To Venice by Bicycle

It has already become a tradition: Every year for the past ten years, we’ve taken a weekend city trip together. Even during the Corona pandemic, we had always found a solution. This year it was Venice’s turn. Thanks to a holiday it even became a long weekend. We, that is besides me Gabi, Gloria, Manu and Dani. With Dani I have already made some day trips by bike and for next year we are planning something huge together. So the idea came up quickly that we take a few days off and go together by bike to Venice. So Dani and me! The girls are not so keen on biking and prefer to take the train.

So there it was, this idea. A stupid idea. After all, it meant crossing both the Gotthard Pass (2'106 m) and the Passo Monte Chineri (554 m). The stupid idea probably also popped into Dani’s head, because he doesn’t live in Lucerne like me but in Brig and has to cross the Simplon Pass (2'005 m) from there. Because we quickly realized that it makes the most sense if we start separately and meet at Lake Como. But none of us dared to say the stupid idea out loud and back out. The day of departure was getting closer and closer, the hotels were booked. The queasiness increased. Then it was time to start!

My bike, packed and ready to go

As always on the first day, it takes a while until I have everything ready. At half past ten I finally set off! The first kilometers south are always very relaxed. First on a bicycle road, then on the Freigleis, a former railroad track (the railroad has been underground for a few years) out of Lucerne and near Horw to Lake Lucerne. All very flat, no notable climbs. Ideal to get warm. It continues just as evenly through Hergiswil and Stansstad, past Buochs airfield with the Pilatus aircraft factories to Beckenried to the car ferry. Because I follow here the national cycle path 3, the north-south route, which changes here the lake side.

Lake Lucerne with alpine panorama

Gone stupid: I missed the departure of the car ferry by two or three minutes and can only look behind her. The ferry leaves only every hour, so that means for me an hour of waiting. After a few minutes I realize how hot it has already become hot and how the sun is beating down today. Too bad, are the seats in the waiting area of the ferry in the blazing sun. So I look for me very quickly a shady place nearby, I finally have time enough. On this side of the lake I can not continue, there is no possibility for cyclists. Only as a car driver over the highway through a tunnel. So I have no other option than to wait for the next ferry. At the same time I worry about how late it could be tonight, if I already lose a whole hour now. But I cannot do anything about it.

In Gersau at Lake Lucerne

Finally, the time has come, the ferry is back and with an hour’s delay I also get across the lake. So now it goes on the other side of the lake, first through Gersau, then through Brunnen. Behind Brunnen the mountain drops very steeply to the lake and the road is partly cut into the rock. Here on the Axen road there are often rockfalls and road closures. The slope is monitored with sensors, through which the road can be closed automatically with a traffic light. This has happened often lately, but today the road is open and I dare to take the ten kilometers or so to Flüelen under the wheels.

The Axen road is considered very dangerous for cyclists

But it is not only the falling rocks that make passing dangerous. Due to the cramped conditions, there is no continuous bike path and you have to switch with the bike often on the very busy and sometimes poorly visible road. Fortunately, some construction work is taking place to improve the situation. Because for an official national bike route, such a dangerous piece of road is honestly a shame. I hope that the situation for cyclists here will improve drastically in the next few years.

View from the Axen road (left in the rock) to Lake Lucerne and the Gotthard massif (in the background)

After a good ten kilometers I have this dangerous but beautiful section behind me and reach Flüelen, the southernmost point of Lake Lucerne. Up to here I could also have taken the ship from Lucerne, then I would have saved almost 50 kilometers. But I am finally on a bike trip. At least I have not yet taken the Gotthard Pass, my fear opponent. That waits tomorrow for me! Today I will ride only to Gurtnellen. But that’s not easy either, because it’s 70 kilometers and I left very late.

Until Flüelen was still the relaxed part. Now begins the climb towards the Gotthard Pass, fortunately still relatively flat and not so steep. When I pass the train station in Altdorf, I spontaneously decide to take a long break. There is a well-stocked supermarket, where I care and then rest on a bench in front of the station, eat and drink. From here I have only about 20 kilometers, but the last part of it will be really steep and exhausting.

The Reuss as a wild river

Freshly strengthened, it goes further uphill. At Erstfeld, the valley is already quite narrow and I now always ride along the Reuss. Sometimes on one, sometimes on the other side of the river. At Amsteg, about eight kilometers before my destination for the day, it becomes really steep. Really steep. So really steep. When planning with Komoot, the slope was already shown to me with red, my Garmin bike navigation shows it to me now even in dark red. Fortunately, the road is not very busy here! I stand in front of an almost vertical asphalt wall, which can hardly be called a road.

I waver briefly whether I should drop to the ground crying, but then I select the first gear on my gravel bike (a decent reduction of 0.65 with 34 teeth in front and 52 teeth in the back) and start to work my way up the road in stages of a hundred meters from break to break. Fortunately, after a few kilometers it becomes a little less steep. But still steep. After almost 70 kilometers on the first day and without any training before, I’m pretty much at the end. And when I arrive at my day’s destination in Gurtnellen after what feels like an eternity, it feels like I’ve already ridden all the way up the Gotthard.

The Reuss has dug deep into the valley

Now it’s time for a shower, then eat a huge pizza and don’t think about tomorrow! So today it was just under 70 kilometers with the first 650 meters of altitude. I was a little less than four hours on the move, but have needed 6:40 h. If I subtract the missed ferry, I needed about 1¾ h break. Actually not so much! Probably even a little too few in the first ⅔ of the tour, which has avenged itself a little in the back.

Overview of the route

More details about the route and some photos can be found as always at Komoot and at Strava.


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