A friend called at 4:55 am to let me know he wasn’t forgetting to come get me. Check. I got to the bus depot on time and the MegaBus was only 20 minutes late. Check. The driver switch took another 20 minutes and an hour into the 3 hour ride the driver decided stopping at a rest stop to relieve himself was fine with us. Traffic was mounting; would I get to the airport in time? An hour late getting to the Atlanta Marta Station I quickly figured out how to ride the train to the airport saving precious time and valuable dollars. There was no drama checking in, I wasn’t searched and interrogated like usual. I, apparently, lubed up for nothing. Premier boarding access gets me quickly into my Economy Plus seat for the 7 hour ride to Milan. I was seated next to a woman with a baby in her lap. Great:-/ His name was Sebastion and he didn’t make a peep except when he was blowing spit bubbles at me. I blew some back. We sounded like George Jetson’s car in harmony a few times. The airline had a bassinet they mounted to the wall and Sebastian had his own bed. Nice. Free wine and a seat that reclined just barely more than a church pew would do me well.
Landing in Milan I knew there could be a long line for security. I skipped the bathroom to get ahead of the line and I am glad I did. The line was so long behind me I could have spent the day there. I walked right through. OK, so let’s get my checked luggage and see how the search goes. It would have been less dramatic if I’d have chosen the correct luggage carousel in the first place. I figured out quite late that there were more baggage claims, after some heart ache, and now was wondering how long security would take so I could catch the 9:30 shuttle I was scheduled on to Linate Airport and MotoRoads to get my bike! Again, nothing. Anyone could have grabbed my suitcase and been fine walking out with it. I did make the shuttle, but the driver wasn’t impressed that my ticket was simply saved on my phone. He played a macho drama card and marched me inside where his boss said with his hands first, ‘oh geez Carlo let the fokkin guy on the bus’. Yes, I looked at him like an idiot. My first lesson in Italian(!) So, I made it! The bus driver’s personality shone through on the road as well. I hate tailgaters; but, I am getting a glimpse of Italy’s roads and drivers ahead of mounting an F800GS BMW to attack the traffic myself. And without a bus around me.
I haven't even begun to look at the Italian language. Usually I would have done at least an hour or two of prep for common motorcycle terms and touristy stuff about food and shopping. So far I have gotten by just fine with English and Spanish. Sometimes I speak Spanish and they respond in English. They want to practice speaking English, people don’t want to talk to you any longer than they have to, and they might have an easier time understanding me when I speak slow and steady Spanish vs US English spoken quickly. In Ecuador and Peru the locals will speak to a red-headed white kid coming off a plane from Norway in rapid Spanish. I wonder how often that works out for them? Not here. At least not yet have I gotten an earful of Italian and had someone expect me to understand.
Seems I never appreciated the data my iPhone uses to navigate me around the world. Well, I do now. Trying to find this La Sosta Hotel without service was hard. I must mount the phone to the handlebars so I can follow the blue highlighted line mo bettah. When I found it, ahhhhhhh! What a gorgeous place. I parked, checked in and it started storming out. The chef came to find me with an umbrella and insisted I park the bike under cover and walked me back into the hotel under the umbrella and asking me what I wanted for dinner. I believe she went and shopped for beef and salad fixins for me:) Although the first bunch of Italians I met were seriously rude and looking for trouble, once I put some km between myself and the city the people became quite nice. Nice save Sosta! I am sure glad I skipped Milan.
Sosta was the best. I slept hard for 11 hours until they called to request my presence at breakfast. Yes please! After they blew me away with an amazing dinner I wanted more of their Italian hospitality. Let’s just say all the food groups were there and it was worth jumping out of bed for. The weather was warm, the sun bright and I rolled the bike into the shade to pack it. Having found a way to mount my phone the handlebars I could see and hear the navigation. Nice. Until the phone died 75% of the way there and just when the roads got steep, winding and decisions would need to be made quickly. This is the stress I live for(!) I was smiling so hard my teeth hurt. This day I would see some of the most gorgeous scenery imaginable. I felt like an ant riding on a giant postcard. Tunnel after tunnel with waterfalls rushing over them caused me to once again marvel at how man discovered that these roads could be built anywhere, and then that they built them. Over a dozen tunnels conspired to make me feel like I was in a video game. Seeing signs for Monza aided that feeling. Sometimes there was less than 100 meters between one tunnel and the next; leaving little time at speed to decide to stop, if there was room to stop, and if the scenery could even be captured on a digital device. If only my eyes could take pictures. Between the tunnels you had extreme drops on the left and right coupled with intense mountains that looked like Colorado took steroids ahead and behind. In the distance you could see church towers watching over villages that beg to be left alone and enjoyed from afar. I hoped some of these places were saved from the endless tourists asking for wifi in every language but the one spoken there. Save some villages from me and those like me. In one tunnel I was passed in a flash by 4 Porsches and 2 Ducatis. If the sound I heard was released as a single I’d buy it on iTunes immediately. Like a kid who just jumped off the diving board I wanted to do it again and again. Full throttle in a tunnel with 28 cylinders screaming by almost overtook me with emotion. Porsches usually go from the car wash to the restaurant and quite slowly where I’m from. My racier Porsche owning friends would have a blast railing these roads. And the best part is that nobody would think they were crazy for it.
