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Conquering Julierpass

by Tara

Today is the big day; our highest mountain climb ever will take us over Julierpass! For breakfast, I make us a large pot of muesli with cooked apples to keep us well fueled. Feeling full, we hit the road!

Mountains Unveiled

8:30 AM / 850m

It is beautiful and clear, but thankfully not too hot. We begin our ascent, climbing 100m (altitude not distance) stretches at a time, stopping at each stage to rest and/or eat granola bars before our next 100 meter push.

Our Bikes

10:00 AM / 1200m

On the side of the road I spot a family of donkeys, including a baby donkey with long fuzzy ears! I call Tyler back so we can pet them and take pictures. They are so cute!

Eager Donkey Tyler & the Donkies Baby Donkey

When we start to pedal off, Tyler's rear rim breaks apart with a resounding pop! Amazingly, the wheel is still true, and more amazingly, he remains very calm. Tyler takes a bunch of weight off of his bike and we bungee it to the back of mine. We walk the bikes down a short descent into the nearest town. Cars pass us by, and hundreds of bicyclists coast down the mountain on their Alpine Challenge.

Velocity Cliffhanger Rim Failure Cycle Race

10:30 AM / 1150m

We arrive in the town of Cunter and wheel our bikes into the shade by the post office to investigate the rim and decide what to do. I suggest we call Tretlager bike shop in Munsigen to see if Klauss can help us out, but they are closed. We consider camping in Cunter, but Tyler decides to make a go of fixing the rim enough to make it rideable. He is dead-set on conquering Julierpass today.

I am skeptical, as his rim is broken and we don't know what lies ahead. We are in a town with food, an ATM, and a campsite. If we were to get "stuck" somewhere trying to find replacement parts, this would be a pretty good place to do it. In the middle of nowhere up the side of a mountain would be a little trickier. Tyler tries to fix it anyway.

10:30 AM / 1150m

  1. Tyler breaks off the broken piece of his rim;

  2. Bends out the sharp edges where rim should be (to prevent them from digging into the tire);

  3. Covers the whole mess in gorilla tape to prevent flats;

  4. Inflates his rear tire to 40psi, creating a sizable bulge;

  5. Removes his rear brakes entirely to make room for the bulge;

  6. Takes a short test ride around town;

  7. Declares his bike in "perfect" order to continue climbing!

Velocity Cliffhanger Rim 'Fix'

We try to decide if continuing is actually a good plan, agree that it probably isn't, but decide to give it a shot anyway.

12:00 PM / 1150m

We begin our ascent anew, riding slowly and stopping every 75-meters of altitude to rest and check on the wheel. It seems to be holding up just fine! Riding is hard, and the road is steep. I don't know how we are ever going to climb this mountain!

01:00 PM / 1400m

We have a couple kilometers of nearly flat riding, giving our muscles a much-needed rest. As we stop to take a picture of the beautiful scenery, one of the racing cyclists waves at us. This is nothing new, as many of them wave, but this one keeps waving and shouting at us. We wonder why this guy is so excited to see us, when his friend coasts by and waves as well. We can hardly recognize them in their racing gear, but it is Marco and Carlio(?), our Swiss-Italian friends from yesterday! We shout and wave and wish them good luck on their race.

Mountain View Mountain View Cabin & Stream

02:00 PM / 1700m

Tyler is exhausted. I am finally getting my second (first?) wind, losing myself in the "zone" instead of loathing every pedal stroke. After a long series of switchbacks, we make it to Lai Da Marmorera (a huge beautiful lake) and stop for lunch. Our iPods are about to die, and I don't think I can climb any further without music. I suggest we use the computer to charge them and Tyler agrees.

Lai Da Marmorera Tara in the Mountains

02:30 PM / 1750m

After our lunch break, our muscles have cooled down. Both of us suddenly have a moment where we feel like we're not physically capable of finishing the climb. I push my bike up a steep incline, hardly able to heave it forward, much less ride it. Tyler gives me a pep talk, saying we don't have to focus on the entire pass, just the 100m in front of us. When we can't do that, we'll stop.

Mountain Shack Ribbon

03:30 PM / 1850m

We spot a refueling station for the Alpine Challenge race and Tyler decides we should ask for some sports drink. The sports drink man isn't willing to part with any, telling us it is an organized event and the supplies are for participants. All of the riders are really friendly and when they find out where we've come from (Scotland) and where we're going (Malaysia) they are amazed, convincing the workers to give us all the food we can eat as well as handfuls of sports gel packets of "PURE ENERGY!"


04:00 PM / 1850m

We both eat a gloopy PURE ENERGY gel and start ascending again, with, amazingly, more energy. I am really in the zone now, my vision soft, meditatively staring at the white line on the road and the pockmarked pavement. I am loving the honks and waves and thumbs up from astonished light-weight racers. That's right guys, we're climbing this sucker, too.

05:00 PM / 2000m

We stop for a short break, amazed by how far we've come and how little we have left to do. We're almost there! We leave our music off for the last push so that we can finish "together."

Julierpass: Almost There!

05:30 PM / 2284m

Flags are flying at the top of Julierpass. We pedal our final stroke uphill and then the climbing is over. WE DID IT!!! We lean our bikes against some boulders and somehow now have boundless energy to jump around and hug and high-five each other before collapsing on a rock. Everyone at the top is open-mouthed and amazed and one guy tells us "whoa… respect!"

Julierpass Tyler Resting

The man in the souvenir shop smiles at me and says "wow, you are courageous!" as we buy our Julierpass patches to sew on our panniers. I look back down the mountains we climbed, and then over to where we will have kilometers of hard-earned coasting ahead of us.

I don't think I have ever been more proud.

6:30 PM / 1800m

We coast into Silvaplana, stopping every so often to cool Tyler's front brakes. We find the campsite and collapse, ecstatic.

Road to Silvaplana
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Woohoo! Way to stay determined despite mental, physical, and equipment challenges.
Posted by thenoiseboy on August 25th, 2009 at 3:14 PM
Well done! And it all looks GORGEOUS.

Bet Cornwall seems like an easy ride now :-D

We cycled along a canal path over the weekend and I surprised myself by announcing to Nic that, "I think I prefer hills."
Posted by nnonews on August 25th, 2009 at 3:20 PM
oopsie - that last comment, that was from Oanh
(as is this comment)
Posted by nnonews on August 25th, 2009 at 3:20 PM
Posted by lian on August 26th, 2009 at 12:28 AM
Thanks for the nice comments, guys!

Oanh-- the gravel and the scenery can get old after a little while on canal paths so it's not too bizarre that you prefer the hills :-) Just the other day, Tyler and I were talking about England's massive hills, wondering about if they really were huge as we thought they were, or if we were just out of shape then. We looked at elevation profiles for several of our riding days and determined that they really were insanely difficult! I prefer mountain climbing any day to the constant STEEP up and down of those hills! :-) Happy Biking!
Posted by Tara on August 26th, 2009 at 2:48 AM
Congrats to you both! I am always happy to read about each and every one of your triumphs!

Way to go!
Posted by FireWolf on August 26th, 2009 at 9:27 AM
You two are totally awesome!!!! I am so excited that you are doing such a great job overtaking all this terrain :)

Posted by ace77man on September 3rd, 2009 at 10:52 AM
Dave- Thank you!!

Aaron- Thanks! Much love to you and the family!
Posted by Tara on September 7th, 2009 at 3:44 PM