'Push, pull, push, pull. Don't just push. Keep some form. Breath. Don't vomit. It would be a waste of perfectly delicious almond pastry. Oh. My. God.'
I'm climbing the second of the day's climbs. It is as steep as promised, but the 'oh my god' moments arise at every bend in the road. Sheer rock faces rise up so high I can't see the summit. They look close enough to touch. First we pass the Schwarzhorn, then at the top the panorama stretches out, with the Eiger, Monch and the Jung Frau.
We are, of course, in Switzerland. From Edinburgh we flew to Basel, and cycled across to Olten where Johanna and Fernando live. We met Johanna through running in Melbourne, and cycled with both of them in Tuscany two years ago on a trip that was more of a five day stage race between the boys. Fernando has skived off work for Friday in order to take us (race Matt?) up 1 and 3/4 mountain passes. (3/4 because in order to qualify as a pass the climb must go higher than 2000m. Our second climb is actually only 1950 and thus does not technically qualify. This despite averaging 7.2 % over 1400m of climb...) The ride takes us well above the snow line where we rug up before the freezing drop back down into the valley below. Matt is shivering so hard, he has trouble controlling his bike. Fingers are a distant memory - he complains that his hands feel more like Roald Dahl's witches' feet.
I am quite jealous of their life here, and their access to mountains like this. A few days earlier, Johanna took us out for a ride a little closer to home. It too involved a significant climb, but passed through perfect Swiss villages - houses with window boxes and lindt cows content in the paddocks. On Thursday while Johanna and Fernando are at work we take up their suggestion of a lazy day visiting a thermal spa.
'Just a short ride away. Less than 15km.'
No-one mentioned the 18% hill to get there.
They also take us hiking up to Melchsee Fritt for another amazing view of the alps.
All this climbing is offset by some wonderful vegetarian Swiss-Swiss-German/Italian/Bavarian cooking. Spätzli with red cabbage and gorgonzola. Mushrooms and bread dumplings. Cheese that is not Scottish cheddar.
We are staying now with Vanessa (Matt's former housemate and orienteer extraordinaire), in Wangan near Zurich. Vanessa is an Aussie who has traded inner city Melbourne life for Swiss mountains, work in a leiderhosen store, and a good looking Swiss fella. It looks like the trade has worked in her favour.
It has been a week of catching up with old friends. Before departing Edinburgh, we met up with Chris and Jo, friends of Matt's from when he studied in Japan. They have very recently added adorable baby Zach to their family, and were kind enough to fill me in on some of Matt's antics from his Japan days. I am now watching him far more closely around sake and vending machines.