The Lakes Route

cross-posted from [our Swisskamps blog](

Ever since moving to Zurich, I’d had my eye on the Swiss National Cycling Routes. These signposted routes criss-cross the country, each featuring different aspects of the land and people. Throughout the winter, I checked out sections online, hoping that I could fit in one of these tours sometime. The Alpine routes were still blocked by snow, but the Lakes Route from Montreux to Rorschach looked pretty nice, and an extension to Geneva would even make it cross-country. It had been 12 years since my last multi-day cycling trip, and I was excited to give it a try.

So when Megan and her mother took off to Spain for a week, I packed a few basics in my new backpack and wheeled my bike onto an ICN train headed for Geneva. It was a strange feeling to shoot across the country with only a one-way ticket and my bike; with each passing village I realized that only my own legs would carry me home.

Tuesday – Geneva to Vevey, 97 km

I arrived in Geneva at 1pm Tuesday under dark skies and a cool wind. I wasn’t going to let the 20% chance of rain stop me, so I set off along the eastern shore of Lake Geneva, quickly connecting with the Rhone Route, which I would use to connect with the Lakes Route near Montreux. I made a short detour to dip my wheels into France at Ferney-Voltaire, then headed northeast around the lake.

The rest of the day was spent tucked down, pushing through the northerly headwind that would be with me throughout the tour. The official route zig-zagged through small towns, up and down the shore, and I often lost it. But since I knew the general direction, I’d eventually pick it up again.

I arrived in Vevey, neighbor to Montreux, and found a designer hotel up the hill from the old town. I quickly cleaned up, then headed to town for some sunset photos and a well-deserved dinner.

During long rides, I often get songs stuck in my head. This makes for an interesting 6-8 hours on the bike on these long trips. The song stuck in my head today: Smoke on the Water (“We all came out to Montreux, on the Lake Geneva shoreline…”).

Wednesday – Vevey to Interlaken, 160 km

Wednesday dawned sunny and clear in Vevey, which made it much easier to get back on the bike. My legs were a bit tight, but I felt ready for a big day. That was fortunate, as the road out of town went straight into the hills. I climbed 486 meters (~1500ft) before the road flattened out into a plateau, where the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. I dug all my warm clothes out of my pack, fashioned my arm warmers into calf warmers, and fought the wind until I made it into the Gruyère valley.

There, the wind calmed down as trees became thicker and the grass grew green and lush. I toured for 60 kilometers around the valley, stopping for a lunch of bread and cheese in Zwisimmen after descending from the highest point of the ride, the Saanenmöser Pass at 1279 meters.

From there it was an up-and-down route through the Simmental valley toward Spiez and Interlaken. At the end of 160 kilometers (~100 miles) in the mountains, I was feeling every rise and was glad to pull into Interlaken at 5:30pm, after 8 1/2 hours of riding. Another quick shower, then a walk through the town to watch the sunset hanggliders and find a good Italian restaurant.

Song stuck in my head today: Santa Fe from Rent (not sure why…maybe the fleeing of cold for sun?)

Thursday – Interlaken to Zug, 123 km

The next morning I was really feeling the prior day’s effort, so I set an easy goal of reaching Lucerne (70km) with a stretch goal of Zug (100km). I rolled out of Interlaken under more clouds, with my arm warmers still protecting my calves. My left calf was especially tender, so I lowered my seat to protect it and shifted my position a bit. This would come back to get me later.

One highlight just out of town was the Giessbach waterfalls, which tumble down 14 levels to the Brienzersee. I rolled my bike on the catwalk under the cliff and was glad for my waterproof jacket.

I climbed out of the valley via the Brünigpass, accessed via a steep dirt road (9% average for 5km). The backside was a screaming descent that I interrupted for a photo of Lungern and the Lungerersee below. Cruising through the Sarnen valley, past several more lakes, brought me to Lucerne. I still felt good, so I pushed on to Zug, riding for about 15km on a dirt path and through fields of wildflowers and even a tulip patch near town. I stuffed myself with pizza and went to sleep in perhaps the smallest hotel room I’ve ever encountered.

Song stuck in my head today: Christmas is All Around from Love Actually (the cold got to me…”I feel it in my fingers; I feel it in my toes”)

Friday – Zug to Zurich, 85 km

Friday morning I rolled out a bit late. My right knee had started to twinge at the end of the ride to Zug, and I wanted to stretch and warm it up before climbing to Biberbrugg, the only major uphill of the day. I rolled along a quiet road which slowly ascended into the woods, eventually turning into a dirt path.

My knee was starting to hurt quite a bit, and I decided that I would target Zurich instead of continuing all the way to St. Gallen and Rorschach. I wouldn’t make it all the way across the country, but I didn’t want to pedal in misery for 130 more kilometers. Of course, by favoring my right knee, I worked my left leg twice as hard and put more weight on my seat and hands, which promptly started to complain as well.

I limped around the beautiful Ägerisee, over the Biberbrugg pass, and cruised down through Schindellegi on familiar roads–I was now back within day trip territory. But in a final moment of stubbornness, I decided to take the long way around the Zurichsee, crossing the lake at Rapperswil and riding up the east coast.

Song stuck in my head today: one with words unsuitable for a family blog (my response to my knee, the headwind, and the endless little unexpected climbs along the route =)

I arrived home feeling thoroughly exhausted–muscles, joints, mind–but proud of a strong ride. 465 kilometers and 5000 meters of climbing in 4 days. I love waking up in the morning with only the goal to get yourself to another town, and over four days I felt like I was melding with my bike as my pedaling became smoother and more efficient. I took a couple easy recovery rides on Saturday and Sunday, and hopefully I’ll carry this good form into the summer and on our trip back to California in May–I’ve got to keep up with my old riding buddies!

– Bob