All posts for the month September, 2014

Note that there are a couple of duplicates. More passes were proposed, but I got sick and missed the middle Alps ones. 44 unique passes and significant routes, primarily focused on the Route des Grand Alps.

1. Sustenpass

2. Grimselpass

3. Nufenenpass

4. Sankt Gotthard by Via Tremola

5. Furkapass

6. Simplonpass

7. Col de Castillon

8. Col de Turini

9. Col de Couillole

10. Col de Valberg

11. Gorges de Daluis

12. Col de Touts Aures

14. Col de Luens

15. Col de Clavel

16. Tunnel du Fayet/Grand Canyon du Verdon

17. Col d’Illoire

18. Col d’Olivier

19. Col d’Ayens

20. Route des Cretes

21. Col d’Allos

22. Col de la Bonette

23. Cime de la Bonette

24. Col de Granges Communes

25. Col de la Lombarde

26. Col de Larche

27. Col de Vars

28. Col d’Izoard

29. Col de Lautaret

30. Col du Galibier

31. Col du Télégraph

32. Col du Mont Cenis

33. Col de L’Iséran

34. Col du Petit Saint Bernard

35. Col des Montets

36. Col de la Forclaz

37. Col du Grand Saint Bernard

38. Col du Petit Saint Bernard

39. Cormet de Roselend

40. Col de Méraillet

41. Col de Saisies

42. Col des Montets

43. Col de la Forclaz

44. Furkapass

45. Oberalppass

46. Via Mala

47. Julierpass

48. Albulapass

I check into the work clinic this morning – the nurse practitioner almost instantly identifies the problems and it is a bit of a kick in the head that I have not recognized how much my situation has contributed to my lack of health. The homeopathic remedies that I know from Germany work well, almost instant physical relief from some symptoms. Knowing the answers is a big mental relief, even if it aggravates me. It is that much less stress, and I make headway breaking the ugly stress loop that I have been in.

In the afternoon, I return the bike to Briel. I am surprised that they do not have an estimate ready. They are professional and unassuming, without much fuss. They photograph the damage and prepare the estimate. There is some negotiation about the total damage, and I incur about 550€ in charges. Really, I refuse to be held liable for wear on the rider footpegs. A non-insignificant part of motorcycling involves putting them on the ground at speed. In all, it is less stress than I expected.

I am coming down to earth and up for air, finally.

It is a somewhat welcome end to a trip that has cost me emotionally, physically, and financially.

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.


From Chamonix, all looks good. The sun is visible, and the morning begins with a good breakfast and we are off to Martigny.

We cross the Col des Montets, a low pass typical of France. Then it is on to the Col de la Forclaz, a wider, more open pass that is higher up. We are enjoying a bit of sun and the weather is good. We cross into Italy and pick up the 203.



Martigny is a beautiful sight – the terraces of vines remind me of a mix between the Wine Road of Italy and the Rhein valley near the Lorelei.

As we pick up the 21, I miss the turn for the Col de Champex, and we continue on to the Grosser Sankt Bernhard. My riding partner is very unhappy and makes it known, but does not want to return to the pass, something I would like to do. The Grosser Sankt Bernhard, or Col de Grand Sankt Bernard in French, is not a difficult or particularly technical pass like its smaller brother, but it is far cloudier. The clouds at the top are so dense that we are unsure which direction we came in from. It is the oldest known pass in the Alps and separates Mount Blanc from Monte Rosa. A hostel of some sort is documented back to 1049. We stop for a hot drink, I visit the cloister built in 1563 built to honor Saint Bernard of Menthon as a travelers’ hostel. The descent is foggy and rainy into Aosta. In Saint-Rhémy-En-Bosses, we pick up the 27 and ride into Aosta. In fact, then entire Aosta valley is cloudy and rainy and redefines the pilots’ term “low ceiling”.



From Aosta, we rejoin SS26 and ride the Kleiner Sankt Bernhard in the opposite direction. I fall in the early hairpins, distracted by some personal thoughts. Thankfully, the bike is only cosmetically (although expensively) damaged, and I ride to the top to collect myself, my thoughts, and my ADAC card.


