Summer 2015: Nelson and I cycle to Kraków and argue about every city except for two. We do agree on which was the most beautiful and on which was the weirdest one, the latter having been Bückeburg (the older amongst our readers may remember it as the ancient capital of the county of Schaumburg), Bückeburg, where a complete stranger gave us 20,— € because we looked like cyclists and where Nelson had got eyes as big as saucers in face of the Wasserstraßenkreuz. This weirdness has now been superseded, not only by a certain sum of Swiss Franks that decency forbids me to name, but also, on the same day, by a bike route more grotesque than any ever.
The day before we had climbed – for once by car, which our gracious hosts had lent us – the Moron massive, following a road so steep and bent and narrow that I’m absolutely sure my mum would have refused to take it (I would have said I wore a helmet, but hey, Mum, it was a car!) leading to the Tour de Moron. That’s a view tower not on the highest, but still on one of the best positioned mountains in the Swiss Jura, allowing for a round view of Vosges, Black Forest, the nearby Jura chains themselves and, on the brink of the clouds that slowly crawled into dissolution across their jagged, snowy peaks: the Alps, seen for the first time on this our trip.
That view also prepared us well for the next day, for the overview of the valleys right below gave us much better ideas than the maps: Go down to Tavannes, then into the overgrown pass between the two great massives on the other side, and all major climbs shall have been avoided. Obvious from above, very fuzzy on the map: In the following narrow valleys, a huge street coloured depicted in a poisonous green seemed braided together with a tiny, unnumbered bike route in a blue that could mean anything from “safe” to “non-existent”. But if the alternative is to get lost in Jurassic forests once more, to be apprehended by the contrabandists, too exhausted from the devastating climbs to fight back—
The valley it was.
A few kilometers inside the narrow chasms, after the first downhills of spectacular views and 60 km/h, we reached the village of Sonceboz. The signage was amazing – in the less bike-affine parts of Germany, almost all of Poland and even some of the emptier regions of France, bike routes can be invisible at best, at worst misleading. From Westphalia’s pleasant pastures I’m used to finding bike signs pointing to the nearest settlements by just going straight into any direction for 200 metres. Here, while not as dense perhaps, the signs are arguably better: They provide you with minute instructions on how to reach all relevant long-haul destinations, by road or by train, once even casually explaining the rail tariffs for bikes. On a road sign. So we didn’t voice the shred of a doubt when shortly after Sonceboz the signs clearly and in a most articulate way bid us to enter what looked like a motorway – what the car signs unequivocally called a motorway – what was a motorway. Go below the bridge, don’t enter the left side, go around the 270 degrees curve …
It was a motorway. Autobahn. No higher category of roads in the country. Two lanes per direction, crossing the bent valleys transversally through tunnels of up to 1000 metres length, cars zooming by legally at 100 km/h, with a yellow line on the side separating a lane for us, on which we were sometimes outpaced by other cyclists. Marvellous road quality, by the way: We weren’t going so much slower than the cars. Fortunately, the road sloped downwards all the time, a climb up these tunnels would likely have felt eternal.
And then, after a while, the first exit: Surely we must leave our funny disposition here – nay: the bike lane continued to cling to the motorway, and only left it two more exits later, right at the outskirts of Biel. Another few kilometres downhill we stopped for the first time in fifteen minutes (an hour at least, it seemed to us), stuttering and cursing and shouting the giddy can-you-believe-its that typically accompany an acute adrenaline overdose.
“But if you believe you had been surprised, just imagine the odd German car driver who, after the shock of having to slow down from his native 180 km/h, suddenly has a bloody cyclist in front of him!”
Italy will have to come up with some serious shit if it wants us to remember it.