Montreux, Switzerland to Thann, France - Lost in a Rain Cloud

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THURSDAY, October 5th

Left Montreux around noon on Thursday, a long ride on main roads (expressway) north through Fribourg, around Bern, and through Basel to Mulhouse. Got into Mulhouse (in France) around 3:30, I had to get gas; stopped two policemen on motorcycles who led us to a gas station; they pointed at it and pulled away. But the gas station was closed. Took us 20 minutes to find another one; by this time, we were heading east of town (unbeknownst to us).

We were looking for "La Route des Crêtes," or the Road along the ridge tops in the Vosges Mountains overlooking the Rhine Valley. Finally got directions to where it started, in Cernay just west of Mulhouse.

We pulled out of Cernay onto La Route des Crêtes, heading up into the hills. Even though it was raining slightly, the pavement was very good traction. After twenty minutes or so, we came to a World War One memorial, Le Vieil Armand. Spent an hour there, both in the museum area and in the cemetery outside. Very moving.

We were intending to find the Hotel Panorama situated above the small town of Munster (where the cheese comes from); the map was relatively clear; however, we found ourselves in a rain cloud as we climbed higher; visibility quickly ended; Eric could see only about 20 feet in front of him. My helmet's visor was covered in rain drops; I couldn't see through it, so I lifted it up. Then my glasses got covered the same way. I finally took them off and rode without them. We slowed down to about 15 miles per hour. We rode like this for about 20 minutes, with only a few cars coming the other way. Despite the lack of visibility, it was very peaceful, not at all stressful because of the lack of traffic.

All of sudden we saw a mass of moving shapes ahead of us. Not cars, there were no headlights.

It was a herd of sheep -- very soggy sheep, mind you -- in the middle of the road. The shepherd quickly moved them to the side of the road so we could get by. These sheep did not look happy, out there in the rain.

Another few minutes and we came to a side road. Was this the road we were looking for, to Markstein, and then the turnoff down to Munster? It was hard to tell. We decided to take the turnoff.

Big mistake. The road we were on went down from the ridge, and down, and down, and down some more. We saw NO traffic. It was narrow, there were patches of gravel we had to worry about -- always a concern on a motorcycle. Fortunately the rain cloud had dissipated and there was some visibility.

We followed this road down for about 20 minutes. By this time we knew we'd made a mistake but it would have been too difficult to go back up. It was getting close to six pm and we'd been riding since noon.

Finally we passed a car pulling out into the road. "Nous sommes tres perdus," I explained. Very lost, indeed. The two men in the car kind of shook their head in disbelief when I pointed to the map and said where we been intending to go. It was very nice of them not to laugh. They showed us where we actually WERE on the map. Only a few kilometers from a main road, but way on the other side of the valley from where we wanted to go.

It was still raining, daylight was receding, we were tired and cold. We got to the main road and resolved to find the first hotel we could. The town of Thann was up ahead a few kilometers. We passed the sign for "Centre Ville" and headed into town. "Nous cherchons un hotel," I told the first pedestrian we passed. "Go past the police station, turn right, and cross over the railroad tracks," he said (in French), "and you'll find a few hotels."

We followed his directions. The first hotel was the Hotel du Parc -- a 5-star hotel easily. We were hard up but not that hard up. The next hotel was a 2-star, which had one room left. We snapped it up, dragged our wet gear upstairs and dumped it on the floor.

Dinner at a Chinese restaurant in town, then bed.

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