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Old 03-08-2009, 04:47 PM   #1
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Germany, Austria and Switzerland - An American "kid's" first bike tour (Summer 2006)

I've been a lurker here on ADV for a while now and figured instead of my first official post being a "me too" or 10 lines of a smiley guy clapping his hands over his head, I would share with everyone a RR I wrote up of my first motorcycle tour a couple years ago. I was a total n00b with less than a year on my M1 and somehow decided to set off from San Francisco and rent a F650GS in the Alps. Unless, I get flamed back into my lurky corner, my thought was to post one entry a day for the next 10 days or so with pictures and stories of the adventure that's got me hooked. With your permission, here's how it starts...

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Old 03-08-2009, 04:48 PM   #2
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July 1st, 2006 – A Plan

Growing up, I had always been intrigued by the concept of motorcycles but had been implicitly programmed to think they were dangerous and not something “someone like me” would actually do. No one I knew had a bike. I had never even really been up close to one. But a year after a somewhat prolonged divorce and for the first time since that relationship had started back in college, I was in a position to really re-evaluate myself as an individual and the idea of getting a bike for scooting around San Francisco popped into my head. I could think of no reason not to do it. You can read about the process of getting trained and buying a bike on my Learning to Ride a Motorcycle post on my site.

Nine months after saying “why not” to a bike and with a life still somewhat “in flux,” I found myself Googling motorcycle rentals in Europe and thinking “why not?” Searches quickly led me to Beach’s whose tours sounded amazing, but in addition to being expensive, I thought would be a mostly people with a lot more experience than me and I didn't want to expose my motorcycling naiveté. Of course, the more I learn about motorcycling and the people who do it the more I realize that everyone's willing to help and the best thing you can probably do is ride with people more experienced than you. I probably shouldn’t even disclose my rationale since it would be just as valid to mention that the very popular tours were also completely booked. I dialed the 800 number and tentatively asked them about rentals expecting a response of “Sure, we rent bikes to riders with as little as ten years of experience. How many more than ten years have you been riding?” Instead I heard, “Sure, what dates?” followed by “Yes, we have bikes available. Should I put you in the calendar?” Figuring I would subtly ask at a later date (“for a friend”) what experience was required, I heard myself reading off my credit card number. Fifteen minutes after that I had booked a roundtrip ticket from San Francisco to Munich using miles I had racked up in the late 90’s doing an absurd weekly commute to and from a tech job in Cincinnati for a few months. For some reason I still don't understand, the consultancy I was working for preferred to bill the client $2000 per flight (not to mention a rental car, apartment, and per-diem) for us to sit in an office in Cincinnati accessing servers back in San Francisco. Hey, it was the mid-90's.

With the goal of hitting as many two star passes from “Motorcycling in the Alps” as possible, I used the itinerary from the Beach’s site as a template and was surprised that I could plan down to the turn using Google Maps (I'm an American remember. I doesn't even occur to me that the rest of the world has Google Maps). I set about planning a two week solo loop through the Alps.
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Old 03-08-2009, 05:22 PM   #3
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Old 03-08-2009, 05:29 PM   #4
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Old 03-09-2009, 02:16 PM   #5
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July 13th, 2006 - Leaving San Francisco

I left San Francisco for Munich after meeting everyone at the CT Yankee in Potrero Hill for a beer(s) the night before. While sitting around the table with those people, I had a good feeling about being there as well as about leaving. These were all the people with whom I spend my time while home, but they were also people who had gone out in the world and had amazing experiences. They all seemed to have a confident perspective of where and how they fit into it all. Of course, I'm sure this is partly because everyone thinks that everyone else has it all figured out.

Despite natural anxiety and being a little overwhelmed by the scale of this my first motorcycle trip, I was excited by the prospect of my adventure and felt like this was really the right thing for me to be doing. Like some outside perspective and exposure to experiences out of my comfort zone might help me get some things straight. For various reasons I'm trying to figure out, I've always been a little too "in my head" and not out in the world. Now of course, that doesn't mean I haven't done great things and had great interactions with people in my life, because I have. It's just that even while doing those things, I’ve tended to have this subtext going on in my head that has sometimes prevented me from really "being there" and sometimes talked me out of wanting to be there.

The question was, what's been going on with this subtext while I've been happiest in my life? Has it been happily confirming what I've been doing or has it been conveniently silenced or ignored during those times? When it's active, is it an overly critical straight jacket that keeps me from doing anything with confidence or is it a somewhat well-honed safety mechanism that while frustrating is actually keeping me from settling.

