We said farewell to Chur under overcast skies, thankful for the gray cloud cover that would hopefully stick around and protect us from the sun. A long sweaty day of climbing is a lot more enjoyable when the sun isn't beating down on your back.
The ascent started almost immediately when we turned onto the steep road out of Chur. I had a hard time getting into "climbing mode" as I imagined the 1,200 meters (around 4,000 feet) I thought we would have to crawl up over the next several hours. After a few minutes I managed to snap out of it, opting instead to focus on the 100 meters of ascent in front of us (over and over and over again!).
The roads flattened out a bit, the cloud cover held, and we managed to ascend nearly 800m before stopping to have lunch. As we pulled off the road near a wooden bench we met Marco and Carlio(?), two incredibly friendly Swiss-Italians who cycle up mountains just for the fun of it!
Tomorrow they will be participating in an 'Alpine Challenge,' a race that crosses two mountain passes, one of which we will cycle over. I looked enviously at their lightweight bicycles while they asked questions about our tanks. Before they left, we shared mutual amazement at our chosen hobbies and wished each other the best of luck.
We could see our breath as we gathered food from our panniers. Sitting on the wooden bench to eat our lunch, we quickly began to feel the cold, donning our now rarely used jackets and socks. After our meal we slowly pedaled another 5km to reach what we thought was a plateau at 1600 meters.
To our surprise the "plateau" turned into a long descent! We were simultaneously relieved to give our tired muscles a break, and crushed as we quickly ate up hundreds and hundreds of meters of the altitude we had just worked so hard to climb. Clearly my initial estimate of a 1,200m ascent was a little on the optimistic side. Crap.
Coasting down along misty lakes and mountain waterfalls, we were overwhelmed by the the idea of climbing yet another 1500m to reach the top of Julierpass. It started to sprinkle, and then to pour as we descended into the valley town of Tiefencastel at 900 meters.
On our way through we spotted a camping sign and I thought aloud that maybe we should call it day, leaving the last of the Swiss alps for tomorrow. Tara looked like I had offered her a million dollars and agreed before I could finish my sentence. When we arrived at the campsite I started having second thoughts about stopping so "early" (at 4:00) when we could climb another few hundred meters, at least ending above 1,000m before calling it quits.
We were standing under the shelter of the campsite's dish-washing area as I casually mentioned this to Tara and began looking on the GPS for cities further on. She was horrified. Suddenly she started tossing things off of her bike left and right and saying, "NO! No WAY! Are you INSANE?!" Then she swiftly unhooked the bungee net from her rear rack, and with it her shoes, extra water bottle, and our Arnis bastons went tumbling to the wet ground. Now, with a sizable mess strewn around her, she smiled and said "We're staying." I couldn't help but laugh, and of course, give in.
What followed was an experience straight out of slapstick comedy routine; amusing for spectators and very frustrating for those involved. It was our attempt to assemble the tent without it getting too wet inside. We've done this countless times, but today everything went awry when a tent pole popped loose, unscrewed from one of the metal junctions they start from. As the pole flew out of its socket our tent became a huge, wet, tangled, half-assembled mess. I tried in vain to fix it quickly without disassembling everything but of course it didn't work. Frustrated, I picked up the entire heap of aluminum and nylon and made a dash for the nearby bathrooms. Safely inside with tent poles poking in every direction I fixed the tent while Tara pumped up the mattresses and shook her head at the absurdity of the situation.
Once settled in Tara made us dinner: a cheesy, noodley potato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches! After eating I spent an hour replacing brake pads and inspecting our rims while Tara was still busy in the "kitchen" concocting a surprise for dessert. My rear rim is looking pretty bad. I hope it makes it until we meet Tara's parents in Italy. I think I will take Velocity up on their offer of a free replacement when we arrive.
While I was working a fellow camper came by asking for help in German. I had no idea what he wanted but when he gestured for me to follow I went along and helped him inspect the rear tire of his motorcycle. When I came back Tara was putting the finishing touches on dessert: hot, cinnamony apple fritters!