Dining, fine or otherwise

This trip was taxing for me in a lot of ways.

While riding up the Aosta side of the Kleiner Sankt Bernhard pass on day 7, I got lost in situational analysis of the personal stress I was under and grabbed a handful of front brake (likely while rolling on a bit of throttle) in the wrong spot coming up a steep and dirty righthanded hairpin at low speed. I tucked the front end and went down on my right side at very low speed. The most n00b of riding mistakes. The feeling of the rear end sliding out under power was new to me – I’m no stranger to the rear end getting wiggly, but on my old F, the Tourances hook back up and I go along my merry way. Or is it that I am in the ride and it’s not the tyres at all, but the rider who is coaxing the rear end back under and letting the front lead? I don’t know. One thing I did note upon getting back onto my old F is that my brakes are much more consistent than the rental bike’s were. I can’t say for sure that this contributed, but I do know that it could have. Regardless, rider error is rider error.

The F700GS is, in general, a good bike. I liked the wider powerband, but did not like the twitchier throttle. Twitchy is a matter of perspective – as my F is a single (every bike I’ve ever owned has been a single), everything is twitchy to me. I noticed it more when I was tired than not, so it was a combination of bike and rider. Given the large sections of Autobahn transit on this trip, the extra ponies were quite welcome. I am not so convinced that an F800GS is my dream bike anymore, though. I did not fall in love with the twin the way I expected to. I think the tyres compounded the situation – I wanted a more dirt-friendly tyre and one that did not require so much care to avoid mud and cow dung. I was repeatedly surprised by how the handling changed as it rained. The BattleWings were/are simply more at home on dry pavement that wet or loose stuff. The feeling of a tyre just spinning against the asphalt is not entirely pleasant when you want it to be hooking up. The lack of handguards was quite noticeable with all of the rain we encountered.

The stock seat was miserable. Switching to the low seat would have helped my butt but put more bend into my knees. This would not have been good on the longer days. The narrowness of the seat was cool, it allowed a different kind of interaction with the bike chassis than I have on my single. I think I made the right choice to use the stock height seat – it certainly made it clear to me (again) that my F is too low and that I can handle a full-sized bike without any issues. The seat height had no impact on my drop – it was pure rider error and there was nowhere to put a foot or knee down anyway.

Getting sick was also not in the plan. While recovering, I spent some time reading up on the internet about stress responses and learned about the adrenaline/cortisol loop and its impact on gut motility. This is exactly what happened to me and why the rösti was such a disaster. For several days beforehand, my gut was basically shut down, and then I tried to stuff it full of difficult-to-digest material that needed to move. Talk about compounding the problem. I know better to keep an eye out now for both emotional stress and my body’s response to it. In the end, I wasn’t “sick” as in food poisoning, but sick as in not healthy. Interestingly enough, I did not trigger any Celiac responses during this trip. This is a huge positive as France is generally a nightmare for Celiac people. The irony of my gut being the “BMW” of the trip – miscellaneous system-wide shutdowns, refusal to cooperate, lack of proper documentation, design flaws, issues with engineering tolerances, etc. – was not lost on me.

The route was solid. Once again, all of the hours of planning and routing paid off serious dividends. I would like to go back and ride the French portion again (alone, or with a more like-minded riding partner) and explore the side passes that we skipped. I would also like to do it on a smaller bike – perhaps a DRZ – definitely something in the 400cc range. More luggage would be nice, too. And a rental from a shop closer to the destination. Pass-bagging remains a great focus for a trip for me. GPX files will follow shortly, once I get them edited.

My Garmin issues were just embarrassing. For someone who is six layers deep in contingency planning, I miffed the top layer. Thankfully, my backups worked. The sectional overview printouts were a tripsaver when combined with additional information from the large Freytag map. I did eventually sort out the power port issue – the clip inside of the power port on the bike was the problem – it was not contacting the center pin of the adapter cable. I finally figured this out and fixed it just before turning in the bike. My poor old Garmin is actually just fine. For now, at least.

