Rhine Cycle Route – Day 2 – Disentis to Chur

Day 2 dawned. Legs hurt. Not to the level I had expected though.

Perhaps I am cut out for this?

No. The paltry 34km of the previous day does not a champion make.

The day’s destination? Chur.

Opening the curtains, I found day already dawning on the Swiss countryside surrounding Disentis. Very easy to like that place. Sun. Wind. Barnyard aromas. Happy cows jingling their neck bells whilst feasting on the endless green grass. Just lovely.

Should have been a farmer? Probably.

Should have been a Swiss cow? Absolutely.

Following a relaxed (and delicious) breakfast, we loaded up the bikes and set out. Peddling away from the hotel, an elderly gentleman waved us down.

“Which way are you going?”

“Don’t go that way. It goes up and down, up and down. Take the highway.”


The guidebook specifically suggested getting off the highway and onto the bike route. Decision time. Take the highway and have more cars salivating on our rear racks? No. Did that coming off the pass. Quiet bike trail? Yes, please!

Onto the bike route and further down into the Rhine valley we went. Easy at first. Paved.

Suddenly, gravel. Big gravel. What the? A passing route sign confirmed that we were in fact going the right way. I briefly pondered whether a mountain bike would have been a more appropriate bike for this trip.

Rounding a corner, the backside of a bulldozer came into view.


The trail was under repair. Had to make the 20 minute climb back up to the highway. Legs warm. Older gentleman probably laughed his tail feathers off at us. Deserved.

First lesson of riding the Rhine: Listen to the locals. They know.

Even so, there are far worse places to find oneself having to take an unplanned detour. Cycling amidst the Swiss hills with the sound of cowbells all around is never a bad thing.

A Swiss farmhouse with cows in the foreground, looking uphill towards the highway.
On Via Disla, just outside of Disentis, Switzerland, climbing back to the highway due to construction on the riverside trail. – May 5, 2014

Rejoining the highway, we rode several kilometres amidst the mild traffic searching for an ideal place to rejoin the route. The highway runs high above the river, so it was very difficult to tell exactly what might be the best way back down.

Assuming that we had passed the section of trail under construction, we chose a 4-wheel drive track leading into the valley from the highway down through the town of Cumpadials. As seemed to always be the case in Switzerland, we hadn’t ridden far before finding a sign indicating the direction to the local bike route, which in this case was route #2, the Rhine route. Crossing the river to rejoin the route, we stopped briefly to snap a few photos of the infant Rhine.

A riverbed with the Rhine running through it. Mountains and a town are visible in the background.
Photo taken from a bridge over the Rhine, which at this point was just a stream. Bridge is on Caplut road, just outside of Cumpadials. The town of Sumvitg is visible in the distance.

At this point the route generally flattened, and we rode for several easy kilometres through several farming villages, stopping in Reits to purchase some local cheese, and again in Rabius to have a snack.

Beyond Rabius, the route more or less followed the highway, sometimes climbing above it to take less travelled paths through the farm lands, other times dropping down near the river. Riding all of these sections was easy to navigate and enormously pleasant. Traffic was never an issue, and there was plenty to see. We made excellent time through this segment.

Outside of Tavanasa the route passed a large reservoir and crossed back to the south side of the Rhine. The next few kilometres were very peaceful as they wound alongside the Rhine alternating between fields and forest. After passing a live gun range a few kilometres west of Rueun, we stopped to eat again, looking out over the fields as we ate. Sausage, cheese, bread, and of course, chocolate. A cyclist’s lunch.

Coming up to Rueun we stopped to take pictures of the first covered bridge over the Rhine which joins the southern bank with the town of Rueun.

Westward shot of the gravel pathway outside of Rueun, Switzerland. Signposting in the foreground.
Pathway at the T-intersection to the covered bridge into Rueun, Switzerland – May 5, 2014.
A wooden covered bridge with a town in the background.
The covered bridge that links the two banks of the Rhine at the town of Rueun, Switzerland (visible in the background). – May 5, 2014

Passing Rueun, we rode several more kilometres to Ilanz, seemingly the largest town in some time. There’s a supermarket there, as well as a bike shop. Pressing on, the route begins to climb away from the river. We knew that the Ruinaulta gorge lay ahead and the climb would take us above its epic cliffs.

