Joel’s van- Bernin rapids, cars on trains and the ‘only’ gondola in Switzerland’s Alps…
The day started a little late for Joel’s van but pastries were plentiful and the look on Gus guy's face as he stuffed croissants down like it was his job was priceless. We left our German chapter behind and headed towards the Swiss border. Little did we know the border was well protected, not by dramatic mountains but by a terminator-esk customs officer who was not f*&^%ing around. Oli and Joel did not help the situation with comments like… “Do I look guilty” and “we should have floored it”.
After our passports were scoured and Joel pulled some Gary on the young lady officer, we were permitted entry into the neutralist nation on Earth. There was a sense of close call for me, but the boys assured me I was a paranoid yank, so I breathed deeply wondering where the alps were and where our day would take us. And what a day it was.
We had gotten behind the other van, which was far more respectable and made it through customs like a calm summer breath. Our first destination was Bern to check out what Sasha had said was an amazing lazy river experience through a beautiful old city. He explained you could drift down the river and take in the sites. Little did we know the river was beasty and full of icy cold rushing water after some serious rain. In fact it was flooded and as we came around the corner and saw the amazing picturesque old city we crossed a bridge to see the overflow gates rushing like torrents and the banks flooded to the brim. Some of us were somewhat hesitant at the sight of the not so lazy river pumping through the city, but Oli was full throttle convinced it was a piece of cake. We stopped a German version of Bruce Wayne on his bike and he told us it was not recommended, while struggling to find his English he did tell us to find our way to the public swimming pool and that we could enter there. We neglected the Navigation and followed our nose (which was frequently interrupted by Mark’s ass) to the opposite bank of the river. In finding our way we realized that Bern is a stunning city, with traditional Swiss buildings and a steep landscape densely packed with immaculate gardens and architecture not seen before in neighboring and slightly less outgoing Germany.
After several Swiss told us not to dare enter the water due to debris and strong currents Oli decided the Swiss and anyone else who dared dissuade us from conquering our mission were simple sissies who did not have an adventurous bone in their bodies, spoilers without backbone. After a test run the ducklings followed Mom into the rapids for an icy dick shrinking 200m joy ride ending in Joel pulling Henry through thorns, saving his life of course. I was the ugly sissy duckling who bailed after committing only to hear a local claim that the ‘professionals’ did not enter when the flow was so high. According to her the recent success of Joel, Cupcake and Oli was a survival story.
After being the odd one out and burying my pride in a shallow grave, we dried off and headed for food in Bern. It was a mission but we found our way to food just as Mark and others were fading into grumpy desperate hunger. Fueled up we headed back to the Van to find dents and bruises we had not noticed before. Hmmm, we did park in a very tight spot. As we left we got the message that the last Gondola to the Alps Cabin we had ready was at 5:30pm and we were not going to make it there on time.
Adversity is our bread and butter so after some water off a ducks back nerves about where we would sleep that night we flew into some of the most spectacular valleys with imposing step mountains that just seemed to keep getting bigger. Waterfalls galore and immense rock faces jutting out of forested villages. Big valleys with distant snowy peaks, and then a wrong turn.
All of a sudden we were on a bridge with a red light and cars backing up behind us. There were odd signs. They seemed to indicate that the car would be on a train and we should keep the car in first gear with the hand break on. No way was I staying in the car so I pleaded to get out to take pictures. When the light went green and we piled into the car at light speed the confusion cleared and we were indeed driving our van onto a train, yes a train. The train went into a mountain just as we called German Oli to find out if this was supposed to occur. He said no, that was not supposed to occur. 15 minutes later and after a stuffy dark tunnel we re-appeared in French Switzerland, or Italy?
We were back in the daylight at least and the drums from the deep had not swallowed us. With new found enthusiasm and confidence we decided on a whim and a naughty GPS system that we were indeed in the right place, in fact we decided we took a sneaky short cut. We were wrong. After some amazing switchbacks and views of the other side of the mountains we noticed one gondola, it had to be the one we were late to make and the other van had to be there. I mean, there couldn’t be more than on gondola in the Swiss Alps right? We hustled to the gondola to find that it was not the correct place at all and we were still very late for the last Gondola. We reset the navigation and headed down a spectacular valley with stunning peaks on either sides and huge vineyards dominating the valley floor.
We found our way up the most precarious winding cliff buffeted road in the civilized world and finally found our gondola a good km above the valley floor. German Oli met us with his stoic smile, a freaking good poker face of ambiguous German charm. He reported the Gondola was closed and we had a serious hike ahead of us with the food and gear. Luckily he had waited 2 hours for us while the others had gone up the mountain and he must of pulled some strings because the gondola operator stayed on to get us up there. Yeah we did not have to do the Vercorin death march. A huge sigh of relief as we boarded the gondola and took in the amazing scenery.
At the top we were met with a sweet Mountain hut and some serious ropes courses. This was a Ski slope under Mt Blanc and other peaks of up to 4500m. We got off half way up the mountain at approx. 2000m and this cabin was sweet. In fact the whole area of wooded mountainside was covered in wild flowers, cross eyed Billy goats and grassy slopes. I wondered into to forest and up the mountain after getting settled to find the other group coming down the mountain form their hike. Rory and Lado were hiking in their underwear, I did not ask because I was so happy to be reunited after conceding defeat and figuring we were spending the night in our stinky van down below in the valley. A great dinner and some stories of past World’s pre-tour campaigns ended the night. Actually Will busted out Roman candles and Cupcake and Mark almost lost an eye each after loosing there one on one battles. Tommy Lamar and Nick D were the victors. What a day!