The bike was ready. All consumables were replaced. Fresh tyres, pads, filters, bearings, you name it – it was done. All that was left to do was to go ride the actual trip that was planned. And hope to not make a complete balls of it.
My Ryanair flight got in at around 4pm, and it being mid-september I figured I had a good 3 hours to get where I was going before dark, and I was only going 70 or so km today, so no hurry, right?… wrong. Between finding the bike storage location, talking shite with some other adventurers, pulling the bikes out and getting into my gear , I probably wasn’t ready to go till 5pm, and as soon as I went to go, what do you think happened? The god damned bike wouldn’t start. I pushed the starter button and nothing. Not a thing. Nada. No click. No whirr of the fuel pump. Just nothing. Is the battery dead? Did I leave the nav-tower plug connected? turned on? No. Easily checked. I connected it up and the voltmeter read 12.7v. That should easily start her up? Right?
Time to get out the right foot and kickstart her. After 3 or 4 she came to life. Crisis averted, but I don’t want to have to kickstart her every time I throw the leg over for the next two weeks. So off with the headlight unit and I got stuck into the wiring. After a few mins of tracing cables I finally pulled the 4 pin starter button block connector apart and found that one of the pins had corroded itself into an early grave. This exact issue happened before on the TE300 so I know how to fix it. I’d rather have a spare starter button assembly handy but I mean, come on. I stripped and joined two wires to bypass the block connector and voilla!! We have e-start again. Wrap it up in a little duct tape and it seems secure.
I finally hit the road at around 6pm, with about 75km ahead of me, and of course started following the GPS track I’d preloaded for today. Straight into a public park. Fuck. Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but if I didn’t stop and turn around that’s where it was taking me. Tried a different way. No, got lost again. After the third cock up within 2 km of the airport I was cursing the GPS. What kind of a think can’t find his way out of Memmingen? Eventually I just stopped the bike, dismissed the Garmin, and used OSMand to find a suitable way out the road, at least in the general direction of where I wanted to go. Just go South West.
By the time I got 20km out the road and had filled my fuel tank up, the first signs of twilight were showing. Anyone who’s ever needed to use a KTM EXC headlight at night already knows how shit they are, so lets add that shittyness to the fire iridium prism lenses on the Oakleys (which are fab during the day), and riding on the wrong side of the road, in an unfamiliar country, solo, and it was starting to get uncomfortable for me.
With darkness fully set in by 8, the goggles were beyond useless so they had to be removed completelty. This led to every flying insect in southern Germany thinking that EXC headlights are actually bright and they all came out to have a good look. So now, this idiot here is down to 60km/h, afraid to go any faster without the goggles for fear of losing an eye. Oh and then there were roadworks. My road was closed. As in, completely closed. Another 10km of a detour around and I eventually got to my campsite in Aach after 9pm. Absolutely wrecked. And it was still only day one. 85km down and only about 1,915km to go, or at least I thought so at the time, it would end up being more, I just didn’t know it yet.
Today’s Distance: 85 km
Morning came quickly, in my head at least. The Austrian beers the previous night were equal parts of both amazing and unexpected, as was the free pizza. Travelers in this campsite look after each other, and the guys in Aach were so sound. By 8am I was wide awake, showered, dressed, and back at the tent re-packing my bags. This was a job I’d half intended to do at the airport yesterday, but I thought time might be a little tight so would it leave till today. By 8:30 I was fully kitted out for the bike, bill settled, tent packed, and on the road. Today’s destination was Brig in Switzerland, with a few optional highlights along the way if I’m feeling it. No pressure.
After a brief stop for coffee, water and a nutella filled croissant, the first set of roadworks swas encountered. The L41 was closed and I was going to have to find another way through Lustenau. After yesterday’s re-routing lessons with the GPS, today’s detours were a better learning experience and I became more comfortable ignoring instructions and just keeping moving. The North indicator on the Garmin came in handy and I used it to make sure I was heading in a West or South-Westerly direction for a while, and just ignore the phone’s efforts to get me back on track. Eventually I responded to one of the phones instructions and we were back on track.
The route was all asphalt today and the bike was performing well. As always on these trips, it takes a day or two to get completely comfortable with the added weight of the luggage, as 20kg strapped onto a 110kg bike has a much greater effect on handling than the same 20kg strapped to a 200kg bike… but as the miles ticked by the comfort factor was getting there, slowly but surely. Every bend made it feel a little more balanced, the bike leaned more readily, flowed a little smoother. By the time I got to Sattelegg I was comfortable enough to brake a little harder and push that bit more. Which is a good thing to have there as I’d never ridden Sattelegg before, or even heard of it – but what a gem of a road, to find completely by chance.
