A recumbent trip through the Alps

Part 3: From Mittelland (Switzerland)  to the Black Forest (Germany)

Day 22, Argentière-Glion (87 km) 

Col des Montets (1461 m) h:426 l:11,9 km avg 3.6% max 6% 

I start the day with the Col des Montets, climbing right from the campsite. Although there are some steep sections, the climb isn't too difficult. From the pass I enjoy the views of the snow capped peaks of the Mont Blanc range. After a quick descent I pass the Swiss border, from where I leave the highway and start a short climb to Finhaut, a winter sports resort. 

The "Touristische Velokarte Schweiz" shows me an attractive alternative bike route to avoid the busy highway over the Col de la Forclaz: a narrow steep mountain road from Finhaut to Salvan. The same route is indicated as a hiking trail on my Michelin map... Just before I enter Finhaut, I turn left up the narrow, rough road. Although the road actually is a hiking trail, the first part is flat and accessible by bike. From the trail I have a gorgeous view of the valley, lying deep below. Not far from the vista an extremely steep descent follows. The quality of the road starts to deteriorate. Slowly I descend on the rocky trail, paved with stones as big as fists. At some sections near the sharp hairpins, too steep and too dangerous to cycle, I have to walk down. 
Going down, I find the trail still manageable but I seriously doubt if I'd recommend this route when heading the other way uphill. I can't imagine someone being able to cycle all the way up here, even on a loaded mountain bike! 

With overheated rims I enter civilization again, the trail has now improved and beyond the Gorges du Triège is even paved. A long descent follows until it reaches the bottom of the Rhône valley, where I pick up the bicycle trail along the river in Martigny. In order to avoid carrying my bike again on and off the stairs of a footbridge, I don't cycle the whole bike path down to Villeneuve and cross the Rhône near Chessel. 

In Montreux I make a call to Glion. Alas, nobody is home yet. I make another call to Michel, who assures me his parents will be returning home from their trip today. I'd like to return the camera that I've borrowed, so I decide to go all the way up to Glion. This time I opt for the train, instead of climbing the steep "wall of Glion" by bicycle. From the train station of Glion it is still one kilometre of suffering, but in a very low gear I manage to cycle to the villa. I settle myself down on the balcony, waiting for the family to arrive. After sunset nobody has arrived yet, so I decide to spend the night on the balcony. I roll out my Thermarest and hit the sack. The temperatures at night are still pleasant and the views of Lake Geneva magnificent. I consider this quiet 'campsite' far better than most of the crowded French campgrounds I've stayed at during the past days. The only thing that is missing here is a nice hot shower, but oh well... 

View of the Lake from the balcony  

Day 23, Glion-Montreux-Glion (8 km walking) 

The next morning I'm not sure whether I shall continue my bike trip or wait for a while. After buying fresh bread from the bakery in the village, a few stairs down the mountain, I make instant coffee on my stove. Finally I decide to visit Montreux. Countless are the steps and 45 minutes later I enter the fashionable city. I explore the shopping district, buy some groceries and stroll around the boulevard, nicely decorated with sub-tropical flowers. 

About 4 PM I return to Glion, many steps up. Soon after I've settled down on the balcony, I see a car driving up the private road. My friends have just returned from the Black Forest, where they decided to stay one day longer. We exchange our holiday experiences and I'm invited to stay for the weekend. 

Day 24 (rest day) 

Just relaxing from the exhausting trip, cleaning the bike, doing my laundry etc. In the National Geographic I read an extensive trip report of a cycle trip through Australia. In the evening we have a BBQ on the terrace. 

Day 25, Glion-Portalban (122 km) 

After a good breakfast I say goodbye to my hosts and descend to Montreux. Via busy highways and rolling back roads along the vineyards I reach Lausanne, where I finally leave the borders of Lake Geneva. It's again hot weather, with temperatures rising to 35 C in the shade. I follow the Mitteland-route over rolling hills, heading to Yverdon along Lake Neuchâtel. On the bike path along the lake I meet another loaded recumbent rider, a guy from Germany on a long wheelbase Radius. We both stop for a chat. The German seems an expert, recognizing my Challenge recumbent, and asks my opinion about the bike. He is heading to Lausanne and we exchange some information of the route. I'm happy to hear how to avoid the next climb near Cheyres (just a few km ahead), just keep on going straight along the lake. The Velokarte only shows a strange detour from the Lake into the hills and back. Normally I'm not averse to a major mountain climb, but now in this burning heat, every molehill seems one too many! 

I keep on going along the lake and find a campsite in Portalban. It seems more like a holiday and caravan park, the reception is already closed. Another camping guest tells me to pitch my tent on a separate field, where a few other tents are. 

Day 26, Portalban-Baden (176 km) 

The next morning I decide to wake up very early. The forecasts expect a tropical heat wave with temperatures rising to 38 degrees! The reception is still closed when I leave the campground, so I've had a free place to stay. I continue the Mitteland route, cycling on towpaths along the Aare, through forests and fields and beautiful historic city centres. The route is pretty flat and the kilometers fly by fast. Even the heat doesn't bother me. According to my own thermometer it's 'only' 34 C, not as bad as the screaming headlines pretend to be! 

Near Biel I pass the French/German language boundary without noticing. Just as I think I can make myself understood more clearly, I'm speechless as a cassière in a supermarket asks me something in Schweizerdeutsch... 

