by Erik Kratzer
It all started in my home village of Herrenberg, Germany. I had just disassembled and completed a full on maintenance of my trusty steed . Summer was starting to show itself, and since the weekend was ahead – I was dreaming of the first real summer ride . The Alps were only 3h away by car – so I excitedly packed my bike n’ gear and grabbed a 1:300000 map of Switzerland–I had no particular idea where there, though the area of GraubÃ¼nden sounded interesting (that’s eastern Switzerland). Just in case there’d be no motel where my new mountain-bike discovery would be, I also packed my tent, mattress, cooker/mess kit, sleeping bag + other outdoor stuff. It was the summer of 95′- and a ride i will never forget but will strive to re-ride.
With my bike mounted on the roof rack of my 88′VW Golf I headed South. My trusty car already was run in – 350000 km. And its diesel motor was running smoothly. Humming to the tunes of Bob Marley i reached the Swiss border in no time.
I mainly drove around by instinct, glancing at the map now and then. I passed the ski town of Davos. “Too touristy,” I thought. Next, I drove up and down uninhabited mountain roads through valleys, gorges, rushing whitewater, deep old fir and pine forest; tall mountains rising up high above me–their peaks disappearing in the probably only cloud on today’s mostly deep-blue sky.
Finally, at around 2 pm, I drove through the town of Thusis and I thought, “This is it.” The scenery was magnificent and a small rustic swiss family hotel was waiting. I used the evening to get my bearings and even found a cannondale-toting bike shop. I got a hint as to where the best trails are and spent the evening with some local bikers.
I decided on a route that to my calculations at the time would be ~ 40 miles and ~ total 3000 meter climbing. The route would start me off in the town of Andeer, 5 km down the road of Thusis. Having had a nice slumber at night, I woke up at 5am to start climbing from Andeer at around 6am. I packed my 30l bike-pack with long long capilene stretch under wear, light rain gear, gloves, hat, neckgaitor, headband, p.200 fleece pullover, 4 powerbars, 2 bananas and 2l of isostar in a bladder bottle, pezel zoom, map, compass, first aid kit, all-weather blanket, spare shirt, small tool kit, and spare parts…all in all 7 kg.
It felt great to be able to wear short sleeved shirt and shorts again. I told the receptionist i might be back at ~8 pm–ho ho, right! Also the dudes at the shop knew generally what route I’d go on.
I started off cycling into the sunrise along a 2 km long road that led through a deep gorge. The rocky walls towered 200 straight up to the sky and down to the river–the road was partly tunnel, partly very exposed along the side of the cliff. The walls were mostly covered with mossy algae-like growth from the constant mist rising up from below. The sun was also starting to shine–its rays piercing through the tight crack at the top and through the mist, guiding me along on my Quest.
From the little village of Andeer I first would follow a hiking route from 600 m to 2300 meters. It first went on single trail and switchbacks to 2000 meters–the tree line and beginning of cattle farming. The trail was hard pack with fist size rocks, roots, and occasional granite ledges. It was rideable for the first 6 km mostly in my s. granny front and 28 rear, but became increasingly steep, exposed, rocky , with fallen trees scattered on trail. So my ride became more a bike and hike–more of the hiking though. But the scenery was inspiring and the rugged pine trees growing in almost vertical ground. And so I moved for the next 4 km’s.
A rushing steam greeted me as I reached near tree line. I was totally high, pumped, sweaty and feeling real macho. I leaned the bike against a tree and entered the stream in full clothes. Sitting in the cool refreshing wetness, it felt actually good as the increasingly cold mountain water was making me numb. Soon I reached the first grassy fields. I saw I wasn’t alone, as a bunch of cows smiled at me, flashing their beautiful big eyebrows and looking generally cute.
Now i could ride again–now on 3 meter wide gravel road. It wasn’t so steep for the next 400 meters of elevation. Just when I my shoes had dried from my dip in the stream I heard thunder in the distance–it thereafter started to hail, and wind was coming up, too.
I just made it to a mountain hut. Here thinking I was alone–out stepped Santa Claus in person–at least that’s what he looked like except in lederhosen, checkered shirt and leather hat with a feather sticking in the side. He was a mountain shepherd and farmer. He moves in the spring up the mountain with his cows and sheep and stays in this beautiful nature until the first flakes of winter start to fall. He offered me some homemade cheese and tea–and so we sat, listening to the distant rumble of the thunder and talked about life’s purposes and mountain-bikes.
As I moved on it, the road became a trail again but much steeper, now muddy and slippery. I had to make a route change and bushwhack with the shouldered bike along steep mountainside and shot brushy mountain vegetation for as I recall much too long a time. Finally i cleared the terrain that would have needed a belayer and various climbing gear. I had reached the highest point of the trip. From here at 2800 meters, if you would want to reach the peak of Phiz, you’d have to climb, bikeless. Up here there was no noticeable vegetation but the deep green grass and scattered boulders. Great for trials riding–but i was too tired for any hopping now. “Gotta come back,” I muttered to myself.
Next would come an even ride on gravel trail ~ 15 km around the rocky part of the mountain before changing once again to singletrack and switch backs for the decent. As I reached the tree line, I still had to go 200 m down to reach the final descent mountain path. To my surprise the trail just ended in the steep mountain forest. Can they do that? Well here I was again, sliding on my butt and side downhill. Last 100 meters I mounted my bike and proceeded to do powerslide in snow–my cantis were full of mud and sleet–no good. It was cool, once I got the hang of it.
Finally i dropped onto the old Roman-built mountain path. Quite amazing–built into the mountainside-going straight down 1100 meters on my left. The path didn’t have a fence on the cliff side and the trail was about 1- 1 1/2 meters wide, coarse gravel and smooth granite ledges. Thank go there was sun and a fresh breeze on this side.
The trail soon dried. Ahead of me, twisting trail downhill for 14 km, partly almost too steep to ride, once in a while going though stone tunnels. Pitch black all of a sudden. In one tunnel I met 2 mountain bikers who hadn’t taken lights. They were desperately feeling themselves along the curved windowless tunnel side. I wonder how many have so far crashed in these traps.
The cliff at the left was still more than tempting for base jumping. Now in company, us three headed down the trail. As we came to tree line once more the trail became wider and less curvy, so we could ride full on–cool. Gee, just telling this tale, here from Finland, makes tears run down my face and my mouth water.
Anyway, riding wheelies the last part we suddenly pop out of the trail onto a parking lot of a ski lift area–catching big air. Of course the lot it filled with over 60 years old ramblers in lederhosen, they go up the mountain by gondola, have fatty food and beer on top, walk 50 meters and take the lift back down. But–whoom–we’ve passed them, thank god. Now there was the 5 km back to Thusis.
It was 7:30 pm and the sun was setting. We’d be riding back at night anyhow so we took it and went for a good stuffing swiss meal in a local restaurant and bar. Returning at around 11pm.
Well so much for this story–I could have gone on and on but maybe I’ll leave something for my book. I’m currently working as a outdoor tour outfitter in Europe, doing various adventure travel sports, short courses, skills workshops and field studies. Well then, happy trail everyone!