European Alps Rumble 2001 (long) pt.2


Mapping the next ride...
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22.September Saturday

Our internal clock is getting better…up early.

Another monumental breakfast (this time add cereals, mueslis, yoghurt…) takes a leisurely hour, and then it’s off to the shed and helping out our host with the seat of his Honda Vf750 cruiser, marking off where it has to be re-shaped. We quickly strip the cover and mark it out on the foam. We leave as he shoots off to his upholsterer-mate.

With a swag of good tips and a couple of computer-printout-maps we decide to turn west first, then north across the smallish Gailberg-Saddle followed by the Iselsberg-Gap, into Winklern, the town marking the start of the southern ramp of the 87km of the Grossglockner-High Alps-Road, which tops 2500m (8000ft plus) above sea level.

A toll road at A$33/day/bike it’s one of the big Passes of the European Alps; shrouded in fog, at least from we stand.

The run up is a great, double-laned piece of work, but our luck, weatherwise, seems to come to a halt, the loose fog tightens up the higher we get.


The turn-off to Franz-Josef’s Refuge gets us even deeper into the muck, the supposedly great views to the majestic, ice-covered mountains an empty promise.

The rich, thick green grass gives way to struggling brownish plant life, the small rivulets across the road turning to black ice in places.
At the Refuge we turn around, back to the turn-off and up the main Pass. Trees are thinning out and disappear altogether, a sign that we’re beyond the 2000 (6500ft) metre mark.

Still the road keeps winding it’s way up, fingers start to freeze up and turn numb, time for a stop. Nagging doubts about our decision is cancelled out by having paid for the ticket; we might as well push on for as long as possible. There are other bikes on their way down, the jackets glistening with moisture, the patches of snow alongside the road grow to more than 2 feet and it’s still getting colder and windier by the minute.


A tunnel entrance looms ahead; after yesterdays scare we’re more careful now, but it’s a straight, if a long one; still, wet cobbles again, the water of the hewn ceiling running down the walls, building up to 5ft high ice-columns every 2 metres, like road markers. Think again about those wet cobbles, could be black ice down there?

Emerging on the other side, the fog has thinned out a little; the road can be seen for the few kilometres along the high-plateau, the steep slopes at both sides carrying a decent cover of snow, a rare break in the bleak sky reveals some of the ice-clad high peaks at close distance.


Some more bends and hairpins later we’re up on the 2.saddle before the dip down into the northern valley below. 30km (20 mi) of twists, turns, more hairpins, more bends and we’re out of the fog, popping into some tentative sunshine on the way down to Zell-am-See (Zell-at-the-lake).
Dry roads and a proper 2-laner make the barges swinging-the-waltz downhill.
The main highway takes us through a 3km- bypass-tunnel, before we turn off towards the Saalbach/ Hinterglemm Skifields; checking out some of the old haunts (used to ski here) and turning into the carpark of one of the old rustic places for some late lunch.
As almost everywhere else, the rustic-rugged, but yet refined and modern interior style is a feast for the eyes.
Ornate timber ceilings supported by massive, carved beams, river-rock fireplaces, massive timber tables and corner-benches all framed by flower pots and boxes, big support posts together with slightly unevenly rendered internal whitewashed walls, terracotta or timber floor adding to the character, giving everything a warm, cosy glow. Even the Cappuccinos come with plenty of froth AND whipped cream topping along with the micro-block of Milka chocolates, what a rotten life, eh?

Noticeable also the great welcome given to bikers, plenty of places advertising to bikers particularly, offering locked and covered parking, workshops with tools, gear drying racks and rooms, videos, etc etc.
With the sun re-emerging and still in possession of the day-tickets for the Grossglockner, we retrace our steps, enjoying every piece of the…now dry… roads, great vistas to the bulk-of-white-giants-mountains, both barges seemingly having a ball too, cranking over some more and only getting wobbly on some of the asphalt joints.


We also meet some of the locals out for a scratch, overshadowed by a few super-trick looking outfits with single-sided, leading link front ends, driven sidecar wheel and plenty more. Flash-looking 1.5 seaters, 2 inches off the ground and boy, did they hammer!!

A couple of German guys show us some new roundabout-techniques (how to ride yourself dizzy, fast) at some turn-off, before we split tracks with them.
Friendly folks most of them, weave, nod, grin, ride together for a while.

The sounds of dozens of Termis, Remus, Lazers etc. exhausts bouncing off the steep mountain- sides is something else, a whole bunch of them going uphill makes the hair stand up.

Returning to Winklern, it was a quick hop across the Iselsberg Gap and into the town on Lienz, too grotty a place to stay. Getting late in the afternoon, we turned north again towards the Felbertauern-Tunnel (toll-tunnel) before nicking west into the Defereggen valley, looking for a place to stay.

