3. Austrian Indian Tour 2009
Silvretta - Timmelsjoch - Stilfserjoch - 24.-28.06.2009
A view out of the window let my doubts grow. Four days to the start of the tour, and it was raining heavily. The news told about raising watermarks on rivers and lakes and ongoing there were new record high quantities of rainfall broadcasted. The decisive weather situation covered half of Europe and its centre should reach Austria with the end of the week, right at the start of the tour. But my biggest concern wasn’t the rain. Some parts of the route would get us into heights above 2000m and there we would experience snowfall. A pass crossing under those conditions would be impossible. Down in the valleys, rivers were over their high watermark and streets could be blocked. As there are not always bypass routes available, whole parts of the tour were endangered to be not rideable. After two years of intensive planning of the most beautiful and demanding tour so far, I began to think about an alternative program…
The evening news, two days ahead of the start, brought me relieve. The peak of the bad weather situation had passed and the water levels were constant. Weather would clear up at the end of the week, but snowfall at high regions could still be a problem. Webcams helped me, to check the snow situation at those mountain passes we would cross.
Within Wednesday morning, no snowfalls! As we arrived in Landeck, the tours start, with dry weather, I went a little euphoric. Making a turn down from the highway to the main road of the village, two big v-twins stomped their way in front of us. Burkhard and his wife Time, which had arrived three days earlier, and Peter Prill had a short rideout on their motorcycles. Short after, we stopped at a petrolstation, filled up our bikes and in preparation of the tour, I bunkered 35 litres of gasoline as our reserve. The last miles to our hotel, Peter offered me his passengerseat. For me, it’s always impressive to feel the difference of power, when changing from my Scout to a Chief…
As we arrived at the picturesque Tramserhof, all my worries were cleared. Every half hour, new riders reached the hotel and the group grow bigger. Not one had doubts, that the weather would be on our side, but everyone was willing to ride the tour, even with poor weather. Two of the riders which were with us for the first time, Alberto Haberler and his wife, made our food and beverage supplies for the next days even more complete. Besides a wonderful restored Roadmaster Chief from 1951, he pulled out box after box out of his van, filled with Italian biscuits, sparkling wine and Bellini. What would you say? So once again:”Gracie mille, Alberto e Elisabeth!!!”
The afternoon we spent at the hotels terrace and as the last riders had arrived and their motorcycles were safely stored in the garage, we had a wonderful 4 course dinner.
Day 1, Roads of the Silvretta, Flexen Mountainpass and Hahntennjoch Road
While we had breakfast, I was very happy with the weathersituation. Broken by some small clouds, the valley lay bright and sunny in front of us. At the parkinglot we prepared our motorcycles and after a few words to the riders, opening the 3rd Austrian Indian Tour, we started our engines. Right from the start I had tried to stay away from the mainroads as often as possible, and so we saw the first sharp curves within the first kilometres. At the famous Trisanna Railroad Bridge we made a turn to the Paznaun Valley and continued our ride to the first stop, the Bielerheight at the Silvretta Mountainroad. After a little rest, we entered the wonderful main part of the road and picked up the rhythm of the curves. In one of the villages down in the valley, we met Thomas Dengg and with 2 Fours, 5 Chiefs, 2 Scouts and 14 people, the group was complete. Avoiding the dense traffic on the Arlberg Transitroad, we rode our bikes on a smaller road besides. Burkhard reported to the group, that his gearbox made uncommon noises and we stopped for checking that. As we couldn’t find the problem and the gears worked fine, we spent some time to cool down the engine and gearbox and than went on.
Although I have ridden the road some times, I am fascinated of the Flexenroad each time. If you reach the southern ascent, the most breathtaking part of the road lies something above ahead. Directly into the rock, they had burst the street in 1895 and constructed bridge segments into the vertical. A road cannot be designed more exposed than that. At first the layout of the street was completely open and unprotected, until 1948 when most of the road was hidden under rooflike structures, because stone and snow avalanches endangered the street frequently.
After passing that section, it began to rain for the first time. My clock showed that it was moreover time for a noon break. When the "Flexenhut" emerged at the roadside, I didn’t hesitate long and pulled my Scout over to the parking lot. Although I had hoped only for a small snack, the chef surprised us with excellent, Austrian kitchen. An hour later, the rain had diminished a few and we went on with our ride. We passed through the well known winter sport village Lech and worked ourselves to the height of the pass. The rain now again was somewhat stronger and on that very curvy, narrow street our speed went down. As we turned into the neighbour valley, we however left the worst weather behind us and soon the street was dry again. The curves became more open and with the increased speed, the field was pulled into the length a little. On straight parts of the route, I slowed down the speed and when I was able to see the group behind me, I went on at higher speed. Before entering the Hahntennjoch Road, I wanted to refuel our groups’ motorcycles and so we stopped.