A short while after leaving Ilanz we stopped in the town of Castrisch to fill our water bottles. Most towns in Switerland have a public fountain, and unless otherwise indicated, they spout fresh mountain drinking water. For a cyclist, this was a dream because we had a constant easy supply of great water. There was never a need to ration our water supply on longer segments.

A small lane through the Swiss village of Castrisch. Buildings on either side.
In Castrisch, Switzerland, looking up the route as it begins a mild climb further into the hills to rise above the Ruinaulta gorge. – May 5, 2014
An open air water fountain comprised of a spout into a concrete pool. Buildings in background.
A public fountain next to the roadway at the center of Castrisch, Switzerland. Within Switzerland, unless otherwise posted, these distribute superb drinking water from the mountains. Delicious! – May 5, 2014.

The weather was beautiful as we continued to climb. Sun was out. Air crisp and clean. Very healthful. I was loving every second.

Coming away from Castrisch, the route climbs more steadily. My legs were really starting to earn their keep. Creeping into view as we climbed: The Ruinaulta gorge. A short downhill and a steeper climb and we rounded a corner through Carrera, beyond which the Ruinaulta came fully into view:

A scenic river gorge with rolling dandelion covered hills in the foreground.
The stunning Ruinaulta gorge photographed from the route just past Carrera, Switzerland. – May 5, 2014
Rolling grass foothills with a village in the background.
The rolling hills with the village of Carrera, Switzerland in the background. The route at this point is climbing to pass above the Ruinalta. Among the most scenic views of the entire Rhine route. – May 5, 2014.

The Ruinaulta is sometimes called “Switzerland’s Grand Canyon”, and while it’s not nearly as vast or deep as the actual Grand Canyon, it’s every bit as nice to look at. The kilometres we rode atop the Ruinaulta were among the most scenic of the entire Rhine route, cementing Day 2 among my favourites of the entire tour.

After idling along the top of the gorge for about half an hour, another wild descent over a 10km stretch of great road. Awesome. Like Day 1, the descent was great fun as we thumped down the mountain with great haste.

Following a series of downhill switchbacks, the route crosses a bridge and begins to climb again, rising once again atop the Ruinaulta. The climb was not arduous, and near the top we found a great place to pull over and snack between two tunnels. There were multiple lookout points here from which to survey the valley floor. It also served as an ideal to complete every cyclist’s favourite pastime: Photographing one’s bike.

A Surly Disc Trucker fully loaded for touring, leaning against a metal fence.
The author’s trusty steed, photographed on the route at a roadside turnout high above the Ruinaulta gorge. Turnout is between two tunnels between Versam and Bonaduz, Switzerland. – May 5, 2014

Leaving the turnout between the tunnels, we cycled a bit further and found a scenic outcropping developed as a tourist lookout for the Ruinaulta. We paused again to look back over the valley, snowy peaks still visible in the distance. Looking ahead, it was clear that the scenery was changing. We were coming out of the mountains and into the hills.

Wide shot of the scenic Ruinaulta gorge in Switzerland. Rhine river far below.
Photo of the Ruinaulta Gorge taken from a lookout point on the route between Versam and Bonaduz, Switzerland. – May 5, 2014

Beyond the Ruinaulta lookout, the route descends mildly into Bonaduz. True to the information in our guidebook, this was the first place where the route became momentarily hard to follow. There is a hard left turn that must be made at an intersection in Bonaduz, that despite being well signposted, is very easy to miss.

Finding our way, we descended some more, then the path began alternate between small climbs and descents. This section was filled with small farms selling their goods. We stocked up. More sausage. More cheese. More fruit veggies.

Beyond the farms we rode through a relatively flat section into the outskirts of Chur; a much larger city than any we had yet encountered. Entering the town, we again lost the route in the confusion of busier traffic. Eventually finding our way, the route passes into town passing the central train station where we dismounted and began searching for accommodation.

