The complete Story from start to end, with a chaotic start, a tough but beautiful ride through Switzerland until the happy ending in Andermatt after 112 1/2 hours,
At 5 a.m. on 24 June 2023, the SwissBikeAdventure, a self-supported long-distance race, started and finished in Andermatt. At least it did for all the other participants. Because I couldn’t find my GoPro camera. So after the official photo of all participants and crossing the start line, I didn’t go out on the course, but back to my Airbnb to look for the camera. After I was able to find the good piece again, the adventure finally started for me too, 2 hours late. Since I had planned this event as pure preparation for the Transcontinental Race, the TCT09, I didn’t mind the late start, as it took away any pressure and temptation to keep up with the fast people.
First I went to the Furka Pass, at over 2400m the highest point of the course. On the ascent I met Andy Buchs, the organiser, again. We chatted for a few minutes and he took some photos of me and my bike. There was even snow on the top of the pass and a strong and frosty wind was blowing. After a few snapshots, we continued directly towards the Hotel Belvedere. Somehow the bike felt strange on the first few metres of the descent, but maybe it was just my imagination. At the Hotel Belvedere, despite the early hour, there was already quite a big crowd. It is a very popular photo motif. Fancy cars, drones, photographers, everything was already there. After I had managed a few photos without too many cars or people, I was looking forward to the long descent towards Gletsch and the Rhone source. But just as I had picked up speed, strong vibrations started. This kind of thing used to happen with the thin steel and first aluminium frames, but no longer with more modern road bike frames. I stopped to check the bike and the mounted bags, but could not find anything unusual. The tyre pressure was also as it always is when I ride with this setup. But as soon as I went faster than 40 km/h, the flutter occurred. My attempt to “outsmart” the resonance frequency by riding faster almost ended in a crash. Instead of a rapid descent, it was a dawdle down to the valley. The problem was to catch up with me again and again during the rest of the ride.
The next few hours in the Valais went along the Rhone, and I made good progress. The temperature rose to around 30 degrees Celsius, and an initial tailwind turned into a very unpleasant and strong headwind. Shortly before Lake Geneva, I entered the climb to Col de la Croix (Vaud), which has also been on the Tour de France programme several times as a category 1 climb. Beforehand, I made a detour to a supermarket to replenish my supplies. The climb in the blazing sun was anything but a walk in the park. But the fantastic view and the great panorama compensate for the troubled cyclist. After the descent, it was early evening by now, Hans Vermissen, another participant, came to meet me. He had problems finding the route. So did I, and we met again a few minutes later, looking for a turn-off.
We continued up and down along a ridge into the evening. Still hot, the many springs and fountains along the way were worth their weight in gold. In Rougemont I met Andreas Westpfahl, a man from Cologne who has been living in Switzerland for some time. In the next village, I decided to take a short break to eat the baguette I had bought in the supermarket many hours ago. Hans and Andreas passed me again in the meantime. After the break, another long climb on a narrow, low-traffic road through the forest up to over 1600 m was on the agenda. Somehow my left knee started to hurt, not a good sign. It was dark by now, and I decided to find a good spot for a short night’s rest around midnight at the latest. Shortly before the day changed, I caught up with Robin Hogger and Aleš Vaníček. I had already made up quite well for the delay from the start. It was time for sleep. The first attempt to find a suitable spot at Lac de Montsalvens was thwarted by thousands of mosquitoes, gnats and horseflies. So no more lake views. A few kilometres further on, I found a somewhat sheltered spot behind a kind of transformer house at a farm. I was too tired to continue. By 1am I was in my sleeping bag, and could sleep undisturbed until the alarm clock rang at 5am.
