During my second weekend in Europe during a recent business trip to experience the cheeses of Switzerland, I was scheduled to cross over the Alps again and planned a stop for a quick mountain biking adventure.
The previous weekend trip to Zermatt provided the single-track mountain ride high in the Alps that I was eager to experience. This weekend I had hoped to visit one of the better bike parks in the Alps in the Aosta Valley town of Pila, Italy. The weather report was not looking promising, with a strong chance of rain. Nearby Chamonix wasn’t looking much better, and some of the local mountain webcams confirmed the clouds. So I searched Switzerland to find where I could look forward to sunshine and made the last-minute change in plan to drive to Lake Lucerne. A review of the rental bike supply in Lucerne confirmed a number of bike shops with rental bike fleets so I felt confident I could find a bike to explore the area.
The drive to Lake Lucerne from Parma, Italy was predicted to take 4.5 hours, but with the Saturday traffic, it turned into 6 hours. This time over the alps, I passed Milano and Lake Lugano, which provided some stunning scenery. As I passed Lugano and moved up the valley higher into the mountains, the clouds and rain did take over. On the other side of the Alps after many miles of tunnels, I was welcomed by beautiful weather as I rolled into downtown Lucerne to stay at the Radisson Blu on the lakefront.
Sunday morning I got to work finding the closest bicycle shop to my location. Since this was a last-minute plan, I guess I didn’t do my due diligence properly because I ran into a snag. Europeans live a different lifestyle than we do here in America. All of the bike shops that I pulled up on the internet were closed on Sunday and some even Monday too!
I went to the attendant at the front desk to ask if perhaps they were aware of a shop that would be open. Isn’t Sunday the day that you ride a bike? How can there be no shops open? The wonderful attendant saved my day and suggested that we call over to another local hotel ( Hotel Continental, Hurbacherstrasse 4, Luzern) that had their own fleet of bikes that they rented. Fortunately for me, they did have bikes available, and I secured one and quickly ran over to the hotel to get my hands on it.
At Hotel Continental I had to put down a deposit of $1,000 Euros to take the bike, which I was to return by 9 pm. I exited with my mount and proceeded to ride back to my hotel to get my riding gear. On my way, while passing the train station, I GOT HIT BY A CAR! There goes my day was the first thought that came to mind. The car angled me off like a cornerback trying to force the wide receiver out of bounds, and I squarely planted my tire in the rear door. The young driver immediately can to try and help and muttered some excited words in German, to which I replied “English”. Fortunately, the front wheel somehow didn’t get taco’d, I just lost a few pieces of trim that I managed to refit. I re-centered my handlebars and told the poor young man to worry about it and proceeded on my journey.
The goal for the day was to ride Mount Rigi, which rises to 1,797 meters above Lake Lucerne, which seemed to have a nice network of trails. I had read quickly somewhere that you could take the boat ferry across the lake to save some time, and grab a ride to the top of the mountain and ride back down.
I headed to the ferry office and purchased my ticket to Weggis. The ferry leaves on the hour and a quarter, so I was on the 3:15 pm. It was a magnificent day, with the temps in the ’70s and the afternoon breeze blew up and filled the sails of many boats out taking advantage of the perfect afternoon.
The boat made two stops before arriving in Weggis, which seemed like a quaint little town with lots of nice hotels. I would likely stay there next time, but I think the hotels likely don’t show up on centralized reservations websites.
I follow the signs to the tram station that was a short climb from the waterfront, and where I was told I could get a ride partway up the mountain. When I reached the station the attendant informed me that bikes were not allowed on the tram, and suggested if I want to go up, I will have to ride. He pointed to the nearby road that seemed to wiggle it’s way uphill. Well, I have an e-bike so perhaps it will not be too bad.
So up I went, setting the bike battery to tour with a mild assist, and settling into a good cadence, as I negotiated switchback after switchback. I kept following with road with the understanding that it was supposed to reach to the same place as the tram that I was supposed to be comfortably riding on. The pavement soon turned to dirt, and I kept on climbing. About midway up the mountain, I did notice a narrow paved path that seem to point straight uphill. I kept on the road that I was advised to follow, and soon realized I didn’t get great advice because the road was leveling off and even dropping a little. I decided to reverse course back to the path I spotted and followed that uphill. It too started out paved, and eventually turned to dirt and continued to lead me gradually uphill past small farms and many grazing cows. I paused to take this photo of the cow, and the million-dollar view to ponder the question: Does the milk taste better when the cows have such a stunning view?
As I moved up the hill past many hikers going downhill and looking at me like I was nuts, the trail got steeper and steeper to the point that in a few spots the torque I was putting to the wheels were too much for the loose trail conditions, forcing me to walk the bike. As I suffered up the last bit of trail, I watched the cog train (which does take bikes I think!) climb past me with ease.
After 3 hours of riding uphill, which easily topped the previous heart-pounding upward slog on John R’s tour of Aspen as the longest uphill ride of my life, I arrived at Riggi Kaltbad at 1,433 meters at around 6:30 pm.
From Riggi Kaltbad it’s just another 300 meters to the summit of the mountain, but I chose to follow what seemed like a ring road, that circumnavigated the mountain and enabled a number of different views of the surrounding scenery.
A quick check of my watch confirmed that it was probably time to descend, and I found a trail intersection that pointed to Vitznau on the lake and proceeded to follow along. After crossing through what seemed like an endless maze of gates and roadblocks with electric fences, the trail turned to pasture land, and eventually to another small dirt road. As long as it was going down, I figured I must be on the right track.
Eventually, another intersection gave me the option of following another single-track trail that turned out to be quite technical and very awesome!
The sun was setting on the horizon, providing ample opportunity for sunset photo ops.
The lake was seeming like it was getting closer and closer, and as I seemed to be nearing the bottom, I peered out to admire the boat that was approaching across the placid lake. Wait, that is my ride back to Lucerne!
The sun was setting as I reached the road, and I had no choice but to ride back down as fast as I could, averaging around 25 km per hour.
A full hour later, and completely wiped, I made it back to town and in the door to the hotel at 9:18 pm, just a little late, and with another 8% of battery still in storage.
A great 6.5-hour cycling excursion that boasts some very fine scenery and a pretty gnarly single-track downhill finish.
A quick shower in the fitness room at the hotel got me ready for the 3.5-hour drive on to Lausanne, where I was to meet up with a cheese partner that was going to take me to the Jura region to see a cheesemaker produce Tête de Moine. My 1:30 am arrival left me feeling pretty fatigued, but I was happy I got my ride in!