Gotthard Pass (2106 m), Nufenen Pass (2478 m)
Upon clipping in and setting off, we pass a town sign that causes me to recall a joke Justin made the evening before, I went along the lines of “Could I have a beer please… Andermatt”? A play on words that entertained me (probably too much) and took my mind off the feeling that my legs felt heavy and lacked any lustre at all; imagine “café legs” and times it by ten.
Onwards to the first major climb of the day, Gotthard Pass. Frankly speaking, I do not recall much of the steady ascent, after spending day after day riding in areas of extreme natural beauty, you become to some extent desensitised to it, with fatigue each day rolling into one fuzzy memory. However, what did stand out was a short the cobbled section that brought us to the top of Gotthard Pass at 2,106m. This was however only a taster of what was to come. After the odd ice ball was lobbed from across the road by an annoyingly sprightly Billy, we continued our journey choosing to descend via the 15 km serpentine paved road rather than the new super-fast asphalt option. This was a meticulously maintained section of granite-paved road consisting of 37 bends set into the slopes of the Val Tremola; an exhilarating experience, nothing like the “Baby Heads”, you might experience in Flanders, these cobbles offered a light rumble under the wheel. I welcomed the change of surface as (contrary to what you might expect) it got rid of the numbness I felt in my feet. However well maintained, given our track history so far on the ride, it felt like a miracle that there were no punctures.
We then proceeded to the Nufenpass. This was a real battle for me, it was one of two times during the trip I wished my 11-28 rear sprocket would somehow transform into an 11-32 allowing me to spin above 60 rpm rather than grinding my knees to bits. I choose my companion / combatant for the climb and today it was Justin. (Although no one was officially racing up these climbs, there was the kudos if only for yourself of having a strong day on the bike). I did eventually catch up to him at around 2000 Meters by which point I was suffering physically and mentally. I knew if there was any chance of arriving to the top first this climb needed to be over soon. I thought we must be nearly there glance over at the surrounding mountaintops. Justin gravely offered the news to me that the climb was in fact 2800 meters, at this point a small part of my soul died but I carried on which the intention only to survive and saw Justin rear wheel fade away up the road. It was then apparent at 2478 meters that I had succumb Justin’s mind game which involves lying about length or height of a climb with the key intention to demoralise your target. More fool me for not checking the profile of the ride before setting out. Upon cresting the Nufenpass at the views from the top were spectacular, a moment to justify the torture you’d endured. After a very brief stop, the long, long, decent back into the Valley ensued, as the elevation dropped the heat rose starting with a pleasant balmy warm air to the feeling like someone had switched on an industrial strength giant hairdryer blasting you at full power.
Arriving at the bottom of the valley, we stopped for coffee. Phil, Luke and I recced a local campsite, which looked just the job. Phil had been incessantly banging on about finding a place with a pool, as if it was the only requirement for him to be happy in life. Unfortunately, it was not to be, a yodelling convention saw to that as all the places in the Valley were booked up!
With a promise of a short climb to a more comfortable temperature at the foot of that mountain on the Toblerones we “Popped up” to Zermatt. Just a short easy climb, he says, (“he” being Justin”) should have learnt the first time! It was in fact another 15km of climbing that would bring us to the end of the 150 KM route. After finding a place to rest our weary bodies, we took a stroll into this high-end ski resort, looking briefly at graves in the Mountaineers' cemetery, it was then burgers and beer for dinner, followed by a swift drink in a local bar. It was swift mind as the cost of beers in Switzerland is totally ridiculous.