So I figured, what better way to try to get “out of my head” than heading somewhere where I don’t speak the language, choosing a solitary form of transportation, and strapping on a helmet for 8 hours a day?
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Old 03-09-2009, 02:17 PM   #6
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Sweet, no less than 10 rows of clapping hands!

That deserves an extra entry today so we actually get to the part about motorcycles...
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Old 03-09-2009, 02:49 PM   #7
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Thanks for sharing and looking forward to reading all the action from a first-timer's experiences.

Me too been wanting to do a trip. But package rentals are pricey. I happened to find this link
http://www.sport-touring.net/forums/...pic,180.0.html

Eagerly waiting for pics & report.
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Old 03-09-2009, 02:55 PM   #8
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July 14th, 2006 - Arrival in Munich, Germany (Part I)

Well, I made it after a pretty easy flight. It's amazing how the equally contrived Sarah Jessica Parker (by way of Matthew McConaughey) vehicle "Failure to Launch" and the Harrison Ford conspiro-myster-thriller (the title was something about “Hey You Kidnapped My Family” or “Didn't This Movie Get Made 5 Years Ago With Mel Gibson" I think) plus one of the little blue Sonatas from the many sample packs I brought along can pass the time. It was bizarre to realize that I had entered this aluminum tube in San Francisco but would walk out the door alone in Germany.

Other than a huge tour group of Jehovah's Witnesses (uh, sorry, that’s probably our bad, Germany…) the airport was easy. Customs was incredibly quick. I showed my passport for about 10 seconds, got my bag and was on my way. I followed the signs for taxis and walked right out to a tan, newer model Mercedes. Oh right, I’m in Germany. Sweet. Despite my meticulously-printed Google Map, the well-dressed, fifty-something driver in the late model Mercedes taxi didn't seem to have any idea where the marked location was. Soon, a group of 5 or 6 other drivers had gathered, none acknowledging me in the slightest. They seemed to be confused as to whether the location was in Munich or Neufinsing. This was a question I could not answer for them. I'm still not sure why a marked location that seemed to be right off the main loop road was so baffling.

Well, apparently it got even more confusing because as we headed out of the airport, the driver stopped a few times to check and recheck what I had assumed would be a very clear map to someone living in the city. Outside the airport, I didn't recognize any names on signs with the exception of a few that were close, but not exact, matches to the ones on the map. Of course, the driver seemed to systematically turn the opposite direction of these anyway.

As we wound down single lane country roads through cornfields (that for some reason took me by surprise so close to a major European international airport), the driver would occasionally mutter something in German that at first seemed to be addressed to me. Sometimes I would respond with a good natured chuckle implying “I hear ya, brother,” but I stopped doing that after "scheisse" starting being included with increasing frequency. I kept hearing something like "Dis is scheisse mos,” but in between would be comments that sounded like "oh I see," so I felt like he was working it out in his own way.

I don't know what the trick turned out to be but we eventually found Karl Maier BMW, a modern looking dealership with several nice BMW bikes parked out front including a bright red F650 GS with two hard cases and a piece of paper (I speculated with my name on it) taped to the windshield. The driver waved his hands dismissively at the meter discretely built into the rearview mirror of the Mercedes and continued to mutter in German. It seemed like he wasn't going to charge me the whole fare since we'd driven around for so long. When I heard something that sounded vaguely like "drei drei" (and after I repeated "ein, zwei, drei" in my head to work my way up through the German numbers I knew to get to “’three three”) I gave him 40 Euros and told him to keep it. He seemed fine with that.



From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle


When I walked in the front door loaded with luggage and motorcycle gear, the amused-looking people sitting at a table by the window gave a casual look of acknowledgment and showed me to the front counter. At the counter, I met Stephanie to whom Don from Beach had told me to give his best. Everyone I told I was from San Francisco said something about having been there recently. Sometimes I forget that while we go elsewhere for vacation, our home town is an international tourist destination. Stephanie copied my passport, California license, and international license. She started to explain a few line items on the a form but then couldn't find the English words she was looking for and just pointed to blank spot for a signature, which I provided. I asked about the $1000 deposit I'd been told to bring in cash or travelers checks, but she didn't seem to know anything about it.

Traveler’s checks seem like such a (pardon the pun) foreign concept in the day of the ATM machine, but the prospect of walking into a bank in Germany and withdrawing that kind of cash was not too familiar either. In San Francisco, I had allowed myself to be sent from one Wells Fargo branch to another until I found one that could issue them. In the end, Stephanie insisted that contrary to what Beach had told me, the deposit had to do with Beach not them. So that meant I would just carry $1500 in traveler’s checks around with me. I had gotten an extra $500 to bribe cops, border guards, and possibly the KGB. Yes, apparently I did think I was taking two week trip into a Cold War spy thriller.


