Day 15: Hospental to Wildersil (108km, 2715m)

I woke up in the morning at 7:30am, packed my things and walked down to a buffet style breakfast that was absolutely huge. Hungry as I was, there was no question that this was a great deal. I went back for seconds and thirds, and at 9:00am departed Hospental headed towards the "cockscrew", my name for the spiraling descent from the Andermatt area towards Wassen and the Sustens pass. It being Saturday, most of the traffic was heading in the opposite direction. The descent was fast as I headed to Wassen through the tunnels and galleries. I saw cyclists climbing up the opposite way and did not think that it would be a very comfortable experience, despite the general competence and friendliness of the Swiss driver.

I found the left turn towards Wassen (916m) without trouble and was soon riding on quiet secondary roads until I saw the sign for Sustens (2224m)and began the climb. The day was overcast, but I occasionally saw breaks in the cloud, which led me to be optimistic that Barry was right about the weather. This led me to stop and take off my jacket and arm warmers and put on a cap, but stuffing everything back into my handlebar bag too roughly caused a seam to rip. After a few kilometers, a big man on a fast looking road bike rode up to me and said hello. I quickened my pace and stayed on his wheel a bit and we began a conversation. Werner was a lawyer in a firm in Luzern and was on a big ride today --- he started at 6:00am and would finish around 5:00pm today. He said he did at least a week of touring every year, and after looking at my gear said he really believes in minimalist touring. I asked him for advice in touring the St. Moritz area, and he gave me quite a bit of advice. He also mentioned that there was a restaurant which had a short walk to a glacier on the other side.

After about 3 kilometers of pacing him I was very sure that I would not be able to keep up, so I wished him well and he pushed on to the top. 15 minutes later his friend passed me, and I was soon riding along by myself again. A couple more Italian looking fellows passed me and said hi in English, which prompted more conversation. With the cloudy weather and the early time, it was very pleasant being with cyclists rather than sharing the road with motorcars. Though Werner considers Sustens a boring climb because you see the top long before you get there, it was definitely not boring today, mostly because the clouds were shrouding the summit. I rode along the beautiful pass, wishing that I had more visibility, but appreciating the low temperature for the climb. The sun did threaten to break through a few times, but in the end, it never did. As I approached the summit tunnel the temperature dropped further and further until when I got through the summit tunnel the other side was shrouded with fog and mist.

Well, there was not much to do but to once again put on everthing I owned and descend after taking a couple of pictures. The descent was once again shivering cold, but it wasn't excessively windy, so I could take most of the corners at speed. After about 15 minutes of descending, however, my fingers were once again numb, so when I saw the restaurant Werner told me about, I quickly stopped. I smiled when I saw his bike outside and walked in, found them, and sat down with them. I had hot chocolate while they had coffee and ate a little. I ate my banana and shivered along with them. Werner had been so optimistic about the weather that he had not bothered to bring leg warmers. We commiserated about the miserable weather until we had each warmed up enough to brave the cold again. Werner even bought me my chocolate when I discovered that I was low on Francs. Thomas, Werner's friend asked the restaurant for some old newspapers, and we proceeded to stuff them down our jerseys.

We then got on our bikes and began the descent. It is a measure of how much weight I was carrying that I descended faster than Werner, who looked like he was a few pounds heavier than I was. I descended in a fury, determined to get down to a warmer place before my fingers froze again, and overtook cyclist after cyclist. Soon, the temperature started warming up and I was happy to see the grade ease up. Werner caught up with me, then passed me, and we took turns taking the leads around corners for awhile, but he knew the descent better than I did and soon was far ahead of me. I tooled around for awhile, taking it easy, but a postal bus appeared behind me and I was motivated to stay in front of it for as long as I could so I started pedaling furiously and once again took the corners as quick as I dared. The pavement was dry, so I did not anticipate any problems.

I eventually caught sight of Werner and Thomas again, and when they stopped at the bottom of the hill at Innerkirtchen to remove clothing I followed suit. I applied sun screen, since it was now sunny, and since the road went up hill again, I decided that it was time to say goodbye to them. I looked at the time and it was almost noon, but no call from Steve, who said he would call when he got to Zurich. I hoped he hadn't missed his flight or had a missing bike, but I was ready to tour without him in either case. I proceeded to ride up the four switchbacks of Kirchet pass, and this time, managed to arrive at the Lammi restaurant in time for lunch. I ordered a bratwurst and spaghetti combination for lunch, and when it arrived I was delighted to find that the Lammi definitely lived up to its reputation for excellent food.

