European Alps Rumble 2001 (long) pt.4


Mapping the next ride...
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2.October Tuesday

Just for the fun of it I check for my old boots in the wheelie bin as we pack up this morning. THEY’RE GONE, I don’t believe it, whoever the “Golden Retriever” was, must’ve decided that enough is enough and has finally kept them, hehe.

After heavy-hearted goodbyes to Eve and Leo we’re leaving town; heading south for 20km it’s past the Ulten Valley turnoff up the Gampen-Pass, good sweepers along the hillside in the sparkling morning sun, vistas along the apple-orchard-infested valley floor, past yet another old castle ( Leonberg castle) perched on a rocky outcrop crowning above the valley below, more like a watch-tower than a place of habitat.

At the stop at the top a couple of Beemers pull up, father and son on a weeks holiday from Munich, the gospel about the weather being that the South of the Main Alpine Ridge (where we are) is going to cop some rain later in the day, more rain to follow, the North being even worse.

For the time being we stick to our intended plans, Goodie getting lost for a short while not checking for me at a turnoff. Chasing her down is some serious fun J, but boy, it took a while…
We continue from the High Plateau to the Mendel-Pass, easy and plenty of bikes up top, looks like it’s going to be some fun on the downhill run.
And it surely is: a single-laner glued to the hillside with plenty of bends leading seemingly into the blue sky, this is a bit of a challenge before it widens to 2 lanes of recently made road, what a ripper that one is…


At the bottom it’s south to Kalterer lake into the vino-district, which proves to be a well-oiled tourist-machine, one quick look is enough. Along the way we pull into a farmers yard to buy some apples (nearly emptying half the bag instantly) and it’s off north past Bolzano towards the Brenner-Pass, but only for a few klicks.

Having been told about the spectacular gorge-road at the entrance to the Eggen-Valley we just HAD to see for ourselves, supposedly a well worth trip.
Somehow the fresh apples have found their ways quickly into the gasworks, the bikes are now even more frugal on the petrol J.

The Gorge is narrow, the road a piece of art and sheer determination by the engineers and builders, time to stop for some shots.

Some way up the valley it’s time for a stop, morning coffee wants to see daylight again.

Another rider with Munich plates stops while we’re poring over the maps trying for some way around the supposedly approaching bad-weather front.
Involving the lonely Bavarian we’re told that it’s fine north of the Main Divide, hard to believe looking at the now leaden skies.

A quick decision brings us back to Bolzano, this time the city pass-through done in little traffic and 20 mins. North to Merano and up the Passeier valley on the approach to one of the highest and most-time-of-the-year-closed passes in the region, the 2500m high Timmelsjoch-Pass leading into Austria.

It’s open, the road up is beautiful, sometimes narrow, and then wide again, most hairpins are fairly tight but plateaued. We can see the fog shrouding the mountains and hiding the top part of the road…blue skies in the North, my arse...this guy was full of shit, as a former Prussian I never should have trusted that lousy Bavarian anyway! Arrgghhh.

The road disappears into the soup and keeps climbing, visibility isn’t too good, the wind picking up. Being stuck behind some cars at a road works section, I nearly get bowled-over by an R80GS that I’d seen earlier screaming up the road behind me, at that time at some distance.
Standing and waiting behind a rocky outcrop, invisible to him, he was coming up far to hot, 6th sense had made me creep to the far right and right up to the bumper of the car in front, the R80 pulls up a few inches short of the acres of panniers and topbox of the K12, his eyes bulging the visor, big as dinner-plates.

Further up there’s a tunnel with huge timber gates,


which can be closed to make sure that the Pass can be closed off, literally. Obviously a leftover of old hostilities.
As we stop, the fast moving sheets of fog crack open to show a multitude of snowy peaks close by, with blue skies above.


Another few k’s and we’re at the top, another glimpse through the clouds, we’re in Austria again, no border checks, no passports needed.