When almost all had arrived at the gasstation, Burkhard with his Chief and the tow car with Dorit was missing. On the phone I was told, that the problems with the transmission had become seriously and that the sidecaroutfit was parked for safety. Basically my trailer is not big enough for motorcycles with sidecars but the group found a way to get things working. Dorit picked up the Chief with Burkhard and Time, and the remaining group continued the trip.
Although I check the whole route of the Austrian Indian Tour one year in advance by car, make some notices, determine tank stops and test the hotels, I had left out that on the relatively short section of the Hahntennjoch Road... Already on the first kilometres, so the one or other surprise was waiting for me. The road was clearly more demanding, constructed far more spectacular into the mountain, than expected. When we had reached the valleys end and the actual pass lay in front of us, we found the street blocked because of the preceded rain. A detour of almost 80 kilometres would have been the consequence and would have run us and our motorcycles into the evening hours. Because regularly traffic met us, we decided to continue the trip.
The Hahntennjoch Road itself was breathtaking. The street is constructed freely into vertical walls of rock, later thru fields of scree and rubble. Behind the often interrupted guardrail, it went down hundreds of metres into the abyss. With much respect, the group pulled further ahead, down to the valley. After these impressions, I can only say: To designate the Hahntennjoch Road as a sidepart of the route, how of me expected and not further checked, was definitive an incorrect estimation. Further on, the group decided it among the most attractive and spectacular parts of the tour this day, at our later goal, the Hotel Lamm in Tarrenz. After the motorcycles were accommodated in the garage of the house and the tow car with the sidecar outfit had arrived just half an hour after us, we went up to our rooms. Before dinner, we enjoyed the Prosecco brought in by Alberto in order to be pampered a little bit later by the kitchen and service of the Hotel Lamm. Burkhard had left the table for the garage in the meantime, to do some work on his Chief. For him and his wife, the kitchen prepared a rich “Brettljause” when they returned later. Some of our group populated the bar of the hotel, where the last were seen around half past two in the morning...
Day 2, Ötztal - Timmelsjoch Road – first curves of Stilfserjoch Road
After the breakfast, we started or motorcycles and went on to the entrance of the Ötztal Valley. I had planned a deviation from the original planned rout, for the next 7 kilometres. So we left the main road, bent into a small village, crossed a single-track wooden bridge and pulled up the mountain on a winding street. Here the time stood still. Nothing reminded us of the current time, no cars, no modern structures. Behind one of the last houses of the village, we bent into the forest. The street became once again narrower, the surface was old, sanded asphalt. In the moment as I didn’t know if we shall continue on that road, because of the poor condition of it, the way became wider again and was freshly tarred. Short after we passed through another old village, in order to return a little later to the main highway. A short excursion into another time!
On the almost straight Ötztal Road I picked up speed. While riding through villages, I held the prescribed speed, on the open mainroad I rode my Indian between 70 and 80 kilometres per hour, not getting the engine into to much revolutions per minute. As my Scout is, as long as technically possible, equipped with a 23 tooth sprocket at the secondary chain, the number of revolutions reached in third gear, approximately are the same, which will be reached in second gear with a Chief, running the same speed. Everything went fine so far. As I however twisted the throttle to full open after a low speed section, I heard a twittering, whistling noise under me. My first thought, was a still running piston seizure and without loosing time, I began to pump additional oil into the crankcase with the hand pump. Moreover I strongly reduced the speed remaining in the third gear. When I depressed the clutch and the motor changed into idling, I knew that it couldn’t be a piston seizure. But the sound, that followed the number of revolutions of the engine, didn’t stop. A few hundred metres ahead, a junction went down to the yard of a car house, on which I turned down my Scout, with the motor running. After a quick look on the front cylinder, the problem was clear. The metal layer of the cylinder head gasket was blown through on a length of about 3cm. The spare parts that you need, are always left home… So it also was with my head gaskets. In the workshop of the car house, we asked for useable sealing material. Unfortunately without success. Not loosing more time, we loaded my motorcycle on the trailer. Thanks to Time, I got the seat in the sidecar of Burkhards Chief and we continued the ride.
