Tour of the Alps Part 2

June 28 - July 23, 2003

Day 5
July 2 (Wednesday)
Carignano – Sospel
106 miles, 171 km Map

“I’m not going back to Torino,” I declare in the morning, and Jobst seems relieved. We take a taxi back to our bikes and thank the shopkeeper, but our feeble Italian doesn’t do justice to our sentiments. I feel like an escapee and vaguely wonder if I’ll be stopped at the next border crossing and sent back to the hospital for the blood test.

The Old Salt Road

Storks rule at Racconigi
Storks rule at Racconigi

We head south on a busy highway with heavy truck traffic and little shoulder, as is typical of the roads in the Piedmonte. At Racconigi we stop at yet another former palace of the Savoie monarchy, which is now a museum. In lieu of royalty, it is ruled by storks that nest on the turrets and roof of the palace. They are huge, even when viewed from a distance!

Back on a busy N20, the traffic thins out as we ride south through fields of corn and past small villages. The air is sultry, but no thunderstorms are on the horizon.

At Cuneo, we cross the Stura di Demonte River and continue on to Robilante, where we begin the gradual climb along the Vermenagna River to Limone Piemonte, the last sizeable town before the Col de Tende. At the tunnel, where bicycles are prohibited, we stop at the kiosk for a snack and then take a secondary road up to the Limonetto ski area. From here, narrow switchbacks crisscross the green ski slope up to the summit. There is no border guard at the summit, and I make my escape into France.

Down there?!
"Down there?!"

I have been leery of the descent on the old Roman road, which I had to mostly walk last year due to the deep ruts and loose rock. But it has been regraded and is now mostly rideable, even with my limited off-pavement skills. Wildflowers are out in profusion and a herd of cows rests in their meadow, bells tinkling gently. A creek dashes over stone waterfalls, repeatedly intersecting the zigzag course of the road. The road and scenery are sufficiently distracting that I forget my hip is the size of a baseball and that I’m supposed to be in pain.

Col de Tende hairpins
Col de Tende hairpins

Finally back on the main highway, we cruise down to Tende, where we stop for raspberry and peach ice cream. We wind through the Gorge du Saorge, stopping to spy the town of Saorge clinging to the cliffs high above. A tiny road and tunnel service the town, but my suggestion to go check it out is met with ambivalence.

Before Breil-sur-Roya, we take a right towards Sospel and head up the Col de Brouis, where we can look down on the town gleaming in the afternoon sun. The crackly drone of cicadas sets the rhythm for the climb. The hillsides are dry and covered with garrigue (the French version of chaparral), but fortunately there are two watering troughs, one near the top and one at the summit itself. From there, it’s a good descent into Sospel, a pleasant crossroads village that was once a stopover on the Salt Road from the Mediterranean Coast over the Maritime Alps.

We find lodging at the Hotel de Estranger and have a good meal of duck and stuffed cucumber flowers. For dessert, we cross the street to the gelato store, where the proprietor welcomes a new audience and brings us up-to-date on the town's happenings.

Maritime Alps

Day 6
July 3 (Thursday)
Sospel –
St. Martin-Vesubie
33 miles, 53 km Map

After an anemic breakfast at the hotel, we head west out of town for the Col de Turini. Temperatures are warm and pleasant, and we have a nice following breeze. The lower part of the climb is through scrub and is rather exposed up to the Notre Dome de la Menour monument. We stop for refreshments at Moulinet, where linden trees line the route and the houses are decidedly vertical, in keeping with their terrain. Then we enter the forest, which provides shade for us and perches for birds that serenade us with a beautiful warble. Fortunately traffic is light, but skid marks on the corners warn of those with more aggressive tread.

Col de Turini
Col de Turini

At the summit, we stop at the bike friendly cafe on the left and get Orangina’s. We must look a bit depleted because the gal at the counter offers to fill my water bottles. Feeling refreshed, we descend on an intestinal road to the canyon of the Vesubie, where the dolomites and marls are thrown into spectacular folds. The village of San Bollene-Vesubie perches above the river, roofs gleaming in the sun.

Then we turn north up the canyon for the gradual climb to St. Martin-Vesubie. When we get to town, Jobst decides to call it a day and sleep off a virus, so we check into the Hotel des Alpes, in the center of town. St. Martin-Vesubie is a compact town at the base of the Parc Mercantour, and I have a pleasant afternoon browsing the shops and hopping the gargouille that gurgles down the pedestrian mall.

