Italy: Lago di Garda
Whether you live on the north or the south side of the Alps makes a tremendous difference. Storms come mostly from the west or north. Unfortunately, we live on the north side. It's August and cold rains pour down. The forecast isn't helping matters much, calling for snowfall at 2500-foot elevations. I'm so desperate for some sun and temperate riding conditions, I hastily plan a great escape - to Lago di Garda.
The next day I picked up a brand-new Ducati 900SS. By 10am our horses are saddled and moments before the first flakes can catch us at home, we slip away to the south toward the small village of Riva. Thick fog envelops us as we cross the Katschberg Pass and Christa is barely visible on her bright yellow and silver Yamaha TDM. Downhill travel is extremely slow going as some of the curves are slicked with ice and snow. It's a diabolical ride, but after 10 miles the sun seems to bless our undertaking and blinks through the gray curtain.
Born and raised in this part of Austria, it still amazes me how quickly the weather can change. Carinthia and East Tyrol are already behind us and we are waiting in line for clearance at Italian customs. No problem. As always, we're waved across the border without any control. Nice fellows these Italian officers. We open the throttles and roar away.
The next 200 miles are a blast. We cross the spooky crags of the Dolomites (Passo di Gardena, Passo di Sella, Passo di Costalunga, and Passo di Lavaze) and then we arrive in Cavalese for a gas stop. It's past three in the afternoon and quite testily Christa reminds me, "It's about time for us to get a refill, too."
We find a nice trattoria near the cable car station and order a pizza quadro statione. Trattorias are cozy restaurants known for regional, home-style cooking, and this one doesn't disappoint. Later we hit the Passo Manghen, a mountain route with many switchbacks and little traffic. With its easy handling and great midsize power range, the TDM chases me through the corners and Christa emerges as queen for a day on this narrow road. It's our last curvy highlight before taking the autostrada to Rovereto. In Nago, we have to stop to enjoy our first look down from the heights to Lago di Garda. Admiring its shiny surface and the sunset behind Monte Tremalzo, we finally pull ourselves away and cruise on to arrive at our hotel by nightfall.
The breakfast in the Hotel Venezia is delicious: Scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, and of course, my favorite drink, cappuccino, work wonders on my mood. And the clear blue sky and bright sunshine warm my heart. My hands really hurt though. For such a long ride the Duc might not be the wisest choice.
Our location on the east side of Riva dictates a ride through the whole town for our first round trip. There we compete with scooters, dirt bikes, mountain, and street bikes for the pole position at the traffic lights on these narrow streets. Lane splitting is allowed in Italy and two wheels constantly snake through the stop-and-go traffic. This morning exercise certainly wakes you up, so we are well prepared when eventually sweeping through the Val di Ledro and the Val d'Ampola.
In San Antonio we take a right for the Passo di Croce Domini. The road winds 47 miles through the Val Caffaro up to the Cardino Pass. But first we took a break in the Albergho Blumone. Alberghi and rifugii are places where you can buy simple food and drinks and they offer very spartan rooms, mainly for hikers to find refuge during bad storms or to use as a convenient base camp if they're staying longer in the area. Don't be confused! Down in the valleys you can find alberghi, too, but these are more like bed & breakfasts and they usually serve lunch and dinner.