I am writing this post from a balcony high above Lago Maggiore, sipping fresh coffee and watching the sun come up on another clear, blue day. There’s no cycling to do today (sad face), but it is nice to have a quiet, relaxing morning after the past 16 days.
Yesterday we set off from Gotthard campsite in Andermatt after spending the evening with Sue and Ben my aunt and cousin respectively. Everyone else had a long, cold night with not much sleep as this was our coldest camp of the trip. I definitely felt lucky (and a little smug) about my Alpkit Pipedeam 400 down sleeping bag with a silk liner which has served perfectly for everything from the hottest summer night in France to an (apparently) cold night in Andermatt.
We have been very lucky with campsites over the past couple of weeks so we were due a duff one, so a word of warning: Gotthard Camping Andermatt is a small patch of grass with the facilities over the main road inside the cable car station. The campsite is a bit of an afterthought, but the facilities were at least clean. I would guess that it’s the only campsite in Andermatt because the lady running the place was pretty rude as well! Fortunately we only stay in campsites to sleep, so it was all soon forgotten as we got on the road. I think the mental and physical anguish from the previous day had worn everyone down because the start wasn’t the most efficient we’ve had. There’s something about setting off for the last day where you almost feel like it’s over so there’s no rush.
The climb for Gotthard starts a mile or so from the edge of Andermatt so I had a lighter breakfast (only 4 Weetabix!) and we just carried bananas and water. After yesterday’s ascents of Grimsel and Furka, Gotthard promised to be more straightforward, albeit with a cobbled section. Jen’s knee had improved and she was feeling positive about the last climb, so we all pushed on together. The photos show something of Jen’s determination, and I think her knee was somewhat more painful than she let on.
Near the top of the Gotthard pass we were joined by Ben, who climbed the last couple of hundred metres with us. I think he had a better time than us on the cobbles as he’s got a full-suspension mountain bike!
The Gotthard pass marked the end of the substantial climbs of the trip, but there was still over 50 miles to go to Locarno so we decided to stay on the main road as it wasn’t too busy. The cobbled path was fine for an ascent, but is a bit too jarring to descent at speed on a road bike. The only down-side to this decision was the 1.6km tunnel early on in the descent. It started as a gallery with an open side, but there is an extended section which is completely enclosed and it quickly became too dark for my sunglasses. Trying to hurtle through as quickly as possible so you aren’t constantly being overtaken is fine, but with nothing protecting my eyes I was soon streaming. I didn’t see a way to avoid the tunnel but use the main road for the descent, but the remaining long straights and picturesque hairpins made our choice a good one. The road surface was generally excellent and allowed a safe build up of speed. I can’t tell Mum, but the GPS clocked over 50mph down one straight, which I think was the same time I was overtaken by a very shiny black Ferrari. It was a shame the GoPro’s battery died after the time-lapse recording of our ascent, because that descent was fun!
As we descended towards Airolo we started pausing with the support team more frequently, taking longer breaks, and generally just winding down. Glancing at the GPS showed we weren’t making as good progress as we needed so unfortunately we had to part company with Ben for a short while to get back up to road-bike speeds. Just before we did I swapped bikes with Ben thinking “this will be easy, I’ve been cycling for the past two weeks”, but keeping up with Jen, Meg and Ben on roadies with 1.75″ knobbly tyres and road shoes with cleats on big flat pedals was arduous work and I felt pretty tired when we swapped back – good effort for keeping up with us Ben! Give me drop handlebars any day for long rides.
Riding towards Bellinzona the heat started to feel oppressive. There was a thick cover of cloud and it looked a lot like we were going to get wet before the end. The humidity was right up there and we were more accustomed to a nice dry heat. At one point Jen started feeling dizzy so we had to pause just to make sure noone passed out. That would not have been a good end to the trip!
We were supposed to meet Ben and Sue in Bellinzona so Ben could ride the last section with us but we experienced the first technological failure of the trip: Megan’s phone died and ours were in the support vehicle. In the end we pushed on to Locarno but started feeling a little worried we were going to finish alone.
The stretch between Bellinzona and Locarno had a little sting in the tail and there were plenty of short sharp inclines before we arrived by Lago Maggiore. As soon as we hit the lake it started setting in that we’d made it.
Sue, Rico and Ben have been amazing and brought down Swiss flags and Union Jack bunting for us to cross the finish with. We must have looked pretty bizarre standing by the Locarno ferry terminal with cameras everywhere snapping away. There was time for a quick ice cream before I headed up the hill with Ben and jumped in the pool, with no intention of getting out before dinner.
So, what next? We’ve got a few hours before we have to set off on the long drive home, which will take Dad and Chris to Oxford, Bangor, Leeds and the Isle of Wight. There are too many photos and videos to even think about today, so it’ll have to be the pool. What a shame.
This post wouldn’t be complete without a huge thanks to everyone who’s helped us get here. Your donations have helped us raise over £2700 so far for the MS Trust and the Roy Castle Foundation, and the support we’ve received has really blown us away. Most nights we’ve been able to at least read the comments on the blog and Twitter, even if we weren’t able to reply to them, and knowing we had the support of everyone back home has done wonders for our morale and motivation.
The only way to sign off this post is with the biggest thanks of all to Dad and Chris. They’ve given up two weeks of “holiday” to set up and dismantle the team tent, feed us, clean up around us, provide us with timely suncream, food and water, provide emergency support when Jen’s knee has been at its worst, and everything else. Every day they were up before us and were working well after we’d arrived back in camp and got sorted out. Without their hard work and continued good humour there’s no way this trip could have succeeded, and running support is often a thankless task (we know we can be pretty demanding!).