Alps 2008

Day 11

June 29


Well today will definitely be an interesting day, so I figure I'd best be at it as soon as my eyes fly open. With everything tucked in the river bag, it's a bit of a haul out the side entrance, down the steps and around the building. But soon I've got Snow White loaded and ready to go. It's just past 5 AM, so I figure I'll just let Dave sleep in.

  The mist lays on the fields surrounding Misurina like a comfortable old quilt and nothing is out stirring besides me.  
  The sun has not even cleared the mountains, so I watch carefully for critters and and frost that might be on the road. As I look down at my fuel gauge, I realize that I have made my first tactical error. Usually we fill up on the way back to the hotel, but because of Dave's problem we didn't last night. I have only 2 bars of fuel left and no earthly idea how many miles that represents.  
  I figure I'll just move along, seeing how many miles I get from the second bar and used that as an estimate for the first one. I don't trust the ST1300's 'miles remaining' calculation as I have heard too many stories about folks running out while it says you should still have fuel. Along the way, I see this interesting sign and snap a shot of it. I'm still not really sure the meaning of it but it strikes me as a bit unusual.  
  I pass by an interesting castle that look like the real, medieval deal to me. History always interests me and this one evidently was built to protect the road I am traveling on.  
  I am making good time with the light traffic on my way to the first city, Brunico. I come to it, see the sign for the next town, Bressanone, and keep rolling. Along the way I see another stately castle set on a high point.  

As I pass through these towns, I keep an eye open for a place to get fuel. But it seems everything is closed up tight with no options. There are a few junctions that the map is not very clear on, and the next one is one of them as I get into Bressanone. I do not want to go south to Bolzano as Dave had originally planned because it is a pretty tricky to get through. I'm looking for a sign to Vipiteno as I head into town, but there is not one to be found. What I am finding is that the Italian junctions signs seldom have highway numbers on them and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what town name will appear on the sign. Sometimes it is a major town, sometimes it is a small town past the major town. So here I am in a strange town, with one fuel bar left and no sign. I wander on into town, hoping for a place for fuel but no such luck. As I come to what I think is the southern end of town, I know that I have missed the turnoff. So I retrace my steps back northward the way that I came, still with no fuel options. When I come to a junction, I break out my paper map, scanning it for any towns that might be in the general direction I'm heading. I finally see an out of the way sign for Brennero and I match it to the map. It is a much smaller town north of Vipiteno, the town I was looking for, but at least it is in the right direction so I'm on my way again. My reserve light has just come on, so I have to make some decisions pretty soon. I do not want to run completely out of fuel on the side of the road but my options are becoming limited. Just as I am leaving Vipiteno, I come to a roundabout and spy what appears to be a '24 Ore' station. I presume that it means '24 hours' so I give it a whirl. But there is one small problem - the pump instructions are only in Italian and it does not take any of my credit cards. After a bit of careful study, it does appear to take Euros so I see what I've got. It shows 10s, 20s, and 50s on the machine, so I stick in a 10 but it quickly spits it back out. So I try another 10 and it does the same. I don't have any 20s, so a little mental calculation tells me that a 50 would be way more than I need. But at this point the options are a bit slim - I can either feed it a 50 and take my chances or sit here until someone hopefully shows up - if ever. As I always say -

"I can make more money but I can't make more time"

so in the slot goes the 50. The machine wakes up and I manage to get the right pump number entered. Out flows the precious and pricey stuff that I need and I squeeze every drop that I can into the tank. All I manage is 38 euros but she is filled to the brim. When I hang up the pump, instead of getting any change, I get a nice little receipt that says on the bottom -

"da presetame per il rimborso."

I determine that it tells me that I can redeem it later for the rest of my cash whenever I'm in the neighborhood again - oh what joy! So I now have set a personal record for the highest priced tank of motorcycle fuel I have every purchased - about $78 US dollars.

  But at least I'm back on the road headed for my next adventure. A few miles out of Vipiteno, I head up toward the Pass Giovo (also known as the Jaufen Pass), The view is just another one of those postcard perfect scenes with the snow covered Alpine peaks thinly veiled by the clouds.  
  At 8:00 am on a Sunday morning in Italy, I have this road and the sign all to myself.  
  The way down is pleasantly deserted and twisty, so I get started on the business at hand of threading the hairpins. Descending from over 6,600 feet, I get plenty of 'sewing' practice!  
  As I approach the bottom of the pass road, another lovely example of what a hairpin looks like peeks out from amongst the trees. From this perspective, it looks like it crosses back over itself - but it is just an allusion I hope.  

