Thursday, November 24, 2011

Once Upon a Midnight Dreary

Once Upon a Midnight Dreary…


My thanks to Edgar Allen Poe



It comes to me as clear as a Tiffany’s diamond. The scene was my very good friend Dick Ward and I on the highway between Banff and Jasper Alberta, Canada. The sky was a see through blue with a few friendly puffy clouds. All in all, good omens for motorcycle riding.

It was not to be. We had been on the road for less than an hour when it began to rain and the temperature dropped to a low of 39. We rode in these conditions for more than six hours. It was, quite candidly, not a fun ride.
In motorcycling, just when you think you have experienced it all, you rediscover the obvious that the cosmos has an infinite number of scenarios for you as long as you are out there pressing the options.
In general, I have little fear, much respect, however, for riding a motorcycle in the rain. It can be done in reasonable safety as long as you abide by the tenets of good common sense.

During my trip from Aiken, SC to Pittsford, NY, I stopped for the night at an unscheduled place called Sutton, West Virginia. I stayed in a five room motel called the Wolf Valley Motel. I discovered after I departed the next morning that there was a Day’s Inn one mile down the road.
The motel owners and mangers lived in the same set of rooms that doubled as the motel office. They were pleasant. The price was right and I got to stay in room number 1. The room was located at the bottom of a minor incline that was unpaved and wet from three days of rain. I was pretty sure there would be no place that would accept a kick stand. I asked for and received permission to park the bike on the concrete breezeway just in front of my room door.

Let me admit from the outset that I am very comfortable with staying in motels that lack the amenities of other economical motels. Nonetheless, I was struck by this Spartan Army’s idea of sleeping cheap. In fact, I am sure that every stick of furniture in the room I had seen earlier in some unnamed BOQ during my career.

I unpacked and proceeded, via motel contributed directions, to an “Italian” restaurant. Worst meal I have ever paid for. Choked down as much as was doable, paid and went out side to return to the motel. It had started raining and it looked serious.

I was showered and in the rack by 8PM. I had an early get up!

2:30AM rolls around and I have had enough sleep. I am shaved, packed and inspected the room by 3AM. It is raining the zoo much less cats and dogs. I take pride in my riding gear for occasions just like this one. I will be warm and dry. I mount, put the steed in reverse and back out of the breezeway into total darkness. Several star filled galaxies could have passed me and I would not have been surprised. I mean black! I am now pointed up hill to exit the hotel as I gently ease out the clutch. Nothing happens. I have ear plugs in, so I look at my instruments to make sure the bike is still running. I make sure I am in first gear and try again. Still nothing. Well not quite nothing. I start to feel the back end of the bike moving from side to side. My rear wheel is spinning in the wet grass and mud and the bike is not making the slightest motion forward. I back up several feet and try again. Nothing! I repeat these steps a half a dozen times with the same results. Meets the definition of insanity. I know, I know. I pause and reflect. I am screwed. I can only go rearward into the black that I know contains demons and Murphies that go bump in the night. I can not go and get help because of the early hour and because I can not put the weight of the bike on the kick stand because it will most certainly fall on its side. I get another idea from my beginning days as a teenage driver provided by my dad. I shift up into third gear and dry again. Because there is less torque on the rear wheel now, the tire starts to bite and we begin a slow and fish tailing trek toward the paved road. Just as we arrive at the gravel entrance to the motel and I am letting out sigh of relief and I roll into a pot hole the size of a trash can and almost lose the bike in the hole. Since there was standing water everywhere, the hole was not visible to my headlight illumination.

I find a place with no standing water, put down the kick stand, shut down the bike and just sit in the quiet dark of the morning and feel and listen to the rain doing it’s asynchronous tap dance on my helmet and shoulders. It’s actual quite calming which is what I needed.

I would like to sound glib and say “Balls O’ Fire”, “Times A’ Wasting” or we are “Burning Daylight”. Regrettable, neither of these is true, but I want to get rolling.

It is so dark that I almost miss the turn to enter I-79 north from Sutton. It gets worse when I am actually on the Freeway because there are no town lights to illuminate the cloud layer from below. It’s raining hard but not like a thunderstorm. There is standing water in the depressions of the asphalt made by the weight of 18 wheelers. These depressions are almost invisible in dry and daylight conditions. So, I am trying to ride the ridges and see around me and I am doing 45mph max on a road that has a 70mph speed limit. So…every time a vehicle is approaching from the rear, I turn on my flashing caution lights so they will not run up my backside. I would like to keep the flashers on, but the added glare and distraction forces me to shut them down when there is no one behind me. This precaution seems to work pretty well. For me, personally, its instructive to consider all of the things that reduce visibility on an early morning like this. The obvious, its dark and the falling rain all reduce visibility. This would be true if you were in a house looking out of an open window. To this add water on both sides of windshield, the inside of the windshield fogged up if the temperature is right, water on the outside of the face shield, fog on the inside of face shield if you are breathing hard and finally fog on my glasses coming from my breath sneaking up the bandanna that have over my nose and mouth for warmth. Additionally, the is the glare from every light on the instrument panel, oncoming traffic, passing traffic and strangely a glare from the reflective signs along the side of the road that are vivid bright with the bounce of my headlights off of their surfaces. All of this can be set into a routine, but that routine is kicked in the butt when you are passed by an 18 wheeler and get hit with the water and mist generated by all of his 18 wheels plus the hard turbulence that his truck generates as it passes through the same block of air I am currently using. The kicker on this night is wind gusting to 35 knots from left to right.