After the first couple of bends on the way down the fog lifts from one second to the other to reveal blue skies and warm sunshine, white peaks and dark valleys as far as the eye can see. I apologize deeply to the Bavarian weather-prophet, if I could buy him a beer now…

Paying the toll of A$13/bike for a one-way ticket was a bit of a letdown. Another Quick-Snack joint down the road offers some tucker, table and chairs, great views and a friendly local Bimota-Stoker, the hour spent talking flew buy too fast.
A quick, easy downhill run through the cool and shady valley past Obergurgl gets us to Zwieselstein.

Casting the mind back 38 years, this is the place where the family-ski-holiday started by parking the car and transferring all gear into a 4-wd coach for the half-hour trip along an avalanche prone single-laner passing through rugged, dripping tunnels to the small town of Vent at the end of the Oetz-valley. In Vent the gear was bundled into a horse-sled and the procession moved uphill into the high valley of Rofen. Often the Haflinger-horse trampled the way through the snowdrifts, “smelling” the way and putting down tracks for us to follow through the white haze. Some old-style farm buildings and a more modern (in the early 60s) guesthouse along the lower slopes of a steep mountain valley signed the end of a long day of travelling. Snow covered everything, cows, sheep and horses in their stables gave the place it’s own smell never forgotten, the whole settlement being run by one family and some seasonal help.
I was taught to ski here, won my first giant Slalom race…one single skilift run by the family for their houseguests was the only mechanical help, skiing here was done the hard way stepping up the not-so-beginner-friendly-slopes for a short run down.
The place and its people had left their mark on me; even after all these years it was like coming home.

Having spent my first few years on skies here made me a good skier, not afraid of rough terrain, steep slopes and deep, uncharted snow.

Things had changed over the past 35 years and the road to Vent is a medium-speed 2-lane perler, with quite a few wide tunnels and avalanche-galleries. Even the track to Rofen is a single-lane sealed road and some new buildings crept into sight. It was a surprise to see the Klotz-family still in place and running the show.

The little chapel, the blacksmithing shed, the horse-shed and the Haflinger-horses are still there as a back up during winter, the old ski lift had to go and winter guests do their skiing in Vent.

Some of the family are still ski instructors and mountain guides. Bruno Klotz and wife Anni are still reigning supreme on the premises, Bruno still running the kitchen.

This farm and all that goes with it was first settled over 800 years ago, land cleared of rocks and trees. Ever since it’s been a permanent settlement with various rights granted by different local Dukes, Earls, Queens and whatever over the centuries. Quite a few of those rights still being legally irrevocable (i.e. the right to their own judiciary, bear arms, rights to hunt, water rights etc), amazing and unique stuff.

Despite the long years in between, our family name was recognized immediately (must’ve left an impression then, eh?) by Anni and within an hour we inspected the parade of all available Klotz-clan-members and became part of the family again. It was great (and moving).

It also fixed the more immediate problem of finding a place for the night. Bruno cooked up a storm and after much talk and plenty of brews we were off to bed.
But not before a quick sneak out to the veranda to see the pale and ghostly light of a full moon reflect on the snowy peaks and the familiar slopes up-valley.

3.October Wednesday

A sparkler of a morning and the early sun tinges the white mountain tops in a bold shade of reddish gold with the still shadowy dark valley below. We decide to give the bikes a miss and enjoy the day in a different way.
A mammoth-breakfast under the belt and a rigged backpack sees us walking up-valley, by now bathed in sunshine. Back a different track and crossing the gorge via the suspension bridge trotting downhill into Vent,



we’re up to a look-around before the return leg uphill to Rofen.

The banana split in Vent was great, the little Murmels (little furry possum-like animals, sitting on their hind legs, basking in the sunshine warming the rocks and issuing a shrill warning-whistle to warn their mates against intruders) a great sight along the way, still plenty of them around. There was also Silver Distel, a silvery, star-shaped, prickly flower, which isn’t all that common anymore, dotted all over the slopes.

