In 2010, Kenny and I flew to Italy to meet up with our friend Pimmie and do some riding in the Alps. Our travels took us through the mountains of Italy, Switzerland and Austria. That trip still looms large in my mind as one of the most personally meaningful adventures I’ve been on. Travel changes you.
While in Austria, one of the passes we rode was Timmelsjoch (Passo del Rombo) not far from Innsbruck and on the way to the Dolomites.
Sadly our trip across the wiggly ribbon was ensconced in fog and rain. But, I suppose that is all part of the adventure.
We’re going to be heading back to play with Pimmie in the Alps this year. I’m excited that our friend Ed will be joining us, too. Just think of all the Throwback Thursday posts! 😉
Riding the Alps with a GoPro Hero Camera: Is This Thing On?
Kenny and Pimmie both rode with GoPro Hero HD cameras throughout our Alpine trip. Kenny mounted his on the side of his helmet for a “you’re seeing what I’m seeing” point of view and Pimmie mounted his GoPro on the front of his Tuono near the right mirror stalk.
Each day, they shot about 4 hours worth of riding video. In order to conserve the battery, this meant turning the camera on and off on less exciting stretches of road or during extended stops.
While looking through the videos, I found that many video clips start with a view of either of them looking into the camera with an “is this thing on?” expression. Kenny’s signature move was to look into his left mirror to see if the record light was flashing, while either Pimmie, Kenny or sometimes both had to look at Pimmie’s bike from the front see if his light was flashing.
It’s interesting to note some of the backgrounds, scenery, cars and bikes going by. This is like one big photobomb blog post. These photos are some of those video still frames:
On Wednesday morning, we packed up our circus in no time flat and said goodbye to the city. We were heading back up in to the mountains. Following yet another of my whims, we would be heading towards the town of Corvara, Italy.
Nestled snugly in the shadow of the beautiful Sassongher mountain, Corvara first sneaked into my brain from a photograph I saw in a travel ad. I tore the page out of the magazine and stuck to our refrigerator. I would finally have the chance to see this beautiful little village with my own eyes after looking at it for 6 months in my kitchen.
We left Innsbruck heading west where we stopped off at the Stuibenfall in Umhausen. It is the tallest waterfall in Tyrol Austria and a beautiful sight. The view overlooking the Ötztal valley isn’t too shabby either.
Motoring on, our route brought us up and over the Timmelsjoch Hochalpenstrasse. Like, Silvretta this roadway also had a toll. When we pulled up to the booths to pay the fee, we could see misty clouds getting closer the higher we went. Just a few miles in to our ride, the fog thickened.
It was a chilly 4°C. It was the first time I remember seeing any standing snow on the roadway. I had to flip on the heated grips because my hands were starting to sting as the wind whistled through the perforated areas of my vented summer gloves.
When we pulled off at the summit to see the pass museum, we couldn’t see a blessed thing of the view. We saw nothing but an abyss. The rain started to fall as we descended the mountain. Between the fog and the water on my visor visibility was terrible. I crept along, making my way down through the tunnels and hairpins trying to enjoy the ride.
When we reached the foot of the Timmelsjoch, we continued on to the Jaufenpass in the pouring rain. Between the mixture of cold rain and tar snakes, it turned out to be one of my least favorite passes. When I look at photos of the pass in the sunshine on the web, I can honestly say I don’t remember any of that. I just remember gray.
When we reached the bottom, we pulled off and ate a roadside hamburger. We dried up a little and made a plan to make tracks to Corvara. The cold rain dogged us the rest of the way. Sadly, the rain and fog robbed me of my view of the town below the mountain, but I had high hopes to see it early in the following morning. The sunshine was on it’s way.
After a long day in the saddle we pulled in to the city of Innsbruck around dinner time. We found a nice, inexpensive hotel on the outskirts in the town of Rum. We got cleaned up and went for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. By the time we finished up, the sun had set and what was left of our evening was quickly ticking by.
We hopped in to a taxi and went into the old part of Innsbruck. Because our vacation was a riding vacation, we left home with no plans to spend time sightseeing or city touring. The fact that we were in Innsbruck at all was icing on the cake for me. So when the cab dropped us off, we did what we would do on the bikes and just wandered.
I’ve said it so many times before but, it really is the little moments that stay with you. We sat in the cathedral square talking and taking in the powerful façade of the Dom zu St. Jakob. We three just sat on a bench talking about history and the nature of people. There were no city sounds – no traffic, no sirens, cars, no honking. As I sit here on my deck writing this, I can still feel the cool air of that night around me like an embrace. It was one of those perfect moments that I didn’t fully grasp the value of until it was long since gone.
