After a lifetime of mountain sport trips for both work and play, a few certainly stand out. A great experience results from more than what you did and saw, it comes from who you shared it with. The Swiss CrissCross was the perfect mix of all the right ingredients; a double crossing of Switzerland by bike, horrendous conditions, broken body parts, doubt, but of course sublime beauty, joy and great friends to share it all with. This is the text I wrote after completing the project back in 2012.
The Swiss CrissCross
It has been nearly two weeks since we came to a screeching, squealing halt in the town of Martigny, Switzerland. From 2000 meters above in the famed ski resort of Verbier, we started a descent that would include carrying our bikes down absurdly steep trails, riding absurdly good trails, screaming down dirt roads, tip toeing along cliff edges holding onto chains, and finally surfing banked, burmed turns as we approached our final destination on the last day of our Swiss CrissCross. As we all high fived the finish of the trip, disc brakes could still be heard sizzling, we could have branded cows.
Since that time, only sneezing is still excruciating to my cracked ribs, my wrist is no longer swollen, the scabs on my face healed and my various bruises fading. That is how the trip went, the Cross part at least. The Criss, well, that remains a memory nearly without incident. There was the car that Alain nearly hit, instead he hit the pavement in what was probably the best option.
Yes, that is bike riding. When you do it every day, all day, for two weeks, there are bound to be the less than ideal moments, luckily they are outnumbered 1000 : 1 by great, lifelong memories.
So, what did we get ourselves into this time? Together with my friend Alain Rumpf, we rode across Switzerland on the road, 5 days, nearly 700km and about 16,000 meters of vertical gain. We crossed 9 hors catégorie passes and numerous lesser cols, rolled through countless pristine villages, ate more torts and biberli than we can remember, and finally, descended silky smooth pavement, ancient cobbles and even dirt roads from high atop alpine cols. With an unrivaled bike road system, wider than your typical Euro pass roads, the sweetest pavement known to the cycling world, idyllic villages, food and hotels in which to call it a day, and a country that simply had to have been designed by a cyclist – Switzerland is the ideal host for such a journey. But wait, there’s more…
Upon completing our road ride across the Alps, the Criss, we embarked on the Cross – the mountain bike journey back through the Alps – staying on as much trail and dirt as possible. For this, we were joined by Jürg Buschor of Super Trail Maps and editor of the Swiss Outdoor Guide. Jürg is one of Switzerland’s most knowledgeable sources of singletrack trail riding, he knows the Alps like few others. And as it turns out, he can ride most everything he knows of. The roadies in attendance, uhmm, hmm, had a hard time following… at least on two wheels.
For the return, Jürg put together what I later recalled as being described as a “monster”. Looking back, this is a fairly accurate statement. To say we were put to the test is an understatement, we were semi-tortured as we slowly made our way through the Alps. On day 1, Janine broke a finger. Then, on our first big descent, I went down hard in a rock field, landing on my bike, feeling ribs crack and wrists bending back in an unnatural way. As I struggled on that day, I realized that all this could end right then and there, with one injury, done. But we were committed to finishing this thing, we’d have to smarten up and ride more carefully. Onward. Of course this strategy was abandoned on day two when we flowed through beautiful forest on silky loam. I tried keeping up with the big boys and can barely remember the sound my nose made as it crunched into the ground. I do remember waking up next to the slippery wet root that threw me. At least my swollen face distracted me from how sore my ribs were.
Alain’s days were somewhat similar, although he was smart enough to not attempt following Jürg and the Gang. Instead, Alain endured the day’s descents in solitude and would rejoin the group once it was over. The fact that he was looking more and more like a cage fighter each evening did not escape our attention.
As the days wore on, Jürg and his fellow ace riding friends Roland and Patricia blasted ahead, leaving Alain, Janine and I to huff and puff and blow ourselves up. This was a real mountain biking route. The three of us realized pretty quickly that we had found ourselves on one of those trips that doesn’t come easily, in fact “funny later” would certainly apply. But, from experience, we also knew the payoff would be worth it. The road riding bit was great, but truly, it wasn’t difficult, it was just fun – it was what we do each day, just more of it. But the mountain biking rapidly removed us from our comfort zone. As fit as we are as cyclists, we were put to the test pushing, carrying, and riding steep and technical terrain.
Looking back, I’m proud we all completed it, I’m even more proud to have survived, and that we didn’t kill Jürg. We cursed him, but so too were days when we praised him. We did appreciate where his difficult approaches took us, and some of the rewards that we found in the form of singletrack, 1000’s of meters of it, twisting and turning their way down through lush, green forests – he knew how to sniff them out. Like so many rewards, they required effort. Rewards that come with little effort have less of a lasting memory, from this mountain bike trip – we have one hell of a great memory. Funny later indeed.
We are anxious to share our photos and stories from this incredible trip, but the photos we show and the stories we tell are just motivation to see for yourself – the reason to go is for the feelings and emotions that can only be experienced.
The Swiss CrissCross will appear as a feature in an upcoming issue of America’s Peloton and Switchback Magazine as well as Germany’s Road Bike and Mountain Bike Magazines. In these magazines will be route & logistic info so the CrissCross can be done by anyone with two weeks, a road and mountain bike, oh, and a bit of energy.
I would like to say a huge thank you to all those who were a part of this little idea I had. Alain, the perfect road riding partner and truly a friend. Great to know we’ve already started planning the 2013 version the Swiss ZigZag. Jürg, thanks for the ass kicking, it was worth it. Roland, dude can ride… Patricia, what a key player, who can also really ride, thank you thank you thank you for driving support and joining us each day. And of course Janine, driving support on the road, shooting photos and then riding the mountain bike segment. To all our sponsors who provided gear extraordinaire, we put it all to the test and needed every bit of it, the perfect set ups. Assos, Gore Bike Wear, Osmo Nutrition, Specialized, Deuter Packs, Scott Bikes and Imboden Bike. And a very special thank you to all the offices of Swiss Tourism and MySwitzerland – thanks to your invaluable support, we were treated as kings and queens all across Switzerland.