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Old 09-30-2012, 12:41 PM   #1
shaweetz OP
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There is so much great stuff on this site, so many incredible tales and photos. I come back from a trip and ask myself: what is the point of adding our small journey, our small stories to the enormous pile of epic and humbling reports?

What makes an adventure? Need it be be off-road? Should it start with some catharsis, a quitting of jobs, setting off into unknown locales and unfamiliar cultures? I mean, one man's epic adventure is another man's blase weekend outing. What can we possibly add? Ultimately, for us, we have decided adventure is anything that forces us to push beyond our envelope of comfort, something we try to do a little bit with every trip, and frankly something we should try to do every day but often don't manage it.

And then: who is the ride report for? For the percentage of folks who have not been there, done that; for some select friends and family; but really, for us, because the ride report format is such a great way to capture stories and thoughts about a given trip. And if it rolls off the end of the threads list within the first day with a measly 25 views, well, that is if no import. It exists in the archive for us, and for whoever stumbles onto it some sucky sucky wintry evening to read what we did and maybe be inspired to challenge their comfort zone just a little bit. And the thought of that makes it worth it.

So, we went to Italy. We rode. It was freaking great.

Everyone goes to Italy at some point, it seems, or would like to. Everyone except us, up until now. If you're a European biker, well, I'm sure you do this stuff every weekend. Flying over from Canada, it was kind of a big deal for us, and fully qualified for our own definition of adventure. So here it is.


- three weeks in Italy, from the end of August into September.
- start in Milan, end in Florence. Ride the Dolomites, send two days in Venice, because, well, you have to do it once, and ride Tuscany.
- two weeks with the bike, ending with 5 days being classic tourists on foot.

It seems the biggest new challenge with this trip is that we're converting ourselves in phases from air travellers to pedestrian/bike/pedestrian/bike/pedestrian/air travellers. This is somewhat more difficult logistically than "pack the bike and go". So we've got it packed into this:

All of which will have to be hauled by us on foot at a few points during the trip, or unpacked and re-packaged into the bike luggage. Seems reasonable. For a shorter flight, we would have just worn our moto gear, but it's long, and it will be hot in Milan, so that's a no go and it all gets crammed into the black duffle. 'Everything else' in the blue one should fit no problem into te available panniers. Right?

We fly Ottawa-Frankfurt-Milan, carting our helmets carry-on. The flights were a bit of a circus: a general call is made for a doctor on the overseas leg, never good; some other guy gets up to stretch his legs and just falls flat into the aisle, perhaps drunk, but who knows; on the final leg, the guy in front of me is getting scolded because he's holding his three-year-old in his lap during takeoff; the flight attendants are scolding someone else over the PA for getting up and walking around during the ascent. The flight is overbooked and they are offering a 200 euro credit to anyone who will go on a later flight, which we would have jumped at except it was probably a Lufthansa credit we were unlikely to use soon. However, to quote Louis CK, we were sitting in a chair, IN THE SKY. Which will always be awesome. So.

In Milan Linate, we hit the TIM mobile store in the departures area to buy a SIM card for our unlocked phone, a sweet move that worked out very well. 20 euros for 2GB of data and enough SMS and voice minutes to get us through with no trouble. Then we get a shuttle bus and subway to within a few blocks of our hotel in central Milan, our first victories! Everything is going according to plan (chomps on cigar). These minor wins are always so satisfying.

The hotel is about eight blocks from the subway stop, it is hot, we are tired, and carrying all of our crap. the straps are digging in and this is really unpleasant. Tomorrow we shall do the unthinkable and hail a cab to take us to the train. The unpleasant walk to the hotel is leavened by a guy on his bicycle, stopped at a light, hollering into his mobile phone in full-bore Italian argument, a sound that must be heard in first person to really be appreciated. We exchange elbows and winks. We have arrived.

A cat cannot be swung in the hotel room (Idea hotel Milano) but it does not matter, it's nice enough, we pass out for a while and then hit the town while there's still a bit of light.

And pretty light it is, to light my pretty riding partner as she takes a stroll along the Viale, contemplating that 24 hours ago we were somewhere very, very different:

The impressive arcade of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, built in 1877. It is a little nicer than our local mall:


Sun setting into the arcade:

The ornate and impressive Milan Duomo is not too shabby either. It only took them six hundred years to finish this, the fourth largest cathedral in the world:

The subject matter depicted in sculpture is always very interesting:

High-relief bronze castings on the entrance doors are recent work but are nonetheless impressive. Each panel is about a foot square:

Rub the nose for luck?

But enough of these shenangans. When do we get to ride???

In the AM, the promised cab is hailed, and for a measly couple of euros saves a lot of grief by dropping us directly at the rail station:

The bike rental outfit is CIMT, and the pick-up is in Rescaldina, a small suburb about 20 minutes out of town. We haul all of our crap about ten blocks from the station to the garage. The local CIMT contact is the friendly and helpful Omero, who pulls us a couple of espressos, while we transfer the luggage, chat, and go over the bike, since I've never ridden an F800GS. It sure is purty!

Meanwhile Karen is freaking out because I grossly overestimated the amount of available cargo space. Something is going to have to go.

After packing, re-packing, and jumping up and down on the cases, we are finally good to go, only leaving a few items behind to have transferred to Florence. The bike rental is one-way and includes the transfer of luggage if we want, so we took advantage to leave a few things behind.

Omero, I'm sure, had a good chuckle as we drove off very ungracefully into the wilds of Italy, twitchy throttle and clutch friction point not yet programmed into my brain. Every time I would try to cancel the turn signal, the required thumb contortions would cause me to blip the throttle, and I never really got the hang of that maneuver. BMW people: I just don't get it. Opposable-opposable thumbs?

