Day 16: Solden to Bludenz (172.2km, 1679m)

We woke up to clear skies and a huge breakfast. We took a little longer to get ready, I suspect because we were a little reluctant to leave such a nice place. Roberto had found a brochure describing the 5 hours of pampered treatment you could get for a comparatively low sum of money, but Mike and I decided that guys don't go for facials when they can ride mountains, so he got outvoted.

The 48km "descent" from Solden to Imst took some doing, as much of it was flat against a headwind or at best a gentle grade, punctuated with a few fast sections. I got dropped rapidly on the flat sections, and we rode this way until the road tilted upwards again on the approach to Imst.

At Imst, Roberto missed the first Bahnof sign forcing us to chase him until he realized his error and we turned around, following directions to the bike path that Jobst had given me more than 4 years ago: look for the river-rafting put-in, ride into it, and turn right onto the wooden bridge to the bike path to Landeck.

The bike path to Landeck was pleasant, weaving along the river, and then along small city or village streets to Zammerberg and then Zams. At the Landeck tunnel Roberto discovered that what I thought was a blocked off bike path was a mistake of mine: if you follow the pavement, it dead-ends at the Landeck tunnel, but just before that, there's a gravel path that bypasses the tunnel, and drops you off in Landeck near a factory.

At this point, the surroundings had become clouded over, and a few drops of rain started appearing. Looking at the map at the tourist center, I realized that I had gotten turned around, and led everyone out of Landeck. Roberto decided he wanted a real meal today, so we found a restaurant and ate a sufficient meal. Over lunch, the clouds had mysteriously disappeared, making Silvretta (2036m) seem like a real possibility.

The road to Silvretta from Pians is gentle, even by tandem standards, rising only 1100m over the course of 49km, of which only the last 5 or 6km were really steep, with sections of 13% grade according to the OCD guides. Mike & I paced each other over this course, as the headwind gradually increased in strength and intensity. Past Galtur, the headwind grew again, slowing my progress to less than 9kph along an otherwise flat section. The sky had clouded over again, so that by the time I passed the toll-booth I began to feel rain drops.

Along with the wind and the final steep sections, it took me better than an hour to complete the final section, which I remember taking very little time in much more pleasant weather in 2003 on the tandem. At the top, I saw no sign of Mike, so went ahead to the buildings along the reservoirs, where I put on all my cold and rainy weather gear.

I had suggested in previous days that if the weather really sucked, we could take a break and visit the Zurich office, but that depended on us getting to somewhere with train service to Zurich, and that was not at the top of Silvretta, so we would have to make this wet descent, like it or not.

After putting on everything I turned around and went up to the first hotel on the pass, figuring that Mike was likely to stop there, and indeed there he was, and Roberto arrived soon afterwards, eager to make this descent rather than stay at the hotel and risk getting trapped by the weather.

To give you an idea of how hot it had been before the storm, we actually saw steam rising from the road as cold water onto hot asphalt resulted in warm moist air rising from the road. Of course, with cold rain coming from above we got chilled anyway. The 32 hairpins of Silvretta, so much fun and so delightful in good conditions became a chore with wet pavement, wet crummy brakes, and then to top it off we became stuck behind a tourist bus on hairpin 24. I eventually gave up in disgust and stopped to let the bus get ahead before tackling the rest of the descent. My cantilever brakes, which until today had merely been loud, became downright dangerous, shuddering the entire bike at each hard braking effort. Despite my efforts for the rest of the tour, I would never get them working right, a conclusion that Stefan would concur with me about (he had replaced the cantilevers on his touring with V-brakes, but you'll have to pry my carbon brake levers from my warm dead fingers).

Past the hairpins, we descended to Partenen (1027m), I realized that the bike path I thought started in Partenen was actually picked up much later, probably in Gaschurn, where a right turn onto a Volg supermarket and then riding to the end of the sidewalk there led to what I hereby dub the bikepath of infinite descent, since that path descends all the way to Switzerland.

We followed the bike path to Tschagguns, where we decided to keep riding to Bludenz. Eschewing the bike path for the higher speeds of the main road, we made Bludenz by 6:30pm, where I made my way to the B&B we stayed at 4 years ago, but alas, the lady who ran it must have retired from the business and I no longer recognized any of the names in the apartments.

So we went on by following the signs to Hotel Val Blu, which turned out to be a sports resort hotel. The furnishings looked like they came out of Ikea and the color scheme looked like someone went crazy with Google colors but didn't have any common sense. To top it off the bedchamber had a window into the shower, which in turn had a window into the toilet. We were amused as heck.

We were too worn to risk the rain from walking back downtown in the rain, so we settled for a poor dinner in the hotel restaurant.

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