The incoming fog made us look up the steep slopes, with the tiny village of St.Veit 2km off the main thoroughfare, up the steep slopes. The tiny town is draped around the market-place (the only level patch around), one of the buildings proved to be the local pub/ guesthouse… right opposite the local church…here we go again, bells for brecky, hehe

More good tucker, a walk through town and the usual ½ litre nightcap made us hit the pillows quick-smart.

23. September Sunday

Count on taxes and the pope…church bells at 6am do the trick everytime.
Out of bed and a quick peek-around from the balcony made us pull the blankets tighter: RAIN, and plenty of it, no mountains to be seen anywhere.
Brecky being even more elaborate than on previous days tied us over until mid-morning, then we scrounge a set of umbrellas from the hosts, don the DriRiders and go for a long walk. Rain persists and we arrange for a further night in town.

The afternoon is spent catching some breath, trying to sort and stow away the last few days properly, sitting around the guest room writing and reading. Hopes are held high for the weather lifting tomorrow for the assault of the Staller-Saddle Pass (great one-laner) and across into Italy, where the real fun is supposed to be had, as everyone tells us. Can’t wait…and how much better could it get?

24. September Monday

Bells for breakfast again, the weather is still crappy but we’re itching to go, donning the wet gear and we’re off, carefully feeling our way down the narrow single-laner from St. Veit into the main Defereggen valley.
Dark clouds hanging low are obscuring any views but still the slow climb to Staller-Saddle in enjoyable. The higher we get, the thicker the fog, and live gets tricky.

No border guards or huts to be seen at the top, just a big billboard setting out the time schedule for the following 8km of single-lane traffic only. We just scrape into the 15min per hour time window and tiptoe down the Italian side to Lake Antholzer,

where the road widens again. A quick walk in the drizzle along the shore and we’re off. The rain slowly recedes on the downhill stretch before we turn east towards Toblach.

Needing some Italian Lira I get caught up chatting to the bank teller at the local Raiffeisen Bank turning Aussie Dollars into Lira. How quickly can you turn from a poor Aussie biker to Italian Lira Sugar-Daddy-Millionaire? 10 mins in a Bank, no guns!

1A$= about 1000 Lira, A$1000 and you’re playing in the big league. Bummer that petrol costs 2000 Lira/ litre, baaahh…
In Toblach our way turns south to Cortina d’Ampezzo, the Olympic town of past and international jet-set meeting point. The road winds across the Cimabauche-Pass and nearly gets the BM undone twice on the preferred Italian quickfix solution to cracked asphalt: a very slippery fill-in job of sheer bitumen, resulting in a black-ice effect.

Lucky, could’ve been nasty, wouldn’t like to do it again in the wet. Clouds lifting marginally, we guess our way through Cortina without the panoramic backdrop the place is famous for and it’s up to the top of the Falzarego-Pass,

a late-afternoon beauty if wet, then down the Valparola-Pass heading north in search for accommodation. Finishing up in Corvara (another winter resort) we decide to search in earnest (one tends to get side-tracked by all those lousy passes, hehe) since we’d like to stick around the area for a few days.
So we head south crossing the Campolonga-Pass (one of the famous four of the Sella-Round) pulling into Arabba, where we detect another sign to a biker-friendly place.
Again we’re the only guests, the place to be shut down at the end of the week in preparation for the ski-season. Despite having skipped lunch we don’t feel hungry, finishing up with some cold cuts, cheese, bread, fruit and a bottle of local vino, which proves to be dynamite to 2 tired biker stomachs.
Bang, the lights go out.

25.September Tuesday

Goodie mapped out a nice, little day-trip under the influence of last night’s vino and the roads are dry for the downhill run for the first 20km despite the threateningly low clouds. The rest of the day the rain gear is rule-of-the-day with intermittent drizzle and wet roads making for slow and careful going, missing out on the vistas.

270km in 9.5 hours of never-ending bends, most roads generous single-laners to narrow doubles, we’d love to do it again in the dry and with clear skies.

Just for the record: From Arabba towards the Falzarego Pass, head south to Aprile, Aleghe and Agordo,

across the Aurine-Pass to Gosaldo followed by the Cereda Pass to Tonadico,

south west to Imer followed by the Gobbera Pass and Brocon Pass to Castelnuovo.

West to Pergine for some lunch, Tordio and Seganzano, followed by Cavalese and east to Predazzo, north-east to Moena and off to Canazei

for a Cappuccino in a small street-café at the flower-laden central market place and across the Pordoi Pass which sprouts 25 hairpins on the way up (western ramp) and 33 on the way down to Arabba which we made just as it started to get dark.
We’re starting to take bets on how many bends can be built into any given 100m-stretch of road.
Only a place like this NEEDS to produce Ferraris and Dukes.
What a day, what a set of roads…
The multitude of very picturesque small towns and villages has a profound impact on us, live IS different here.


