Tag: Euro2010

Someone Pinch Me – Switzerland is Motorcycle Riding Heaven

Someone Pinch Me – Switzerland is Motorcycle Riding Heaven

When we climbed down from the top of the San Bernardino pass, we had the rain on our heels. If we were going to make the most of our plans for the day we were going to have to get on the gas and hightail it out of there. We were heading towards an area in Switzerland just above the northeastern border of Italy.

In this part of Switzerland, there is a group of mountain passes that is just outstanding. They provide many hours and many miles of riding on beautiful asphalt, beautiful views and delicious curves. These passes are: Nufenen pass, Grimsel pass, Furka pass, Susten pass, Gotthard pass.

Novena Neufenen Pass Switzerland

When you head north along the Novena/Neufenen Pass it brings you to the intersection of the Furka and the Grimsel passes. Having to make a choice, we opted to stay left and take the Grimsel and would try to hit the Furka the following day. So up we went along the terraced switchbacks into the mountains.

The Grimsel pass from the south

The view as you were climbing higher was spectacular. I pulled off to take some photos and I could hear the echoing sounds of 2 people on sportbikes coming down the neighboring Furka pass. I watched the 2 little dots making their way along the mountain road as their song echoed through the valley.

Grimsel Pass with partial View of Furka Pass

Neufenen Novena Pass Switzerland Cross at the top of the Grimsel Pass a view of the Furka Pass from Grimsel pass
F 650 GS on Grimsel Pass Switzerland Motorcycle sculpture at the top of Grimsel pass Pimmie conquers the Neufenen Pass in Switzerland

All through our trip I never got over the feeling of just how small we are as people here on the earth. The magnitude and scale of the mountains was incredible. This photo of me riding on the Grimsel pass personifies that to me. I was nothing more than a speck traveling along on the road of life.

Fuzzygalore on the Grimsel Pass

We made our last gas stop of the day in Innertkirchen. With the late hour, the waning daylight and the ever present threat of rain we decided it was time to pack it in. We would ride the length of the Susten pass and grab a room in the town of Wassen.

The Susten pass didn’t seem to climb in the same way the other passes had throughout the day. It seemed to run more like a canyon road along the length of the valley instead of just up and over. The last 15 or 20 miles of the pass, Kenny and I spent some time riding together which was nice since I’d been kind of floating solo as I poked along looking at things and stopping for pictures.

Pimmie's Aprilia Tuono on Grimsel Pass in Switzerland Kenny heading in to Wassen Switzerland Wassen Switzerland Sustenpass Sign

Even with our late start we managed to get in some fabulous riding. On our third day of traveling we’d been through the Splugen pass, the San Bernardino pass and now the Novena pass, Grimsel pass and the Susten pass. Not too shabby, really.
Gasthof Alte Post our hotel in Wassen Switzerland

We took rooms at the Gasthof Alte Post in Wassen and had dinner outside in what was left of the fading light of the day. Our rooms had no TVs, no Wifi and no clocks. The three of us spent the night looking at the highlighted routes on our map, watching videos from the day’s riding and making plans for what we were going to do the next day. Those plans included contingencies for pouring rain which as the night wore on, came calling.

Motorcycle Nirvana: Riding The Splügen Pass

Motorcycle Nirvana: Riding The Splügen Pass

In typical case-of-the-Mondays fashion, the weather report didn’t look promising. But, the fact that the fog was burning off and the sun was elbowing it’s way through the cloud cover was a encouraging. Three sets of wheels hurtled towards riding nirvana.

One beautiful thing about the alpine mountain passes of northern Italy and Switzerland is their proximity to each other. You come off of one pass and with just a few turns you’re heading towards another. Having spent the night basically at the foot of the Maloja pass, we were in prime position to set our sights on the Splügen pass.

When you head up the Splugen pass from the city of Chiavenna, the road wriggles it’s way up a mountain along a terraced roadway. Hairpin turns are stacked against the earth rising up, up up and you find yourself riding through unlit tunnels on the side of the mountain. Hairpin turn in a tunnel, anyone?

