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Tuesday, September 28, 2004: I pass the final test for the motorcycle license.
Thursday, September 30, 2004: I fetch my first motorcycle from the shop and take it on a 200km trip home (which is more like 50km with the cage).
Sunday, October 3, 2004: after I drop the kids at my ex wife's place at 17:00, I set out for a 750km ride to Southern Germany (Meersburg at the Bodensee/Lake Konstanz to be precise), were I will stay with friends and do some mountain touring for the week. Some people call me crazy...

Sunday: Autobahn, autobahn, autobahn

RT stands for 'Reise Touring', or 'Travel Touring' in english. As it was 5 o'clock when I left, I decide to test the 'Travel' bit a bit and open the throttle as soon as I enter Germany. I have no idea how it would feel to ride for longer times, so I planned to do at least 3-4 hours and then decide to either stop for the night or press on. One big advantage was that I used to live were I am going, and my parents-in-law live near where I am currently living, so I am intimately familiar with the route.

As it turns out, riding on the RT is in some ways less fatiguing than driving in a cage. My theory is that when riding, mind and body are in agreement that works needs to be done; when driving, the body is relaxed and the mind not and this somehow creates friction - the mind wants to follow the body but can't and therefore starts acting up. Anyway, at my 'go/no-go' point I feel really fresh, I calculate I can make it around midnight and so I ride on.

The trip is uneventful - 160km/h on the Autobahn in the dark. In a traffic jam, I manage to accidentally hit the kill switch which costs me some time to find out; and when I leave the highway, I quickly find out that a) my headlight is pointing too low, and b) that this doesn't fare well in combinations with dark roads, curves, and still being used to Autobahn speeds. After some adrenaline rushes caused by nearly leaving some curves too early, I decide to go a bit under the speed limit and at half past twelve I open a well deserved beer at my host's place.

Monday: take it easy

I take it easy, yesterday was enough, and just ride backroads in the neighbourhood for a couple of hours. As it turns out, Southern Germany is great riding country - lots of quiet small roads, all in good condition. After some fun around my host's town, I take the ferry over to Konstanz and visit an old colleague. We chat a bit and then I ride back the absolutely beautiful route along the lake.

Tuesday: Andermatt!

This is what I came for - I get up, put on my gear, ride to the ferry and on the other side I take the Swiss highway (illegally because I don't feel like paying 35 Swiss Francs for the 'Autobahnvignette' just for one day ;-)) and get myself to the Andermatt area as quickly as possible. Around Andermatt there are 6 beautiful passes, all connected together. I decide to take the Susenpass up and down, then up to the Grimslpass, down into Valais and up to the Nufenenpass and from there down into Ticino, up along the St Gotthard, and back home. The plan is to have a picture of me+motorcycle shot on every pass, and photoshop a nice greeting card from that for the riding school, who did an absolutely great job in getting me ready for this.

So, before Andermatt I turn right up to the Susenpass. After the first couple of curves I get cold shivers up and down my spine from excitement - this is just like uphill downhill skiing, but lots more fun! The Susenpass has only a couple of hairpins going up, most of the curves are gentle which results in me going up faster than I should (both from a skills point of view and from an admiring-the-breathtaking-views point of view). Before I know it, and way faster than I ever did with a cage, I'm on top. Immediately a german guy walks to me pointing to his R100RT, we say hi, I have someone take my picture, and after a snack and a drink it's downhill again. Ouch - taking a bike downhill is HARD and not nearly as much fun. Oh well, three more passes to go so I'll still have plenty of the going up bit...

Down in the valley I turn left and ride up the Grimslpass. This pass takes you across a system of reservoirs for electricity generation you see in more places in the alps, draped around it is a really beautiful landscape. The Grimslpass has more hairpins, so in order to admire the landscape I take a couple of stops - very short ones, because I'm having too much fun riding. On top it's even busier with bikers than the previous one, so I have the mugshot I need quickly enough. Down it goes again, this time quite a bit steeper than the previous pass but very broad roads and not much (4 wheel) traffic.

Usually, in Gletsch, you turn left and go up the Furkapass which is the highest one in Switzerland and sports access to the Rhone glacier (they built a footpath to the glacier and made an ice cave - quite unique to be able to walk inside a glacier and I can tell you in Summer it's quite refreshing). I've seen the glacier bit and the accompanying tourism often enough, so I complete the descent into Valais. A simple valley road allows me and the motorcycle to rest a little, until we turn left and approach the Nufenenpass.