After we had passed the 60 kilometres through the Ötztal Valley, we arrived at the beginning of the Timmelsjoch Road where the owner of the road and the nearby skiresort Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Attila Scheiber welcomed us. At the toll station we were allowed to pass freely and Atilla used the time to get a closer look on our motorcycles. At that point Horst was unlucky with his Four. On the maybe best prepared bike of the group, suddenly the clutch was no longer working properly. With the first gear, which was now locked in, Horst made it to the highest point of the mountainpass. Going on with that kind of problem wasn’t an option, so we also loaded the motorcycle on the trailer. Now both available places on the trailer were occupied and if a further motorcycle would have fallen out of the group we would have been forced to improvise.
At the highest point of the pass, we crossed the Austrian - Italian border and went further on, to ride through the maybe most picturesque part of the tour. After innumerable curves we changed from the highly alpine, rocky terrain with snow and icefields, to a height with green meadows and low vegetation. Later, speeding down the road, we passed dense forests and again and again, tunnel sections demanded our full attention. Near the end of the Timmelsjoch Road we smelled the resin of that house high firs standing at both sides of the road.
Burkhard and me in his sidecar, enjoyed every metre of the rapid ride. How it’s normally only done on racing motorcycles, I climbed out of the sidecar, just using one hand to hold on to it in left turns and put myself on the baggage carrier of the Chief in right turns. Burkhard did not trust my technique at the beginning, but as he saw that I was serious and acted save on his bike, he enforced the speed and we rushed down. In inner curves I was now working close above the ground, while in outer curves I tried my best to prepare for the next turn, while hiding behind Burkhard on the rear fender. During the next stop, even the most sporting drivers in the field told us, that they weren’t able to keep up with the speed, we picked up downhill.
During the lunch break in St. Leonard, at the end of the mountainroad, I started my search for a suitable material for my new headgasket. From the owner of a gasstation, I was sent to the smith, which sent me to a nearby metal worker. With Manfreds Four we found the recommended workshop and bought a piece of raw, 0,8mm strong, copper sheet metal.
In the plain after Meran, it was our goal to bring some distance behind us. I had changed into the sidecar of Manfred Fetschers Four and we set a relatively high speed in front of the others. Again and again I turned around and observed the other Indians how they commuted through the curves. Because that plain hasn’t much to offer, except nice views, we mastered the next 50 kilometres without a stop. In Spondinig where we turned, heading direction Stilfserjoch Road, Horst’s wife waited with his van. We loaded the motorcycle in his car and Horst decided to meet us at the end of the tour in Landeck.
A few kilometres later the sky darkened rapidly. Thick clouds came down from the mountains in front of us and a few minutes later we rode in the rain. To our day goal, the Mountain Hotel Franzenshöhe at 2188 metres, we had just ten more kilometres and maybe 20 sharp curves to ride, the beginning of the Silfserjoch Mountainroad. After our arrival at the hotel, the riders pressed themselves and their motorcycles under a roof next to the house, hiding away from the rain. Tightly all motorcycles found a space in the dry. Only I wasn’t willing to do anything more, after this exhausting day. My Scout remained standing in the rain. "That’s a motorcycle, that won’t do any harm to it..." I loudly thought. My desire was a cold beer, a refreshing shower and later, an abundant supper. After the first two steps, my mood brightened up and I went down to the dining room...
How the kitchen and the service of the hotel pampered us, has to be mentioned: Next to the extensive and above all, fresh salad offer, there was Vitello Tonnato, grilled vegetables and fresh bread, as cold appetizers. As a warm starter, they served excellent Pasta with a creamy sauce and wild chive. The fennel soup with pumpkin kernel oil was followed by a delicate beef goulash with polenta for the main course. For dessert, we had a wonderful, filled pie, on a fruitmirror out of forest berries. A dream! Also on every other issue, the hotel can be recommended only warmly. The interior is kept simple and filled with so much love for the details, that you feel immediately at home in every room and every area of the house. The team around Karin Wallnöfer, fulfilled every wish we had and we felt as we were regular guests for years. Once again, thank you very much!
After dinner, Burkhard looked at me seriously. I looked back asking and with a head nod to the parking lot he said: "We have some work to do." As we had unloaded my Scout, we tried to get some space to work under the roof near the kitchen, were all the other bikes were parked. The cylinder head was quickly demounted and the old gasket served as a model for marking the sketch on the sheet metal. With incredible perseverance, Burkhard worked on the new gasket. From this point on, I was just a spectator. With totally insufficient tools, he managed to cut out a new headgasket in about two hours. Later it was glowed out in the kitchen of the hotel and fitted to the Scout. At two o’clock in the morning I didn’t start the engine for a test, but repaired and with full compression, the Scout ran after two kicks on the starter, the next morning.
