RDGA 8 – A Day Off, or Lets Go To Italy and Ride The Hill of The Dead!

I woke early in Jausiers to a typical Alpine morning, sunshine with a few clouds at varying altitude.

When I set off on this trip Mrs Dookes had insisted that I weave in a few “rest days” as generally the going was likely to be reasonably tough. Good idea, but what does a motorcyclist do on a day off? Yep, probably gonna go for a little ride!

Over breakfast I pondered my maps.

Now it is true that I am in inveterate “Col hunter.” I can’t resist the opportunity to climb a new high pass and chalk another off the list, that morning I realised that I had the chance to add to our tally and add quite handsomely at that!

From Jausiers I spotted an interesting possibility, a big loop into Italy and cross five big passes that had until now evaded us. By crossing those off, we would have completed the top 40 highest through passes in Europe; now this was too tempting to miss!

I quickly finished breakfast and headed out to Harls, who was resting snugly in the hotel owner’s garage. I had the feeling that this was going to be some day…

We soon got onto the road and back into the groove, before grinding to a halt on the French side of Col de Larch; road works!

One thing I’ve learnt over the years of our road trips is to always expect the totally unexpected just around the next corner. This was one of those moments.

Normally, any road works spell delays and pain. This morning, however, was just a little bit different. Just imagine the conundrum facing the engineers; a high, relatively narrow alpine road needs repairs and quantities of construction materials delivered to the work site. The two options are close the road, or use a helicopter; how brilliant and give the waiting road users a free air display in the process! I love those French engineers!

We topped Col de Larch then rolled into Italy and onto one of those wonderfully crazy Italian roads that I swear they build just for fun. A series of sweeping wide hairpins that drop down from the pass in a ladder of asphalt, that, but for a glass-like surface and a bit of light drizzle would have been a delight to ride. We had a long way to go, so time to tread carefully!

At Demonte we turned hard left and soon left civilisation behind as we took the Colle Fauniera road. I frequently grumble about the way that much of the French Alps are scarred by the winter sports and ski industry; ski lifts and cable runs dot the landscape whilst the mountainsides are to often sculpted to create better pistes; it creates jobs and livelihoods, but it doesn’t half spoil things at times. Today though was like taking a trip back in time. We entered a beautiful Italian valley that was free from any trace of the winter sports industry and in it’s lower reaches, wonderfully bucolic as our ribbon of tarmac meandered through peaceful woodland.

In fact it was more than peaceful; it was deserted. For mile after mile we were alone. Just after climbing above the tree line we passed a farmer who was making repairs to his stock fence and we exchanged friendly waves.

Then we got stuck into some serious climbing.

The clouds were building a bit as we gained altitude, nothing to worry about, but it was getting a bit colder quicker than I had anticipated, actually a lot colder!

This was turning into hard country, very hard country.

The road was already quite narrow and now gradually narrowed even more and the surface started to show signs of minimal maintenance; actually it was starting to break up and in places there were small patches of ice.

This was turning into a road that demanded respect.

At Colle di Valcavera 2461m/7926ft we paused and tried to take in the view, but the swirling cloud put paid to that idea. Oh well, onwards and upwards!

I think that around this point it began to dawn on me that we were doing something very special. It’s very rare that we have the luxury of enjoying the mountains by ourselves and I resolved to savour every moment, whilst at the back of my mind realising that any problem up in this isolated place could easily become a very big problem very quickly!

The road became, very, very “interesting! Mud, ice, water, and broken asphalt all mixed together to deliver a thoroughly character building experience. Tatty, broken railings appeared just near the summit at Col di Morts (Fauniera) and then turning a corner we arrived at the summit.
We went into a well-practiced routine; kick the side stand down, let Harls idle for a minute then kill her engine, ease into first gear, turn off the ignition and relax.
Silence.
Silence so still and complete it hurts your ears. Or at least it would if I didn’t have screaming tinnitus!
It wasn’t half cold!

Colle Fauniera, 2480m/8136ft is one of the most alluring places I have ever been. It’s also known as Col di Morti, “The Hill of the Dead.” It’s name apparently comes from the scene that was left after a battle in the 17th Century between Franco-Spanish and Piedmontese (Italian) forces. Interestingly, today the pass is currently awaiting government ratification to have it’s name changed to “Colle Pantini” after the great Italian cyclist Marco Pantini.

At the summit there’s a massive statue dedicated to the great man and his epic climb of the Col in the Giro D’Italia 1999.
I’m not sure what I feel about the renaming business, but the statue is quite impressive!
Moving on we crossed Colle del Vallonetto 2439m/8002ft and had an interesting time squeezing past a mechanical digger that was working repairing the road.