The ADAC is the German version of AAA. I joined when I lived in Germany, and keep my membership current mostly because the monthly magazine is so good. It is a window into the German driving psyche and motor culture. Today, a call nets me the address and phone number of a nearby Honda shop who will gladly check the bike for me. I also check BMW for a nearby dealer – the closest is a shop in Sion, Switzerland. The Honda shop will have to do for now. I call ahead to announce myself, and the person at the shop speaks just enough moto-english to get the job done. He will be there until 19.00, too. I have five hours to get there, it will only take about one. We descend the pass and I continue on the D1090 while my parther heads north on the D902.

In Aime, I find Alpes Moto Cycles, and inside, a gentleman who charges me 15€ to give the fork a sharp poke and check that things are sufficiently true to continue. I’ve packed a much smaller tool set than normal, and have a T40, a T50, and a T55, but not the T45 required to loosen the fork and insure it is not stressed. Not really needed, thankfully. He sends me on my way with instructions to get my head back in the game and to ride my own ride. Oh, and check with BMW, because after all, he is only a Honda/Yamaha/Kawi shop, and this is a German bike. I want to kiss him. I turn back to fuel up and find the D902 and the Cormet de Roselend.


Just before the pass, the D902 becomes the D925. The road runs past the Lac du Roselend and over the Col de Mèraillet and continues north. After Mèraillet comes Col de Saisies, a big surprise. I turn onto the D218 and begin the ascent. Saisies is a festival of curves. It features every imaginable type of turn, from long sweepers to tight switchbacks that do not let up. It is challenging and fun, and I enjoy it immensely in spite of the day’s earlier events. At the top is the typical carnival atmosphere of an Alpen ski resort town, although at this time of the year, completely empty. The gentle northern ramp brings me to Notre-Dame-de-Bellecombe and the D1212, which I take east.

Before Combloux, I turn right onto the D909, and then rejoin the D902 in Saint-Gervais-le-Bains. I pick up the D1205 in Le Lac and head to Martigny as the day is closing. As the sun is just starting to set, I cross Col de Montets and Col de la Forclaz again and ride into Martigny to see thousands of little streetlights twinkling. It is a beautiful sight, and while I am tired and need to find a hotel quickly, it is quite inspiring and I am glad I have come as far as I have and get to see it. The aromas from the vinyards are strong as I descend into the city. Once in town, I take out my trusty iPhone and pull up – the Motel des Sports is not cheap, but also not expensive. They offer me garage space for the bike and WiFi in the restaurant, too. I phone home to decompress a bit, then sleep well.


BMW will open at 8.00 in the morning, and I plan to be there right on time.

Leaving the Refuge Napoleon, we have more fog. Prior to checking out, I discover tshirts in the bottom drawer of the souvenir cabinet – while the GS logo ones are all size way-too-big, this one is just perfect.


We follow the D902 to Briancon, and turn north onto the D1091 to Col du Lauteret and Col du Galibier. Galibier is a stone’s throw from Lauteret, where we have found some Peugeots on a rallye.





Near Valloire, we find giant straw sculptures.


Descending the Col du Galibier, I have maps again! Yay! We continue on the D902, still the Route des Grande Alps, and cross the Col du Télégraph. This is a little pass that counts only in the list. With little to see, we seek stickers, but no long pause. We set off again on the 902, turning off at Saint Michel du Maurienne onto the D1006.



In Lanslebourg- Mont-Cenis, we turn off onto the reappearing D902 to ride up to Lac Mont Cenis. More clouds and fog. Very disappointing from a scenery perspective. Rather than continuing to the lake, we stop at the pass and have lunch in a café that smells of gas and cream sauce. The hot food is welcome, and decidedly not Provencal.




Continuing north on the D902, we cross the lesser Col de la Madeleine (1746), then continue on to the famous Col de l’Iseran, second highest pass in the Alps and in France after the Col de Bonette. l’Iseran has one of the most photographed pass markers in the Alps, and the stone building on top is just as photogenic as the pass marker. The pass is not terribly demanding, but is steep and offers beautiful views until the clouds hit. The top is covered in wispy fog.






In Seez, we pick up the D1090 and begin ascending the Kleiner Sankt Bernhard. I am delighted to see the French spelling of “Bernard” – in French, the pass is Col du Petit Saint-Bernard. My older son is named Bernard, for Bernard of Clairvaux instead of Bernard of Menthon, but whatever. I am on the first of the three “Bernard” passes: Kleiner, Grosser, and San Bernardino. This is a delightful technical pass  with rhythm that brings us over the Italian border to Strada Statale 26 and Pré-San-Didier, where we pick up SS26DIR and enter the Chamonix-Mont Blanc tunnel. The 11.6km tunnel links Italy back to France and allows significant goods traffic to cross where no roads exist. On the Kleiner Sankt Bernhard, I find some of the French “Seitensicherung” – the portable electric fences used by farmers to keep the sheep and cows off the road.





