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Old 08-12-2007, 09:00 AM   #2
MichaelJ OP
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Location: Sterling, Virginia, USA
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A virgin's tour of the Alps - Part 2

Day 8 – July 6 Friday – Prestino to Livigno Italy – 160 km – Passi Vivione & Gavia & Foscagno

Breakfast at the Oasi Verdi. Same old same old but I am getting accustomed to it and it is really healthy. Could have had eggs but the yolks were orange instead of yellow like egg yolks should be. Mike and I talked about bikes and the ones we have owned over the years. He has had more than 15 – many because of the years he spent in the USAF moving often and unable to take the bikes with him. I have had only 5, the Bonneville and 4 Harleys, but my next one will be a BMW R1200RT – and within a year or so too.

Julie slept in and did not want to eat so we all (as opposed to y’all) left at 0930 for Passo Vivione. Yet another goat trail, but this time we took pictures. I stood in the middle of the “road” with my hands outstretched and no one could have gotten by me without contact with me or stepping out into the air.

We’re talking six feet of road, no guardrail and 2000 feet of more or less vertical drop on the outside. Some areas of the road are actually 8 feet wide. Ooooh, how exciting. Somehow we usually met cars at the wider areas. I am sure glad European cars are not Buicks. I gotta say that some of the time is spent in prayer. Praying for no traffic or praying for bikes instead of cars and cars instead of trucks. And this is real prayer not because it sounds cool. Passo Vivione was 1895 meters with a nice “refuge” at the top.

Most of the passes have a “refuge” most of which have been there for decades to many hundreds of years. They originated as a stop for travelers back when it took days to make the crossing instead of an hour or two on a motorcycle. Refuges are small houses – most with some kind of refreshment – other larger buildings at the more travelled passes even have rooms to let. If you stop for a rest and use their facilities you are expected to purchase something - even if only a coke.

The road down the eastern slope was just as narrow and steep and much rougher. Patches and unrepaired areas made the going tense from time to time. Did I mention the cows? Never much liked the animals. I am reminded on this trip on a daily basis why not. Cow crap. I guess the cows are OK but cow crap is definitely not. The Alps have their high pastures which in the summer are chock full of cows. If they would just STAY OFF THE FRICKEN ROAD… We stopped for lunch in Edolo. We all had toast and a coke. Toast is just a ham & cheese sandwich on white bread squished in a George Foreman grill. Pretty tasty though.

A word about BB bugs. BB bugs are black, about twice the size of ladybugs and have the mass of sparrows. They hit your helmet like Mike Tyson, don’t make a mess but ring the shield like a gong (if you have it down). If the shield is up the BB bugs seriously HURT!

From there we headed up the Passo Gavia – 8,600 feet – well above the tree line and actually above the vegetation line. Nothing but rock and snow up there. 9.8C and slight rain and not very comfortable. We were all buttoned up - gloves and all. These were the smallest roads of the day, but fortunately not much traffic. Very nice gift shop at the refuge. Mike got us Passo Gavia stickers. It is the second highest pass in the Italian Alps. We rested for 15 minutes before heading down towards Livigno.

This town is the property of the Vatican and as such is a duty free zone. No taxes. Gas is almost as cheap as home – about 0.90€ per liter. Gasoline is 1.80CHF and 1.35€ per liter in Switzerland and Italy. That is twice the price we pay at home, do the math. We are averaging about $60 USD per day for fuel but then again this IS a motorcycle vacation.

At one point today I ended up in the lead and decided to have a little fun (meaning moving right along actually TRYING to scrape the foot pegs). Mike told me he was going to revoke my Harley Davidson license for carving corners on a BMW. I took that as a compliment. I think he figures most HD drivers just like to float along on their big bad cruisers – and for the most part we do, but that does not mean we can’t dance with the big dogs. I spend part of the day staying up with him and part of the day hanging with Julie so it all works out in the end. I know he would like to go faster and do appreciate what he is doing on this trip. We are having a great time.

Day 9 – July 7 – Saturday – Livigno to Corvara in Badia – 312 km – Passi dello Stelvio & Pennes

A word about road signs and lane controls. Foreign, as one would expect. A sign with two bumps which I took to mean “boobs ahead” is just rough road or bumps ahead. We will not mention what the left & right turn signs look like. Painted dashes indicate passing allowed but sometimes they continue around blind corners. Solid lines mean do not pass but apparently that does not apply to motorcycles. Motorcycles actually have an elevated status here in Europe – they are supposed to obey the traffic rules but universally do not – and no one seems to care. We proceed to the head of the line at any stop light and pass cars any time or place that is safe and convenient. Actually we are expected to pass cars on the way up the mountains. No line in the road is ominous. It means there is less than two lanes ahead but with traffic allowed in both directions. Less than two lanes is 1.5 to about of a lane. On a mountain pass (where most of the no stripe areas are) it can be a little scary, especially where they forgot to install guardrails. The little cement posts every ten feet or so (in some areas) are IN NO WAY any impediment to a motorcycle – unless you are lucky enough to hit one before sliding over the edge.