This is going to be tight…

As we carefully edged past the driver leant out of his cab and called “Attenzione, neve!” – hmm, “Look out, snow!”

VERY tight!!!!

I gave him a friendly wave and trundled around the corner to Colle d’Esischie 2370m/7776ft and yep, there was snow! Deep banks of the stuff, which, fortunately, my digger-driver mate had obviously not long dug a path through.

Yep, snow!

It was better than that, at Esischie there is a junction and I wanted to turn left towards Marmona which is actually the minor road; luckily this was the one that had been dug out, the other remained firmly closed!

We began a long descent; little did I know that this would be a road that was going to leave an indelible impression on me. If I thought that the climb up to Fauniera was tough, then this was about to change all that.

The scenery was beyond beautiful, it was breath-taking, but so was the road; in a very scary way!

I had a brief glimpse that things ahead were going to be a tad interesting with the array of signs at the top of the decent. Lets get on with it…

Now let me see…the sign says look out for everything!!!


We started the downgrade and I realised that this was no road for heroics. Just stick to the ride-able parts and concentrate on the next hazard, don’t look back or for that matter down! If I thought that the surface on the up-slope was tricky, it was twice as bad now; the best bits had generous amounts of larch needles lubricating the surface with pine resin, whilst in other places there was simply no road surface at all, just soft clay…not fun on a big Harley Tourer! Oh yes, there wasn’t much in the way of barriers either, often just a bit of grassy verge and then a drop of unrecoverable proportions.

It was best described as low-gear country, tiring to ride, yet not at all unpleasant, just very demanding.

Eventually, nearing Tolosano, things opened up, the road got considerably better and we started to make progress; then, rounding a corner cane across a “Road Closed” sign. What the…!

What the….!


I consulted the map, nope, no other way. Lets go explore.

I trundled Harls around the roadblock and slowly moved along the road until, yes I could confirm that the road was quite securely closed. A largish truck blocked our way whilst a group of workers shovelled stone from it. A chap who appeared to be the foreman approached and clearly indicated me to go back.

I think that signal is quite clear…!


In my bad Italian I asked when the road would be open? “Four o’clock;” it was 12:30 now, hmm.

“Any other way round?” “Si, go back and take the first right, you’ll be fine on your motorbike.”

I was a bit dubious, but really didn’t have another option, so I spun Harls around and set off explore. Sure enough there was right turn, but it just seemed to head into a farmyard.

I saw young couple and asked if I could get through?

“Where have you come from?” “Colle Fauniera.”

The young man looked at me and smiled, “In that case you’ll be OK, but it’s not easy!” he smiled.

I thanked them and started up Harls, here we go then old girl!

Leaving the farmyard the road dropped towards a small steam, then became a rough stone track, then morphed into a grassy bridleway, then a muddy track, then back to grass and more like a footpath than road; OK, lets see how we get on.

The diversion!


I left Harls to tick-over in first gear; “I’ll look after the steering, you just give us a bit of forward movement,” simple teamwork.

After about half a mile the path began to change back into something resembling a road and then we got back on real tarmac again. I gave Harls her head and now on a good road for the first time in hours she sang a happy song that echoed back off the steep valley sides.

At Bassura we turned North and hit the hairpins again, San Martino was left behind as we growled skywards into the clouds again, target Colle di Sampeyre 2284m/7493ft.

I’d love to tell you that Colle di Sampeyre was impressive, but apart from a solitary chap on a bicycle all there was to see was thick cloud.

Colle di Sampeyre, look at those muddy tyres!


More hairpins took us down into the Varaita valley where we turned left. Now we were on one of my favourite roads in the whole of Italy, it leads to Col Agnel/Colle dell’Agnello 2744m/9003ft the highest paved international pass in the whole of Europe.

We are going to Agnel.


The road over Col Agnel is one that Harls and I first rode some years back and has fondly remained in my memory ever since, it was great to be back. This is a road that has everything; long fast sections, stunning views, great surface and the ever beckoning view of snow tipped mountains ahead, then the technical twisty bits begin and are an absolute joy to ride.

Last time we were here, the place was almost deserted; today was not quite so quiet as it was a public holiday in this part of Italy, but it wasn’t unpleasantly busy.

There’s a small parking area at the Col, which nestles between high peaks on a knife-edge ridge and offers amazing views across both Italy and France. It’s a lovely place to visit and a wonderful road to ride.

Looking into France, oh that road!

I could stay here forever!


Never look back…it’ll break your heart!


