Thursday, September 08, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Luzern to Lammi Restaurant

My phone buzzed. It was a message from Pengtoh. "And my legs aren't cooperating Kind of cramping". It was nearly 2:00pm, and I'd been waiting for a while. At his last known location, at 1538m, he had 400m of elevation gain left and was walking rather than riding. With a leg cramp, there was little question of him making it. I was going to have to ask him to take the bus.

The morning had started out somewhat inauspiciously. Overnight, my CPAP machine had come unplugged, but I was so tired, I'd slept through the event. Whoever thought that a downward facing power plug on a youth hostel bunk was a good idea lacked the usual Swiss attention to detail. Breakfast at the youth hostel was surprisingly good: you served yourself from a huge selection and could get unlimited quantities of whatever you want.
Checking out was similarly problem free, but once we got on the road it took us half an hour to find each other, as I'd left without my companions, and they got lost getting back to the train station despite having found me an optimal route the night before!
One alternative I'd discussed before hand was the possibility of taking the train to Sarnen. But with partly cloudy skies and no wind, I was in no mood to take the train. I had been bike-less for 2 weeks and now I wanted to make up for it with a vengeance. The rolling terrain headed towards Sarnen from Luzern was ideal, and quite pretty. We got lost for a bit near Horw, but asked a local and got a lead on the correct bike path to Hergiswil.  At Alpnach, the bike path takes you past the military airport and Arturo told us how to spot bunkers, hidden aircraft hangers, and other military points of interests en route.
Past Sarnen, we followed the signs for Flueli-Ranft, and began climbing in earnest. We rode past the Jugensil-Hotel Paxmontana, a gorgeous looking place which I considered staying at to start the tour, but hadn't relished the idea of riding 20km with 300m of climbing from Luzern at midnight. I vaguely remembered taking the bike path in 2007 when I first did this route, but I didn't remember the route being this easy, so suspected that the bike route took several short cuts. Nevertheless, past the hotel, I spotted the exit to the bike path towards Stockalp, and the water fountain. I got everyone to fill up, and then led Arturo and Pengtoh through the forested, nearly level path, which all too quickly dumped us back onto the main road towards Stockalp.
At Stockalp, we regrouped at the cableway entrance. From here, the road would climb at a 14% grade for an hour and a half by bike. I thought that the cableway would also takeyou to Melchsee-Frutt, but didn't know whether it took bikes. I asked Arturo and Pengtoh if either would like to try the cableway (Pengtoh, in particularly, had been complaining about having insufficiently low gears on the climb so far), but got no takers. So up we went!
I probably pushed way too hard on the climb from being overly enthusiastic. We hadn't stopped for lunch, so I just went through all of the Clif bars that Arturo was kind enough to bring to the youth hostel for me last night. (Pengtoh got the other half) In many places, I stood up and hammered up the climb rather than sit and spin, and in some places I had no choice but to stand up even in my 24x34 low gear. I felt a little twinge in my left knee for all that effort but made it to the water fountain where the cable way station was around 1:30pm. I ate and sent notifications about the expected altitude, and then learned that Pengtoh had cramped up.
The obvious solution was to roll down and take the cable car up, but with a cramped leg the hike over to Englestalp was probably also out of the question. I kicked myself for not having pushed the cable car harder as an option. The alternative was to ride back down to Sarnen, hop on the train to Meiringen, and then take the bus from there to Rosenlaui. (The bus is free if you're staying at the hotel) But the last bus left the train station at 4:31pm, which meant that Pengtoh had to get onto the 3:24pm train from Sarnen.
"Go down now!!" I texted. I followed up with the details behind the schedule. He had plenty of time provided he didn't get lost --- the nicest thing about climbing mountains was that if you turn around, it's always downhill back to the train station. The train route to Meiringen was somewhat scenic, so Pengtoh still got to salvage some of the day. If he had time he could see the Rosenlauischlucht.
