Feel the fear and do it anyway, as the saying goes – but I didn’t think they were talking about holidays. I was quite nervous about the first part of the day’s cycling down a steep main road with hairpin bends. All my real cyclist friends would have loved the descent on beautifully smooth tarmac, but I am not a happy descender on anything steep with sheer drops and very minimal barriers.
We took the train from Andermatt to Oberalppass in brilliant sunshine and then finally set off cycling the Rhine route. The first section of only 4.5km or so took us to the junction with a narrow local road that then leads to the mountain bike track up to Lake Toma, the source of the Rhine (Rheinquelle). We had a look at the mountain bike track and decided that our touring bikes were probably not going to cope too well with all the potholes, loose stones and sand, so found a spot to lock the bikes and luggage and set off on foot.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be ‘on very painful foot’ for Bruce, whose pre-holiday injuries are not yet healed (or heeled – very bad pun). I am speechless with pride that in spite of the pain and the heat, he trudged on and made it all the way to the top of the mountain bike trail. Then we both stood and looked at the footpath which is the only way to get the last kilometre or so up to Lake Toma. This was just not feasible for Bruce, and he knows how much I dread coming down that sort of scrambly path, so I was not sure whether I could do it on my own (I am evidently not one of nature’s descenders in any form). Thought about it for a couple of minutes then realised: deep breath, borrow the walking poles and set off before I convince myself I can’t do it.
The path was truly not bad, and for any of my serious hillwalking friends it would have been no trouble at all – just lots of boulders and loose stones. Still, I took it rather carefully and was very pleased to make it to the lovely lake where people were picnicking and paddling. Coming down was worse as I was expecting, but I met an Austrian couple about a third of the way down and trying to sustain a conversation in poor German took enough of my concentration that the rest of the descent went quite smoothly.
Bruce had an even more painful time walking back down the mountain bike trail, and by now we could hear many rumbles of thunder in the mountains. We were very glad to reconnect with the bikes and set off again on wheels, even if I was still freaked out by the descent and the bends and the steep drops.
It felt for a while as though Switzerland was having an elaborate laugh at my expense. You think you are coping with the gradient and the tight bends and the traffic? How about a tunnel section? Through that OK – how about some rain just to make the roads nice and slippery. Ah, you seem to be managing that, so here are some roadworks where they have removed all of the road surface and you will have to cycle on gravel. And now you are through the gravel section, look at this lovely forked lightning on the mountainside in front of you.
I was very, very happy to reach Trun where we are staying tonight. There were only a few slightly uphill sections today to remind me what my pedals are for, but tomorrow there will be ascent by bike instead of ascent on foot. Also the opportunity to get off the main road, which we could have done at Disentis if we had (a) spotted the turn off and (b) been willing to cope with an unsurfaced path. But tomorrow there are local roads and surfaced path for a lot of the way which will be very welcome.
In spite of all the fear, I had a lovely day. It is incredibly beautiful here, everywhere you look. And it turns out that I am a (very slightly) more capable cyclist and hill walker than I thought. All good!