Monday, June 28 (133Km, 2147m)

We parted ways with Hans around 9am just outside Andermatt. He turned right towards Göschenen and Altdorf, where his car was parked, while Thomer and I headed left towards Hospental. Hospental was quiet and beautiful at this hour, elegant baroque facades lining the cobblestoned main street. One of the hotels claims to have been the field headquarters of General Suvorov, a Russian who drove Napoleon's army out of northern Italy in 1799, and subsequently tried but failed to expel the French from Switzerland too.

Thomer and I began the climb to Gotthardpass under a dark grey sky, but the clouds opened up as we gained altitude, affording us magnificent views of peaks veiled by gauzy mists and meadows dappled in morning light. The air was warm, and everything—the grass, the wet road, we ourselves—gave off steam. Gradually, the wildflowers that lined the lower reaches of the road gave way to rocky surroundings, and we noticed several roads that lead to doors in the mountainside. Gotthard is apparently one of the most heavily militarized areas of Switzerland, with considerable caches of weapons and vehicles stored underground—all very discordant with the scenery around us.

At the Gotthard Hospiz on the summit (2091m), the cashier greeted us in Italian (yes!), a sign that we were in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. We chose to avoid the old cobblestone road to Airolo in favor of the smooth highway built in 1970, which begins with spectacular views of the old road's switchbacks on the far side of the Val Tremola (so called because of its abundance of tremolite, a mineral that twinkles (trembles) in the sunlight under certain conditions). Further on, the highway passes through long straight tunnels and descends quickly in a succession of spectacular turns, including a couple of "flying hairpins." Alas, below Motto Bartola bikes are diverted to the old road, so Thomer and I were treated to a numbing vibra-massage before entering Airolo (1141m).

We pressed on downhill, impressed by the spectacular railway engineering—trains climb the steep valley via a series of spiral tunnels—and the incredible autobahn, so high above us as to almost avoid notice from the road we were on. I wonder whether a more muted engineering statement would not have been preferable in such a beautiful natural setting.

Near Faido I noticed construction equipment for the new railway tunnel being built by the AlpTransit consortium. The tunnel will connect Bodio (TI) with Erstfeld (UR) in an almost straight line, with no climbing. At 57Km, it will be the longest in the world, and in places it will be almost 3000m (2 miles!) below the surface of the mountains above. All this to enable high-speed passenger trains and competitive freight transport across the Alps, connecting Milan and Zurich at speeds of 250Km/h. The scheduled opening date is 2015: roll over, Big Dig!

Faido is several hundred meters above the tunnel entry point at Bodio, but apparently it is the site of a "breathing hole" used to extract debris from tunnel construction. The excavated material is transported downhill via an impressive enclosed conveyor belt that runs next to the road for about 15Km! Considering the steep mountain road and the mass of material that needs to be extracted, it seems like an excellent, environmentally friendly alternative to trucks.

At Bodio (400m) the road flattens out. I resisted the urge to explore the AlpTransit visitor center, and pushed on into a tough headwind to Bellinzona, where Thomer and I had agreed to meet Chip. Chip, his bike safe and sound, showed up one or two hours later, and the three of us enjoyed a picnic lunch together in a shady city park: six enormous sycamores arranged at the vertices of a regular hexagon, with a gurgling fountain in the middle and benches all around.

We set off towards Passo del San Bernardino (2065m) in the mid-afternoon heat. I love the scenery of the lower San Bernardino, with its green fields, the rushing river Moesa, and the high cliff walls lined with waterfalls. Unfortunately, when the road began to climb, Chip got into trouble: jet-lagged, dehydrated, and cramping, he was a shadow of the strong, indefatigable rider I know. A stop for water and table salt solved some of the problems, but we decided to not climb the entire pass and aim for the town of San Bernardino (1650m) instead. As we climbed, cooler temperatures made cycling easier and we admired the afternoon light on the east side of the valley.

Near Pian San Giacomo the climb becomes less steep and traverses a fragrant fir forest. It wasn't long before we were in San Bernardino, where we settled in for the night at the Hotel Bellevue. No Euro soccer was scheduled for the night, so after a delicious minestrone and the usual piles of pasta, we went straight to bed.

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