The Nufenen is not as high (if memory serves, a whole 7 meters lower!) but nice to ride because there's a lot less traffic. A strong fohn headwind (the main reason that it's 25 centigrade so I just accept the wind) and small mountain roads require concentrated driving. On top of the pass a beautiful landscape unfolds (it's there were I have taken the picture of my Beemer that features on my bike's page. I think I made an enemy there, because I managed to ride through fresh concrete when looking for a parking spot - the guy's fault, just a couple of empty beer crates don't really serve as sufficient warning. After the obligatory "look how high I am shot", I ride down to Ticino, the Italian speaking canton.

It's funny - you're still in Switzerland, but the people look different, the villages look different, everything looks like Italy all of a sudden. The houses are plastered instead of wood, etcetera. Anyway, no time today to drive on to one of my favorite places in Ticino (Locarno and Ascona), before I know it (and much too early) I have to leave for the St.Gotthard pass.

I take the old pass, which is really old road. Only the corners have asphalt, the rest is brick. Long time no see, brick road. Glad it doesn't rain :-). You can see that there is a tunnel at the pass top - hardly anyone there. It's always funny to know that you are somehow standing on a tunnel. Anyway, no-one around to operate the camera, so I put it on the ground and use the self-timer. The result is ok so off I go to Andermatt.

At Andermatt, I decide I don't feel like highway driving (mostly because the highway route leads straight through Zurich and I hate that bit), so I take the Nationalstrasse in the direction of Zug. This leads along the Vierwaldstaettersee, which is one of the most beautiful lakes in Switzerland. At the end, I follow the signs to Rapperswil, and traffic is getting heavier all the time; in Rapperswil this results in a real traffic jam on a narrow road which means I have to put up with mixing in with cagers. On the dam across the lake I finally have the chance to do some overtaking, but at the other side of the lake it's the same story. Another 5 km of heavy traffic and I decide to drive north on secundary roads; I know from when I worked in Switzerland that to the north, the 'nationalstrassen' are even heavier crowded. So, until I land in known territory near Kreuzlingen I spend my time having fun on well-paved but quiet secondary roads, stopping at every major crossing to consult the map on my tank bag (boy, am I glad I bought a tank bag!). A bit later than planned I hit the ferry where I fill myself up with water - it's been some time since I was that thirsty, but 25 to 26 centigrade and dry fohn air makes that I have a hard time not buying a large beer on the ferry (no drinking while riding for me!).

500km through Switzerland, mission accomplished: I have the necessary pictures for the greeting card. I can now relax during the rest of my stay ;-)

Wednesday: Bregenzer Wald

The only day my host (and friend and former colleague) has time to go riding. He blows the dust of his Transalp and discovers the battery is dead - luckily he lives on a hill so we can push-start it. Later on, we discover that either the battery is really dead or that something else is wrong, because the battery won't charge and the engine runs erratically when he uses power for e.g. headlights. During the day, I cannot help nagging him about the performance of his relatively new Honda compared to my old Beemer ;-).

The plan is to ride eastwards to Bavaria, take the Deutsche Alpenstrasse and then go south into the Bregenzerwald, down to Montafon, over the Silvretta to Landeck, and then through Lech and Zuers back home.

When I lived at the Bodensee, the Bundesstrasse 31 was a horror going through every town at the lake. Luckily, they have built a new road away from the lake and its crowded shores, so after Friedrichshafen we make good speed and quickly find ourselves at the foot of the Alps. The Deutsche Alpenstrasse is as beautiful a ride as my friend promised - to the left, you have typical hilly German countryside, and to the right you see mountains rise up to the skies. The road itself is nice riding - well paved, and it has everything from hairpins to some very long curves we take with an enthousiasm that a local police officer would probably reward with a hefty fine. I do notice a lot of things about my friend's riding style - it is the first time I'm not riding alone, and if I compare my style to his it immediately becomes clear that I indeed learnt a lot more from my instructor than just the tricks necessary to get the license.

Sooner than I'd like we leave the Alpenstrasse but this is made up for going into the Bregenzerwald; I used to go skiing there most weekends, so the roads are familiar and most of them well-paved. To make up for my not taking the Furkapass in Switzerland, we ride up to the Furkajoch in Austria (a tad lower ;-)) and have our morning coffee there. When a troop of older guys on expensive machines with Zurich license plates (bankers having a short holiday break?) we decide to go down again, taking the same road because continuing would lead us to the Rhine valley which is too flat for our purposes.

We stay down in the valleys riding to Bludenz and then into the beautiful Montafon - as it often goes, a place of the world so nice that you wonder why not more tourists have found it (and at the same time, you're glad they didn't). It is a nice relaxing ride to the foot of the Silvretta Hochalpstrasse, where we have to pay because it is a private road, built and owned by the electricity company that runs the water-driven power plant there. My friend decides to take a relaxed ride up, but I'm all in for really trying the Beemer in the 23 hairpins to the top. We agree to meet in a specific Huette near the top and off I am - speeding up to 90-100km/h every straight, full brake, hairpin, accelerating... 23 turns aren't just enough fun :-).