The later half of the afternoon is spent enjoying the sunshine on the terrace at Rofen, catching up on the diary, mixing with other guests and demolishing applestrudle with cream, together with big pots of fresh local milk, slowly slipping into the ½ litre pots of various local beers.

Didn’t even look at the bikes today.
Pia, one of the youngest of the family at the age of 3 just loves our helmets and keeps bugging us to get them out for her to wear and strut around in, amongst the other guests, Goodie gives in, hehe.

Just before dark, cows, sheep and horses are brought in for the night, the bells around their necks mingling sounds with the murmuring little creek running past the front door.
Another day to remember for a long time.
We fall to sleep as the bells of the chapel ring for a special late mass; the pastor of Vent has arrived and family members are buzzing through the place in order to get properly dressed in time.
35 years of time warp, little has changed…

4.October Thursday

Out on the balcony and the fog masking the slopes seems to drop lower by the minute. It’s drizzling, as we’re off to breakfast, the first load of gear to stow onto the bikes carried downstairs.
Anni and Bruno pose for a shot in the kitchen,


a long, parting look out he window of our room and we’re off, down the single-laner to Vent, heavy- hearted by Anni’s words: Are we going to see each other again?

Drizzle turns to rain along the way north following the Oetz river for 60km before turning west along the Inn river valley towards Landeck. Soon enough the gloves are soaked and fingers begin to get cold and numb despite the big fairings and screens.
Roads would be fun if it wouldn’t pour as hard as it does.

We welcome every tunnel and gallery; the 2 long tunnels (5and 7km before Landeck) still carrying yesterday’s warmth, which is very welcome, the screens, mirrors and visors fog up suddenly at the change in temperatures.

Just short of Landeck it’s south towards the Reschen-Pass passing turnoffs to various ski resorts, the valley narrows as it climbs and there’s some spots which look to be impossible for any road to continue, still it climbs.
The asphalt splits to the right into Switzerland, to the left up the Reschen-Pass proper.
A spectacular piece of road for the first 5km, we gingerly tiptoe through the drizzle, the road flattens onto the high plains and we cross into Italy again. The rain stops, roads still wet and busy with tourists.

A gently dropping valley towards south, we’re cold and damp. Time to look for a place to stay we finally settle on a small sign along the road in front of a private home just outside the town of Glurns. Calling Glurns a town would be deadly around here; it’s a CITY!


The status of CITY was attained around the year1200; the town was fortified and “sealed” by 30ft high walls, 3 city gates and various watchtowers.


All of it is still intact, including the huge timber gates with 2metre long hinges anchored in the rendered walls built of rock. Cobblestone roads, narrow lanes, cobble stoned plaza with big, old chestnut trees, the trunks surrounded by timber benches.


Not a wall in sight that’s plumb or square, it’s a weird mixture of mainly ancient mixed with some ultra-modern bits, but a living, breathing place, not a Disney-style plastic-tourist-trap.

Any man-made structure exudes solidity and strength; walls are 4-5ft thick and made of natural rocks, tiny windows to keep out the winter cold (and intruders?).
As usual around here, men and beast share the same roof, animals in the stables at street-level, men above, storage space in roof cavities used for storing hay for the winter months.

It’s no surprise to see open pits of cow-dung right at the edge of the road after the daily cleaning of the stables. Late afternoon the cowbells ring and farmers drive small herds of dairy cows through the city gates and down the laneways into the stables.
Entry to town is something else:
A standard 2-laner narrows suddenly into a single lane, turning to cobbles while passing through the city gates, all of it covered in fresh cow pads--- a biker’s nightmare or what?

This way the core business of the farmer was protected in the old days, only the fields surrounding the city walls could be raided and destroyed by the enemy…enemies lacking nowadays, the rest prevails.
A glimpse through the small double-glazed windows built into the massively thick walls reveals the secrets of the local furniture maker;

computer controlled saw benches 8ft across from a farmer loading cow dung into a timber wheelbarrow with a shovel…. amazing.
We spend the whole afternoon in town, and then return after dark for another look.
Even tourist-coaches and campervans squeeze their bulk through town, often with only inches to spare.

