Fluelen to Bellinzona (via St. Gotthard Pass)

At times I wondered if I was over dramatizing the ride up and over the Alps via St. Gotthard pass. Throughout the trip, Paul and I have talked about it frequently and alternated between high confidence and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. With the weather seemingly ideal in the morning, we were cautiously optimistic. Would this be easier than expected, or might there be some drama? The ride out of Fluelen was mostly flat with a slight uphill as we passed through some other small Swiss towns at the base of the Alps. We started to knock off a few hundred feet of climbing only to lose it again during a descent into the next town – not fair!! With a total elevation gain of around 5400 feet, we wanted all of our ascents to count. We finally started the climb in earnest with Paul setting the pace. We still experienced some flat spots and minor descents, but that means the average grade of about 4% up the lower slopes of the mountain was just that – an average, and a worthless number. The actual grade while we were going up was usually about 6-11%, with most of it being in the 8-10% range. Much, much tougher than we expected. The traffic had been generally light and once the highway/autobahn main road entered its long tunnel, I thought things would quiet down quite a bit on our secondary road. Instead, there seemed to be even more cars. After a quick stop for Paul to eat a banana and take some electrolytes, we made the climb up to Andermatt, a small town about 2/3rds of the way up. That last climb was about 10% or more over a couple miles and through a snow tunnel with cars and motorcycles passing the entire time. With the tight traffic and no shoulder in the tunnel, stopping wasn't even an option so we had to push our way up the brutal climb. We were very relieved to finally arrive in Andermatt even though it was kind of chilly and windy, and we spent our break inside a posh café eating pastries and having a quick latte. We expected the remaining climb to the top to be just as tough or harder because the average of the upper slopes was even greater than the lower slopes, but there were no descents to skew the average gradient. Consequently, the climb went about as expected, although it was still steeper for most of way (8% or more and occasional section of 6% being a nice “break”) before getting to within a couple miles where it flattened out into the 4% range. The only problem with that last section is that it was over cobblestones and they made it harder to ride. At this point – a mile or so from the top – it started to sprinkle. We were also up in the clouds so it was kind of foggy. A car coming down the hill was all wet and we thought we were headed right into a storm at the top. Luckily, the weather held out, the sprinkles stopped, and the top suddenly appeared and all at once we had made it. The wind even disappeared and it was kind of nice out. We took a few quick photos, put on some warmer clothes and rain jackets for the descent down the other side, and headed through the small summit village and down a very twisty descent of cobblestones. The picture at the top of each page on this blog is the descent we came down, except it was drizzly, cloudy, and cold when we did it. The cobbles shake the bikes pretty hard and even though you’re not using any energy pedaling, you’re riding the brakes and trying to absorb the shock, so it does take some physical effort. That, and you have to pay close attention to the road to pick a relatively smooth section and of course, to avoid plunging off the side of the mountain. After a few miles and the potential loss of some dental fillings, paved road replaced the cobbles and we breathed a sigh of relief while picking up speed to get down to warmer temperatures. Continuing down, the cobbles reappeared intermittently and it started to drizzle harder. Drizzle gave way to real rain and just as it started to really come down, we got the dreaded “you are off course” message on our Garmins. We immediately stopped underneath an overpass to try to figure out how on earth we had missed a turn when there had been no turns whatsoever. Another pair of cycling tourers were going up and also stopped under the bridge – not because they were lost like us but to wait out the rain that began to really pour down. We fumbled with the Garmins trying to figure out what had happened and Paul even got out his iPhone to check its map. It was still cold outside and we were wet and getting colder because we weren’t moving. I started shivering and shaking so much that I could barely press the buttons on the Garmin. Our choices were limited and none of them appealing in the least. One was to stay under the bridge and wait for the storm to pass, but we knew the storm had been predicted for days and it wasn’t going anywhere soon. We also knew we would only get colder. The other two choices were to go back out into the rain – go downhill and hope the Garmin would reorient itself or go back uphill and look for the missing turn. We knew we hadn’t seen any turns, so we got back on the bikes and headed out into the pouring rain and down the mountain. After a few hundred yards, it was clear that we were getting further off course, so we made a u-turn and headed back uphill, rode under the bridge sheepishly smiling at the two stranded cyclists still waiting it out, and kept going uphill. Before long, we found a bike path where it appeared we needed to turn - sometimes you just can't tell for certain with our particular model of Garmins. Even though it turned out to be the right course, we still weren’t sure and had to talk about it in the rain for a bit. It’s always annoying getting off course with the Garmin, but since we were on a mountain, we didn’t want to make too many mistakes because backtracking was a