely the downhill, overtaking motorbikes, cars & a bus with a top speed of 78km/h which wasn’t bad with panniers and a headwind slowing us down. The journey through Switzerland and into France was one of mixed emotions however that is another blog!
Ae7 Milan to Glasgow Road Trip!