Day 19: Rickenbach to Rickenbach (124km, 3135m)

We woke up in the morning to overcast skies, which did not bother us since we were planning to climb our 20% grade first. After a good breakfast where the hostess asked us if she needed to bring us more bread or hot chocolate (since everything on the table was disappearing at an unprecedented rate to her, I'm sure), we got ready to go. Or rather, I got ready to go, and Steve putzed around some. For someone with so little stuff, I said, you sure managed to putz around a lot! I used to think you had to have a lot of stuff before you could spend a lot of time putzing around, but Steve had proven to me that putzing is a personality issue, not a volume issue.

We rolled down the hill into Schwyz again, and once there, followed the signs towards Muotathal. The initial part of the climb, very gentle, was mostly along a wooded river. After Muotathal, where we stopped to buy bananas, however, the road quickly narrowed and became a steep 20% grade switch-backing amongst the woods. I was delighted. Traffic was extremely low, and energetic climbing was what this morning called for.

Despite the chill, the grade worked us so hard that I found myself working hard enough to sweat. After a couple of kilometers we discovered that we each had to climb at our own pace. Steve measured a slope at 15% grade, which indicated that in some of the tougher sections the slope might very well have reached 20% as the local cyclist said.

At 1500m, a 20% grade cannot go on for too long, so after several whirls around the hills the grade flattened out and I was rolling at 26-30kph, which cooled me down considerably. Cattle guards became more prevalent, but it was no effort to roll over them quickly so I enjoyed myself. Soon enough, I was at the top (1550m), which had amongst other things meant immediately putting on leg warmers, arm warmers, and a jacket before Steve showed up and we shot a few pictures. The downhill was much more gentle than the up, and gave us great swooping descents down amonst villages before we saw the Kolantarsee, a beautiful, peaceful lake at 850m that I enjoyed. We then descended down to the town of Glarus, where an advertised 15 Franc lunch caught our attention and we ate excellent country food.

After lunch, we dropped some more towards Schwanden where we started climbing towards Linthal. This was when the weather started turning ugly, as on the way to Linthal it started first sprinkling, then drizzling, then finally raining. I made for the Linthal train station hoping that there would be a train directly to Altdorf and I could spare myself another freezing descent. There, however, I discovered that the way over Klausen pass was not a train tunnel but a postal bus. Well, I had no choice but to ride then. Steve was going to do the pass no matter what, but he was better equipped for cold weather than I was.

Above Linthal, the rain became steady, pouring down on me. The grade was steep, so I had no trouble staying warm, but I nevertheless was worried about how the top would be if it was raining down at the bottom. Near the top of the steep section, a postal bus overtook me and inexplicably waited at a bus stop. My biggest mistake of the day was not sprinting after the bus and getting on board, because at that point the rain had lightened up a bit. After the steep hairpins above Linthal, there was a flat rolling section through Urnerboden, which forced me to put on my new rain jacket to stay warm. At the next bus stop I actually stopped to see when the next bus would come by --- the answer: 5:00pm, which would require more than an hour wait, so I pushed on.

Above the town of port the road once again started a series of switchbacks that led to the summit, and the weather actually got worse here. Rain came down like sheets, causing my eyes to tear up and the temperature dropped. Fortunately what the latter did for me was to enable me to work harder despite wearing a rain jacket so I pushed and pushed from one switch back to another. I chewed through a couple of Gu packs, and about 2 switchbacks from the top the rain finally stopped. At the summit (1948m), I parked my bike and went into the restaurant. I asked if they sold gloves, but the restaurant owner, being the savvy cyclist-aware person she was handed me 2 plastic bags instead. I went outside, put on every bit of clothing that I had (fortunately my legwarmers had stayed warm and dry inside the handlebar bag) and wrapped my fingers inside the plastic bag and clenched my teeth for the descent.

The descent into Unterschau was gentle, and so beautiful that it shook me out of my stupor to shoot a picture. The corners were gentle and I was in a hurry to get somewhere warm, so I descended with a fury normally reserved for dryer conditions. Avocet slick tires grip very well on wet pavement, so I had confidence that my descent was safe. After Unterschau, however, there was a short climb that I was unprepared for. Getting impatient and well aware that the grocery stores closed at 6:30, I tried to push on the pedals but found that cold muscles do not respond and was forced to slowly climb the hill. Once the descent started again, however, I moved at a rapid clip, and made Altdorf (458m) by 5:30pm. There, I found a supermarket and must have been a sight, walking in and buying pasta, pasta sauce, and a banana shivering all the while. My lips moved like that of an alcoholic at the checkout counter: "direction bahnof?" The girl at the counter stared at me and gestured at the road. Seemed like I was moving at the right direction.

The Altdorf bahnof is actually at Fluelen, on the other side of the road with no apparent access for bicyclists. At Fluelen, I rode past the train station and was forced to turn around and ask a couple of pedestrains how to get to the train station. They told me that there was a tunnel next to the church which I had passed, and I found it. At the train station I bought a ticket back to Schwyz, not wanting to deal with the tunnels or the rain. Once on the train, I called Steve to let him know I had gotten groceries, how to get to the train station, and that I'd see him back at the B&B.

The rain again resumed in Schwyz, but I managed to get to a pharmacy to buy some soap for the shower and made the rest of the climb up to the B&B with no incidents. A hot shower later and I felt human. I looked at my altimeter and was surprised that we had done more climbing on this day than any other day on the trip. I am still not sure that the changing weather hadn't caused the altimeter to register more climbing than the actual altitude gained, so if anyone out there has accurate figures for the passes we climbed in the direction we did it, I would be very happy to correct my numbers. I started dinner when Steve called to say that he was at the train station, but of course I should have realized that his ability to putz around knew no bounds --- he actually stopped to clean his bike, so by the time he got home I was done with my dinner and almost ready to eat his as well.

That evening, I delegated the dishwashing to Steve and went to bed early. The warmth of the blankets in bed made the cold long descent from Klausen pass seem a bad dream.

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