real effort. The bike path worked out and we came to a few more similar situations with navigation choices that weren’t at all obvious and made even more frustrating in the cold rain. We finally got onto a main road that was more or less straight (i.e., out of the switchbacks) and then the skies really, really got going. It rained as hard as I have ever seen it, even in Texas. I was leading with Paul about 50 yards behind me to avoid the enormous rooster tail I was throwing up. At one point it even started hailing – never fun and especially when going fast downhill right into it! I kind of wanted to stop under a bridge or something and see if Paul wanted to continue, or if he needed to eat or anything, but there were no bridges and I knew that stopping meant getting colder and risking hypothermia so I just kept going and tried to get as far from the mountain as possible with the idea being that maybe the storm was hugging the mountain. The strategy seemed to work as we gained some distance and the rain finally stopped. Paul pulled up to me and said he was doing fine and we agreed to keep going. A few minutes later, guess what happened? It started raining once again. Really, really hard like before and at a biblical scale. The road was pretty straight, which meant we could go fast, and we were flying through a valley between huge mountains on either side. We had been hearing thunder for a while, but now it was getting closer and we could see lightning on both sides of us. Up ahead, we could see fairer skies, so we knew we were in a race with the storm. With about 15 miles to go, we finally beat the rain. That means we had been going downhill for about 30 miles and all but about 5 miles of it in stinging rain. It also was considerably warmer at the lower elevation and after our rain jackets were air-blown dry, we stopped to quickly put them away. After another mile or so, we felt raindrops on our backs and thought we were in for another drenching. The road was still downhill, but a much gentler grade so we had to really work to keep up our speed and stay ahead of the approaching storm. We finally got to our destination – the town of Bellinzona – and the place was larger than expected with lots of people out and about. We then got stuck at several traffic lights and the skies had grown very dark. With about 300 yards to go to our hotel, but with us not knowing which hotel it was (we forgot to look up the name before we left), it started to sprinkle very large drops. I pulled into a covered bus stop and checked my iPhone for the name and we quickly found the hotel. We walked our bikes into a covered area in front of the hotel, and as we were unbuckling our helmets, the skies opened with a massive shower that then continued on and off for the next 2 or 3 hours. We had beaten the storm by about 60 to 90 seconds! I really couldn’t believe that we had made it. I had expected the drama for the day to be the climb up the mountain, but treacherous descent made me forget that we had climbed up and over the Alps all in one shot! Back on the mountain while stuck under the overpass, I thought we might have to stop for the night and wait out the storm. Not only would that mean trying to reconfigure our hotels, but it would make for a very long day the next day. It was the first time on the trip that I really had any doubts about anything like this, so I was really grateful for the long and straight descent that got us into Bellinzona safely. Our hotel was in a good part of town and right across the street from a castle. After getting cleaned up (it takes about an hour after a rain storm), we ate in the hotel’s restaurant – we weren’t interested in venturing out into the rain for something different. They served Italian food, and it was good. We started with a big plate of beef Carpaccio, salads, and then I had Spaghetti Bolognese followed by some chilled roast beef. I meant to take pictures and had my camera on the table, but was so hungry that I forgot to do so. We also enjoyed a bunch of the local Merlot. By the time we finished dinner it was about 7pm and the rain had completely stopped so we went over to explore the castle. After that, we walked around town for a while trying to loosen our legs up. All the retail shops were closed, which we thought was odd, and the bustling town we had ridden into a few hours earlier had rolled up the sidewalks for the evening. We stopped for a nightcap at a nearby nightclub. I didn’t really want a drink, but was afraid that if we went back to the hotel room too early that I would go to bed right away and it was too soon for that. Bedtime still came early for me – around 9pm. I tried reading a little bit before that, but it was a losing battle. This morning (Thursday), the skies are clear and there may be a chance of a storm at our destination in Bellagio on Lake Como. Even if we do experience more rain on this trip, now that we’re in a warmer environment it shouldn’t leave us cold and shivering, but it always makes a mess out of us and the bikes. So, today will complete the 2nd of 3 parts of our journey. The first part began in Amsterdam and saw us through 6 flat rides through the Rhine valley and into Baden-Baden where we enjoyed our first rest day. The next five days (including today’s ride) were much hillier and we’ll finish with our first evening in Italy. After our rest day in Bellagio, Saturday morning will begin the final six days of riding – the 3rd leg of our trip. We’ll be putting in more miles per day and some of those days will be hilly, but this final segment is broken into 3 days at a shot with our final rest day in Florence. Trip Distance: 654 miles The elevation gain shown below does not include Garmin's own post-ride GPS correction because of the tunnels we rode through. It's generally safe to add about 20-30% with such a correction.