Before long I come to my next major junction in Merano, another trouble spot that I am not looking forward to. On the map it looks confusing enough, so I can only imagine what the reality will be like. And I am not disappointed as there are no signs that tell me anything that is useful - except which way Bolzano is - which is exactly where I do not want to go. The road I want will take me to the 'mother of all hairpins' - Pass Stelvio. So you would think that a pass of that worldwide significance would at least have a sign pointing to it - not a chance! I go the way my internal GPS indicates which is through a tunnel and across a city square, but there are no signs anywhere that would indicate I am headed in the right direction. So, I decide discretion is the better part of valor and I turn back the way I came. Meanwhile, I am asking the Lord to send me an angel of some sort that can guide me in the right direction. Soon I spot a lady filling up her scooter at a gas station. I figure she's as close to a motorcyclist as I'm going to get, so I park Snow White, and carefully approach her with map in hand. Fortunately, she speaks just a little English and says


So I do, as she finishes filling the scooter and pays. As she tries to explain how to get to Stelvio, we both realize this could take all day. She smiles and says -

"Too complicated. Follow me."

Now that's easy enough even for me to understand, so we are off, me behind my rescuing angel. We go right back through the tunnel that I previously went through.

  Then she leads me through the square that I had crossed earlier and on out the road. When she comes to a fork in the road, she motions me to proceed ahead. I wave a thankful goodbye wave and we part company. I do ask the Lord to give her a special blessing for showing kindness to me. Finally about 7 miles out of town a see the first sign indicating that this is the way to the Stelvio. I pass through several small villages before I see the standard sign indicating whether the pass is open or not. It is open and I am glad because it means that I am really close to getting out of Italy and into Switzerland where the road signs should make sense!  
  Pass Stelvio is the highest paved pass in the Eastern Alps at over 9,000 feet in altitude. Dave has warned me ahead of time that the hairpins are so tight, that you must look up the hill as you approach one to see if anybody is coming. The only way you make it around them is to swing out wide in the oncoming lane and then come back in as you get past the apex. And the attack upwards is so steep that if you stall in the hairpin you will fall over because your feet are too far from the pavement. With the hairpins numbered from the bottom, at least you know you have 47 more times to practice this skill since the first one is numbered 48!  

  The look upward will make you dizzy if you are not careful as you question the sanity of the highway engineers who got this road to cling to the mountain side. About halfway up I see a full size tourist bus coming down (yes they do traverse this public road) and I do some quick mental trajectories. Realizing that we will intersect at the next hairpin if I continue, I hold back about 50 yards to give the driver plenty of swing room. Somehow, without a hinge in the middle, he gets that long bus around the curve and heads past me. I proceed upwards, still amazed at the skill of these Alpine bus drivers.  
  This is the pass that I have always inextricably linked to riding the Alps. And now here I am sitting near the top of one of the most amazing rides I have ever been on. But there is a bit of sadness in my heart as my good friend Dave is not here to share the moment with me, so I savior the moment alone. It is a way that I will probably not pass by again for quite a while.  

I thought that I would stop at the top for a bite to eat, but it is busier than an open honey jar that the ants just found. I decide I'll just get the pass sign and move on. When I arrive, there are a couple of young guys (the nicest thing I can call them) posing and strutting for one of their girlfriends with a camera. They came up on scooters and are so proud of themselves. I sit with camera in hand waiting, as they climb up both sides of the sign, and then swap sides, and then carry on this way and that as if they are the only important people in the world. All of a sudden I hear a mad roar, and a bunch of bikes pull up behind me, obviously for the same reason I am sitting there. Finally I turn to the one directly behind me and say -

"That's why we have guns in America" with a mischievous grin on my face and making the shooting motion with my hand.

He replies in broken English "Yes, that is a good idea!"

I guess I must have spoke loud enough - or else my hand motions worked - to shake the pretty boys back in to reality. They finally clear out and I get my picture quickly so others could have the same opportunity.

