Today was a tremendous day of scenic pass riding at the beginning and end divided by a grueling hot highway ride in the middle. We originally had a meandering 390 kilometers planned for today, but J., our routemaster, had kindly shortened this by 100, though whether because of rode closures or threats of revolt I’m not sure. Everyone headed out around 8:30 instead of the customary 9:00, perhaps still intimidated by the lengthy “siirtymä” (transfer) that lay ahead.
Traffic was light and we made good progress. Fairly early in the proceedings we passed by Diavolezza, the cable gondola plus hiking / climbing / skiing center that we’d visited yesterday.
Then it was still onward to Saint Moritz. This was a town with a lot of hotels situated in a small but open valley with a pair of blue lakes. Ski lifts ran up from all sides. We didn’t stop for a banana split or anything else but carried on straight for Julierpass. This was a bit indirect but there wasn’t really much else better. Roads were even fewer and further between than usual in this section of the Alps.
Once we finished that, Päivi and I went ahead and got on the motorway. Our pace tends not to match that of the rest of the group, and we needed to make progress somehow. However the motorway here was only two lanes and had a similar character to many of the normal Alps roads we’d been riding on before. Then we decided to get off at a “rest stop” and that ended up being quite an adventure riding up and down inclined and winding roads through a canyon that ran parallel but separately from the motorway. The Swiss are excellent road engineers. When we finally got to the actual rest stop we met some Italians riding Harleys while here I was an American riding an Aprilia. I guess we get every sort every where.
Onward and back on the motorway, we ground it out through a hot valley reaching elevations as low as 250 meters. Finally we were supposed to get off at an exit for the last pass, but two signs leading up to it had it crossed out, as is generally done when road construction has closed a route. I started having doubts and then when the exit came I failed to get off at it. This ended up being a fatal error, because there were no further exits before a long tunnel that we wanted to avoid.
Indeed, avoidance would have been the right move. It was 18 km long and around 45 degrees celsius inside. No fun at all. It took us well north of where we wanted to go and then dumped us out in a place with a confusing array of pass and train options that almost had us ready to head back through to the other end of the tunnel for another attempt. But instead we ended up shimmying up a quick set of hairpins into Andermatt, the Swiss town popularized for motorcyclists by its mention in John Herman’s Alpine motorcycling “bible”, then sneaking past all the trains and finding Furka Pass. This featured some of the best riding and had by far the most spectacular views of all the passes we’d rode, including of Mont Blanc from a distance.
It was a rough, narrow road leading up to 2431 meters, but its hairpins were wider and more manageable than those on the Stelvio. Now we were not only riding roads that looked like ones featured in James Bond movies, but we were actually riding one that had been featured in a James Bond movie. Specifically, Goldfinger — look it up!
The European north-south continental divide runs along the pass, so the Rhône, starting from the Rhône glacier near the top, flows to the Mediterranean, while the Furka-Reuss just on the other side runs to the North Sea. Apparently it was possible to go inside the Rhône glacier into an “ice grotto” maintained artificially but over a hundred meters long, but we unfortunately missed this.
In the evening we took a stroll around the town, which featured cobbled lanes, houses build out of railroad tie type wood (though without the pine pitch smells, thankfully), and mini squares / courtyards with outdoor faucet / fountains pouring water into hollowed out logs. Everything looked like it could have been the same 400 years ago, and yet these houses were occupied, and perfectly modern cars sat outside a number of them.