After being on the road for over an hour, I have settled in to the routine and begin to get blood flow back into the white knuckles, restoring them to their natural rosey pink. While I am thinking such thoughts, oncoming traffic with the halogen glare illuminate a single drop on water on my Plexiglas. This drop moving up the windscreen joins another and then another and now it glows with its own internal rainbow. As the traffic passes, all is lost to the darkness of the Pennsylvania country side. More oncoming traffic and the original bender of light has stuttered its way to the lip of the Plexiglas where it hesitates before the laws of physics breaks its meniscus tension and launches it into the wet that is its ultimate home. A thing of beauty, but all of its siblings make for lost visibility caused by the light bending properties that unfocus and distort the view I need to guide the bike precisely. To make it all worse, if I change my view by just shifting my eyes and not my entire head, I will get a double or sometimes triple view as one eye looks through one lense of the trifocal and the other eye looks through another lense of my trifocal glasses. Many a time on this morning, I cut my eyes to look at a rear view mirror and see two trucks coming up behind me. It’s only when I turn my head that I see a true picture of what’s happening behind me.

Needless to say, all of this is very demanding and I take at least one extra break during each half of the day to rest from the demands of the road. I think I can honestly say this was not a fun ride.

I meet an entire group of really nice people in a King’s restaurant just outside of Pittsburg, PA on I-79. They include a waitress that has an army of customers that she addresses by their first names and ask if they want the usual for breakfast. Without exception they say they will have the usual and the waitress gets into an altercation with the cook because he will not put a toast order through the toaster twice so that her customer get his toast like he wants it. Burnt! All these people are grist for my mill and I start the conversation off by asking, to no one in particular, “Where can I buy some dry ice”?

At first, there is the customary silence followed by everyone talking at once trying to help me find dry ice. What a hoot! People are just terrific. I don’t find a place to buy dry ice, but waitress puts about five pounds in a double plastic bag and then the bag of ice goes into a box she has behind the counter.

I leave a tip for the waitress and smartly walk out of the restaurant without paying my bill. I did not remember that until just now while writing this. I will start a search now to get payment to these very nice folks.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

2011 Alps Trip Part II

2011 Alps Trip Journal Part II
Day 4



The route this day is from Brunnen, Switzerland to Lugano, Switzerland.

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If you look closely at the collage nearby, you will see, in the background, a very long snow bridge protecting the highway. Manuel was looking for a turnoff that would take us to the twisty road you see in the collage but missed the turn and we had the pleasure of riding the entire length of the snow bridge road and return.

The legend of this particular bridge states that the Reuss River was so difficult to ford that a Swiss herdsman wished the devil would make a bridge. The Devil appeared, but required that the soul of the first to cross would be given to him. The mountaineer agreed, but drove a goat across ahead of him, fooling his adversary. Angered by this sham, the devil fetched a rock with the intention of smashing the bridge, but an old woman drew a cross on the rock so the devil couldn't lift it anymore. The rock is still there and, in 1977, 300,000 Swiss francs were spent to move the 220 ton rock by 127 m in order to make room for the new Gotthard road tunnel. The twisty road is a three hundred year old cobblestone road and may not be the most enjoyable ride we had, but it was worth the bragging rights to say we had ridden such a road over Gotthard Pass. The road was fit for foot traffic only since 1235 but was finally opened to vehicular traffic in 1775.

The road was ridden at a relatively slow pace because the cobblestone has some interesting handling characteristics when riding it on a bike. For me, the sense of history was everywhere and, strangely enough, when we passed workers repairing the road, they were using hand tools and they could have easily come from the 18th century. These workers deepened the sense of time travel to a point it was almost palpable.



clip_image008Here is the edited video of a portion of the ride. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlMRYlIRdJA
The day ended with our arrival at the Continental Park Hotel which was situated on the side of a hill looking down at the town. The view of the town left much to be desired but the hotel had beautiful gardens and private little alcoves where you could sit and enjoy an aperitif or coffee in quite solitude with your friends.
That evening before we had supper, I had spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to establish a connection with the net so I could do email and send the family and friends some pics of the previous day. When I joined the group, they were on a patio just off the bar and were already way ahead of me. They were celebrating something, but I have completely forgotten what is was. (I apologize to my fellow travelers for this mental lapse.) The hotel had allowed them to bring in their own Champaign, and we enjoyed excellent wine and Swiss Chocolate with some soft cheese that I dearly loved. The skies threatened rain and some large drops fell, but we did not move and we never got wet. Two very pleasant hours passed and I got to know Janet Sena a little better. As a side note, Janet seemed a little reserved and did not say much until I realized it had nothing to do with Janet it was the motor mouths of all the rest of us that did not give her a chance speak. By the time our table for dinner was ready most of us were well lubricated. Its funny, I have no recollection of what we had to eat. This was not just the alcohol. I remember at the time I did not enjoy whatever the entree was because it did not look appetizing. This was the only meal we had that I thought was less than terrific.