Splugen pass tunnel hairpin

The Italian portion of the approach to the Splügen pass and it’s terraced turns and tunnels is viewable on Google Maps street view. If you have some time to poke around, take a look for yourself! It will give you a feel for what the climb was like.

Pimmie goes to work on the Splugenpass

On many of the passes it seemed that there was a personality shift when you reached a plateau. With Splügen, when the road started to loosen up a bit you are treated a view of Lago di Monte Spluga and the turns become much more gentle and flowing. When I say gentle – I mean more like a sidewinder instead of a coiled rattlesnake.

Shortly after Lago di Monte Spluga came in to view, I came around a corner only to have to throw on the anchors in a hurry. There were cows parked in the middle of the road. That was an… interesting moment.  When I finally made my way to where Kenny and Pimmie were parked, they too were having fun with cows. You can see Pimmie making friends in the video clip:

Near the Italian-Swiss border the feeling of the pass changed again. The road became a ribbon of turns that worked it’s way down into a valley. When my eyes first caught a glimpse of what was spilling out before me I actually said “wow” out loud and immediately stopped for a picture. Unfortunately no photograph I ever took could do justice to the magnificence of this delicious roadway making its way through such a beautiful landscape.

Splugenpass on the Swiss Side

View from near Lago di Monte Spluga splugenpass Lago di Monte Spluga splugenpass Kenny follows Pimmie on Splugenpass
Kenny and Pimmie heading up Splugenpass to Lago di Monte Spluga Bikes parked in Splugen Switzerland Cows on Splugen pass

When we reached the end of the pass in the town of Splügen, Switzerland, I swear I wanted to hi-five somebody. But then I’d have to kick my own ass. The riding and the scenery of the pass were amazing. On a day that was off to an iffy start with Pim not feeling well and the threat of rain, we’d just made out like bandits. And this was just the beginning…

Splügen Pass - Photo by Adrian Michael
Killing Time Around Vicosoprano, Switzerland

Killing Time Around Vicosoprano, Switzerland

A low, silvery fog nestled in to the valley while we slept. It was hard to tell if it was raining or not when I looked out over the balcony of our room.  I crossed my fingers tightly that the ground was dry and trotted downstairs for breakfast saying good morning to the animals in the hall along the way.

Ummm.. okay? Hotel Taxidermied animals

Pimmie wasn’t looking so hot. Two days prior, his ride down from the Netherlands was long. Follow that up with not getting a good night sleep in Bormio. Riding an intensive day of passes and not enough to eat or drink all day brought things to a head. It was obvious that he needed some more rest, so we sent him back to bed for a little while.

With Pimmie trying to catch a few more winks, Kenny and I went to poke around in the little towns below. We stopped in the villages of Castasegna, Stampa and Bondo to have a look around.

Rock Tunnel near Vicosoprano Switzerland

it’s just – it’s just there it’s a little different.

There was an obvious visual difference between the houses and buildings scattered around the countryside when compared to those here at home. As I rode along I mulled over just what those differences really were. It seemed like the homes and their decoration used materials from their immediate surroundings. Simple, elegant solutions to making railings, roofs, fences were all plucked from the wood, stone and earth right in their own backyards. Everything seemed to be in tune with the land.

One of my favorite things about traveling is that everything is new to your eyes. Even the most mundane acts undertaken by people going about their every day lives offer you as the traveler something interesting to look at. We parked along a wall in Castasegna and watched a woman working in her garden. In that moment, as she toiled in the dirt and moved amongst her flowers – it all seemed very beautiful to me.

Watching everyday life in Castasegna Switzerland Palazzo Castelmur Switzerland Swiss Houses in Castasegna
tunnel near vicosoprano Tight squeeze between a car and a bus Hi Kenny!

Many times throughout the trip when we were in populated areas I stopped and asked myself if we were allowed to ride or park there. Often towns and villages were paved with stones that to my eyes look like driveways or pedestrian paths, much less like roads.