As the day went on there would be more fabulous roads and passes, including Ibergeregg, Axenstrasse, Sustenpass, and Grimselpass. On the way up the Sustenpass in particular I started to get a good feel for the brakes and felt that the new pads had fully bedded in, and as such could be used to their full potential. This led to some moderately heavy braking on occassion, and sometimes dabbing or dragging the rear if I needed to shave a few more kms off mid-corner. I was also developing a feel for these Michelin Trackers, and I was liking them. More than I should. I really should not have been feeling this comfortable hammering mountain passes on a dirtbike, with full knobblie tyres, on 21″ & 18″ wheels, with rimlocks. I just shouldn’t.
Eventually, after 10hours in the saddle and 400kms behind me, I arrived in Brig. Long days make you earn your pints.
Today’s Distance: 400 km – Total Distance: 485 km
Oh no. I could hear the rain from the bed. You know the ratatata-ratatata sound of heavy rain on a hotel balcony.. it just wouldn’t stop, and I had 285 kms to do today.
After breakfast I checked the weather app ont the phone and there was no ambiguity there. 100% chance of rain, all day.
I mulled it over, and made a cup of tea in my room. Even a normal hotel feels like a luxury suite when the previous night was spent in a tent. Would it really be so bad to stay another night? I have camping again later in La Rosiere, France, and it’s already booked and paid for.
So I checked the weather in La Rosiere. 1°C. One Degree. And tonight? 2°C, rising to a balmy high of 4°C. A quick run down to reception to enquire about staying another night was completed, and I was back before the tea was cold.
I mean, it is a holiday after all.
Today’s Distance: 0 km – Total Distance: 485 km
The problem with taking an unplanned rest day on a roadtrip, is that the distance still has to be covered. Yesterday I had 285 km to cover, and today I should have had a comparatively easy 204 km. But I didn’t do any of my distance yesterday so…, am I seriosly considering doing nearly 500 kms today? Am I right int he head?
Whichever way it goes, there’s serious distance to cover today. I have to get to Bardonecchia in Italy by this evening, and between now and then I’ve to transit through Italy and France before re-entering Italy again. The chances of rain are reasonably high today too, which doesn’t bode well for the optimism, but as we learned in the Army, any fool can be uncomfortable. I can have a hot shower in Bardonecchia, but between now and then there’s a mission to complete, and that’s to get there. So lets go.
At 8:30 we’re on the way, leaving Brig behind. By 9am it’s raining and I’m stood beside the bike, on the side of the road, trying to manouvre my clumsy oafish Gaerne clad feet into a pair of waterproof over-pants without falling over. I am not looking forward to the next many hundreds of kms. Not one bit.
Back on the trusty EXC the GPS was saying to head up nearly every side street I passed, but I successfully ignored it, preferring instead to continue on this normal secondary road heading West. Eventually I would get close to Martigny and have to head South and I’m fine with that, but for now we’re just trying to eat the miles. We pass Martigny and the road starts to climb, with every km passed and every foot of evelation gained the cold is biting harder against my face. Soon it’s bad enough to require another stop, this time to don the neck warmer and velcro every seam closed tight.
30km South of Martigny and we reach the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard and the seemingly innocent sign that wants me to choose between ‘Le Col’ and ‘Le Tunnel’? Seriously? I genuinely said to myself ‘I’m going to regret this’ as I followed the sign for ‘Le Col’. The turn off to the right led me out of my temporary tunnel shelter and straight into the elements. The read was narrow and winding, with little traffic, and the cold was immediate.
Passing the top and starting the long descent into Italy brought with it an almost immediate change of weather, as can be the case in mountainous regions. There was the occaisonal dry patch on the ground, noticably less actual rain, and, dare I say it, a little warmth.. Not enough to reduce the amount of insulation I was wearing, but any improvement was appreciated.
As the day went on we descended in towards Aosta and out to Pre-Saint-Didier. Le Thuile, and the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard came in sequence, as they do, and eventually I arrived into the sleepy wee ski resort of La Rosiere in France. It’s actually a fab little town and the Col between Italy and France to get into it was one of the best roads I’ve ever ridden. What I wouldn’t give for some 17″ wheels and a pair of slicks. And some sunshine.
The only negative aspect of being in La Rosiere was that I should have slept here last night. It was the middle of the afternoon, I had by now recovered the mileage from taking the rest day, but I still had today to do..
Tignes. Val D’isere. Col d’Iseran. Bonneval-Sur-Arc. Lac du Mont-Cenis. Susa and then up the hill to Meana Di Susa.
Was I really going to go off roading today? Was I really going to have to tell myself ‘I’m going to regret this’ for the 2nd time today? I was, and I did. The track wound uphill, switchback after switchback, through farmyards and across bridges, and eventually down into Chiomonte.
