Entries in Alps (6)

Sunday
Jul032011

Alps Ride - Cows

The hotel room is two stories, which I enjoyed for about 10 minutes.  The spiral staircase is about the diameter of the hole surrounding a fireman's pole  People of certain size must have to sleep on the couch and use the lobby WC, as the bedroom and bathroom are upstairs through a tiny hole in the ceiling. 

The riding day started with rain and no visibility, followed by rain with visibility -> wet roads and no rain -> dry roads and overcast, and finally parting of the clouds, revealing a beautiful late afternoon sky. The contrast was nice, appreciated the afternoon more than if it had been beautiful all day...such is life, yes?

Trummelbach Falls - 10 sequential waterfalls, some inside the mountain - was gushing, given recent rains. Tour buses disgorged their occupants - one with senior couples from Japan, one with families from India - most were racing from fall to fall, jostling, posing and snapping photos.  I'm not sure they actually looked at the falls.  Perhaps they had schedules to keep, the prospect of being left behind diluting the experience of just looking, in wonder, at what nature does. 

Lots of passes from Beatenberg to Feldkirch, including some repeats from prior day's ride. Sustern Pass was cold and stunning at 3 degrees C.  Buried in clouds on the upside of Klausen Pass, visibility of 20-40 km/h, hail at the summit. On the downside, a flock of cows grazes on the pavement.  Seven of eight cows leisurely stroll by while I'm patiently idling...the eighth approaches and gives me a big cow eye, possibly contemplating if I'd fall over if she head-butts me.  I win the stare-down, she walks by, and I circumnavigate mountains of fresh droppings.  I think "Klausen" means cowsh*t in German.  Wet road + cowsh*t = friction free.

Why did the cow cross the road?  So she could crap on it. 

Weather clears, explore a few villages, leisurely ride today. I'd intended to stop in the country of Liechtenstein, but it's so small, I rode right by it.  Thunderstorm blows in as I arrive in Feldkirch, my earliest hotel check-in this trip.  Explore the town, they're revved up for some sort of celebration, oom-pah band, the works.  Over dinner, I mixed beer, wine and Baileys...bad dog!   I occasionally,  make that "often", make bad decisions. 

Feldkirch to Imst, cool and sunny, superb Austrian roads. Silvretta Strasse is a stunning pass road.  Rounding a corner near the summit, a crazy cow is running full bore down the middle of the road...left or right?  I'm fourth in a group of four, all veer left, fortunately the cow maintains her flight path.  Mad Cow disease?

All of Switzerland and some of Austria and Germany smells of cow droppings. If methane contributes to global warming, then this is ground zero for a warmer planet.  

Final day of riding, Imst to Munich, bittersweet - hate to leave, but looking forward to getting home.  Over Hahntennjoch Pass, the northern side particularly nice. Stop to visit Neuschwanstein, the castle that inspired Walt Disney to a build...what was it?  King Ludwig II commissioned this incredibly expensive personal project, was subsequently declared insane, ruled unfit to rule, and removed from office. If only history would repeat itself, this time in Washington DC, though I'd be happy to see several hundred just in jail; they're not insane, just corrupt. 

Big party planned for tonight, then up at 4:00am for flights home.  This riding adventure was all I anticipated, and more. Outstanding riding - 4, 241 km - on amazing roads in all types of weather.  Made several new friends, and the citizens of Germany, Austria, Slovenia Italy and Switzerland were friendly and accommodative of my germitalspanglish.  What a place to ride - yeehaw!

Wednesday
Jun292011

Alps Ride - Swiss Cheese

Day ride out from Trento, up and over Monte Bondone, and after achieving my yahoo quota on the twisty's, putted through gravity-defying hillside villages, valley vineyards.  No traffic, no crazy riders, just an occasional cow (and a lot of what they leave behind) on the road.  

Back to Trento to walk the Piazza del Duomo in daylight, lazy Sunday afternoon.   The 12th-century Romanic-Gothic Duomo Di San Viglio cathedral, dedicated to Saint V,  is enormous, has one of those four-poster things inside, similar to St. Peters at the Vatican, and at about the same size.  I appreciate the aesthetics - design, construction, the patina of aging - but also think about the people conscripted (forced labor) to design and build the thing, and the legacy of and continuation of much of organized religion's unpleasantness towards people with different ideas. 

All-day ride to St. Moritz, lots of passes and passing. Through Italian vineyards, then over Passo Di Gavio, including several kilometers of one-lane pavement for two-directions of travel, narrowly terraced into a very big hill. Also, an unlit tunnel, a bit disorientating after blasting along in alpine sunlight; hope I didn't ride over any bicyclists. Followed by Passo Di Stelvio, awesome, with 48 consecutive hairpins curves down the other side. Brief visit to the village of Glurns, circa Middle Ages, surrounded by walls with parapets and tiny windows that they can shoot arrows out of if they still want to.

Over the Swiss border and Passo Di Fuorn, and the back way into St. Moritz; the front way was torn up for remodeling. Arrived after the stores closed, which was ok, I'm not shopping for Prada, Bally or Rolex.  Swimming pool at the hotel - hey, this is St. M - was perfect after the long ride. 