The idea of finding GS Land did not enter my mind until I was riding the Route des Cretes. It stayed in my head for the remainder of the trip.

My packing was not only sufficient, it was great. I took four sets of Maier polyester sport liners (Galeria Kaufhof), six pair of assorted L/R ski socks, plenty of clean underwear (Hunkemöller edgeless), three Champion C9 wicking tshirts (Target), one Craft mesh base layer tshirt, one fleece pullover (Cabela’s), one fleece jacket (Target Merona), one pair of jeans (Silver), one nice button shirt (OCK), one pair of sneakers, a couple of bras, and a pair of Umbro shorts. I will expand my collection of the C9 wicking t’s – the closer-fitting ones are perfect under the sport liners and like the liners can be washed and dried at room temperature overnight. The ski socks presented a drying problem which I resolved by strapping them to the outside of my drybag (look carefully at the day 5 pics) and letting the sun work its magic. I did not need my neoprene vest – it never got that cold.

The drybag was somewhat cumbersome and I definitely prefer side cases, but it was functional and worked great as a drying rack. If this is the only option, it’s not a bad one. It’s just not the best one. My tank bag fix worked well, too. I sewed a strap using plastic quick connect fittings that I got at the fabric store. I put matching fittings on to the existing straps on the tank bag and ran the new strap under the bike seat mounting points. This made for quick on and off and allowed me to snug it up neatly. By arranging the fittings properly, I could connect one end of the bike side strap to the other to leave it neatly stowed when the bag was not on the bike. I admit that I got this idea from the bag itself – the safety strap works that way so that it can be safely left on the bike and easily accessed rather than falling into the steering head each time the bag is removed. I also used this technique when making the tank bag for my Super Sherpa. I will likely transfer the new lower strap to my old F if I can make it work.

My tools were insufficient, I need to plan better for future longer-term rentals and make sure that I have more of the basics. The T45 would have saved me the visit to Alpes Moto Cycles at a minimum.

My ADAC membership paid for itself again. It was profoundly simple – I called and explained that the bike was rideable but needed to be checked, could they find me a shop that would be open for a few hours. Within 30 minutes, they had a shop and contact info for me. This basically saved my trip for me. Die gelbe Engeln retten! The yellow angels save the day! Even in the call center. I can’t wait to try this out in the US some time…..

I noticed that I am developing my style as a ride leader. I identified three topics that are important to me. First, routing awareness. All riders need to be on the same route, and even better if all nav systems are the same make so that gpx files are processed in the same manner. Second, inter-group communication underway. I often could not see my riding partner as she preferred to ride about 500m back and this significantly compromised communication. Third, respect for riding style. In technical sections, individual riding styles dominate, and I am happy to let this play out as needed – faster peeps first, leaf peepers later, please. I also learned that I am most at home in the twisties, as opposed to the hairpins. I like the hairpins, but I do not enter flow in them. They are work and I need more of my brain engaged to make them fun. In the twisties, I can enter and exit flow at will with gentle transitions. This is what riding is about for me. It is consistent with my love for track work – controlled situations with known elements that can be played with at will. I need to do more track work.

Costs for the trip were somewhat higher than last year – roughly 120€ per day in food, lodging, souvenirs, and fuel. This was expected and due to the locations – basically the finest and best-known Alpine ski regions – along with Provence and Cote d’Azur. It was worth it, we were able to find inexpensive lodging without much trouble at all. The rental and extra kms were about 980€, with repair parts on top of that. I used Delta miles for my airfare and paid about $200 in taxes and fees. I flew in four days early and stayed two days later, working at my employer’s HQ office during those days and getting a head start on acclimating to the time zone. This worked out very well and I am grateful to my boss for supporting me on this aspect.

This was my third long trip with one or two more people in close quarters. From the three trips, I have learned that I am good with other humans for about seven days. In all three cases, the eighth day was the tipping point for me mentally, regardless of the level of personal stress I was under. In the future, I will limit co-trips to seven days. Maybe with some alone travel up front.

In sum, it was not as bad of a trip as it could have been, but not as good as it could have been, either. The do-over is going to rock.