When I could no longer see the mountains it meant I must be in them. Shivering is also a clue that some elevation had been reached and oxygen was getting sparce. I took a coffee break at the most expensive gas station and cafe in the world. Totally worth it. I added some layers and thick gloves when I noticed some bicyclists zooming downhill with no sleeves, no gloves, and they were going so fast I could hear the hubs whining like tiny Indy Cars racing down a straightaway. OK, so I’m not so tough in the cold. One beautiful town after another and then the unstoppable beauty of the Alps jumped out around every bend. Natural water fountains on the road side are a nice touch and they help the cyclists on their longer runs down trails that could not possibly be ridden up; though I’m sure some do. I had to stop and add another layer when it started snowing. Yes, snow in July. A couple in a Mercedes wagon stopped to ask if I needed any help. I convinced them that they need help traveling the Alps without so much as a sunroof! They got it. Remember, no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. If you're not a rider, rent a convertible. Totally worth it.
Arriving in Livigno I had achieved about 6% charge on my phone. I parked near a cafe to see if it had wifi and if so I would have a coffee and get my bearings. Before I saw the name of the cafe on the wifi list I saw this: ‘Livigno Free WiFi’. Amazing. Five minutes later I was parking in a garage under my hotel and making new friends. Many countries are represented in this group and most speak English. The others probably just don’t want to talk to me:) Wasn’t long before most of us were safely in the hotel and having drinks. Then dinner. Then the last few showed up. Then a briefing and registration. And now it’s time for bed and our first ride tomorrow to make a dream of mine come true. I’m going to ride Passo Stelvio!
I woke up excited to lead the scenic group through some of earth’s more picturesque scenery. The day had 20 waypoints to hit, #1 and #20 being the Hotel (Montanina). 4 bikes were chasing me: a BMW 1600 GTL, BMW LT1200, Kawasaki Versys 1000 and a Yamaha Tracer; known as the FZ-09 in the States. After a few photo ops we arrived at Forte de Oga; an old military fort atop a mountain with a bird’s eye view. Some went for a tour of the fortress and some of us just had a coffee and took in the scenery. The ride was cold, and awesome. The temps are wintry overnight and at elevation, high was 50*. I’d be sweating worse than a drunk preacher at a Baptism if we were riding around the mountains of TN this time of year. The cold is keeping us in our gear and that’s not a bad thing riding these roads. They can be so smooth, with flowing curves and then BAM - 1st gear right hand switchbacks were so sharp they would sometimes(often) force you into the other lane. Left handers could be handled more quickly, safely and with a bigger smile in second gear. One hairpin switchback after the other. I probably carved more corners today than any other day in my life. Italy’s DNA is on my boots and pant leg bottoms for sure. Up and down, cold up top and less cold down low. Slicing through the traffic ahead of the small towns is amazing. Passing a cop sitting in traffic is amazing. When years ago I first saw bikes pass LA’s finest I was sold on riding and have never turned back. It’s not much different here. Hard to believe I live where I am supposed to inch along in traffic when we have the widest lanes on earth in The States.