As promised, I will only say that breakfast the next morning was off the page and we ate in the sunroom with the promise of a grand new day streaming in through the crystal clean glass of the room. (At the top of the collage nearby, you can see the top half of the sun room with two awnings protecting the dinning customers from the direct light of a bright and glorious sunrise)







Day 5

The leg this day was from Lugano Switzerland to Arco, Italy.
clip_image012This was one of the most interesting of the legs. Not because of the challenges of the roads, but because of the ride up the western edge of Lake Como and a stop at what I call Legno di Como. I am pretty sure the name is wrong, but I simply can not find a refernce that will I fix this. As you ride up the lake side road, there are lots of unusual sites that trigger your interest, but after a short time, the stop and go traffic becomes a drag. The view of the lake is off and on so you miss some of the majesty. I did have one weird mental blip. As we were riding out of view of the lake, it came to me that all of the houses, the electric trains with their overhead electrical hot rails looked exactly like the view from the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) [see pic nearby] on the ride from Iwakuni to Heroshima, Japan. The Red tiled roofs with stucco sidings and the laundry hung from the bannisters of the small balconies could have been either place worlds apart.
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When we stopped at a pull-off on the right side of the road, the parking spaces were right on the water and a small outdoor cafe presented itself. We must have stopped at a dozen cafe places like this, and they are all unique. For me this one was marked by two men who appeared to be in a serious discussion, drinking their expresso with a singular narrow ally way in the background. See pics nearby. Imagine the views from the houses perched on the hills to the right of the shore of the lake. The thin picture is a panorama of the lake from left to right of about 190 degrees. This pause in the ride was a welcome physical respite, but there was, at the same time, an emotional and historical stimulation that gave life to the wonders of learning anew. Learning at my age is such a thrill. If only I had this thirst when I was 19. There was much more to come on the road ahead.
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As I review these images, I marvel how cities with histories much older than our own are forced into modifications of architecture to fit the ubiquitous automobile.
We depart this lovely place and head east toward Arco, Italy. Manuel has a diversion that may be one of the most precious of visual gems of our trip. The diversion is a side trip up the side of a minor ridge to a town called Bagolino. The town appears to capture, on some long past story board, the essence of life in Europe as viewed from the movie, The Godfather.
Streets so narrow that one car has trouble navigating turns and intersections. Forget parking! The streets are a combo of ragged asphalt and cobble stones. It's hard to tell if the town is prosperous or not because the buildings look aged, which they are, but there is not a visible sense of poverty. There is room to park bikes so, we do, just in front of another cafe. From this tiny parking lot, 360 degrees of magic can be experienced in the form of a visual retelling of history. I am completely enchanted and mesmerized. It is this...these feelings of a return to some point in the past in which I participated in my mind but not in body. I have been here before!
It is all so strange yet refreshing to the soul. See the pics below:
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The road from which we came.
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The Roman Catholic church. There is one in every town.
 
 
The happy biker!clip_image033
Here are the edited videos of the days ride.

The rest of the ride to Arco is nice, but Bagolino was the highlight.




Day 6


In Arco, we take a full day's rest by riding all day on a wonderful circuitus route that starts and ends at our hotel, The Olivo. See the route and a collage below for some images of the town.
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Stu and I had just settled down on the patio of the Olivo hotel to test the impact of a little Blue Elixer on our tired bodies with me up wind of the nasty cigars that Stu smokes. When out steps Steve who announces to us that he is going to hike up there and take some pics. He wants to know if we would like to join him. We decline with extreme prejudice.
clip_image038This was a mistake! Check out the collages below that shows what we missed by sitting on our lazy butts.
clip_image040Video clips of this leg:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGZ-6J8vmuQ


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4xLBC9Atjc







Day 7



The route from Arco, Italy to Bozen/Bolzano, Italy.

clip_image042The route above never took place but was replaced with a diversion to the Manghen Pass which was, as usual, a terrifc ride. I will show you some pics of this pass, but first I wanted to show you how dramatically the georgraphy changes around you. The sequence below was taken on a single day in a single two hour periord of riding.
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As promised, here are the pics to Manghen Pass and Passo Pordoi

2011 Alps Trip Pordoi and Manghen passes

You are able to see so many different venues.
clip_image056The weather started to cloud up and we experienced a little misting but nothing of consequence.  Manuel had demonstrated some excitement about a clear lake that he was going to show us on our way to Bozen, Italy.  He had to show us a photograph of a clear lake with a ridge line of beautiful snow capped mountains in the back ground.  Nearby is clip_image058clip_image060clip_image062the view we had. The lake was clear, as advertised. But as you can see there were no mountains. We beat up Manuel pretty good for false advertisement but it was all in jest and he took it well. Not that he had a choice, you understand.
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If you look behind the three riders in the photo above, you will see the terrain rising and a little daylight through the trees. That daylight is where the road is. When we returned to the road this is what greeted us.
clip_image066A rally of antique cars!!
Most cool. Better to follow. The rally cars were spread out pretty good, so we returned to our bikes and hit the road. Just as we pulled out from our roadside parking, a fifty something Volvo passed us. See below.
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Now this may not look like much of a car, but I am here to tell you that this car, in combination with a Sierra Hotel driver gave Manuel a hard time keeping up with him on the turns and straights. What a complete hoot. I was laughing out loud at "The Little Volvo That Could" The Volvo would pull ahead, then Manuel would run him down, the three of us would finally catch up and the Volvo would pull ahead again. Over and over again. Such fun! Then, the rain started down in earnest and we pulled off the road at a curb side cafe and had our morning espresso and "coke with ice". It was a great excuse for Manuel to terminate what appeared to be a losing proposition with the Volvo. It was more heat from the group. Not Manuel's morning.

The rain slows and we hit the road again. All this riding leads us to the Passo di Costalungo where there awaits a most wonderful surprise. The top of these mountains is the choice of the rally organizers to have lunch. See below. Make sure you go to full screen to get the best view.