In the morning, the French bread does its thing and cleans out whatever it is that is hurting me. I need a few minutes to recover, and we are on our way again.

Leaving Lustenau, we stop for fuel and take the long way around town to avoid the Autobahn, as we do not have Austrian Vignettes. We see the industrial district. Riding north on the 190, we cross the border into Germany and are once again allowed on the Autobahn. We pick up the A96 and ride north as it turns to the A7. At Ulm, we take the A8 west. At Karlsruhe, we take the A5 north.

We consider stopping in the Eifel, but I am too beat up and tired. Regardless, we grab the A61 north instead of the A3, choosing the prettier, lower stress (fewer big trucks) route.

At Bonn, we turn off on the A565, and get separated when my Garmin routes me over the A4 to the A3. This is actually the long way, but magically, I still arrive minutes before her in Duisburg. We unbuild the bikes and I take my gear to my hotel near work in her car.

I return the car a little later and ride to my hotel south on the A3 at night. It is magical to me, like being home in a way. There is a sweet smell in the air from the roadside weeds. The signs are all familiar. I am ready for bed.

It has been a long trip. I am not sad that is it over. I am happy I got to take it.

I want to go back to GS Land one day.

I am sick, and forced to admit it. I still do not connect the stress to it all, but ok, does it really matter? I sleep in for two hours and feel almost human. I do not eat.

I leave the B&B and head in the direction of Splügen, thinking to ride at least part of our route today. I turn around after a bit and pull out the iPhone, finding the Gyger Bed and Breakfast in Thusis, which will let me in at 14.00. I ride around a bit more, revisiting the Via Mala, and then plop myself in front of the hotel and order a peppermint tea. I stop at the local market and get a yoghurt and some crackers. At 13.45, I inquire about my room, get my key, and promptly fall asleep. When I wake up several hours later, Thusis is closed for the weekend. I take a walk and find a kiosk near the train station, buying some sparkling water and a yoghurt drink. This is starting to look like a pattern. I sleep for most of the night, and when I wake up, I am still not in great shape, but OK to ride. I eat some of the French gluten-free bread that I picked up a few days before. It is rather fibrous, which I think might be good. I have it strapped to my pack as I have no room inside.

I make my way to Tiefencastle on the 417, giving up Splügen. We have planned to re-ride some Italian passes and spend a day on Stelvio and Umbrail, possibly including Gavia. This does not happen for me. I give it up and decide instead to simply ride Julier and Albula so that I can join my partner, who is riding that section, later after Davos. I take the 3 south and follow it to the 27 in Silvaplana, then the Albulapassroad, and finally rejoin the 417.




Julierpass is light and easy. The Marmorerasee is just as beautiful this time as last. Albula is interesting. In some places, wide and well-built, in others, basically a sort-of paved cattle path. And under construction, too. The construction in both France and Switzerland has been a constant. It seems as if every 20kms, we have been stopped to wait for a washout repair or replacement of some so-called barriers.




After descending Albula, I pick up the 28 in Davos and ride to Landquarrt and Mastris, where I find Tardisstrasse. What will happen there? Nothing exciting, it’s an outlet mall, characteristically open on Sunday so that people have a reason to go there. If it’s anything like the one in Roermond, NL, prices are hardly “outlet” as we know the concept in the US. I stop at the Heidiland rest stop and wait for my partner, grabbing some SP at the shop. SP+Ducati? That’s Italian! And Heidiland… How can I not stop? The ghost of Johanna Spyri will come after me if I don’t. The loudspeakers in the parking lot are yodeling, it’s a little weird. My partner is along shortly and we ride north on the A13, getting off to ride around a traffic circle in Lichtenstein and put on rain gear – a strong storm is blowing in. I can now check Lichtenstein off on the list of EU countries I have visited on a motorbike.




We find the Hotel Sinohaus-Linde in Lustenau and dinner at the Restaurant Olive around the corner. I finish the French bread with my salad.

