Monday, January 5, 2015

Klausen Epic Times Two

Klausen Pass
Of all my trips to Switzerland, I had yet to climb Klausen Pass.  In 2009 I did my epic Hütte hike which ended over the Clariden at the top of Klausen.  We drove down the Glarus side and I remember how stunningly beautiful it was.  Ever since then I've always wanted to ride it on my bike. Today was the day, and we would be joined by our silly friend, Howard, photographer extraordinaire

Riding from the house we climbed towards Schindellegi.   Our journey followed on to Biberbrugg and Sattel.  It was a lovely day and we had no real concerns for bad weather.
On our way towards Biberbrugg, so far it's a beautiful day!

As we rolled along through the streets of Schwyz, I smelled the unmistakable scent of chocolate.  I know the smell all too well, as I worked for a number years in a Swiss chocolate factory.  With my radar on high alert, I scanned the surroundings.  We weren't just near a chocolate shop.  I knew this was a factory.  Suddenly I noticed the sign on the side of the building we were passing - Felchlin.  Immediately I knew this was it.  Felchlin was one of our chocolate suppliers from my days at the Swiss Chocolate Factory.  It was a sweet connection for me, and we stopped to take pictures.  

Nostalgic time over, we continued on our journey.  The town of Brunnen was just ahead.  This is a lovely little port town on Lake Lucerne.  We stopped to enjoy the view and watch the boat deposit its passengers and take on a new load.
Continued on from Sattel to Brunnen.
The road skirts the lake and took us to Flüelen.  Although it's a busy road, there is a nice bike path the entire way.  Today it was not that busy and I didn't notice the cars at all, but rather took in the stunning views to my right of the lake and mountains.

Lovely ride along Lake Lucerne from Brunnen to  Flüelen
Sometimes the road would divert onto side routes that led to interesting car free paths and tunnels.
There was one in particular that was my favorite as you can see in the photo below.
Cool pathways off the main road with picturesque views!
Riding through car tunnels is not my favorite thing to do, but these all had nice bike paths and made for a much less terrifying experience.
Tunnels have ample bike path
Finally we arrived in the town of Altdorf of William Tell fame.  In typical Swiss fashion, we had to stop at a local cafe for lunch.  I find this exercise quite odd, especially in the middle of a big mountain pass ride, but it's what my Swiss friends do so I follow their lead.  While Howard downed a huge plate of spaghetti, I oped for a simple little salad.  There is no way I can climb for 2 hours with a tummy full of meat sauce!
Arriving in the town of Altdorf - looking for William Tell.
With lunchtime over, it's finally time for the real ride of the day.  After 30 miles, we've reached the start of the meat of the route - Klausen Pass.
Making the long climb up Klausen Pass
Don't quote me on this, but the climb is roughly 18 miles and 4,500' - that's based on my Strava stats. Without getting hung up on specifics, you get the picture.  Like every climb in Switzerland, it is long
and you go up up up and more up.  One thing is for sure, you will get nice views to reward you for your efforts along the way.
beautiful climb

We are enjoying the climb a bit too much to notice the stormy clouds
As we approached the last 5 kilometers, it was evident we were in for potential rain, but we remained hopeful that we would beat any approaching storms.  Literally, with 2K to go, the skies opened up and it began to rain.  All beats were off and we each put forth our best efforts to make it to the top for some shelter.
We thought we were going to make it to the top before the rain.
With the rain coming down hard, it was difficult to even see if there was shelter to be found.  Finally through the storm, I could see a building towering to my left.  Whatever it was, I was going to it.  I just had to get there.  I pedaled as fast as my weary legs would allow.

I could see Howard just ahead taking cover under a tent of sorts.  It was welcome relief for our soggy souls and the 3 of us huddled under it as we tried to catch our breath.  The temperature had dropped considerably and we needed to find a warm shelter quickly.
We were wrong.
Making one last run for it, we left the bikes and ran up the stairs to the dry warm protection of the Hotel. With nothing left to do, we resolved ourselves to wait out the storm and warmed our shivering bodies with hot tea and hot chocolate (and other hot drinks)!   We waited and waited, but the rain would not let up and we realized we had gotten ourselves in quite a pickle.  What to do?  Time was marching on and we were a long way from everywhere.

