29 Jun 2013

Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras

We woke up to grey skies and non-stop rain so we didn't exactly rush to leave Thônes. After we packed up we had a walk around the Saturday market before setting off toward Switzerland.

Negotiating the narrow Alpine roads in the wet was a little bit less confidence-inspriring than in the dry as many are poorly surfaced due to the hard winters and the bike has a tendency to slip somewhat mid-corner if pressing on a bit too hard.

We arrived in Chamonix at lunchtime after nearly two hours in torrential rain. I was only damp on the undersides of my legs from the constant tyre spray but everything else was perfectly dry. Plus one for Icon's waterproof gear.

Not exactly under cover.

Over the road a shop selling biscuits, booze and candy, what's not to like?

Kitchen doesn't open for lunch but they threw together some delicious salads topped with fried egg.

After lunch we crossed the border into Switzerland where a few bored-looking border police were ignoring the cars and carried on to Martigny. The descent is an amazing drive, long downhill straights with hairpin corners on the ends and an incredible view of the valley lined with vineyards.

From Martigny we headed east and as we carried along the valley the rain eventually stopped.

A quick stop in the valley.

A chap and his wife were walking along and offered to take a photo—they didn't seem the camera-snatching type.

At the east end of the valley the rain started again as we started to climb. Little did I know that the GPS was leading me over the Grimsel Pass, one of the higher Alpine passes in Europe and a notoriously harrowing road. At bottom the temperature was around 17°C and as we climbed I was watching the thermometer slowing counting down.

Approaching the snow line.

A sign of what was to come.

Not the best panoramic shot but gives a sense of how vast this place is. Looks like the mountains were draped in green before a generous sprinkling of frosting.

The road was great going up but as we reached the summit the rain showers turned into a snowstorm and the temperature had reached 0.5°C, ice warning flashing away on the instrument panel.

Fortunately the snow wasn't sticking to the road but my windscreen was covered, and I was wiping my helmet every 30 seconds or so to see.

After the summit is one of the most nerve-racking, narrow roads I've been on. It's corner after corner of left-right bends with no barriers and a sheer drop to the unknown. I've driven and ridden some crazy mountain passes in my time but this one, combined with the snow, literally frightened the life out of me.

Out the other end, the temperature rose as quickly as it had fallen and before long we were in Andermatt where we stopped to [kiss the ground] have a pizza. The barman spoke fluent English and there were three chaps sitting at the next table who were behaving slightly oddly, as though they were looking for trouble. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it but I've travelled enough to know when it’s time to move on.

I got my booking.com app fired up and found a room at a reasonable cost at Hotel La Val about 30km away in Sedrun-Ruèras.

The hotel and the man and woman who ran it were absolutely lovely, like they were inviting us to stay in their own home (which, in some respects, they were). It was very 70s in style but warm and cozy, and everything was absolutely spotless. They even let me park the bike in their personal garage for the night so it would be secure. Cannot recommend this hotel enough.

A room with an HDR view.

Swiss-style in-room shower—quirky.

After feeling a bit shell-shocked from the ride over the Grimsel Pass, it didn't take long to fall asleep in one of the most comfortable beds so far this trip.

Alps 2013 quick links

Day 1: London to Lille
Day 2: Lille to Hagondange
Day 3: Slow road to Ammerschwihr
Day 4: Ammerschwihr
Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes
Day 6: Thônes to.... Thônes
Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras
Day 8: Ruèras to Flachau
Day 9: Flachau
Day 10: Flachau to Wemding
Day 11: Wemding to Urberach
Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp
Day 13: Antwerp to London

The gear and how it held up
The trip in hindsight