2011 Alps Trip rally cars

The days ride ends at the Bozen Park Hotel: Below is the path from the street to the open air restaurant and check in desk. A nice place to rest and relax. It cost a fortune to use the internet.
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This has been a big day, but tomorrow is even bigger. We bid the day farewell with a Dick Ward posed shot.
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Go to the article titled, "2011 Alps Trip Journal Part III"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2011 Alps Trip Part I

Sunday, October 16, 2011
2011 Trip to the Alps
Introduction and Forward
In 2007, my bride of 45 years, Margaret, and I took a barge cruise down the Rhone River in France. The cruise was marked by wonderful lazy days on the deck, bridge in the salon and more food than ever be passed under the nose of a human being. In addition, there were old cruising friends, new arrivals, more food and wine, a German crew and the worst Air France Airlines strike in recent history.
The long and short of the story was that we spent four days and nights either standing in a queue or fighting off the hordes to get a seat on a shuttle bus to take us to our hotel which was a different hotel than where we slept the night before. I was just a little passed PO'd during these four days and nights. So when I got home I canceled a reservation to join a motorcycle tour in the following year. In stead, I put together a ride where we touched all four geographic corners of the US. (I hate to beg forgiveness this early in the writing, but the format of Blogspot does not allow me to expand the photos so you can see the detail of some of the photos.  This is especially true of the route maps.)
clip_image004On that ride was my former neighbor in Cedar Creek and long established riding buddy Rex Decker. He and I have done a lot of riding together but family and Corvette Clubs take most of his time now so he sold his badly painted Gold Wing. I think down deep he always suspected that he would be getting another bike.
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Also on the team was a new riding partner that was a friend of Stu Schippereit, Steve Sena. Steve is the brother of Mike Sena who was and is a member of the spook world and was buddies with Stu when he was in the analytical side of the business. Steve and Stu struck it off, as did their wives. The two couples have traveled extensively together and are close friends. Steve was one of the children of parents who worked around the world in the employ of the US Diplomatic Corps. Steve followed with a career in the State Department.
clip_image006Next is Stu Schippereit. Stu is a long time Harley rider. He and I, along with Steve and Rex, rode the four geographic corners of the US together. To say that Stu is a world champion character is an understatement of gross proportions. I mean, after all, what kind of folks serve as analyst in the Navy's intelligence community. Bright ones. Out of the box ones. Irreverent ones. He had a successful career in the Navy despite these character flaws.
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The last member of the team is my very good friend and fellow Marine F-4 pilot, Dick Ward. Dick and I have been friends for more years than I can recall clearly. We had a long chunk of years when we were out of touch due to careers and geographic separations. It was motorcycle riding that brought us back in touch again. Dick rode with Rex and I to the Arctic Circle in 2010.
It is with regret but with equal pride that I report Dick was unable to make the Alps trip because of a promise he made to a favorite niece, long ago, to attend her wedding. Turns out the Alps Trip and the wedding overlapped and Dick cheerfully kept his promise without the slightest hesitation or reservation. He was sorely missed. This action speaks well of the man under the bear's claws.
After I had cooled down, mildly, over a period of a year or more, I began to get the wander lust again but wanted to include the wives this time, if possible.
I have heard stories all my life about the beauty and majesty of the European Alps. The skiing, hiking, beer drinking, food eating and visual master pieces. During my career in the Marine Corps, my career, like most career Marine Corps officers centered around deployments to the far east. So for most Marines, Europe is not a place where you would normally be deployed unless you were the member of an embassy detachment. So my idea of seeing the Alps from the back of a motorcycle was very appealing.
What can we say about the Alps. First the name, in English, is derived from Latin via French and in the singular means "alpine pasture" but in the plural it suggests the entire mountain range. The mountain range sits like a huge fish hook laying down over the top of Italy with the pointed end hanging low just not quite making it to the Mediterranean . The range starts in Slovenia in the east then passes through Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Germany and France in the west. The highest peak, Mt. Blanc, is over 15,000 feet high and is in the western section of the Alps.
The mountains are, at once, physically beautiful and an imposing monument to a creator's gift of wonder and excitement to all lucky enough to be blanketed in its visual majesty. They also serve as a testament to the forced humility of the human race when confronted with the majesty of something that is so overpowering in its existence that awe is the only human tool left to give them a name suitable to their basic character...The Alps.
If you look at the northern border of Italy, you will soon discover that this line that separates Italy from France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia is as complex an undertaking as one could imagine. For the most part these national borders follow the ridge lines of mountains that are part of the Alps chain of mountains. For most of its journey, this border meanders through country side that is both remote and of questionable value with respect to mineral assets and the tourist industry. But, without question, if there was a vehicle that could travel this border the riders of this very special vehicle would be exposed to some of the most beautiful vistas any place on the planet.
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I made contact with a motorcycle touring company in Germany called Adelweiss Bike Tours. The folks there were very friendly. We began negotiations on how we would include the wives in February of 2010 and I have some sixty emails that trace those negotiations. The original plan called for six couples: The Fitch's, Sena's, Schippereit's, Ward's, Decker's and Davis'. Frank and Christa Davis, a couple who lives here in Cedar Creek dropped out due to concerns of safety by Christa. Several months later Rex dropped out due to competing trips in their car club, if I remember correctly. Then Dick and Chris had to cancel because of his niece's wedding, described earlier above. Ultimately, my wife, Margaret, believed that the mountain driving on so many turns and switchbacks would keep her permanently ill from motion sickness and she did not see that as a good time.
So now it is just myself, the Sena's and Schippereit's.
clip_image012Here are the four of them in Erding, Germany.
Every time someone dropped out, I had to go back to Edelweiss and renegotiate the terms of our agreement. This was a pain to say the least, but the company maintained our price per person and adjusted the guided tour and some routing, but kept the same hotels and food plans. This was damn good for showing up with less than half of what we started with in the plan.
clip_image014clip_image016I spent countless hours on eBay searching for a way to document the trip and I finally decided on a video camera that had a viewing window, multiple mounts, could accept a 32 GB SDHC card and had a remote control device. The DRIFT HD170 was the answer. The device is show below with the wrist mounted remote control and mounted on my helmet. Hard to believe but I was totally unaware of this device on my helmet, because it weighed so little. The camera was equipped with three operating modes: video, single shot and then timed shots that allowed you to pick how many seconds pass before the device takes another still pic. The times were 3, 5, 10, 15 seconds. This gives almost unlimited flexibility, but the draw back is the remote will not change the mode, it will only turn the camera on and off. Here is what you get!! See nearby.
The first picture is what it looks like uncropped. The second is cropped.
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clip_image020Pretty cool huh? There are a lot more where this came from and sooner or later I am going to have to start putting links in this document because it will become too large to imbed videos. That's later, but not much. Actually its now.