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Old 03-09-2009, 03:44 PM   #9
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lmao at the last line. keep it coming
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Old 03-10-2009, 01:13 PM   #10
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July 14th, 2006 - Arrival in Munich, Germany (Part II)

Stephanie and I walked back outside and right over to the red F650 GS I had seen earlier and waited for a guy to come out and give me the rundown. Despite being about a third as long as the one I got when renting the same bike in SF as a dry run, it covered the basics. He was also nice enough to get me a cable lock to use for my helmet. At that point, he shook my hand and said "Okay, bye." So there I was, direct from my overnight transatlantic flight with a backpack, duffel bag, helmet bag and leather jacket hanging off me, apparently not in Munich but in Neufinsing, standing next to a brand new BMW motorcycle wondering if everything I brought was going to fit.

Finally, with the duffel strapped across the passenger seat, a full backpack on my back, and every nook and cranny of the hard cases filled, I tentatively headed out onto the road. The bike felt fine although I was very glad I had decided to rent one for a day back in San Francisco before the trip. My confidence in Google Maps still intact, I checked the directions carefully, and while I wasn't sure which way was north or south, I figured I had a 50% chance. Within a few minutes, I wasn't seeing the expected cross streets the way I started out so I swung around and tried the other way. Then again, I didn't see them that way either. Hmmmm.

Very aware of the potential for a downward mood spiral stemming from lack of sleep, intense heat in my heavy leather jacket, and a foreign environment, I decided to just kind of go with it and systematically try the options. I started to figure out that signs on the roads showed the town you were entering on top and the town you were leaving crossed out below. Makes sense. After retracing the main road a few times, each time venturing a little farther in each direction, I finally saw signs for the town that (based on the map in which by this time I had completely lost confidence) the hotel appeared to be in.

The "town" turned out to just be a collection of buildings around a central three-way intersection. While there was a "gasthaus" or hotel, the name on the side did not match the name on the confirmation email I was sent. After trying each spoke of the central intersection a couple times, I decided to stop and ask at another hotel up the road. Responding in an obvious tone, they informed me that the hotel I was looking for was in fact the one with the different name right in the center of the junction I had been crisscrossing for the last half hour. Stupid Americans...


I was shown to a room and worked out through hand signals and broken English that I could ride the bike 3 km to the train station for a half hour trip into Munich. After a rest and some time for my shirt (which had already been drenched under my leather) to dry, I went downstairs to find that the guy who said he'd give me directions to the train station was no longer there and that the woman behind the counter spoke even less English. Whenever I'd say “train,” she'd say what I thought was "point" to which I'd say "Munchen" meaning that “Munchen” was the "point" to which I wanted to take the “train.” She finally listed a couple turns I thought I understood so I commenced repeating them over and over in my head as I headed out the back door to my bike.

But you already know how this is gonna go, right? There were no signs for the train station. I even stopped and looked it up in English-German dictionary I had hastily installed on my PDA before leaving San Francisco, but I hadn't seen any of the words for "train" on any signs. I took a chance on one turn marked with an S in a circle (heck, the train in Boston is the T) and parked at what looked like it could be a train station. I walked all around the complex but didn't find anything, I eventually asked at a hotel, and the clerk helpfully showed me the "Poing" stop on a train system map. Oh, the woman at the hotel was saying "Poing, not "point." Turns out you walk up some stairs through a break in the bushes and you're at a train platform. I was starting to wonder if everything on this trip was going to be this hard for me.

Which brings us to the ticket dispenser on the train platform; everything was in German and I didn't know any of the places on the map, much less the number of zones I planned to travel through. I bought the same ticket as the person in front of me, never mind that no one ever checked or collected it. I noticed some people sticking their tickets into a little machine on the platform that seemed to stamp them but couldn't quite figure out what was happening there. By the way, I later figured out that the machine essentially validated the ticket for a period of time. Something like a transfer that allowed the ticket to be used for connecting trains for the next couple hours or so. I also learned that the reason the tickets are not checked is that Germany imposes hefty fines for riding without a ticket. The threat of periodic, random ticket checks were enough to keep everyone playing by the rules. This seemed to be the order of things in Germany.