Hanging out for a while in the Hotel trying to warm up and dry out!
 Our route was supposed to continue on over the pass and over the other side to Glarus where we would take the train home.  However, we learned that there had been a road slid and the pass was closed.  We would NOT be going down that way by bike or by bus.  Our only choice was to go back down Klausen the way we came up.  Argh, I wasn't thrilled about descending for 18 miles on wet roads in the rain.  I couldn't stop shivering from the bone chilling cold and the ride would only make it worse.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  I began giving out orders, "Howard, ask the waitress for any placemats or newspapers.  Becky, let's find some plastic baggies.  We've got to bundle up if we're going to survive this descent."  The waitress came with a stack of newspapers and I spied a bread basket with plastic bags.  The waitress gave me a puzzled look when I asked for the baggies, but soon she figured out what it was for.
The rain just wouldn't let up
 Roger and I had learned this trick in Italy when faced with a similar circumstance.  We used the paper placemats to keep us warm by placing it under our wet jersey.  Newspapers would serve the same purpose.  The plastic baggies were placed over our sock feet to help warm them up in our wet shoes.  We put newspapers everywhere - jerseys, shorts, & sleeves.
We had no choice but to go back down the way we came up.
 We looked rather odd, but didn't really care.  Our safety was of more importance than our looks, and we had a long, wet, cold, dangerous descent before us.   We rallied ourselves and made a break for it.
retrieving our bikes from a strategically placed tent
 I was terrified.  The road was like a river and you couldn't see.  Trying to keep from shaking too much from the cold, I sang out loud to try and keep me from tensing up too much.  In situations like this, it doesn't help to freak out.  You've got to do what you've got to do.
This was going to be "fun", descending in torrential rain and cold.
We had barely traveled 2K down the road when literally we crossed a line in the road going from wet to perfectly dry!  It had never rained a drop from this point on!  We had been sitting up there waiting while all along it was fine just down the road!   Well, we got a Big laugh out of it, not to mention we were absolutely thrilled that we had a dry descent and an ever increasing temperature.  I think we each laughed the whole rest of the way down Klausen.
What?!!!  2 kilometers later and the road is dry as a bone!?!
 By now we've been over 60 miles and were quickly losing the light of day.  There was no way we could cycle back home.  We had to catch a train, but as we rolled into Altdorf, we had just missed the train.  Pedaling fast as we could, we made it to the next town, Flüelen, to catch a train from there.  Just in the nick of time we were able to hop the train to Biberbrugg.   We got off there because we knew we could literally ride our bikes down hill all the way home faster than if we stayed on the train all the way home.   It was rather fitting to end the ride on our bikes.   As we coasted down the hill, the sunset painted a glorious picture.  
Finally arriving back home just in time for sunset.
 It was an epic day indeed!  89 miles, 8,600' climbing, and 7 hours of riding, plus a fun hour of waiting out the storm.  I love to ride my bike, but I enjoy it all the more when it is epic!
High Five!  An epic Klausen adventure for sure!!!
While I thoroughly enjoyed my crazy adventure with Becky and Howard, I still wanted to be able to do a 'proper' Klausen pass.  Technically, I had not been to the very top, and with the rain, I didn't get to see everything around me on the climb.  It was pretty in the clouds and rain, so I could only imagine how much better it would be if I could actually see it!   I told Roger we had to give it another go when he arrived the next week.  We would do Klausen the correct way, up and over the pass and then take the train back from Glarus.  He agreed.
We got an early start this time and the weather was perfect.
 Roger and I started out early that morning so we could be to the climb before any afternoon storms that might sneak up.  The day started out beautiful, but in the Swiss mountains you never know what's going to happen.
Making our way along Lake Lucerne

This time the road along the lake was very busy, so we were happy to take the side routes.