Chur is a nice city, but I didn’t find all the hustle and bustle to be a welcome change compared to the sleepy country villages we had been frequenting since we began the ride. Checking into a hotel in the old town center I felt myself missing the sound of cowbells. Didn’t matter though, I still slept like a log.

Day 2 Stats

Day’s distance: 79.18km

Seat time: 4:48

Max speed: 55.2 km/h

Ave. Speed: 16.4 km/h

Total distance: 113 km

Rhine Cycle Route – Day 1 – Andermatt to Disentis

The forecast called for sunny weather. Switzerland delivered. Awesome.

Andermatt - May 4, 2014
Andermatt – May 4, 2014

It was still chilly, but after weeks of snow, rain, and other meteorogical unpleasantries, a sunny day was most welcome. Just in time for us to start our ride.

A 2013 Surly Disc Trucker leaning against a bridge in the town of Andermatt, Switzerland.
My 2013 Surly Disc Trucker leaning against a bridge in Andermatt just before the first pedal stroke of our ride. Spotlessly clean. I fell in love with this bike again and again over the coming weeks. It never let me down even once. Andermatt – May 4, 2014.

Wheeling my Surly Disc Trucker into the sun, I felt that gentle apprehension one feels when embarking on something big. The Rhine meanders through six countries over more than 1000 kilometres on its way to the sea, and I was about to see every inch of it from the seat of my bike. Whispering a prayer to the demigods of cycling, I jumped into the saddle and peddled down the street, companions #1 and #2 close behind.

Not even 200 meters from our overnight accommodation, the route starts with an ascent. Nothing too painful, just 610m of steady elevation gain over 10km. Slow. Steady.

Scenic shot of the Oberalp pass road as it leaves Andermatt.
The Oberalp Pass road just as it leaves Andermatt. Cycle lane (which comes and goes on the climb) indicated by yellow stripes. No snow at this elevation. Andermatt – May 4, 2014.

It was always important to me to start the ride with the climb. Though not a large climb by cycling standards, since the very start of my trip planning, I always felt that starting uphill gave license to the vast distance that lay beyond. It’s a rite of passage.

As we left the outskirts of Andermatt on our way up the hill, the scenery became astonishingly good. Switzerland is unbelievably pretty. We pulled over to take pictures.

A scenic photograph of a Swiss mountain valley on the Andermatt side of the Oberalp Pass road
On our way to the Oberalp Pass looking into the mountain valley below – May 4, 2014

The switchbacks continued up the mountain side. Traffic on the roadway was light, we were making good time, and despite the constant upward push, I never once regretted the decision to start the ride with a lengthy hill. The views and the fresh air made it completely worthwhile.

As our elevation grew, so did the snow pack. Sunny as it was, I reflected momentarily that Winter had only just vacated the region, and it would be entirely possible for us to find ourselves riding in a short blizzard over the next few days. In that very moment I was wearing my full fingered gloves, merino wool undergarment, jersey, rain coat and rain pants. Had I not been torquing my bike up a hill, I may have even been a bit cold. I had seen it written multiple times that planning a ride to the top of Oberalp pass before May is a gamble. It seems we had been very lucky. Days earlier, the road was probably impassible by bike.

Cresting a steeper incline and rounding a bend, the Glacier Express train that goes over Oberalp pass roared past with a slew of happy faces pressing their noses against the train’s glass to take in the view. We waved. They waved back. Jealous of the people on the train? Not in the slightest. Seeing Oberalp pass from a bike seat is THE way to see Oberalp pass.

Oberalp Pass - May 4, 2014
Oberalp Pass – May 4, 2014

With the incline shallowing, the oft photographed lodge at the summit of Oberalp pass came into view, its proudly Swiss architecture beckoning across the snowy valley. We were nearly there.

Plunging into a dimly lit tunnel, I hear #1 yell, “Ice!”.

Oh goody! Nothing like the thought of encountering nearly invisible ice in a dark tunnel to spice up the moment. Tightening my stance, I rode over several slippery sections and emerged still on two wheels. A few minutes more and we reached the summit.

