BOKWANG, South Korea—Every Olympic dream runs on hard work and sacrifice, not just by the Olympians but by their families. But it’ll be tough to top the work that Swiss free skier Mischa Gasser’s father put in to see his son in the Olympics: biking for over a year, for 17,000 kilometers (more than 10,500 miles), from Switzerland to South Korea. Once again: biking.
Guido Huwiler, 55, set off with his wife Rita Ruttimann from Switzerland on February 2, 2017, with the goal of biking all the way to South Korea. And, with just a week to spare, he made it in time to see his son compete in the Aerials events at Phoenix Snow Park on Saturday night. (Gasser’s mother was there as well, flying in like the rest of the sane planet has done.)
“My dad is crazy,” Gasser laughed after his qualifying Saturday night. “He was a skydiver as well in his younger age. It’s just what they have to do.”
How exactly does one ride all the way from Switzerland to South Korea? One pedal-push at a time. Huwiler documented their travels on Instagram and on a personal blog:
Most of the entries come with a bit of a philosophical undertone: “The further we drive east, the more often the border guards greet us at passport control with the words and a laugh: “Welcome to my country”! It seems we have forgotten how hospitality could work in the West,” Huwiler wrote in one Google-translated German entry. “Every time we experience this the words are stuck in our mouths. Yes, we feel welcome everywhere, what a gift!”
The images are spectacular and well worth a look:
There were some small hiccups. Huwiler and Ruttimann couldn’t bike through North Korea, of course, and couldn’t secure the necessary approval to ride through China. So they took a couple of well-timed plane flights to keep the journey moving, but we won’t hold that against them.
The duo rode through an astounding 20 countries on their way to PyeongChang, staying in everything from hotels to tents along the way. The full list: Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and finally South Korea.
Their toughest stretch, according to Huwiler, came while biking the historic Pamir Highway in central Asia—a legendary, and dangerous, route that runs more than 15,000 feet above sea level. (The city of Denver, by way of comparison, is about 5,200 feet above sea level.)
“They’re here for supporting us and our [Swiss] team,” Gasser said. “All the guys think it’s just great.”
Gasser repaid his father’s epic efforts with two magnificent performances in Aerials qualifying. His score of 121.72 was just enough, by half a point, to get him into Sunday’s finals. Huwiler was in the massive crowd that cheered Gasser’s jumps (Back Full-Double Full-Full and Back Double Full-Full-Full, for those of you keeping score), and he and his wife will be back again on Sunday.
Next up for Huwiler: a visit to Japan, and then back to Switzerland. As for Gasser, he concedes that a bit of his father’s daredevil spirit may have led to him becoming a world-class ski jumper:
“You’re 15 meters in the air, doing three flips with four twists, landing into snow,” Gasser said, breaking down his own event. “Honestly, it’s ridiculous.”
Worth riding 10,000 miles for, too.