By this stage I was starting to feel the effects of my double shift and it was time to roll on into Bardonecchia, which is exactly what I did. It was twilight by the time I refueled the bike, rolled into town, and found the apartment. By the time the bike was unloaded it was completely dark. My chothes were rank, and muscles were stiff, but the apartment was fab, and the hot shower was even fabber!!
Today’s Distance: 429 km – Total Distance: 914 km
The smell of absolute benji off me last night was not funny. Well, it might have been a little funny. Until you smelled it and realised that it was actually not funny. Last night I had just about enough energy to go for a pizza and a beer in a local trattoria and that was about it. I slept like the dead and was up early. After putting on the washing machine (with no detergent, but with some fabric softener I found in the apartment) I found myself heading to the local Carrefour Express for groceries by 8:30am. I could already feel it in my bones that today was going to be a productive day, especially when I seen the 66cl bottles of Peroni for €1 each – I bought six. In Ireland they probably wouldn’t even let you buy beer at 8:30am.
By 10am my laundry was hanging on the balcony, and I was gone on the bike, heading for some off road trails South of Bardonecchia, to Punta de la Mulattiera, Beaulard, Oulx, and along the Strada dell’Assiette.
I returned back to my apartment at a reasonable enough time and cooked up a nice chicked arrabiata tagliatelle, with lots of garlic and chilli, and Peroni.
Today’s Distance: 136 km – Total Distance: 1051 km
Another off road day today, but with more time on my hands and no chores to do, I had more time to enjoy it.
I headed East towards Susa first but turned off at Deveys and headed up towards San Colombano for a quick trail loop, before heading up the track from Moncellier di Sopra to Forte Pramand. This was followed immediately by Galleria Saraceni and the entire Jafferau Loop, which eventually brought me down the ski runs and into Bardonecchia again. And it was barely lunchtime!! .. so I hit Colle Sommeiller while I was already in the area and had enough fuel in the tank. Even after hanging around at the top for far too long – it was a fabulous day, even at 3000m – I was still back in Bardonecchia easily by 3pm.
Today’s Distance: 125 km – Total Distance: 1176 km
With the bags repacked and wearing fresh clothes again I was like a new man. Leaving Bardonecchia at 9am, I had a quick spin around the town before filling the tank for the day ahead, which, in my mind was going to be like a half day. How bad eh.
I headed East towards Susa, but today I didn’t turn left till I got there and then started North along the SS25 towards Mont Cenis. Having no real time presure I could enjoy the spin more today, especially now that the sun was shining and the roads were dry. I took a small detour at the bottom of Lac du Mont Cenis where I found some nice trails. Dropped a GPS waypoint so if we return here on a future trip we’ll know where to go.
Soaking it all in today, the road was feeling good, and we headed up the Col D’Iseran and down into Val D’Isere, with a small diversion into Tigres. The stress free day was a tonic and I kept pushing onwards towards La Rosiere and over the Petit San Bernard and then down the switchbacks into La Thuile, which was where I’d be staying this eve.
It was only when unloading the bike at my hotel that I realised something wasn’t right. Where was my tool bag? Normally I wear it around my waist and it has everything I need to adjust my chain, or tackle anything really. It was gone. I remember stopping at the top of Col D’Iseran for coffee and a tarte. And up the top of Col des Embrasures / Forte De Redoute near La Rosiere. But where did I lose the bag?
Fuck it. It was 5:30pm. The sun was low in the sky but I reckoned I had an hour of daylight left. No time to dilly dally this time, I immediately departed. Southbound this time, and not sparing the horses, the mighty 500 hammered up the Petit Saint Bernard and I was at the top of Forte de Redoute in less than 20 minutes. A quick scan of where I’d just been, revealed nothing, and the realisation that it must be at the Col D’Iseran cafe set in. That’s another 70km south of here, in completely the wrong direction. A 140km roundtrip. It won’t be today, but I’ll have to think about it. How badly do I need my tools. On any other bike I could probably do without but on the EXC?.. Oh man.
Back to La Thuile for the second time today, with no tools. A hot shower, a pizza, and 4 beers lifted my spirits and I slept like the dead.
Today’s Distance: 242 km – Total Distance: 1419 km
After a fab breakfast of scrambled eggs and coffee and bread and cereal I tried phoning the cafe at Col D’Iseran. Four attempts and no answer. Will I go back? Or drive on?