Day 3, Stilfserjoch Road - Passo d´Eira – Ofenpass - Reschenpass Road
In front of the breathtaking scenery of the Stilfserjoch, we made another groupphoto before the start of this day. Even riders of modern motorcycles see the mastering of this mountain road as a knightly accolade and so no one of us tried to hide his pride shortly before riding these last curves up to the pass on motorcycles, that were built in the 20's, 30´s, 40´s and 50's. As we climbed up the mountain, the road went steeper and the curves got narrower. So we slowly worked ourselves to the highest point of the pass. The engines output diminished more and more on the basis of the thinly becoming air. At a height of 2757 metres, as experienced at the Stilfserjoch, it felt approximately like the half of the power which is available, riding the motorcycle in the plain. All hindrances to the defiance, we reached the highest point of the pass a little bit later. The second-highest pass, which can be reached with motorcycles or by car in Europe, was subdued!
After a short stop and some photos, we went on and rode down the west side of the mountain into the valley. After a short plateau and some incredibly tight turns, we continued thru countless tunnels. The partially, completely dark passages demanded our full concentration once more. Curve after curve we drove our Indians towards the valley. Shortly before arriving at the junction leading us to the Passo d´Eira, I stopped the field in order to get the riders and the hot brakes a short rest.
A little later, we continued our trip and approached the Passo d´Eira. On this road, several particularities waited for us. First, we passed Trepalle (2069m), the most highly lain, durably inhabited village of Europe. Secondly, this village was the community of priest Alessandro Parenti the rolemodel for the book and film figure Don Camillo, the opponent of the villages mayor Beppone. Alessandro Parenti built not only a primary school, but also invented telephone lines and erected a gas station around 1930. At that time, those things weren’t common even in the valleys below. During our noon branch, some of us visited the church in which Don Parenti had served. And third, Trepalle is in a duty-free zone and the litre can be bought for just 65 eurocents at the gas station. What a nice price!
After numerous curves we reached the valley ground around Livigno. Directly after the village, a 7 km (!) long avalanche control structure began, following the bank of the Livigno reservoir. We twisted strongly at our gas handles and combined with the echo returning from the tunnels walls, we let the engines speak to us. After the passage of the crown of the dam, a small wait emerged. As the tunnel, which is about 3,5 kilometres long and ends in Switzerland, is only a single-track, it can only be used alternately by both sides. When we had the green light, we once again enjoyed the sound of our motorcycles inside the tunnel tube, with a very small diameter of only 3,5m! Now on Swiss ground, we crossed the Ovenpass. Also here, the vegetation changed with every kilometre.
Essentially nothing was able to stop us at this point. All motorcycles ran without problems and as we had stopped several times this day, I decided to bring us near the day’s goal with a fast ride. So we flew over the Reschenpass, 80 kilometres without any stop. Of the highest point of the pass, we had once again a wonderful view back towards the Ortler mountaingroup. I didn’t stop until we reached the village of Graun at the bank of the Reschenlake for another interesting sight. After the Reschen obstruction wall was built in 1950, the increasing water of the Reschenlake forced a resettlement of the old village Graun and the community. For safety reasons all houses of the old village were dismantled by the authorities, accept of the tower of the old church. This tower stands out of the water until today and became a landmark. As it is restored these days, the water level was lowered, and the tower was out at the dry. Performing the very last tank stop of the tour, we had just 45 kilometres more to the end of the round ahead of us. After a short ride on Austrian ground, we once again entered Switzerland in the near of Nauders to have the last sharp curves of this tour. We took the remaining stretch at high speed and slowed down our trip just shortly before Landeck. On the last kilometres I listened, at a low number of revolutions, to my motor and was happy that that 3rd Austrian Indian Tour had passed so wonderfully.
After a short ride through Landeck, we went up to the Tramserhof and left the village behind us. In front of the hotel we set up our motorcycles for some last groupphotos and had some cold drinks, celebrating our success. After the, once again, excellent supper wich was preceded by a Bellini out of the supply of Alberto, we celebrated the birthday of Karla. The riders which had visited the Austrian Indian Tour for the third time, were awarded by me and Peter Prill started a little bazaar with Indian spare parts. Later the original documentary film of Burt Munro “Offerings to the god of speed” from 1971 was shown. After a long evening and a restful night the group broke up to all directions, to get on the way home. In two years we will meet again, in summer 2011 for the 4.Austrian Indian Tour, Wachau – Neusiedlersee - Wienerwald