How I Rode 290 km and Got Nowhere!

Alternative Title: I Rode the Stelvio Pass and Only Toppled Over Twice!

I remember a day on my first long distance motorcycle trip that seemed to be epic. I had ridden with my friend, John, along the Alaskan Highway and we were on our way to Dawson Yukon. We saw so much that day, excellent scenery, tonnes of Bears and interesting people. Plus the road had been amazing as well. The stars seemed to align as well as friends of ours had also completed their first Friday the 13th Port Dover ride and were ranting about it on Facebook. Some days just do that, they have everyone excited for sometimes similar if not the same reasons.

I am probably going to have a hard time putting today’s experience into the collection of stories for a while but I know I won’t forget it (and to my friends I apologize if in the years to come I keep bringing it up). I think to start I am going to just show you two pictures:

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The elevation profile from my motorbike GPS

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End of the Stelvio Pass from the Italian Side

The Stelvio Pass is an incredibly high (Wikipedia puts at the highest in the Eastern Alps) mountain pass. It heads directly through the Parco Nazionale Dello Stelvio in Northern Italy past the town of Stelvio and towards the Swiss border. It is an amazing road that was first constructed over 150 years ago and has been maintained ever since. For most people though it is well known more recently as a destination of the show Top Gear and it was from this that I first heard about it.

When I decided to come with my bike this was a definite destination. I knew that no one was going to close off the road and fly helicopters over to film me as I belted up and down it but it was still worth coming to see what it was like.

So this morning I got breakfast early, headed off to get a tank of gas and set the GPS for the other side of the border so that I could head up the Italian side and loop back to Gasthaus Waldheim for the afternoon / evening. I am getting used to the lies that my Garmin tells me. The trip out to Stelvio was only supposed to take about 1.5 hours but the computer assumes that at every chance you will be going the speed limit. An obviously North American assumption as I dare anyone from Garmin to maintain 100 km/hr on the roads that they were telling me to take. Leaving at 10 am I was able to get to the town of Stelvio around 2 pm in the afternoon which is something like 150 km away from where I started.

The pass itself is incredible but it is also the result of its fame, and on a Saturday, one of the first warm clear days in a while it was packed. Cars, motorbikes and motorhomes were going up and down this thing probably all day. If it was only one type of vehicle it would be fine but each has its own challenges. Cars and motorhomes need tonnes of space while bikes just need for things to keep moving. The hairpin turns are intense, on the bike I would be as slow as I possibly could to get around without falling over and still be using up the entire road.

Early in the climb I was following a nice little car that I assumed would clear the way but as it turns out this was my downfall. We rounded a left hand turn and he came to a dead stop. I was still in the turn had to hit the breaks. Unfortunately all of the turns are banked and so my lifeline foot (the left) was left pawing the air and slowly over I went. Bikes are not meant to be laying sideways on the ground but as long as they didn’t slide to that position there usually isn’t damage. This time I did break the end of my clutch leaver but if that is all then no worries!

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Cheap plastic leavers! Will have to get a better set when I get home.

One great thing that happens in places like this is that motorcyclists are always around to help pick up a bike and so with a little help I was off heading up the hill once more. My second incident I think I will claim responsibility for. Same sort of thing but this time as I was coming around the turn a motorhome had stopped at the very exit where I needed to be to complete mine. Instead of maybe leaning the bike over a little more and keeping the gas on which I would guess would be the better option I did the wrong thing and hit the brakes. Again, foot pawed the air looking for ground which it never found.

A few years ago I had a crash that was much more serious at the very north end of the James Bay Road. It caused me no harm (as is the same story today) but did damage to the cases and frame that holds them onto my bike. I needed to have things welded back together to make it home and the entire luggage frame, one side case and some plastic fairing needed to be replaced. At the time I was very upset but my friend John (who I went to Alaska with) wrote this on my Facebook page and it really put things into context for me. “ Some may disagree with the “eventful” part, but that’s what makes it interesting and exciting! What everyone can agree with is, your home safe and sound…. With a bunch of exciting stories to share! Welcome home buddy!” I have always really appreciated him for that, it has how I have continued to look at my travels.

Today, I have stories of slight embarrassment but also of 4 amazing mountain passes that I rode over in the Alps… how can you beat that!

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