The Group on the Continental Trip

By Ray Butts, COO of Rocky Mountain ATV/MC

Prologue

A few months ago, Dan (CEO of Rocky Mountain ATV/MC) and Steve (friend of RMATVMC) sat down for dinner one evening and were discussing life, riding and other items of interest when a discussion about Continental tires came up. Rocky Mountain ATV/MC has carried Continental tires for quite some time, but we have never met any of the principals of the company. Dan and Steve thought it odd that of all the major tire brands, Continental was the only one that we had never had any open discussions with. Steve came up with the crazy idea for Dan to fly to Europe and meet with Uwe Reichelt – the Head of Sales and Marketing for Continental motorcycle tires. Emails were exchanged and a tentative timeline tossed about for a six-day tour of the Alps in the countries Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. While Uwe Reichelt was unavailable for the ride, he arranged for Dieter Grotjohann (International Sales Manager Motorcycle Tires at Continental) to serve as the tour guide.

As soon as I heard about the ride – and being of ample size – I threw out the idea that Dan drag me along as a bodyguard. Since this would be the first time Dan considered leaving the North American continent, he quickly agreed. Plans were solidified and gear was prepped for a trip of a lifetime.

After agonizing about luggage and whether the bikes we were renting would come with adequate storage, Dan and I settled on diametrically different approaches to hauling our gear to Germany. I was worried that I wouldn’t have anywhere to store my suitcases, so I opted to haul my gear in a body bag-sized duffle that I could fold up and store on a machine in a pinch. Dan went with a nice roller bag that he could maneuver through the airports. After arriving at the BMW rental facility in Munich, Germany, I realized I could have traveled a lot easier!

For gear, I decided that waterproof and windproof equipment was more important than my heavier duty adventure gear I normally dual sport with. Since I was a newbie, I knew we would be on adventure bikes, but I wasn’t clear on whether we would ever see any dirt. Luckily, I was correct on this guess. My Klim jacket and mid-layer was ample to keep me warm in the high passes and could be adjusted for the warmer afternoon riding. We never had to test the waterproof capabilities of our equipment since the weather gods smiled down upon us all week.

I got home from the Emig Ride on Sunday, September 28 and had just enough time to wash my gear and repack for our plane ride Monday morning. Never a boring moment at Rocky Mountain ATV/MC!

Day 1

Dan and I met at work at 5:00 am to catch an 8:00 am flight out of Salt Lake City. We had a connection in Chicago that would take us to Dublin, Ireland, and finally to Munich, Germany. Our plans were to try to sleep on the flight over the Atlantic and arrive Tuesday morning in Munich ready to ride a few hours to our first destination. This did not happen.

I don’t know if it was nerves or just the excitement of flying halfway round the world to ride motorcycles in destinations I’d only read about. So after 21 hours of travel, Dan and I arrived in Munich and met up with Steve Johnson and Dieter Grotjohann. Steve had flown out of DFW and had arrived about an hour before we did. He is an old hand at travel and was rested and ready. I was running purely on excitement at this point. I tried not to think about how long I had been awake.

The Rental BMW Bikes

We drove through Munich to the BMW rental facility. After a bit of trying to find the right person, Dieter was able to line us up on two BMW R1200GS bikes, one BMW R1200R, and one BMW K1600GT. Being a bit jet lagged and strangers in a strange land, we were taking our time lining out our gear. Unbeknownst to us, we were keeping the BMW employees from their lunch hour. We picked up our pace and got our gear stowed and the bikes out the gate just in time to get locked out. We were on our way.

Dieter took us out of Munich on surface streets that eventually led to the autobahn. Of course, I didn’t realize it was the autobahn till that evening when Dieter told me. I had built it up in my head that souped up cars would be flying past at 150 mph and that we would be driven about by crazy German drivers flashing their headlights at us to move over and let them through. The autobahn was simply I-15 with some foreign signs and everyone driving benignly along – no drama, no adrenaline rush of pushing my GS to its limits to keep up with the flow of traffic.

The Autobahn 95 Outside of Munich

Once we were well away from the city, we stopped and grabbed some lunch at a nice restaurant where I tasted my first schnitzel. I’m not a complete country bumpkin, so I knew what a schnitzel was, but I figured if I am visiting a foreign country, I am going to eat the local fare. This was a goal of mine for the whole trip. I didn’t want to go home and tell everyone about the burger I ate in Italy. When in Rome!