We spent time last night with the AlpineRoads MC. Guys that Mike has conversed by email with for more than 2 years. They had a trip planned at this time as well and we met them in Livigno. 25 of us (UK, US, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Finland & Switzerland) had dinner together and Karza (the flying Finn) gave Mike, Julie and me shirts to commemorate the occasion. Ralf (from Munich) was born in Mount Kisco educated at Embry Riddle and U of Penn and lived in Briarcliff Manor – all areas back in the states that I know well. Serious drinking followed but Mike was beat and crashed at 2230. Karza tried to marry her off to the barkeep downstairs. Julie and I had only 3 or 4 before I had to drag her dancing butt out of there. When asked how she felt hanging with 24 old farts she said, “I do it at work for months at a time.” (she is an officer on a merchant ship)

In the morning one of the Brits broke his key off in the tank bag. No spare. He and I disassembled the back end of the bike to get at the lock and were able to get the broken piece out. The local hardware store had a blank but cut it incorrectly. Mike spoke some Italian and went back to ask them to try again - to no avail. It would not work in the lock and they did not want to listen OR try to make another key. We tried one more hardware store to no avail. We left the Brits to their dilemma as there was little else we could do.

With a 300km+ day ahead of us we had to leave. We headed for lo Stelvio, the second highest pass in the Alps and the highest one of our trip. At over 9,000 feet the air was crisp and thin with lots of snow and rock. No vegetation up here. At the top there were 2,000 people and 29,000 flies – what do those flies eat?

This is one of the most famous passes in Europe and at Saturday noon there were many vehicles of all types. 6 of the Lotus Elise were there, a sweet little sports car. I got a good shot of the twisties ascending the pass and some shirts for Andi and me. Later, while crossing the Val Gardena 8 Ferrari’s in a row passed us in the other direction. At then at Passo Pennes at least 9 Porsches went by – again all together. We were getting tired and low on fuel so we stopped in at Corvara at got a room for the night.

Day 10 – July 8 – Sunday – British GP – Corvara to Aviano AFB and back -331 km – Passi Valparola Falzarego - Staulanza then back over Staulanza & Campo Longo

We decided to base in Corvara. The hotel was 53E per person per night pension (meaning breakfast and dinner are included in the room cost). Hotel Table is a nice place and the food is quite good. We left for Aviano Air Force Base to do laundry and visit Mike’s friends. At our 1000 departure the road we would have used to Arabba was closed for a bicycle event and we had to detour about 25km. We stopped at a dam with no lake behind it. Vajont.

The dam was finished in 1963 – 262 meters or 860 ft tall – and was built for hydro power. It was being tested in October with the engineers raising and lowering the water level. At 2230 on October 9, 1963 270 million cubic meters of the mountainside released into the lake completely displacing ALL of the water over the dam and wiping out 2 towns below. The debris that is left in the “lake” is actually higher than the dam. What a catastrophe…
We continued to Aviano AFB, did our laundry on base and had a whopper and a coke full of ice at the BX. (PX to the Army). Our next stop was to visit Tony and Linda Schork in San Pietro de Felleto about an hour from the base. What a place they have! We took many pictures of their restored farmhouse / barn and the grounds. Stunning is not the word. It should be a show on HGTV. At 1930 we needed to go to get back to the hotel before dark.

Unfortunately I left my key on (bad Pop Pop) and the BMW was dead. Tony, Mike, Julie and I pushed it to the top of the driveway (steep and long) and I was able to do a rolling start. We took the Autostrada just past Belluno and got back onto the twisties towards Corvara. We did not make it before dark. And it had rained in the mountains. Julie has major trouble with her eyes in these conditions – tonight was no exception. We were low on gas (well Mike was) and finally found a 24 hour unmanned station. We spent the last hour at about 40 kph, it was torture for Julie being cold and blind. Mike and I went slow so she had a reference to follow. We missed dinner – arriving at 2245 so we had strudel and coffee in the hotel bar and hit the sack at midnight.

