Setting off at 6:15 a.m. to avoid work traffic was a good idea if you had a long way to go. The plan for the day was to go to Tassullo, Merano, Silandro and reach Stelvio Pass by midday. The afternoon ride would take me through Switzerland to Saint- Louis in France where my overnight stay was. It was cheaper to stay on the French side. The following day I would travel to Baden-Baden in Germany.
The early morning ride through the Italian villages saw kids walking to school. A scene is so rare in towns and cities in the UK. These days all you see is big four-by-four and family saloon cars dropping their kids off. The route also took me through some farms and vine yards. The air was still fresh and cool. Looking down from the higher ground to the valley was breath-taking.
The bike used a lot of oil as I knew there was a design issue with this engine running long distance on motorway. I did notice the engine sound a lot louder though. As long as I watched the oil level and topped it up, it should be fine. What could go wrong?
Looking up to the mountain ahead at the valley, I finally arrived at one of the most famous biking routes in Europe and I was ready to tackle the hairpins ahead.
As I was climbing up to the pass, the engine started cutting out. I was sure that there was enough fuel in the tank, what could that be? Would it be something that I did wrong when I serviced the bike? I decided to stop, let the bike cool down and hope it would be OK. During this 30 minutes wait, lots of scenarios went through my mind: should I return down to the valley and forget about going up? What should I do if the problem was a serious mechanical issue? I didn’t have any breakdown cover. How would I go home?
Firstly I told myself to stop thinking as I didn’t know what the actual problem was. Secondly there was no way I would give it up. If I could toddle along in 10 mph, I would still be getting to the top of the pass. Engine fired up, no sign of problem. When it started moving, I noticed that the engine couldn’t pull higher than second gear at 15 mph. It was still better than stranded though. The hairpins were very tight, keeping the bike upright through them without knowing when the power might cut out was terrifying. After seemingly like an eternity, I reached the top, we made it all the way to the top! Hooray!
It’s time to take a photo to celebrate. The bike was parked with its side stand at an angle. When I opened the tank bag, my brand new action camera leaped out like a frog. It was like in super high definition slow motion replay when it went straight to the sharpest point of a rock. The video camera was fully protected by impact absorbable plastic but one small area: the lens. Guess which of the part hit the rock, the lens! Devastation was an understatement. I thought that the best thing to do was to have a cup of coffee as I didn’t want to cry.
After a hot cup of coffee, I spent some time to look around the stores, took some photos before putting myself back together for the downhill ride. That should be easier as I didn’t need much power from the engine.
On my way down, I stopped twice to take more snapshots. First I met two Swiss bikers, one of them spoke English. He told me that he liked my bike as that was his first bike. At the second stop, I offered another lone biker for taking some photos for him. This biker was a Brit and he just finished his ride from Turkey. While we were talking our journey so far, I mentioned about my engine problem. He assured me that it was OK, there was nothing wrong with it, and the problem was due to thin air at high altitude. That’s a massive relief. At least I knew that as long as I avoid roads at high ground, It’d be fine.
From there onward, I rode toward Bormio, Teola and passing Lago di Livigno towards the border of Switzerland. The dam Lago di Livigno was specular but the one-way tunnel (Munt la Schera) afterwards was equally amazing. It is only wide enough for a single vehicle and it stretched just over 2 miles long.
Obviously I couldn’t make a video, here is the one from Youtube:
According to the GPS, the rest of the route should be straight forward. Another mistake: always carry a map and know well how to use your GPS. I was directed to turn right at Chaschinas to a tunnel. The tunnel (Vereina Tunnel) was not for vehicle going through: it was a tunnel for trains carrying vehicles. I had no idea where it was going to and how long it would take. Only one person spoke broken English. As I found out later the journey took 18 minutes. At 19.058m it is the longest metre gauge railway tunnel in the world. As we were aboard, there was no strap to secure the bike. Trying to balance the bike with my short legs on a moving train had to be one of the most petrifying experiences.
Here is a video showing what’s like going on the train. You can see when here how the train helps cars passing this area in winter.
After such an ordeal, the journey via the busy traffic in Zurich and Basel was relatively easy. When I arrived at the F1 hotel at Saint Louis and settled in, I reflected of the journey so far and looked ahead of the rest of the trip. The long haul ride had made my Achilles tendon very painful. The pain reoccurred during my stay in the youth hostel. The engine was getting louder and louder. Trying to ride to Baden-Baden, Nurburgring and back to Liverpool in two days would be very challenging under these circumstances. Even if I made it, I would not enjoy the actual ride there as my body was getting tired. I had some great experiences from this adventure so far, maybe it’s time to head home. Let’s get my bike fixed; there would always be another bite at the cherry. And yet, riding all the way from there to Liverpool in one day would still be challenging enough. My mind was made up and it’s time to go home.