Here we are, off on a motorcycle trip to the Alps! The grand and storied land of soaring peaks, winding narrow roads — home to the best James Bond car chases — green slopes, longhorns and pure maidens, cable cars and hikers’ huts, the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, all this and more in the summer. And in the winter of course the ski resorts. Fortresses of luxury set in mountain fastnesses, outdoor cafes perched on overlooks, and long, challenging ski runs beginning in the thin air of high altitudes. I’d seen this winter world once at Alpe d’Huez more than 30 years before (yes, I’m that old) on a spring skiing trip, and I’d had a couple of brief sojourns in the Bavarian Alps and the Black Forest a few years after that, but that was it for my Alps experience.
As for my long-distance motorcycling experience, I have somewhat more of that. In fact my motorcycle touring started the same time as my motorcycling itself. The year was 2005 and I had gotten started on my mid-life crisis a little early, still in my mid-30’s, prompted by a difficult separation from my wife and generally being ground down by the less glamorous sides of life as the recipient of an ordinary middle class income in Manhattan. I’d sold my car when we’d moved there and had no easy way to escape the city for fresh air / open space breaks other than renting one. Even that was a pain, because I had to first take trains or buses out of the city in order to even get a rental for less than exorbitant prices. Thus it turned that in the winter of 2005 I found myself searching online ads for Kawasaki KZ650’s after reminiscing with my Dad at Thanksgiving over the one he’d had almost 30 years before that. Eventually I found the perfect bike, but in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, no short distance from New York City.
So the next April I packed my soft strap-on side-cases with everything I thought I’d need, donned my riding pants and motorcycle jacket, and got on a plane to Milwaukee. The seller picked me up, I swung my leg over a motorcycle for the first time other than our 125cc trainer bikes at the 2-day riding course I’d taken a couple of weeks before, and I headed off for a 4-day journey through the midwest to Pennsylvania and then down the Hudson into NYC. It was nerve-wracking, it was cold, and it was far more exhausting than I’d expected, but the sensation of freedom out on the road in the open air with the capability to go any direction I chose was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was hooked.
A rapid succession of shorter and longer tours followed — NYC DC, Connecticut, Maine, and the Gaspe peninsula in northeastern Canada, numerous day trips to the Hudson Valley, and ultimately the series of visits to upstate New York that culminated in me buying a house and moving up there in December, 2006. That summer I didn’t stop, but got on the bike and rode it all the way out to Colorado, went for a week-long hike with some friends, and turned around and headed back. Six weeks that could not at any point be said to be easy, but absolute heaven through and through.
A few months after that Päivi came into my life and everything changed, but much stayed the same. When you meet a soulmate there are slight adjustments in course to be made, but no major changes in direction. After a period of international travels in too many countries to name we found ourselves in 2013 with two motorcycles and time on our hands. We retraced the first part of my Colorado route from 6 years before — it was that good, running out from the boundaries of New England across the Great Lakes and through the Midwest to the Great Plains, following in the footsteps of the pioneers in the 18th and 19th century. All the way out to Colorado and this time even further, up along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains through Utah, Wyoming, and Montana into the eastern part of Washington State bordering on the Pacific. If you counted states touching the oceans, coast to coast had been achieved. We came back through North Dakota, Minnesota, and Ontario. More than six thousand miles in six weeks, and some hiking and relaxing besides.
The next year we moved to Europe, and after some acclimatization, some longer journeys in Finland, Sweden, and Norway followed. A year ago I had one fantastic week to Norway’s Lofoten island chain and back, rivaling the longer US trips in magnificence if not in length.
Norway is indeed a land of the gods, but in Europe one area rises still higher in reputation among motorcyclists, and that is the Alps.
And so now here we were, on board a Germany-bound ferry boat with my Italian adventure tourer and Päivi’s Japanese cruiser in the hold, relaxing after a hard last week of preparation and eagerly awaiting the trip ahead. All the difficulties of arranging expensive accomodations, obtaining proper documentation for our vehicles and insurance, purchasing highway toll passes and the like now forgotten, only the dreams of white mountain peaks soaring above winding roads fringed by green grass and trees visible ahead of us.
In a new first, we were going to be traveling with a group from our motorcycling club. The entire route through the Alps had been planned in road-by-road detail, along with every night of accomodations. We were going to meet up in Austria, but around a dozen members (out of nearly 40 overall) were on board with us here. We met them while boarding and though we knew we should start getting acquainted, Päivi and I were both just too exhausted from the preceding week to have much energy to be social. We wandered around the decks and cafes on board for a while, ate the food we’d brought for dinner, and went to bed by 10. The thing I was happiest about was that our cabin was completely in the interior without any windows. That meant we’d be able to sleep as long as we felt like and needed without being forced awake by the summer light — like that which streamed into our bedroom windows at home daily from 3am on.