Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Possible Birth of a Winter Motorcycle Rally.

First One O the Year

Last year we had the Frosty Pubes Rally at Tim's in Strontian. The only thing was it wasn't very frosty with the weather giving us a relatively warm 9 degrees and loads of rain. This year we wanted to do it again but we needed somewhere a bit colder, plus we're at Tim's all the time so it's nice to go somewhere else. I had somewhere in mind.

"I know where we can go. The Cairngorms!"

I've stayed at Glenlivet Hall a few times in the past and figured it would be ideal for our needs. It's pretty central in Scotland meaning everyone involved would have to travel about the same distance. After some Facebook based organising we had a plan and some willing attendees. All in we had around 30 folk invited.

A few folk had pulled out by the time it came to leave. Old Mike had to help his daughter move, poor Andrea had came down with the flu and Aidan went to watch the football (I know, what the fuck's that all about?) I felt sorry for Andrea. He'd been looking forwards to a winter run for ages, buying himself a winter a bike for the trip and everything.

My run up was nice. The sun was out and it was freezing cold. I had loads of layers on and Mikey Sunter's heated grips so I was nice and warm. This was the first outing of my new Forma Adventure boots. They were great too, keeping my feet warmish and dry all weekend. I headed up the Blairgowrie, Glenshee, Lecht, Tomintour route. This is known as "The Snow Road" as it goes over two of Scotland's highest roads and past two ski centres. Unfortunately for them there wasn't much snow and a fair bit of ice which I don't think makes for the best ski conditions, it look good though. I stopped off at Glenshee cafe for some lunch, getting a few funny looks and laughs from the other folk there.

K75 at Glenshee
K75 at Glenshee
First One O the Year
K75 at Glenshee
First one o the year.

When you're riding in the snow or where there could be ice I've found the most important thing to do is be as smooth and as relaxed at you can. Be extra careful on parts of the road that are in the shade as there's a much higher chance of ice being there, plus you get lots of shite falling off trees which makes the road slippy. I tried my best to stick to this way of riding while heading off down towards Braemar. There was quite a bit of ice at the top as I said, but it all calmed down a bit as I dropped in altitude.

First one o the year.

The Lecht was the same story but with a bit less snow. Mike Sunter was playing up a wee bit going up the steep part off the road. It felt like it was being starved of fuel when holding sustained higher revs and the fuel pump was making a bit more noise than usual. Hopefully it lasts the whole trip! Fuck being stuck at the side of the road waiting to be recovered when it's only 2 degrees!

First One O the Year
First one o the year.

After a few navigational errors I found my way to Ruud's house. Ruud helps run the hall and came down with me to remind me how everything worked. While I was there I got a call from Mikey Sunter (the man, not the bike) who was riding down with Snake from Caithness. They had met up with Tim from Strontian on the road but Mikey had got a puncture on his C90, so they'd stopped to fix it. There no pub or anything near the hall so I headed to the shop to pick up beer for us all. While I was there the rest if them rolled up, puncture fixed. We had a grand total of 4!

First one o the year.

There's no other way to put it. The hall was fucking freezing! We jumped around like lunatics playing tennis with a wee bouncy ball using bars of chocolate and books as rackets but it was still chilly. However there was the kitchen and the bar area which were much smaller and easier to heat. Ruud even suggested sleeping in there as opposed to the hall as it would be warmer. He even though a tent outside would be warmer!

First one o the year.

I was actually OK when in bed. We had all dunted ourselves with beer, whisky and poitin. I had my Exped mat, my sleeping bag, a blanket I'd brought and three base layers, but when I got up for a piss it was FREEZING. You could see your breath and everything. When I woke up in the morning Mikey Sunter (man, not bike) was gone! He'd dragged himself through to the bar as he found the fridge like quality of the hall a tad too cold. 

"That floor is fucking FREEZING!" - Snake.
"I was OK. My sleeping bag I got from a skip is really warm!!" - Tim.

Hot drinks and some food warmed us up as we planned our "ride out". We came up with the following. 
  1. Go up the Lecht which is about 40 minutes away and fucking frozen.
  2. Go to Dufftown where there is a warm cafe, a coopy for more food and beer and a guy Mikey knows on facebook we can scrounge a puncture repair kit from to fix Mikey's knackered inner tube.
Option 1 didn't even get a look in. We waited another hour or so to allow the sun to get up a bit before we set off. Snake led on Pedro, his adventure scoot, followed by Mikey, me then Tim. He was fair hauling ass too. I was pretty concerned by everything around us being covered in ice but Snake ploughed on to Dufftown. He must have really been looking forwards to the cafe because after a quick stop in the shop for supplies it was straight to the cafe leaving his lid in a flower bed beside Pedro!