In Chamonix, we find lodging after consulting the i – the information board just outside of town. While Chamonix is largely full of multi-star spa resorts, a few smaller guesthouses exist and are easy to find if you know what to look for. Our tiny room off the D1506 on Route du Bouchet at Hotel la Source has a balcony and a private bath, which is excellent for the price. Dinner is light and welcome after the long days’ ride.

Castellane is lovely in the morning. The market is waking up, and so are the riders. I am brave and eat a yoghurt, this works. We pack out of the garage after watching a fish delivery truck turn around inside of it, without coming near the bikes. Either talent or practice, but totally pro.

My map fix is working, I navigate from point to point using the well-located directionals. This is a bit of a surprise, I do not expect such completeness from France. We head north on the D955 in the direction of Barcelonette, changing to the D908 near Le Coulet des Fourches. This takes us to the Col d’Allos. We rejoin the D902 in Barcelonette, where it turns into the D900. In Jausiers, we turn off onto the C4 and head for the roof.






We ride to Col de la Bonette – the highest pass in the Alps – and further out to Cime de la Bonette – the highest paved point in the Alps. Atop Cime de la Bonette is a small observation deck. I walk a bit up to take pictures, the ground is unstable and my boots are not really up for the task. The fog is pressing us, we ride to the actual pass and take some photos. Col de Restefond is on a dirt road to the side, unfortunately, we do not find it on the way and pass it. The road is now the M64. It further changes to the M2205 as we continue the descent.






From Bonette, we ride south to Isola where we pick up the M97 to Isola2000 (Isola at 2000m), and on to to Col de la Lombard. At some point, we pass a marker for the Col de Granges Communes, but cannot find it on any maps later. We do not find the old Lombard road, instead take the new one, SP 255, it is a nice ride and not as difficult as noted in the books we have read. I have maps for a short while in Italy. We turn northwest on SS21 north to the French border and Col de Larche. We rejoin the D900 on the French side, and I am Garmin-less again.


The D902 appears, we ride north and cross the Col du Vars.



We descend into Guillestre and continue north to Col d’Izoard, well-known from many appearances on the Tour de France. It is easy to see why – Izoard hides its magnitude in a gentle slope and not-overly-technical curves. It is a high pass, one that requires a lot of work. The road surface is painted with inspirational messages to cyclists. We encounter a unique type of bourne – milestone – that has the distance to the top, the slope over the next kilometer, the altitude, and various notes marked on them. At our speed, it is difficult to read them in detail.







Atop Col d’Izoard, we find one of the three remaining Refùge Napoleon hospices. Originally, six were built by Napoleon III to honor his grandfather’s various trips through southern France and the difficulties he faced in moving troops. The other two are on Col du Vars and Col de Manse. The hospice is in private hands and an overnight includes dinner and breakfast. We get a room that sleeps six. I pick up a tshirt with a motorcycle theme. We put the bikes in the garage and enjoy the beauty. Pass hospices continue to be the accommodation of choice, they offer all that is needed and the prices are great.





I frequently tell people that the view is very fine from GS Land, the mythical place that I inhabit when I am riding my old yellow GS single, sitting up above the sad little cagers, seeing the world with all of my senses. But if GS Land was actually a place, where would it be? It would be where the roads are questionable, the cows are plentiful, and there is always a little farm road or trail beckoning. The view is not of scenery, per se, but in scenery. A place of great majesty, where history is written in the stones by water and wind. Where every single sense is attacked, confronted with stimuli demanding attention and respect. It is a very good place to be.

We descend from Turini on the M70, a small road that carries us to La Bollène Vesubie. From there, we ride the M2565 north and west over the Col Saint Martin to Saint Sauveur -sur-Tinée and the M/D30, which takes us over Col de la Couillole. M appears to mean “single lane with cows” and D “double lane with sheep”. From Beuill, we head west on the D28 to Guillaumes, crossing the Col de Valberg, and ride the D2202 south through the Daluis Gorge.