Our host was a tiler during his working-life and it shows:
Tiles of any sort, shape, size and colour are wherever he could make them fit, even the bikes are parked in a fully tiled eat-of-the-floor garage, walls tiled to the ceiling.
The last thought of the day?

The old guy hopping onto the Vespa, no gear, no helmet, with a scythe held between his knees, freshly sharpened 3ft blade sticking out either side of the Vespa footboards, oil-smoking his way past the local Carabinieri (cops) with a 3-tooth smile and wave.
If that isn’t a contender for the Giga-squid of the year-awards…

Tomorrow we’re off to another big one: Stilfserjoch-Pass, supposedly one of the top three in this part of the world, the sky has cleared, stars sparkling, the peak of Mt. Ortler just visible in the distance with it’s gleaming snow cap.
Things are looking gooood…

5.October Friday

Patchy sky but plenty of blue holes get us up early once more.
5km out of town and the show starts:
Hairpin after hairpin and they’re steep. Lucky to have enough practice by now, it still takes a fair bit out of us and we’re glad to hit the top after 52 hairpins,


hundreds of bends behind us, more to come on the down-ramp to Bormio.


It’s narrow, plenty of old sections with broken asphalt, the road seems to go on forever. At the top the views are magical, the peak of the Ortler being close enough to touch, we’re above 2700m (9000ft) and the bikes are loosing power noticeably.

The surrounds are sparse, short, scraggily grass, rocks and boulders, trees and bushes left behind in the valley below.




Downhill is a breeze, the road new and in good nick, little traffic and yet another set of mountains to gaze at. Just before Bormio, it’s off to Livigno, first past various resorts with thermal springs, then the unexpectedly long climb up the Fozcagne-Pass littered with plenty of workday traffic.

Bare, rocky hillsides made of rubble make for sorry-looking scenery, the dip down into the green valley of the tax-exempt zone of Livigno is easier on the eyes. Cheap petrol at about A$1.30/litre, cheap liquor at 1/3 of regular prices, we hit town about lunchtime, nearly everything is closed until mid-afternoon.

Asking around produces one store still open where we get the Grappa (local schnapps) that we promised our host, also some cheap Milka chocolates for ourselves, and then it’s back on the bikes leaving towards east and the Livigno-Pass heading to the southern ramp of the Bernina-Pass with the Italian/Swiss border along the way.


Nice piece of road that one, wide-open sweepers galore, the air clear and crisp.

Inside Switzerland now and the road instantly gains another lane’s width and an extra-perfect surface. Centre road markings now look strange, but here they are, compared to being a rare occurrence on the narrow twisties in Italy and Austria.

It’s easy sailing up the Bernina-Pass to the saddle


where we catch a first glimpse of the picturesque Bernina Railway (rack-and-pinion) complete with narrow-gauge tracks and centre cog-track.


It winds its way up the Engadine Valley to St.Moritz, then up the Bernina Pass into Italy. A fascinating piece of engineering.
Pity that the mighty peak of the Piz Palu is shrouded in clouds, not worth spending the A$50/head for the cable car trip up the shoulder of the mountain. It still brings up more memories of early skiing days (and how I got that still prominent scar at the right temple, having a high-speed crash close to the car park end of the downhill run, slicing the temple on the steel edge of the right ski, and it was so cold, I didn’t even feel the blood running over my face).

The bikes roll down the excellent road towards Pontresina, as all of a sudden we see the clouds lift for some moments. Instant stop, off the bike, grab the camera and running across the road happened all in a flash, to capture those glistening peaks and glaciers against a big, blue hole in the sky, enough for a 10 minute gaze. We’re rolling into St. Moritz hoping for a cable car ride up Piz Nair, no luck here either, it’s under repair, and so we’re of doing the “city-tour”.