I awake on time, still a bit tired and definitely a bit sore. Although the fall was not violent and I did not even scuff my gear aside from a nickel-sized spot on my right boot, I am not a 15YO anymore and I know this.


I make my way to the Swiss Autobahn, taking the A9 some 30kms to Sion, home of Claude Urfer SA BMW Motorsport. I walk in and explain my situation to the lady at the desk and she quickly routes me to the workshop leader, who invites me to bring the bike around back to the shop where he will have a technician waiting for me. The lady speaks enough English, the workshop leader speaks German, and the technician speaks French. We are only missing Italian. The technician (center left in coveralls in this staff photo from Urfer’s twitter feed) takes a test ride and pokes and prods while the workshop leader inquires politely about my trip so far. I cannot bring to words how easy this visit is and how nice the staff of Urfer are to me. When all is pronounced healthy, they invite me into the showroom lounge for a cup of tea. They are having bike’toberfest later today, would I like to stay and hang out with them for the party? I want to, but I want to make my passes more. Very much a class act, and I’m quite grateful to them. All of this is at no charge to me, even though I ask if I can contribute at least to the coffee fund. No, Frau Helmetag, just enjoy your trip in Switzerland!

urfer staff

My riding partner is some 50km behind me, we plan to link up near the Oberalppass.

I continue on the A9 to Susten, where I pick up the 9 east. This is a stretch of placeholder road – the Swiss are still building out the A9 completely, so coverage is patchy. Before Brig, I rejoin the A9, then exit to the 19 east to traverse the Furka in the reverse direction and continue with the eastern half of the trip.

Furka backwards is as wonderful as Furka forwards. I miss the Bond lookout again, watching the clouds and the mountains and the sheep.

I stop briefly in Andermatt to wait for my riding partner. She is still behind, as she wants to try the new Gotthard road. It is reportedly boring, as expected. I wait on top of Oberalp, at the headwaters of the four major rivers of Western Europe – the Rhone, the Rhein, the Reuss, and the Ticino. Oberalp is a gentle pass with stately curves and some interesting and long avalanche galleries. We meet up, and as I am getting stiff, I begin the descent. The back side is as engineered as the front side – a great pass.




I stop along the way in a Swiss village – the market hours are funny – actually open in the afternoon!



After a wrong turn into Ilanz, I turn around and find the road to the Rheinschluct – the gorge of the headwaters of the Rhein. It is stunning. From there, it is on to Bonaduz, when I meet up with my riding partner. We then head south on the 13 and the Via Mala, another gorge route that dazzles.




We find a small family bed and breakfast in Andeer. Dinner is around the corner at Hotel Piz Vizan, and I choose a rösti, the Swiss potato and cheese concoction that is just to die for. I will regret this shortly. I have been under some stress and the accompanying gut disturbance, so a sticky, cheesy, carb bomb is probably not the best choice, but I have not processed the stress sufficiently to recognize what is happening to me. I succumb to all of it and am up all night trying to walk my insides into motion.


Leaving Wassen, we get a good indicator of the weather we can expect for most of the trip. Sankt Gotthard is called the Weathermaker for a reason – but better said in German – der Unwettermacher. We have more rain. Super.


Regardless, it is time to head on over to the Furkapass. Famed for its appearance in Goldfinger, it’s a beat-up, often single-lane stretch that has some truly rewarding views. Armco is completely missing, the only side securements are the electric fences used to keep the sheep and cows off the road. Given a weekend to ride, I would consider riding the loop of Furka, Nufenen, and Sankt Gotthard over and over and over. Three wonderful and unique passes that have a ton to offer any moderately experience rider. Furka brings us up into the clouds again and over the tops, where we are greeted by warm sun.




Just as Furka is visible from Grimsel, the curves of Grimsel are visible from Furka. The road to the left is the lower southwest ramp of Furka. On the way down, there is a marker for the Rhonegletscher, one of the sources of the Rhone river. We periodically see the Furkabahn, an old steam cog railway that brings cars and people through the passes.