After lunch in the Huette we continue our way but past the top we take a left exit which leads to a reservoir off the main road. It is absolutely beautiful there and I make a mental note that next Autumn, I'll go there for a full day of picture shooting. My friend probably wants to get back at me for snickering about the Honda's failing electrical system and he leads me over a gravel road down to Galtuer. The Beemer takes it in good stride, and it is fun to ride literally over the Alms. Down in the village, we know that there's not much interesting roadto be had until we pass St.Anton, so we open the throttle and quickly head for the valley's exit at Landeck, then on the main road to St.Anton which has so much traffic that we're glad we can leave it for the pass to St.Christoph, Lech and Zuers.

This usually is a nice ride through some very barren country and some of the oldest tunnels and galleries I've seen (partially still with wooden structure!), but a lot of the relaxed ride is spoiled by the fact that they are reconstructing one of the older tunnels and we have to cross it very slowly because all the pavement is gone. I do not envy the people working there in the semi-dark, the dust, with lots of traffic rolling by all day.

Lech and Zuers are typical Austrian skiing resorts - too neat, too much money, so we don't stop there but head for the last pass of the day, to Schroecken. It's one of the lesser used passes, so it is very narrow but also with reasonably little traffic. It's a small pass with nothing special at the top, the wind is chilly so we ride on to the Didamskopf near Bezau where we know it'll be friendlier weather and we can have our last stop of the day on the large terrace outside the base station of the main skilift. After some coffees, we pack up for the last stretch back home

Of the two possible ways we choose the one that turns out the worst - even though the ride up to the 'Doebele', a little mountaintop near Dornbirn, is great, when we go down we quickly enter Dornbirn and get into rush hour. We can't take the faster highway route because we are cheapskates and in Austria they do check whether you bought the 'Autobahnvignette', so we sit it out. Dornbirn is separated by a 1km traffic jam from Bregenz, which in turn is separated by 2km of traffic jam from Lindau. Oh well, at least we don't have any customs on the border anymore - that would have delayed us even more.

Glad to be back on the B33 after Bregenz we take the sprint home. Another 500km trip, and not a bit less than the previous day!

Thursday: repairs :-(

Yup. I noticed a leaking fork seal so my friend rung his local mechanic, a guy he tells me with an excellent reputation and we could bring in the bike Wednesday night so he can start first thing today. I hang around the house, we go shopping for souvenirs and a birthday present for my niece. We fail to find a Bavarian/Austrian style dress for here but I do score the ear cleaner I was looking for - I figure that the fact that my ear plugs hurt might be due to excess wax being pushed back. Back home, I immediately try the stuff - I will spare you the details of what came out, but the next day the plugs don't hurt anymore ;-). At the end of the day I pick up the machine. When we visited the shop earlier in the week, the mechanic mumbled about bad synchronisation (noticed that) and valve noise (dunnow - what's normal valve noise? still gotta learn) so he fixed that too. I must say, the engine runs a lot smoother so I take it for a spin around the lake to Konstanz, were I have an appointment with some former colleagues. Konstanz, by the way, is one of the nicest cities in Germany - it has lots of culture, lots of very nice pubs, a beautiful old city, and a general atmosphere that just makes you feel right at home. We talk about good old times and I manage to stay off all the delicious beers they are serving. Late that evening, When we leave, my company rolls over from laughter when they see my motorcycle being parked right besides the restaurant in the middle of the Biergarten around it - I thought it logical, they thought it funny probably because I broke some rules (which, for some reason, is not done in Germany). Oh well... When riding back and find out that I forgotten to adjust the headlight. I don't feel like doing it in the dark, so I switch on high beam and ride on.

Friday: Schloss Neuschwanstein

Schloss Neuschwanstein was apparently used by Disney as the inspiration for their trade mark castle; I always wanted to visit it when I lived at the Bodensee but never got around it, so today's the day. Most of the road towards Fuessen, the biggest town near the castle, is the same as Wednesday: along the lake and then the Deutsche Alpenstrasse. By recommendation of my friend I don't keep following it all the way to Fuessen (which is possible) but leave it past Immenstadt for a little detour over the Oberjoch pass between Oberdorf and Tannheim. It's a very nice ride indeed, although I don't like the fact that almost all of the fun bit uphill is made less fun by the big "do not overtake" line painted in the middle of the road. I exercise my patience and cruise between a number of cages up to the pass top. Somewhere in Austria I stop for lunch near a stream (I love to sit on the rocks near a mountain stream just listening to the water flowing) and take some pictures. On to Reutte, Fuessen and then the castle