After the fort we all had our sights set on Passo Stelvio. Life is full of setbacks and victories and riding Stelvio pass will be a victory! The best part of this trip are the routes Mika has prepared. We are hardly ever on a straight road and the scenery just slaps you in the face over and over with old world beauty. Ride leaders are provided with a color printed map and schedule each day and all riders are welcome to take pics of it, download it, and it is also posted daily on the hotel door. Excellent:) 3 of the 4 bikes following me were running GPS so I wasn’t alone in keeping us straight. We are passing through little towns and villages like the ones the car magazines are always talking about when they test Ferraris. Yes, the roads can be quite narrow, not an issue on 2 wheels:) If I ride my rental bike too gently I will certainly feel ripped off so I was happy to take the lead on day 1 in case I wanted to shred some curves or stop for a coffee. And the roundabouts?! They are only 5,000 times better than traffic lights and 20,000 times more fun. I like to make a few circles if traffic allows it, but that’s just me looking always to work on my handling skills. And I’m addicted to leaning a bike over; badly addicted.
Stelvio was gorgeous, with motor and pedal bikes dominating the road. Some Porsches and a Ferrari with insectual signs of hard running splattered all over their front bumpers and mirrors were a sight to behold. I live near the Dragon in TN and I could sense a kinship to the locals who endure slow tourists while they perfect their lines. Everyone is super nice and the love of motorsports is a common bond. Yes, of course I bought a sticker (2 stickers) and a pin. The bicyclists feel like they own the road and the rest of us are polluting jerks who should also ride a bicycle in the center of the road . . . but, they have to ride in a stinky bus along these windy roads back to their hotel. I’ll pass for the freedom of the motorcycle and the aromatic environment of my own inner helmet. When I ride a bicycle I head for roads less traveled.
Our ride didn’t end there. We had another 2-3 hours of solid riding along lower mountain edge flowing, curvy roads. The lush landscape was a departure from the rocky faces and hard stone and brick construction we had been encountering. Then finally around Lake Resia before we completed the 2 loops and returned through an amazing tunnel/dam which included a $15 toll(!) Totally worth it. The beers went down quickly with dinner and bed came earlier than on night one. We earned our rest and have many more days of this to go. WooHoo!
All I wanted to do was return to Stelvio. The ride to and from was worth repeating and I wanted to hit it hard and buy a t-shirt. Alas, todays roads were described to me as ‘must-see’ and I tend to believe the locals. We headed for Switzerland and the advice was right. Getting out of town was easy, the weather was brisk but much warmer than the days before. It wasn’t long before we were waved across the border with zero drama and another mountain pass after another mountain pass ahead. First would be Livigno Pass. Just when we were getting our rhythm we came upon a herd of cows trailed by a team of poop sweepers and a police car to make sure no-one tried to push through the bullshit!(!)!. It was a great chance to get pics of all the bikes together before we split into our groups and pics I got. All day I was stopping for pics and riding like angry wind to catch up. Fun stuff. I can’t ride by a castle or some ancient cobblestone bridge without taking a pic. Stopping only made the scenery even better and I’ll continue ‘riding my own ride’ as they say. I probably took 75-100 pictures today while riding - not recommended - but a few of us do like to keep a camera easy to reach with the left hand;)
When the cows took their exit we took our que to get it on. Helmet sped past the group and looked like he was going to hit it hard. I couldn’t resist the urge to follow him and the sound of his pipe. We took a ride to St.Moritz before we turned around to meet the group at Bernina Pass and Albula Pass. We rode so fast and hard the Swiss police might be looking for us but they’ll never catch up;) In St.Moritz I noticed a few Leer jets circling to land at an airport with so many Mercedes limos lined up. What a contrast from the poop sweepers; I always notice the irony wether I like it or not. We found the group at a place so beautiful, Albula Pass, I was hooting and hollering and everyone there got it. Yeah, some people ‘get it’! What a scene, what a view, almost 8,000 feet up! We rode up it and I felt like I left the planet of earth. No kidding. Swiss Alps, I love you. We had coffee and some Swiss nut cake that was like a cross between Arabic Easter cookies and Tennessee Chess Pie. Simply amazing with coffee and not too sweet. No, it was just right.