Saying “Ciao” to Italy, we began our long decent into the Queyras valley. This is a fun road with a lovely surface; crossing the river we turn left and power through the miles towards the famous Queyras Gorge balconies just before Guillestre.

Queyras Gorge balconies.

Then it’s onwards for Col de Vars and back to Jausiers, I could almost taste that first beer!

I sat in the hotel bar. Fabienne, the hotel owner, poured me a cold Demi.

“Alors, où as-tu allé aujourd’hui?” “So, where did you go today?”
“Oh, juste pour un petit tour en Italie …” “Oh, just for a little ride in Italy…”

I produced a map and showed Fabienne where we had been. At first she just looked at me, then rolled her eyes skywards, “Tu l’as fait en seul? Tu es fou!” “You did that alone? You are crazy!”

Fabienne laughs, it’s a laugh of one who has spent her life in this very hotel; it’s a laugh tinged with too many cigarettes and just a little bit of jealousy.
She pushes my beer across the bar and smiles.

Perhaps Fabienne, perhaps I am, but undoubtedly I am also very happy.

Happy because I realise that I had experienced undoubtedly the most demanding day I have ever had on a motorcycle and I loved every moment of it.

“I’m alive!
And I see things mighty clear today, I’m alive!
I’m alive!
And I’m breathin’ clean, fresh air today, I’m alive!”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Every inch of this ride is for you G, may we ride together again one day, but not too soon!

Size Doesn’t Matter…

Sometimes, as a writer, on rare occasions I find it surprisingly hard to fully express my feelings.

It’s not because I have “writers block” or that I suffer from any vocabulary failure, no, it’s because sometimes the sheer enormity of what I have experienced it beyond the written word…or even the spoken one come to that!

Today is one of those very rare occasions.

Looking back on various blog posts, I have from time to time said things like:

“That was the best,”
“I’ve never,”
“Wow!”

Well my dear Blogonaughts, today was beyond any of those!

Today was simply the most challenging, demanding, technically difficult yet satisfying day of motorcycle riding that I have ever experienced.

To say that I am tired this evening, is a major understatement. As a result, the full details of our epic adventure will have to wait for another post; tonight I can’t do it justice, but believe me, there’s a lot to tell!

We did a round trip from Jausiers and largely plugged away in the Italian Alps, just over the border from France.

The reason?

OK, I’ll be honest, Col hunting; looking as ever for those big high mountain passes!

Only this was different, these weren’t easy get at-able passes, they were high, well off the beaten track and rarely visited.

So yeah, I had to go do them!

In order:

Passo Fauniera

Passo Fauniera 2481m 8140ft
Colle Vallonetto 2439m 8002ft
Colle d’Esischie 2370m 7776ft
Colle di Sampeyre 2283m 7491ft

Then to finish off the day, Col Agnel, the highest paved international pass in Europe at 2744m/9003ft and my dear old friend, Col de Vars 2111m/6926ft.

Head towards Col Agnel.


So what was so difficult?

Well, nothing, until I turned onto the road marked “Passo Fauniera” in Demonte a small village in Northern Italy.

Then slowly, slowly, slowly, all hell broke loose!

On the plus side the weather was great, apart from some occasional low swirling cloud, which was just as well because we would have been in serious trouble otherwise!

For tonight I’m reporting 51 miles of narrow roads, poor surface, missing surface, mud, road covered in larch needles, snow, ice, road-works, road closed and an off-road diversion; get the drift?

Oh, nearly forgot to mention, largely no barriers and precipitous drops – but just don’t tell Mrs Dookes!!

…erm yes, sort of a barrier!


Our reward from the Road-Gods was a superb ascent and descent of Col Agnel, followed by a truly crazy assault of Col de Vars, where I’m ashamed to admit I really went for it and actually overtook quite a lot of other motorcycles, not like me at all…..you should have heard Harls roaring as we climbed that last one!

Mileage-wise not big in total, just under 200, it was the middle 51 that was killer ….but like has been said:

“Size really doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it!”

…and anyway, we survived!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Mountain Dreaming

It’s turned mid-March, what’s going on? As I started to write this, outside Dookes H.Q it’s snowing again. . . I should be out on two wheels in warm Spring sunshine!

Looking back on some old posts, I realised that back in September I had promised to catch up with photos of a couple of Epic rides that Harls and I enjoyed in the Dolomites and South Tyrol. At the time we stayed in a really super hotel, it had great food, was really comfortable, but suffered from very shaky WiFi which caused me a bunch of stress and took away the pleasure of sharing what we’d been up to on a daily basis. Then after we got home life stuff got in the way and things were a bit forgotten, so dear blogonaughts I apologise and will now, hopefully, begin to put that right.