Somehow the mountains, steep valleys and people gel into something inseparable, unique, protective of their way of live, but friendly and helpful to strangers.
We love it…

26. September Wednesday

Up early once more and it’s still pitch-dark.

Collecting all gear from the heating-radiators in the room and the common hallways of the building we eagerly wait for some daylight to show us the “rules” of the day.
First light and we’re tripping each other up to get onto the balcony.

It’s cold, the clouds are still there, but a lot higher than on previous days and it’s been snowing overnight to not all that far above the township. Cars with white “beanies” coming into town from the Pordoi Pass…. are the passes to be closed or unpassable??

Talking to our host at breakfast we’re calmed down. If passes are closed, it’ll only be for the morning. Ok, downhill we’ll go first then…

Over steaming pots of coffee we’re plotting some different tacks to those worked out initially and turn the wheels direction Falzarego Pass, as on the day before.
Again it’s into the wet-gear, this time rather to ward off the cold, the roads are drying as we go; it’s looking a bit better already.

Due to the drop in temperatures we’re also extremely careful this early in the day expecting some black ice through some of the tight, hidden corners and across little waterfalls and bridges.

Within an hour the clouds have lifted even more and some of the incredible scenery and backdrop shows through.
Snow covered slopes and peaks everywhere glowing in the morning sun, it’s definitely looking up.
Before the Falzarego Pass

starts properly it’s a tack south for a few klicks and we twist our way up the Santa-Lucia Pass followed by the Staulanza Pass along the same road.


This is magic….
The clouds are breaking up now and those mountains show themselves in their entirety, it’s hard to concentrate on riding, don’t know where to look first.
Forno-di-Saldo seems to be a forgotten ski resort with some great mountains above the township but hardly a soul about, we’re obviously off the beaten tourist-track and all signage is exclusively in Italian.
Traffic is sparse and brilliant sunshine makes the rain-gear come off… finally.
We follow the signs to the Cibiana Pass and try to carve some bends despite the still damp patches through the timbered sections.
Down to Pieve for lunch supplied by a small supermarket (before they close for siesta until 3.30), then along the main road to Lake San Caterina, north east up the San Antonio Pass which brings us to the south ramp of the Mt. Croce Pass, proving a bit of a let-down due to road works.
The downhill stretch to Sexten in the Puster valley is a lot more fun, if unchallenging.

The 12km to Toblach are done quickly, watching a little 1960s bubble car (BMW Isetta 250) bounce along the road before us for a little while, the 2 guys inside having a ball, judging by their ear-to-ear smiles.
A tack south towards Cortina d’Ampezzo,

this time turning off at Schluderbach towards the San Angelo Pass and the dead-end road to the 3 Zinnen (mountain formation) for some pics, back to the main road and across the Pass-of-3-Crosses into Cortina, crossing the main roads to continue with the Falzarego Pass, this time in it’s full length east to west, back to base-camp at Arabba. No more clouds during the afternoon produced scenery that grew from fantastic to outright spectacular, easy to
understand why this area has become a major international tourist destination.

We finished up on dry roads with 8.5 hours and 240km under our belts, time for a fill-up just before we hit home. What a ride, what a place…Just falling into bed, no vino needed.

After the first 8 days on the roads so far, some things have come to light.
Compared to Australia, Victoria in particular, police presence is sparse.
Particularly in Italy nobody seems to give a rats about speeding, well…you do too much of it and you’re a goner anyway, I guess.
Roads are generally not better than back home, the repair work worse.
Noticeable the absence of gravel and other dirt on the roads, sometimes replaced by more frequent lines of oil and diesel, due to denser traffic.
Speeding seems to be a no-no, most roads are signed 100km/h, when one can muster 60-70 on short stretches at the best of times, mistakes have to be paid for severely, 6 inches past the asphalt the world consists of fresh air for various lengths of flight, no Armco’s, just some low rocks 10ft apart marking the edge.
Many roads haven’t got a centre-line marking, they’re too narrow, everyone seems to take the piece of tarmac available at the time, passing is done more carefully in Austria/ Slovenia than in Italy. Quite often bigger vehicles have to do 3 or 4 point turns in the hairpins, blocking the road to all other traffic.

There are an incredible number of bikes on the road.
Most common brands are BMW and Honda, in that order.
Most common types of bikes are dual-purpose and naked bikes.
Most common overall is the BMW-GS, any age or size; sporties are about 10-15%, cruisers about 20% but strangely, very, very few Harleys.

To the next bit :)
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