Day 7
July 4 (Friday)
St. Martin-Vesubie –
Madone de Fenestre
16 miles, 26 km Map

The next morning Jobst needs another day of rest, and I welcome the opportunity to get off the time clock and do some rambling. With a loaf of dense dark walnut bread from the boulangerie, I head north towards the Madone de Fenestre, which is just inside the Parc Mercantour. The road is narrow and steep, with pitches to 20% or more, and follows the course of the river up towards its source in the backbone of the Maritime Alps. At the park boundary, the valley opens into a bowl surrounded by peaks. Dark clouds cling to the ridge and offer only occasional glimpses of the summits. Near the end of the road are good examples of migmatite (rock contorted like toothpaste) in trailside outcrops.

Madone de Fenestre
Madone de Fenestre

A few hiking huts cluster in the valley, and some serious hikers clomp around in full trekking regalia. Wildflowers deck the meadows and line the roadsides. There is a purple spiked orchid, a blue Centaurea, and a thistle that seems particularly attractive to moths and butterflies. It is chilly at this elevation and the clouds look ready to muster some showers, so I eat a quick lunch and head back down. The road is steep and bumpy, and I use flower-spotting as an excuse for going slow.

Back in town I have some fresh cherries from the market and a crepe de maroon from the portable creperie in the town’s square. By evening the clouds that have been collecting all day finally bring rain and throw in some thunder and lightning for special effect.

Day 8
July 5 (Saturday)
St. Martin Vesubie –
85 miles, 137 km Map

The next morning we don’t get much of a warm-up before beginning the steady climb to Col St. Martin. The summit comes quickly, followed by a seemingly endless descent to the gorge of the Tinee with its red mudstone walls. We head north, through St. Sauveur-sur-Tinee, turn west and begin climbing again. The village of Roubion clings to the cliffs of reddish schist above us and eventually we climb past the town and on towards the Col de la Couillole. There’s not much on top – just one small hotel. We descend to Beuil and get a snack at a garage/bar, then hop over the hill to Valberg, which is a big ski area with all the usual trimmings – condos, shops, and hotels.

“We’ve got a choice – we can take the new road, which is slightly shorter, or take the old road which is longer, but more scenic,” Jobst says. The correct answer is to take the old road. It is a bumpy, curvy descent via Peone to Guillaumes, where we stop for an outside lunch. The menu du jour is tomato quiche on salad, fresh legumes, and pears poached in red wine.

Col de la Cayolle
Col de la Cayolle

The next pass up is the Cayolle, which is one of my favorites from last year’s tour. After several days at a plodding pace, my bicycle is fighting to get away on the climb. By Entraunes, the bicycle has blown off the excess steam and I am allowed to stop for a Magnum bar and a snooze. When Jobst arrives, we continue to climb through steep meadows filled with wildflowers – shaggy yellow dandelions, dark purple lilies, royal blue Centaurea, and one of Jobst’s favorite, Wild Man, or as he used to call it as a boy, “Einstein’s Hair.”

A few clouds appear but just drift around, and we enjoy a tailwind and pleasant temperatures up the pass. The summit is in the park and so is refreshingly devoid of the usual ski area and souvenir shops. We descend on a one-lane road over bridges and past waterfalls down to the main valley at Bayasse, where a northern branch of the river comes in from the Col de la Bonette, an alternate route over the mountains.

We sweep down the mountain, but just before bursting out to the wide valley of the Ubaye, we are swallowed by the Gorges du Bachelard, where the road is carved into vertical walls of soft mudstones. Slumps mark the canyon walls, and it’s a wonder the road can be kept passable at all.

Barcelonnette is bustling with weekend tourists and the main hotels are filled, but after several inquiries, we find space at a small hotel on a side street. Dinner is outside in the town square, which becomes a lively extension of the hotels till wee hours of the morning. I have a Salade Coco Loco, which suits my mood, but lacks the variety of tropical fruit I remember from last year.

French High Alps

Day 9
July 6 (Sunday)
Barcelonnette –
Col de Lautaret
77 miles, 124 km Map

Barcelonnette is base camp for bicycling the passes – Col de Vars, Col de Larche, Col des Champs, Col de la Bonette, Col de la Cayolle, Col de la Lombarde, Col d’Arlos – and we meet groups of cyclists doing them all. From Barcelonnette we leave the dry transverse wrinkles of the Maritime Alps and head into the verdant central Alps of France. Here we’ll meet up with the spectacular passes of Tour de France fame.

