Day 16: Wildersil to Hospental (105km, 2705m)

I woke up bright and early and started packing. Lisa told me to take it easy on Steve today, so I was prepared for a slow day. We rode down towards Interlaken but didn't get 3 blocks before a big sign saying "fruhstuk" caught my eye. We stopped and discovered that they did indeed serve breakfast, and went in and ate quite a hearty breakfast. Well, I ate a hearty breakfast. When we were done we discovered why there was so much volume --- they charged 16 Francs a person for breakfast!

We descended into Interlaken, and rode into town. I was looking for the main meadow where you could see the Jungfrau, and after a bit of hunting I found it. We took a few pictures and I proposed that we tried the North side of the lake, even though there was a bike path on the South side because it did not involve any rough stuff and was likely to be faster. On the way out of town we tried to find a pharmacy to find moisturizing cream for my arms, but to no avail. We rode along and before I knew it I found myself along the bike path that Lisa & I were on two years ago. "Too bad, Steve, looks like you're going to have to do some rough stuff after all." Still this bit of misnavigation had its benefits, as I found a supermarket that sold what looked to me like moisturizing cream, and down the street we found a Bancomat that dispensed much needed cash for what I assured Steve was an extremely cash-oriented part of Switzerland.

The morning was beautifully still along the lake, though, and traffic was light. As we rolled along the smooth flat bike path, Steve showed me something really scary. He took his hands off the handlebars, and the front end of the bike started to shake and shimmy. "Oh man, that looks bad. Grip the top tube with your knees and see if goes away." It did go away. "Too bad, man, I think you're going to have to sell that frame. There's no way to get rid of shimmy --- you might want to try a different fork first, but I think you'll end up with a new frame. For the rest of this tour, try gripping the top tube with your knees and see if it goes away." Indeed, when Steve tried that the shimmy largely disappeared. When I had a custom Rivendell that shimmy'd while carrying a touring load it broke my heart but ultimately a frame that shimmys while doing the kind of riding you bought it to do is a frame that you will end up selling. To its credit, the replacement, the Heron touring bike I ride did not show even a hint of shimmy even when I was descending a road while shivering. After some time spent rolling along the towns by the lake as the bike path avoided the tunnels, we entered the dirty portion of the trail, which while not as tough as the rough stuff I had done already on the trip was still slower than tarmac. There was however a beautiful waterfall after which pavement resumed.

We got to the flat bike trail through Meiringen (595m), and then proceeded to climb Kirchet pass from the opposite direction from what I did yesterday. Being a Sunday morning with good weather, the traffic was heavy. We climbed the pass in short order and began the descent to InnerKirtchen where we found the signs pointing to Grimsel pass. The bottom of Grimsel goes along a river and there are a few tunnels where I was grateful for my taillight. The day was cool and I would have enjoyed the climb thoroughly but for the incredible amount of traffic that was on the road. We climbed past Guttannon (1047m), where we stopped to buy a banana, and then onto Handegg (1401m), where I somehow got ahead of Steve, so I stopped to wait for him. Something was clearly wrong, since on our day rides he had never been that far behind before. I asked Steve if he wanted to have lunch at Handegg (or even stay there, as Lisa & I did two years ago). He admitted to having stomach problems, and so wanted to eat at the top. I thought he had an inflated opinion of his speed if he thought he could get there before all the kitchens closed at two, but since it was his first day I humored him.

A little further ahead, the road leads through a tunnel which for bicyclists is bypassed on a cobbled side path that was the old way. There, we stopped to put on sunscreen. Steve seemed content to putz around, so I went on ahead without him. I rode ahead to the bottom of the first reservoir and proceeded to climb it. I passed a roadside stand that sold cheese sandwiches, and feeling hungry, decided to sit down and buy one. I ate the sandwich and waited until Steve came along. "Who do you think you're kidding. You're not going to make it to the top by 2, so you might as well buy something and eat here." Steve bought a cheese sandwich, stared at it dubiously, and then decided to lie down for a nap instead. Someone with more vacation time might decide to take it easy and not try to blast through Grimsel and Furka passes on the first day, but Steve was here for only a week, and so felt compelled to get as much done as possible in that time. I made a mental note to never accept cycling companions who wanted to start in the middle of my tour --- the effort required to match up schedules didn't seem worthwhile, and short timers in particular, always seemed to be in a rush to do everything, even if they were not strong enough to keep with my pace. Steve admitted that he hadn't done any riding at all for the last 2 weeks, which on top of his stomach problems, explained his weakness.

Nevertheless, he wanted to plug on, and refused to stop at the last hotel before the summit. After that, I pushed on to the summit (2165m), which was clear enough for an unobstructed view of Furka pass (2431m). When Steve he arrived, I told him that he was welcome to try the Furka, but if that was so I wasn't going to do any more waiting. I was going to keep riding until I got to Hospental and got us a room. He agreed with the sentiment, so I waited for him to get ready and then started my descent. Steve is normally a maniac on the descent, but this time he was slow. At Gletsch, I removed leg and arm warmers and switched to a cycling cap and he showed up, indicating that he had stopped for pictures. I left him to his devices and proceeded up Furka pass. The climb up Furka from Gletsch (1757m) wasn't steep, and at 700m isn't even very long except that if you've already climbed Grimsel pass that day you're not exactly fresh and strong. I rode in my 24 tooth chainring, but not my lowest gear. A couple of unloaded cyclists passed me, but to my surprise I passed them again 20 minutes later while one was nursing a cramp. I never saw them again.

The weather was still sunny, but I could see fog rolling over the mountains from the North ominously. I did not know the area well enough to know whether it was normal or whether it indicated that I had a limited time before visibility would drop, so i stepped up my efforts, but at that point was at the point after the steam train railroad tracks were behind me, at which point the road started up a steep series of hairpin turns just below the Rhone glacier, where a cold wind seemed to emanate. Above the tourist's entrance to the Rhone glacier, I caught sight of the perfect juxtaposition of Grimsel and Furka passes and stopped for a photograph. Above this point, the grade on Furka became significantly more gradual, and I sped up, reaching the summit in short order. The descent from the summit was fast, though with the traffic I did not take any corners aggressively. Soon enough, I was rolling past Realp and headed into a tough headwind.

Arriving in Hospental at 6:00pm, I called Steve on the cell phone to tell him where Hotel Rossli was, and then proceeded to take a shower and do laundry while Steve took his time getting to the hotel. Once he got there, we sat down and ate a hearty dinner. The lady recognized me this time, and gave me the same room she gave me last time.

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