  Today I will not ride down the other side of Stelvio, as I want to do the Pass Umbrail which straddles the Italian and Switzerland border. Dave has warned me that there are some sections that are hard packed gravel but after Stelvio, I feel like I'm up for the challenge. Nobody is at home at the Switzerland border, so I just motor right on through after I get my picture.  
  It's a pretty twisty pass like Stelvio, but void of much traffic, which I really like.  
  The road just undulates back and forth across the sides of the narrow valley as it makes it's way down to the lower elevations.  
  When I come to the gravel part, it is very hard pack and in really good shape. It's still gravel and I do back off the throttle quite a bit. This is not the place to practice my motocrossing skills on the ST1300 since there is a noticeable lack of guardrails.  
  About half way down, there is a lovely Alpine stream flowing down the side valley, creating numerous small cascades.  
  Now that I am in Switzerland, I hope that my junction dilemmas are all behind me. I am getting kind of hungry since breakfast was nonexistent, so I spy a lovely cafe just as I leave the gravel for the pavement. It has a phenomenal view and a great outdoor dining area, so I sign on for the cruise.  
  The lady that seats me and serves me does not speak any English, but fortunately she understands "Wasser nicht gas" and brings me normal water. Looking over the menu, I decide I'll give the lasagna a shot since it's something I readily recognize. I'm no big fan usually of such stuff, but this has to be the best lasagna that has ever crossed my teeth. It light and delicate and unlike any that I have ever had before. There are a group of motorcyclists at a table across the way and we exchange nods of recognition. But I figure they don't know English and I don't have clue whether they speak Italian, German, French or some other language. So the nodding of the heads is about the extent of our communication.  
I do some mental time calculations and figure out that despite my two 'detours', I'm still making good time. I call David just to let him know how the day is going and to see what progress he is making. He tells me that I am doing really well to be that far along so soon. He's hoping that the bike will get picked up Monday and he'll call as soon as he finds something out. I finish the call and the meal, settle up, then get back on the road. The next pass I come to is called Pass dal Fuom, a short ride from the small village of Santa Maria.
  It is a 7,000+ foot pass with another lovely view from the top,  
  As I head down the other side, it is difficult to distinguish the road from gravel stretches and the elongated patches of snow.  
  I have two choices as I go forward - I can head north toward Davos Platz and do the Pass Fluela or head south toward St. Moritz and do the Pass Abula. Dave usually does the Pass Abula, but I decide to be different and do Pass Fluela. And I am not disappointed as I negotiate my way up to almost 8,000 feet.  
  There is lots of snow still on the mountain sides and a lovely Alpine lake at the very top, fed by the melting snow.  
  I make my way down to the valley floor through to the town of Tiefencastel where a surprise awaits me. The road that I need to be on has been completely dug up and blocked off with no detour signs. But being an adventurous source and now a veteran of detours, I go around the sign and make my way down the dirt and gravel thoroughfare. At least it will take where I need to go and it does - as I look back at the way I've come.  
  But I guess this is construction season in Switzerland, as I encounter yet another one lane zone. They simply put up traffic lights at each end and it manages to sort out just fine.  

As I come down out of the mountains, I see a lovely village church, that makes me a little homesick since it's Sunday and I am normally in our services back home in the Holler.


As I get into the little town of Thusis, I hit a surprise junction. The road I want will take me to Flims then Andermatt so I am busy looking for the signs as I approach a roundabout. The only sign I see is a sign pointing to Chur, which is not the way I want to go. So I pick the other spoke which does not seem quite right in my head. By this time I am close to reserve on fuel, and the only things that have been open so far are restaurants. The farther I go the more I realize that this just doesn't feel right. But there is an unattended fuel station that appears to take credit cards so I pull in to give to it a whirl. Fortunately this one has an English button, so I am grateful for that. One thing that I have learned that if the pump will take a credit card they require one with a pin number - which means you either use your ATM card or a credit card that will hit you with a monstrous cash advance fee. After fueling up, a young lady on a bicycle pedals by and I ask her for directions. But in her broken English she says -

"I am not from here."

I thank her anyway, and head back into town. I spy two bicyclists stopped, so I ask them the way to Andermatt. They point me back to the roundabout that I passed earlier so I thank them and head in that direction. When I come to the roundabout there is only one practical option - to head to Chur. The only other spokes are the one that I came into town on and the one I'm sitting on. So off I head toward Chur, figuring that the road I want will branch off somewhere along the way. When I come to this junction, I see the sign to Flims and I know I'm in like Flint. But I do find it a bit amusing that the signs to Chur point both ways - go figure!

  From this point it should be a straight shot right into Andermatt. But it is late in the day and it is getting really hot. I see a closed fuel station that has a coke machine, so I pull off to get something cold to drink. But it is out of order, so I rummage through my trunk and find a warm bottle of water. I'm getting tired, so I rest a bit and take another long look at the map to see if there should be any other interesting junctions ahead. All I see is another pass that I should cross before I reach Andermatt. A bit refreshed, I climb aboard Snow White and push on.  

Once I get through the town of Disentis, I know it should not be long until I arrive at Pass Oberalp. Nearby this pass is the source of the Rhine River, the Tomasee Lake.

