Hospental to Bellinzona - on one leg!

I knew today would be difficult the moment I woke up, my knee had swollen nicely overnight and required gritted teeth determination simply to bend it. A generous dollop of Ibuprofen gel seemed to help, but for how long? I could not avoid the thought off the St Gotthard pass waiting for me at the front door of the hotel, no warm up I would be right into it!

At breakfast I tried, in by best broken German, to explain what had happened and that perhaps some non-slip tiles might be a more sensible bet in the on-suite, especially by the door where the clothes hanger was located.

Just before the off I hobbled across the road to the Hostel to apologise for my non-appearance (Hospental being one of the few Swiss hostels that does not require payment up-front when you book online). My annoyance at last night's accident was doubled when I found that the hostel had been open, but the door is really stiff and needs to be pushed hard to open it. Oh well!

I resolved not to make any decision about abandoning the tour until I had at least attempted St Gotthard, the Hospental side being the easy approach with only about 500mtr of climbing to contend with. Yesterday afternoon's glorious sunshine continued, so the conditions were otherwise ideal.

The ascent was, even by my pitiful standards, a slow and painful affair and any form of out of saddle climbing was now an absolute no-no. It was hard work, but the summit eventually came into view and yesterday's highest Col record was replaced with a new record, in daylight this time, so I was able to record the event for posterity!

St Gotthard - 2091Mtr

The top of Gotthard is a bit of a tourist trap, so I stopped for a break. Resting on a bench, beside a lake, bathed in sunshine, listening to the cheesy mountain music bellowing out of a tannoy, felt so good that I didn't want to leave; possibly because I knew what was coming. After a moment stood at the top of the pass admiring the view of the valley below I pushed off.

I normally enjoy descending, and the 15KM long 1,000Mtr drop into Airolo should have been great; featuring seven switchbacks with some big gaps between them. However, it wasn't great at all! The wind blowing onto my knee seemed to lock it into whatever position I adopted and changing for the next corner was a real struggle. By the end I was pootling along braking furiously simply to avoid having to move my left leg.

From Airolo the descent continues far more gradually for another 30KM or so but, being a hot day, the benefit was largely negated by the wind blowing up the valley toward the colder mountains. It was quite a struggle when you are effectively only using one leg.

There was still plenty of fantastic scenery and the increasing Italian influence on the surroundings made for some interesting distractions, but there was no getting away from the fact I making slow progress and, by the time I got to Bellinzona, it was getting late. I got as far as Cadenazzo at the foot of the climb up to Monte Ceneri and decided that was enough for today.

I quizzed my GPS about the nearest accommodation, which turned out to be the 'Del Bosco', it looked a bit run down, but had lots of rooms and seemed pretty busy. As there seemed to be no reception, I went to the bar to ask about a room. It turns out that the 'hotel' only booked rooms for about thirty minutes at a time and you weren't really expected to sleep for much of that.

On enquiring if there was somewhere nearby offering longer term (and less action packed) accommodation, the barman called on the assistance of an extremely attractive english speaking employee who put considerable effort into selling me on the benefits of a room with her in it, as opposed to one without such a facility. Once I managed to explain that I didn't really have the sort of marriage where such an arrangement would be considered acceptable, she helpfully gave me directions to a less salubrious establishment.

I moved on feeling quite pleased with myself; its amazing what the attention of attractive members of the opposite sex will do to the ego of a fat middle aged man, no matter how insincere the flattery is! It struck me just how good these women are at their job. My new found machismo didn't last long though, a quick phone call to my wife soon put me back in my place.

Unfortunately the suggested alternative (Hotel la Perla) turned out to have just given away their last room, but the receptionist could not have been more helpful. She phoned several hotels in the area to find one that would take me and my bike and, on finding out that the nearest was about 5KM away, offered to drive me and my bike to it. It looked a lovely family run place and anyone that helpful deserves a mention.

I declined the kind offer of help and made my own way to the Hotel Cereda which is modern and clean with an excellent menu, but I couldn't help feeling I'd missed out (on the la Perla that is, not the Del Bosco).

As the evening wore on it became obvious that trying to cycle any further was pointless, my knee was even more swollen now and seemed to be seizing up fast. The receptionist kindly found out the timetable for trains to Milan that would carry a bike, from where I could get another train to Venice.

Whilst I did use the bike for a spot of tourism around Milan, Verona and Venice, this tour officially ended at Bellinzona and it is going to take some imaginative planning to link it into the original scheme of an end to end of Europe. It is just as well I enjoy the planning almost as much as the cycling!

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Day:4 of 4
Date:20 September 2006
From:Hospental
To:Bellinzona
Distance:104 KM
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