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Fasten your seatbelts it's going to be a fun ride

Friday, November 23, 2012

The cursed snow and rain

All through this trip there has been talk of Susa and the amazing gelato there by the boys but after lots of cold rain, we nixed the idea.
 We had a wet night in France but then proceeded through the Southeastern part (Rhone-Alpes) to get to Lake Maggiore in Switzerland and Como in Italy but not before riding through exceptional, high elevation flatland's with rolling emerald green fields and roaming livestock and dotted here and there with dense forests. This went into my top 5 rides ever. Thanks Dan!

I was so in love with the topography that I didn't stop once to take a darned photo but we did stop in a tiny town and have the weirdest donar kebab yet but in a lovely courtyard where two young boys looked up to no good.

As the day went by, we watched ominous clouds and then finally made it to a campsite called Gran Bosco that Dan and Danny have been to before. Max is the manager and was kind enough to let me stay in a friend's trailer because I was too cold to camp. He even hooked up the electricity and the blankets were so heavy I barely moved all night and enjoyed hearing the wind howl outside.

My home for the next 12 hours. 

Thought it worth mentioning the bathrooms we all know to use flip flops in public showers but honestly, 90% of the facilities we've used in the campsites were cleaner than most hotels I've stayed at.

So we woke up and with Max's help checked some webcams on the highest pass in Europe and it looked clear. Col de I'Iseran and the St Bernard and some other pass that escapes me now.

My favorite photo of the trip.

Not really, but this lake was beautiful.

Riding through these passes was scary as all heck. It was freezing. I had no heated grips. I was wearing summer gear and I have Raynaud's. I was screwed. My hands froze so completely that at one point we had to stop and warm my hands on Dan's headers. I burned my gloves but they were smoking enough before I burned my hands to stop in time.

I was so glad to be with them. Dan has been an excellent leader and all along this snow covered ride kept saying all the right things like "the tires are making good contact with the ground" that inspired confidence in me. We saw other miss-guided riders (they probably saw the same lying webcam we did and also decided to do the pass) and we eventually made it through and all I can say is NEVER AGAIN.

The last pass of the day.

Finally got back down to lower elevation and made it to our last camp site together on Lake Maggiore.

It was beautiful but those clouds looked ominous. Remember we are going on day 4 in the rain.

We took off from camp in the rain, and rode in the rain, all the way to Lake Como but thankfully the rain stopped just long enough for us to see Bellagio.

All of the hype of the beauty of this lake was an understatement. I was giddy with gratitude that we made it.

Our time together was coming to an end. This was the point that Adam was to ride with me back towards Serbia/Bulgaria but I was faced with doing it alone.
I coordinated with my Friend Fred who lives in Mulhouse France to meet in the Grindelwald, but we had a long hot tunnel (gotthard) to go through, and since all of us were cold and wet, we were happy for the 100+ degrees inside.

After that it was a turn off to take Sustenpass to Grindelwald and the boys kept going north back to Germany. I was scared to be on my own. It was far from the plan for me to be alone for the next 10 days and stupid really but what choice did I have.

If it wasn't freezing and snowing and raining, I would have been fine. Well I got all the way to the top of Sustenpass only to find it was closed. (Dan's maps made it look like a valley pass or I would have never tried) So what came next was 4+ hours of freezing rain all the way around to get to my destination that was only 30 mins away from the pass. Thank God I had Danny's GPS that they installed on my bike so I didn't get lost or spend too much time pouring over maps in freezing rain.

But when I say I am going to be somewhere, come freezing rain and snow...I'll be there. I arrived at the campsite and they didn't have cabins and I actually burst into tears. I was so cold. My friend wasn't there and I didn't know where to go.

I ended up down the street at a clean hostel that the campsite managers helped me get settled into and this was my home for a couple warm nights.

Fred walked in a couple hours later, a little wet and cold but not to bad and we went into town and had some excellent Aberlour 12 (we tried the 15 year and found the 12 to be more to our liking) then had fondue (with bacon) and turned in.

The next morning....I woke up to this! The North Face.

Oops,skipped something very important. Breakfast. All you an eat. Milk from happy cows. Water from the Eiger. Apples from the local orchards. (Dad, I ate an apple, don't fall out of your chair)

We decided to spend the $200 bucks and take the top of the world train ride through the North Face and this was worth every penny.

View of the glacier from the top.

And I thought I was cold the day before. My hair was blowing straight up.

Ice tunnels.

And sculptures.

Majestic views in every direction and the sun came through the clouds for a bit

I met Fred at a bar in San Francisco and what made our friendship stick was his 20 motorcycle collection that he casually mentioned. 

I also took on a stowaway and enjoyed some champagne before we made our way back down the mountain.

Went for lunch. Excellent asparagus cream soup.

And great sausage with mustard from a tube.

I said my goodbye to Fred and went back to the hostel for one last night of comfort before pushing on to Venice Italy.

I had some friends in Milan that I could have stayed with for a night (riders I met on my ride through Turkey) but decided to just push the freakin rain again)

I arrived at the campsite near Venice which was actually a mud hole from all the rain and got a nasty smelling little bungalow but some good pasta and went to sleep.

Took a bus into Venice the next day and started it off well with a pastry.

Cool doorbells here.

San Marcos square 

Loved these pink glass lights

Stopped for an overpriced lunch in an outside cafe where I asked for prosecco with a dash of limoncello in it (a big faux pas here in Italy) and found this pink pigeon.

My yucky 15 euro salad.

I found a store with smurfs! I collected these when I was a kid.