  With this last pass behind me, I am ever so glad to see this sign. It means that I have successfully negotiated over 300 miles by myself with only a road map and only three missed turns. I make my way down the mountain, mindful of the instructions that Dave gave me to find the Hotel Aurora.  
  Andermatt is a quiet Swiss town of narrow, cobblestone streets. If my memory serves me correctly, the hotel I am looking for should be at almost the end of this road, with the campground that Peter, Fi and Bob are staying at right next door.  
  Dave's instructions are right on target, and I am very happy to see this sign also. It means the end of a challenging and interesting day. I ease Snow White to the front door and go in. The lady behind the counter has my reservations and I check to be sure that they have cancelled the one that Dave made for himself.  

Once I am checked in, I move the bike down the side parking lot. Fi sees me and comes over and we exchange hugs as Bob waves to me. I walk over to their campsite and give Peter and Bob a big hug also. It's good see old friends, especially after being pretty much by myself all day. They have graciously offered to take up Dave's slack and be my tour guide for the next few days. I tell them -

"I'm awful sorry that Dave felt like he had to fake this bearing business to get rid of me. So I guess you're stuck with me for a few days."

We all laugh and talk about the rides that we have been together on. I give Peter his SToc shirt that I have been toting since I left home.

"You know, it matches the color of your bike pretty well" I tell him.

We decide that we will get something to eat in about an hour, so I head back up to my room and wash the road stink off.


The room is nice and I get my stuff sorted out pretty quickly. I decide that I will even put on some clean clothes for the outing this evening. After making myself as presentable as I can, I grab a bag of GooGoos, and head back over to the campsite. The skies look pretty foreboding so I grab my rain jacket out of the bike. We wander up the street into the main downtown and Peter tells me -

"You probably need to have some Swiss Francs. They prefer them although they will take Euros."

We find a bank, but it is a bit interesting. To get into the lobby to the ATM, you have to swipe your card for the doors to open. Fortunately, my ATM card gains me admittance and works in the machine. So now I have Swiss francs to add to my British pounds and euros. As the rain starts to come down seriously, Peter picks a restaurant for us to get shelter in and we follow his leadership. He orders up a pizza for an appetizer and it is really good. We talk about the day's adventures and where they are headed next. When they leave Andermatt, they are headed to a rally in Greece on a 5 week trip. Soon his phone rings, and it is Steinar Fremme, the creator of the site that we all are a part of and the keeper of the SToc number. We had talked about getting together since the group he would be leading from Norway would be in Andermatt at the same time we would be there. They are staying at the Hotel Kronig just down the street, so we set out to meet him and his group. Bob had noticed a BMW with Norwegian plates on our walk up, so we have a good idea where they are. He also has his lovely wife, Ilse, with him, so we get a double blessing. When I give Steinar the bag of GooGoos, she lights up because she really likes chocolate. I tell him -

"I sure hope she shares some of them with you."


If it were not for his site, it is very doubtful that I would have ever met any of my UK friends like Dave, Moff, Peter, Fi, or Bob - to name just a few. Through his site, I have organized and participated in rides all over the USA and Europe and have friends all over the world. He is one man that I really wanted to meet, thank him, hug his neck, and give him some GooGoos - and I do. He has led a very interesting life and we have a great time talking about the site, motorcycling and life in general. It so great to finally meet a person that has been a personal blessing to me and I tell him -

"If you ever make it to the States, the Holler Hotel is always open!"

His group is waiting for their prearranged dinner to be served and it finally arrives. We excuse ourselves so they can eat, and he tell us he will catch up with us later. Just down the street is an interesting restaurant, so we wander in and make ourselves at home. Being in an adventurous mood, I order the tortellinos - something I would rarely ever do back home. But after the excellent lasagna I had for lunch, I go for it. I am not disappointed, for they are quite tasty also. About the time we finish up our meals, I see Steinar making haste down the road outside the restaurant window headed toward the campground. I jump up and rush outside to catch him before he gets too far down the road. We continue our conversation late into the evening and I learn even more his background, his talents, and his interests. After listening to him, I definitely add Norway to my list of places I want to ride. He and his group are leaving tomorrow so he figures he'd best get back and get some sleep. Once again we thank him for all that he has done and wish him a safe and fun ride. The restaurant is sort of giving us the 'we want to close' look, so we collect ourselves and head back - me to the hotel, Peter, Fi, and Bob to the campground. We set a time to depart in the morning, and I go upstairs to my room to crash. As I ponder on the myriad of experiences that I have encountered today, my brain quietly shuts down and sleep falls on me like a heavy blanket.


Totals For The Day -

Countries - 2 (Italy, Switzerland)

Miles - 314

Passes - 6 (Jaufen, Stelvio, Umbrail, Dal Fuom, Fluela, Oberalp)

Hairpins - 106