Swiss styled restaurant at the summit of Oberalp pass, surrounded by white snow.
Restaurant at the Oberalp Pass Summit – May 4, 2014

Climb completed.

At this point it would have been perfectly acceptable to snap a few pictures and begin our descent down the other side. I didn’t come to Europe just to ride though; I came to eat as well. Best to stop in at the Oberalp pass lodge for a bowl of soup. Good soup it was, too.

A few steps from the lodge is the seemingly second most photographed object on Oberalp pass; the curious lighthouse positioned at the true summit of the pass road.

A red and white lighthouse partly buried in snow on the flanks of a Swiss mountain.
The lighthouse that marks the springs of the Rhine. Elevation signposted as 2046 meters above sea-level; the highest point of our trip. Oberalp pass – May 4, 2014.

Looking up into the mountain I pondered how nice it would have been to also make the hike up to Tomasee, the true source of the Rhine. I guess I’ll have to come do this ride again further into summer.

Soup consumed and windproof jacket donned we gingerly began our 20 km descent to Disentis. Glancing ahead, I see a sequence of tight hairpins that snake down the mountain. The scene would be right at home in any James Bond film. What a great place to be riding a bike.

Getting ever more comfortable on the Surly, multiple kilometres of road whooshed past on the descent. The hairpins were dealt with in mere minutes of short bursts of speed followed by hard braking to corner. Excitement was reaching a peak. I dashed into each successive hairpin with increasing vigour, my disc brakes whistling as they slowed my heavy-laden bike. I dared not stop for pictures; to interupt the continuity of such a descent would be catastrophically irreverent to the thrill of the moment.

Emerging from the hairpins, the road straightens but never levels. The decline continues for kilometre after kilometre. Surpassing 40km/h, I felt the Surly’s Chromoly frame flex and twist as we devoured the tarmac. What a bike! The frame of the bike was pure magic. I couldn’t believe how confident everything felt plummeting down the road with my 190 lbs in the saddle and 30lbs of gear over the rear wheel.


I can hear my panniers whistling in the wind as they compromise my aerodynamics.


The road narrowed and a bit of wind came up. Just about to crest 55km/h I got antsy and started scrubbing off some speed. No need to have an off on day one.

Fingers near frozen from the icey air, we pull in the first tiny town we encounter to catch our breath. I can’t feel my hands. Don’t care. Such fun!

Turning around, we look upwards at the road we had just plummeted down. The summit is no longer in view. Like the Rhine, we had begun a one-way journey out of the pass.

Snow capped peaks and green valleys looking up the Oberalp pass road.
Looking backwards up the pass road that we had just descended. Snow capped peaks already giving way to green valleys. Tschamut, Switzerland – May 4, 2014.

Back on the bikes, the road descends further still before bursting into a beautiful Swiss farming countryside. We pulled over again to take pictures. Move here? In a heartbeat. I briefly considered tossing my possessions into the ravine and starting life as a Swiss farmer. What a beautiful place.

Sedrun, Switzerland - May 4, 2014
Sedrun, Switzerland – May 4, 2014

Descending further still, we made a ceremonial pitstop at rivers edge to collect some virgin waters of the Rhine, which at this point is but a stream. Then, on the climb back to the main road we bought some delicious cheese (Alpkäse), jam (elder berry), and sausage from a delightful older gentleman selling his creations from an unassuming fridge leaning against his house. We found many such farmers who were selling small quantities of the home-made goods right from their farms. The prices are incredibly reasonable and the quality outstanding.

By then, small farming villages dotted the route, each as picturesque as the one before. The air smelled of cows. Loving every minute.

Scenic shot looking up a roadway in the Swiss mountains.
Looking backwards into the hills and pass we had just ridden out of. Gorgeous green slopes in every direction. Just outside of Segnas, Switzerland, about 2km from Disentis – May 4, 2014.

Then, seemingly just a few pedal strokes more, Disentis at last. Checking into the hotel, we stashed the bikes and set out on foot to explore the town. The town was beautiful, with the interior of Disentis Abbey being a particular treat.