The morning is sunny and warm, with a few clouds huddling around the peaks. We head north on the main highway, where early morning traffic is light. At Jausiers, the Sunday morning market is setting up – piles of bread loaves, strings of sausages, boxes of fruit. We munch some sweet green grapes and juicy red grapefruit and then head up the canyon of the Ubaye. In the small town of St. Paul, the congregation is singing hymns at Sunday service in the cathedral.

Col de Vars
Col de Vars

We leave the valley and began the climb of Col de Vars. A group of cyclists is going our way; some we pass, but more pass us. The switchbacks are steep, to over 10%, without much slack even in the turns. We catch up with a group of cyclists from the Netherlands, the only group we might have a natural geographic advantage over in the hills, and my bicycle Pegasus takes up the chase to the summit. The friendly competition does me good.

Combe de Queryas
Combe de Queryas

The usual tacky souvenir shops appear at the summit and the ambiance changes from pastoral to ski area. We take off on the sweeping descent through the various “Vars,” one a ski town with all the tacky shops, the other a traditional village with pretty flower boxes. At Guillestre, we by-pass the town center and take the turn towards Chateau-Queyras, climbing through a gorge of massive limestone along the river, which is a popular rafting site. A stiff tailwind allows us to make good time up the canyon. Still, I am envious of the rafters floating the river, as it looks so cool and relaxing.

At the junction with the road to Chateau-Queyras, we turned west towards the Col d’Izoard. It’s a rather steep climb to Arvieux, where I stop at a café for a lunch of cassis and rhubarb tarts. Further up the road we supplement with glace as extra fuel for the climb.

Col d'Izoard
Col d'Izoard

From here the road steepens as it climbs through hay fields to Brunissard, a cluster of summer homes in a pastoral green meadow. Then we hit the wall. The road has been newly paved, presumably for the stage of the Tour de France that will be here in another week. It’s warming up and the flies are out in full biting force. I climb briskly just to get away from them, but with limited success.

At the saddle, the moonscape of the Casse Desert comes into view, in striking contrast with the greenery below. The road descends for a bit, then climbs steeply past the Coppi memorial, to which I give only a nod for fear of loosing momentum.

At the summit I peer into the Tour de France museum, which is open today. Posters of past glory, a collage of brakes and cranks, a wooden wheel next to a modern disc wheel. An attendant stands with crossed arms, scanning the room with surveillance eyes.

Col du Galibier
Col du Galibier

The switchbacks on the other side of the pass are also newly paved, and the descent is a welcome relief from the bumpy road of last year. We breeze through Cervieres and down the Cerveyrette River to Briancon, the metropolis of the region. We follow “toute directions,” then the signs to Grenoble, and are soon out on a busy highway headed west to the Col de Lautaret. Cars with flashy racing bikes on their roofs speed by and we soon come to their source – the staging area for the Marmotte, a ride that draws thousands of cyclists each year. We remember that Brian Tomlin is racing this one.

It’s not far to the top of the Galibier, but I think that a fresh start in the morning would better do it justice. So when the Auberge Les Amis appears, we decide to take it. The hotel comes with its very own mountain stream and charming footpath, which we explore before dinner. For dinner we are served a delicious spinach tart, new potatoes, bread, and garden-fresh salad.

Haute Alps

Day 10
July 7 (Monday)
Col de Lautaret –
77 miles Map

The morning is sunny, fresh and cool, with good climbing air. We finish the last several kilometers to the Lautaret and pay a short visit to the new Hotel Des Glaciers, which has an immense lobby with picture windows framed by new yellow wood. Next we turn our attention to the Galibier.

The road winds up through green meadows with grazing sheep and chirping marmots, and we are soon looking down on the Hotel des Glaciers and the adjacent Alpine Wildflower garden. The tour buses are already out and debouching visitors at the garden.

Col du Galibier tunnel
Col du Galibier tunnel

We take a look at the newly refurbished tunnel, which is precisely the size and shape of a tour bus. I can see why the tunnel has had problems. It was bored through a bed of gypsum, a formation that is widespread in the Alps and is notorious for its paste-like instability. The tunnel is closed to bicycles, but that’s just as well, as the road over the summit is a panoramic, if somewhat ambitious, climb. There isn’t much on the summit other than a few cyclists.