In the Mitteland area the campgrounds aren't numerous. After Brugg I have to leave the Aare valley temporarily to look for a campsite in Baden. The last kilometres are again the longest, as route no. 5 from Brugg to Baden leads me over a number of nasty climbs, hurting me pretty badly after 150k. In Baden I get completely lost looking for the campground, which is located close to the centre beside the Limmat. At the campground I meet two other cycle tourists, German girls heading for Montreux. I have a look at their more detailed route map in order to find an alternative route back to Brugg. Tomorrow I plan to continue on my way along the Aare and want to avoid as many climbs as possible. I'm quite content when I discover there's also an easy route along the Limmat into the Aare valley, a route not shown on my overview map.

Day 27, Baden-Rothaus (82 km) 

I continue the Aare route to the Swiss-German border. The bike route is, apart from one short steep climb of 15%, flat. In Koblenz I cross the border and buy a detailed road map of the Black Forest in Waldshut. From Waldshut the route is now rising steadily again. Via the valleys of the Schlücht and Schwarza I cycle along traffic free paved forest roads, heading to the Schluchsee. I now have  plenty of time, planning to reach Offenburg on Friday. I cycle around the lake, the same route Paul travelled one week ago on his walking trip. I ignore the crowded campground beside the lake and decide to camp in Rothaus, 4 km further. At night thunderstorms pass by with flashes of lightning and heavy wind gusts. My new Terra Nova single pole dome tent endures the storm without any trouble.

Day 28, Rothaus-Kirnbach (97 km)

On quiet back roads and forest roads, prohibited to cars, I descend to Lenzkirch. The heat wave has changed for cool, gusty weather. The forest roads remind me of the roads of the Utrechtse heuvelrug (ridge) back home, except that it's a bit more hilly. I continue my way on the high plateau via Kappel, Neustad, Eisenbach, Vöhrenbach and Rohrbach. A continuous pattern of a few kilometres of climbing, followed by a descent. After a steep descent to Triberg I leave the quiet back roads behind. Highway 33 heading down north, is unpleasantly crowded and narrow. Past Gutach I can finally avoid the heavy traffic. In Wolfach I look for a campground, which turns out to be shut down. Five kilometres further I find another one. The campground is built on several levels, from where I have a pretty view of the environs. The price for this campground however is steep, 20 DM for a single person. The sanitary facilities are clean, but leave a lot to be desired. Only two minutes per coin (one DM) for a hot shower isn't much, the design of the wash cabins is poor (mirrors in the back) and the laundry/dish washing facilities are in the ladies section only. 


Day 29, Kirnbach-Sand (81 km) 

The last stage leads me to Offenburg. Through the Kinzig valley I follow a sign posted bike route. It's a relaxing ride through the orchards. Via the towns of Hausach, Haslach and Bibberach I enter the picturesque town of Gengenbach, within a stone's throw from Offenburg. In Offenburg I buy a Schönes Wochenend ticket for the train journey back to Emmerich. After having explored the old city centre, I cycle out of town and find a campground in Sand, 10 km northwest of the city. After I've pitched my tent I explore the route to the closest train station, 6 km from the campground, in Appenweier. I have to hit the sack quite early, hoping to catch the early morning slow train to Mannheim, departing at 6.30 AM! This is the only train that gives me the possibility of travelling to Emmerich without changing trains frequently (only one other stop, in Koblenz). 

Day 30 Sand-Appenweier (6 km); Appenweier-Mannheim-Koblenz-Emmerich (train); Emmerich-Amersfoort (84 km) 

Before sunrise I pack my stuff and at daybreak I leave the campsite. Banks of fog are hanging low above the cornfields and the hills of the Black Forest are glowing red as I cycle through the flat Rhine valley to Appenweier. The slow train arrives on time, there's plenty of space in the luggage wagon at this early hour. With some delay the train arrives in Mannheim. I only have a few minutes to change trains and fear that the train to Koblenz has already left the station. On the information board I can't find any train to Koblenz. There's however a train to Mainz, just about to leave from the same platform. I sprint to the train, just in time to board it. The conductor assures me this train is the train I was looking for, going all the way to Koblenz. A big relief! 

I take a seat in the bicycle compartment, which fills up quickly during the ride. Many cycle tourists with loaded bicycles board the train, most of them planning a trip along the Rhine or Mosel. Soon the wagon gets too crowded and we are allowed to sit upstairs, in the first class. A champagne taste on a beer budget, as many of us are travelling on a dirt cheap weekend ticket! 

I arrive in Koblenz at noon and have nearly one hour to wait for the next train to Emmerich. Luckily the luggage wagon is less crowded, only a Dutch couple going back home and two German girls making a cycle trip in the Netherlands. After a long train ride we arrive in Emmerich at 4.30 PM and I'm glad to lie down on my recumbent. The weather is still OK and I'm feeling fit enough, despite the long journey. Getting tired of sitting in trains all day long, I decide to finish the last leg of my journey in style: riding home by bicycle. Around sunset at 9 PM, I finally arrive home again. "Can I borrow your panniers?" my brother is asking me, as soon as I enter the house. "Sure, if you don't mind cleaning them first" is my reply. He's packing for his upcoming trip on his recumbent to Scotland, departing the next morning...

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