Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Friday 25th July - Merlischachen to Airolo

I woke early this morning to my favourite sounds in Switzerland; the lapping of a clean fresh lake inviting me for a morning swim (better than ten cups of coffee) and the constant tinkling of cow bells. I set off early at 6.30 to cover the miles of today, not just the route to the Gotthard pass, but over it.

As expected, cycling through the Alps was both stunning and epic. After a week of dull flat Rhine farmland it was a visual tour de force; the only other time I remember having such a vigorous sensual reawakening was on my first trip out of polluted Athens after three solid months of voluntary incarceration years ago. The colours and contours just grab your eye and won't let go, and the deeper I got in to the mountains as I skirted and left Lake Luzern, the more breathtaking it became. I think this is what cycle touring is all about.

Sadly though, I knew climbing the Alps was never going to be easy, but in the end they got the better of me. I managed to climb to 1447 metres at Andermatt, before my right knee finally gave in on me in protest, as it has been threatening to do for weeks. It's my own stupid fault for fitting a race groupset rather than a mountain biking one, and the pedal mashing on the way up was getting more and more painful. I can safely say that (apart from learning Akkadian!) trying to cross the Alps by bicycle is the most difficult thing I have ever done.

So, in the end I had to skip the Gotthard pass and catch a (depressingly quick) train to the other side, arriving at Airolo, the first Italian town on this side of the Alps. The town is pretty dead, just a strip of pizzerias and hotels, although exploration is rewarded by some more attractive, cobbled residential streets off the back of the main road. However, the first major indication that I have entered the Italian sphere of influence is that I was able to haggle down the price of my room, something that was impossible north of the Alps and I hope will become a more regular feature of this trip from now on. As for my knee, luckily it is all downhill to Como tomorrow...

Av. 16.6kph, Max. 44.9kph, Dist. 80.10, Time 04.49.50

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