We left the campsite today cheerfully, feeling as though we'd done Zermatt justice. In just a few days we'd managed to do quite a bit: taking in a festival, riding cable cars, hiking in the mountains, and getting to know a few nice people. As we packed our things several campers came to swap stories, inquire where we were headed next, and to say goodbye. It is always fun sharing adventure plans with other outdoorsy people. Inevitably someone will be doing something that, at first, we think briefly: we'll never do that (ride down the side of a mountain on scooters with huge off-road tires for example)! Then we remember we're cycling around the world, and that if we focused on just about anything with the intensity we focus on our trip, it would be no trouble at all.
After many goodbyes and good lucks we made a last minute decision to stop at McDonalds on our way out to send a few emails. While there we ran into Curtesh! We invited him over to our table and he generously allowed us to stuff our faces with his french fries. What a guy! He was having a large mid-morning meal to fuel his trek up to the Hornli Hut, a base camp for Matterhorn climbers. If the weather was good the following day he would make his second solo attempt. After talking, eating, and sending emails, we wished him good luck and told him to stay in touch.
Pedaling out of town we yelled goodbye to Zermatt with a smile knowing we had 35km of coasting ahead of us. As is usually the case with descents, it went by too quickly! Barely more than an hour later we rolled into and out of Visp, heading east for a 10km sprint through the valley to Brig where we hoped to board the train to Spiez.
This portion of our Swiss route, which we planned with Ingrid & Yves was always a little fuzzy for me. I should've done more research when I had the chance. Once we reached Spiez I inquired at the train station as to the cost of the tickets. They wanted 50 CHF each to take us less than 40km!! Switzerland may be beautiful but the cost of living leaves a lot to be desired.
With our huge budget deficit I wasn't willing to spend the money. Yet. Instead, I hauled the laptop out to give our route a good look, something I should have done days ago. As best I could tell we could nearly reach our destination of Interlaken on the road. All we needed to do was board an open car train through a tunnel that started in Goppenstein.
Unfortunately, getting to what we found out was called the Lötschberg tunnel would require some backtracking. Before we decided to take the route, I went into the train station again, this time to ask how much tickets through the side of a MOUNTAIN cost. To our surprise the 15km ride would only run us 16 CHF, bikes and all! The attendant warned that there was a little bit of climbing to Goppenstein where the tunnel started, but I wasn't worried.
I hate backtracking but I hate wasting money even more. West it was. Thankfully the terrain was flat and we made quick work of the 10km we had to double back on, quickly passing through Visp (again) and continuing by the campground we stayed at on the way in. When we reached the road that struck north out of the valley towards Lake Thun and Interlaken, the weather and the terrain took a turn for the worse.
Off in the distance we could see a road that curved very steeply up in what appeared from the bottom to be an endless series of switchbacks climbing into very unfriendly skies. It didn't register with me at the train station but in Switzerland there is no such thing as a "little bit of climbing".
The end of what was meant to be an easy day turned into a 500m ascent, slogging 8km up the side of a mountain to the Lötschberg tunnel. Tara was NOT pleased. She briefly resembled an older version of myself, refusing food and turning into a pedaling machine before I insisted we stop and eat before making the climb.
When we started our ascent it was already five o'clock and the climb appeared to be much steeper than the one into Zermatt. After six grueling switchbacks came a series of several tunnels that continued to climb steadily. Tara had a really hard time with it, but I encouraged her every step of the way. It wasn't so much the climb, she said, but the unexpectedness of it. She wasn't mentally prepared, and in her mind it was the end of the riding day: time to be making camp, not facing what felt like an endless uphill.
The uphill did, of course, end. We made it to Goppenstein in one, very tired piece. Tara bought tickets while I took pictures of the misty train station and the epic scenery, and then we rolled into the line of cars waiting to board. There was a man who ushered us ahead of everyone, helping us put our bikes in the special bicycle car. He leaned the bikes up against the wall, grabbed one of the ropes dangling down at the side, and secured each bike with a complicated knot. Unlike most things in Switzerland, this train was rusty and run-down. This combined with being surrounded by misty mountains made us feel like we were in some other world. It was great!
After our bikes were secured, the man lead us to our seats in a car just next to the bike room. Everyone else just stays in their vehicles for the passage, but we had a normal train car all to ourselves. We began to move, slowly at first, then suddenly we were flying through the side of a mountain. Just a few inches from our window we could see the rugged tunnel wall racing by.
When we emerged from the mountain only fifteen minutes later we felt a bit like we'd jumped through Alice's looking-glass. We'd just hurtled through the side of a mountain and emerged with foggy fanfare in the village of Kandersteg. Storybook houses were nestled in nooks and crannies in the mountain hollows and valley hills. It was now past seven o'clock, and so overcast that it was almost dark, except for the white smokey clouds that swirled all around us.
With rain threatening pour down any moment, we quickly followed signs to a campsite and began setting up just as the sprinkles began. Feeling battle-hardened, we weren't even fazed, making a nice home for ourselves on auto pilot, completely ignoring the weather. We were both ridiculously tired, but I mustered the energy to make us hot, melty grilled cheese sandwiches before we fell soundly asleep.