In July Simon Walker and his band of 'merry middle-aged bikers’ rode from the UK to the Swiss Alps raising over £750 for Coming Home.
You can read a full account of their trip in the entertaining daily diary blog below, showing the many challenges (often meteorological!) they faced. At the end of their adventure, fortunately with no breakdowns, accidents or serious mishaps, they did have a new catchphrase ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad weather gear!’
Thu 14th July
Off we go. Set off a bit later than expected but no dramas; plenty of time at Maidstone services to meet up with the whole team before heading down to the Channel Tunnel for our 16.50 train. Oh Dear!!! Train stuck in tunnel delays us by about 2 hours - not a good start! Finally arrive in Calais safe and sound and we head south to Reims. Glorious sun-set though on a damp evening and a lucky full moon. Long trek down to Reims in the chilly air. Couple of stops to dress up. Much too late when we arrive to eat so its beer, pretzels and cake for tea. Luxury!
Fri 15th July
So much for the early start!? Well we did get to bed a 2am! Can see the hotel in the daylight now – the Enso Hotel; theme hotel just full of car parts, engine bits and crank cases – very apt for our little adventure! So anyway off we go, heading East and then South to Basel, round Strasbourg. Brilliant day - sun streaming down all the way. Long way to Basel though; about 325 miles! Great weather but lots of stops on the way for fuel and to stretch legs. Nearly came unstuck in Strasbourg as the team went left and right at the roadworks!!! Finally got to Nick’s around 8.30pm just in time for a fantastic BBQ…and another beer or two; much deserved after a very long day in the saddle. Tomorrow the Alps!
Sat 16th July
The great day arrives! A day of challenges, hard riding and a little sadness at the start. Today we take on three of the great passes of Switzerland; although as it turns out not the same three passes for all of us! So an early(ish) wake up followed by a fabulous breakfast laid on by Nick (great fry-up Nick ;o). Then the sad part…..turns out that Roger’s back which has for a long time been an issue for him on and off has flared up during the long hard ride down from Calais and he doesn’t feel fit to take on the challenges of the day; this is a real shame that we are going to miss one of our team heading south.
So with Roger made comfortable, we mount up and head south on the A2 around Luzerne, in the most fantastic weather surrounded by some of the most fabulous mountain scenery in the world - heading into the worst motorway traffic jam I have seen for years!!! Just north of our turn-off at Wassen, the Swiss world and his wife is parked on the motorway for about 10km; and they have already been there a while. Reason? No obvious idea – apparently happens all the time in the summer. Literally hundreds of people were milling around out of their cars, feet out of car windows, sunbathing bodies and toes in the central reservation and on the hard shoulder, picnicking at the boot – while we and a large number of other bikers twisted and turned and shimmied our way through the traffic with the odd car passenger thumbing for a lift!
Quick stop for fuel and then off to the first pass – Sustenpass; a long windy fast climb on a brilliant piece of road, wending and weaving up the valley with barely any other traffic – fantastic; leaning right over into the tight bends all the way up to the top left and right. Takes all of 15 minutes. At the summit, stop for a team photo-shoot and a leg stretch. Video camera switched on (see video attached – not spectacular video, sorry, still trying out the mini-video cam!) to get some footage of the route down the mountain. Off we go again down the far side. Much more traffic and much tighter, so much more slowly on windier roads down to the bottom of the valley. Then, after a slight GPS navigational detour (bye Bob!?), left turn and up the Grimselpass – another brilliant broad road with fast long sweeping turns all the way to the top, past the twin hydro-electric dams, huge and dominating against the mountain-side (bizarrely adorned with some type of modern art paintwork).
Short stop at the top for fuel at about 4pm – man-fuel that is….coffee, chips and cake – possibly the most expensive chips in the world (esp.if you choose pay in Euros!). It was the sausage-roll that surprised us. Not full of sausage at all, but treacle!? Explains why the girl in the shop looked oddly when we asked for chips with it :o) Nice and easy does it riding down the far side – getting later in the day now. Bit trickier coming down here; the road is pitted and broken and some nasty gravel we don’t want a back wheel to slide across! Then down into the village of Gletch to bring us all back together. And then it all goes a bit pear-shaped! Next route should be the Furka pass but we head the wrong way, and then get split up on the route down the mountain. Hmm – what to do now!? So, thanks to the invention of SMS text, we head to Lugano in two separate packets – one taking the Gottard Pass and the other taking the Furka. Both routes are fabulous and with shadows now getting much longer, very few cars and other bikes on the roads. For the Furka Pass boys – quick stop at a cold and barren Furka summit for a photo stop and back down the mountain, heading for the same motorway that was just a car park in the morning.
Back on the motorway and time to head south to Lugano through the Gottard Tunnel – the longest road tunnel in the world they say. Well it IS long – very long; and it is hot, VERY hot inside it. It is single lane either side all the way and a 50mph (80kmh) speed limit, so at 16 km that’s a long, dark, noisy, hot 12 minutes on a bike! Final fuel stop on the far side of the tunnel before a long straight run down the motorway through incredibly steep-sided valleys with long trailing waterfalls on either side to arrive in Lugano in time for a late dinner. Long day and a lot of miles, but some fantastic riding in some breath-taking scenery. Brilliant!
