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Albula Pass

A story exploring the experience of driving on the Albula Pass and how this led to a change of opinion.


Words: Laura Pendlebury
Photography: Mirko Nicholson

 
 

I don’t like driving. The traffic, the ugly, grey concrete motorways, the change that comes over people behind the wheel and the anger they immediately develop against all other drivers, the stuffiness of being in an enclosed space over long periods of time.

Walking, catching the train, the tube, even the bus, are preferable to sitting inside a stifling car in endless traffic jams, illuminated only by the trail of never–ending brake lights. There is no sense of achievement to be found in completing a journey by car, no sense of pride or accomplishment you get to feel when travelling somewhere simply by using your own two feet, or a difficult train journey with several, easy to miss changes. You simply sit in the car and arrive, some time later, at your destination. 

But driving through the canton of Graubünden late one summer evening changed my mind and caused me to completely rethink my initial opinion on this form of transport. We were travelling along the Albula Pass, leaving Switzerland for Southern Germany, and had decided this road was the best way of making the long drive. I was less than impressed with the idea of spending the next 3 hours locked inside a car. However, the further along the Pass we drove, the more awake I became. Maybe it was the time of day we had chosen to travel; the evening sun slowly disappearing behind the rugged Albula Alps, it’s red glow transforming the already stunning scenery into something almost mythical.

Maybe it was the lack of other cars on the road, providing us with the freedom to travel at our own speed, to slow down or, in some places stop altogether and simply stand at the edge of the road to try and absorb the scenery we were momentarily part of. 

It could have been the complete lack of people, the Pass seemingly only populated by giant, creamy brown cows, bells around their necks clanging loudly as they wandered calmly, unknowingly providing their own unique soundtrack to the mountain, completely undeterred by our presence.

I’m putting it down to a combination of all three which ultimately led to a complete shift in my attitude towards driving. My eyes had been opened to the simple freedom driving had given us, the fact that we were able to stop at any point along the Pass and wander freely before returning to the car and driving to our next point of choice. There were no set stations, no announcements of delays, no running for the last train, no need to walk for miles to reach a destination. Our exploration of the Albula Pass was seamless, much like the road itself.

The light fading, we drove on. The winding road twisted sharply, snaking between lengthening shadows as we climbed higher. Each turn provided a different view, a fresh perspective of the mountains we were now driving directly between. We reached what appeared to be the summit of the Pass and stopped in a small, gravelled space adjacent to the road. Clambering out, we spotted a small wooden sign hammered into the grass: 2,315 metres. This was the highest either of us had ever been and yet we had reached this altitude without even being aware of it. The air felt crisper, colder and somehow clearer, fresher. The only sound was the distant ringing of cow bells from the smaller mountains now beneath us. Sitting down on a small, grassy hill we were able to take stock of our surroundings, to absorb where we were, a direct result of our choice of transport; my opinion on driving now changed forever.