Our First Mountain
CLIMB: We are ready to go conquer our first mountain. It has rained all night, but fortunately the weather turns around at dawn, and things are beginning to dry out as we pack and prepare.
Randy has given us a detailed description of the route. We are going to be climbing gradually, he says, for the first 25-30 kilometers, until we reach the highest pass in the Vosges Mountains, Schlucht Pass. Lunch, and then another 25 kilometers of tough up and downs on mountain switchbacks, until we descend into the valley and to our destination town of Colmar. So we set out. Until now, every hill had a downside, but this is steadily up. Rising from 200 meters to 1200 meters, you see the rapid change of landscape and architecture from valley to Alpine-like, and signs point us to the ski station up ahead. The better conditioned riders race to the top of the pass, sweating, but no question that they will make it up the steep 15 degree gradient. However, if this is your first mountain, you make deals. Just one more curve, one more pass, you hope for a small flat stretch where you can catch your breath. Then you just start looking at the ground, concentrating on keeping the pedals rolling, one after the other. Finally, when you have no more breath left, Henry, who has been pedaling steadily up the hill spots red raspberries on the side of a hill and you forage for fruit. Breath restored, and as it turns out, only another 3 km to the pass. The last 2 km are actually quite flat, and before you know it you are at the cool summit of a small Alpine ski resort, decked with a chair lift, a souvenir shop and cafes.
We are all bracing for another 25 km of the same, when Genevieve, who is waiting for us with lunch at the top informs us that the switchbacks are all downhill, rather than up and downs. Disbelief turns to amazement as we coast an entire 13 km down into the valley onto the other side of the pass. High is an understatement.
Randy, we find out later has done the whole climb and descent in one lap. He rolls into the campsite at 11 a.m., in time to catch the lunchtime buffet.
The leisure cyclists, meanwhile, take their time. After lunch at the summit, we stop again at the bottom of the mountain in the town of Munster, home of the cheese, where some stop for beers and a local specialty “tarte flambe” which is a kind of cross between a pizza and a crepe. It can be had in two varieties, salty with pizza like toppings, or sweet with apples and ice cream.
Another 15 km from Munster to Colmar, which turns out to be another lively French tourist town graced by a large old city cafe district. The town is part of the Alsatian wine route, which runs north to south from the Molsheim area, near Strasbourg, to Colmar, and then further south to a point around Mulhouse, France.
We are now only 50 kilometers from Freiberg, Germany, and only about 50 km from the Swiss city of Basel, which lies southeast of us along the Rhine River.
Franziska, a young Swiss doctor and member of the last Tour d’Afrique voyage appears at our campsite that evening with her tent, packed in a new Ford sports car. She has driven up from Zurich to visit, and heads with the group to the city center cafes and bars. Tomorrow is a rest day.