Today was a very tough day
|Travel From||–||Bolzano, Italy|
|Intermediate Location||–||Stelvio Pass, Italy|
|Ending Location||–||Zurich, Switzerland|
|Miles Driven Today||–||257 Miles|
|Total Trip Mileage||–||3645 Miles|
|Countries visited Today||–||Switzerland|
|Countries visited on trip||US, Canada, UK, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland|
Today, I rode a total of 257 miles, over an 11 hour day. Logging only 23 miles/hour on average. That’s a very slow pace indeed. Over almost the entire duration of today’s ride, I suffered with rain, fog, switchbacks, road closures, and map problems.
As I get in to the details of today’s ride, you’ll see what the issues were, but suffice it to say that this was one of the toughest riding days I’ve experienced. The weather was relentless, and because of the heavy rains, many of the passes were closed due to weather, or closed due to mud and rock slides that occurred overnight. But, more on this later.
I got up at about 5:30 so that I could work on the route, and double-check the maps, looking for likely problems, and to see what fail-safes, or back-doors I could come up with, in the event that the GPS went haywire again.
Looking at my destination (Zurich), and looking at the routes that I had already planned, it was clear to me that the weather was going to be today’s demon, and that I would need to make a deal with this devil or suffer the consequences. Looking at the map, I decided to eliminate the second pass that I was scheduled to cross. Instead, I planned on exiting the primary road for the Stelvio Pass, at the top of the mountain, just before I entered Switzerland. This decision would cause me to travel across a different pass, which was likely to be more tame, shorter, and would put me in the direction of Santa Maria, a town that is generally in the right direction.
So, I took notes on all of the general landmarks and cities/towns that I would need to navigate to, and entered it on my phone, for easy access. If I found myself lost, I’d be able to look for city direction signs, highway signs, or other things, in essence, navigating using old school methods.
The Stelvio Pass
You’ve heard me say that the Stelvio Pass, or Pasio Stelvio as it known, is likely the most famous motorcycle road in all of the world. The pass is about 9 miles long, and while it is theoretically supports 2 lanes of traffic, you have to understand that there are 48 switchbacks on the ascent side, and maybe as many as 40 more on the descent side of the pass. Each switchback is about 180 degrees, with about a 15% grade as you transition directions. All of the switchbacks are blind turns, and this route is frequented by buses, who take up the entire turn when they are proceeding through a switchback. So, when you navigate the turn, you have to maintain momentum, turn the bike around a blind turn, avoid oncoming traffic, straighten up the bike, and send it up the hill, towards the next switchback.
Motorcyclists generally love this road because between the hairpins, there is a seemingly endless run of left and right sweeping turns, which are a whole lot of fun on a warm, sunny day. However, today was not a warm, sunny day. Today was a cold, dreary, foggy, rainy day, and between the raindrops on my visor, the fog reducing my visibility, and the humidity fogging up my visor completely, it was an alarmingly risky endeavor to say the least.
In fact, later on in the day, I came upon some stopped traffic, and discovered that a rider had been involved in a head-on collision with a car. I saw that all of his/her buddies were helping to direct traffic, and provide aid and comfort to their friend. But, by the time I arrived, an ambulance was on the scene, and the police were in route.
So, my ride up the Stelvio was treacherous, but at the same time, I could not help but feel a sense of accomplishment as I, and hundreds of other riders did their best to stay safe, and make it to the top.
Here’s a view from the helmet cam. As you watch, you’ll notice that I’m looking past the apex of the turn, as soon as I can get my head turned around. So, I enter the switchback, before I even make the turn-in, I rotate my head and look further up the road.
To a motorcyclist, these words are expected, but to anyone who’s not building their driving skills, you probably never think about it.
I eventually arrived at the top, exhausted, wet to the core, cold, and confused about which way to go. You’d be surprised how busy the top of this mountain is. There are usually as many as 50 bikes parked all over the place, taking pictures, getting food, asking directions, etc.
More new friends
I pulled over into a parking lot, where some other bikers were congregating, and wandered over to a gift shop to buy a Stelvio Pass sticker for my Panniers. I came back to my bike to find two guys looking at it, pointing at the license plate. They stared asking questions, and so did I. After they started to tell me their story, I thought that I’d get it on tape. So, enjoy, these two guys are characters.
Getting to Switzerland
After talking with these guys, it was time to get moving, and get on with the program. So, I stopped and asked the Bratwurst guy how to get to Zurich. Now, he might be “Just the bratwurst guy”, but I found him to be one of the most well-spoken, intelligent, and worldly folks on the mountain. He asked me where I was going, I said Zurich, and he started rattling off options.