Fuessen is a nice town as usual (most towns in Southern Germany look nice), and the ride to the castle is very nice indeed - a broad lane along the lakeside; I begin to understand why the guy that built the thing put it here. After some turns through the woods I finally see the castle. It is indeed beautiful, but spoiled by all the tourism down in the valley. Looking around I decide that it's not my place (I'm the only biker there!), take some snapshots without even leaving the bike, and ride back to Austria. Oh well, at least I've seen the thing, and yes - it is impressive, and absolutely beautiful. Worth a peek even with the tourists crowding the place

When I was chatting with a guy that dropped by my friend's house some nights ago, I got the recommendation to "go south and turn right at Berwang" from Fuessen. So I head down south in the direction of the Fernpass and take the Berwang exit. Berwang is a small village with some tourism, but the fun starts after I pass it - the next place is called 'Namlos' ('Without a name') and is much smaller, and then, for the first time, I enter a valley where (as far as I could see) no-one lived. If you're in the US this might sound strange, but in crowded Europe it is something special to drive maybe 15 kilometers and not spot a single house. I make a note to say thanks to the guy who tipped me and take another break near a little fall. It is beautiful there, completely quiet except for the water, so I spend the next half hour or so just sitting, having a drink, wandering around, and taking lots of pictures

It is the first time I can test my digital camera on flowing water, and with some rocks acting as an improvised tripod, it turns out that the thing is capable of making very nice slow shutter speed pictures (to the technically inclined: this succes was mostly thanks to the built-in neutral density filter, otherwise it'd been much too bright). The beautiful valley and the promise of some nice shots make my day, so I hop on and ride on whistling.

At the end of the 'empty valley' I come on a stretch of typical valley road with lots of nice little towns and some time later I join the route my friend and I took two days earlier. Being wiser, I decide to go around the cities as much as possible so near Hittisau I head back north to the Alpenstrasse, take a break (and some more shots, but you can't have it all - these didn't turn out so nice), and step on it to get back in time for dinner. Another 400km I think, and I decide I had enough for now, so I'll head back home tomorrow with the option of doing the trip in two days.

Saturday: Autobahn, Bundesstrasse, Autobahn

How lucky can you be: on the last day of my holiday, after having seen sun, sun, and more sun (in October!), rain pours down. We check some meteo sites and conclude that I'll have better weather north of Heilbronn, so I skip my plan to do some touring through the Black Forest on the way home - that'll have to wait until next year. Even with the Pirellis having suffered from last week (they need to be replaced), the bike does well on the wet roads (with an adapted riding style, of course), and it turns out that I didn't buy that expensive personal gear (Daytona boots, IXS all-season pants, Uvex all-season jacket) for nothing - rain pours down, but I stay completely dry underneath. Only my summer gloves give in to the rain, so I'm quite glad when I pass Heilbronn that our meteo turns out to be correct - time for brunch while the gloves dry a bit.

There are two routes 'up', one at the east of the Rhine, the other at the west. The east bank route is the A3 between Frankfurt and Koeln, mostly 3 or more lanes, and nice if you have a supersport. I decide to take the A61 which features a nicer landscape (touching upon the marvellous Eifel) and two lanes is enough for me. Because I had to hurry to get out of the rain, I've made more progress than planned so I decide I'll be home tonight.

When I picked up the motorcycle and talked about my plans, one of the older guys helping out at the shop (KsomethingLT) recommended the Bundesstrasse 9. From the Dutch border, it follows the Rhine all the way to Karlsruhe. So because it's early, I leave the A61 past Bingen and start following the river. It's really worthwhile - the river is great and majestic, the steep hills on its shores even more so with patches of grapevines everywhere possible. Of course, there's a lot of tourism going on but at this time of year it is bearable. I will certainly to the B9 'all the way' some time, but this time not - before I land into heavy traffic in Koblenz, I leave the B9 and head back for the highway (which is nice enough in itself).

On my way to the south, I kept west of the river by riding around Arnhem and Nijmegen and taking the A57 down to Cologne. It's a nice stretch of road but a bit of a detour so I cross the river near Bonn and take the racetrack A3 to Arnhem. It is every bit as I expected - stressful riding, even at 170km/h you constantly have to check your rear mirrors for cars that want to overtake you. Still, probably purely out of habit, I stick with 170km/h... I manage to survive but for the first time I'm glad that when I cross the Dutch border I have a speed limit set for me. 40 minutes later, I'm home. Tired, but satisfied and 3000km of biking experience wiser (but certainly not sadder!). Can't wait for next year's touring season to start!

(And when I enter the school's shop later that week to buy winter gloves, my 'postcard' is hanging prominently on the wall. Another Satisfied Customer).


 
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