First one o the year.
First One O the Year

where's my helmet?

Second breakfast was had in the cafe where I entertained the group by showing them how much brown sauce makes me sweat. We found Snake's lid, got the puncture repair kit and set off just as it began to rain. This isn't as bad as you'd think as it meant that the temperature had risen a bit so there would be less chance of ice. The rain became snowy sleet as we headed back up the hills giving a Star Wars feel to ride back to Glenlivet.
First One O the Year
Mikey Sunter and Mikey Sunter.

Back at the hall it wasn't long before Gerrit arrived. We were 5! The sun came out so we had a wee wander down to the old packhorse bridge where I got a few nice photos. The bar at the hall is open on a Saturday from 3 till 7 which we took advantage of, having few beers after discussing the merits of various bikes. Then Colin showed up! We were 6!! Colin was on a flying visit so were were back to 5 in no time. We were speaking to Derek, one of the local folk who had came for a beer. His bike was at his house just along the road so technically he was at the rally. We were 6 again!

packhorse bridge, glenlivet 2
packhorse bridge, glenlivet
Snake on a Bridge

First one o the year.
First one o the year.
Mikey Sunter on Mikey Sunter. I'm yet to convice anyone else to join the "K Krew".

First One O the Year
The rally!

First one o the year.

Once we'd eaten as much of our remaining food as possible the following morning we set off. Gerrit and I opted to ride down the A9. Usually I would avoid it like the plague but it was the fastest way home. Over Drumochter had more snow than the ski centres so it even looked nicer than normal. 
Everyone got home safe, nearly. Mikey Sunter's (bike) fuel pump didn't die, so I'll change the fuel filter and see how that goes. Mikey Sunter (man) got another puncture 5 miles from home but got rescued in a van.
First One O the Year

First One O the Year

So....... We're going to do it again next year around the same time. Who wants to come along? I reckon it'll be £10 to £20 per person to cover the cost of the hall and electricity etc for two nights. I'll probably advertise it on closer to the time.
Mikey's C90 and a braw sky.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Destination Stelvio - Part 3

Carrying on from Part 2.


The two days at Como had been great. I’d eaten my weight in pizza and bruschetta, drank gallons of Aperol and done little else. Now it was time to get back on the bike. I had been looking forwards to today’s run for a while. We were heading to Livigno, heading up to Chiavenna, back through Switzerland and up the Maloja pass. I had ridden down this pass a couple of times and I was really looking forward to heading up the other direction. We were also meeting up with Rick at St Moritz. He was joining us for a couple of nights at Livigno before we all headed over to his place in Germany’s Black Forest.
It was sweltering leaving Como but it soon began to cool down a little once we began to climb back up into the Alps. The Maloja is a tremendous road, like big steps up the side of a huge cliff. You’ll see plenty photos of it in magazines like ABR as it looks mental from above. It’s pretty technical too, with quite a few tight hairpins which are still open enough to take right at full lean in first gear. We regrouped at the top of the pass. While I waited for Egor and Gerrit I chatted to some Swiss folk who had a BMW M1, one of the crazy cars that has doors that go into the sills. They had visited Scotland a few years before and loved their visit. It really shows how nice some of the places we have on our doorstep when folk from a country as stunning as Switzerland love it so much.


The road along to St Moritz would be a bit boring after the Maloja if it wasn’t for the scenery. The heavily enforced speed limit was always in the back of my mind too, squashing any temptation to blast past a slower car or camper van. Even the sight of a speed trap coming into St Moritz caused a huge arse twitch and panicked checking of the speedo.
My speed was fine and we rode past the fuzz and into St Moritz where Rick was waiting to meet us at the petrol station. We all carried on up the Bernina Pass and crossed the border back into Italy and the tax haven that is Livigno. I quickly got us to the campsite where we discovered the place to be full of camper vans. Shite! There was another campsite a few kilometres outside Livigno which looked OK but far from ideal for a Saturday night on the town. We were trying to come up with a solution when a guy told us he was about to leave. We all managed to cram our tents on to the pitch. It would only be for the one night as most people would be heading home the following day. We had a few beers on the campsite before having a wander into Livigno for some food and a few more.