When I was planning our trip to the Dolomites and Italian Alps I looked around for a useful base that would give me different options of routes to explore. Knowing what mountain weather can be like, I didn’t want to commit to just one area; experience taught me that the weather on one side of a pass can often be totally different to the other.

As I pondered suitable bases my eye kept being drawn to a likely looking area just to the North East of the city of Bolzano. It offered easy access to both mountain ranges as well as the city, should I wish to vary things a bit. It also had the added attraction of an interesting looking narrow gauge railway; more of that in a future post. I didn’t know anything about this area, the Ritten Plateau, but it certainly looked interesting.

As things turned out, it was one of the most inspired choices that I think I have ever made! The view was pretty good too!

I rode to Bolzano from Gaschurn in the Western end of Austria. The day before we had crossed Switzerland in monsoon imitating rain, the going was tough and tiring. Now we had ridden the Silvretta High Alpine road in falling snow and ground hard miles out over the Reschenpaß through more driving rain and heavy traffic.

Reschensee on the Reschenpass on a murky miserable day.

This was supposed to be fun I kept trying to remind myself!

A spirited race down the SS38 from Merano to Bolzano in brightening weather lifted things considerably and then we found the SP73 road to Ritten. . .

Now dear blogonaught, promise me this one thing. If ever you find yourself near Bolzano in Northern Italy, go find the SP73. It doesn’t matter what vehicle you are on/in, the SP73 will put a big smile on your face! There are thirty bends that vary from tight hairpins to lovely, no wonderful, power-on sweepers that are guaranteed to put a big smile on your face and you could swear have been stolen from all of the great race tracks of the world! Oh and the views are pretty good too as the road claws it’s way from the valley floor to the high Ritten plateau.

When planning our route I’d looked at the SP73 on the map and thought, “That look’s interesting.” With the day we had just endured, I must be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to the prospect, I was tired, my shoulders were aching, my eyes gritty from the road, I was dirty, pretty sure I was smelly and not really in the mood to battle hairpins!

Then I took a right onto the SP73.

The road starts by cutting through vineyards as it begins it’s ascent North. The first few bends are sweepers, each one a bit tighter than the last, then there is a squiggle of hairpins and everything becomes clear, this road was engineered to be seriously enjoyed!

SP73, it’s the one for me!


The surface was great, the barriers reassuringly solid, but not intimidating and the view ahead clear.

It’s funny how quickly I can change my mind!

After such a day of hard, hard, miles this was just what I needed. “Harls” seemed to growl approval too as she leaned into each successive bend, her shotgun pipes spitting contempt at the gradient as I kept her engine in the sweet-spot of maximum torque.

Oh how happy the two of us suddenly became!

Just look at this photo of the start of the road, I took it a couple of days later from a cable car, how can you not enjoy yourself on that road?

We arrived at the hotel absolutely knackered, which is a quaint old British phrase meaning worn-out, but as I staggered into the reception I had a big stupid grin on my face!

Next day dawned a bit brighter, but the weather forecast was “Changeable.”

Over breakfast I looked out over the Western edge of the Dolomites; I’d ridden just over a thousand miles to get here and I wasn’t about to let a bit of “Changeable” stop me on my mission!

I finished my rather splendid frühstück (breakfast) and hit the road; first up was the delightful SP73, could it get better? Oh yes it could!

The weather accurately lived up to the forecast. We are in high mountains after all and what we missed from time to time in panoramas, we gained by flying through swirling clouds and savouring fantastic glimpses of stunning limestone crags.

Our route cut right into the heart of the Dolomite mountain range; I work on the basis that if you don’t do the big ones, then frankly, you are not really trying! First we crossed Passo di Costalungo (1745m) then headed for Passo di Fedaia (2075m),
Giau (2230m), followed by the famous “Sella Ring” of Falzarego (2105m), Valparolo (2197m), Campolongo (1875m), Gardena (2121m), Sella (2240m) and Pordoi (2239m).

At the top of Passo di Giau is a delightful “Refugio,” a sort of cross between a bar, restaurant and hotel. This being the South Tyrol, I went native and enjoyed an “Apfelstrudel und Kaffee” for lunch and very good it was too. Just the thing to set me up for the hard work of the Sella Ring.

Biker fuel.

Not only was the food good, but inside, yes inside, the café was one of my all time favourite motorcycles, a Honda 500 Four, Young Dookes drooled over these bikes and I’d still love to have one today!
It’s a funny thing riding hairpins in the clouds, there’s no distracting views; it’s just you, the road and the motorbike. To be honest I’m not always a great lover of hairpins, I find that they disrupt my riding rhythm too much, but on this day they kept coming and I can honestly say that I was really enjoying myself. At the start of the South West climb to Passo di Giau, was a sign, “34 Tornante,” (34 Hairpins) each one was then numbered…after riding 22 I found myself screaming out, “No! There’s only another 12 left!”