To be honest, my objective was to get to Zurich without having to ride through another mountain pass. These things are really dangerous in the rain, and I have too much at stake to risk my entire trip, just to say that I did another mountain pass. So, he laid out a plan, I wrote it on my iPhone, waved goodbye, and headed down the mountain towards Bormio.
At this point, try to understand that all of the failsafes and backdoors that I had written down on my phone, were no longer possible, due to the closure of one of the passes. But, much of what I learned when planning the alternate route would be helpful when I tried to imagine the route to Zurich, escaping the mountains.
This might, or it might not surprise you, but the path down the mountain to Bormio is also riddled with switchbacks, fog, rain, cold, and buses. So, it looked a lot like the Stelvio pass itself, albeit a bit less aggressive overall.
When you get to the point where you are about 2K from the city center of Bormio, you must turn right, and head towards Livigno, which (spoiler alert) requires that you ride yet another mountain pass. And so it went. Each progression forward, toward my goal of reaching Zurich, caused me to have to deal with more fog, more rain, more mountain passes, more switchbacks, more buses, etc. After a while, it simply became overwhelming.
By about 2PM, I had only logged about 110 miles, and I was at risk of being stuck in the mountains after dark. And, the idea of being in these mountains, in the dark, with the rain and the fog was too much to bear. So, I simply put the bit between my teeth, and did whatever was necessary to keep moving.
Foggy Visor / Help, I can’t see a thing
It’s hard to imagine that the relative humidity could rise any more than what it is when there is rain, but the humidity had gone up, and in addition to the rain obsuring my visibility, the humidity was causing my visor to fog up, if, or when I did any mouth breathing at all. So, I tried to breath sparingly, but no matter what I tried, the visor would fog, causing me to lose visibility, and become unstable. At this point, I had to raise the visor simply to be able to maintain my balance. Raising the visor caused me to be pelted by the pins and needles of the rain. And, to make matters worse, because the visor was no up, the rain was able to cover my sunglasses, making them impossible to see through.
Each time this happened, I would pull over, find some place to dissemble my helmet, clean the visor, re-apply rain repellent, wipe the humidity from the inside of the visor, reassemble the helmet, and get going again. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes I needed to do this every 10 minutes, sometimes I could survive 25 minutes.
I only have summer riding gear
Part of the problem with how I’m able to manage the temperatures is that I have only summer riding gear. There was simply not enough room to carry any more gear, and so, considering I was expecting to see heat waves everywhere I rode, I worried very little about the cold, but packed my gear so that I could better manage the heat. And so, now I’m realizing that I should have really spent more time thinking about all of the variations, and perhaps packing some more gear, for these colder days.
And then the cold took a bite out of me
I continued to repeat this same process, but by about 3PM, the temperate had dropped in these higher elevations, and at one point, the temp was at 48 degrees F. Now, 48 is not super cold, but when you’re wet, riding, and the relentless wind is coming from all sides, your body temp starts to drop. By 4PM, I thought I could feel hypothermia presenting itself. I was cold, shivering, with blue hands, and a headache. Yep, that’s hypothermia knocking at my front door.
So, now, in addition to cleaning the visor, etc, I was taking in coffee, and other drinks, to try to raise my body temp. At 4:30, I stopped at a little gas station, and was able to get some really great directions, and some good news. I was told that I’m only about 40 k from an actual highway. So, I took off like a bullet, and about 45 minutes later, I came upon a proper motorway. The time was now about 5:30 or so, and I was still 75 miles from Zurich.
I rode like the wind, with the rain coming and going, but to be honest, I almost didn’t care. Because I was always moving, the visor was no longer fogging up, so I had only to deal with the reduced visibility from the rain, which seemed like a welcome change from all of the other shit.
Zurich, here I come
I rode the last 75 miles like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But, with about 60 miles to go, my GPS screen went blank. It seems that I’m beginning to understand exactly which maps are corrupted, and which ways they are corrupted. So, with my GPS compromised, I rode using highway markers, and exit signs. I got to Zurich by following the signs, and when I was 15 miles from the BnB, the corrupted portion of the map was behind me, and a good map tile was now visible. So, I was able to navigate right to the Air BnB, no problem, easy-peasy.
With 3 miles to go, I stopped to fill my tank with gas, so I had one less thing to do tomorrow morning. Now, if you’ve never been to a gas station in Europe, you’ll be surprised to find out that they all sell beer, food, and usually cappuccino, etc. Think of these places like a Quick Trip, only better.