Wide shot of the beautiful paintings on the ceiling of the Disentis Abbey.
The epic ceiling of the Disentis Abbey. Beautiful artwork and craftsmanship throughout. Well worth a stop. Disentis, Switzerland – May 4, 2014.

As the sun began to set, we parked ourselves on a bench across from the Abbey to feast. #1 whipped out his pocket knife and dispensed sections of sausage. Best I’ve ever had.

Two links of sausage and a section of a cheese wheel photographed on the author's lap in Disentis, Switzerland.
Locally produced sausage and Alpkäse bought in Rueras, Switzerland – May 4, 2014

Walking back to the hotel, we pass a signpost filled with route markers for the region. A subtle reminder that our ride had just begun.

Swiss cycling, hiking, and recreational signposting backed by a rock wall.
An example of the superb Swiss signposting. It’s very easy to navigate the route. Through much of Switzerland, route #2 is followed. Disentis, Switzerland – May 4, 2014.

Loving the Surly. Loving the ride. More!


Day’s distance: 34.53km

Seat time: 2:21

Max speed: 54.3 km/h

Times contemplating the great fortune of those who call this part of the world home: innumerable.

Rhine Cycle Route – Day 0 – Zurich to Andermatt

Morning. Zürich.

Missing Iceland already. Spectacular.

Got in via an early flight from Keflavik. Tired, but happy to have finally arrived in Switzerland. Time to get down to business and do some riding.

Walking off the flight, we catch a glimpse of our boxes being unloaded off the airplane. At a distance, they look very much intact.

Icelandair aircraft with bike boxes being unloaded down cargo ramp.
Bike boxes being unloaded from our airplane at the Zürich airport on May 3, 2014.

Baggage claim. Nervous. Images of a squashed bike box flash through my mind. Have the Icelandic and Swiss baggage handlers been kind to my box?

They have! Bless them. The bike boxes have all arrived. They look to have suffered little more than a few bumps and jiggles. Very glad that I can finally banish the horrible images of a squashed bike from my mind. I’m sure I’ll need parts on this trip, but I didn’t want to find myself in a bike shop on day zero.


The next order of business was, of course, to reassemble the bikes. No problem. Just need a place to work.

Finding the luggage carts incompatible with our boxes, we lug our bike boxes out of the baggage area by hand. Outside of the baggage claim area, we find a quiet corner of the terminal with plenty of room to work. Perfect.

A Surly Disc Trucker disassembled and in a bike box on the floor of the Zürich airport.
My Surly Disc Trucker in its bike box, some packing material already removed. Zürich airport – May 3, 2014.

Opening the box, I see that everything is more or less where I left it. Very glad that I took great care while packing the bike. The cardboard reinforcements that I added have fared well, and the items that I zip-tied in place have stayed right where they needed to. Using my pocket knife, I cut away some tape and cardboard before drawing the entire bike out of the box and onto the floor.

A Surly Disc Trucker bike (green) ready for reassembly on the floor of the Zürich airport.
My Surly Disc Trucker removed from its box, ready for reassembly. Zürich airport – May 3, 2014.

More cutting. Slicing. Pulling.

Bits of tape, bubble wrap and foam padding now litter the area, but I’ve managed to successfully liberate the bike and its parts from the packing material. In 10 minutes I’ve managed to undo the packing work that took me hours to create.

Laying out the parts, I start by re-positioning the stem and the handle bars. Brifters show no signs of damage, nor do the cables. Good. Next I replace the seat, water bottle cages and handlebar bag mount. Everything is looking good.

Next, the rear derailleur, chain, front fender, pedals and front wheel are re-positioned. I look the bike over. All the spokes look good. No scratches on the frame. I run the shifters through a few tests. Gears are changing crisply. Everything seems well aligned.

Finishing up, I realign the Tubus rear rack and tighten down the mounting bolts.

What the?

Missing an allen screw. A rather important allen screw, for which I don’t have a spare. Where the blazes might it have gone?