St. Moritz to Andematt, sunny all day, varied from 14 - 31 degrees C.  Julier Pass, Passo Di Spluga, a nice ride.   Lots of valleys, then over St. Gotthard Pass, into Andematt. It's early afternoon, head down Old St. Gotthard road, all cobblestones, hard to imagine someone could build kilometers of (steep) road stone by stone.  Over Passo Della Novena...followed an Audi S4 that screamed down the back side, locked on to his bumper, made great time, as he knew the road well.  Gingerly rode past an awful motorcycle / auto collision, emergency crew on-site, near Gletsch, then up Furga Pass, stopped to check out Rhone Glacier, including a chain-sawed ice cave walk-in.  Back to Andematt, celebrate a birthday in the group.  Tonight, as last night, turn in exhausted, this mountain-riding stuff seems to be catching up with me.  No wi-fi (access has been sporadic) so no Internet fix today, but the riding is great!

Tunnels. They build a lot of them, sometimes under a flat meadow, where a surface road would suffice. Some are spacious and well-lit, some are like riding into the black maw of the underworld; unlit, narrow, curved and slippery, with an occasional sharp turn right when you exit, blinking, newly blinded by alpine sunshine.   

Since Andematt to Beatenburg's not far, there's time to further explore the surrounding mountains.  Ride down the north side to try out a grand-daddy of tunnels - St. Gotthard Tunnel - that runs underneath Andematt.  If 17 km seems like a long distance and time to be in a tunnel...it is. None of the psychological mojo I'd heard about, just a dull ride staring at the ass-end of a slow-moving tractor-trailer, and pretty warm at 37 degrees C at mid-tunnel.  The tunnel's infamous for a dramatic incident of several years ago. 

Over Passo Della Novena - I'm repeating myself - then up Grimsel Pass. Hot chocolate at the summit, look at a couple of cages of owls, some Snow Owls, and two buzzard-sized owls with Gandalf eyebrows, looking very much the predators.  Sad to see them caged, though I wouldn't want to be the first human they see once let loose; they look pissed. 

A cloud settled down at the summit as I saddled up for the ride down the back side. Visibility about two bike lengths, light rain. Try another, Sustern Pass, beautiful, but the rain intensifies, head back down after reaching the summit. Once in the valley, thunder, lighting, heavy winds and buckets of water splash down, making for focused riding as I limp through lakeside villages towards the hotel.  Beatenburg is up, currently in the clouds, though I'm told the view from here is fantastic.  After several days of sunshine, I don't mind being in the weather for a day. Tomorrow will be great. 

Sunday
Jun262011

Alps Ride - Midway

Halfway through the riding days, feels like I've been here for a month, and that's good.  

Day ride from Villach over the Wurzen Pass into Slovenia, picnic at Vrsic Pass, that happened to be occupied by sheep.  'Think you've heard raunchy sheep jokes?  Try hanging out with Kiwi's...  Part of what makes New Zealander's so much fun is that all topics are on the table, even in mixed company.  Americans, we don't realize how prudish we are.  So I asked a few questions about using a bidet; they've been in some of the hotels, but I've shied away from using them, 'remembering the first time I turned one on full bore a few decades ago, got a facefull.  Now that I can approach a bidet with confidence, the next remodel or new construction (if or when I become less nomadic) will include one, or more. Very civilized. 

Beautiful weather, took off to explore. At Zaga, found a one-lane road that went up, entered Italy, rode over the pass, and after another hour, found my way into someone's back yard in a hillside village, then on to a paved road that led down the hill. Easy to get lost, but that's part of the fun, locals happy to point you in the right direction, unless you've ridden into their backyard. 

The ride from Villach to Arabba took us over Passo Stalle a one-way road where traffic changes direction every half-hour, scooted through the entrance at 90 km/h (a no-no) just as the stop gate was coming down.  

It poured, lightning and thunder, twice stopped in covered bus stops to ponder the map and shed some water.  Up over Passo di Campolongo - uh oh, motorcyclist down (not my group) ambulance on the way - and into Arabba, a cool ski village where we'll stay for two nights.  Most of the stops are for two nights, allowing us to do day rides and explore the surrounding area, not have to pack up every day. Drinks, dinner, raunchy jokes, cool hotel.  And wi-fi in the room!

Riding the next day was amazing. A couple of folks rode a carefully-orchestrated 19 passes (a long day). I  rode nine passes, and explored numerous hillside villages, some with only a few buildings, accessible only by narrow gravel roads.  Many have cemeteries, some military. This border region has been plagued with wars, fighting up here, particularly in the winter, must've been brutal.   The borders have moved north-south-east-west throughout history.  For example, many residents of nearby Cortina (hang-out for the rich and famous) consider themselves to be German, though they're [currently] in Italy.  It seems such an idyllic place to live, history says otherwise. 

