After two days of rain, we were excited to pedal toward the intimidating Col de Thures under a mostly sunny sky. Unfortunately, the sun did not make hiking up 1,000 meters in a mere three kilometers with our bikes on our backs hurt any less. By mid-afternoon, we crested our second col of the day and were not particularly inspired to follow our planned route up yet another steep col. We had already learned that three cols in a day was a bit too exhausting. We decided instead to descend into the adjacent river valley, follow that upstream, and rejoin our route a bit later.
Up until this point in the trip, we had almost exclusively followed our planned route using the track on our GPS units. But all along the way, we marveled at the abundance of trail markers, mountain bike route emblems, and signs with destinations, distances, and hiking times. Upon leaving our route, we simply followed trail markers and mountain bike emblems pointing in the direction we wanted to travel. This led us down a series of gravel switchbacks into the valley, singletracking to the river, doubletrack into a village, canal path to the next village, and then doubletrack along the river. We had anticipated this “detour” including 40km of pavement, but we ended up riding dirt nearly the entire way thanks to all the trail markers.
Now as we are working our way north out of the Alps and back toward Zurich, we have spent a few days traveling with no pre-planned route. We dropped into the Rhone Valley on a signed mountain bike route that kept us off the busy highway before almost immediately intersecting Swiss National Bike Route 1. This “Rhone Route” followed backroads and a few gravel tracks up the valley and low on the valley sides, and every single turn was signed.
Looking at the regional road map we've been carrying, we opted to climb Grimselpass rather than Furkapass, deciding to head north through the valley with fewer towns and more lakes. We found a mountain bike route that climbed old, gravel switchbacks up Grimselpass. Near the top, we turned onto singletrack that had a sign pointing toward the pass, and then we followed another rocky, chunky trail around the lakes atop the pass itself. From there, we followed the familiar white-red-white blazes painted on rocks down the other side. Soon, the trail became stone stairs, and we bailed onto the highway. Since then, we have been following Swiss National Bike Route 6 and a short section of the Swiss National Alpine Mountain Bike Route.
In reality, it seems that you can connect virtually any two points on a map in the Alps by riding (and likely hiking your bike…) mostly trail, farm tracks, ancient roads, military roads, and quiet paved backroads. All these routes can be linked together, and the all-too-familiar problems of private property and bike access that seem to plague bikepacking routes in the United States are absent. We have seen just three “no bike” signs and a single “private property” sign on a two-track. And all the signage along the way makes bike travel unimaginably easy. In theory, you could ride through the Alps on trail and bike routes with nothing more than a basic road map. But be warned - even though bikes are permitted on virtually all trails, many are steep mountain trails that will require strong hike-a-bike muscles.
——————————See below for links to previous blog posts from Kurt and Kaityln's L'Aventure Alpine expedition…
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After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous west. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country, enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. When driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity. www.krefs.blogspot.com