Now that we had a meal under our belts and a good day of no sleep to boot, I must say, I had to work to keep my focus on riding this first day. We climbed through picturesque mountain passes and passed beautiful Bavarian villages. I was so turned around, I couldn’t tell where I was really riding, but dang was it gorgeous. We eventually ended up in an Austrian ski village called Berwang. Once we arrived in town (which had about four streets), Dieter pulled up a map to find our hotel. We stayed in a lovely lodge called the Hotel Blitz. The couple that owned the place had lived in Atlanta for several years and were very friendly. As we were checking in, we were presented with the evening menu and given a couple options for two of the courses. Once done, we unpacked and relaxed till dinner. I cannot describe how lovely the view from my veranda was – not a blade of grass out of place and so quiet, you could hear the cow bells ringing in a pasture half a mile away.

Dinner was very nice with local flavors. One thing about Europe I discovered early is their love of their dogs. The hostess came up as dinner was winding down and asked if it would bother us if their dogs came in. Since we were all dog lovers, we had no problems. Two sad-eyed basset hounds came strolling in and swept through the room seeking to be petted or scratched behind their drooping ears. Nearly every evening, we came across restaurants that allowed good-mannered mutts to join their masters during meals.

Day 2

Up early to the sound of farmers working in their fields, we packed up our bikes, grabbed some breakfast, said our goodbyes and hit the twisties. We had a few discussions about which route to take since Dieter had concerns about whether we would be okay through hairpin turns. Now a hairpin turn in the U.S. is usually in the neighborhood of 40 mph. Dan, Steve and I have all ridden mountain roads in the Rockies as well as the Ozarks. Hairpins?! No problem! Off we headed through the mountains of Austria on the way to Italy.

The Second Day

After a couple hours of heavenly curves, tunnels and postcard vistas, we wound our way through Namlos and Stanzach. While working our way up the Hahntennjoch mountain pass, we hit a road block; the cows were being driven down from the mountain pastures to valleys. Unless we wanted to wait four hours, we could only turn around, completely backtrack and make our way through Lähn and the Lermooser Tunnel via the Fern Pass road on the way to Imst. Back on our original track, we wound our way over the mountain through tunnels. We finally entered Italy and lunched in Resia (Reschensee). The wind had kicked up a bit, and we opted to eat inside but with an excellent view of the massive lake that was once two smaller lakes with a small village in between.

In the early 20th century, a plan was hatched to build a large dam creating Lake Resia. The town of Graun was below the waterline drawn up for the lake. Even though the villagers protested and WWII slowed construction, the power company submerged the town in 1950. Today, all that visible is the 14th century church tower.

The 14th Century Church Tower in Lake Resia

Riding around the lake, I suddenly turned the corner and saw the monolith sticking out of the water, setting my imagination alight with the meaning of this tower in the water. Thanks Google, mystery solved.

I must admit, I knew that Stelvio Pass was coming. This was one of the few passes that I knew about and was really excited to ride during our trip. We had debated taking another route for about three seconds. We were determined and excited to climb the 1808 meters to the top along the 48 hairpin turns. Did I mention hairpins before? These are 180˚ turns that are not much more than a first- or second-gear turn. Luckily for us, we had Dieter to show us the proper technique for conquering the challenging turns. On the uphill, right-hand turns, we would fade to the left guardrail while looking over our right shoulders watching for oncoming traffic. At the apex of the turn, we would dive back to the right side of the road (our side) ready to accelerate to the next corner. For left-hand turns, we would simply hug the right-hand guardrail while looking over our left shoulders and rail the bikes through the corner. After a couple dozen corners, I felt like I could race MotoGP!

Stelvio Pass

The craziest part of climbing Stelvio in my mind was passing multiple Sprinter-type vans that had to make two-point turns to make the corners. Scary!

Once on top of Stelvio, we stopped to take some pictures of the buildings and sights. Unfortunately, we had passed through a cloud on the way up and did not have a clear image of the pass below to take any pictures. At the top were several tourist shops selling products touting the fact that we had mastered Stelvio. I was drawn to the two massive stone guard towers that were obviously built in times past to hold the pass.

The Top of Stelvio Pass

Shortly after descending the western side of Stelvio, we turned right and were suddenly in Switzerland –my fourth country to visit in the two days of riding. We followed the Muranzina River down the Umbrail Pass to Santa Maria. We rode over the Ofenpass to Zernez. At this point, we were faced with a decision: ride a half hour to the Hotel Castell near St. Moritz or tack on another two hours and take in a couple more passes. The difference meant being at the hotel at 4:00 pm vs. 6:00 pm. We decided we wanted to ride.

A Church on a Hill

If we would have gone to the hotel early and then seen what we would have missed, I would have been sorely disappointed. We left Zernez and headed north for a bit to a small village called Gemeindeverwaltung Susch. We jumped off the main highway and followed the Susasca River up the Flüela Pass to Davos Frauenkirch. At Davos, all I could think about was how awesome it would be to travel there in winter and ski the slopes. Breathtaking!

