August 4, 2013
It was time to go back to Basel. We carefully orchestrated how we could most efficiently load our bikes without having to make too many trips up and down Manarola’s hills and steps. This process actually started the evening before, with each of us carrying part of our load up the long hill and over the many steps to where our bikes waited for us. I knew that I’d appreciate this small boost of preparedness come the morning.
We had set a not-unreasonable time for departure but had forgotten to plan for Sunday mornings: nothing would be open. We left Manarola with empty bellies and the hope of finding something further down the road. Fortunately for me, the beauty of the ride distracted me from any hunger pangs that might have surfaced. The road west of Manarola reminded me a lot of the mountains over Puerto Vallarta, with the green but dry vegetation and the way the mountains were steeps, but somehow soft and approachable. There were a couple of small towns along the way but for the most part the route was a narrow ribbon of pavement through the wilderness.
Shortly after leaving Manarosa
Following Dan. That break in the pavement sometimes was 4″ deep
Following Bob and Dan
My “chi” was completely ruined when I stopped for a photo. I told Dan that I was going to stop and I might be longer than usual because I had to get off the bike. The photo didn’t take long and I was back on the bike in a matter of a minute or so, but it was long enough to lose sight of the guys. Not more than a kilometer later the road came around a bend and split in two directions. The GPS and more obvious direction was straight ahead, but various construction signs, barriers, dirt spread the road and the ubiquitous red circle (“No entry”) made me hesitate. I chose the other route.
I followed this narrow road down, down, down, unsure if it was the right choice. I had lost contact with Dan on the Sena shortly after I’d stopped, so there was no checking with him. I passed a couple of people walk along the side of the road, so I knew I wasn’t completely alone. With each passing minute I was stressing about my direction. It didn’t feel right, but then again, the other option didn’t look right, either. I kept talking to myself, discussing my options and how we had no contingency plan for a situation like this. We were supposed to wait for each other at turn offs or questionable intersections. Apparently I’m the only one that questioned that particular intersection. Then the road split one more time and I knew that I had made the wrong choice. I turned around and headed back up the hill. This time when I saw the two walkers I stopped and attempted to ask (pantomime) if they had seen two motorcycles go by. They finally understood what I was asking and emphatically said no, no other motorcycles had gone by. I thanked them (I had learned that much Italian, at least!) and continued back up the hill. At the questionable intersection I looked again at the signs and figured “what was the worse that could happen?” and continued past the “No entry” circle.
Almost immediately the road went from pavement to a very narrow, construction-grade gravel road. Obviously there was active construction going on in this area, but it was all passable so I continued. Relief crept up as a few road cyclists came from the other direction, as I figured that the road had to be clear for them to make it. Another rough gravel patch was crossed and then I was back to pavement. I have no idea how much time I had wasted on my little mini-tour of Italy, but I was concerned with catching up with the guys before they started to worry. A few minutes later I came around a corner and found Dan waiting for me. He had turned back to make sure that I hadn’t dropped my bike in the gravel and decided to wait for me there. I was just happy to know that I was back on track. Naturally, I took no pictures during this chaotic time; I had other things on my mind.
Back together again
Shortly after I rejoined the group we left behind the wonderfully twisting roads of the coast and headed inland. We needed to make better time if we wanted to be out of Italy before the day’s heat reached us. We took a motorway to Genoa and then turned north towards home. The roads in this area were a mix of “tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge, tunnel”; it appeared that no section of road was actually built on the surface of the earth.
There were also these interesting roof-like structures instead of or just before tunnel entrances. I’m not entirely sure of their function, but they had little glass roofs for natural lighting.
Italian suburban sprawl
We finally reached the shores of Lake Maggiore and it was hot. Traffic lights (timed, not sensored) slowed us considerably and Dan mumbled something about roundabouts being so efficient. The sun beat down on us and it was with pleasure that we stopped at a lakeside restaurant for a bite to eat and something cold to drink.
Our view during lunch
Lunch was surprisingly good and we managed to get our order placed despite the language barrier. I don’t like not knowing even just the basics of a language; I’m going to have to work on that in conjunction with my German lessons. Again, it took a while before we could get back on the road and we decided not to follow the lake for its entirety, instead opting for a more direct inland route. The road was fast and interesting, so it was a good choice. The Swiss border caught us off guard but like most of the borders crossings I’ve come across, no one was here to even bother checking us.
We caught the A2 near Lugano and soon were whisking our way north, retracing our steps from just two days ago. Dan had been considering taking the Gotthard Tunnel because he was both curious about it’s 16km length and well, he likes tunnels. But tales of traffic jams were common and this being the end of a holiday week in Switzerland, the odds of having a free-flowing trip through the tunnel were slim to none. Regardless of Dan’s decision, Bob and I had agreed that we’d take the pass over the mountains and just meet Dan back in Basel. And then the traffic came to a standstill.
We were still a good 6km from the exit for the pass, and the tunnel entrance was further along the A2 after that. Dan decided that he would take the pass (wise move!) and we all agreed to lane split our way to our exit. This is illegal in Switzerland but drivers didn’t appear to be overly offended by our passing by. The lanes were wide and there was always plenty of room for even Bob’s wide BWM 1200GS with panniers.
A2, with traffic
We took our exit for the pass, tackled about 5 cars in front of us and then the road was ours. Wide open all the way over the top and down the other side. Until we got outside of Andermatt. Traffic was backed up from our direction as holiday traffic circled around the roundabout, trying to squeeze in cars from two directions and funnel them into an already crowded Goshen Pass (the location of the Devil’s Bridge I keep mentioning). I realized that the cars in front of us would be snaking painfully slow down the ravine and then meet up with the traffic as it came out of the Gotthard tunnel. There was no way to win this. After a brief discussion between Dan and I we pulled over and made a proposal to Bob: Let’s spend the night in Andermatt. It was already 5pm and traffic wasn’t going to get any better any time soon. If we find a room here, the guys could get up early and easily commute back to Basel for work. Bob agreed enthusiastically and we pulled into Andermatt.
It took a little bit of time to find a room, but after that we found dinner and a beer and made an early evening of it. As Dan set his alarm it finally dawned on me: I didn’t have to be at work in the morning. I could sleep in a little bit and then take a more interesting route home. Dan joked that he didn’t care as long as the laundry was done. Ha! Tomorrow would be fun.
* * * Day 4 * * *