Riding through a small Swiss town

Though I may not have seen a red do not enter sign there were some cases I just wasn’t sure.  Over time, I started adopting the idea that apparently there were no driving rules and you can stick your motorcycle anywhere you like.

Cable car into the fog vicosoprano
That little speck is the car going up, up, up...

When we arrived back at the hotel, we sat for a few minutes watching a cable car make it’s way up into the fog. From our vantage point it looked like the tiny little car was going straight up into nothingness. When I contemplated that idea for a few minutes it kind of freaked me out. Some people volunteer to go quietly into the abyss, while others cling to the terra firma.

Soon Pimmie had come down stairs, looking like he was feeling quite a bit better. We paid our tab, said goodbye to the animals in the hallway and set off riding for the day. The roads were dry and we had passes to see. This day was going to be a humdinger…

*The cable car goes up to the Albigna Dam/Resevoir/Hut

A Sunday Ride Through the Swiss and Italian Alps

A Sunday Ride Through the Swiss and Italian Alps

On Sunday, we started our day with a bang, leaving our Bormio hotel and heading straight up and over the Stelvio pass. Winding our way along it’s delicious serpentine hairpins, I wondered if my day was figuratively all down hill from there. As we motored on, I quickly found out that it had just begun.

The passes that we covered on Sunday were:  Stelvio pass, Ofen pass, Flüela pass, Julier pass, Moloja pass

From the northern foot of the Stelvio pass we went on to the Swiss border and headed towards the Ofen pass. This pass was generally fast and loose with good tarmac. It had more sweepers and few (if any) hairpins. The biggest difference with this pass was that the roadway ran through a forest, whereas the other passes moved up and over the treeline. It reminded me of riding in California.

Say hi to Pimmie everyone! Heading toward Ofen pass Ofen Pass in Switzerland Heading towards Vicosoprano Switzerland
Julier pass Switzerland On the Julier pass Switzerland Bikes parked in Switzerland

The sheer number of motorcycles and maxi-scooters that were out riding this loop on a sunny Sunday afternoon was just staggering. There were bikes everywhere! Some observations:

  • It was nice to see nearly everyone was dressed in full gear.
  • Most bikes were toting some type of storage luggage on them.
  • Naked bikes and the big BMW GS’s were the most popular bikes on the roads.
  • We saw very few fully faired sportbikes in the mountains.
  • I saw a few other women riders but not nearly as many as I expected to.
  • The majority of road surfaces were very good!

It seemed too that the competence and skill level of the majority of riders we encountered was really quite excellent.  But, I suppose if you spend your life riding those roads, you just have to get good at it. The roads aren’t forgiving.

Don’t Wait Up!

My two traveling companions, Kenny and Pimmie are quite a bit more speedy than I am. I’m not slow but I am just unwilling to take what I see as unnecessary risks anymore. I’ve come to realize that my ability to enjoy a ride isn’t always directly proportional to how fast I’m moving.  My riding throughout this trip would definitely be classified as “conservative.” There were times when I felt a little bit like an anchor as I watched them fade out of my view. Though neither one said anything negative about it, I did wonder if they were fed up with my dawdling.

Until we got into a comfortable rhythm of riding together, I could see them checking mirrors for me, pulling off and waiting, wondering what the heck was taking me so long to turn up. I tried to be clear that they needed to stop babysitting me and to just wait for me at the next turn off.  I’m not a new rider or someone who has no skill, for crying out loud. I contended that there were plenty of people around if I should find myself in trouble or in need of help.

Shortly after my speech, on the Flüela pass I saw Pimmie had actually doubled back to look for me. I will admit it bothered me to think that he would have spent any time worried about my riding. The irony was of course that not 3 minutes before I came literally inches from busting my ass pulling onto a pea gravel shoulder to take some photos. The front tire just washed out sideways while I was slowing to a stop. I managed to catch it at the last second. Of course, I kept that to myself until now ;o)

I absolutely loved the stark landscape of the Flüela pass.