We headed to Wiesen then up and over the Albula Pass. All along the pass, there was a sweet hiking trail paralleling the road. I kept daydreaming about jumping onto the dirt, but that is a huge no-no in Europe. They just don’t know what they are missing riding singletrack!

At the bottom, we could see twilight approaching. We made our way down the valley to the Hotel Castell near St. Moritz. This place was a 19th century castle that was converted into a hotel with ski slopes above. The cool evening breeze kept the rooms at a perfect temperature for sleeping underneath the customary down comforter.

The Hotel Castell

Day 3

After a restful night’s sleep, we once again loaded our machines and grabbed some breakfast. Obviously, breakfast here in the US differs a bit from what we were offered on the trip. I’ve tried different cheeses in the past, but I’m ashamed to say I fell short of appreciating the scope of flavors offered to my mid-American palate. I can say that the Castell had the most amazing croissants I’ve ever eaten. They were crispy on the outside and literally melted away in my mouth. I could have eaten the entire basket.

The learning curve was steep the first couple days of acclimating to the morning breakfasts. I’m sure I looked quite awkward as I watched natives out of the corner of my eye to try to grasp what utensils were needed for each job and how to effectively feed myself. By the end of the trip, I actually liked the grub. Just don’t expect sausage/bacon, eggs and hash browns.

Leaving St. Moritz, we headed back to Italy via Pontresina and Bernina Pass. It was fun jumping off the main route and taking the narrow roads up through Livigno. We twisted our way to Bormio. Throughout the day, we went over several more passes: Gavia, Croce Domini and some for which I can find no name. At many times, we found ourselves on a ten-foot-wide strip of asphalt with no lane markings.

A Narrow Road without Lanes

Many blind corners kept me on my toes as we carved our way up and over the tops of the Italian Alps down to Lake Garda. We were pressed to meet a deadline. We had to catch a ferry across the lake or face a late night taking the road around the end of the lake. While this isn’t the size of one of our Great Lakes, Lake Garda isn’t a little puddle either. With time to spare, we made the landing for the ferry about a half hour before sundown. We loaded up with a handful of cars and fellow biker or two and made our way to the eastern shore. Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy and has had a long and varied past, from Roman wars to a modern vacation spot for world-class windsurfing.

Crossing Lake Garda on the Ferry

Lake Garda

Our hotel for the night was the Hotel Villa Cariola. This little villa had the feel of Tuscany with adobe walls as well as cypress and olive trees about the place. We packed in our gear and grabbed a shower to wash away the grime of the road. I had a nice dinner of tasty risotto. Dan gambled and lost on a description of fried fish. It should have read fried whatever-was-caught-in-the-net-that-night! The only thing that disturbed my slumber was the donkey complaining in the next field. He finally won his argument, and I awoke rested and ready for another day of fun.

The Bikes Waiting on a Morning in Italy

Day 4

After three long days of riding, we were ready for an easy day to get the built-up cobwebs cleaned out. We strolled up to the north end of Lake Garda and had a coffee stop. We enjoyed the calm breeze coming in off the water and the pleasant sounds of the water lapping along the shore.

An Italian Dock

The Group Taking a Stroll

Dieter explained that while the weather seemed mild and peaceful, come 1:00 pm, the warmer air would want to rush up through the narrow canyon walls along the north end of the lake. The lake would be whipped into a frenzy of white caps that has drawn world class windsurfers from around the world.

We decided we would leave while the getting was good and headed up and over the mountains to our final resting spot for the evening: Hotel Zirmerhof near Redagno, Italy.

Hotel Zirmerhof

The Zirmerhof is a quaint little bed and breakfast that has been developed from an old farm house high in the foothills of the Dolomites. The terraces in front of the hotel allow visitors to sit and enjoy the sun setting over these majestic peaks. My anticipation kept growing as I looked out over the rough skyline I could see in the distance.

A Lovely Sunrise View

When we had made our original plans, we had hoped we would be able to ride with Uwe Reichelt, but his schedule didn’t allow it. On this evening though, he ran down from the office to spend some time with us at dinner and discuss business. We thanked him for giving us Dieter for the week and for all of his hospitality.

After a restful night of folding my 6’6″ bulk into a twin bed, I awoke rested and ready to head into the Dolomites! We had breakfast with Uwe and Dieter, took some photos and headed on our way.

Ready to Hit the Road

Day 5

I have to say, this was probably my most favorite day of the trip. My eyes could not take in enough of the scenery as we rode through. I could only compare these mountains to the bones of the earth torn free from the ground. Standing on end at every point, this was the land of the parasail and hang glider.