Given the late hour, everything but a few cafes in the old part of the city was closed. It was very interesting to walk around with the feeling that you’ve basically got the place to yourself. There was no hustle and no bustle, it was just us walking.
Being in that old place immediately filled me with a sense of romanticism. It was made up of nothing more than a group of lifeless buildings just like every other city the world over, but… it felt different than home. It felt faraway and special.
We walked to Maria-Theresia Strasse and had coffee in an outdoor café. When the waitress informed us they were out of apple strudel, it was like a dagger in my heart. Can you believe that? I missed my golden opportunity for strudel in Austria. I did have some manner of schnitzel for dinner though, so we’ll call it a draw this time.
So there we were – me, the love of my life and our dear friend. We were a man and a woman from New York, having coffee with a Dutchman in Innsbruck, Austria. All because of motorcycles. I think that’s pretty cool. It’s in those moments I can really feel just how awesome my life is.
Right outside of one of the most famous buildings in the city, the Golden Roof – there are 2… um… things… on the sidewalk. Yes, the Golden Roof is lovely and historical and all of that, but these just struck me so funny. While other people were nodding thoughtfully and taking photos of the building, we were giggling like schoolgirls over the sidewalk wangs.
I still have no idea what they were for but I think it’s probably best not to let the imagination wander too far on this topic.
It was around midnight when we grabbed a taxi back to our hotel. Our little walk through town was just too short. In many ways it pains me that I was in this lovely, fairytale place so worthy of exploring, yet we had no time to do just that. I can only hope that life will steer me there again some time down the road.
In the meantime, we had more riding to do.
Riding to Austria: Our Dark Cloudy Day Has A Silvretta Lining
The first thing that I did when I woke up was open up the window and look out. To my dismay the roadway was damp. But… at least it wasn’t raining. I watched four little birds playing in the fountain outside as the chilly morning air crept in. I then padded around our little room, looking at postcards, receipts and stickers that I’d accumulated so far.
With Pimmie still sawing logs in the room next door, Kenny and I set off on foot for a walk through the little town of Wassen. Just a stones throw from our hotel was a small church; St. Gallus – perched on a hill that overlooked the valley. We stood there in the damp air listening to the trains going by on the tracks above and below us and watching children in the nearby school yard.
When we started walking down the serpentine footpath back to our hotel, the heavy sky opened up. The rain that we’d managed to dodge the day before had caught up to us. It was now time for us to pay the piper. It was pouring.
Back at the hotel, with Pimmie now awake, we sat looking at our maps over breakfast. My heart broke a little when we decided against riding the Furka and Gotthard passes in the pouring rain. Sometimes I just want to kick myself when I put things off for “later”. Especially when later doesn’t come. Instead of the 2 passes we’d skipped the day before, we’d head towards clear skies in the west. We set off over the Oberalppass and headed towards Austria.
For most of the trip, I didn’t sleep very well. Each night, I would wake up several times. One night I actually had some strange, upsetting dreams. I could probably count the number of times I’ve had a bad dream in the last 10 years on one hand, so that was pretty unusual. Between the rain, my lack of good sleep and “lazy” riding we were doing, I think it put me in a lull. This was the first day that I felt really tired on the bike.
Near the Swiss – Liechtenstein border, we crossed through what appeared to be a military post. I was a little bummed to not see a single guy opening a can of beans with his knife or something. Maybe they were all busy invading Liechtenstein again. *Point of note: Apparently aside from being a tax haven, 1/3 of the world’s false teeth are made in Liechtenstein.
When we crossed the Austrian border, we had to stop in a gas station to get a vignette sticker to put on our bikes. A vignette is a toll sticker. Apparently, you can be fined some serious Euros for failing to have one displayed. I guess that’s just one of those bits of information that is good to tuck in your back pocket, you know, in case you’re ever in the neighborhood.
Within a few miles of our last border crossing for the day, the clouds started to lift and the roads began to dry. It couldn’t have come soon enough. We were all tired and a little less enthusiastic than we’d been on the days before. Though riding through tree-lined valleys and along side streams was indeed beautiful, I think we were spoiled by the mountain riding. As luck would have it, we were heading towards the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse.
Silvretta High Alpine Road was a fantastic ride. It starts low in a valley and weaves it’s way up along nearly perfect pavement. Once you get above the treeline you are in a rocky and barren landscape. Snow-capped mountains and glaciers surround you as you approach the reservoir at the road summit. This alpine pass was just what the doctor ordered. Silvretta was the silver lining of our otherwise dark, cloudy day.
It was getting to be late in the afternoon. For all intents and purposes we were a hop, skip and a jump from Innsbruck. So, I used my executive powers and decided that’s where we would stay for the night. So, with no plan whatsoever we went to the beautiful city of Innsbruck, Austria.