This link is a grouping of scenes from the trip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=141V0OT-fwg

This link is a grouping of floral scenes from the trip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soXl8sMVUhE

The camera does present some unique challenges that I have not had in the past and these issues will have a significant impact on how I construct this journal. First, I discovered, after the fact, that each time I remove the battery from the device and put in a fresh one, the date returns to 1/1/2007. This makes using the "Date Taken" data of the file impossible and so I can not reference a date on a picture to help me identify where I was when I took the pic. Second, videos are too large to put in this document, so I will need to upload the videos to a site and put a link in this journal so that it can be viewed at your discretion. Finally, and most disappointing, the quality and quantity of riding we did mixed with the language difficulties made it impossible for me to establish a personal contact with people so that we could share common strings of historical experience. This journal will be almost completely void of those kinds of stories.
There is a caveat I would like to make. There will be lots of pictures of beautiful mountain scenes. There was some thing that drew my attention to the vision and consequently take a photo. Some will just be boring to you and there is nothing I can do to change that.


Day 1


I have been packed for a week so the arrival of the 29th of June came none to soon for me. The Schippereit's and Sena's have been Europe for days now so I will be playing catch up for jet lag.
Threw all my stuff in the Buick after I made sure that each bag did not weigh more than 23 Kilos (50 lbs). My initial worry was that all my riding gear that I had packed in an old Marine duffel bag would tip the 23K limit. It did not, so I would only be paying $50 for the second bag. If either bag was over 50, then the second bag would cost me $150. Yes Sir, love those airlines.


Great weather day to start the trip and I was looking forward to spending a few hours with my daughter, Louise Truett, in Charlotte, NC where my flight originated and where I would be spending the night.
Any trip I take where I am doing the driving, car or bike, I am dogged by the results of two physical conditions that keep me from sleeping well. I am lucky to get five hours a night and, according to the quacks, very little of that is REM sleep. So...when I sit down and my body begins to relax, the brain tells the body that it needs sleep and forces me to go to sleep. When I say force, I mean just that. Sooner or later, without chemical intervention, I will go to sleep. As you might imagine, this is not a situation you want to happen on a motor cycle. Consequently, I have two prescription medications that I take to help me stay awake. I have trained myself, however, to recognize the onset of this symptom and simply pull off the road and walk around until my mind is awake before I resume my riding. Its a nagging thing that can make bike riding more hazardous than it already is. So I am very careful about how I feel before hitting the road.


With this said, the heightened excitement brought on by the newness of the trip and with the help of some chemical back up, I was not required to pull off the road even once on the entire trip. This included my car trips from Aiken to Charlotte and back.


The trip across the pond was a good as these things get. I get to grinding my enamel when I start thinking about airports, endless lines, TSA employees who are GED dropouts, endless lines, baggage claims, endless lines, custom's agents, finding a cab/van who drops you off at the sign for the hotel but the hotel is another block around the corner dragging 80 lbs of luggage.. It is a miracle of modern man that there are not daily killings and beatings in the passage ways of "modern" airports. Oh...and a 20 oz Coke is four dollars! If I want a Coke in Germany, it will be flat, warm with no ice available and whatever the Euro cost is, its 1.69 dollars for each Euro.


I arrive at the hotel at about 0900. The folks there are very nice and make arrangements to get me a room way ahead of when rooms are normally ready for occupancy.


The guides and the Schippereit's and Sena's drift in through out the day. I use this time to do a walk around the town of Erding, Germany. Let it be known, that Germany, Austria and Switzerland are three of the cleanest places I have ever been on the planet. This cleanliness and neatness make visiting their towns a real pleasure. I walked the streets and noted that there seemed to be a lot of activity in one of the town's squares. Venders were installing and/or opening their businesses for commerce and the commerce turned out to be food and beer. Good beer in big, tall glasses. The rest of the gang would return here to sample the fare later in the day.
clip_image022clip_image024It was with interest, that there was what appeared to be a Greek Orthodox Church just a half a block from the more visible and plentiful Roman Catholic edifices. I walked around the Catholic church until I found an unlocked door and wandered into the nave of the church. The art and wood work were wonderful examples of skill and talent, but also the Church's ability to tax its followers and then use that money to build these monuments in sure and certain belief that these wonders of architecture and art will, somehow, hasten the faithful from their stay in purgatory, and guarantee the salvation of the soul. Well, that's why they call it faith. See nearby for pics.


As I mentioned earlier, the group got together in the afternoon and we all did a walk around the town center and stopped for some of the local beer called Erdinger. We saw this beer through out Germany and Austria. The dark wheat beer is my favorite. After beer, the ladies, Janet and Marianne, wanted to visit the church so we killed some time talking guy stuff until they returned then it was back to the hotel for the briefing.


