Wed 10th July.
Interlaken had been made famous in my mind by the American girls I met in Marseille. They spoke romantically about it and recommended it for its camping city in the forrest, situated between two lakes. This was the deciding factor in including it in my route, if I hadn’t gone this way, I might have gone via Bern (the capital) to Zürich.
I left the woods and got back on the road to Interlaken. I had plenty more lake to cruise around before arriving. Swiss engineers and planners really do go to great efforts to ensure that the view of the lakes disturbed as little as possible, even situating the roads quite low to the lakes, maximising the view and experience. It always guaranteed luxurious cycling if you could get to a Swiss lake.
Interlaken didn’t live up to the hype, partially because I didn’t have long to spend there and as I wasn’t staying there, I wouldn’t have time to find the camping city.
Today was my birthday, so I enjoyed the usual morning coffee with a Toblerone McFlurry (only in Switzerland) which wasn’t great either, but was worth it for the novelty.
I crossed the small city, picked up and sent a few postcards and got some food for the day, bread and apples. I discovered a ‘Hooters’ on the way out, which vanquished any sense of sophistication or class I had built up about the place. The longer I stayed in Switzerland the more sex dungeons and American franchises I would discover.
I continued onto the next lake ‘Brienzersee’ taking my time and abosrbing the views into my memory as best as I could.
The colours of the water, were like nothing I had seen before in Europe. Only in tropical places like Thailand had I witnessed the illuminated turquoises that seem to inhabit these waters. Photos help to capture an impression, but they can never capture the essence or epic atmosphere surround the photo.
I reached a small town on the edge of the lake and stopped for lunch. As it was a special day, I’d treat myself to the boyish delight of takeout pizza. I checked the internet on the PC there and enjoyed the notes and messages I had from friends about gaining another year.
Sadly, the time came to leave the lake joining more infamous Swiss hills. They seem to build roads at dizzying percentages making them absolutely gruelling work to climb. A lot of the normal roads in Switzerland are difficult, but they seemed to take pride in creating a soul-destroying steepness that left me wondering what to do with myself. SHould I quit and find a different route, or continue, can I continue like this? What happens if my body gives in altogether?
With no warning of a pass of the map, I carried on suspecting a pass was coming due to the ongoing climb. All this from a country which is supposedly ‘cycle-friendly’ and has a network of cycle lanes connecting everything together.
Each time I stopped to catch my breath I had to tuck myself out of the way of the oncoming cars as best as I could, then push off again rather awkwardly as its very difficult to gain any decent momentum on such a steep hill when you start. Every time I stopped I was glad to have gained a bit more distance on this fiend, but always feared how much remained.
It was also a thin road shared with cars and an endless supply of coaches, ferrying idiot tourists around the Swiss paradise, making it difficult for everyone else on these roads especially me.
Finally I reached the top and found another lodge with motorbikes and tourists galore. Some guy cheered me on, saying something in German. I mustered a smile and a wave, but didn’t say anything so I could find a little corner of my own to regain consciousness in peace.
I found a sign declaring it was a pass, but to my disappointment it was a mere 1007m, making it the smallest pass I’d come across, named ‘Brünig’.
For me, this had been the toughest and most unpleasant pass yet. Not matched by the scale of entering Andorra (2408m), but it showed me that height wasn’t a determining factor. The lowest pass had been the hardest. I found it hard to take any worth from this at the time, but something humbling settled in later.
The descent was just as steep and absurd as the ascent and unbeknownst to me, I reached my top speed of the entire trip, 82.2kph (just over 50mph), which was exhilarating, slightly unnerving and very short-lived.
The descent married up with another lake, much smaller but just as picturesque and remarkable as the others.
This was the road to Lucerne. I stopped at a ‘Gasthaus’ for the last of my birthday treats, a beer that I made quick work of while I took in the days activity. It was getting dark and I had the diminishing task of finding another awkward plot for the night. This was no acceptation to the Swiss rule of unpleasant camping.
I spotted a plot of trees by the road. As I approached, I noticed a smell of waste nearby, “It’s only one night” I thought and made sure that the fumes weren’t strong enough to make me ill at the spot.
It was on a footpath where I found the only good spot and it was late so I assumed no-one would be bothered by it. I camped diagonally across the path and called it a night. Several walkers came by as I was setting up. I looked as sheepish as I could and apologised to them.