We start down the north side, which begins stark and barren, then brightens to meadows and alpine parks. At Valloire the atmosphere changes abruptly from pastoral to festival. Four-wheel ATV’s roar by, kicking up clouds of dust along the highway. The town center is clogged with tents and vendors and an announcer is spewing rapid French into a microphone. After a few dead-ends, we find our way through the maze and return to quiet mountain road.

It’s a gradual climb to the Col du Telegraphe, a summit that barely registers after the Galibier climb. We get a snack at the restaurant and continue down a ladder of switchbacks, stopping to glance back up at the promontory of the Telegraphe, which seems more impressive from below.

At St Michel we head east up the Arc valley with a stiff tailwind that makes for good bike-sailing. The autoroute paralleling the highway sucks up most of the traffic, so the secondary road is almost empty. At Modane the autoroute dives into the Frejus tunnel and heads for Italy. We get a fast-food lunch and continue on up to Lanslebourg, at the intersection with the road to Col du Mont Cenis, a not-so-exciting climb with a large reservoir on a barren summit that was on my itinerary last year. Lanslebourg seems to be expanding as a ski area, judging from all the construction going on, but it is still clean and attractive, as ski towns go.

Arc Valley
Arc Valley

“Up there?!” Jobst pines melodramatically. One could look at the map and think it’s an easy cruise from Lanslebourg up the valley to Bonneval-sur-Arc, but no, there’s a steep bump labeled the Col de la Madeleine in the way. The col seems unnatural and in a way it is, as it sits on top of an ancient landslide. The hummocky surface has been sculpted into hay fields, which are being mowed as we climb through them.

Once over the bump, there’s a swift descent to Bessans and then it’s a cruise up the flat valley to Bonneval-sur-Arc. We pass the old town, where all the houses are built of native stone, a silvery gray schist that makes the buildings shimmer in the sunlight, but look dreary in the twilight. Above the old town is the newer village, which serves the ski area and has a good cluster of hotels. A new lodge is being constructed right in the center of it all. We find space at the le Bergerie, where I stayed last year and remember for its inexpensive rooms, pleasant service, and good food. We eat an early dinner and get plenty of rest for the next day.

Day 11
July 8 (Tuesday)
Bonneval-sur-Arc –
92 miles, 148 km Map

The morning is on the cool side, a good temperature for climbing, which we’ll do plenty of today. The first couple switchbacks quickly escalate us above town and we look down on the shiny roofs reflected in the morning sun.

I’m climbing slowly enough to note the outcrops of rock, which seem to change with each turn in the road. Indeed, a map of the area shows the rocks sliced and diced by faulting and folding, with bits of ancient ocean floor caught up in the melange.

Above the wall, the hanging valley is a lush meadow with a cascading brook. Two English ladies are out botanizing and they mention that the “season is early” due to the hot spell in June. So we’ll miss the bell-shaped gentians, but can still find the cobalt blue disk-shaped ones. There is an abundance of yellow-orange legume, a cut-leaf geranium, white Silene, bluebells, and bright yellow daisies with narrow petals that seem to be watching for sun.

Col de l'Iseran
Col de l'Iseran

We stop at the summit sign to take the canonical summit photo and then scoot off down the mountain. It's a long descent and I tell Jobst to not wait for me this time.

The St. Bernards, Petite and Grand

We regroup at Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise and after a bit of discussion decide to head for the Petite St. Bernard instead of proceeding to the Mt. Blanc circuit and the Col de la Seigne, which both of us would prefer to do, but at a different pace. Rather than descend all the way to Bourg-St.-Maurice, we take a secondary road to la Rosiere which stays high on the valley wall and gives us some relief from the heat and humidity.

Col du Petite St Bernard
Col du Petite St. Bernard

We join the main highway and ride on the wrong side of the road for a kilometer to avoid the freshly tarred surface. Fortunately there is little traffic. After a few lazy switchbacks, the pass opens onto a broad saddle with the summit monument in the distance.

At the top, we pass the usual souvenir shops and uneventfully cross the border into Italy. On the other side, the descent on tight hairpins seems to go forever. Mt. Blanc towers to the west and I rather regret not doing the Col de la Seigne.

We head southeast towards Aosta on a highway that is busy with traffic, even though the parallel autoroute takes most of the heavy trucks. The valley is scenic, but too congested to be enjoyable. We take the exit to Aosta, and chug through a busy downtown. We miss the turn up Col du Grand St. Bernard, but ask directions and are told to follow the signs towards Torino, a direction I wouldn’t otherwise choose.

