Our contributor and his fellow travelers had the ride of a lifetime through some of the most picturesque landscapes in Europe.
The dog days of summer have slowed the pace of life to a crawl, with seemingly endless triple-digit temperatures scorching the earth and boiling my brain. Riding home after dark, even the slither of moon hanging low in the early evening sky is on fire. Sweat rolls into my eyes and every warm, moist breath feels labored. Battling traffic, waiting for lights to turn green, and inhaling car fumes, I start daydreaming about cool Alpine passes. Of twisting roads, climbing and tumbling through sweet smelling pine forests, of strong coffee and clear mountain lakes at the base of picturesque mountains, and small, family run hotels that serve fantastic cuisine a short walk from my comfortable room.
Lying back on a blanket of soft, green grass, peppered with brightly colored wild flowers, I fill my lungs with crisp mountain air. Above, the clearest, brightest blue sky competes with the lazy billowing clouds in nature’s own beauty contest. Jagged peaks thrust out of the frame of vibrant green and brown trees that ring my horizon, and with a smile that warms through to my soul I close my eyes. Five days of riding through the European Alps has brought my own personal nirvana, as my mind drifts back to the heat and congestion I have left behind in America.
Led by an Austrian policeman, the group left Bad Tolz under heavy rain clouds on the first day heading across Germany into Austria.
Flying into Munich on a cool, damp day in late August, summer was quickly forgotten as I joined my fellow Alpine sojourners on the bus to collect our rental BMWs, the bikes that would carry us through the technically challenging roads of the European Alps for the next nine days. An eclectic mix of races, religions, nationalities, ages, and political beliefs, we came together as a group of strangers, destined to share the experience of a lifetime, an experience that would see a close group of friends sadly saying goodbye nine days later. Talkers, listeners, joke tellers, wise men, and caring ladies, we came from all walks of life, linked by a common thread, the love of motorcycles, the thrill of discovery, and the fun of meeting new and interesting people.
For most of our group it was their first motorcycle ride in Europe, so later that first evening we discussed some of the idiosyncrasies of riding in Europe. Thankfully, our group was largely comprised of veteran riders, ranging from a motorcycle policeman to a safety instructor, with a solid number of high mileage riders in between. Ably led by the amazing Peter Lintschinger, an Austrian motorcycle policeman in his regular life, it was perfect that he knows the Alps like the back of his hand, and we couldn’t have designed a better guide by committee. Brimming with personality, possessed with a tireless enthusiasm and intimate knowledge of his country and surrounding areas, there was never a dull moment with Peter at the helm.
Departing Bad Tolz under a heavy fortress of swollen rain clouds, the first day of riding across Germany into Austria would prove the mettle of our group, and reveal the strength of character they possessed. Quickly turning to a full wet ride, as heavy rain began to fall, Peter detoured us off our route to spend a couple of hours on a walking tour in Salzburg. As we wandered through the city that claims Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for its chosen son, we marveled at the Baroche architecture and the incredible number of beautifully restored churches.
Leaving Salzburg in a steadily increasing downpour, the amount of water in the Salzach River told us there was some serious rain falling in the mountains above us, although their peaks remained hidden in the thick, dark clouds. With the day sliding away, we were heading for Peter’s hometown of Tamsweg, and the conditions grew steadily worse as
the temperatures dropped into the low forties. Sticking tightly together in a line, we would all soon learn that touring Europe was not for inexperienced riders, as we had our skills tested to the limit on the slick, Austrian mountain roads.
On arrival at our hotel, our smiling host whipped out his typed list, handed us our relevant room keys, and an hour later we were tucking into a superb home cooked meal in the hotel restaurant. Sitting around the dinner table on that first night, if anyone had been unhappy you couldn’t have guessed, the conversation was lively and animated. This simple routine became the format that we would stick to for the duration of our journey, as we enjoyed wonderful accommodation, great food, and personable, attentive service from our gracious hosts.
Waking to the second day of our tour, the smiles of my fellow travelers greeting me over breakfast revealed we had lost the rain and would be heading into a warm, sun filled day of spectacular riding. Getting to know each other, any reservations we might have been having about riding with a group of strangers for nine days were melting fast, as we loaded up and hit the road. With a plan to come back to Tamsweg for the night, we were able to travel light, and once up into the mountains Peter cut the group lose for a couple of hours of free riding. With a fairly tight schedule to keep and much to see, this didn’t happen often, but it was a great chance for everyone to do some exploring and get comfortable on the BMWs at their own pace. For some it was the first time on this brand of motorcycle, and BMWs are well known for
The trip included a stop in Tamsweg, Austria where the group was served a home cooked meal in the hotel restaurant.
Thankfully, the God’s of travel smiled favorably on us, and we didn’t see rain again until our last day. We always took the road less traveled, and it was only when winter snows fell in Austria that we had to cancel our proposed ride to Switzerland. We did get to ride into and across Slovenia, which was a real thrill for all of us. As a country we knew little about, we found a mountain pass called the Vrisicpass that we learned from Peter had been built during World War I. As possibly the tightest, steepest, most twisting road you could imagine, it had the added delight of cobblestone corners to further challenge our group, as we made like mountain goats. Affording the most majestic views of the picturesque countryside on our descent, we were soon sitting in a faded, pastel Italian town in the late afternoon sun, sipping coffee and meeting the local people.
We rode through Alpine fresh valleys, with the manicured green grass reaching up to the thick dense forests that separated the majestic mountaintops from these seas of green. We rode an endless series of first gear switchbacks, as our motorcycle skills got tested beyond anything we had previously experienced, and marveled at widescreen views
while catching our breath at the top of each particular pass. And frequently we strolled small, European towns during our lunch breaks, hunting souvenirs and snapping too many pictures, as we attempted to cram every moment into our digital and mental memory banks.
Traveling together, our group grew closer and closer as we shared one incredible experience after another. The stunning Dolomite Mountains of Italy, stark, muscular pillars of bare rock, towering above the lush green valleys as we rode. The snow capped peaks in Austria and the fields of wild flowers, we said goodbye to in Slovenia. We smiled and waved at groups of Europeans on Harley-Davidsons, smiling and waving at our group of North American’s on BMWs, and stopped often in small villages for coffee. With the roads running right through the center of European life in these parts, we witnessed parades, church processions, and weddings, as we weaved our way through the movie of their lives. Old men with war medals, devout ladies in dark clothing, and cheeky kids climbing on our motorcycles constantly bombarded of our senses with good, positive stimuli. And this was the
Cutting through some of the more remote regions in Europe the group was exposed to many foreign people and views.
perfect tonic for the stresses and strains of our regular life left across the Atlantic Ocean.
By the time we reached Sefaus in Austria on the eighth day of the tour, we had been running from the early winter weather for a few days and finally got caught. Waking to find the Ski town blanketed in fresh snow, I don’t think anyone was too unhappy to spend some time off our motorcycles and to stretch our legs. We had maximized every day in the saddle so far with the best riding of our lives, so a little retail therapy in the local shops and a bit of afternoon nap practice wasn’t causing too many complaints. Always the man with the plan, Pete quickly organized a ski lift ride for coffee at a rustic ski lodge at the top.
The snow finally stopped falling, and after our last dinner together as a group we told the most lies of the trip and laughed so hard we went to bed with aching jaws. The final ride out of Serfaus was the equal to any we had taken. Marveling at the long line of bikes snaking its way through the majestic valley ahead of me, it was an incredible sight to see everyone riding as if they were one. Relaxed and comfortable, with a huge inner smile I couldn’t beat off with a stick, I had once more found my motorcycle nirvana in the majestic Alps of Austria and was hanging on to every last moment.