Passo di Giau

What a contrast to last year trying to slog “Big Baby Blue” up Stelvio…

This was heavenly, in a totally indulgent two-wheeled petrol-head sort of way!

I was so glad that I brought “Harls” with me; I really wouldn’t have enjoyed it, or probably even attempted it on “Big Baby Blue.” The more I got into the swing of things, the better my beloved “Harls” responded. True, she’s a bit of a handful going downhill; the rear brake has a delightful habit of fading as it gets hot or wet, but fortunately her engine braking helps out a lot, then hey I’m sort of used to it and wouldn’t have her any other way.

“Harls” – the true star of the show!


We trundled back to the hotel having crossed off the ten highest paved passes in the Dolomites, that first beer before dinner tasted good and I think that we thoroughly earned it. . .

Not bad for an Old Geezer on a getting on a bit Harley Softail!

“I’ve decided what I’m gonna do,
I’m packing my bags for the Misty Mountains.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Learning to Fly

“I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.”

I knocked “Harls” out of gear and let her roll to a stand on the edge of the car park. I let the engine idle freely for a minute or so, letting the valves cool a bit after the arduous climb, then switch off and … silence, save for the gentle metallic “tinkle” of an air-cooled engine cooling down.

Time to take stock.

We were sitting on top of the Nufenen Pass, at 2478 metres/8130 feet above sea level. It’s the second highest paved pass in Switzerland and the eleventh highest in Europe. There was early snow lying around, the air crisp, cold and blown by a keen North Westerly wind was just enough to catch your breath.

Nufenen Pass

We had just climbed from Airolo in the Bendretto Valley; 1319 metres of climbing over a distance of 24 kilometres, average grade 5.5%, maximum grade 10%. No wonder her engine was warm! The panorama of the Bernese Alps before us was magnificent, a fair reward for the effort of the climb.

It had been a long day with seven passes collected, a fair distance covered and hideous traffic on the Gotthard Autobahn, but we now had only 14km and 1108 metres of decent down to Ulrichen and our stop for the night. I was almost blowing the froth off the top of a cold one!

First though, I just needed to drink in the scenery and bask in the satisfaction of crossing another high pass…

It’s been just about a fortnight since Harls and I got back from our Italian travels and I think that I’ve almost recovered. If I’m honest, for the first few days after I got back I could have done with a holiday to get over the trip, these long distance adventures don’t get any easier with age!

That said, our schedule on this last excursion was pretty punishing, even with a day off from riding, but you know I never seem to learn! The trip was pretty epic; 2736 miles in total, 40 “mountain” passes, 7 countries, one return sea crossing.

The thing to focus on though, is those mountain passes….that’s where I have a bit of a problem.

I’m hooked on them!

I’ve always had a love of high places, right from an early age stomping around the beautiful Welsh mountains in Snowdonia. It’s something I can’t really describe adequately, other than “Put me on a mountain and see a happy Dookes!”

As I result, when I got into this motorcycle touring habit it just seemed such a natural thing to head for the high passes and then keep going ever higher. Please understand that I don’t necessarily have to go touring in the mountains, it just makes me a bit happier. I written before about my quest to ride Galibier, but by visiting that magical place it sort of opened up a “Pandora’s Box” of other possibilities; the more I pondered the map of Europe things just got even more interesting.

What started out as a whimsical idea began to grow into a list of targets!

I made a few rules for myself along the way, otherwise the whole thing was going to get totally out of control.

1. The road must be paved, no dirt tracks.
2. Dead end roads do not count.
3. The road must be open to all public traffic.
4. Military or private service roads are not allowed.
5. Closed or disused roads also not allowed.
6. Europe West of the Carpathian Mountains only (at the moment).

Oh yes, whilst I think of it. For those of you who may be wondering what old Dookes is on about with a “Mountain Pass”…..

A Mountain Pass is a route through a mountain range which often crosses over a ridge, gap or saddle. Mountain ranges make formidable barriers to travel and transport, even in our modern era, so passes have through the centuries become vital for trade and defence. They are also some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Albula Pass

Looking at the options from my self-imposed rules, the highest road is the Cime de la Bonette, 2802m, which is near Jausiers in the French Alps; the highest Pass being Col de L’Iseran, 2770m, which is near Val d’Isère also in France.