Fluela pass in Switzerland
The Flüela Pass - Switzerland

Julier Pass Switzerland
The Julier Pass - Switzerland

Sportbike-shmortbike. Run What Ya Brung!

The last pass that we took for the day was the Maloja pass, which is about 30 miles south of St. Mortiz, Switzerland. It is a tall, terraced, hairpin turn pass. The view from the top looking down over the roadway was amazing but unfortunately there was no room to stop for a photo. When we reached the bottom of the pass, I found a spot to pull over and was hoping I could get a view from the bottom up.

Group of BMWs heading up the Maloja Pass

As I sat on the side of the road a group of guys on GSs came motoring towards me on their way up. Zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom they rounded the bend by me with the last guy sending sparks up as he dragged his sidebags through the hairpin. I laughed in spite of myself. It was just so freakin’ awesome to see this train of bikes rail through the turn. I’m so goofy, I clapped. The last guy smiled as he righted himself and rode away.

GS dragging sidebags through hairpin maloja pass

The three of us pulled into a small guesthouse hotel at the foot of the pass in the town of Vicosoprano for the night. Though we didn’t turn a lot of miles in the grandest sense, they were quality miles.  None of us drank enough throughout the day and it had started to show. We were all tired and unfortunately, Pimmie wasn’t feeling very well.

We sat on our balcony and listened to sound of the church bells ringing in the town below. Nestled in amongst the trees, the only sound other sound we heard was occasional high rpms approaching the corner until the sun went down.

Our hotel in Vicosoprano Switzerland

The view from our hotel in Vicosoprano Switzerland Our balcony Vicosoprano cable car going into the clouds Vicsoprano Switzerland

This was one of the most amazing days of riding of my entire life.

Cross One Off The Bucket List: Riding the Stelvio Pass in Italy

Cross One Off The Bucket List: Riding the Stelvio Pass in Italy

In realm of people who are passionate about pursuits that involve wheels; cars, motorcycles, bicycles – it seems that everyone knows the name Stelvio. We’ve seen it in photos around the internet, zig-zagging it’s way up and down through the Italian Alps. It has become a legend, a holy grail road.

Before having seen it with my own eyes, I too held the Stelvio Pass as the pinnacle of my road riding desires. I made a deal with myself that I would ride it one day. Sunday September 5, 2010 was that day.

Pimmie and I looking north towards the Stelvio pass

60 Tornante
Stelvio holds in it’s grip 60 hairpin turns. Yes… 60. From the Bormio side heading north as you begin your ascent, you turn, turn, turn your way up thinking – “wow, this is amazing! I can’t believe all of these hairpin turns!”

That is of course until we crested the summit and began our descent. There are 48 hairpins on the way down, each marked with numbered stones. Winding down those terraced turns broke us in right for the rest of the trip.

You learn quickly that even though it may feel alien to you, at times you have to use the both lanes. There is no staying only on “your side”. It was a trial by fire and I felt like I was prepared for anything the trip would throw at us after that.
The North side of the Stelvio Pass Italy

Up we go on the stelvio pass Tibet building stelvio pass Bormio Stelvio Pass Elevation Sign at Summit
Passo Dello Stelvio - party at 9,000 feet Kenny parked atop stelvio pass The Stelvio Pass

The summit of Stelvio is like a party at 9,000 feet up. There are people from all over the world laughing, taking photos and enjoying the kinship of like-minded people who also came to behold such an awesome spectacle.

Milling around up there at the summit, watching all of the bikes and people was a moment in time that I felt like I wanted to hold on to as tightly as I could. I’d waited so long to see this thing. I never want to forget what I was seeing, what the air felt like, what it took for us to get there. As with everything though, you have to let it go and move on. So onward we went, down, down, down the Stelvio pass.

Pimmie, Me & Kenny on the Stelvio Pass
Sometimes I look at my life and think... Damn! I'm lucky.