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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

June 28th: Pontresina to Filisur/Transfer to Chur

The morning looked fogged in and cloudy, but we were up early because the Sporthotel Pontresina serves breakfast at an unusually cycle tourist friendly 7:00am. We ate at the very generous breakfast buffett, and even had lactose free milk, very unusual in Switzerland. As promised by the hotel, the laundry was ready at 8:00am after we were done with breakfast, and we could finish packing and be out the door by 8:40. Sportbottles filled with sports drink and all. The fog had lifted by then, and it looked like a nice sunny day!
We didn't get far, however, as we immediately found a zipline almost immediately. It didn't keep Bowen's attention, however, as Bowen didn't think it was exciting enough. The little guy's become a zipline snob! This was my first time riding the bike path from Pontresina to La Punt. To my surprise, the bike path very pretty, filled with views of lakes and the surrounding mountains. It wasn't fast, but it was well worth the trouble, though towards La Punt it turned into a single-track mountain bike trail!
In La Punt, we stopped so I could shed my arm and leg warmers and put sunscreen on those areas, since I wasn't actually expecting it to be so sunny. The climb from La Punt doesn't waste any time gaining altitude: the bottom sections climb rapidly and relentlessly at grades of 10-12%, and it absolutely does not let up until the last couple of kilometers at the top. The deceptive part is that the altitude gained from La Punt is only 625 meters over 9.5km, but the last 2-3km the road hardly climbs at all, which is how you get the 10+% grade for the first 6. We stopped several times so I could catch my breath.
Once we got above the treeline, the weather clouded over, and now it looked as though we were actually going to get rain! The top of Albula is a barren landscape, with no trees, and no shelter whatsoever from the weather. We were very glad that we had gotten started early, so we had no doubt whatsoever about making it over the pass. We stopped so that we could put on jackets, with Bowen putting on his rain jacket over his down and getting his mittens on again.
Traffic was light, though we did see cyclists going the other direction. At  the summit hotel restaurant, we stopped for a photograph, but with the weather starting to sour, did not feel like going in for tea.

I had never descended Albula from this direction before, and the first few kilometers were straight and fast. After that, the road twists and winds around the mountains, and showed me sights I'd never seen before, because when you're climbing a mountain at maximal effort you hardly ever turn around to look back. I spotted a gorgeous lake and decided to stop the bike for a short walk to appreciate the view even further.
It looked so quiet that I couldn't believe it later, when we resumed the descent, that right below this was what looked like a strip mine or quarry. I'd ridden past that without a thought in the past, but this time it stood out against the rest of the mountain I had seen. We arrived in Bergun around lunch time. Pulling into the water fountain in the center of town, we had a choice of supermarket or a bakery. Bowen opted for the bakery.
As we were eating, we were surprised by two cyclists coming in who looked familiar! They turned out to be fellow tandemists from the Western Wheelers! They had spotted our bike out in the fountain, and said, "This has to be Piaw and Bowen. No one else has a bike that looks like this!" And of course they were right!
Bergun was one of the potential places for us to stay, but with the impending rain, it would be better to be somewhere with a train station like Filisur, or even Chur. We rode down to Filisur, and the weather looked poor enough that I decided to go for the expensive train transfer to Chur, since that was a big city with stuff to do, and quite possibly warmer as well. If I had known the weather would be clear the next morning, I would have decided to stay in Filisur and do the Lenzerheide the next day.

The train from Filisur was uncharacteristically late for a Swiss train. When we boarded it, we got into the wrong bike car: the car didn't have any room in the bike compartment for a tandem, so we were forced to block the entryway. When the conductor came, I expected him to ask us to move the bike to a more suitable car, but he said, "We don't have time to move you. Just make sure you clear the doorway whenever someone wants to exit." It's quite clear that being late caused the conductor much more anxiety than a mere blocked entryway for other passengers. All that stressing paid off, however: the train arrived in Chur on-time. After the Italian train stations, it was wonderful to be in a Swiss train station, where there were disabled ramps down to the subway and no stairs to negotiate while portaging a heavy tandem.

On Booking.com, the cheaper options had very mixed reviews, so we ended up at Hotel Post Chur. I thought I'd stayed there before in the past, but in retrospect that was  mistaken memory, as my tour notes from 2007 indicated that I stayed at Hotel Chur, which is an entirely different hotel! Hotel Post was much more like a dorm-based youth hostel than a hotel, but the staff was very generous in helping me get the bike down into storage. I checked the weather once again, and the forecast was for rain in the mountains: I had toyed with the idea of riding up the Oberalp from this direction and then somehow making my way down to Meiringen and Hotel Rosenlaui in the days I had left, but the forecast didn't look good in that direction, and once we got to Rosenlaui we still had the issue of getting back to Munich, which would take multiple expensive train transfers.

Plan B was to go back to the Salzburg lakes or Garmisch. Both looked to have much better weather than the alps, but would entail riding against the headwind into the Bodensee to gain access to the German train system. Both the Austrian and Swiss train systems were quite a bit more expensive. After shower and laundry, we walked around to dinner and then bought some fruit for dessert, which Bowen preferred to ice cream or chocolate. I felt somewhat disappointed that our time in the mountains was at an end, but with a 6-year-old in tow, I didn't really want to take any risks: Bowen got cold far more quickly than any adult, and adding rain to the mix wouldn't make him happy.
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