Cime de la Bonette


Now because I’m not the sort of chap who settles for the easier option, it had to be the big ones that I went after first, but no it’s not at all been downhill from there! At the beginning I didn’t make a conscious effort to chase the list, but it’s sort of evolved and become a bit “semi-organic” …almost with a life of its own. To be honest, one day I started crossing out the places that we’d been and it sort of took off from there!

Back to the recent trip. I have to admit that “Pass-Hunting” was part of the planning process and that we were pretty successful with it too. Of the highest paved passes on my list I’ve now bagged the top nine, 24 of the top 30, 40 out of 50 and a whole bunch of “lesser” passes too; the really great thing though is that most of them have been done on my beloved Harls and I can’t be happier for that.

Cole de Mont Cenis 2083m.

What’s next then?

Well, I had been thinking of a trundle around Scandinavia to Nordkapp sometime next year, after the snow has melted. The thing is, I’m torn, there’s still unfinished business in the high mountains and that little obsession is gnawing at me again. The other consideration is the small matter of age. Riding some of the passes is hard work and whilst I love the scenery and flying around the clouds, but I’m not the greatest fan of really tight hairpin bends, they are far too much hard physical work on a big bike with an impingement in one shoulder and arthritis in the other!

Learning to fly around the clouds…

BUT…

There’s a tourist itinerary in France called “Le Route des Grandes Alpes.” It runs from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea and takes in some of the best mountain roads and passes in Europe; it caught my eye a few years ago. For sure there are a number of the “big ones” on the route that we’ve done in the past, but hey going back to Galibier and dropping down to the Med would be no hardship at all! In addition, we could put in a side trip just across into Italy and grab a couple of targets that have eluded us so far and whilst I’m still half capable.

Notice I keep referring to “We” and “Us” in my narrative?

That’s because “Harls” and I are a team when it comes to those Passes. Sure, big “Baby Blue” is more comfortable on the transits and she has got a few Passes to her name, but she’s sooo heavy when it comes to doing the business in the mountains.

Déjà vu.

It’s a no brainer, there’s only one bike for me and anyway I want “Harls” to have the glory when we finally clear the list!

Déjà vu two!

Looks like that’ll be the plan for next year then, with suitable domestic approval of course.

“I’m learning to fly, around the clouds
But what goes up must come down.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

In memory of Tom Petty 1950-2017

It’s a bit Parky!

(Old British saying for “It’s a bit cold” and a favourite of my old mate Chutney.)

What a lovely alpine morning I woke up to; blue sky, sunshine and what’s that glistening on the grass? Frost!

I took a short walk outside the hotel and the still morning air really made me catch my breath. Gee-wiz it was cold, minus 3°Celsius by the sign on the pharmacy just down the street, was going to be a bit of in interesting morning.

Just before I left home I was prevaricating about whether to take my heated jacket with me, September is meant to be summer after all. The wise-ness that is Mrs Dookes took the decision out of my hands, her suggestion that if I had it and didn’t use it against not taking it and wishing I had, totally persuaded me. Actually, it just took the decision out of my hands, but today I loved that woman just that little bit more, because I stayed lovely and warm.

I’m too tired now to do the math, but -3° in Livigno, bloomin’ colder at Bernina Pass, -5 at Julier Pass and -7° at the Albula; then add in the wind chill even at a modest 40mph, oh yes you’d better believe that I was so much more in love with Mrs D as the heated gear did its stuff!!! What a brilliant suggestion to bring it, thank you darling!

Unashamedly we were Pass Bagging again, well depending on your take, it was either Nature or God that put ‘them thar mountains’ there, so it would be crass stupidity not to enjoy them!

From Livigno we topped Forcola di Livigno at 2315m, and slipped out of Italy;

Swiss side of Forcola Di Livigno, no-mans land!

it’s a bit weird then, as you trundle along for a good five kilometres before you arrive at the Swiss customs point and border which is actually halfway up the climb to Bernina Pass. I pulled Harls over by the summit board on Bernina for the customary photo, what I assumed were puddles were actually solid ice….we were on a mini skating rink!

From the summit, the road sweeps North, like piano wire passing through glorious scenery and with the world famous Rhaetian Railway keeping close company. The swanky resort town of St Moritz lies at the bottom of the hill, but best not say to much about it and just ride on to Julier Pass, at 2284m we were getting higher….and colder!

Julier Pass

Funny that there weren’t many other motorbikes about, I wonder why?

At the Julier we did a ‘U’ turn and cruised back to St M, then hung a left for a few glorious blasting miles on almost empty road before turning left again onto the Albula Pass road.