While at the gas station, I met these two, very nice girls, who were really helpful. I said I needed a beer, and wanted a Pilsner, but did not see one. They discussed, and were unsure of what to do, so they asked their friend. His name was Beat, and he made me a recommendation for my 2nd beer choice.
I never miss a beat
I left the store and headed to the bike, and there was Beat, with a big smile, and a curious look. He said, “would it be OK if I take a picture, none of my friends will believe that I met a guy with a bike from South Carolina”. I said, sure, of course. And then, I asked Beat for a picture, which is something that I have been doing more and more, and which is a pretty great way of meeting new people, and remembering the trip.
PICTURE OF BEAT
What will tomorrow bring
Well, tomorrow is only a 190 mile day, but it’s got a few mountain passes, and I’ve given up trying to predict how they’ll turn out. Hopefully, I’ll get some nice weather, and be able to enjoy the passes, but we’ll see.
Hey Gang, it’s 9:00 PM and I’m completely wiped out. So, I’ll have to come back and insert the video and pictures tomorrow, or over the weekend. I’m sorry to say that focusing on staying alive for 11 hours today has used ip all of my energy, and I’m knackered.
Wow, what a day!! I’m sure glad you were able to keep the rubber side down and arrive safely at your destination!
As I followed numerous other riders, making their way up the mountain, you could see the variety in the level of skill, and confidence with these riders. I watched numerous riders make errors in the switchbasks, and I am not claiming to be perfect, but I remained calm, made no mistakes, but had to maintain a very high level of focus. As Dave Parker said, every road in Italy is a test of manhood.
Cliff, thanks for posting your adventures.
Whew, what a day! I feel your pain.
Stay safe (you can’t be too safe
Thanks for the support. And yes, it was a tough day, but today’s ride was awesome. You’ll see all about it today’s post.
Are you able to relax? Does this feel like a vacation? Because it doesn’t sound like a vacation? Just curious if its all about the goal or if its supposed to be a vacation. Sorry to use that word 3x. But its my favorite word. Stay safe please xo
Your questions were so thought-provoking, I decided to dedicate part of today’s post to you.
That was a tough day Cliff. Thanks for posting the details for all of us. Glad to hear you made it in one piece!
I really thought hard about how much of my internal despair I wanted to share with everyone. In the end, I thought, I need to tell the story, and let everyone know that it’s not always rainbows and unicorns. So, what you saw is the raw, emotion-filled thoughts, while I was still incoherent from the ride.
There was no video..and no picture of Beat. But the blog is still very cool…
Lee, for goodness sake, I was in a coma. I inserted place-holders, and promised to fill in the missing pieces on Thursday, which is today. So, I promise I’ll add the videos, pictures, etc.
Stay Focused big guy! I need you back in one piece to ride with here!
Right, check, gotcha.
Don’t worry, I’ll stay calm, and make sure that I get back in one piece.
Stay safe Cliff! I, and other riders as well, can relate to many of your comments, perhaps without the severity of those switchbacks. But then again, have you ever ridden a mule down into the Grand Canyon? No guardrails, no stone walls, just eternity literally inches away sometimes 🙂
Bill (Motorcycles of Charlotte)
now with Mark’s new purchase
Bill (Motorcycles of Greensboro
What a day! Going over steep mountain passes in a SUV on a clear day was harrowing enough for me. Here’s wishing you sunny skies and happy trails tomorrow. Stay safe. We love you!
I keep wishing for clear skies, but it seems that in Europe, it rains every day. Time to get used to it, and move on, right?
Even though I don’t leave a comment every time, I always read your daily events. The video up the pass was awesome. I felt your pain, though, driving through all that bad weather. Take care. Read you tomorrow.Had a great dinner at Ralphs, Janice included, We really had a fun, sometimes hilarious time!!
Thanks for the support. I’m always thinking of all of you as I ride, and wonder silently, how all of this will be received by folks who don’t ride.
It was great to talk with you last week. Glad you enjoyed the video.
Hmmm, I do seem to recall that you and I had a conversation about cold-weather gear. So knowing the mountains as only ranger Ralph can do I am not surprised at what you had to encounter. I am glad that you survived it well and truly had a big time adventure. And yes I also would consider that to be a real vacation event
Yes Ralph, as you point out, this is just one more example of your insight, and the fact that I should have listened. Maybe, some day, I’ll learn.