I didn’t get going particularly quickly, but shortly before 6 a.m. I continued. After the first few turns of the pedals, it was already clear to me that there were going to be even bigger problems with my knee. Robin came by just as I set off. Inhibited by my knee, I couldn’t follow him. But I met him again and again on the second day. A great guy from Belgium with huge experience on the long distance. We met again in the next larger village with a fountain. We filled up our bottles and went on. Robin in front. In one of the next villages we found the first open bakery. And whose bike was in front of it? Robin’s. It was a Portuguese bakery in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Robin knew both French and Portuguese, so I didn’t have to rely on sign language and pointing. The two of us then had breakfast together.
Afterwards I reduced the air pressure on the bike. Maybe that’s where the constant vibrations on the descents came from? It was better afterwards, though not completely gone. For most of Sunday, I headed towards the Jura, past the western end of Lake Neuchatel to Baulmes. There the Jura began with a 600 m climb in the blazing sun. Fortunately, there were again many fountains and springs that provided drinking water and refreshment. The Jura is geologically connected to the Swabian Alb. And that’s exactly how it felt when riding. Either up, or down, never flat. My knee meant that I could only make slow progress. Before the highest mountain in the Jura, the Chasseral (1607 m), which I had to cross, I finally wanted to eat something sensible. Muesli bars don’t really make you happy. According to Google Maps, there were a few bistros along the way. But apparently Google doesn’t know everything either, because all these restaurants, bistros or pizzerias had been closed for a while and were for sale. In the end, I found a pizzeria and enjoyed my meal. To pay, I went inside the pizzeria for a moment, and when I came out, Robin was sitting outside with a Coke. Robin had taken a long break before the mountains and I had overtaken him somewhere. We started together after the Coke, but again he booted off much faster than I could follow with my knee still hurting. I could always see him until just before the summit of es Chasseral. At the top I stopped to take some photos and there were some nice conversations with the other tourists. The descent was on a gravel road. No fun on a road bike. It went down very slowly and carefully, and I was worried about my tyres. But everything went well. It got dark. And around midnight I had found a place to stay. A disused well seemed the best place to spend the night in. It was not far from a village and a railway line. Neither trains nor bells could keep me awake.
I woke up at a quarter to five to the sound of a jogger’s footsteps. I hope she wasn’t too startled when my head suddenly popped out of the well. Once awake, I walked straight on, and after half an hour’s drive there was a bakery that opened at six o’clock. A coffee and a couple of croissants later, I was back on the road. And the knee was feeling much better! After three hours, I had three climbs behind me and was slowly making my way out of the Jura, south past Basel towards Bad Säckingen and the Rhine.
I stopped at a pharmacy to buy some Diclofenac ointment. I was halfway there, a good reason to stop for a coffee and something to eat. Further along the Rhine I had a tailwind. It was going very well. The knee hardly hurt at all and after all the climbing over the last two days it was nice to just lie on the Aero trailer and pedal. Around midday I took a longer break. I washed my worn-out cycling clothes in one of the fountains and took advantage of the strong wind and sun to dry them. A great part of the tour was the detour to the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen. There were lots of tourists there, and cycling through a town isn’t much fun either, but in my opinion it was more than worth it. Some tourists wanted to have their picture taken with my bike. Well, let’s do that. From Schaffhausen I headed towards Lake Constance. Once there, my Garmin computer told me that it was going into sleep mode. Time to connect it to the power bank, which had been charged by my hub dynamo for more than 6 hours. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the plug. Power bank empty, Garmin in power save mode. The phone was also only a short distance away from going into sleep mode. I was able to fix the problem with the plug, but the remaining time in the light would not be enough to really recharge the devices. And even if it did, it would be over in an hour or two in the morning. As an alternative to charging all the devices and the power bank, I decided to spend a night in an Airbnb. But where? I left Lake Constance and headed back towards the mountains and the Alps. It was impossible for me to get a really good estimate of how long it would take to cover the distance. Andy’s route and the suggestions from Google Maps or Komoot didn’t match. In the end, I decided to stay in Sankt Gallen, and that was the right decision.