Day 11 – Monday July 9, 2007 – Corvara to Cortina & back – well almost. 88
km – Passi Gardena & Sella & Pordoi & Falzarego/Valparola (for Mike)

I awoke this morning to a ripping thunderstorm. 0730 and it was nasty out there. It was a good day to sleep in but I could not go back to sleep so I called Mike at 0815 and we went down to breakfast. We decided to forgo a morning ride and opt to wait for better weather. Julie decided to sleep in and not ride at all today. At about 1100 the rain had stopped and the streets were dry so Mike & I dressed to go. It started to spit while we were mounting up and during refuel just around the corner it started drizzling. At the top of the first pass I stopped to put on rain gloves as did Mike. By the time we reached the next intersection on the other side it was really raining and I had had enough. I don’t mind being cold. I do mind being wet but that is tolerable with heated grips and seat. I do not like fogged up helmet visors and driving mountain passes inside of clouds. It was raining hard enough that I could not ride with it open and closing it meant reduced visibility. On the roads back home even that is not a major problem but here it is dangerous and possibly life threatening. I stopped at the intersection but Mike did not see me stop. He continued and I got off the bike and waited for him to return. Had I followed he would have seen my headlight and continued on ahead assured that I was still on my way. He did finally return and I told him to continue his plans for the day and I would go back to the hotel. We parted and it rained even harder on the way back. By the time I got to the room the sun was out but 10 minutes later it was pouring again. I made the right decision. Julie and I walked the town found some cute Benneton shirts for Anya and Minda.

Day 12 – Tuesday July 10 – Corvara – 155 km – Passi Gardena, Sella, Pordoi, Giau, Tres Croce, Lago Misurina, Tres Croce, Falzarego/Valparola

0900 – It is still raining and the forecast is even worse than yesterday, but like Maine just wait 5 minutes...It is appreciably colder and even the low pass out of here (Passo Gardena) has snow on it. Rain is expected all day today with snow in the passes above 1,800 meters – which is EVERY pass in the area.

1200 – The skies have cleared but it is still quite cold (9C). We have decided to head out for a solid afternoon ride. I took the lead toward Passo Gardena and near the top on a right hand tornante (hairpin) the bike stalled at the worst possible moment - at the apex of the hairpin, and I fell over. When the stall occurred (my fault) there was no ground beneath my right foot to support the bike which was already leaning into the corner so down we went. Unfortunately Julie was following so close that my top bag caught her tire (she had stopped right behind me) and took her over too. It probably looked comical from a distance but from my perspective it was major crapola. I fell onto some rocks and mud and the side bag and front directional signal took some heavy scratches as did the right jug, but the Kilimanjaro jacket did its job and kept me from injuring my right shoulder once again. There’s a couple of hundred dollars of damage in 2 seconds. I pulled a hamstring but otherwise was OK. Julie hurt her wrist but not seriously. Her bike was not damaged at all. We righted the bikes with help from bikers who had stopped and were on our way in 5 minutes or so. I was pretty shaky for a while being angry with myself for a dumb mistake, having temporarily lost confidence in my riding skills, and being rather embarrassed about the whole episode.

Let’s talk about switchbacks, hairpins or tornante as they are called in Italy. There are four type of tornante and they are all different – uphill, downhill, left and right. Simple and obvious, right? No, not in the least. Let’s arrange them in order of ease. Downhill left hand, downhill right hand, uphill left hand and the dreaded uphill right hand hairpin. When driving on the right side of the road all the left hand turns (up or down) sweep to the outside and provide much more room to maneuver. When driving downhill speed into a hairpin is controlled by the brakes only and even the very tight right turns are not much of a problem. Uphill right hairpins suck. You must be in the right gear and on the throttle before entering the turn. There was my mistake – the bike was still rather cold and I was in 2nd gear instead of first. Had the engine already been warm I may have gotten away with the maneuver as the BMW has plenty of torque, but being cold and in 2nd gear it stalled at the tightest part of the turn and down I went looking much like the tricyclist in a raincoat of Benny Hill fame.

After reattaching the mirror and brushing the mud off most of the bike and my jacket we continued on towards Cortina over Passi Sella and Pordoi.

I was still pretty cautious for the next hour or so. We stopped for lunch in Arraba and met Karza and his crew (last seen in Livigno). We got to Cortina at 1530 (site of the 1954 Olympics) but it was a San Moritz type of place – hoity toity and not entirely our style. We then headed for Lake Misurina.

At the lake there was a store with the most impressive display of knives I have even seen. That was the Holy Crap of the day. I took a picture of it and promptly went in and bought a hip flask for 20€. (I have enough knives). Julie got a little furry thing because it was soft and cute and Mike bought some knives for his boys. We beat feet back for Corvara. I stayed up with Mike carving corners and feeling much better about handling the BMW. To my surprise Julie stayed with us the entire time, not as close as on Passo Gardena but not lagging behind either. She can ride!!! We arrived at the hotel in Corvara at 1835. My right hamstring is still pretty painful when walking but no problem on the bike – and that is a good thing. Tomorrow we leave our last base camp and start our return to Zurich through Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein.