After the briefing, the guys were taken downstairs to the garage and introduced to our bikes. We packed the saddle bags and I installed the remote off/on switch for my video camera and the power supply wiring for my heated clothing. This accomplished, it was back upstairs for a very nice dinner and some socializing with our guides Manuel and Nico. As time approached bed time, I excused myself and returned to the garage where I rode the bike around the garage weaving in and out of the concrete pillars. I did this for about a half and hour and was quite pleased with myself for taking the time to do this practicing. My self esteem was shattered the next morning when I discovered that the bike required about 2,000 rpm before you could begin to let the clutch out to start rolling from a dead stop. There was simply no torque at low rpm. This is the exact opposite of the performance of my GoldWing for which I have long established habit patterns. I must have stalled the bike some forty times through out the trip. I did not have a day when I did not kill the bike trying to start from a dead stop. In addition, my Wing has an automatic shutoff for the turn signal and the Triumph does not. I left the turn signal on so many times that Stu started calling me Blinky. In reply, I stopped using the turn signal. I never did fully adjust to the bike.


Day 2


clip_image026The next AM, we gathered at the hotel's breakfast room and the pictures nearby will attest to the quantity and quality of the food served at every hotel in every town we stopped in on our way. Some hotels hosted a more decorative display, but all had wonderful breakfast choices and, for me, this is a great way to start the day.
clip_image028I started including pictures of each breakfast I ate so that I would have proof for Dick Ward that at least I included fresh fruit and, most of the time, yogurt for my breakfast. As you can see, however, that was not all that I consumed. Bangers, scrambled eggs and thin sliced smoked salmon is not BBQ hash.
As usual, I was first on the scene for breakfast because of my wacko sleeping habits. As I was finishing, Manuel, then Steve, and finally Stu joined me for breakfast. The ladies were a few minutes behind them.
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The anticipation of the upcoming ride made everyone excited and full of energy to start our journey, but sustenance first with
humor and collegial story telling.
With our tummies more than happy, we begin a process that we will repeat for nine days: After breakfast return to room and finish packing, tooth brushing and final act of the morning constitutional. Slep the bags to the lobby for pick up by Nico, the ladies guide. Meet in the garage for gear and equipment checks. Start and warm the bikes and meet Manuel outside. Today will be just a little on the brisk side so we dress accordingly. I don't know about Steve and Stu, but I was a little apprehensive about this first day because I did not want to make a mistake and look like an amateur. I have tens of thousands of miles and thousands of hours riding a motorcycle but this was in front of someone who was a professional and I was from a distant country known for its economic and military power, it's ability to trend set and do things no other country in the world had accomplished. I know it sounds silly, but I, in some weird way, represented our country and I did not want to let the US down. I know, what a dweeb! In the Corps, we used to say, "If you showed your ass, it was better to die than to look bad."
So as our guide started out of the parking lot, we had to go around the end of wooden gate guard. There was barely enough room to get the bike clear. If you view the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR1u5SLMJDc you will see that Steve stalled his bike when he started forward and so did Stu. I started smoothly forward passed through the gate and then smartly stalled the bike twice before I reached the street. What a cluster and embarrassment. Lucky for me, all three riders were well down the block and did not see me stall and I did not have to commit Supuku. It matters little, because before the trip was over Stu and Steve were betting to see if I could go a day without stalling the bike. I never did !

The first hour or so was nothing more than getting better acquainted with the bike and then trying to figure out which vehicle was going to turn off of a traffic circle and which one was to keep going where it had the right of the right of way and where a collision was possible. With one bike, it is not that bad. With four it was always sketchy unless there was no traffic at all.
clip_image034The first riding day was from Erding, Germany to Warth, Switzerland. There were several highlights. The first was a flash hailstone shower while we were riding the Autoban. It started to rain and I could feel the big drops of rain but there was no thunderstorm in sight. Our first clue was the traffic slowing down on the Autoban. Lots of tail lights and even some cars pulled over to the shoulder to wait out the storm. It was not long before we could feel the pelting of ice on our helmets and hands.. In addition, the hail, about green pea size, started to accumulate on the road and could fell the crunch under the tires. Just then, Manuel pulled onto the shoulder and we all gladly followed suit. I was already dressed in my water proof cold weather gear so I got to watch as the rest of the gang put on their rain gear in the rain. Few things are worse on a bike trip than to put rain gear over clothing and jackets that are already wet. Here is collage nearby that may give an idea of the hail.
clip_image036Our next stop was the Castle Linderhof. The second and smallest castle built by Ludwig II.
Among a population of inbred rulers of Europe and Russia, Ludwig II of Bavaria stands out, slightly. He became the King of Bavaria at the tender age of 18. He was a lover of music and art, all the works of Wagner the composer, castles and other men. He never married or had an heir so he remained a lonely and enigmatic ruler. He once said of himself..."I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others." I think it is clear that he got his wish.
clip_image038The last place on our agenda was a detour from the regular tour up the Hahntennjock pass. That's a mouthful, I know, but it was our first ride at mastering Alp twisties. The ride was beautiful and we stopped and turned around and retraced our steps which was still a lot of fun. Because none of the three of us had any navigational responsibilities on the trip, we mostly followed Manuel where ever he went. I did not realize until I started researching and doing map studies for this journal, that our routes carried us, on several occasion to places that were strangely close to another route we would take at a later date. This route, for example, took us within 20 K of our route that would take us home eight days from now. I know it seems like an obvious observation, but I stayed so disoriented all the time with regard to where we where and in what direction were we traveling that this came to me as a pleasant surprise.
clip_image040Our hotel for the night was literally on the side of a mountain. Its major business was a ski lodge but clearly this was not ski season. The vistas were off the page looking in any direction. and the air was clear, cool and clean. There was a very well stocked bar and a great restaurant, both of which we took advantage off that evening.
It had been a long and uptight day for me. The kind I really love, but I was tired, so I excused myself and headed off to the arms of Morpheus. I left my window open to use the cool air and almost could not get to sleep for the sounds of tens of cow bells all around the hotel. These bells are not your cheesy cow bell in the states, these are works of art. Some big as a cantaloupe. Most tuned to a different musical note so they can be recognized by the song they sing.
Twas a glorious day!
Here is the very edited video of this day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR1u5SLMJDc