The Grand St. Bernard is a moderate climb with plenty of traffic. Bits of the old road can be seen winding through the villages below and that looks like a more interesting route. We are ready for a hotel, but the signs indicate another 12 km or so to the next town. The climb finally levels out in a high meadow and after a big loop, the town of Etroubles comes into view. We take the last room at the Hotel Col Serena and have a good meal of pasta with mushrooms and truffle sauce and salad with sweet cherry tomatoes.

A waiter who seconds as a comedian keeps us entertained, and after gelato, brings us each a shot of grappa with great fanfare. The Italian crowd in the house expectantly awaits our reaction. Although we’ve been through the drill before, they are not disappointed. The fumes of the grappa are enough to banish the climbs of the day, and we stumble upstairs and sleep like logs.

Day 12
July 9 (Wednesday)
Etroubles – Brig-Ried
92 miles, 148 km Map

We have a good breakfast at the hotel and are on the road by 9 a.m., a little later than usual. Maybe it was the long day yesterday, or the grappa, or a lingering head cold, but my legs just won’t turn over like they usually do. While Jobst rides ahead impatiently, I plug away at the Grand St. Bernard, thinking of all the places I'd rather be than bicycling yet another lovely alpine pass with a grouchy companion.

Col du Grand St. Bernard
Col du Grand St. Bernard

Triangular peaks of gray rock loom up on either side of the road like shark's teeth, and meadows sprout a light mottled bluebell and dark red clover. At the top, we cross the border into Switzerland. It is chilly on the summit, so I get a hot chocolate to warm my body and soul. The souvenir stands are full of stuffed St. Bernards from key-chain to davenport size. I can’t imagine how there could be such a market for them.

The Rhone Valley

The drop to the Rhone Valley is like an elevator descent, and we take it fast enough that my ears have trouble popping. At Martigny, I make a quick visit to the Museum of Science, which has exhibits of rockslides and soil types, mineral specimens, and a substantial book on the geology of the Valois, which would invite a purchase if not for its weight.

Rhone Valley faults
Rhone Valley faults

The ride up the Rhone Valley is dictated more by wind than elevation change, but instead of the usual strong tailwind, there is a crosswind today. Orchards of pears, apricots, and apples cram the valley floor, and vineyards scramble up the terraced slopes. Every few kilometers a fruit stand advertises “Abricots,” and we finally take the bait. They are a deep blush orange with good bouquet, an intense flavor, and sweet aftertaste. We eat a whole bunch of them.

Near Sion gypsum and limestone quarries offer clues to the geology. To the north are classic thrust faults and nappes; to the south crystalline massif with landslides. The signs suddenly change from "Abricot" to "Aprikosen" and we are in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

The traffic thickens past Sierre and finally coagulates into a bottleneck through Visp. We stop at the Radsport on the outskirts of Brig to get a couple of new tubes and tighten the headset on Jobst’s bike. Radsport is well stocked for both road and mountain bikes and the people have been very helpful, both on this trip and on my previous one.


Climb to Brig-Ried
Climb to Brig-Ried

Primed by our apricot experience, we stop at the Coop in Brig and load up the bike bags with cherries, apricots, and grapefruit. Jobst ties the grapefruit onto his saddle bag, where they swing like a pendulum, and I ride behind to make sure they don’t get away. We carry our goods up to Brig-Ried, a small village above Brig and stop at the Hotel Simplon.

The hotel is gloomy and smoky inside and there are no vegetables on the dinner menu, so I grab some grocery fruit and take a walk around town. The old cobblestone road winds past some old houses, wood black with age, standing on pilings with a skirt of stone. “Rat traps,” Jobst later explains to me. They used to be granaries, and some still smell like it, but others look like they have been converted into living quarters. On the outskirts of town are newer summer homes with lush gardens of vegetables and flowers. They have spectacular views.

Day 13
July 10 (Thursday)
Brig-Ried – San Giacomo Pass
69 miles, 111 km Map

In the morning I am glad to get out of the smoky rooms and into the fresh mountain air. Just out of town, the old Simplon road splits off from the new.

“That way is steeper,” Jobst says, pointing to the old road and decidedly continuing on the new one.

“Sounds good to me...see you at the top!” I reply and swing right without further discussion. Any diversion from a well-graded highway and truck traffic is inviting. Plus, I can hit my climbing pace and clear out the lungs for awhile.