Day 13 – Wednesday July 11 – Corvara to Austria – 216 km – Passo Furkel Sattel & Brenner Pass

Brakes – the BMW has unbelievable brakes. Full ABS and both front and rear brakes are applied when using the hand lever making the downhill hairpins easy. They are the most stable and powerful brakes I have ever used on a motorcycle.

We left the hotel a little after 9 and headed north to Passo Furkel Sattel. Once over the pass we stayed in the valleys for a fairly easy day of cruising. About halfway to the border we got stuck in a construction traffic jam. They were paving the only road through a small town and traffic was backed up for miles. Fortunately we are on motorads and do not obey all the laws. Each time the on coming traffic tapered to nothing we took off down the wrong side of the road passing a km or 2 of stopped cars and trucks. We did this three times until we reached the town and got through the mess. They really should resurface roads at night because there are precious few ways around construction sites. We crossed into Austria and whilst cruising through the city of Innsbruck Mike ducked into a tunnel taking him to the Autobahn. Julie and I were cut off by a white Porsche and had to stay on the surface streets. We did not know where the tunnel went and without being able to read road signs we were in a pickle. To make matters worse it was raining. We went as far north as the city streets would allow and then headed west as that was our general direction anyway. We pulled off near a Shell station and waited for Mike to call Julie’s cell which he did about 5 minutes later. We made plans to meet at the Autobahn entrance near the Innsbruck airport and about 20 minutes later we were together again and on our way. We did not buy a vignette (Austrian tax stamp for using the Autobahn) so we only stayed on the road for 2 exits. We continued driving until nearly 1700 and found a small hotel in Tirol for the night.

Day 14 – Thursday July 12 – Tirol in Austria to Germany to Liechtenstein– 271 km – Flexen Pass

This morning we had a special treat. BMW was road testing their super new SUV and the test crew stayed at our hotel last night. The car had screening over much of the grill areas and fake plastic parts on the hood and fenders and really tacky rear lights (the kind you buy in an auto parts store for a boat trailer). Anyway they had a trailer full of cement blocks to tow through the mountain passes as a test – not a small trailer either so this was real testing. When Mike took a picture of the car they came over to be sure we were not magazine photographers and asked us if we did use the picture to please blank out the license plate. Nice guys.

We headed north without telling Julie where we were going. She liked the castles we stopped at yesterday. Today we headed for NeuSchwanstein in Schwangau Germany.

We arrived about 11am to a very crowded tourist trap. We took pictures and went to get tickets. The line to purchase tickets was the standard Disney World queue winding back and forth before entering the ticket building. While there we overheard there was a 2 to 3 hour wait at the castle after buying tickets. That was enough for Julie and me. We went to the shops instead and found a few things to bring home. We had a very nice lunch near the castle – goulash soup and jaegerschnitzel. We left NeuSchwanstein and headed south back into Austria and generally back toward Zurich. Our next objective is to stop in Liechtenstein to get our passports stamped with their unique two color impression. The office of tourism does the special stamp – it is not done at the border crossing. We stopped at 5 or 6 hotels before reaching the border – all were booked. We stayed on the secondary roads heading toward Feldkirch. At one point, with Mike in the lead a car was approaching from the other direction when another was overtaking it at high speed. He pulled out into our lane and saw 3 bikes and locked up all four wheels standing his car on its nose. With four tires screaming and producing dense white smoke he dove behind the other car missing us but sure scared the snot out of me. If he had lost control we may have been statistics. Julie asked me what the smoke was all about later. Seems she was enjoying the scenery. We got to the Holiday Inn in Feldkirch but it was also full. We continued into Liechtenstein and stopped at the first hotel (seedy). They ‘checked’ to see if rooms were available. After about 10 minutes they let us register but before giving us the keys two guys walked in and claimed the rooms. They were late for their reservation and we would have had their rooms in about 2 minutes but the clerk told us “sorry”. We continued to use the GPS to find a place and eventually did find a really nice out of the way hotel. Tomorrow we head for Zurich to return the bikes. Wow, did this second week go by quickly. Last entry will be tomorrow.

Day 15 – Friday July 13 – Liechtenstein to Oberentfelden-Moto Mader – 205 km –3,000 km total

We awoke to a gorgeous day overlooking the valley that is Liechtenstein.

