The issue with leaving early is that we have a reservation at a cheap hotel in Wassen, Switzerland for Friday night. I have figured out that we can alter our route to run a loop section of it on Friday, instead of holding out until the planned later point in the trip. This is a big win for us, as we have good weather for the most part and get some of the best passes of the trip in early.
We depart Bad Bellingen on the A5 and cross into Switzerland, purchasing Vignettes at the border. A Vignette is a sticker that shows you have paid the annual toll for riding the highways in the country. For 2014, the Vignette is red and yellow, and features the well-known symbol for the Autobahn. Without it, you are subject to rather impressive fines. 33€ later and we are good to go. A quick stop for fuel and the real game can begin.
We follow the A2 in Switzerland from Basel down to the Sustenstrasse (11) and begin our first climb.
The Sustenpass is a mild, gently curving pass that is a perfect first Alpine pass. It’s one that you can ride to get into the swing of things. It brings you into to the moment with good views and open twisties. To reach the top, we ride up through the ceiling and out on top of the cloud cover, a really unique experience. We have sun on top to augment the lovely views. From there, we swing south on the 6 to ride over the Grimselpass. Grimsel is an old pass with a long commercial history. The kehren, or switchbacks, are stacked in groups and the Furkapass kehren are visible as you descend. The bus traffic is impressive, and we see a fashion photography crew on the descent.
In Ulrichen, we turn off onto the Nufenenstrasse. In truth, this was my personal highlight of the passes we rode. Nufenen is challenging and strong, well-built, but demanding. I love it. The top is once again up in the clouds after we ride up over one layer of clouds to the pass itself. At the western base, we enter Airolo, where one must choose between the new Sankt Gotthard road and the old Via Tremola. A few loops of getting turned around, and we settle onto the Via Tremola, a cobblestone goat path that climbs the side of the mountains. Once again, riding into the clouds, we find nothing but dense cloud cover at the top. So dense that we are not sorry to leave it at all. A note on the Via Tremola – it’s awesome. Definitely technical and would be way more fun on my Sherpa (I mean WAAAAAAY more fun), and all you could ask for from an old historical road. I highly recommend taking it. If you take the new road to the top, you’ll find it’s not particularly curvy and offers none of the challenge that is the purpose of pass-running.
From the Sankt Gotthard, we descend back north into Wassen and stay at the Gotthard Backpacker Hotel, a modestly priced (for Switzerland) hotel with few trimmings, but really nice showers. The barbed wire toilet seat makes me laugh. Soooo Texas…
Tonight, I discover that my riding partner snores loudly. The snack baggie of 3M Tekk plugs looks very good to me when I find it in my tank bag.