Arturo was only 1.5km behind me, and arrived in due course. He looked relieved to be done with the bulk of the climbing, but I looked at my watch and looked at him and said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" "What?" "I think we can make Lammi for a late afternoon snack!" With that, we ate quick snacks and were off!
The climb from the cable car station to Melchsee, Tannensee, and then Tannalp is gorgeous. It's gentle, granting panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, and full of lakes and huts to see. Past Tannalp, the road turns into a fire road, and then becomes a hiking trail, which was too steep to ride down.
Once past the turnstile on the trail to Engstlenalp, however, the trail became rideable. It didn't feel very rideable when I first did it in this direction in 2007, but my recent practice on dirt alpine road had made me a much better bike handler off-road, and Arturo's new bike obviously fit him much better, so we both road the descent rapidly, with me waiting for Arturo for only a couple of minutes at a time while he negotiated the same trail at a lower speed.
The descent into the Gental valley, however, explained to me why Jobst always traversed the pass in this direction: it's a much better descent than the Stockalp side! We flew along at full speed, in places cursing the cars which were causing us to have to brake and slow down. The road, while narrow, was plenty wide enough for cyclists, and this time with no rain anywhere in sight I could just let the bike roll. My Garmin registered a maximum of 58.3mph. "This is clearly the correct direction to do this ride!" declared Arturo. Over the years, I've come to realize how optimized the late Jobst Brandt's routes are --- if he does a loop in a certain direction, going the other way was almost always a mistake. For instance, he always rides the French alps before visiting the German speaking countries. The reason for doing so is that if you do the reverse and run out of time in France, the French train system is not bike friendly and you'll have to end your tour early because only the local trains will serve bicyclists. But he never documents the reasons he chooses to do his rides a certain way, and so reverse engineering the decision is something left as mystery for his readers. Those who love mysteries and cycling will enjoy figuring out why his routes are laid out a certain way, though it may take several painful experiences to discover the reasons!
At the Schwarzental restaurant, however, Arturo cramped up! He'd eschewed the use of salt in his water bottles earlier and was now paying the price. "Lesson learned!" he declared, "Don't conserve salt!" I fed him a bunch of endurolytes from my emergency supply, and he could keep going, but understandably, he didn't want to do any more hard climbing for the remainder of the day.
I made it to the Lammi restaurant at 4:00pm, and ordered 2 plates of sausages. Arturo limped in 10 minutes later, just in time for the food to be served. There was no question that he could climb up to Rosenlaui on the bike in this condition, but we had enough time to catch the bus. I thought about riding the bike all the way up to Rosenlaui, but the earlier twinge in my knee convinced me that it wasn't a bad idea to keep my companions company --- after all, there was no question that tomorrow would include an expedition to Interlaken to upgrade Pengtoh's bike, which meant that I'd get to do the climb the next day unloaded.
When the bus arrived, we were asked to unload the saddlebags from the bike, which was a pain. Since we were guests at the hotel, the bus ride itself was free, but the fee for bike carriage turned out to be 3CHF per bike. Technically, we were supposed to have bike reservations if we'd planned to take bikes on the bus, but the driver was kind enough to waive that requirement. "Arturo, for a change you're not hating this post bus!" The post bus was his nemesis all through the 2014 tour.
Rosenlaui is easily my favorite hotel in the alps. In recent years, I don't even bother buying plane tickets without making reservations there for the start of the tour. This year, one of Andreas' and Christine's daughters had showed up to help, and Christine tasked her with helping us. It was at this point that Pengtoh learned about "The Curse of Piaw." "What's that?" "At any hotel, we'll always be given a room on the top floor. It doesn't matter how much climbing we've done that day, we'll always have flights of stairs to climb before and after dinner."

But paying 80CHF/night for Andrea's 4 course dinner, buffet breakfast, and lodging will never be anything but a bargain. The evening gave us cool weather and high clouds, but the forecast was good for the next day, and I was happy to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep for a change.

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