St. Moritz is still a fascinating place where the hob-nobs of the world meet all year round, the ornate facades of huge, old hotels representing generations of old-money-clientele, the variety of ½ million-dollar-plus cars, a row of Lears at the local airfield, where else can you find such a concentrated 300-year tradition of the rich and beautiful welded to the solid understatement-attitude of the Swiss…the place is riveting.
We’re more than a mile high at the valley floor and somehow the surrounding mountains have managed to keep all that money and glitter in check.

Cartier, Benetton, Bogner, Aigner, Rolls Royce, you name it, if it’s expensive, it’s got a dedicated shop in St. Moritz.
Rather than using the bypass road we’re trying to catch the “old road” through the centre of the townships on our way down-valley.


It becomes a very enjoyable “leisure-cruise”, plenty to see and stop for. In Zernez it’s east once more and up the Ofen-Pass, another wide, slightly bumpy road through the Swiss National Park.

The afternoon is wearing on as we catch up with a bunch of Austrian Bikers stopping for the views at the top of the saddle.


They’re too fast for us, the run down the valley to Muenster is nice and relaxing, the scenery unexpectedly rich and peaceful.

Goodie can’t help herself and breaks the seal on the box of nut-cake, a local specialty around the St. Moritz region. I even had to get to a bank opposite the bakery to exchange some Italian Lira for the 17 Swiss Francs needed, they just wouldn’t take anything else (and we had a bit of a collection on offer J).

Happy as pigs-in-mud we roll back into Glurns , after crossing back into Italy, for some good tucker at one of the places in town, a few glasses of vino pickling us ready for bed.

The bikes are just past the 3500km mark now; the night in Switzerland would have cost us at least twice as much. One of the best one-day round-trips ever.
It’s also as far west as we can go, considering all the goodies along the way back to Vienna.

6.October Saturday

Time to reverse direction and start heading eastward (bummer, we haven’t even gone halfway through the Alps, ahhh, next time then…), there’s only 1 more week to go.

Another morning of blue skies and clouds hugging the high peaks. It’s up north to Austria, only 35km away along the Reschen-Pass, reversing our route from a few days ago. We stop along the way for some phone-calls (god, Italian phone systems suck big time) and some photos of a submerged church only showing the bell-tower, also exchanging Lira for German Marks.


As we work our way down to Landeck turning east towards Innsbruck on the Autobahn (limit 130kmh), we seem to drag the blue skies along with us, it’s clearing up. Time to get back into the hills and we zig-zag our way in short 10-20km stretches north-east to Imst, Seefeld and Mittenwald in Germany, before a small toll-road leading to Vorderriss catches our attention.

A picturesque, narrow single-laner snaking through the forests choked with autumn-colours it’s worth every one of the few bucks and the 2-hour doodle until we hit the German resort-towns of Tegernsee, Schliersee and Bayrisch Zell, which are surely picturesque but choked with weekend-traffic. The decision to get out of here is easy, the help from a passing biker (and there are hundreds around) recommending the Ursprung-Pass to Kufstein in Austria.


It proves a wise choice, the road is great and from Kufstein it’s along the southern route of the Wilder-Kaiser mountain range to St. Johann and Fieberbrunn before twisting the throttles north to St.Jakob at the southern slopes of the Loferer-Steinberge.


Finding a place to stay is easy enough; we’re the only guests in the building.
The late afternoon sun plays strange lightshows onto the rocky slopes as we walk through the pastures into town for some decent tucker and a mouthful of the local brew. No problems here either, a small café/restaurant got both aplenty, the way back home seems to be somewhat longer, though…

8 more bikes grace the carpark on our return; we’ve got company for brecky.
As sleep hits, the cowbells are still going, hopefully ringing-in another good day tomorrow.

STILL haven't had enough yet??
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