Here are several more:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgSL9ZVruL4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TTVKumzhec

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40UcKAnI-Jc

Day 3


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clip_image044I don't believe that I am going to talk about food any more! However, the Hotel Henry, wait a minute. I must digress. A segue. After the entire tour was over and I was on my way to the airport, the driver of the van was also a person who manned the desk at night. He was also a sales representative of the Ford Dealership across the street from the Hotel Henry. Starting to see the picture? The owner of the Ford dealership was a worshiper of Henry Ford so when he purchased the hotel across from his dealership he named it the Hotel Henry. Back to food. Since I ate breakfast at the Hotel Henry twice, I may be able to do it justice with regard to its breakfast layout. If you stood in the middle of the dining room and faced the food, it would go something like this from left to right. A large chaffing dish filled with something that looked like grits only there was a thin coat of oil laying over the top of the “whateveritwas". Next, another chafing dish this time filled with warm black sand and boiled eggs nesting in the sand. Next, another chafing dish filled with scrambled eggs mixed with sausage or cheese. Excellent. Patty and link sausages. Bangers with great hot mustard. Three kinds of bacon. A vertical chafing dish filled with hot water and some spices with semi submerged WHITE sausages that had clear casings which revealed small chunks of mystery meat. Even as I write this, I must avert my mental eyes. 


clip_image046I will eat almost anything but I found the sight of these sausages most unappealing. Next, the coffee station manned by a most helpful wait person. Next, the cold cuts and cheese tables. I never saw a piece of sliced ham like you would get for breakfast in the States. However, thin sliced boiled ham, smoked ham, canned ham, prosciutto, (although most of you know prosciutto as a thin sliced dried ham, the word is simply Italian for ham) salami, turkey, smoked salmon, white fish in cream sauce, clip_image047smoked oysters, sardines, anchovies, meats I could not identify, surrounded by pickled everything nestled in amongst the curds of buttermilk, who were good neighbors to the gouda, Swiss, Brie, Camembert and other hard and soft cheeses that I can not identify but which I ate with gusto. There was a gastric pause.


Then the health conscious table was king. Five different kinds of whole grain cereals plus some granola types with dried fruits and nuts in them; skim and 2% milk; assorted nuts; four or five kinds of fresh fruit; yogurt of every kind, color, fruit infused, regular, low fat, no fat; eight different regions of Bavaria represented in eight different kinds of honey from eight different flowers; two dozen different kinds of tea, no coffee except at the table, but there were lattes, espresso, and every other kind of solid caffeine with either steamed milk or whipped cream on top; three or four different kinds of sliced bread and bagels for the those who like toast; so many ramekins of jellies, preserves, marmalades, real butter and the other stuff that my saliva glands are now bone dry.
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clip_image050I have now reached the end of the "S" shaped line of tables groaning under the weight of at least one of the seven deadly sins. But wait! Do an about face and there are two more tables. One with some of the best bread and rolls I have ever tasted, pastries, fruit jelly filled flaky quasants, all fresh, all warm. No Marita bread or Tasty Creme doughnuts here. Finally, the last table of fruit juices: apple, orange, tomato, tangerine, guava, mango, pineapple, a wonderful combo of apple, orange and pineapple. I love juices served in those glass pitchers that have a blown bubble inside the pitcher that contains ice. Some Sangria is served this way. If quantity and quality were not enough, the presentation was art work. I do not have pics of the Hotel Henry, but the ones you have already passed should give you an idea.


That is just breakfast.


 I could not undergo the gastric distress that would consume me if I tried to do the lunches, coffee stops and suppers. Suffice it to say that the Germans, Swiss, Austrians and Italians know how to eat. Credit where credit is due.


When breakfast was finished and our bags were in the lobby, Manuel conducted our route briefing which was sort of a company requirement and we all had our maps out and pretended that we understood the route. Well, I guess we understood the route, what we, or least I, did not do was follow the route while we were riding. There was just too much to do and see to be comparing where we were going to what Manuel briefed in the morning. In this briefing, however, Manuel gave us a nice story that pointed to a piece of history for which I had no knowledge.
clip_image052On the way to Brunnen, Switzerland, we were to pass through the city of Altdorf, Switzerland. Altdorf is the home of a Swiss patriot, William Tell. Most of us in the US know about William Tell because we are familiar with the refrain from Rosinni's opera, The William Tell Overture, that is the theme music for the cowboy movies of The Lone Ranger. Manuel had never heard of the Lone Ranger and I had no clue about the history of William Tell. To do justice to the lesson of William Tell, I will plagiarize portions of the history from Wikipedia.
William Tell was known as an expert shot with the crossbow. In his time, the Habsburg emperors of Austria were seeking to dominate the state of Uri. Herman Gessler, the newly appointed Austrian Vogt of Altdorf, raised a pole in the village's central square, hung his hat on top of it, and demanded that all the townsfolk bow before the hat as they passed the pole. When Tell passed by the hat without bowing to it, and he was arrested. As punishment, he was forced to shoot an apple off the head of his son, Walter; otherwise, both would be executed. Tell was promised freedom if he successfully made the shot. On 18 November 1307, Tell split an apple on his son's head with a bolt from his crossbow. Gessler noticed that before the shot, Tell had removed two crossbow bolts from his quiver, not one. After the shot, Gessler asked him why. Tell replied that if he had killed his son, he would have used the second bolt on Gessler. Gessler was angered, and had Tell bound. He was brought to Gessler's ship to be taken to his castle. As a storm broke on Lake Lucerne, the soldiers were afraid that their boat would capsize, and unbound Tell, asking him to steer. Tell made use of the opportunity to escape.


