2007 Motor Bike Ride through the Dolomiten in the Italian Alps

 

 

Like in the previous summer, I got a chance to spend a two week vacation in Europe again in the second half of July. One of the highlights of last year has been the motorcycle ride through the Dolomiten. So it was only natural to consider a repeat trip, this time with my girlfriend Jill.

As for the logistics, I had considered a different bike compared to last year so as to optimize the experience for Jill. The background here is that she had had an uncomfortable experience on our last ride down to Key West in early March on a Harley Davidson Softtail (mostly because there was no back rest).

As a result, the next bike ride would have to be with back rest! As last year, I contacted BMW dealership and Autohaus Kaufmann in Kaprun again, asking for a comfortable cruising bike, such as the (fairly monstrous) K 1200 LT. Weather-wise, the best day was going to be Thursday, July 26. Unfortunately, the LT was already booked for that day. So we waited until Friday, and eventually ended up still not getting the LT as it’s rental had been extended (someone was having too much fun on it…) So we switched back to the R 1200 GS as I had rode it last year and felt very comfortable on it. Here you can compare the two bikes side by side (LT left, GS right).

 

 

Friday, July 27, 2007

I get up early to pick up the bike at the dealership in the morning and then drive back to my Aunt Rosi’s house to pick up Jill for the day trip.

The rental agreement includes insurance for the bike as well as helmets, jackets and gloves. We are all smiles when my cousin takes this picture of our departure in Stuhlfelden near Zell am See.

The first destination is the Grossglockner-Hochalpenstrasse, which I have also crossed on the bicycle in 2004 (see trip report) as well as in last year’s trip with Frank. It is Austria’s highest mountain pass, and no matter how often you ride over it, it’s always magnificent scenery.

First stop: Edelweiss-Spitze at 2570m (almost 2000m higher than Kaprun).

Up here it is nice and cool; however, there are already a few clouds covering the higher peaks and even this mountain top. So we don’t linger too long on this peak, which according to the guide book offers a view of no less than 37 peaks higher than 3000m (on a clearer day than today)! We continue to the highest point of the pass road near the Hochtor.

This view brings back many memories of previous adventures, whether it’s on the motorcycle, the bicycle or even hiking the ridge line back in 1986…

After crossing over the highest point we detour to the famous Franz-Joseph’s Hoehe, where you can view and even walk down to the Pasterze glacier. Like last year, when I visited this place with my son and my mother, the sight from this place can’t compare with that of photos from several decades ago, when the glacier was much more massive than it is today:

 

As we continue our tour, we decide to stop at a small restaurant called Kasereck with a lovely view above the little village of Heiligenblut. Interestingly, the weather is such that when the sun comes out, it’s intense radiation makes it too hot for the jacket, but in the shade the cool breeze sends chills down our spine.

We continue on down South towards warmer and sunnier regions of the Italian Alps. In fact, only little later, when crossing the town of Lienz in slow traffic, we find ourselves in almost unbearable heat of 32C (91F). With patience – and a powerful engine – we quickly reach somewhat cooler terrain which brings us right into the heart of the Dolomiten near Cortina d’Ampezzo. First we stop for a drink at the “Dreizinnen-Blick”, the view of the famous towers of the Tre Cime, a rock climbing legend with its near vertical North Faces.

As so often, I wish I had taken more pictures of the next part of the ride, passing through Cortina and then crossing the Falzarego-Pass (2117m) West-wards towards the little mountain village of Arabba. Due to the heat and ealry afternoon we both have to confront our fatigue and decide to stop again.

We find a lovely little place just above the main road which offers some reprieve from the heat and a nice view at the same time. We enjoy some coffee and cake. In moments like this it is good to reflect back and let the contrast sink in to the hectic everyday life of the office and other chores back home – life is good J

½ hour later we’re in the saddle again and start looking for a gas station to refuel our BMW. To my surprise we don’t find any gas station in all of Arabba – a reminder of the fact that we are surrounded by mountains and passes. On the next ascent to the Pordoi-Joch we decide to take a few pictures. Getting off the bike to take pictures takes time, but it’s always worth it.

