Sunday, July 26, 2009

Swiss Trip Day 1 (Friday): Scuol to Sta. Maria

Which was just under 23 miles with at least 1200 metres of climbing (though my Garmin reckons 3275, err no). We woke up in the morning to heavy rain and lead skies, not what was forecasted:

We wouldn't be setting off until after 11am anyway as the last member of the group was driving down today. Up for a leisurely breakfast watching the bouncing rain then start assembling bikes. The hotel had an outside covered bar area which we comandeered for a couple of hours. I was wearing a full set of waterproofs at this point. All members of the group, now 6 of us, were soon present. Just as it was almost time to go, blue sky was spotted up the valley and it was heading our way.

The sun was soon out and there were lots of last minute decisions on layers, waterproofs were off. Our main bags were due to be shipped to our next hotel but they hadn't gone yet so it was a bit of frantic stuffing things back in before setting off into glorious sunshine:

It was a brief but fast down before the climb commenced properly. The first section was a brutal stretch of steep fire road, thankfully short. It got the heart and lungs working, they appeared to be working properly, that didn't last! It was then a long tarmac climb, which would change to fire road eventually. Started climbing, climbing, climbing, steady pace. Not sure how long it went on for but it seemed for ever up, no point looking up, it all looked the same:

I rounded a bend to a gap in the trees and a cracking view down the valley, I almost kept going as I was in a nice rhythm, which is important on these climbs but then I remembered it's not something I see everyday. It was gorgeous:

Due to the earlier rain it was actually quite steamy on the road, stuck in the trees the wet road had a sauna effect. We were passed at some point on the fairly narrow mountain road by a large bus, a sheduled service no less. As it powered up the hill we all noticed it had bike racks on the back, of course the Switzerland residents knew that! They also knew it was headed for the cafe at 1800m that we were, neglected to mention that. It was the first demonstration of how much bike friendly infrastructure there was here.

Our route was predominantly sign posted too, we were following the 444 signposts which marks the route of the Swiss National Park MTB marathon, yes some very fit people do the whole thing in one day! The route skirts around the national park as MTBing is not really allowed within it, we deviated a little from the route on the descents by taking singletrack.

National Park MTB Marathon Route

We kept climbing on and soon we were off tarmac and onto more fire road style. We were heading for the little town of S-Charl at 1810 metres. Once onto the fire road I was starting to notice a bit of a lack in oxygen. I was ok if I kept a nice steady pace but if I pushed hard and let my HR get above 165, say to climb a rise, I found it hard to recover and bring it back down. This got more pronounced as we kept climbing, so steady pace it was. I was climbing ok which I was a bit surprised about as long steady climbs are not my thing but it reminded me of my long training runs for the marathon, it was that kind of effort.

There wasn't much regrouping after we got onto the fire road sections, the lure of the cafe was too strong. So I had to remember to keep looking back and trying to take some photos on the move (not always successful!)

We caught up with a British couple doing pretty much the same route as us, although they weren't doing the bag shipping thing. The lad had a trailer with panniers and the girl had a very large rucksack. The trailer really consisted of a single wheel, with panniers on either side of it, nothing like a Bob trailer. We would see them a few times:

It almost looks like we haven't far to climb but no, not even at S-Charl yet. A bit more climbing then finally arrive at S-Charl for bit of a break. As I hung my bike up in the stand I checked my wheels as I was being plagued by a brake squeak. I thought it was the front and as I checked the wheel it spun fine but did give a little squeak, I checked the rear and it didn't spin much more than a revolution before stopping. Ah, I did think it was sluggish.

A break for a large glass of full-fat coke but no food (bit of a mistake that one), in fact only Danny, the guy who had joined us that morning had any proper food. Then onwards and upwards, still 400 metres of up to go. I didn't bother about my brake as I didn't think it was that bad however, there were some short downhill sections on the climb and I noticed I was rolling to a stop on them rather than picking up speed, which was a little unfair.

