June 29, 2004: San Bernardino - Pontresina
Make sure to read to Max's story about this day!
This was probably my most epic day ever on a bicycle. After a good breakfast in San Bernardino (1608m) and the usual bike inspection, we continued our climb of San Bernardinopass (2065m) where we had left off the day before. Chip was feeling a lot better today and soon he and Max were far ahead of me. As was typical in the morning, I was feeling stiff, slightly unmotivated, and yawned continuously. The road and the view were at least as beautiful as they had been the day before. It was a cool morning, but the sun shone briskly. Nothing but a few concrete structures (air vents) indicated that we were riding over one of the busiest tunnels in the Alps.
It was slightly windy and cold at the top, so we soon started our short 440m descent down to Hinterrhein (1620m). The last part of the descent consisted of a seemingly uncountable number of perfectly parallel switchbacks. I could see Max and Chip wait for me at the bottom of the mountain. It was warmer down in the valley. We followed the road next to Route 13 towards Splügen where we bought a simple second breakfast/lunch in the local grocery store. My ability to gobble down large amounts of food had, at least, doubled in the last few days.
As we idled around the fountain in the square, we watched a group of cyclist ride by that, we guessed, were Dutch. This guess later turned out to be correct when I passed a friendly Dutch couple on the climb of Splügenpass (2115m), almost 700m up. The road was immediately steep, but shaded by trees. Further up, the trees made way to reveal the spectacular climb ahead: ten perfectly parallel switchbacks.
I wound my way up the road, past a single family house where two girls were drying laundry, peeking down curiously at the odd cyclist wrestling his way up towards the Swiss/Italian border, which actually turned out to be a Swiss/no-man's land border. The serious looking Swiss border guard let me pass without even so much as acknowledging my presence. After a few kilometers of no-man's land, I cycled into Italy, which was also the top of Splügenpass.
The Splügenpass descent was unbelievable. Over the course of an hour or so, we dropped 1800m. First a short descent to Montespluga (1884m), a tiny, almost medieval village at a lake, and then further down, all the way to Chiavenna (325m). I managed to break my all-time speed record (72 km/h) despite of the at times questionable road quality. The road, at times, had a labyrinth-like feel to it and, looking down during a short break by the side of the road, I could not figure out how the pieces of asphalt and tunnels I saw all connected together.
We took a long lunch-break in Chiavenna. Ravioli, french fries, ice cream, everything was eaten enthusiastically. I found myself investigating the fashionable young (macho) men and ladies again. Everyone seemed to know each other, and everyone was either idling in the shadow or strolling around slowly. It was very hot, and we still had a stiff 1500m climb ahead of us, after having already done a part of San Bernardino and all of Splügenpass!
I felt pretty heroic when we eventually hopped on the bike again and started cycling up Val Bregaglia towards Malojapass. It was extremely warm, and I was sweating about as hard as I could drink. I had been looking forward to this climb for a long time as it would bring me into the Engadin, the place where I had been on vacation with both my parents and grandparents many times, for many, many years. I know the area very well and as we got closer, placenames like Castasegna, Soglio, and Casaccia started to sound more and more familiar. The stiff headwind didn't stop us, and fueled by Snickers I followed Chip, The Buddha of Infinite Smoothness (so named because of his amazing ability to stick to one speed). The last bit of Malojapass is spectacular: a vertical wall with a road carved out in it. I loved every second of it---I was slow but I never doubted I would make it all the way up into Maloja (1815m).
We sped towards our end-goal of the day through Maloja, Sils, Silvaplana, Champfèr (where my previous bike tour ended, the place where my grandparents and I have spent vacation many times), St. Moritz, and, eventually Pontresina (1805m). I loved every second of it and peered at all the mountains I had climbed in years before. Unfortunately, everything started to hurt, most notably my knees and feet. By the time we reached the pension, I was pretty much a wreck and decided I was not going to join Chip and Max on their epic ride the next day, but ride the easy way to Bormio by myself.
After confusing the cute Swedish waitress with all the languages we spoke, and after using the in-room shower-like thing, I fell into a slightly feverish sleep. I was starting to get physically exhausted.