Day 17: Hospental to Chur (104km, 1015m)

I had shown Steve the options the previous night. We could climb St. Gottard and do another pass to get to Chur, though that would take a while given his current speed, or we could climb Oberalp and enjoy a 60km descent. I also made it clear that I was not spending any more time in Italy on this trip than I absolutely had to. Steve had had his heart set on riding Stelvio, and after a bit of backtracking realized that if he wanted to maximize his chances of doing Stelvio he had to make tough choices, so he opted to head for Chur through the direct route. Steve did not sleep well the night before and had opted for sleeping pills, but those didn't seem to help him much.

Breakfast wasn't buffet style this time, but there was still a decent amount of food. I made it to breakfast a full half hour before Steve and contemplated eating all his food in an effort to get him to stop putzing around for so long in the mornings, but thought better of it. I had thought that Mike took a long time to get ready in the mornings, but clearly Mike took no time at all compared to Steve. Actually, Lisa took no time at all compared to Steve, for that matter.

In the end, we got going around 9:00am, which didn't matter at all, as it was overcast and the temperatures quite cool. From Andermatt (1447m) to the top of Oberalp (2044m) was less than 700m, and with the cool temperatures we could take the time to enjoy it. As we climbed up the road, occasional beams of sunlight would break through, giving us fantastic lighting on an otherwise gloomy day. We passed a couple of fully loaded tourists, and then turned the corner which hid Andermatt from sight. We rode through a gallery and a tunnel, and before we knew it were at the summit, where I took the opportunity to call the Zurich office to see if I could stay Saturday night as well as Sunday night, since I still wanted time to visit friends in Lausanne at the end of the trip.

After getting an affirmative answer, we took more pictures and then proceeded down the initial steep descent. Traffic was extremely light, since it was a Monday, but there were still tour buses which Steve suggested we let pass, which turned out to be a good idea, since we had a clear road after that. As the slope became more gradual, the road lost its twisty character and began gently meandering through mountain villages, each of which looked beautiful in its misty light. We moved on at speed, occasionally pedalling down a gentle slope but mostly enjoying the feeling of having wind in our face.

Just before Ilanz, I stood up to accelerate and sprinted past an unloaded cyclist, but did not even make 500m before I heard a loud report, which indicated a puncture. Noticing that this was coming from my front, I applied the rear brakes gently until I came to a stop. Examination of the inner tube showed a sidewall puncture, and Steve spotted a rip in the sidewall. All that off-pavement work had taken its toll, and I was lucky that my front had chosen to fail during a gentle descent instead of during one of the fast nasty ones like Furka. Out from the bottom of my saddlebag came the folding spare tire, and I took the opportunity to put in a new rim tape while replacing both the inner tube and the tire.

When all was set, we finally rolled into Ilanz around 12:20, just in time for lunch. Lunch was at a restaurant that produced reasonable food, but excellent directions. I wanted to take the OCD recommended route from Ilanz to Bonadu via Valendas (810m) and Versam (908m), and the moisturizing cream that I had bought the day before didn't seem to be working for me, so I wanted a pharmacy as well. Sure enough, by following directions we found not one but two pharmacies right next to each other. I stopped at one and explained my needs to the pharmacist and she produced a tube of cream that she assured me suited my needs.

We went on to the supermarket where Steve bought a couple of bananas and then we were once again doing some climb. I have never ridden an OCD recommended route that doesn't do a bit of extra climbing, but the weather wasn't too hot, and we hadn't done much climbing that day so were quite happy to do it. The road at first rose along some hill side towns, but after traversing some forests descended quickly alongside the river, granting us a display of lovely gorges along stone cliffs. Steve began to understand why I took OCD recommendations seriously and why I had told him that the guides merit careful reading. But all good things had to come to an end, and we rolled down the descent to Bonadu where we made the turn off to Chur.

At this point, traffic became heavy and the clouds rolled in again, but we nevertheless made good time into Chur and arrived at 4:00pm to find the tourist information office (which is well hidden with no signs pointing to it) which gave us a list of hotels. While checking the first one, I felt a few rain drops fall. Steve came out with a pointer to the Comfort Inn Post Hotel, and we got there and grabbed a room just as the rain got heavy. Ending early today was not a bad idea, as I needed a laundromat to get everything washed and dry. The hotel did not have one, but pointed us to one, so after taking a shower, we borrowed an umbrella and walked to in the downpour.

The laundromat was across the street from a sports shop, so while the machines were grinding away I sent Steve to look for a pair of cycling shorts, AAA batteries, and to see if they had any rain jackets for me. I had tried to repair my rain jacket using superglue, but unfortunately was not steady in hand enough to make the repair work, and so ended up tossing my jacket into the trash (I did, however, successfully repair my handlebar bag with the same tube of superglue). After about 30 minutes, Steve came back with a pair of bike shorts the right size for him, 4 AAA batteries for me, and announced that the store across the street did have a goretex rain jacket. I borrowed his jacket so I didn't have to cross the street topless, walked across, and took a look for myself. It was a very crushable jacket, and when I put it on, did not feel to tight, even when I leaned over in the cycling position. At 189 Swiss Francs it was expensive, but I suspected I would have paid more if I was caught on a mountain top when it was raining, so I bought it.

On the way back to the laundromat, I observed that the cafe next door had internet access, and suggested to Steve that he check it out. Steve went over to look, and said that it was about 5 Francs for 20 minutes. I told him to go try it and come back when he was done, expecting that someone who had only been out of touch for 3 days would most likely take much less time than someone who had been out of touch for a week and a half (since Barcelonette).

By the time the laundry was dry, however, I still saw no sign of Steve, so I dumped all the laundry into our plastic bags and made my way back to the hotel. There, I discovered that Steve went back to the hotel and was using the hotel's internet access (which was cheaper) to e-mail pictures back to his family, and the long and involved technical project was occupying all of his time. I went back to the room and sent a few SMS messages, sorted out all the laundry, replaced batteries in both my tail light and palm pilot, and made a few calls to arrange when I would meet with whom. As I was doing so, the rain started up again, and Steve came in with a new friend from Poland who had come to borrow a European plug adaptor for an American gadget. This talkative person told me what a wonderful place Poland was for bike touring, but after a little bit of conversation I realized that his idea of bike touring was to ride 20 miles on the bike, go to a bar, and then drink lots of alochol. Presumably Poland would be great for that, but so would Ireland or Scotland, and neither of those places are much fun for those of us who enjoy mountain riding.

Well, by the time Steve was done with his e-mail I was starving, so we headed out to dinner. Knowing how much I enjoyed all things Italian, Steve had found an Italian restaurant somewhere in town. We circled town a couple of times before we found it (I was glad that I was doing the navigation on the bike), and the food while reasonable was not forthcoming in sufficient proportion to satisfy a cyclist, so after dinner we decided that Steve would buy some ice cream and I would go get some Pad Thai.

It takes longer to make Pad Thai than to scoop ice cream out of a container, so by the time I got back to the Hotel I found that Steve was once again in front of the computer trying to finish up the pictures he was trying to send earlier. While he was eating Pad Thai, however, I managed to sneak in some time and read and send some e-mail, as well as catch up on the Tour de France.

Having satisfied our hunger, we went back to our room and I went to bed while Steve sorted out his laundry. It turned out that I had left a sock behind, so Steve went back to the laundromat to find it (it was indeed in the dryer), while I slept, listening to the sound of raindrops on the roof, confident that just as it had done in the past, the rain would stop the next morning.

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