While standing on the platform waiting for the train, I found myself trying to look at people and determine from their appearance whether or not they spoke English. I realized it's a lot different traveling in South America, for example, where it's easier to guess who lives there and who is visiting. In Germany, I'm pretty much walking around with people sharing my same ancestry. Anyway, it's weird staring at someone and trying to determine what language the thoughts in their head are in. Oh yeah, for some strange reason I don't think I had ever heard a child speak German and it somehow struck me as odd.

So I got into the city and, after getting really turned around (I appreciate you restraining your reaction of utter surprise), found my way to what I thought was the main beer garden - oh, sorry - bier garten. Beside rows of picnic tables and some cafe style umbrellas, several people were playing bocci and enjoying beverages. I managed to order a bratwurst and a beer in an impressively large stein from a German speaking but distinctly Japanese looking guy behind the grill. Good stuff. I began to suspect I might just be living on sausages this entire trip - in equal parts because of the taste and because they were typically the only things I could identify on the menu. When I picked up my order, I was handed a little, yellow plastic coin with an embossed image of a beer stein on it. Cool, a party favor. I wouldn’t figure out until my next bier garten what this token was.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle


From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle



With a nicely buzzing head from my Beer Garden 101 experience, I found my way back to Marienplatz, the main plaza in the middle of town and site of the Glockenspiel. The Glockenspiel is a giant, public cuckoo clock on acid (although ludes might be more accurate since it didn’t seem to do much of anything while I was there). I was tempted to have another beer at a table in front of the clock but decided against it. Instead, I walked into a hotel just off the plaza and made a reservation for the next night. The other hotel was fine, but I felt like if I was going to be in Munich, I might as well be right in the middle of things rather than a 30 minute train ride away. Plus, if I found another beer garden, I could just stumble home instead of having to take the train and ride the bike back to the hotel.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle


From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle


I confirmed that I’d made the right decision as I found myself struggling to stay awake while waiting for the train, and I still had to ride the bike home from the train station in Poing. Images of a gruff German conductor waking me up at the end of the line in Stuttgart were just enough to keep me conscious despite the soothing click of the train. Something else must have kept me awake on the motorcycle ride back to the hotel although I can’t say I remember much of it. No, I didn’t get lost, smart ass.

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Old 03-10-2009, 01:45 PM   #11
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July 15th, 2006 - Munich, Germany

I packed up the bike in the morning and set out to find my way back to Karl Maier BMW. Well, who knows what the deal was with those directions because I found it on the same road as the hotel about 2 km away. I asked them about a tank bag for the bike. I had figured out the day before that the nifty magnetic one I had brought from home was not quite going to work on the plastic tank of the F650. The guy behind the counter (Karl?) said something in German, but I thought I heard "borrow." Sure enough, he yelled to one of the other guys, and before I knew it they were fitting a nice, large capacity bag on the bike. While there, I also got some advice on my route for Sunday. It seems the one had been planning would be very crowded on a holiday weekend. I gathered that the next couple weeks were a popular German vacation time at the lakes south of Munich.

Back on the road from Karl Maier, I saw signs for Munchen about 20 kilometers away, so I figured I would just try to follow the signs into town. And as luck would have it, those signs took me right onto the Autobahn. Well, that sure got that experience out of the way. I had rationalized that my decision to skirt around the high speed German thoroughfare in favor of smaller local roads was intended to maximize my connection with the small towns and scenery. In reality, my decision may have been more based on my fear of getting “Fahrvergnügen’d” by a speeding Porsche. After all my paranoia, it really wasn't that bad. I stayed in the right lane with the trucks and went between 100 and 110 kilometers per hour. That ends up only being about 70 miles per hour but on my fully loaded bike, that felt plenty fast. And sure enough, Audi's, Mercedes, and BMW's were blowing by me in the left lane like I was standing still. By the way, in the urban areas, speed limits were posted (100 kph I seem to recall). It’s only out of the towns that you’ll find the unrestricted sections that feed into the legend the Autobahn.

I followed signs for "zentrum" figuring this was either an enormous stadium where I could catch a David Hasselhoff concert or the center of town. I thought if I could get to the center, things would start looking familiar from the night before. Well, they didn't. Trying to use the sightseeing map printed on the back of the train schedule, I managed to go around in circles for more than an hour missing turns, going the wrong direction, and generally getting all turned around. I finally stopped at a place that advertised tourist information and got a better map. Or so I thought. Even with the new map I couldn’t figure out which direction was which and ended up going in circles again. Many of the main streets would suddenly become pedestrian plazas as they approached the city center.

