After a long crepe-making/eating session this morning (in preparation for our mountain climb), we hit the road and headed into the town of Visp. As we left our campground the bicycle lane we enjoyed yesterday was nowhere to be found, leaving us on a shoulder-less, narrow, and extremely busy highway. We were about to cross the dangerous road to a much quieter one we spied running beside it, when Tyler ran over a weird piece of plastic with a nail in it. Suddenly he was thunk-thunk-thunking along with a flat tire.
Slightly annoyed, we pushed our bikes as far off the road as we could without falling into the ditch, and Tyler fixed the flat in a whirlwind of activity that couldn't have lasted more than five minutes. Then we waited a good ten minutes more (seriously) for a break in the traffic long enough to dash across. When the opportunity presented itself we scurried to safety, thankful to be alive and off of our early morning death-trap of a road.
Leaving the highway behind we followed a quiet, winding rural road into Visp where we turned south to start our climb into Zermatt. Over the past few days we've received several warnings from various people, cycle tourists and non-bikers alike—"you're riding up to Zermatt???… it can't be done!" Pschh. Of course, we decided to do it anyway, reasoning that it was only 35 kilometers and we only had to climb 1200 meters or so to get there.
We paced ourselves, climbing like snails in close to our lowest gear for the first 10km of relatively gentle inclines. One lesson that we've learned well in the last four months: no matter how daunting a climb is supposed to be, if you're willing to go slowly it is always doable. We took lots of breaks, ate plenty of food though it was hard, it wasn't really more tiring than any other day.
About halfway up we rode through the longest tunnel we've encountered on our trip yet: 2.3 kilometers! It was a welcome and cooling change to be riding completely sheltered from the sun. There were huge turbines blowing fresh air inside so we didn't have to worry about feeling cooped up, and there were sidewalks on either side, allowing us to avoid the speedy tunnel traffic. Tyler stopped a lot to take pictures of the eerie lighting and SOS escape doors. We're both looking forward to passing through it again on our way down.
When we emerged from the tunnel we saw signs for a 12% grade section ahead and decided we should stop for lunch before tackling it. We wheeled our bikes into a small patch of shade and made some sandwiches in preparation for the mere 10 kilometers left to climb.
Thoroughly nourished from our midday meal, we left our rest spot with a lot more strength than when we arrived. The 12% hill was difficult, but with a bit of huffing and puffing we managed just fine and made it to the town of Tasch, where the road to Zermatt seemed to end abruptly. We'd seen signs saying you needed special permission to continue and our GPS was directing us to a ferry.
Tyler was, was usual, undaunted by the various indications that our intended route was impassable. We stopped at the tourist office to inquire, and sure enough, only fuel-burning vehicles needed special police permission to travel the road; cyclists wouldn't encounter any trouble. Most tourists were obliged to leave their cars parked in Tasch and take a train up to Zermatt, and only very few locals might actually drive up. Apparently they stick to electric vehicles in Zermatt to ensure clear views of the Matterhorn!
As we were leaving the office, I told the lady we had cycled from Visp and asked if the rest of the climb was very steep. She was completely floored that we had cycled all the way here from Visp and assured us that the worst was definitely over. SWEET! Tyler and I hugged and exchanged high-fives before embarking on the last of our climb. I never thought I would say this but I really enjoy cycling up mountains! The views are spectacular and it is very rewarding to know you've arrived somewhere so high up under your own power.
We completed our climb on a road scarcely wide enough for one car, stopping several times along the way to let the small amount of traffic behind us go around at passing places. Then, finally, there it was—a sign saying we were entering Zermatt! We whooped and hollered and took pictures, and just then the ground began to shake and we heard a great rhythmic whooshing noise.
A helicopter was flying right towards us! Only a few meters away, the helicopter landed and the pilot hopped out to deliver some sort of package. He hopped back in and flew away. A few moments later, the helicopter returned, along with another one! Now there were two helicopters only a few meters away, and we were excited as kids as we looked at each other with huge grins. What a welcome!
Continuing on into the village we heard some faint jingling noises. Arriving on the outskirts of town we found a huge jangling procession of mountain goats, presumably being led from one pasture to the another. Little boys were in charge of herding them and took no notice of the impatient cars waiting and the throngs of tourist onlookers snapping photos. Being the lucky cyclists we were, we walked around them with our bikes, patting the goats, taking pictures, and feeling like we were in a welcoming parade.