The plan today, Tuesday, was to visit the town of Freiburg in Germany, then get as close to the Stelvio pass in Italy as possible so we could tackle that challenging ride fresh on Wednesday. I normally like an early start to make the most of each riding day, but Tuesday morning didn’t go quite to plan.
For a start, the bar was open and served excellent coffee and croissants. Then we’d brought The Sunday Times with us from London, with its detailed analysis of the Brexit vote that had surprised so many. As Brexit supporters, we were so busy enjoying the dismay of the “remain” camp that we didn’t get underway until about 10:30. Certain moments have to be savoured!
Traffic on the single-lane roads was heavy as we rode through the famous region of Alsace-Lorraine, where the street signs and town names started to appear in German, even though we were still in France. We took the autoroute for the last stretch into Freiburg and made our way to the cobbled town square, with its imposing cathedral and picturesque roofscape, where an open-air lunch of pasta and German beer set us up for the afternoon.
The Garmin took us on a mixture of autobahn and lesser roads into Lichtenstein and back out again, bringing us to Davos by early evening. Davos, the home of the World Economic Forum, was actually quite disappointing and nothing like the picture-postcard towns and villages one normally associates with Switzerland. Some of its hotels are downright ugly, to our eyes at least: the Intercontinental, for example, looks like a giant concrete ostrich egg that has been sat on by a herd of elephants. Maybe the whole place looks more magical under a blanket of winter snow, but in summer it’s nothing special.
It did boast one campground outside of town, and happily they had space for a tent – lots of space, given that there was only one other tent pitched there, among a bunch of caravans. The sun was deserting the valley and it was getting chilly. We were at 1,500 metres, and I wondered whether our summer camping gear was up to the task.
Again, the beer was cold, the food excellent and they even had a decent scotch to warm us up. Happily, the newly acquired “two-season” sleeping bags were warm enough. Next morning, the woman running the café offered to bake us fresh croissants for breakfast. They arrived within minutes, accompanied by the suggestion that we wait a minute longer as they had just come out of the oven. Never tasted croissants that fresh, that hot or that good!
An old-fashioned, oft-used paper map showed us the route to Stelvio, but the signposting within Davos was so obscure that we overshot the turn and headed toward Klosters. It felt wrong, so we turned the Garmin back on. It surprised us by telling us to continue in the direction we were travelling, which we did, for several more miles, retracing our route of the night before along agreeably twisty roads.
The limitations of sat-nav became all-too-apparent when the Garmin directed us to a roundabout where it called for a U-turn and a trip back into Davos. This was the Garmin 590LM, designed for motorcycles; it would have been so easy to suggest a three-point turn miles back! I must confess that we’d deliberately left our intercom at home, so had no audio feed from the Garmin – there may well have been an unheard, strident voice telling me to “turn around as soon as you can”.
The intercom uses lip-touch microphones and can be a bit irritating at times, with wires from both helmets running down to a control unit in my jacket pocket. It also takes a mobile phone and an iPad, but Peter finds it annoying. My Schuberth takes a neat-looking but horribly expensive wireless comms system, and we haven’t checked out what wireless kit her Shoei can take (although they probably would’t connect with each other anyway), so we resort to the time-honoured methods of pointing fingers, tapping shoulders and enjoying the ride in silence.
We found the right road, and not for the first time came across traffic lights around single-lane traffic for roadworks. I guess the weather takes its toll on alpine roads and there’s probably a small window in summer when they can be resurfaced. On one stretch, a few miles outside Davos, one side of the carriageway had completely fallen into the valley below. It looked as if the efforts to rebuild it in that confined space would take some time.
The nice thing about these roadworks is that they bunch all the traffic together, including the trucks that somehow have to negotiate these routes. With luck, a bike can squeeze its way to the front of the queue and enjoy miles of empty road after the lights go green. On this occasion, however, there was no room to get past, but we quickly accelerated past the leading cars and trucks after the roadworks; the road opened up before us and we embarked upon the most enjoyable and challenging alpine riding we’d ever experienced.