Why didn't I ride all 19 passes?  It got so fast and crowded - someone passing me while I'm passing someone else on a narrow and steep road - that I finally opted for some culture and quiet in remote villages. I'm riding fast but safe, pushing it sometimes, but riding at 125% of my ability for hours on end was going to catch up with me.  The Swiss and Italians are exceptional riders, Germans and Austrians pretty good riders, but there were too many crazies packed into too small an area. 

You become accustomed to seeing others - bus, motorcycle, cow - in your own narrow lane. You simply move to the right edge, and ride in their lane as well when you need to. It just works, people here are competent on the roads.  The typical American would pop a forehead vein, I think.  I love riding here. 

Arabba to Trento, great weather, up Paso Manghen on a 2/3-of-a-lane road. Near the top, a swarm of perhaps 200 on-coming Vespa's descend on us, taking up the entire road.  All I can do is stop, while they flowed around me. The leader was waving a red flag, which I would've like to whack him across the head with. Hells Angels on mopeds. It was funny, like a scene from The Wizard of Oz, mobile munchkins.  No time to snap a photo, damnit. 

Lunch at Rifugio Crucolo Loc Val Campelle, a 200+ year old family business that supplies the locals with their home-made sausage, cheese, grappa and other libations.  Toured the cellars, where sausage hangs from the ceiling like bats, walls are lined with cheeses and wines, very cool. The meal was incredible, topped by their special Parampampoli, a combination of grappa, coffee, sugar, and gasoline, I think, served on fire.

Getting to the Rifugio was fun, including a 5 km gravel-big rocks-and-ruts road, with a few steep sections. Once at the restaurant, I rode on the back of another's bike back to the beginning of the gravel road to help ferry bikes and riders who weren't comfortable riding on the rocks. Crikey! [a Kiwi-ism].  I don't like riding on the back, regardless, but this guy rode balls-out, bouncing all over the road, bottomed the suspension several times, scared the sh*t out of me.  My fingerprints are pressed on to the frame where I hung on.  Another Parampampoli, please. 

Back on the road, I spy this impressive castle across the valley, looks worth investigating. It's way up on the hill, there's no road, just an amazingly steep footpath. 31 degrees C, I'm wearing leather riding gear. 45 minutes later, wheezing, I'm at the castle, greeted by a fence-I-can't-see-through, and a sign that says 'ATTENTI AL CANE' underneath a picture of a Doberman.  Well, I've gotten some much-needed exercise, though about ready to pass out from exposure. 

Arriving in Trento, I ride through the pedestrian-only Piazza del Duomo - twice- lost, looking for the hotel.  The whole city turns out for the annual Feste Vigiliane that night: music, fireworks and (probably) debauchery, lasts until the wee hours, very cool. I'll sleep tomorrow. 

 

Tuesday
Jun212011

Alps Ride - Crew, Enter the Alps

Riding with Kiwi (New Zealand) and a few fellow Yankee friends.  The Kiwi couple who put the ride together used to work for an Alps motorcycle tour company, so the they know the best back- (and-front) roads.   Mostly couples, with a few singles, a large span of riding abilities, though we share a common passion for riding.  Ride in groups or peel off on your own, whatever suits your mood for the day. 

Munich was alternating sun and rain, the ride to Salzburg was stunning, though wet and  9 degrees C.  Two nights in beautiful Salzburg, had a great day ride to picturesque Hallstatt (a village) on Gosausee (a lake), finally seeing some sun between rains.  Dinners in old restaurants in old cellars in old Salzburg...the food is very good, and I repent my former belief that German and Austrian cuisine can't compete on the world stage. 

Today's ride from Salzburg to Villach took us through the hairpins, zigzags and sweepers of the Grobglockner, an incredible pass road adjacent to the Alp's highest peak.  Sunny and hot, most of Europe turned out to ride, crazy passing of slower cars and motorcycles, stunning views when you could spare a glance.   Pasterze Glacier at Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Hohe was beautiful, parking area packed with bikes.  Explored a few additional passes before landing in Villach. 

As we meet up for the ritual of drinks after a day's ride, I'm still hangin' in with the Kiwi's, though I'm not sure if I can keep up this pace (drinking) for the whole trip. Kiwi's have a well-deserved reputation in this pastime. 

Four bikes have already hit the pavement, fortunately only a few bruises for the riders and passengers. Getting into the groove of the F800GS, it's well-suited for these mountain roads, though a bit hard on the butt.

 

Monday
Jun202011

Alps Ride - Bikes and Gear

BMW F800GS: my ride for the next couple of weeks. Less grunt than the ride at home, but lighter and more nimble, making it a great steed for Alps twisty's. Super-wide panniers are mounted, a hazard to pedestrians, oncoming traffic, and me. 'Can carry a lot, and knock a lot down if I ride too close to the lane edges. 

Switched from Harley to BMW this year, which means the old riding gear visited eBay, and new riding gear from BMW appeared on my credit card...waterproof leather, how cool is that? Motorcyclists, as a group, I think, are a vain bunch, lookin' good is important.   Full-face helmet, something I haven't worn since college. 

Camera is 'gear' too...Canon S95, works great, and most importantly: fits in my pocket.  Takes pocket-sized photos.  

Next up: the crew.