The old Simplon highway doesn’t waste time with hairpins, but zigzags up the hillside at an earnest gradient. Now and then a driveway marks a house buried in the woods. Snow sheds and new road periodically emerge far above, and it seems like the old road will never catch up. But it does, and I soon join the main road and cross a spectacular concrete bridge over the valley.

The traffic comes in surges and makes a lot of racket in the snow sheds. One truck gives me all of two inches clearance, where there is nowhere to go but into a concrete wall. The claustrophobic snow sheds continue for several kilometers and finally spit me out on the summit, where there are two clusters of hotels and restaurants. I pedal across the broad summit to get a view of the Aletsch, a glacier that originates on the Eiger, and then return to the first hotel to warm up with a hot chocolate.

Simplon bridge
Simplon bridge

When Jobst arrives, we take off on the descent against a strong headwind. The temperature quickly warms as we descend through more snow sheds, past some road construction, and into the narrow canyon of the Diveria.

San Giacomo

Where the Diveria joins the wider valley of the Toce, we turn east towards Crevoladossola and Formazza, while the traffic continues on to Domodossola. The road steps steeply up from one hanging valley to another through a canyon of vertical granite walls and ribbons of waterfalls, reminiscent of Yosemite Valley. We pass Crodo, which is famous for its mineral water, and ride through several small villages with meadows of hay.

Val Antigorio
Val Antigorio

The canyon walls are dotted with quarries, and giant cranes tower above them like roosting birds. Jack-hammering echoes off the canyon walls, punctuated by explosions. Trucks rumble by with granite blocks the size of a dumpster and allow just enough room for a bicycle to pass with care. Mills have cut the granite into blocks and slabs, and I stop to examine a fresh chip. Uniform grain, sparkly white quartz and feldspar, black biotite flakes. It is an appealing building material.

Several hydroelectric plants harness the water in the valley, and we wonder if those controlling the water works allow La Cascata to flow today. Sundays are allocated a good volume, for the admiration of the crowds that flock here for their Sunday picnics. But today is Thursday. As we climb the last set of switchbacks, we are happy to see that there is enough water to make a respectable roar and splash.

Cascata del Toce
Cascata del Toce

We climb steeply through avalanche sheds that switchback to the top of the falls. Here we get soft drinks and then continue up the valley a short distance to the junction with the road to San Giacomo Pass. I got rained out in my attempt to reach the pass last year, so am glad to get a chance to see it in bright sunlight. The road is mostly loose rock and is beyond my abilities to ride, so I enjoy the hike, content with the agreeable company of meadows and wildflowers.

The road switchbacks for several kilometers to a high valley, where there is a large reservoir. Here the gradient levels out and I can finally ride again. The bedrock is now a silvery schist with lumps of reddish cordierite or garnet and some milky pegmatite veins.

We ride to the end of the reservoir and then up the slight incline to the summit, which is marked only by a hiking hut. The north side of the pass falls away to a valley which is barely visible far below. Footpaths veer off in all directions and here it helps to have a detailed trail map and an experienced guide. Last year Jobst took what appeared to be the main trail to the right towards a cluster of buildings below, but that route turned into a brushy trail that required bike throwing to get over the boulders. So this time we veer to the left and follow a creek down the steep slope.

San Giacomo Pass trail
San Giacomo Pass trail

I struggle with the bike, which keeps slipping away and banging my bruised hip.

“Use the front brake,” yells Jobst. We come to a washout on a steep slippery slope, and the alternatives through the brush don’t look much better. Jobst carries the bikes one at a time through the slide. Then he suggests we switch bikes.

“Well no wonder you’re having so much trouble – it’s that dual-pivot brake.” He is right – the brake has been grabbing and locking up the wheel, causing the bike to slide rather than roll. It is much easier rolling his bike, which has a lighter load and is tall enough that the top tube doesn’t hit my bruised hip.

Once into some vegetation, the trail gets better. We roll past a small mine, which appears to be working the pegmatite, and onto the main road.

“What’s this?” we wonder in mock surprise as we glide down the pavement. "It's so smooth!" It’s a good thing, too, as I’m completely bushed. But the adventure was grand. The day is getting late, so we roll down the road towards Airolo and stop at the first hotel, the All' Acqua. Dinner is good and well earned – spinach and cheese tortellini with butter and mint sauce, a garden salad, and 1 liter of mineral water. I sleep well.