At the entrance to Sankt Gallen I met Robin again. This time I was able to help him and translate to get a coke and water for his water bottle. We rode a few metres together before he continued his journey for another 1-2 hours towards Appenzell. I crossed town to my Airbnb and enjoyed a shower shortly after ten. Of course, I had to get all my gadgets plugged in and charged up. There was also wifi and I was able to post some pictures.
Riding through a city at six o’clock is always fun. No one on the road, roads clear, fast progress. Normally, but not this morning. Because the motorway was closed and everyone had to pass through the city exactly on my way. It was a real challenge to get back on the track and it felt like it took half an eternity. But right after Sankt Gallen it became quiet. Hardly any traffic, small paths and quite a few metres of altitude again. In Appenzell, we went to a bakery to buy provisions for the coming hours. The Schwägalp and its 1370 m was the first ascent of the day. After the descent, I found an open bike shop in Nesslau, Velo Köbi. Finally I had the right tyre pressure for the last third of the tour. Shortly after the village, a narrow road without traffic led steeply up to the Vorder Höhi Pass at 1537 m. On the way up, I passed two older cyclists. On the ascent, I passed two older gentlemen with E-MTBs who were standing at the side of the road talking animatedly. A few minutes later they came closer and accompanied me to the top of the pass. Two spry men in their mid-seventies who were on a morning excursion. Both took a break at the top, while I continued directly towards Lake Walen. Great descent, and no fluttering at all. Along the lake it went well. Although the cycle path was quite narrow, there were less than a handful of other cyclists on the road apart from me.
I continued along the Seez river until I almost reached the Rhine again in Bad Ragaz, where I took a Coke and an iced coffee. The route then led well uphill to the Kunkelspass at 1357 m above sea level in the Glarus Alps. About 2/3 of the way up, I decided to take a break with a power nap. Eat something, drink something and continue towards Chur. After passing Chur, I had to choose between two options. Either continue on gravel with little traffic, or on the road in the traffic. Both alternatives were provided by the organiser. I had the impression that there was not much traffic. Accordingly, I had decided to take this option. But somehow I ended up choosing the wrong route on the sat nav and found myself on a steep (over 20%) dirt road. It was so steep that I just managed to get off my pedals before coming to a halt. There was nothing left to do but push for 200 m until it became flatter and rideable again. At the top, I saw Robin in front of me again. He had had the same problems as me, but didn’t manage to get off the pedals in time and unfortunately fell. But apart from a scare, he was lucky not to get hurt. After a couple of short bursts, I overtook him and rode on to Lenzerheide. By now it was 6 pm and time to stock up on food for the evening. I found a Coop and in addition to an iced coffee, a baguette, a yoghurt, a hummus and falafel salad and a Coke, I bought a bag of Haribo frogs. I ate the salad and the yoghurt right there. Then I continued to Tiefencastell and on to the Albula Pass. With a length of 21.8 km and an altitude difference of 1344 metres, the road leads through quiet landscapes up to 2315 m. I was amazed again and again by the civil engineering. Again and again I was amazed by the civil engineering art, i.e. how roads and railway lines twisted and turned through the mountain massif. At some point, all you hear is your own snorting, the cowbells and the rush of water. Then only snorting and the sound of water. Shortly before reaching the top of the pass, I changed clothes. It was getting fresh. By now it was dark.
I slowly descended the short descent to La Punt. In the dark I didn’t want to take any risks, despite my excellent lighting. In addition, only a few days ago Gino Mäder had a fatal accident in this descent during the Tour de Suisse. In La Punt I was frozen through, my knee hurt again and I was suddenly “totally through”. For the next few kilometres I could hardly put any pressure on the pedal. It was midnight by now, impossible to find an Airbnb now, and the hotels all prohibitively expensive, with prices from 400 francs upwards per night. But it was clear that I would not make it over the next pass to Davos. I was freezing and overjoyed to find a bus stop with a cottage. The good Lord had surely just conjured it up for me. After eating a baguette and half a bag of Haribo frogs, I felt much better. Apparently I hadn’t eaten enough on the ascent. Shortly afterwards I fell asleep.