A Huge Rock Tower

We left the Zirmerhof and backtracked through Radagno and Cavalese and headed for Passo di Lavezze. From that point, we circled through the stony peaks of the Dolomites. We would start heading up to the top, and I would think, “This is surely an overlook.” We would crest a saddle and pass over to the next valley. We stopped at Sella Pass where we watched at least a hundred parasails and gliders floating up and down the valley. Dieter showed us an old ski run in the Sella Towers that was finally closed because of the high level of difficulty. His dad hiked the run back before there was even a lift. He would essentially climb up for one run in a day. Hardcore!

At Giau Pass, we came upon a sports car club that was touring the same roads we were. It was cool to see so many Porches and McLarens in one parking lot. One of the Porche drivers was wearing a jacket that said Shawnee, OK on the back. I couldn’t tell if it was a fashion statement or if a fellow Okie had made good in the world!

The Sport Car Club

As we left Giau Pass, we were awarded with pass after pass that circled through the mountains. Since we were well above tree line, the visibility was incredible. With no foul weather, we enjoyed every minute of every day as we toured this ancient and lovely land.

We eventually made our way out of the Dolomites and the last of the larger Alps as we returned to Austria. Winding our way through Sillian and Innervillgraten, we made it to our home for the night: the Hotel Gannerhof.

A View of the Hotel Gannerhof

It was another great ride and comfy hotel, and we enjoyed another local dinner. We did get a bit of a surprise when venison was accidentally translated as veal. No biggie, but when my taste buds are thinking one thing and get another, it can be a bit of a shock!

Day 6

All I could think about was how quickly the time had flown by on this trip. Here we were, leaving out for the last day of riding. We were in Austria most of the day. The highlight of the day was riding over the Groẞglockner – the highest peak in Austria and one of the highest in the Alps. We stopped and took pictures of the incredible glaciers packed between the peaks. Even though it was sunny and warm, groups of people were sliding and playing in the snowfields that were scattered alongside the road.

The Groẞglockner

Glockner Blick (“View”) Sign

We wound our way down through Saalfelden and Bischofshofen. Instead of heading straight up to Salzburg, we found a twisty route through Annaberg and Abtenau up through Postalm to the Wolfgangsee and Fuschlsee. After the Fuschlsee, instead of heading straight into Salzburg, we found another nice cutoff to Hallein.

From Hallein, we were on our way to the famous Berchtesgaden, a beautiful hamlet snuggled in the mountains that has been a Bavarian crown jewel for centuries. High above hangs the Eagle’s Nest, one of Hitler’s command posts where he would entertain and manipulate visiting dignitaries. Unfortunately for us, there was a vintage car race on the day we rode through, and the road was closed for the day.

A Vintage Car

As we sat on the veranda of the Edelweiss Hotel and had an afternoon snack, I could see the infamous lair high on the peak above us. It gave me a bit of a chill thinking about the history during that dark period.

As for modern day Berchtesgaden, it is quite lovely. Not a blade of grass was out of place with people taking afternoon strolls with family and their pets. Hallmark could make an entire series of cards by walking through and snapping pics.

Our day was winding to a close. We jumped on the bikes for the last leg to our hotel. We ran into a bit of a traffic jam when we discovered our desired route was blocked, so we had to take an alternate route. Our guide, Dieter, was on a bit of a time crunch since he had to return his bike that night in Munich (about an hour away). We finally made our way to Söllhuben and our home for the night: the Hotel Hirzinger.

The Hotel Hirzinger is owned by a friend of Dieter’s. The hotel is a traditional Bavarian hotel that has a long and rich history. The original building was built in 1477, and the same family has owned it ever since! They served up a traditional meal of pork roast and potato dumplings. We also ate a wonderful German pancake that was cooked flambé with applesauce. (We Americanized it with a scoop of ice cream!)

Pork Roast and Potato Dumpling at the Hotel Hirzinger

Dieter met us for breakfast in the dining room. We discussed the wonderful trip and thanked him for the excellent route he had planned. He was headed to the office and had programmed a GPS to get us into Munich and to the BMW rental facility. I had been given the nod to run the GPS, so with fingers crossed, we headed into Munich. After fighting with the GPS for a bit, we finally got onto the autobahn. The GPS kept saying it didn’t have enough memory for the route. Luckily, when we got within the last ten miles, it finally popped up the route and wound us into BMW without too much trouble.

BMW Headquarters in Munich

With the machines turned back in and gear repacked in our suitcases and duffle bags, we departed BMW (just in time for their lunch) and headed to our hotel. It is always interesting to ride in a car after so many days on a bike. We checked in our luggage and took in the sights of Munich – both BMW World and Oktoberfest. Both were interesting, but I could feel the decompression coming on. The ride was over. I missed my family, but I was faced with 21 hours of planes and airports. All I could think was, “Let’s get it done.”

Oktoberfest in Munich

Riding Location Disclaimer

By Ray Butts