We follow the 19 south to Brig and turn onto the 9, the Simplonstrasse. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express takes place on what is actually called the Simplon-Orient Express, a very real train route that brings travelers south to the sunny beaches of Italy. The nearly 20km long Simplon tunnel houses the tracks, along with a rail car service that carries cars and persons through in 20 minutes. Hmmm. Not for us. We have different tunnels to take, the long and elegant avalanche galleries that make up most of the northern ramp of Simplon. We go over the top, again to find sun and warmth. We tuck into our breakfast leftovers for lunch, and then head southward to Domodossola, Italy. Regrettably for me, this will turn into the start of a nagging gut problem that will eventually cost me one and a half riding days and quite a few euros.






From Domodossola, we continue south on Italy’s A62 in pursuit of the Italian coastline. Italy’s Autostrada system is well-built, with hundreds of short tunnels to carry traffic easily through the mountains. Tolls are handled with tickets, similar to the usual turnpike ticket in the US. We are both a bit tired and I am puffing up like a balloon from the cheese. We stop for a bit near Praolo so that I can deflate myself. It’s warm and sunny and we are baked like cookies. From there, we head south to Alessandria and Nove Liguri. We find a hotel after some fussing – Italy is not as well-organized as the German-speakers up north are – and a couple of dead ends. The hotel Gambero d’Oro is thankfully open and willing to host two ladies on motorbikes.  Dinner is outstanding northern Italian fare. I have keyed in on milk being an issue, but not yoghurt.

The issue with leaving early is that we have a reservation at a cheap hotel in Wassen, Switzerland for Friday night. I have figured out that we can alter our route to run a loop section of it on Friday, instead of holding out until the planned later point in the trip. This is a big win for us, as we have good weather for the most part and get some of the best passes of the trip in early.

We depart Bad Bellingen on the A5 and cross into Switzerland, purchasing Vignettes at the border. A Vignette is a sticker that shows you have paid the annual toll for riding the highways in the country. For 2014, the Vignette is red and yellow, and features the well-known symbol for the Autobahn. Without it, you are subject to rather impressive fines. 33€ later and we are good to go. A quick stop for fuel and the real game can begin.


We follow the A2 in Switzerland from Basel down to the Sustenstrasse (11) and begin our first climb.


The Sustenpass is a mild, gently curving pass that is a perfect first Alpine pass. It’s one that you can ride to get into the swing of things. It brings you into to the moment with good views and open twisties. To reach the top, we ride up through the ceiling and out on top of the cloud cover, a really unique experience. We have sun on top to augment the lovely views. From there, we swing south on the 6 to ride over the Grimselpass. Grimsel is an old pass with a long commercial history. The kehren, or switchbacks, are stacked in groups and the Furkapass kehren are visible as you descend. The bus traffic is impressive, and we see a fashion photography crew on the descent.



In Ulrichen, we turn off onto the Nufenenstrasse. In truth, this was my personal highlight of the passes we rode. Nufenen is challenging and strong, well-built, but demanding. I love it. The top is once again up in the clouds after we ride up over one layer of clouds to the pass itself. At the western base, we enter Airolo, where one must choose between the new Sankt Gotthard road and the old Via Tremola. A few loops of getting turned around, and we settle onto the Via Tremola, a cobblestone goat path that climbs the side of the mountains. Once again, riding into the clouds, we find nothing but dense cloud cover at the top. So dense that we are not sorry to leave it at all. A note on the Via Tremola – it’s awesome. Definitely technical and would be way more fun on my Sherpa (I mean WAAAAAAY more fun), and all you could ask for from an old historical road. I highly recommend taking it. If you take the new road to the top, you’ll find it’s not particularly curvy and offers none of the challenge that is the purpose of pass-running.




From the Sankt Gotthard, we descend back north into Wassen and stay at the Gotthard Backpacker Hotel, a modestly priced (for Switzerland) hotel with few trimmings, but really nice showers. The barbed wire toilet seat makes me laugh. Soooo Texas…




Tonight, I discover that my riding partner snores loudly. The snack baggie of 3M Tekk plugs looks very good to me when I find it in my tank bag.