I woke up a little earlier than the last few days. Once awake, I got ready for what was supposed to be the last day. It was not as cold as I had expected. From Susch it was about 13 km of 950 vertical meters up to the Flüela Pass at 2383m. A nice climb. In general, the long climbs in the Alps, such as Furka, Albula, Flüela and the still to come San Bernardino and Gotthard, are usually good to ride. The gradient percentages are on average around 7%, and mostly even. Quite different were the “smaller climbs”, which were already behind me. There, 15% – 20% gradients were not uncommon. On the Flüela I first put on everything I had with me. I was cold, and it didn’t change until Davos. There I first went to a café and drank two hot cocoas.
After a croissant, I went to a supermarket to stock up and continued back towards Tiefenkastell. I was driving behind a bus, with about 60 km/h I suddenly went into a tunnel. Could this be right? I stopped in an emergency stop bay, and had to realize that I should have turned left before the tunnel. So I turned 180 degrees and drove back uphill at 20 km/h through the tunnel to the turnoff. It went on unpaved road through a beautiful gorge to the tunnel exit. Just before the end, the road was blocked by a landslide and workers were clearing the site. I was able to pass the spot with some luck and skill, and Tiefenkastell was quickly reached after that. Until Thusis it was mostly downhill. From Thusis then actually up to the San Bernardino and its 2035 m pass only uphill. The sign 1300 meters of altitude on the next 47 km was not motivating for cyclists. After the Viamala gorge the traffic decreased. Via Splügen the route led to Nufenen, where I took a short power nap. After 25 minutes it went up at Hiterrhein to San Bernardino, which was pleasant to ride. A dream was the almost never-ending descent over 51 km to Bellinzona. Somewhere during the descent I bought two iced coffees.
Through Bellinzona in the direction of Gotthard I struggled. My knee hurt again, and somehow the air was out. Salvation was a small store, where I had a bread covered, and bought a Magnum ice cream. After the ice cream it went again much better. Before the actual ascent to the Gotthard I took another small break. Quickly drink the remaining iced coffee and eat the sandwich, and on to the last chapter. Suddenly Andy Buchs stood at the edge and took photos. I wasn’t very far behind the leader, but couldn’t even see him now or at any point during the rest of the evening. Up the Gotthard we went on the Tremolo, the old paved pass road. At the top I stopped for a few photos, put on some warm clothes, and leisurely rolled on towards the finish in Andermatt.
My Garmin had suddenly said goodbye just below the top of the pass, and was neither to turn off nor he still showed anything meaningful. Quickly set up the cell phone to navigate and continue. However, carefully, because I had only little braking power due to worn brake pads. Arrived at the finish, an overjoyed Aleš Vaníček was waiting for me. He could see me from above the entire ascent, and accordingly always adjusted his pace to my speed. I was more than satisfied with the second place, as I stayed exactly on my strategy regarding power and breaks the whole time and never got into the red zone. After talking for a few minutes at the finish line, we decided to go out to eat at a pub next door with Andy who was documenting the whole thing. After a pizza and a non-alcoholic beer, I reached my car around 22:30. At 23:30 everything was packed, I was fresh and changed again, and ready to start the drive back home.
A fantastic route through incredible landscapes, on first-class asphalt, with some gravel passages that were very easy to drive, on roads with little traffic, in the best weather. That was the Swiss Bike Adventure 2023, which I can recommend 100%. A lot of work goes into choosing the route, so a big thank you to Andy. I was able to gain a lot of experience in preparing for the Transcontinental. From timing, food, accommodation, electronics to the distances I can cover per day in the mountains. From my point of view, the Swiss Bike Adventure was a complete success.