Passo Stelvio, and St. Moritz, Switzerland
After failing to reach my objective on Tuesday’s ride, and cutting off part of my route due to… misplacing myself, I decided to use a highway for part of my route on Wednesday. I wanted to stretch as far west as St. Moritz, Switzerland, and return via Stelvio Pass. I made the decision to use a highway for the first 90 minutes or so. It was a two-lane, but fairly straight.
I had an enjoyable ride up the Val Passiria. It’s a very lush valley that runs from the Swiss Alps to Merano. The hills on both sides are densely terrace-farmed. They grow apples and grapes. It’s a beautiful region, and reminds me a bit of Western Washington, in the way it is green everywhere you look, and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
I started noticing a small shift in the culture, and particularly in the buildings as the highway climbed into the alps. I don’t know the specific style name, nor if it even has one, but the buildings started to look “Swiss”. I stopped in the town of Glorenzo, Italy for a break before I crossed into Switzerland.
After a few minutes with my helmet off, I saddled-up and went into Switzerland. I was leaving the region of Stelvio National park, Italy and entering the Parc Suisse region. There was a border checkpoint manned by a guard who was waving people through without even looking.
Once across the border, Swiss flags and coats-of-arms with Swiss symbols adorn many buildings. I rode along a high alpine pastoral valley. There are small villages every four or five miles, and a lot of grazing Brown Swiss cows in between. It’s like a picture book. It looks exactly like I imagined the Swiss countryside would look.
I wound over Fuorn Pass, and all the way to St. Moritz with only one short break. I take few breaks when I’m riding alone. There wasn’t much traffic. The villages were quiet, and even a bit sleepy for the middle of the day. The most common sight on the road was other riders. I tried to obey the speed limit, but I wasn’t entirely successful.
The road was in great condition, and the rhythm of the curves kept urging me along. It was a bright day, and the pastures seemed to glow green.
St. Moritz is a typical Swiss town; clean, well-decorated, and very affluent. I sat at a sidewalk cafe, had a bottle of water, and took a few photos. I dug out my cell phone, and posted my location.
As I was setting things up for the ride back to Merano over Stelvio Pass, two younger riders pulled up and parked next to me. One of them spoke to me in German but, when I answered him in English, he switched without missing a beat. We discussed riding in the area. He said he had been to Seattle, and liked it. We both agreed that Switzerland is an expensive place to visit. I got my cameras ready, and rode out of town the way I came in.
The next stretch of road was not as attractive as the last section. There were high tension power lines, railroads, and what appeared to be mineral industry facilities. After 15 or 20 miles it tapered off, and was a high, alpine highway with little traffic. The road was a bit rougher than I had been experiencing, but still a nice ride.
I crossed into Italy at an empty border-crossing shack at Forcola Pass. The only way to tell I was in a different country was a sign, “Benvenuti in Italia.” The road ahead would lead me to Livigno and Stelvio Pass. This section of road was bleak and empty. I was well above the tree line, and eager to descend into better scenery. All around me was rocks, with a combination of snow and rocks above me.
After about 30 minutes, I came upon another guard shack, this one occupied. I didn’t know what they were there for, but it was clear I needed to stop and talk to them. There were two young guys in uniform in the shack. Neither of them was fluent in English. After a bit of the usual back-and-forth in my weak Italian, I came to understand that I was either leaving or entering, I’m still not sure which, a military installation. I would need to erase the video I was taking. I assured them that my cameras had been, and would remain ‘off’, and, if they weren’t, I would erase any content from wherever it was that I wasn’t supposed to film. With that, they waved me through. I think I wore them down with my bad Italian.
I missed a turn-off to Livigno, but righted myself after a couple of miles, turned around, and found the turn-off for Livigno.
The road was narrow, and there was some oncoming traffic in the first section which kept me on my toes for a while. Further up the road, I was looking at the alpine surroundings. I must have been lallygagging along, as I was startled by a sport bike with two-up speeding past me. Like a greyhound, I was off, and managed to keep up with them all the way to Livigno. I never had a chance to see what he was riding. As the traffic increased just before entering the town, he managed a couple of passes I couldn’t, and I never saw them again.
I didn’t stop in Livigno, as I was already behind schedule for getting back to Merano. I went straight on towards Bormio until I got to the turn-off for Stelvio Pass.
The first few miles were typical mountain twisties. There were one-lane tunnels in some of the curves that could have been dangerous, had there been oncoming cars. I came around a curve hugging a rock wall and glanced at the hill in front of me; there was the pass I had seen on videos.
I stood astraddle my bike looking at the long sequence of switch-backs reaching into the heavens. I have a mild fear of heights, and I was a bit apprehensive about it. It looked like a pyramid with a string of cars and bikes parading back and forth up the side. There was no way I was going to catch up with any of the cars ascending ahead of me. The switchbacks would be a slow negotiation. The closer the road got to the top, the closer together became the switchbacks. It’s a wonder to see from below, but I wanted to get started.
Left hairpin; right hairpin; left hairpin; right hairpin; repeat. After getting to the top of this section, I realized there is still a remaining section to ascend. Onward and upward. When I arrived at the top, I discovered I was not the first motorcyclist to discover this road. It seems when you get there, you’re supposed to stand next to your high-performance sport-bike, strike a pose, and adopt an expression of aloof indifference. I took a few pictures of the road below and moved on.
I found my way back down the valley to my hotel, cleaned up, and went out for dinner. I ate a big bowl of wonderful spaghetti, and followed it up with two scoops of pistachio gelato. What a great day!
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