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A Tribute To Nanu

There we were again, Sam and I traveling together across Switzerland. Only this year, everything was different. This time I wasn't listening non-stop to radio-tour, scrambling up the hillsides behind scenic hairpins or editing video sequences in the back seat of our notorious bus ‘33’. Armed with all his photo-gear, Sam was kitted out just like on a regular Tour de Suisse, but this year I was on my bike—alone.

And this wasn't a race. No race at all. I’d stopped pinning numbers on jerseys at the end of my teenage years. Nowadays, I only ride for fun and pleasure. Training belongs to a time long gone with cycling now an adventure again—just like in childhood.

Sometimes on winter days when the visibility is good, I catch myself staring at the Alps on the horizon and thinking: despite all these cold, grey days, summer will come again, and we'll be back in the mountains hunting adventures. And that's why I usually come up with a winter challenge—a personal ride which is a little bigger and crazier than usual. The thought, planning and mental preparation proving to be motivation enough to see me through the cold, dark months.

At some point the idea crystalized to dedicate the 2020 challenge to my late grandmother, who I knew as Nanu. Susanna, my Nonna, was born at the foot of the Stelvio in South Tyrol. After the war, in which her brothers were conscripted against their will to fight for the Fascists before deserting at the risk of death, Nanu and her sister left Italy for the north. Via the Alps, she came to Bern in Switzerland, so my idea was a simple one. Since I also live in Bern, I would travel back to the South Tyrol over as many mountain passes as possible in one day.

 

I left Bern shortly after midnight and rode the 100 km to the foot of the Alps ready to climb the Grimsel Pass in the gentleness of dawn. I believe that no matter how old I get, my impressions of that morning - the light on the rocks, the curious look of a fox on the street, the mist over the lake - will always conjure up a feeling of limitless freedom.

Not that a Furka Pass without traffic, the descent through the James Bond curve in the morning light, a pocket porridge in front of the lighthouse on the Oberalp Pass or the heat on the Albula Pass were nothing if not special. But what I will definitely remember for the rest of my life is that ascent of the Ofen Pass.

Kicking in steeply on the north side, as my breathing quickened and my legs grew heavier, I did begin to have my doubts. Right from the beginning of my journey, I’d kept worrying a little: whether the few hours of sleep before midnight would be sufficient for such an effort, if I’d started too quickly, ate or drank too little. Despite the joy and fun, there was always a certain sense of apprehension.

 

I left Bern shortly after midnight and rode the 100 km to the foot of the Alps ready to climb the Grimsel Pass in the gentleness of dawn. I believe that no matter how old I get, my impressions of that morning - the light on the rocks, the curious look of a fox on the street, the mist over the lake - will always conjure up a feeling of limitless freedom.

Not that a Furka Pass without traffic, the descent through the James Bond curve in the morning light, a pocket porridge in front of the lighthouse on the Oberalp Pass or the heat on the Albula Pass were nothing if not special. But what I will definitely remember for the rest of my life is that ascent of the Ofen Pass.

Kicking in steeply on the north side, as my breathing quickened and my legs grew heavier, I did begin to have my doubts. Right from the beginning of my journey, I’d kept worrying a little: whether the few hours of sleep before midnight would be sufficient for such an effort, if I’d started too quickly, ate or drank too little. Despite the joy and fun, there was always a certain sense of apprehension.

"I left Bern shortly after midnight and rode the 100 km to the foot of the Alps."

But on the slopes of the Ofen Pass, as the sun slowly sank behind the peaks of the national park, I found myself soaking up all the sensory stimuli: the shimmering and babbling of the mountain river on the roadside, the warm flat light, the long shadows of the fir trees. Everything else was gone! Forgotten was the gradient and the fatigue of 350 km.

I was locked, Zen-like, in the moment and enjoying every second. There was nothing I would have preferred to be doing than moving through the evening light on my steel bike, far from the traffic and complications of daily life.

After a while I became aware of this meditative state, the ease with which I - certainly not particularly quickly - but relatively easily and fluidly rode up that fifth mountain. Everything that had fascinated me in cycling since my childhood came together in that moment: the lightness, the elegance, the mentality, and the freedom.


Thank you, cycling!

 

Photos by Sam Buchli / Words by Jan Mühlethaler

Thanks also to Steve Walker for the documentation and my South Tyrolean relatives whose hotel "Aquila Nera" we reached before midnight.

394.6 km / 19:06:13 / 7,268 m / 10,483 Calories

Photos by Sam Buchli 
Words by Jan Mühlethaler

Thanks also to Steve Walker for the documentation and my South Tyrolean relatives whose hotel "Aquila Nera" we reached before midnight.

394.6 km / 19:06:13 / 7,268 m / 10,483 Calories

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Volume 12

Waiting to Ride Out
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DUST
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Badlands
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