In contrast to the Julier, which is built on the alignment of a Roman road, the Albula is pure Swiss sheep herder track. Tight, tricky little hairpins catch you out if you don’t pay attention and yes, I was daydreaming when one nearly caught me out…no harm done, the road was pretty much deserted. A pair of BMW bikes caught me up, poor Harls was struggling with the altitude and the cold, her carburetor was icing and I had to give her about 25% choke to keep her happy. The first BMW swept by me, but the second tucked in behind me.

Nearing the Pass I could see that this was hard country, almost a cross between the Arctic and the Moon, I wouldn’t like to get caught out here, even though it was mind boggling beautiful.

Parking Harls outside the Gasthaus at the summit, it turned out that the two BMW’s were a husband and wife from Munich. He had powered by me and she was happy to ride behind me as she though her husband was riding too fast; so did I, but I didn’t say anything!

Spot the icicles!

After taking more photos we continued North towards Tiefencastle, eventually picking up the St Bernadino Autobahn and having a bit of higher speed fun.

Peeling off to cross the pass at St Bernadino was a bit of a disappointment, so then it was back onto the Autobahn and more exhaust rasping mile-munching, oh I love that bike!

We dropped off to bag another Pass that had intrigued me for some time, the Splügen, which straddles the border between Switzerland and Italy. The thing that had captured my imagination as the compact set of ten bends just below the summit at the Swiss side.

Splügen staircase. Totally bonkers!

Compact also equals bloomin’ tight and tricky, especially on the inside bends! They do make a good photo though!

Then it was more Autobahn blasting for about thirty miles towards the St Gottard Pass. I had wanted to stick this one in as a cheeky extra, the main road now goes through a tunnel, but the “old main road” and the original cobble road still exist; today though for some reason they were closed with police blocking them off.

Oh well, back to plan “A” the Nufenen Pass / Passo della Novena, at 2478m / 8130ft this is the highest paved pass in wholly in Switzerland and I think it’s just moved up to my favourite pass in Switzerland too!

Broody mountains, looking North on Nufenen Pass.8130ft.

I suppose I need to clarify what I like in a good Pass…

Having esoteric tastes in all things mechanical, I don’t conform to any norms. I ride Harley Davidson bikes because I like them, not because I want to be identified as “a Harley Rider,” I haven’t got a beard, ear-piercing, tattoos or a belt overhanging gut! The only trouble with the Harley’s that I ride, compared to other road or adventure bikes, is that they have a longer wheelbase and that means that they don’t like very tight bends much; neither do I! I do like a good gradient, long sweeping bends, nice views, places to stop and take photos, plus not too much other traffic.

On that basis :
Stelvio = Poor.
Nufenen = Excellent!

Here’s another thing to shout from the rooftops, that old Harls of mine has now topped the highest Passes in France, Switzerland, Italy and Andorra. She’s also done eight of the top ten in Europe and 22 out of the top 30 and we have plans for the stragglers!

The star of the show, on to of Nufenen Pass, looking a bit travel-stained, but we’ve been through a lot.

Any wonder why I love that bike?

At the end of today we rolled into our hotel car park in Ulrichen, tired, very happy and quite a bit warmer.

“One day like this a year would see me right for life.”

Catch you later.

Dookes

Kicking Stelvio

I often think that my life is full of departures, never any arrivals, always in motion and moving on.

Take this morning for example. Sure I’d enjoyed staying in Ritten, but loading up Harls and firing her engine into life, then moving back on the open road; I was never happier.

We hit the Bolzano morning commute traffic right at its peak. It was total fun, street-fighting on level terms with the Italians, Harls growling around the city like she owned the place; I could never have done that with the big Ultra Limited! Then it was a spirited romp along the autostrada to Merano, where predictably everything ground to a halt as the road slimmed down to a normal highway.

On Italian roads you have to get your head around one thing, they are either mad all-out racetracks or you need to predict your arrival by the calendar – all or nothing, that’s just the way it is. Being honest, I put up with the tedium of stop-start traffic for about ten miles before I hit the “Stuff this, I’m on a motorbike” button and started, shall we say, “making progress!”

The weather forecast for the weekend ahead is rubbish. I had planned to spend two nights in Livigno and catch up on some of the local passes, but with snow due tomorrow afternoon and right through the weekend, I’ve pulled the plug on that idea. Instead we are only here for one night and then running away from the weather, before we get snowed in.