The entire country is 15 km wide and 30 km long – Orange County NY is larger. Mike and I had our standard continental breakfast while Julie showered. This room was unique in that the shower was in the room and the WC really was a closet like affair. We were on the road at 0900 looking for a tourist office for the 2 color visa stamp. Julie found it and for 1.5 € each we were in business. Mike wanted to detour back to the Victorinox factory rather than autobahn it all the way to Moto Mader so we were on the high speed road for only 2 exits. I had mentioned at breakfast that I had not had the BMW over 120kph (which is only 74 mph) and it would be a crying shame if I returned it without a true exercise on the autobahn. He agreed but warned that the Swiss polizei have no sense of humor. As we entered the Autobahn for the short stint from Liechtenstein towards Switzerland I realized it was my last chance so as I accelerated onto the highway I just kept accelerating – right to 200 kph. I held it there for only a minute or two then coasted back down to about 90 in the right lane waiting for Mike & Julie. They caught up to me and we exited shortly thereafter and headed for Ibach.

Yesterday while at NeuSchwanstein I toyed with the purchase of a Victorinox USB storage device to transport the pictures, spreadsheet and this trip log home, but the guy wanted 69€ for a 512 Mb “knife”. When we got back to Ibach I found a much better deal. A 1 Gig version with a knife and scissors and pen (to replace the knife that ended up in the James River) and a Rose version of the “missing” knife for about half the cost.

We then headed for Vierwaldstattersee (Lake Lucerne) to get some more Suisse Francs and gas and lunch. One more pizza and coke for the road. Then came the saddest part of the trip. Heading back to Moto Mader. Of course I was a little apprehensive about the scratches on the saddle bag and mirror. We gassed up again about 4 klicks from BMW and arrived at about 1500. Peter was delivering a new bike so we got our big bags from their back room and proceeded to empty the bikes. When he had a moment Peter came over and apologized for the weather being so bad during our 2 weeks. He was surprised to find out we had only 2 half days of rain. I told him I had some rather bad news. I scratched his bike. He looked horrified then smiled at me and went to look. He asked what happened and was not surprised at the circumstance. Not a word more was said. He packed our stuff into the car and took us to the Aarau train station. We never even saw an invoice, but I will certainly check out the VISA bill carefully when it arrives. Moto Mader was most excellent. Renting from them was a first class experience.

The train took us to Zurich Flughafen and we caught a hotel transport to the Hilton. Sitting here writing the end of this adventure is bringing home the fact that we must sit in a tiny seat for 8 hours tomorrow. We will miss the spectacular views, the cool mountain air, the snow capped peaks, continental breakfasts, the wonderful bread and all of the really nice people we have met. We anticipate good American coffee, iceberg lettuce, ice cold drinks and hamburgers. It will be good to see our families and be back in our comfortable surroundings and maybe even go for a motorcycle ride on Sunday. On Harleys. The BMW’s are great bikes and it is likely I will get one soon, but I will keep the Screaming Eagle. One bike is for kickin back and cruising and one bike is for carving corners. The HD will have chicken strips, the beemer will not.


Every airplane on the east coast landed at PHL just before we did and there were over 2,000 people (a good estimate of 35 lines with 60 people per) in this huge room. Then we found out that we needed to pick up our checked baggage, carry it to another ticket counter and proceed through security like we had just arrived from outside. We spent 3 of the 4 hours at the Philly airport in line. We were in a looong line at customs. We were in line waiting to exit baggage claim. We were in line waiting to drop off our checked luggage at the ticket counter for connecting flights. We were in a looong line at yet another security check point (remove your shoes – only in the USA, so I save my stinkiest shoes for the TSA). We could not figure out where exactly it was that we left the secure area between customs and baggage claim as they are adjacent rooms. I think they just wanted to spend their federal dollars in a way most inconvenient for travelers. The Philly Int’l airport is the absolute worst in the USA and should be avoided at all costs. This was the most trying part of the trip – traveling abroad is fine – coming home through our “homeland security” system is a bad joke.

Andi met us at Stewart on a beautiful Saturday evening - 7pm and 78F. We had dinner at Johnny D’s on Route 300 where the owner (and Julie’s classmate from Kindergarten through high school - Nick Discalis) sat with us for half the meal – that burger was fantastic! We got home just before dark on Saturday July 14 – 15 days and a world of experiences later; it was good to be home.

And we DID ride the Harleys on Sunday.

rkk -- FINI
Michael J. - IBA #3901
Ten years in the Alps (so far)
Alpine Trip Reports: 2006, 2007, 2009
Pictures, pictures and more pictures

MichaelJ screwed with this post 08-13-2007 at 06:32 AM
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