On our way to Altdorf

Without any delay, we made it to the start of Klausen.
 There were plenty of clouds, but they were high clouds and we could enjoy the views.
The 'bottom' half of the climb working our way up the valley.
 With the sun out and no storm clouds, it was a totally different experience for me the 2nd time around.

It is a long climb, so  you have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.

Finally getting higher up

Funny, these goats were on their same perch as they were a week ago.  I have a feeling they watch many a cyclist go by.

 The road gets narrower for the upper half, but we weren't racing against any storms this time.  I was having a ball!
switchbacks behind us, we've made a lot of progress.
 I was very relieved when we passed by the hotel in the dry.  We wouldn't be stopping here this time.
 We still had a ways to go before the top of the Pass.
 It was very satisfying to make it to the top without any threat of rain.  I recognized the store from my last visit here in 2009.  Our hike literally ended at the same store where today we grabbed some candy bars.  We thought we just had an hour descent and then we'd be done.  Little did we know, we were going to make it another epic Klausen ride.
Beautiful descent
 Coming down the Glarus side of Klausen is one of my favorite descents.  It is stunning.  That is a phrase that can be overused in Switzerland, as it seems every pass is stunning.  Nonetheless, this one is and I find it difficult to ride without stopping every 2 feet to take a picture.

 On of the reasons I stop so much on this descent is because of the cows in the road!  It is very common for the cows to cruise down the road here.  I find this amusing!
excuse me, on your left.

down down down the valley 
 The descent seemed to go on forever and ever.  I began to wonder if it would ever end.

 Eventually we got to the valley floor.   We seemed to be on a roll and did not want to lose our momentum.  We rolled through Glarus and on to the next town.  After a while we realized we either needed to find a train station or commit to making this another epic day.  If we kept at it, we could ride all the way back home.  It would be 100 miles, but we could do it.  There would be no more climbing (except for the steep climb from town up to the house).

We stopped at a bakery to fuel up and discuss. "Well, what should we do?" Roger asked me.  I said, "let's go for it.  I game if you are!"  With a new surge of energy and excitement, I went back into the bakery for a 2nd round of treats.  We're going to need the calories!  Let's go!
We didn't really know where we were going other than following signs for Zürich.  We knew if we could see the lake, all we had to do was follow it and eventually we'd run into our town.   The only thing we didn't know was just how far this was going to be.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

We boogied on with a giddiness like 2 school kids on a secret mission.  Ha, who knew when we started out this morning we'd be doing a century.  Then there was the sound of thunder in the distance.  We looked behind us and saw a huge black sky of doom.  Oooooo, this epic ride just got more epic.  What's a ride when you're not running from a storm!?!  There always has to be a measure of doom involved to make it epic!

With heads down, we were on a new mission.  We were time trialing against the storm.  Drops started hitting me lightly.  Uh oh, please don't let it dump on us, I thought.  We rode harder and harder.  The flat terrain seemed to push us along effortlessly, but the miles went on and on and on.  Surely we were making some kind of progress.  I tried not to think about it and just pedaled, ignoring the claps of thunder.

Finally we made it to our town.  Taking our chances, we popped into the grocery to grab some food.  As we rode slowly up the terribly steep climb to the house, it started to rain.  Just barely making it inside, we were jubilant at our victory.  We stood on the balcony watching the black sky close in on us, but we didn't care because we were in the safety of the house and we were done with our ride!
selfie taken during a break on the long descent to Glarus

It was a ride of "8s" - 8 hours and 8,800' climbing in 101 miles.  Two epic Klausen rides that I will always remember! 

1 comment:

Becky said...

Wonderful write-up and photos from an unforgettable day! You know it's serious when even the Swiss buses don't run(!). I still am impressed that you and Raja did the pass again as a "spontaneous century". Always epic times when you're here... Looking forward to many more such adventures! (although non-rainy ones are also always welcome :-))