Tell went by land to K├╝ssnacht, and when Gessler arrived, Tell assassinated him, shooting him with his crossbow as he passed along a narrow stretch of the road. Tell's defiance sparked a rebellion, in which he played a leading part. The struggle eventually led to the formation of the Swiss Confederation. Altdorf must be in southern Switzerland.


Bottom line, Tell is a real Swiss hero with a huge monument in Altdorf.


It is with this history lesson that we wind our way down the labyrinth of hallways and steps that lead to a 90 degree landing with more steps leading into the dark. That's another thing about Europe. They have this thing about energy conservation. It's hard to tell if its a green thing or a green money thing. My guess is the latter. I say this because the hotel that has 40 watt florescent lamps that will only turn on when you insert your room key card in a slot just inside the door but has huge electric motors running multiple ski lifts just behind the hotel is doing what? Another thing. Since you must take the room entry card and remove it from the slot inside the room when you leave the room, all the lights go out and the electrical plugs go dead so you can not recharge batteries unless you are in the room. This was not the case in every room but in many.  It was a pain.


I am joined by Steve in our search for the door that leads to the garage and we finally find it by accident. In the garage, its same thing with the lights, already. No lights unless something is moving in the garage. So while we are trying to get dressed in our gear, the lights go out and we have to find the motion sensor switch and use it several times before we get out of the garage. Manuel is waiting on the gravel parking lot and I pull up next to him. I lean over to listen to what he is saying and when I sit back up, my right foot goes smartly out from under my leg and me and the bike make a slow descent to the ground. I do a quick tuck and roll to reduce the embarrassment of dropping the bike. We both went down so slowly that nothing is scratched or damaged. Well...my ego is bent to hell and back. Looking bad in front of Manuel was not cool.


The route below was from Warth, Switzerland to Brunnen, Switzerland.



The ride, like every day, was challenging, beautiful and laced with moments of euphoria and states of relaxation that I do not get when I am not on two wheels. That state, I am guessing, can only be accessed via illegal drugs in another community. We proceed mostly west and then south after we cross into the smallest country in Europe which is Liechtenstein. We take a coffee break at the capital, Vaduz and are lucky to catch a free car show of locally owned vintage automobiles. The collage nearby gives you an idea of what was on display.
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The square/mall was replete with outdoor dining and we grabbed a table for four and relaxed with our coffee for a few minutes before we returned to the bikes.
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Some highlights...at point J on the map is the town of Walenstadt which is located at the east end of Lake Walen or Walensee. There were some terrific vistas on the ride along the lake.
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We are working our way south west to visit the William Tell monument in Altdorf. We spend some picture taking time and then head almost due north. This ride along the eastern shore of Lake Lucern was visually stimulating and our hotel was located at the eastern edge of Lake Lucern and you look right down the leg that heads due west. 


The view from the bar, the restaurant and the deck, built right over the water, is breath taking.clip_image068
Close by are the edited videos of the days riding.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgSL9ZVruL4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TTVKumzhec
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40UcKAnI-Jc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8xy-HAcZkI

The riding highlight of this day. There is a lot of free range grazing of cattle in the mountains and they represent a minor hazard to vehicular traffic of all kinds. At one point, we came across a herd of cattle on the road and two of the cows seemed to be playing by butting heads and swinging their heads so that they made contact with their necks. Because of their size, all of this activity appeared to happening in slow motion and it did not look like there was any attempt to cause harm to one another..


The point of interest here was the Gold Wing with two up that passed us and intended to weave his way through the cattle on the road. As we watched, one cow took an interest in the motorcycle and began to move toward the couple. The rider and drive were both kicking at the simple beast to make it go away. For about ten to fifteen seconds, it was like watching a Keystone Cops movie. I have no idea how the driver of the bike kept it up on two wheels as the cow quickly lost interest in the game and meandered off the road. While this was going on, Manuel yelled back at me not to mess with cattle. I assured him I had desire to mess with over a thousand pounds of beef.


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As you can see from the picture above the road makes a climbing right turn and within about a half a mile we were entertained with the following vista.


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We have just traversed the valley below and are climbing up this range to get through the pass that is to your left as you view the picture.


We finished the day at the Seehotel Waldstatterhof. It is with a heavy heart that I admit that all the pictures I took of the hotel, Lake Lucern, my fellow travelers and the breakfast on the following day were lost when I tried to copy them from the camera to my laptop. I have no clue how, why or anything else. When I clicked Copy, there was screen flash and the files were gone. However the one below shows how beautiful it was on the deck of the hotel having dinner as the guest of Lake Lucern just as the sun was setting behind Stu. Thanks to our wait staff for taking the picture with Stu's camera.
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This seems like a good place to take a break because this file is now over 75 megabytes in size and is becoming a little sketchy to work with. As the disk jockeys used to say on the radio, "See ya on the flip side". Go to article entitled 2011 Alps Trip Journal Part II.