Sun 17th July
After several gritty days of hard riding over long distances, time to take it easier and relax a little, on a tour of the local area. It was always the plan to use today to ride around Lago Maggiore, or simpler put – Lake Locarno. Locarno sits about 15km west of Lugano at the northern tip of Maggiore, an enormous lake some 50km or so long and 5km wide, surrounded by stunning steep-sided mountains with long-trailing waterfalls. At least, it could have looked all the more stunning if it hadn’t been raining non-stop since dawn!
So rather than tour around the whole lake which was the original plan, a steely few of us decide to short-cut the plan, given the filthy weather; a much better idea! Heading due west from Lugano to Luino on the eastern edge of the lake, we ‘trickle’ along very wet roads in the pouring rain down the lakeside to Laveno, for a lunch stop and warm-up before catching the 20 minute car ferry across the lake to Verbania. A very pleasant crossing it was too during a fortunate break in the weather. On the far side, turn right and head north to Locarno around the lakeside road; single lane, very windy, very wet and very slow, taking it easy in the pouring rain.
At last to Locarno and time for a warming coffee; take off those sodden gloves and wring them out – literally! Still smiling, looking for another break in the weather to head ‘home’ but it’s just not coming….so back on the bikes in the non-stop rain and head around the northern point of the lake back to Lugano. And that’s when it REALLY starts to rain!!! Absolute torrential downpour, coming down in stair rods. The worst rain any of us have ever ridden through, anywhere. Then the lightning came, and the thunder. The rainwater was cm’s deep on the road surface and we were ploughing through it at 30mph. Then, just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, the route back takes an unexpected turn - literally; we had expected the road to be flat all the way around the top of the lake, but then it started to climb up into the mountains at the top of the lake. Visibility drops in the rain cloud now surrounding the mountain-top to around 30m as we gingerly make our way slowly over the top, rain pouring down visors and bum cheeks clenching the seat hard on every corner as back tyres slip a bit here and there on the greasy hairpins.
Finally, down to the motorway, now more like a stream than an autoroute, we head slowly down the last stretch of 15km or so from Bellinzona to Lugano, taking it nice and slow. Happy to be back in a warm, dry, hotel but still smiling after some very challenging riding of a very different sort. What a day!
Mon 18th July
Time has caught up with us….and it’s time for us to be Coming Home ourselves. But not the dull motorway route - oh no! Heading directly east and soon into Italy, we track along the northern shoreline of Lake Lugano under cloudy skies with the sun peeking through. After yesterday’s torrential rain, fickle Lugano is now dry and warm and threatening to turn into a fine day. Around the top of the lake, we are first heading east to Lake Como, at which point we turn left and head north to its northern tip where we stop for coffee. The sun is now streaming down and the lake is beautiful; the view down the Como valley is breathtaking. Next waypoint is Chiavenna, where we’ll take the Splugenpasse due north. And it is at Chiavenna that the Heavens open; lightning flashes and thunder booms as we stop at the roadside just minutes from the start of the pass, donning wet gear and wrapping up for the onslaught we can see coming over the mountains.
Steeling ourselves slightly for the torrential rain, we head off up the pass. A long, narrow and very twisty road, offering broken and pitted tarmac. The hairpins are the steepest you have ever seen; the bigger bikes need to take the whole width of the road to get around the corners. The rainwater running down the road in rivulets reveals oil patches and more than once, a back tyre slouches on the greasy bends. Buses and trucks coming the other way are needing the entire road width to add to the fun(!).
But at last to the top; it’s bleak - very bleak. And cold, rocky and barren. A few farmhouses sit at the roadside and all around lie (it is raining) hardy cows with their traditional swiss cow-bells (another bike hazard by the way). So over the top and down the far side…...and it is a set of hairpins you would not believe unless you had seen it. These hairpins are the tightest you have seen, appearing to sit in terraces or rows, winding, winding, winding down the mountain.
To the valley bottom and Splugen is the next town. Now back in Switzerland (the roads suddenly get a lot better!), we stop for a well earned lunch. Having taken it very easy on the mountain pass, it is now mid-afternoon and much later than planned. As time rolls on and more bad weather arrives, the route to the next pass, the Oberalpass heading from Flims to Andermatt, is punctuated by a decision-point - the point to call it a day and head back to Basel. Its been a great day - let’s not spoil it!
Tue 19th July
Early start. Today we really are Coming Home….
...off at 08.30, a quick stop at the local motorcycle shop to get some dry-lube sprayed on dry bike chains and a refuel at the filling station for those that need it. Then we set off north through Basel, accompanied by Nick our Switzerland host, back onto the now well-known A2 heading towards Strasbourg. At the first motorway service station we stop off for a mass refuel - bikes and blokes - petrol and breakfast, before saying ‘good bye’ and ‘thanks’ to Nick for a great job looking after us en Suisse. The long journey home begins….
Keeping pretty much to the speed limit, and with fuel stops and breaks, it’s about 9 hours to Calais. That’s a long time in a bike saddle - especially a sports bike saddle! Weather en-route?...well all weathers, from glorious sunshine, through overcast, to drizzle and into torrential rain and back into glorious sunshine. But as Nick tells it - there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad weather gear!
The trip back under the tunnel is uneventful; no waiting on break-train downs this side. Back in Blighty, it’s getting late and after final farewells, we shoot for home - in the rain, again.
So our short adventure is over. No breakdowns, accidents or serious mishaps. A safe trip. Job well done Alpine Adventurers…until next time!