Bike Troubles in Paradise

Everything is cloaked in darkness as we step off our train onto the platform. I need to use the W.C. (restroom), but the one at the station is the squat kind, with just a basin built into the floor. It obviously has not been cleaned in decades – where you put your feet has soggy toilet paper all over it and the basin is full of crusty dark brown turds leaving tracks in their wake. Yeah, I think I can hold it.

Outside, there is little sign of life, just creepy alleys, floating litter, and occasionally a flash of lights and the sound of a motor. We have no plan for the night; we had in fact not planned on taking the train. It had been a last minute decision as we reached the end of Lake Lucerne; Kyle’s bike had been providing an outstanding soundtrack to scenery that I had not realized existed prior to this trip (words just can’t describe it) –


In fact, I had just been telling Julia, one of our Warm Showers hosts, how Kyle’s bike had been a real piece of work (Kyle insists it is normal bike behavior), and there it had been, hard to pedal, holding up the show, even confounding Kyle as to how to fix it. Not only had it been making this crazy sound, but the pedals resisted going forward or backward, making Kyle work double time to get his bike over Switzerland’s many big hills. Fog, cold, and rain (forecasted for all days in the foreseeable future) had already worried us going up over Gotthard Pass, but a mechanical malfunction where WiFi seemed nonexistent and everything costs ridiculously more than the rest of Europe rendered the trip impractical and potentially very dangerous. Anywhere else and we would have made it work, but we wanted to get to Eastern Europe without eating a deep hole in our budget so we had decided we needed to get us and our bikes to Italy for cheaper accommodations and bike repair services.

As the train had gone into the first tunnel and out into the most amazing landscape I have ever seen, Kyle and I had both teared up, realizing what we were going to miss out on. We had hopped from one side of the train to the other, feasting our eyes on The Alps. When we reached the tunnel of Gotthard, our train had first been enveloped in darkness, then upon coming out on the other side, the sun had been shining. The SUN had been shining! As in, Gotthard really does hold back the clouds! At that point, I had started to get sleepy as the most spectacular stuff faded away. When I had opened my eyes from their momentary rest, night had descended. So here we now are at the end of the regional line for Switzerland, about to cross the border into Italy in the dark with no clue as to the character of the place we are in or where we might stay.

We see customs agents at the border crossing, but Italy is part of the Eurozone so cars just go on through and we do, too. What do those guys do anyway (perhaps search the trucks)? On the other side is Como and a gigantic hill to climb. Kyle sees a potential hostel on his phone map, but is unsure whether it really exists because it appears to be in a skate park. The hostel is on the other side of the gigantic hill. We decide we need to ask for help, so I watch the bikes in a well lit area outside a restaurant (imagining all kinds of shady dealings around each dark corner of the street), while Kyle goes inside. When he comes out, he has the name of the hostel written down on a piece of paper (the owner did not speak English). We are still unsure and are standing outside debating what to do when a couple outside the restaurant ask us if we need help. They suggest a hotel just down the street or the “cheap hotel” (our hostel icon) on the other side of the hill. We first go down the street to check out the hotel, but when we get there, the doors are locked, manned by a cackling speaker emitting Italian. It is a bit pricey for late at night, especially after forking over train fare, and the speaker goes silent as we discuss. It is over the hill we need to go. As we pedal up the hill, panting, I realize I am completely out of water. Kyle gives me his last sip. So now we are pedaling blindly into the night, with no water, no W.C., a broken bike and no clue really what we are going to find on the other side.

Finally we reach the top, enjoying a nice thrilling downhill to where we hope will be a nice cheap hotel. What awaits us is a friendly looking place with country flags out front, including the USA. The icon was in fact a hostel! It is a nice place, too, with a beautiful garden area out front and a bar at reception. An Italian woman greets us warmly, offering cheap rooms with breakfast in the morning included. The place really is so charming. We try to plan out next steps with the WiFi, but soon our eyelids are too heavy for the task. We say good night and drift off to sleep.

The next morning, a nice breakfast awaits (I eat our oatmeal, but the coffee is nice) and we discover that the bike shop doesn’t open until 3 PM on Mondays. Kyle finds a Youtube video that suggests a good technique for fixing his issue, so he works on the problem out in the garden until we get kicked out (the hostel closes from 10:30 AM – 4:00 PM, not uncommon for Italian hostels). He finishes the fix on the sidewalk and voila! It works! We cycle around the corner and stop in our tracks. In front of us is one of the most beautiful lakes we have ever seen. I mean, Lake Lucerne was surreal, but Lake Como is just a happy kind of gorgeous – dark blue water surrounded by mountains and tasteful Italian architecture, including old churches and castles.

We decide to spend the day (our off day) cycling around the lake without our stuff (at the hostel). Every mile is more breathtaking than the last, with mountains providing a majestic backdrop for the lake and the Italian architecture adding a picturesque quality. We cycle and cycle until clouds force us to turn back, but not soon enough. We then pedal in the pouring rain, around bends and curves, cliffs and water, and lots and lots of cars. For whatever reason, the beauty we are witnessing and the element of danger is giving me the most amazing high. Also, this is a sun shower – it is pouring but the sun is shining! I smile as wide as I can smile, laughing around every bend. Kyle yells to me, “Look! Look at the lake!” I turn and what I see is a full rainbow over the lake, colorful, vibrant, and impossible to miss.


So we miss part of The Alps (though the ride around Lake Lucerne was incredible), but if we had not taken the train to the end of the line, we most probably would have missed Lake Como and one of the most amazing days of our trip. Funny how the best things in life are almost always after a major hill climb.


  1. pmcounseling

    Really outstanding writing. I’m enjoying reading of your journey and envy the choice you two have made to see the world. It is always an “inconvenient” time to travel. Never enough time or money. Friend of mine says “when most people read a book, they read it to see what they can get out of it. When I read a book, I read it to see what it can get out of me”. That statement is still sinking in, but I’m pretty sure you are experiencing the latter with your travels. Keep peddling guys.

  2. Diane Keefe

    Absolutely lovely! Glad the bike problem was resolved and that you found the wonderful hostel!

    Mom xoxo

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