Concerned, I rifle through the box, then the pile of cut up packing material, then the box again, finally to discover that the fugitive screw had liberated itself from the rack hardware and found a nice home under the bottom flap of the box. Close call. I was minutes away from trying to get rid of that box all together.

Allen screw located, I finish adjusting the rack and check all the other fasteners for snugness. The bike is ready. Let’s do this!

From the arrivals level we descend into the bowels of the Zürich airport. Busy. People everywhere curiously look on as we roll our bikes through the terminal.

After acquiring some snacks at a shoppe in the terminal, we retrieve our train tickets and descend further onto the train platform. Getting the bike into the elevators is a squeeze. Shouldering the bike I take the escalator instead.

Train arrives. We sprint the bikes to the bike-friendly coach indicated by a huge sticker on the side of the train. Next stop: Zürich HB.

The train meanders through Zürich to the main terminal, arriving there in mere minutes. We offload, switch platforms, and wait for the InterRegio train that will carry us to our next change in Göschenen. Weather outside is damp.

Another train. This time the bikes are hung vertically by the door rather than being stowed in the vestibule. The ride to Göschenen is nearly an hour, giving us plenty of time to get a first glimpse of the beautiful Swiss countryside. Even from the train, the scenery is epic. We’re climbing.

Pulling into Göschenen we unload hastily to find ourselves on a quiet platform very much in the mountains. The temperature has dropped. I don my jacket.

A quick survey of the platform schedule reveals that our next train route directly into Andermatt is under repair and has been replaced by a shuttle bus. Shame. I was looking forward to riding a train outfitted with a cog drive to climb into Andermatt.

Platform stairs and signage at the Göschenen, Switzerland railway station on May 3, 2014.
Göschenen railway station – May 3, 2014

Waiting for the bus, we discover that we aren’t the only bike tourists headed for Andermatt. A Russian couple is also waiting for the shuttle bus. In broken English they tell us of their planned journey heading in the opposite direction as ours towards the warmer south.

The shuttle bus arrives and the driver gingerly coaxes all the bikes onto the bus, completely blocking the side entrance. We and the Russians squeeze into the back as the driver starts his ascent into Andermatt.

As we ascend, the weather turns fouler still. First rain, then the odd snowflake dance downward. Knowing full well that the road over the pass is still often closed this time of year, I begin to wonder if we’ll be forced to ride the train over the pass on the morrow. This would be a massive disappointment as I really wanted to pound out the initial climb.

Arriving, we unload and set out into the rain and fog to search for our overnight accommodation. The Russian couple heads in the opposite direction. I lob them the best “dasvidaniya” I can muster. They chuckle over my categorically awful pronunciation and return the gesture. Godspeed.

Andermatt is beautiful, even through the fog. Wishing that the weather would improve, I wonder quietly if I should’ve brought my skis. Checking in, the Bed and Breakfast proprietor assures us that clear skies are forecast tomorrow. Let’s hope so!

Andermatt - May 3, 2014
Andermatt – May 3, 2014

Rösti at a local pub for dinner. Delicious.

A cast iron plate filled with rösti, cheese, fresh tomato, and a pickle.
Rösti for dinner in Andermatt – May 3, 2014

I’m ready.

Stopover: Iceland 2

More surprises in Iceland.

Today more spectacular geothermal sites and other stunning visuals on the island. The highlight: A two hour hike through the Icelandic back country to go for a swim in a creek heated by geothermal activity. The water was hot like a hot tub. Awesome.

Flight to Switzerland tomorrow.

Stopover: Iceland

Day one of our stopover in Iceland: In the books.

Stunningly pretty here.  Pics to come.

Today we did the ‘Golden Circle’ route, stopping in to see one of Iceland’s national parks, the geyser, and Iceland’s most famous waterfall, Gullfoss. Had dinner in Reykjavik. Good seafood.

The bikes are still safely packed in their boxes. They seem to have weathered the first flight leg nicely. Hopefully all will be well when we crack the boxes open in Switzerland.

One more day here, then a flight to Zurich and a train ride to our start point in Andermatt.