Near Dèchetterie, we pick up the N202 west and cross the Col de Toutes Aures. We continue west to Lac de Castillione , where we pick up the D955 south to Castellane. From Castellane, it is the D4085 south over the Col de Luens and the D6085, the Route de Napoleon. In l’Artuby, we pick up the D21 and begin the proper tour of the Grand Canyon du Verdon, but not before first crossing the Col de Clavel. In Comps-sur-Artuby, we pick up the D71, and in Aiguines, the D19, then the D957. We get separated looking for fuel, and meet up later in Castellane. At the D952, we head east, turning off for the Route des Cretes, the D23.

The Grand Canyon du Verdon is a gorge cut through the south of France during the ice ages. Six million years of running water have left lower France scarred and wounded by nature, leaving some of the most beautiful views in the entire country. We ride the left route – Route Gauche – and look into the cavern as we ride. We travel through the Tunnel du Fayet, which will be visible from the other side. We cross the Col d’Illoire and Col d’Olivier near Aiguines. On the right side, we cross the Col d’Ayens, and then ride the Route des Cretes – a loop that takes us around the mountain and looks out over the gorge. The Route des Cretes is very poorly maintained, and for the first half, is one-way. The two-way part is rather tight with motorhomes and other traffic. This is another area that I would consider for multiple trips through in the future. Like Nufenen and Furka, it is difficult to find comparable riding and scenery all in one place.









It is on the Route des Cretes that I realize that I have found GS Land. It is the south of France, tucked in between the great gorges and bleating sheep, waiting for someone to visit.






After the Route des Cretes, the road is often covered by overhanging rock. It is breathtakingly beautiful. We follow the D952 back to Castellane and stay at the Grand Hotel du Levant, which is fully renovated inside. The view from the room is of the market place, where I capture some nougat to take home as a prize for my sons. Fog looms menacingly.



In Novi Ligure, we encounter our old adversary, the Italian automated gas pump. After losing 20€ to a mistaken pump grab, a kind Italian lady offers to buy our credit slip. Then, she makes the same mistake. Oh, Italy….


From NoviLigure, we get back on the Autostrada and head further south, eventually picking up the A10 west. We ride through the Italian soap and spice region and everything smells amazing. We stay on the highway until we exit for Monte Carlo, Monaco, which we visit prior to returning to Menton, France, the base point for the Route des Grand Alps. It is a heady ride, we stop at the Monte Carlo beach for a snack and try to find our way up to the palace. Monaco costs us time, but is fun, and crosses another country off the list, no matter how small it is. At this point, I come to the conclusion that my Garmin unit is not broken, but missing maps. Somehow, the set of maps called “Alps” by Garmin and NavTec does not include the Alps Maritimes. Crap.


We ride back to Menton on the D6007 coastal road, a road I know well from visiting my cousin who has lived in Menton for many years. It is fun to take the turns on a bike instead of fighting them in the car. We stop again in Menton for a proper meal. These old FIAT Pandas pop up everywhere. The Panda was the last car built with flat glass panes instead of modern curved ones and was resold under many nameplates, including SEAT Marabella. I pull out the big map of the Alps, a Freytag 1:500K tablecloth and begin marking up the overview maps I printed using I have seven segment printed, so I sort out what is missing and mark the appropriate ones with cities, passes, and road numbers.


From Menton, we start the climb of the Route des Grand Alps following the Route de Sospel. Sospel is a little hippy artsy town north of Menton and always makes me smile with the people one sees there. We continue on the D2566 north to Col de Turini.



Turini!! Highest point on the Rallye de Monte Carlo! Every bit as cool as it sounds, and slightly terrifying in the process. The road is poorly maintained and narrow, our first taste of what riding in France will largely be like. Far from the commercial passes of the north, the passes in France are more of afterthoughts. Think along the lines of Hey! We built a road over a mountain! How cool is that! Oh, look, those Swiss guys call the top of it a pass! Let’s do that, too! But we have nothing to carry over it except cows, so um, let’s not worry about maintenance. Those silly automated carriages are never going to be used here! All over France, we see what amounts to road ruin.


On the way up, we ride through a short tunnel that marks the Col de Castillon. To the left is Col de Braus, but is is getting late and we are unsure if there will be a hostel on the pass or not. There is, the Hotel les Trois Vallees, host of the aforementioned rallye and about one hundred other French driving events. The inside of the hotel is papered with rallye placards and photos of cars and drivers. It is a total rush to be there. Dinner is a welcome piece of salmon with rice and veggies. The room looks southeast, with a small balcony perfect for airing out boots and such. We are not the only riders there, a group of diverse bikes has shown up from Germany, seems like one of everything.