Shortly thereafter we are on top of the Pordoi-Joch (2239m) and enjoy marvellous views of the surrounding rock formations of the Sella-Gruppe. The interplay of bright sunlight and dark clouds creates a unique experience up here in the clear mountain air. It would be nice to stop for 2 hrs or so and take the lift up to the summit ridge of Piz Boe (3151m) – base and mountaintop visible right behind the BMW headlight in this picture.

But we continue on down to the town of Canazei, where we find a gasstation amidst the typically chaotic traffic of a small Italian village. Just as we’re refueling, a tanker truck maneuvers into the gasstation in such tight quarters that you just ask yourself which part of the roof will come down first – but somehow they manage to get in with less than an inch to spare. (It would be hard to explicitely design it to fit so tightly.)

We’re getting out of there to escape the intense heat of the lower valleys again. One long backup behind a slow climbing and diesel-cloud exhausting bus is quickly passed on the way up the Sella-Pass so we can enjoy the crisp views of the surrounding mountains again, in particular the Marmolada (highest mountain of the Dolomiten range).

Turning around 180° from the same spot, we can see the well-known three towers of the Langkofel near the Sella-Pass.

Again, so many memories to this place, be it while skiing the steep coloir between the towers or hanggliding above them. (I wish back then we already would have had digital cameras, woul dhave made it a lot easier to include some pictures from 20 years ago or so…)

Another view towards the North-West into the Groedner-Tal shows the typical Dolomiten landscape with lush green meadows and the rocky towers above.

We hardly descend down to the valley, when we follow the road again climbing up to the Groedner-Joch, which provides the most beautiful late afternoon mood with warm sunlight and meadows with picturesque wildflowers. I feel we could go on like this forever…

At the bottom we reach the village of Corvara, home of skiing worldcup next winter. We also watch some hanggliding pilots playing in the evening thermals, some on the ground, two more high up in the air above the mountain peaks. How nice it would be to be up there now, what a view…

Compared to the highlights in the mountains we face a less interesting road ahead back to Bruneck and then ultimately back to Austria and via the Felbertauern Tunnel back to Mittersill and later Zell am See. However we have one more highlight – via the Antholzer valley to the Staller Sattel and then up to the Italian-Austrian border. The pass road is a one-way which you can only enter between the half hour and 45 mins to the hour. Given those time constraints, Jill and I stop at the beginning of the Antholzer valley at a restaurant and enjoy the last rays of sun with a cool, refreshing apple juice.

20 mins later we’re on the bike again and ride up the valley. I knew from last year that the road up the valley is very straight and allows fairly high speeds. I also remember that last year, Frank almost engaged in some kind of race with a car driven by a local who drove up this valley at speeds topping 160 km/h (100mph). Frank reported that he had trouble keeping up with the car, which is unusual on a big motorcycle. Interestingly, we’re also passed by one car at very high speeds – maybe that’s the local sport here to beat the local best time up the valley on the evening commute from work? Anyway, we’re not in a terrible hurry, and so I can safely report that we were passed by at least one car that day…

The actual pass road is a one-lane road winding up through the forest. It seems a bit surreal riding up here on a perfectly well paved small road through what seemed like a fairytale forest in the warm evening light – we’re literally the only people driving up here this late and it feels as if we have the entire place to ourselves. A great moment!

Topping out at the pass I stop to take a quick picture looking back to the border.

From here it’s a long drive out East down the Defereggental until we can connect to the big road up North to the Felbertauern-Tunnel. We enter the tunnel at 8:20pm as daylight starts to fade. Exiting on the North-side, we are greeted to a light sprinkle of rain. In less than 15 mins we are at home at Rosi’s home again. We’re happy to have spent this day in the Dolomiten. It was Jill’s first day ever in the Dolomiten – what a way to get introduced to what I think is one of the most spectacular sceneries in the Alps! I have a feeling it won’t be her last day…