The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Matterhorn and St. Bernard

It rained during the night, the sort of drizzly rain that collects in the trees and falls ker-plop on the tent in big droplets. It woke me up, and I lay there snuggled in my sleeping bag, listening -- letting the sound drift me back into sleep.

I woke up again, later, to a wet tent, and I could not bring myself to pack it away, to rot in its bag on the back of Odysseus. So I decided to stay in this campground another night and go into Berne for the day. I have time, and I would like to get to know the city better.

The tram stops two blocks from my campground, and I decided to ride it in instead of walking the river path.  The tram took me right into the center of the city, with me watching for landmarks and counting stops to make sure I could find my way back home again later.

As a rule, I don't enjoy capital cities much -- I find them a little too large to get my mind firmly around, as if hitting the highlights will have to do but the true city of the people is forever beyond my reach.

Berne, on the other hand, seems more manageable. There are only 150,000 people in the city proper, and even though most of them seemed to be out and about while I was there, I still found plenty of empty streets to explore and shaded parks to rest in.

Probably fans of Paris or London or Rome would not agree with me, but I think little Berne is much prettier than they are.

In a previous posting, I talked about the bear being the symbol of Berne, and how, in fact, the word "Berne" means bear. There are bears everywhere: even four live brown bears in "Bear Park" running around chasing each other, and from time to time jumping into their little enclosed bear-pools at the edge of the river.

This bear is a statue on a fountain. There are a lot of fountains just like this one in Berne. Fountains are another thing Berne is proud of -- the city likes its running water and its river.

But while all the fountains look pretty much alike, they each sport a different figure on top: this one a bear, another an ogre, or Moses, or David, and so forth. The clock back in the background is something else Berne is proud of. It is very old and has wooden clockworks and moving figures to dance and ring chimes and bells on the hour.

But enough about Berne. This is a motorcycle blog. Gotta get moving again. It was sunny this next morning when I woke up, and I was ready to hit the road. My goal: the town of Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn.

After a long ride, I came to an end of the road and the beginning of  a long tunnel. The only way through the mountains here is by train -- a train that carries cars and motorcycles and just about anything else that can get on board.

Look at that little white car trying to edge through the red light. Little does it know that motorcycles get to go ahead of cars on this train.

But first we have to wait for the vehicles coming from the other direction to get off the train. They just kept a-coming. It is a long train---

Then they lowered a side door, motioned for the motorcycles, and we rode onto the metal floors of the flatbed train cars and went up to the very front of the train. There was an enclosed car up there for us, and it had tie-down ropes for us to secure our bikes so they would not fall over as the train swayed its way through the long tunnel.


We even had cushioned seats to sit in up in the next cabin. The poor car drivers had to sit in their own cars for the half hour ride through the tunnel.

There were four of us there on our motorcycles: a man on a huge Honda Gold Wing from Germany, and a man and woman from Switzerland on BMW bikes the size of my Suzuki. They told me all about the passes in the Alps that I should ride. The best ones, they said, are in the Jura Alps along the border between Italy and France. The Tour de France is riding those passes now, but I should be able to miss getting involved in that. Thy were most emphatic that I do that must miss getting in the middle of the "Tour".

The tunnel dumped us out along the south side of Switzerland. These are the high alps there, all covered with glaciers and with their heads proudly in the clouds. This is where I want to be, but the Matterhorn looks like it will not work out this trip because it started to rain again. I caught a glimpse of it just before the clouds wrapped around it like a grey shawl.

I don't much like riding in the rain, and I especially don't like riding mountain roads in the rain. Besides the danger, there is all the scenery that gets missed.

Odysseus doesn't much like the rain either. He was clean this morning, but now he is a muddy mess.

Check out the USA sticker I made. When I come back next year I will have a better one, but for now this will have to do. People can't figure out where Eel - ain - wah is, but now they will at least know it is in the good old U S of A.  Every time they see my plate, they want to know all about how I got my bike here. I drag out the map I keep on my cards in my wallet and explain how I took Odysseus from Illinois to Florida and shipped him by boat to Holland and by truck to Germany. They always have a lot of questions for me.

I rode up the valley toward the town of St. Bernard where pictures of big, shaggy St. Bernard dogs are everywhere, each with a keg of brandy around its neck. I stopped at a campground just below Saint Bernard Pass. It is a nice campground, but cold (60 degrees).

After I had paid my camping fee, but before I put up my tent, I went exploring a little.  Here is a picture of the commons area where they have couches and sinks and tables for the campers to use.

I was the only one in the place. In fact, there is almost no one here at all in the entire campground. And look at this sign----

It was on some stairs that go steeply up to a loft where there are soft cushions, a bunch of pillows, and clean, fluffy blankets. It is going to rain tonight. Maybe I won't have to put away a wet tent in the morning. I paid 17 CHF (Swiss Francs) to camp. As a big person, I will gladly pay the 3 CHF extra. Gotta go ask.

No problem, the guy says, and I don't need to pay extra. I am in tall cotton tonight!!

Now, if only the rains will work themselves out tonight so that I have a dry ride over the pass in the morning. I think that won't happen though. The TV says that the rains should start again in the early afternoon. Maybe I will be in Italy by then.

More later,

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