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October 4, 2011 2:14 PM

Day Two of Biking the Alps: Super Mario and a Crash

Posted by Chris Johnson

Day2 Day Two began with another hearty Alpine breakfast—I'm still struggling to adapt to these early meals of bread, meat, and cheese—before we headed down to the town of Langwies. It gets pretty cold overnight at these altitudes, so we wore fleeces and jackets for a 45-minute downhill run that, for a pleasant change, required hardly any pedaling.

We were soon to pay for this relatively leisurely start, however, with the trail that headed back up from Langwies presenting the trip's hardest climb yet. The actual terrain was relatively straightforward—compared to the terrifying ascent of the previous morning, at least—but the altitude gain was relentless.

By this stage, my back was really beginning to hurt quite badly—from a combination of my being 6' 5" and subconsciously shifting my riding position to compensate for ever-weakening thighs—but after cycling (and walking) for two hours we reached the ancient mountain village of Sapun. Founded in 1273, it is little more than a collection of modest wooden houses, but nevertheless provided us with fresh water to refill our hydration packs.

A short and more technical blast across some classic Alpine single track then took us to the foot of the Strelapass, where we decided to rest and contemplate the serious challenge that lay ahead. A walk considered taxing even for hikers—let alone those trying to push 30-pound mountain bikes up it—the pass was loose, rocky, and frighteningly steep. The ascent was exhausting, to put it mildly.

Sweat was soon pouring off me, stinging my eyes, and the extreme exertion demanded regular breaks to catch our breath. It was hungry and thirsty work—so hungry, in fact, that in desperation I had to dip back into my food stores for my second and final energy bar of the day. Not an ideal situation with over five hours of riding still to go.

After what seemed an eternity, we finally reached the 2,350-meter (7,700-foot) summit, well and truly spent. That is, three of us were spent. Mario, a 25-year-old teacher who actually lives in the Swiss Alps, flew up the pass like it was just a casual stroll. I've seen mountain goats look less comfortable in this terrain. When we finally reached him, he wasn't even sweating. If he weren't so genuinely nice—and modest—I'd have unpleasant things to say about him right now.

After a satisfying lunch of Alpler Makronen—a slightly unusual mix of pasta, a carbonara-esque sauce of cheese and ham, fried potato, and apple sauce—we had a long descent to the sprawling resort of Davos. Some local bikers told us that even though you technically shouldn't ride the footpath, it was a really fun trail and nobody seems to mind.

We should perhaps have paid closer attention to the fact that our makeshift guides had burly downhill bikes, full-face helmets, and protective pads covering practically every inch of their bodies. The trail quickly had me hanging on for dear life—it was too steep to control your speed effectively—as I tried to navigate the oncoming rocks, loose turns, and sudden drops.

The effort eventually proved too much for my fairly modest bike-handing skills, resulting in my first (and hopefully last) crash. A poor line choice left me with a much larger drop-off than I'd have liked, and the crushingly heavy landing bounced my chain off, which in turn bounced me off—into some rocks. Thankfully I wasn't too badly hurt—I escaped with grazing to my leg and a painful egg-sized lump on my shin—but it was a timely reminder not to get too carried away.

We were left with a relatively sedate climb to the remote mountain outpost of Durrboden, at 2,011 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level, where we checked in to a surprisingly well-equipped hostel with an awe-inspiring view of the Scalettahorn peak (see photo).

Tomorrow is the big one: Over two kilometers (more than a mile) of altitude gain and two separate passes to conquer—both at more than 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) above sea level. Wish me luck.

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I've undertaken this journey to raise money for Self Help Africa, which works to help rural Africa achieve economic independence through sustainable solutions to the causes of famine and poverty. Those readers who would like to sponsor me on this gruelling test—whether as law firms or individual partners and attorneys—can do so via my page at JustGiving. For those of you that haven't used JustGiving before, it's really simple, fast, and secure. The money is passed directly to the charity, and the site will automatically claim Gift Aid for donations made by eligible U.K. taxpayers.

U.K. residents can even donate by phone: just text KWEI77 (that's an 'i', not a '1'), followed by the amount you would like to donate, to 70070. 'KWEI77 £20', for example. This SMS service is free to both you and the charity.

I've set an ambitious target of £5,000 (just under $8,000), so please dig deep and donate now. It's a great cause and your money really will make a difference.

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