June 28, 2004: Andermatt - San Bernardino
Make sure to read to Max's story about this day!
Unfortunately, Max and I had to say goodbye to Hans who was going home. We then made our way back to Hospental where we had passed through the day before. After a short ride over the cobblestone road in the village, we started our ascent of the St. Gotthardpass, roughly 650m of climbing to 2106m. It was overcast, a little cold, and quite humid. I felt stiff and unmotivated---I later found out that I always felt that way in the morning. I also started to notice a pattern: climbing a pass in the early morning caused me to yawn almost unceasingly.
It wasn't long before I also noticed that I had problems breathing. I was short of breath and wheezed. It appeared that I was suffering from athlete's asthma, also known as exercised-induced asthma. This problem would continue to plague me until a few weeks after the ride was over, but it was always manageable.
The climb up St. Gotthard is basically a long straight road, interrupted only once by two or three switchbacks. The sun quickly broke through the clouds, which helped me fight back the lack of motivation I was struggling with earlier. The climb was gentle and pretty. On our way up we passed an elderly looking gentleman walking up the road who appeared to stroll up and down St. Gotthard every morning before breakfast.
Once or twice I had to stop to catch my breath and to let my heart rate settle a bit. Nonetheless, we made it up St. Gotthard quite fine. At the summit, Max sighed in relief that we were back in the civilized part of the world, by which he meant Italian-speaking, even though we were still very much in Switzerland. After eating a second breakfast, we started our 1000m descent down the St. Gotthard, but not before making some photos of the beautiful old St. Gotthardpass road in Val Tremola.
The descent required a surrender to and trust in Swiss road engineering. At some point I found myself whizzing into a tunnel at 65 km/h, temporarily blinded by the quick transition from glaring sunlight into darkness. The trust was not misplaced; not a single pothole in the entire tunnel.
The descent offers a grandiose view of Airolo (1141m) and beyond, far into Vale Leventina. Max and I photographed the beautiful landscape, but also each other on two spectacular, elevated switchbacks.
In Airolo I whipped out my crummy Italian and managed to buy batteries for my photo camera (a Canon EOS 300) before continuing to Bellinzona that lay 70km ahead. We were supposed to meet Chip in Bellinzona, who was cycling up from Milano. Bellinzona is Locarno and Lugano's little sister; it's a cute, quite touristy town. I gazed at the fashionable young ladies and felt very misplaced in my revealing spandex bike pants. Eventually we met up with Chip and had a peaceful, improvised lunch with stuff we bought in a grocery store. We ate and rested in a beautiful little square that consisted of a fountain, surrounded by large trees that were each probably about as old as Max, Chip and myself together.
We bid the beautiful scenery farewell and set off towards San Bernardino. It was excruciatingly warm and the camera strapped around my chest exacerbated my shortness of breath---I took it off. Chip, very much unlike his usual self, got into trouble. Still coping with a jet-lag and generally tired, he developed cramps in his legs. The problem was solved by feeding him pure salt, which the not-so kind lady of the road-side restaurant was very reluctant to hand out without proper monetary compensation.
Chip's cramps went away, but he kept a relaxed pace for the rest of the day. The climb of the San Bernardinopass was probably my best one. I felt super strong. The road is in perfect condition, there was almost no traffic (since most of it is on the highway over San Bernardino), the temperature quickly dropped in the later afternoon to very nice low-twenties Celsius, and despite Chip's tiredness, we were all in a very good mood, enjoying the beautiful experience.
We didn't make it all the way to the top. It was getting dark and we were tired. We found a hotel in San Bernardino at 1608m; 440m below the summit. (San Bernardino was eerily deserted; most hotels were closed and most windows were shuttered.) We showered, we chatted, and then we ate, while enjoying the 80's Italian pop music. We went to bed and fell asleep.