During our weekend stay in the heart of the Swiss Alps, we decided to spend a day riding bicycles rented from Interlaken around Brienzersee, one of the two lakes that surround the city. I was particularly excited, thinking it would be a good way to do something a bit adventurous. I’m not sure what I had in mind going into it, though I think it was something like riding over dirt and stone paths through the fields and hills of the Alps from one town to the next. And usually it was downhill (I know, you can’t go downhill without also going uphill, but dreams are dreams).
Unfortunately, what I had in mind, and what we actually did, were not the same thing. First, deciding to ride around a lake meant we wouldn’t be in the mountains. Second, to ride around a rather large lake means that at some point, you are really far from where you started, with no shortcut back. And this also happens to be the point at which my legs decided they were basically done.
Let’s back up a little. Erin and I consider ourselves to be relatively fit people. Running a marathon isn’t something we could manage (like, at all), but we’re generally active and we ride our bikes nearly every day in Freiburg. But since we only live about one and a half kilometers from the city center, we don’t really ever ride far. We should have considered the distance when discussing our cycling habits with the bike rental shop owner, but unfortunately, only the frequency came up. Mistake # 1.
The shop owner warned us that the route around the lake could be done in about 4 hours, if you really just kept going without ever stopping to snap pictures, drink some coffee, and take in the scenery . We decided that, despite renting the bike for only 4 hours, we’d go for it anyway. Mistake #2.
Then, she told us that the total elevation change of the ride was about 800 meters. Somehow, that didn’t faze us. Not once did we stop to think, “Gee, that’s more than half the distance from our apartment to Freiburg’s city center, and we have to ride that distance in a vertical direction!” Mistake #3.
So, with our trifecta of mistakes unknown to us, off we went! And the ride started out fantastically. The road was paved and flat, and the scenery was beautiful. Brienzersee is so blue-green, it almost looks tropical, and the mountains in the background frame the lake neatly. It was just shaping up to be a magical day of riding, when the road started going uphill. For nearly 10 kilometers, we climbed and descended, climbed and descended. I’d love to tell you that we took on those hills like champs, but honestly, we ended up walking our bikes up half of them.
Finally making it to Giessbach Waterfall, we parked our bikes and took a break to check out the cascading falls, take some photos, and break into our sandwiches. I thought this would be a good chance for my legs to recover a bit, but it ended up being a good chance for them to let me know how tired they were. After our brief stop, we got back on our bikes, and continued around the end of the lake as our legs (ok, just mine) burned and begged to stop.
That’s when we passed the sign that said, “Interlaken: 17km.” Ruh-roh!
Looking back on it now, I can only laugh, but it was not my best moment, willing my legs to keep peddling in between stints of walking alongside the road. And surely, Erin would have preferred to quicken the pace, but she was more patient than I probably would have been in her position (in my defense, I don’t get to work out my legs like I did before hip surgery!).
Ultimately, the ride ended (thankfully) with a long, winding downhill route that covered the final two kilometers all the way back to the bike shop, where the owner was waiting to greet our smiling (Erin’s) and pained (mine) faces. I think she took pity on me, because she didn’t fully charge us for going over the time allotment. For that reason, and even more so because the bicycles were excellent, I highly recommend renting your bike at Flying Wheels if you ever take a trip to Interlaken. Just don’t ride around Brienzersee.
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*Update: Just one week after this torturous ride in Switzerland, Erin and I rode our bikes 10km each way from Freiburg to Opfingersee and back. I’m happy to report my legs had no problems with that ride! It could be the relatively flat route we took that made it so easy, but I prefer to think that our experience in Interlaken turned me into a Tour-de-France competitor.