The weather didn't take long to roll in with some clouds. This is very early in the ride.

This was an early part of the climb - little traffic and probably less than 6%.

Click on this picture to see the snow tunnels.

My snack at Andermatt and a wrapped salami sandwich for later.

Getting closer to the top

The cobblestones began about 2 miles before the summit.

The only vehicle slower than us was a horse-drawn carriage.

Swiss cattle were all over the mountain.

You can see the bells on their collars.

We rode above the tree line and into the clouds.

Close to the top.

The summit!

The descent down the cobbles...

The town we were trying to reach when stranded under the bridge.

Finally out of the rain we raced between these mountains on both sides agains the storm approaching from behind.

Castle in Bellinzona

Castle as seen from our hotel room.

9 Responses to Fluelen to Bellinzona (via St. Gotthard Pass)

  1. Jason says:


    I love reading these updates every day. Thanks for posting them. I know it’s hard to do after a long day in the saddle.

  2. Jill says:

    Hey sweetie, in terms of Merlot, how much is a “bunch”? ;)

  3. Kim Meinke says:

    Beautiful scenery from the Alps, it sounds like you are having some weather stress…I am glad all went well up the mountains and down the other side…ride safe, have fun, say “Hi” to Paul, Love from your favorite sister

  4. Cindy Yee says:

    You boys are “beasts”. How many days of riding in the rain can one man take? Patti Raines says that as long as you make it to the pub for a drink at each destination, you’ve had a successful ride each day!

  5. 76Sadie says:

    Hi blogger, i must say you have high quality content here.
    Your page can go viral. You need initial traffic only. How to get it?
    Search for; Mertiso’s tips go viral

  6. Maisey DEN says:

    Ben was so helpful and gave me a car that was the most appropriate for me. Obviously, Enterprise rental-car agency features their representatives. What precisely I liked most of all – the value! Exactly what they asked for at the rental desk. I was successful to upload their unique mobile app, and it appeared to be very useful. I am ready to make the next booking right now, however only with Enterprise!

  7. Ахтунг! Кто-то из подписчиков моей страницы в MySpace подписан
    на автора этого сайта и может перейти туда, чтобы посмотреть увлекательные материалы?
    Я сделал закладку и обязательно поделюсь с моими подписчиками!
    Идеальный блог, замечательный дизайн и

  8. Сохраню как “Избранное”, мне действительно нравится ваш блог!

  9. Kuwait visa says:

    F*ckin’ amazing issues here. I am very happy to look your article. Thank you a lot and i’m having a look forward to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>