Lots of courtyards

Went back to the campsite, had dinner and prepared to leave the next day for Croatia. Yep, in the rain again...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Disaster with Big Red

Next stop Porto and a winding road that Dan found on best biker roads.

Stopped for lunch and had some weird food again.

We meandered through this gorgeous valley along the river. 

Back to Spain

Then disaster struck. The 3rd week did not start out easy....we did some highway in the morning to get to Northern Spain and just outside of Leon stopped for a lunch break. Excellent roasted chicken.

And a pasta/potato/I don't know what, salad

I felt an alarming wobble as we exited the freeway and entered town. I mentioned it to Dan and he did a test ride. Unfortunately the food tasted like sawdust because of my worry. It was Sunday and we really were in the middle of nowhere. Before I could blink, Dan had the rear wheel off as I flagged down a BMW rider going by.

He gave us the address and phone of a BMW dealership that rents bikes and we found it about an hour later. It's Sunday so of course everything is closed....and ADV is not being very helpful either as no one answered either frantic post about needing help in Leon Spain.

We figured that it was the bearing.

So the 3 of us, sit here in another campsite outside of the city waiting for the BMW dealership to open tomorrow, hoping and praying they have the parts we need. It's going to be a restless night.

The next day it was struggle with the language and sit/stand/pace and wait. At first the parts guy said another bearing would take 2-3 days but this very good mechanic started to take micrometer readings of the bearing and found a substitute part. Finally, they replaced the bearing and we were optimistic that everything was ok and it wasn't even noon yet.

Went back to camp. Put the wheel back on. Well, I did, and crossed my fingers hoping it was fixed. Rode 10 feet and felt the wobble worst now, so it was back to BMW.

This time, the problem was loose spokes. 

Turns out, over half of them were cracked.

BMW of Leon Spain was amazing. I had half the motorcycle mechanics constantly working on the bike, for the whole day.

The nearest place for Funduro rear wheel spokes is Madrid and I was minutes away from renting a car and driving there to get them when the manager of the BMW shop said, "you know, I just might have a funduro rear wheel at home". Then they took their 2 hour lunch and we waited with dread at the McDonalds down the street for them to return with the wheel or not. 

One reason why I am reluctant to "upgrade" to a new bike (I have a Tiger XC 800 here in San Francisco) is getting parts in remote places might be easier with a bike that was made for nearly 20 years in Europe. Turns out, my gamble was right. He did have the wheel.

He then proceeded to take the spokes off, one by one and put them on my wheel. This guy has to be an expert to do this in the first place.

A happy ending to a tumultous 2 days in Leon Spain. Big Red fixed by this whole group in ONE day.

Now there is something that Dan had that merits special mention. Dunkin Donuts drip coffee! Every morning, he was nice enough to share this precious brew with me. 

We took off the next morning, so grateful to be on the road and came across this crazy Spaniard who shared special basque bread with us and excitidely explained our route coming up was prime motorcycling road. 

We stopped for lunch up in the mountains in this quaint town.

Then on to Bilbao Spain for the Guggenheim museum (from the outside)

What comes up next was camping hell. We took freeways (again) to get to Biarritz where I remembered a quaint surfer town and excellent regional food....only to find it a major summer vacation spot with 4 massive, overcrowded camp sites packed one on top of each other. It was miserable. It was loud and on top of that they were doing some strange weekly bingo competition. I did my best to get some food and get to sleep. Fortunately we were at the back of the site but far away from the bathrooms.

The next morning when I was walking back to camp to get ready to go....I came along a small boy of 5 playing a game of badminton with a girl and they stopped and watched me walk towards them. As I came near, I asked if he wanted me to play and smiled. He glared at me and said "No! I want you to get out of our way!" Wow. They sure train the snootiness early here. Time to go.

We then rode along Southern France towards Italy and stopped at a grocery store to get some food (I picked up a croque monsieur) and some small cans of Foie Gras. Still had not seen a farm along our route and didn't want to come back to California without a supply. 

Now keep in mind, every bump I hit, every tiny wobble I felt on Big Red had my stomach in knots. I was so scared the bike would break down again. But with each mile I felt less worried and started to enjoy myself again and just then we turned a corner and there it was, a small, regional foie gras farm!

Last stop today. Millau France for the highest bridge!

The camp sites here were a bit like we'd experienced in Biarritz and I eventually figured out the best way to get a quiet one. Look for a sign that says "quiet" and make sure the place doesn't have a pool.

Decided to take the boys for a fancy meal at the restaurant to thank them for being so supportive and understanding through our Leon ordeal and had probably the worst meal ever for about 80 euros. 

I decided to have duck. It was overcooked. The deep fried cheese under-cooked and the ambiance was excellent.

Our camp spot was next to a couple from Denmark and some hungry and friendly ducks.

That night, a thunderstorm came and let me tell you that I was amazed that my summer, hot weather REI tent survived. I was also grateful for my Ultralight Cot because the wind and rain was so violent that water was just about everywhere inside my tent but at least I was dry.

I laid there counting the distance for the lightening until finally....BAAM!, Right next to us. I actually squealed it frightened me so much. I fell asleep out of fear and exhaustion around 2am and woke up shortly after that dreaming that a snake had made its way into my tent and was curled up against my back and laying across my middle. As I groggily woke up, paralyzed with fear, I barely squeaked Dan's name hoping he would come to my rescue. I then realized that it was my arm that was asleep across my middle and not a snake.

This was the first day of rain of what didn't let up until my last couple of days, nearly 10 days of it in fact....