Stefano, a friend who runs Hotel Concordia in Livigno, Me with Rick's fingers in my ears, Gerrit and Egor

The following day we split into two pairs. The year before I had ridden the Gavia Pass and really enjoyed it. I recommended Egor and Gerrit done that as well as Stelvio where as Rick and I were heading up to Stelvio for some lunch before heading down the Umbrail and into Switzerland. Stelvio is one of these over hyped roads. It's got great scenery and history, but the road to the bottom of the pass is better than the pass itself, especially if you start off in Livigno. Rick and I had a good ride over and up the pass. Stopping as you do for photos and to take it all in. We got lunch at the Tibetan Hotel HB and I had stayed at previously, enjoying our food while watching some giant bird swooping about (anyone know what it is?) We were taking some photos when Rick spotted some poor guy who had binned his Goldwing on one of the hairpins; easily done on the tighter east side of Stelvio. Egor and Gerrit arrived for a flying visit before carrying on, I bought some souvenirs and was recognised by the lady who ran the shop from my previous visits!

Rick on Stelvio

Stelvio pass


Rick and me

Stuck goldwing on Stelvio
Unknown bird at Stelvio
Any ideas what kind of bird this is?

Lady on Stelvio recognised me from previous visits!

My phone was also going mental. My mate Chris Jones had seen my photos and was in the area. I help Chris run his UK Adventure Riders Facebook page. he was over with Ben, his American friend. It was quite funny speaking to with my own accent and Chris's broad Lancashire accent. I think Rick was the only one of the four of us who could understand what was being said. We arranged to meet for a coffee halfway down the Umbrail. It was good to get the craic for a bit before saying our goodbyes and heading back to Livigno via the Ofenpass and the Livigno tunnel. Once again the road manners made the transition from Switzerland back to Italy an obvious one. There were groups of cycling teams training who were going mental at anyone around them, bikes fleeing along ignoring the speed limits and lots of other funny stuff. We stocked up on beers in the shop and returned to the campsite where we were surprised to see Egor and Gerrit. Unfortunately the Gavia was closed for an event so they had just came back to the campsite to chill out. Egor and Gerrit were chuffed to have ridden Stelvio, they even bought me a t shirt to say thanks for getting them there. Stelvio marked the furthest away from home we'd get so we were now on the homewards leg.


Me, Chris, Rick and Ben.


That evening we headed out in Livigno once more for a night at Bait dal Ghet, a great wee place Rick had recommended. It's a proper family run Italian restaurant and really popular. We had to wait outside for a while before a table became available. Waiting was a pleasure as they gave us free drinks! It was a great night but if you every get offered chilli schnapps just say no!


There's a reason the guy in the background is laughing.

We rode back over the Bernina away from Livingno before taking the Julierpass over the Alps. We stopped at the top for a bite to eat and Rick showed all the Swiss defences hidden in the hills. The other thing that was there was a huge red tower. It turns out its a theatre. There must be some hardy thespians in Switzerland. We also rode through the hilariously named Cunter.







Can you see the hidden gun emplacements?



Even roadworks in Switzerland look amazing.

A few hours of motorway later and we were in Germany and onto roads that were familiar to me. At Rick and Andrea's we had the usual great time. Unfortunately Stefan's Pizzeria, our usual place to go, had closed so we went out to a fancier place. The food was really nice. It was Chanterelle mushroom season in the Black Forest and I had a really tasty pasta dish, but I missed the craic you got at Stefan's place. Still, we made our own craic and had a good laugh and a great night.

Rick's boots were a bit worn out.


Egor, Gerrit and I said our goodbyes to Rick and Andrea and took a short run through the Black Forest to Wolfgang's place, stopping as usual at Todtnau for a shot of the luge thingy. Wolfgang greeted us with his usual big smile and it wasn't long to we'd convinced him to get his old Willys Jeep out. We took it for a spin into the local town and stocked up on beer and food which was barbecued that evening. Some whisky and card games followed but we couldn't kick the arse out of it too much as we had a long run the following day to our final stop, Vianden.


It was a straightforward motorway blast to Vianden in Luxembourg. For our last night we had booked a hotel. Gerrit went for an early night while Egor and I had a few beers and shared the last of my whisky with the whole pub. Another motorway blast the following day and we were back at Ijmuiden. It had been a great trip.

The three of us in Vianden.

Egor gutted to be going home.
Sunset on the ferry

Here's all the short videos i took on my phone while away. Riveting viewing of course.

If you've not done a tour of the Alps get it done. You're missing a great biking destination.


On the Sustenpass