While waiting for the food to settle in before moving on, I saw a big tall man with a cycling cap riding a yellow bike with a carradice saddlebag ride past the restaurant. "Jobst," I cried! He turned around and we had a short chat. Apparently it was snowing on Sustens yesterday when he made it up the pass. He mentioned that Rosenlaui was almost completely full last night --- they had arrived just before it started raining. I expressed my desire to stay there as well, but Jobst said, "You probably want to ride all the way over the top and down the other side." "I've got a friend who's supposed to fly in today, so I'm not in a hurry." Little did I know.

Well, I still hadn't heard from Steve, so I assumed I would be touring alone. The climb up to Rosenlaui wasn't bad at all --- I was braced for extremely steep stuff, but I wasn't on the tandem this time, and my gearing is just as low as the tandem's, so rather than grunting up the hill I found myself spinning easily and making rather good time. I stopped a few times to take pictures that I had missed the first time around, including a view of the Rosenlaui glacier , and rolled into Hotel Rosenlaui at a little past 3:00pm. I walked into the hotel, but Andreas told me that the hotel was full. He told me to try other hotels up the mountain, and definitely looked as overworked as Jobst had mentioned.

There was nothing to do but to keep climbing and hope to find a place futher up the hill, but I had rounded but two corners from Hotel Rosenlaui when my cell phone rang. It was indeed Steve, whose flight had been delayed in New York due to some bad weather. I told him the situation and told him to buy train tickets to Interlaken. I suspected that I was going to have trouble finding lodging right now, and thought that if his train managed to get him to Interlaken early enough, he might find lodging before I did.

The sights and sounds going up to the summit of Grosse Scheidegg (1961m)was no less impressive despite the overcast weather. I heard the thunderous sounds of ice fall despite the overall cool weather, and enjoyed the views. However, my search for lodging on the mountain was a bust. The next hotel turned me away as well, as did the hotel at the summit. At the top, I called Steve and told him that I would look for lodging in Interlaken, since his train wasn't scheduled to make it to Interlaken until 5:30pm. I began the long descent at around 4:30pm, and made it down to Grindelwald (1034m) shortly thereafter, as the cool air and good timing meant that I did not have to stop for either the postal bus or for rim cooling to take. It was cold but not nearly as cold as Sustens had been earlier in the day, so I did not feel the need to stop. Once in Grindelwald I rolled down past the touristy areas and once lower down in town saw a lot of signs saying "Zimmer Frei." I thought a bit about stopping for lodging here but decided that it was cruel to make a jet-lagged man ride all the way up here with what seemed to be extremely busy traffic.

I descended from Grindelwald rapidly, keeping an eye on the kilo counter towards Interlaken (563m), and decided that I would try to keep within 6km of Interlaken. The traffic did not get better at 6km, so I decided on 3 instead, which meant that when I arrived at Wildersil (584m) I stopped at the first hotel I saw on the main road and asked if they had rooms. They did not, but the building next door had a sign that said "Zimmer", so I asked the woman there if she had rooms. It turned out she had the bottom suite open available for one night as long as I didn't cook (and presumably stop up the sink :-), and I had to check out the next morning. She charged 70 Swiss Francs a night, so I called Steve and told him that I would take it unless I found something terribly wrong with the suite. I took a look at the suite and it seem fine. The hotel next door would serve dinner, so we were set.

I took a shower and then did laundry. I SMS'd Steve to give him directions, but at 6:30pm he still hadn't showed up so I called him to ask him what was up. It turned out that he was still assembling his Ritchey breakaway(tm) bike. That's right, one whole hour of bike assembly and he still wasn't done! It made me wonder why anybody pays money for these fancy gadgets that slow you down, cost more money, and result in a heavier bike. The extra $1000 he paid (bike + special fancy case) would have paid for a lot of extra 15 franc train tickets for the bike.

Finally at 7:15 he showed up, and we went over to eat dinner since I was famished. Dinner was big and sufficient for me, but clearly too much for Steve. We went back to our suite and I took a look at what he brought me. I asked for one tube of superglue to repair my tail-light, he brought two. I asked for half a bottle of endurolytes, he brought a full bottle. I had asked for a little bit of cytomax, and he brought an entire can. Clearly, this was not a man who did things by halves. He also had two entire waterbottles stuffed full of cytomax. I took two scoops into a bottle and he somehow managed to squeeze the remaining can into what little storage he had. I would discover that the cost of all this was that he had one pair of shorts for the entire cycling trip. One of these days, I'll tour with someone who knows how to read a packing list.

After I fixed my tail-light and Steve took a shower, I went to sleep while Steve putzed around presumably because he couldn't sleep despite his sleeping pills.

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