Bellies full and pictures taken we hit the road for Arosa Pass and the gorgeous villages along the way. The ancient charm in the construction and modern roads en route made for a great day. A few construction zones were just right to rest the bikes and our right hands for a minute. Bikers from all over the world were all over the place. Harley's weren’t a rare sight either. But more often than not the bikes were sporty, upright, naked types or dual sports. Sport tourers rounded out the majority of bikes and surprisingly few crotch rockets were on the roads. I suppose a little comfort goes a long way and most new bikes can run with a race bike without straining wrists and neck. My dual sport Bimmer GS800 is a dream here. Light, quick, efficient and has ABS which saves me a ton of drama on downhill switchbacks. If I’m coming in hot I just stand on the rear brake. If I’m still wide I just snatch first gear real quick and the bike will rotate a bit helping to get around the sharpest of curves while staying in my lane and on my line. What a dream! I never would have guessed this bike would perform like this. If I were on a more powerful bike and riding this hard I would be needing gas twice a day instead of once, and I might have ridden off a cliff by now. An 800 twin cylinder is just right around here and in a group no less. This one is great and easy to ride with no hands or one hand. It’s a great bike for a shutter bug.
We leave Italy tomorrow for Switzerland, where a burger can cost over $20 - so I might get that girlish figure I always wanted by skipping a few meals. It’s okay, I’m kidding, and have some fat reserves for surviving expensive countries. I’ll close the lap top now and get some Italian groceries for the next few days. Do they have beef jerky here?
Today will be remembered by me as Hans-Peter day of this rally. We packed our things after a night of little sleep thanks to Livigno’s famous Saturday night parties. I partied until 11:30 but I knew it wouldn’t really get hopping until 1am. A few of us participated and went into Miky’sBar; I literally slid in. But, it was a young crowd and they weren’t riding hundreds of twisty kilometers today; so we left them to it. The ride was the warmest and we spent each stop shedding layers until everything was just right. Being a loaded travel day I did not expect to run as hard as we did and have such a gorgeous ride as well. Well, we did. Today was the best day yet! After a few passes we made it to Hans-Peter’s house in a village dating back to the 11th century. He and his wife prepared a spread for us and made us coffee. It was very nice being with friends and meeting even more club members. Restaurants and hotels are good but a home is so much better. I toured their property in awe of the original construction standing as strong as I’ve ever seen a house stand. What made it even better was seeing Raya’s trike and trailer set-up and then hearing that Hans-Peter would lead us to Oberalppass on his GTR-1400:):):)
That was a dream. Following a local, a fast local who knew the roads, was really nice. The whole group switched to ‘follow’ mode and just ignored our GPSs for a few hours. We were led to some beautiful scenery for taking pictures and stretching legs as well as some fine riding roads. I loved the way he rode and was all too happy to ride in 2nd position with him. I drug my pegs and boots more than a few times today. Not complaining! Oberalppass was gorgeous and full of bikers and a handful of exotic cars. We stayed up there for a while, filled our bottles with source water from the river and just took in the sights and sounds. There is a lot going on up there. A lady in a trailer vending fine sausages and cheeses waved an American flag at me and hooked me up with some delectable beef and pork sausage for 5 Euros. No, I don’t much miss being a vegetarian:)
Continuing on to Furker Pass was truly epic. The pics from this pass rival Stelvio for sheer extremeness and the whole scene is out of this world. I loved this road and can’t wait to find out if we will ride it again. This trip is tuning my riding to a whole new level and personally I’m scared to ride a brisk pace in the States for fear of the cops waiting in the bushes. It’s just not like that here. Not one cop hiding anywhere outside of the villages. If you slow down and ride slowly through the narrow and peaceful village roads you will be rewarded with freedom to lean, throttle up and ride your ride over the passes. I see exotic cars and bikes all the time in the USA but never hear their exhaust note like I do here. AMG Mercedes, M model Bimmers, Porsches of all years and of course Ferraris and Maseratis and Lambos and cars I don’t recognize and the list goes on. All running hard and just makes me want to quit typing and go riding again! The amount of motorcycles is also just stunning. Groups and groups everywhere looking for the perfect curve, the right line and a good old time. Riders are good here in Europe. I followed a group of Indian cruisers up a pass today and they weren’t slowing us down too bad at all. If I get behind heavy cruisers at home I can forget about leaning or enjoying myself until I get around them and can hear myself think again. Laws here don’t make those bikes quiet; just 100 times quietER. Now I know there are no slow bikes, just slow riders(!)
So far the group is working as three teams when in our gear and one team when having breakfast and dinner and drinks. The GCE guys are too generous for words buying coffees and beers at every turn. They run COG stickers on their bikes and I'll be leaving here with some GCE stickers if I can. Another week to go. Let's just hope for clear roads and sunny weather. I'll keep you posted. Some pictures are appearing on Instagram and many more to come...
COG Southeast AAD and Marketing Director