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Old 01-02-2011, 04:47 PM   #1
Sparke OP
Gnarly Adventurer
Joined: Jul 2005
Location: Sparks, Maryland,USA
Oddometer: 469
A Ride Up Gavia "Illustrated"

On my first trip to the Alps in 1995 I found I had a lot to learn about riding in the mountains.

My wife and I had booked a tour with Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures but quickly realize we enjoyed most wandering off from the group, riding alone, then rendezvousing with the tour group each evening at the arranged hotel overnight.

I instantly found myself enthralled with the old historic mountain roads in all their variety. These mountain pass routes were all laid out way before the days of digging long tunnels. They meandered everywhere and anywhere the terrain permitted and plenty of places adjustments to natures plan had to be made by man with pick and shovel, connecting valleys and villages.

I think the Italians were the most creative, if not the most thorough in their early efforts to plot routes over some of the highest passes. It seems they did it by following wandering mountain cattle anywhere they could find a foothold over the steep sloops. “well that’s how it seems to me anyway”.

This region’s old roads were scraped to what ever width the topography allowed. Never more than two narrow lanes wide, and often less, sometimes only one car’s width, with nothing left over, just an unguarded edge to a drop-off of several hundred feet. Roads are fashioned 10 to 12 feet wide for a while then suddenly taper to 6 or 7 feet or less and they are never straight nor flat. I loved it.

The ride over Passo Gavia is one I remember vividly. We were traveling South to North, my wife and I on a BMW R100GS. I new Gavia would be interesting. I had read it was the second highest pass in the Italian Alps and was considered a highlight by the mountain road bicyclists as well as the European motor-bikers.

The pass started by climbing through alpine meadows that blended to thick pine forests. As we reached the tree line huge boulders punctuated the near roadside. As we assented into the more barren reaches it really got interesting.

On the climb we had passed many bicyclists going in both directions, as well as lots of other motor-bikers. Several times we were startled by amazingly quick sport-bikes overtaking us. The road was well paved but getting narrower in spots but never less then two bike wide (same as one car wide) I am talking high mountain roads now, very twisty with plenty of tight switch-backs and meeting a car from the opposite direction was reason to stay plenty alert. Some time you are on the inside edge of the road with your BMW’s right cylinder inches from the stone wall that is the mountain and seconds latter you are on the outside, on the edge of nothing.

There are often a few blocks of stone standing guard on the outside edge, but they were 15 or 20 feet apart. I never decided if hitting one or missing one, the more probable thing to happen, was the better alternative.
I have not mention what speeds all the travelers in the high Alps were moving, but all I should need to say was that this was Italy. That means as fast as your individual skills allow! 50 mph for a few seconds and then 15 mph a few seconds latter then a blast to 70 then back to 15 again.
Yes there is shifting of gears involved.

We were making great progress up Gavia and I was really enjoying the ride. Higher and higher…. and then around the next sharp turn the pavement ended. Ahead I saw a short straight of hard packed gravel and then the next climbing hairpin. All around us were more then a few bicyclists slowed but pumping even harder over the looser surface. Passing the bikes, then a sharp hairpin then another short straight and another turn, then I notice the road surface was getting even softer the loser, stones larger and then came the potholes all deserving my special attention. Ahead I could see the curving route that seem to lead off into nothing but fresh mountain air. On the inside that stonewall that is Mt. Gavia, yes the ledge did turn right but I couldn’t see around it. As I could finally peer around the rock wall I was confronted with a small Italian Jeep hogging almost every inch of the narrow ledge. We both hit the brakes and slide to a complete stop only inches apart. The jeep driver, I am sure concerned with the exact location of the outside edge of the road, and us with the handlebars almost touching the rock wall…. so I rested the bike against it and caught my breath.

I should mention…there was an Italian version of an Armco barrier marking the exact location of that outside ledge and the 500 ft drop. It was made with 2 ft high iron rods about the diameter of a pinky finger stuck in the gravel, one every 8 feet or so with one inch wide plastic day-glow ribbon stranded from one to the next. That proves those Italians are plenty safety conscious.

Proper mountain driving etiquette in a confrontation like this is for the down hill traveler to yield the uphill and back up, unless the down-hiller is a motor bike that would not have a reverse gear. But our Jeeper elected to stay in a forward gear. Figuring there might be enough width and knowing those iron rods bend back easily and besides the day-glow ribbon had already been broken and was flapping in the wind.

There is little adventure without a little danger and these locals seem to measure both on their own scale.

Very carefully we squeezed past each other. We all survived

Up the gravel switchbacks and around the serpentine turns we rode. Then I noticed the raspy rat-tat-tat sound of dirt bikes somewhere behind us. But I had to concentrating on the road surface that was continuing to deteriorate, narrow, twisty, uphill, and the potholes bigger and closer together. Suddenly there was something behind my left shoulder in addition to my passenger. A dirt bike was mid air hopping from one pothole to the next passing us at 3 times our speed and then another dirt bike and another, all enlarging the potholes, spewing loose gravel back at us and there were more on the way.

Then as quickly as they had appeared they were gone. One more sharp turn and so was the gravel. We were back on asphalt and it was getting wider.

Turns out we were only about two thirds up the mountain pass, and the Italian’s had decided to leave us a little taste of the old Gavia, un-improved for our entertainment.

Read more stories on my blog "E MOTO GROSSO"

Sparke screwed with this post 01-02-2011 at 06:13 PM
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