As a result, I changed the route for today. I was going to ride Passo Di Gavia from the South and have a play elsewhere tomorrow. Instead we headed into the Mustair valley and at Santa Maria turned left onto the Umbrail pass route. This is a narrow, little used back door road up to the (in)famous Stelvio Pass and until only a couple of years ago was not asphalted throughout. I knew it was narrow, so last year with Big Baby Blue I avoided it; good move, as after riding it today I don’t think I would have got Blue up it! For a large part of the route it climbs up through delightful forest, but of course the disadvantage is that there is no view, only road and trees. Until you hit altitude, but today that was up in the clouds.

The road is very narrow in places and some of the bends a tad tricky. After our exertions of yesterday I found that my dodgy left shoulder, locked up; I have an impingement in the thing and as usual it chose a good time to play silly! What it meant in simple terms was that I couldn’t move my arm far enough forward to push the handlebars through tight right-hand bends.

Time for a rethink, as I was riding like a muppet!

I stopped and did some stretching exercises, took a couple of painkillers, had a drink of water, ate some fruit whilst the pills kicked in and then got on with it! It didn’t half hurt, but at least we got going and soon were back into the swing of things. I got pretty good at going round hairpins one-handed too!

Not bad, one hand!

Soon we got into the clouds, then it began to get really windy and predictably the temperature plummeted to a little over zero. I was every pleased to have brought my heated jacket – doh, heated jacket! Turn up the heat nice and high and “Ping” the shoulder was feeling nearly normal; my heated gloves were nice to!

We paused to grab a photo at the standardly deserted Swiss customs post on the Umbrail Pass border and roared back into Italy. Ciao Italia! – We missed you for the last 30 miles.

On the border, anything Blue can do, I can do better!

Déjà vu / Déjà Blue!

Just after the fronter we turned left and knocked off the last half-dozen hairpins to Passo dello Stelvio. Umbrail is at 2503m/8212ft, Stelvio 2757m/9046ft, poor Harls with her simple carburetor was running very rich through lack of oxygen at these altitudes!

Looking East on the top of Stelvio.

I’ve said it before, I find the top of Stevio tacky, but today was about proving a point to the big lump of a mountain. I’ve beaten you now with both my bikes!

Harls on Stelvio, a touch of class amongst all that is tacky!

The top was fairly busy, very cold and with a bit of snow in the air, so after a quick look around and grabbing a bratwurst for lunch, we headed down into Bormio and then on towards Livigno. Knocking off Passo Foscagno 2281m/7517ft and Passo d’Eira 2208m/7244ft on the way.

Stelvio hairpin, “Going Down!”

Gnocchi and pizza for supper tonight!

I can’t eulogise enough how much I enjoyed riding my Harls up that mountain today. I feel that, despite taking Big Blue up there last year, I can now fully exorcise that beastie that was Stelvio.

Harls came, growled her contempt and kicked it just where it counted and I had the ride of my life!

“Been down one time
Been down two times
I’m never going back again.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

PS Trip total mileage so far 1584.

Bridesmaids

Hello Everyone.

It’s been another splendid day for riding motorbikes. Lots of sunshine, a bit of a chill in the air…but best of all, no rain! With all the trials by weather that we have been subjected to, it was the sort of day to savour and do something special and that’s exactly what we did.

Continued apologies for the lack of photographs, hotel WiFi is still being a pain, so I’ll keep this report reasonably brief and save the photos for a longer post in the not to distant future.

Because of the weather issues I’ve rearranged our schedule a bit and dropped some of the lesser Dolomite Passes, actually that’s just an excuse to come back here again….please Mrs Dookes! There were however three passes that I really wanted to bag (that’s slang for riding over them), initially they had been scheduled for our entry to Italy, but yep the weather stuffed that idea. The trouble is that they are all so high that even in the height of summer and precipitation can fall as snow. Over the last week all of them have seen quite a bit of the white stuff and only yesterday snow chains were required on two of them! As you can imagine, there was still a fair bit around today making things look quite superb.

Oh yes, I nearly forget to tell you which passes I’m rambling on about, I’ll give you the German names for them, as we are in the South Tirol after all, in order that we rode them:

Penserjoch 2215m/7267ft
Jaufenpass 2099m/6887ft
Timmelsjoch 2474m/8127ft

I set out with a blank canvas, sure I knew where I wanted to go, but I hadn’t planned a return route. That was good really, because I enjoyed the outward ride so much over the first two that once we had done the Timmelsjoch High Alpine road, I turned around and came back the way we went out! 😎

I’ve got to say that although the Timmelsjoch is supposed to be one of the classic alpine routes, it didn’t do much for me; I much preferred the other two. A case of the bridesmaids out doing the bride!

Yes, I promise I’ll write much more in future about all three routes with, if I say so myself, some really nice photos as well; please stick around for that.

In the meantime, keep the rubber down and the shiny side up!

Catch you soon.

Dookes