At one point I saw a woman carrying a surfboard and remembered that someone had told me there was a spot in a river in town that could be surfed like a standing wave. I spent the next little while trying to stay close the river and looking for more surfboards. When I spotted one in the passenger seat of a Miata driven by a guy in one of those and anti-chafe surfing shirts, I followed him for a few blocks right to a bridge with people looking over the side. I parked and went down a path under the bridge and indeed saw an amazing standing wave with people taking turns entering from either side and riding this thing on surfboards. No foot straps, no fixed line to hold onto. The shape of the wave just allowed them to cut back and forth on it and stay in place. That is until a weight shift miscalculation or bona-fide wipe out caused them to be spit out the backside of the wave to swim frantically to the bank and hike back up to get in line again. Very cool in landlocked Munich to have this great surf spot.









From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle


After a welcome break, it was time to get back to trying to figure out where the hell the hotel I had tipsily booked the night before was. I once again tried my systematic process of exploring all the options and approaching from different directions, but it still took me another 2 hours of looping around before I found it. I was feeling completely dehydrated and was very happy to see that familiar hotel sign. I checked in and went upstairs to chug refill after refill of small, sanitized hotel-bathroom-size water glasses and snooze in front of German TV coverage of the Tour de France.

Groggy but determined, I awoke a couple hours later with a mission of finding the real beer gardens in Munich. I stuck the mandolin I had brought from home in my backpack figuring I might pick a little in the park near the surf wave. As I walked into the Englisher Gartens on a warm summer afternoon, I was amazed at how many people were out enjoying the day. Downstream from the surf wave, people were floating in the current everywhere like it was a water park. As the path (reminding me of something in Golden Gate Park) opened up on a grassy field, there were people as far as the eye could see in large and small groups, drinking beer and having picnics, lying in the sun and jumping into the flowing water. It struck me that for these people, this was the closest thing they had to a beach (a thought that would come back to me 12 days later in Berlin). For now, equally frightened by the naked sunbathing men and the hot German women in bikinis, I kept the mandolin in its case and walked towards the increasingly loud sound of polka music, the tell-tale sign of a beer garden.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle


From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle


From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle


I found the source of the horns three or four levels up in a Chinese pagoda overlooking a collection of tables that made last night's beer garden look like a window sill spice box. I can't even estimate how many tables of people there were, but the large majority seemed to be German-speaking people who had come to this great spot here in their city park to hang out, eat sausages, and drink beer from huge, liter steins. When in Munich, right?

I drank a liter and ordered a brat with pommes (sausage and french fries). A liter is roughly equivalent to two pints but that clean German beer was going down like water, so I ordered another. By that point, I was feeling pretty loose but thankfully opted against joining the only English conversation I could hear which consisted of three drunken southern frat boys regaling each other with tales of their debutante conquests. Instead, lost in thought after the Gillis Brother's rendering of "Sweet Thing" coming through my iPod headphones, I noticed that the polka band in the pagoda was now playing "Amazing Grace" and felt like that meant it was time to go.

As I thought I might, I stumbled back to my centrally located hotel and somehow managed to type and send an email to everyone at home. The next day, I would head south to start my tour of the Alps. First stop was to be Imst, Austria by way of Linderhoff which I recalled my guide book saying was the castle Disney based its "Magic Kingdom" on. The days after, I planned to work west towards Interlaken, Switzerland where I had it on good authority there was a hemp store that would give you a bag of weed if you ask for "potpourri.” It reminded me of the Kentucky Fried Chicken back home in Mill Valley where you’d get the same if you asked for "extra biscuits." It's a small world after all...
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Old 03-10-2009, 03:45 PM   #13
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Okay on one condition...

You speak up when/if I butcher any names of towns, roads, foods, etc in the area!
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Old 03-10-2009, 04:47 PM   #14
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Deja vu all over again. The affair with the taxi was almost identical to mine. And when you said Neufinsing I knew where you were headed. Karl himself handeled my 650g delivery, I never got to meet Magdelana. Nice to get some views on Munich, I veered away from the city immediately. A link from my trip last year.

http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=352082

And subscribed, as they say.
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Austria '08 http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=352082
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Old 03-10-2009, 06:06 PM   #15
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Great RR, Jim!

Just read through your whole RR and you're right, a lotta of the same experiences (though my trip was regrettably handle-bar mustacheless). The next couple entries I'll post will seem familiar as well but after that might make you second guess "writing off the Swiss roads" as I'll head south toward Interlaken, Andermatt and Southern Switzerland when you head north to the Black Forest. Then again, I was there in July...

I know exactly what you were going through tho. So many roads for an American to ride and see in a short time! Thanks for reading along.
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