In the last installment, I was descending my first Swiss Alpine mountain bike ride, and things were not going as planned. Eventually I popped out near the hotel where I had initially caught the bus. I scouted around for more trail but wasn’t able to find any, so I resigned myself to riding the road back into town.
The rest of the ride was pretty dull – down the asphalt road, through town to catch the train back to Interlaken. When I dropped the bike off, the guy who had told me about the ride asked how it went. I explained about riding the bus part of the way, and how the bike always felt like it was going to toss me over the handlebars. I was thinking maybe the bike was too small, but then he pointed out that it had a much steeper fork angle than my all-mountain bike at home. Duh. I know about fork angles, but had forgotten. That bike was better suited to less steep “cross-country” riding. Duly noted for the next time.
Putting Grosse Scheidegg on my mental list of places to try again at some later date, I continued with the group tour. We had a few more days of hikes to beautiful places, dinners out, good conversation, lectures, and train rides. Then, all too soon, the vacation was over and my friends were packing up to leave. I had scheduled one more day in Interlaken, which I planned to use for another mountain bike ride.
This time I thought I had it all figured out. I went directly to a large sports shop in Grindelwald. I explained what type of riding I was looking for, using the Grosse Scheidegg downhill for comparison. I explained that I had ridden that on a cross country hardtail, and that it wasn’t much fun on such a bike, but would have been enjoyable on a more forgiving bike.
The woman at the shop was very helpful. She set me up with a nice full suspension all-mountain bike, with a slacker head angle than the prior ride’s bike (a slacker fork angle makes the bike more like a chopper, if that mental image helps any). And, she gave me a map and explained a route that would be comparable to the Grosse Scheidegg downhill, with the advantage that the start of the ride could be reached by gondola (an astute reader might wonder why I’ll take a gondola and not an e-bike. I’m not sure).
On the map, mostly what I picked up was that I would ride to the top of Grindelwald First on the gondola, then I would make a triangle by riding west to Buossalp, then southeast back to Grindelwald. The map wasn’t very detailed, but I thought I had the gist.
Since I thought I was going to be going downhill the whole way, I decided to get some exercise by riding over towards my old friend Grosse Scheidegg, which I could see from the top of the Grindelwald First gondola. I rode out for a bit, got lectured by some older hikers who didn’t think the trail was suitable for bikes, and eventually headed back towards the top of the gondola. After having a snack, I was ready for my ride. I rode along a wide feeder path until I saw a sign pointing towards Buossalp.
I found the trail and started down. The first part of the trail had me facing the sheer cliff wall of the outcrop that the gondola station and restaurant sat on. Complete with a “cliffwalk” catwalk attached to the side, It was a spectacular sight. I tried to get pictures, but here’s what happened: the sun was so bright that I couldn’t see my screen. When I thought I was taking pictures of the scene in front of me, I actually had the camera in selfie mode, so I was taking very poor, very close-up selfies of me, squinting at the bright sunlight. Doh!
The trail looked great from what I could see from the top. It was going to be great. The bike was just the right amount of squishy. I was feeling confident and ready to tackle the terrain.
Quickly I came to a small gate. There were a lot of gates in the Alps, to keep the cows out of places where they didn’t belong, so I didn’t think anything of it. I got off, stuffed my bike and then myself through the gate, and continued.
I hadn’t gone more than 20 or 30 feet when I got off again. The trail was hacked into the rocks on a very steep sideslope. The trail was very narrow and very rocky. It switchbacked every 100 feet or so. A fall would probably be fatal or at least very injurious. I thought “the Swiss are crazy” The Buossalp ride had been touted as high intermediate. If this was intermediate, what was advanced?
Pushing my bike alongside me, I trudge down a few switchbacks. Waaaaaay down below I could see that the sheer rock face let out into a meadow, and I could see the dirty ribbon of joy (aka, singletrack trail) winding through the meadow and towards what I presumed was Buossalp. I just needed to get down there without dying.
As I contemplated the insanity of Swiss mountain bikers, and struggled with my feelings of inadequacy in the face of such trail, a couple of Spanish hikers came along. They spoke enough English to tell me that I shouldn’t be on the trail. Since the bike shop guy the other day had said that hikers might wag their fingers at me about being on the trails, but I could safely ignore them, I assumed these hikers were just anti-biker.
To add to this, the couple pointed out on the map where they thought I should be riding, and it was all roads. More proof that they just had a personal bias against bikers on trails. So, I thanked them, but said I was doing OK. The last thing I heard from them was numerous shouts of “peligro! Peligro!” growing more faint as they worked their way down the trail.