At the next regroup Jez changed my brake pads out and I had a free spinning wheel, it was so free because my rear brake decided to stop working altogether, the lever coming right back to the bars. I wasn't worried about this at all (as I had no idea what the descending was like at this stage or I certainly would have been) and carried on riding. On any downhill sections I dragged the rear and eventually it started coming back to life, I was more pleased it was easier to climb. Well, the altitude was affecting me more but would have been worse with the rear brake on.

We approached what I thought was the top, but no, we diverted off the main fire road onto some single track. It was undulating with an upward bias but it wasn't just a case of spinning away, it needed some oomph sometimes. On a couple of occasions my head felt as if I had stood up too fast and I had to be carefull of the effort. This section reminded me a bit of the Dales and of course I forgot to take a single picture of it as I needed to concentrate, proper riding. Luckily other people did:

Finally we reached the Pass da Costainas at 2251 metres, hurrah! Not quite all downhill from here but almost.

Next it was saddles down for the descent, the two Swiss residents just did it the Brits all asking if it was worth it. Long descent! Started off steep and fast fire road, I had a girly moment when I spotted one of the guys ahead getting thrown around on the track ahead and rounded the bend convincing myself it was going to be awful. I stopped dead at the top of a section because there were...wait for it....some rocks! D'oh, perfectly rideable if I'd kept going but due to steepness a bit tricky to get back on here. What I needed was some food.

Anyway on downwards, apologising to Ed who I caused to stop too then caught up with the others. It starts to get a little indistinct in my memory here. I think we headed for the first piece of proper single track (or single trail as its called here) and it was graded red.

One other piece of bike friendliness, specifically MTB friendliness, is that there is an official published map of the area that:

1) Is the perfect size for folding and sticking in a pocket
2) Is made of toughened, water resistant paper
3) Has all the worthwhile singletrack marked on it
4) The singletrack is all graded: blue, red, black so you know what your letting yourself in for.

How fantastic is that!

I think there was a bit of climbing in there before we hit the singletrack and I had a bit of a wobbly start on it until I got my head around the steepness. The singletrack seemed to be of two types, either steep and following the fall line of the hill or contouring along the side. The contouring sounds nice but the hills are generally steep so there is often a drop of varying degrees of scariness to one side. The penalty for failure could be high.

Soon I was pretty into it and being very, very thankful for my working rear brake. It was more rooty and woodsy rather than rocky but speed was picked up very quickly and I didn't take my camera out once, too busy having fun/being scared. There were a few unfair undulations, mainly on road as we worked our way down the hill. Rely on the camera to flatten things out:

It really was great descending, worth the climb, honestly. We had a section of "black" trail to ride which I have to say I was a bit worried about, thinking we would be riding down a sheer cliff but it was quite an easy rooty section which had been misgraded, really a blue. Well I say easy, not when your riding like a plank. There were perfectly rideable lines if you were paying attention, which I was struggling with I realised I need to get some calories in asap so had a caffeinated gel and hoped it would kick in soon.

I got a bit better and then the sugar and caffeine kicked in just in time for the best bit of track yet. Fast, contouring, tracking the river, some big drops to the side, roots, overhanging rocks (being a shorty was a definite advantage). Really enjoyed it. As we were close to the valley floor we came across various people who were all really encouraging rather than grumpy, everyone got out of our way rather than hold us up.

I rounded one bend to find Rob picking himself out of the river having looked behind to check where people were, on, I have to say, a bit of trail that could really do with full concentration not backwards glances. He rode off the side and was highsided by the bike into the river which was luckily only about 5 feet or so below, best crash of the trip. He seemed unhurt if a little wet.

From there it was into the village of Sta. Maria to the Hotel Stelvio. It is a "bike hotel" so it had a large bike garage to lock up lots of bikes, workstand, pressure washer, drying room (cheesy feet!), bike wash etc. More infrastructure. Unfortunately the bags hadn't arrived yet so we had to wait, have a little beer and watch the weather roll back in. The sugar in the alcohol killed my appetite which wasn't ideal as I needed to eat but didn't until much later. We hoped the snow wouldn't materialise:

I think I climbed for most of the riding, about 2.5 hours out of less than 3.5.

1 comment:

  1. some great mountain shots! i'd love to ride some scary contours. i imagine it would take me just as long to get down as it did up!

    next installment please ;)