Fuck it I need those tools. I do. Balls. So for the FIFTH time this week I crossed the Petit Saint Bernard and back into France. Past La Rosiere and Tigres, Lac du Chevril into Val D’Isere, and to the top of Col D’Iseran. De ja vu. Same cafe I stopped at yesterday, and the same waiter too!! And he recognised me!!! He did not, however, find any bag. Tres disappointing.. C’est la vie :o(
I was back in La Thuile for lunchtime, having crossed Colle du petit St Bernard now for the sixth time this week, thinking about how I’d only started out from here a few hours ago. I’d probably covered 150km already today, but had made no real progress and was no closer to today’s destination, and still I had no tools. Riding on regardless, I crossed the Great Saint Bernard pass later in the afternoon and after descending into Switzerland stopped at the first garage I seen in Sembrancher for an oil change and to pick up some new tools. The signs outside said Suzuki and Moto Guzzi and SWM and of course with it being Switzerland, they had Motorex oils. No 10w50 but they had 10w60 4T fully synth and so I got some fresh blood in the KTM. The ability to adjust my chain had been niggling away at my head all day and I needed to pick up a 10, 13 & 27mm spanner. I could get away with it for a day or two but it was going to need adjustment soon.
As luck would have it, Alex, the guy at the garage, was into enduro riding. It’s a small world. We chatted for a while and after work he popped up to the house and sorted me out with a 10, a 13, and a 27mm spanner. And a used but still good tool belt. I had no words, other than thank you. Barely 24hrs after losing all my tools, and by sheer random fluke, I run into another enduro jock and he sorts me out with a few tools. Delighted doesn’t even come close!
Evening was getting close and I eventually had to depart towards my evenings’ lodgings in Sierre. I was given a great tip to go up Verbier and cross over the ridge and follow the trail down into Riddes but as darkness was getting too close and neither of my GPS’ were showing a trail there, I had to wuss out and head over some slightly more established trails at Col du Lien instead.
Crossing the ridge and descending into the valley I felt I was getting close to my destination, but a closed road at Chalais Vercorin added a signifigant detour and it was properly dark by the time I got into Sierre.
Today’s Distance: 380 km – Total Distance: 1799 km (+ an oil change)
The penultimate day of the trip. It seems like forever ago I crossed the Susten and Grimsel passes and was awe-struck at Switzerland’s beauty, but it was barely a week ago. And now here I was, heading in the opposite direction. Not exactly the same route, as now I was actually taking those small turns that I’d avoided in the rain last time I was here. And what turns they were – twisty little backroads featuring tunnels cut straight out of the rock face, thses ‘balcony roads’ were amazing. I detoured up towards Inden and Bratsch stopping far too often to take pictures, or sometimes just stand there open mouthed, trying to comprehend the fantastic views before me.
More detours would eat into the day and a closed trail that just got narrower and narrower eventually made me turn around South of Fiesch. It had by this stage become fairly obvious that it was for walkers only, so a U-ey was the only real solution.
Back on the hard stuff I opted to go over the Furkapass this time around. On the southbound trip last week I’d gone over the Susten and Grimsel Passes so it seemed appropriate that I go Furkapass this time around. It was a good road, and I’ve no complaints, but Furkapass really isn’t patch on the Sustenpass which is one of my favourites.
Eventually I’d head back up Axenstrasse and Ibergeregg and Sattelegg and into Siebnen for the eve. Along the way I was temporarily adopted by a bunch of German riders on big touring bikes who were probably more amused than anything at the Irish idiot on the EXC. Whatever opinion they may have formed of me in the 40mins we shared, all In can say is that these guys can really throw around the big bikes. R1200RTs and Pan Europeans and they were hammering them up the roads. Serious pilots.
Today’s Distance: 269 km – Total Distance: 2068 km
The past few days have taken their toll, but at the time I hadn’t noticed it. Last night I had an amazing dinner, consisting of hands down the biggest steak I have ever seen. Followed by dessert, which I totally devoured, and washed down with pints. And I slept easily till 9am. Easily.
The following morning, when I eventually wandered down the stairs to the garage to load the bike, the realisation hit me. Today is the last bike day. Should I feel relieved? Or disapponited that the trip is reaching it’s end? Nothing lasts forever and I’m just glad I got to do it. The bike has to be in Memmingen for tomorrow as it’s being shipped home. It’s also the last available date to ship a bike home from Memmingen in 2021 so if we’ve a mechanical issue and miss the drop off we’re totally fucked.
I don’t really know why, but once I hit the road today I just kept it going. Smooth and steady. No stupid risks. No wheelies or heavy braking. No anything. I had this ominous feeling but I couldn’t quite place why. Maybe I was subconsciously aware of being close to the end and I know that statistically most accidents happen when close to the end of a journey – pressonitis or something.. so I kept it smooth.
Arrival in Memingen was around 2pm, and yeah, there were no issues. A hot shower and some fresh clothes were desperately needed, and were had in that order before the bike was put away in the garage and chained up. The overlanders crew were already here and there were probably 30 or 40 bikes to be loaded. Every one of them more suited to this trip, but also, none I’d rather have been on. I’m proud of the little KTM thumper. In EXC terms she’s the big one, but in normal road bike terms, an very off-road biased 500cc single is not the typical touring bike of choice.
Today’s Distance: 215 km – Total Distance: 2282 km