Germany, Austria, and Italy: Monkey Business in the Dolomites

Germany, Austria, and Italy Motorcycle Tour
What do you do after a 10-hour operation that just saved your life? Do you live every given day more consciously? Do you care less about conventions and everything that burdens your life? Do you realize a long-fostered dream? Do you stop stressing and do everything much more slowly? All of this!

It happened in spring 2020, during the first German COVID-19 lockdown. I rode my KTM on remote (and less controlled) roads for 180 miles through Germany. The goal was to visit my friend Hannes. I’d received a message that he just had to undergo one of the most intensive surgical operations possible—the replacement of the aorta. That’s something you could compare to changing the timing chain on a running motor.

Germany, Austria, and Italy Motorcycle Tour
Arriving at the top of the 9,045-feet-high Stelvio Pass, the second highest in the Alps, the bicyclists we met along the way joined us in celebration. 

After two weeks in the hospital and four at a rehabilitation center, he was still a bit weak but at home again. And he was more or less locked in there. “Come down, if you have the guts! It would make me happy,” he said during a meandering debate about social distancing and responsibility (and its opposite). We both had the opinion that a reunion would do no harm, and it would give us a lot of positive energy. That’s what happened.

Germany, Austria, and Italy Motorcycle Tour
Houses in the valley of Engadin in Switzerland are built almost like fortresses, with small windows and walls several feet thick.

The conspirative touch and Hannes’ story gave our meeting additional importance. We abstained from a hug, but not because they had to break some of his ribs for the operation. The obvious reason was responsibility and Hannes’ sister, who had taken great care of him over the past weeks. She really is apprehensive about him. We sat down in his huge, well-aired workshop at both ends of a 10-foot table. In plain view stood Hannes’ main medication against the corona blues: a 47-year-old Honda Dax, known as the Trail 50 in the U.S., which he was restoring. Noticing my gaze, he said: “I will make her travel-ready and when this crisis is over, I will cross the Alps to Lake Como in Italy.” Spontaneously, I thought this would be a great idea and promised to come along.

Germany, Austria, and Italy Motorcycle Tour
Celebration of our conquering of Maloja Pass. Silvaplana Lake near St. Mortiz in Switzerland provided the perfect backdrop.

Some months later in August, the global misery was not over yet. But Hannes was fit again and had worked a few weeks in his job as a college teacher. Now, the holiday destinations of northern Italy seemed to be doable again. Honda offered me a 125cc brand new Monkey as a test bike—a big sister to the Dax. There was no good reason remaining not to fulfill my promise.

Germany, Austria, and Italy Motorcycle Tour
Going toward St. Mortiz through Maloja Pass in Switzerland was the second hardest climb on the trip, but the 50cc Honda Dax made it just fine.

Just Like a Couple of Kids

When I arrive at 10 in the morning at Hannes’ home in southern Bavaria, I can feel his nervousness. Besides his health, the 47-year-old bike just became another reason for concern. During his last test ride yesterday afternoon, a transmission seal leaked heavily. He had to get a new one and change it. Of course, there are questions coming up: will that little 50cc engine make it across the Stelvio Pass, the second highest and probably most treacherous pass in the Alps?

“We have to do it! It’s the most famous pass there is,” is Hannes’ opinion. He is responsible for the route anyway.