The quiet suburb turned out to be a great spot to ride around the block a number of times and learn the feel of the new-to-me, 2-up fully loaded machine. Once I was more comfortable, the GPS took us north to Lake Como along one of the only pre-programmed routes I'd made, designed to keep us off the autostrada and maximize our exposure to the new machine and Italian traffic patterns. After a brief rest stop to address the broken Powerlet socket, we were ready to roll.

Our track for the day:

Pictures were light on this day, since we mounted the GoPro on Karen's helmet and ended up with 250 pictures of the back of my head. Next time, we will mount it on the other side :).

Today was the only day I was made to feel like an ass for not speaking passable Italian. On both occasions, some younger folks were obviously disgusted and impatient. That kind of bad vibe never happened again for the rest of the trip. I was helped on one occasion by a kind and multilingual German tourist who ordered food for me. Of course, we never had any expectation that people should speak English to us. But universally you hope that people are going to recognize that you are out of your element and doing the best you can. And that was the end of that. Everyone else we encountered was courteous, patient, and kind.

We headed to Aprica on the recommendation of another ADVer, to a specific hotel, and we were quite happy with it. The road over was not the madhouse I was expecting, owing to it being Tuesday. But the last bit to Aprica was our first taste of the seemingly millions (ok, hundreds) of hairpin turns we would hit in the next days.

In Aprica, our hotel, recommended:

Aprica is a pretty shiny little ski village offering not much culture shock, but a perfectly suitable place to stop and gather ourselves. Victory! We made it to Italy, made our way to the bike and are RIDING in Italy. We go for a stroll and really start to enjoy the fruits of months of planning and anticipation.

The hotel's bike garage was a nice feature, but very unnecessary. The owners spoke no english, but this was also unnecessary, as they were friendly and everything was made quite clear by their patient and skilled gesturing. They directed us to a restaurant where I had a killer calzone, Karen had gnocci with gorgonzola, blueberries and walnuts, one of the most memorable meals of the trip. Delicious! We awoke the next morning to the sound of church bells.

Oh, yeah:

Did I mention we had unwisely skipped lunch and substituted gelato? Bad move, making this oh so much sweeter:

She looks unimpressed because I delayed the inhalation of this meal by pausing for the photo.

I hereby interrupt this report to address my stomach, which has suddenly started rumbling.

shaweetz screwed with this post 10-06-2012 at 08:15 PM
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Old 09-30-2012, 12:50 PM   #2
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Day 2: the riding begins

Would I be ready to take us up Stelvio on the new bike? Did we even want to go up the over-hyped and busy Stelvio?

Well, we are here. Why not. And: it was totally worth it, one of the most memorable days of our trip. Today's track, in yellow:

Today is the day I bust out the Manfrotto magic arm and start frittering with placement of the GoPro. Throughout, my riding partner exhibits the most statuesque patience, a feature of her personality that makes me a very lucky man, and grateful.

Let's hit it!

Now we are onto something:

Things get a bit narrow. GoPro wide angle makes this look like a superhighway. Not so, and mildly frightnening to squeeze by here:

Gavia Pass, chick, bike. If I had three thumbs they would all be up:

The weather is incredible and the scenery is stunning. YES!

Somehow I always look like I'm trying out for the Sears catalogue:

Faster! Faster! Yeargh.

The scenery is kind of nice:

Our track up the pass:

I'm pretty sure the offset is a Google Earth thing, although I did catch our Montana tracking us off the map data from time to time.

But who cares? Look at this!

Karen appears to be happy. I appear to be concentrating, very very hard:

Cyclists are everywhere. Riding up the mountain. These are crazy people. Avoid them.

Looking through the turn:

The western slope of Stelvio was light with traffic and most definitely did not suck:

And the eastern side, which we didn't ride today, also appears to have low suck factor:

It's busy at the top, but by no means crazy:

Our second day on a motorcycle in Italy, and this is where we are??? Life is all good right now. We have a rest break and a marginal lunch, reflecting that our decision to come up here was the right choice.

So, we are either going to continue down the other side, or give Umbrail a go. Going into Switzerland would be fun, and the maps are conflicting about the pavement status on Umbrail. But are we not on the perfect bike for questionable pavement status? Umbrail it is!

Stelvio panorama:

Onwards, to the Swiss border post, where there didn't appear to be anyone there, or any compelling reason to stop. Guess they were lunching:

Umbrail pass is gorgeous. Whereas Stelvio is rocky and treeless, Umbrail is bucolic and lush. The road is narrow, the views spectacular:

Looking down over four visible switchbacks of the same road:

A familiar sight on the GPS screen:

Karen refills from the town fountain, back in Italy again:

Heavy traffic on the valley road SS38 to Merano. My reverse helmet cam experiment was mostly a flop, but not entirely:

Apart from the major tourist centres, we have no set plan for where we are going to sleep at night. We're getting tired, it's hot, and the Merano area is pretty busy and not very low key. We head for the hills in the hopes of finding some small village Albergo. Orchards are everywhere in this lush valley:

Pay dirt in the form San Pancrazio, looking like a perfect place to spend the night, nestled up high on the valley wall:

The proprietress was out, and the woman covering for her spoke not a lick of English. To make matters worse, she missed the concept that she was going to have to switch gears, slow down and vastly simplify things for the dumb tourists. Karen has been doing some audio lessons and is getting quite good into fooling people she knows how to speak Italian. The problem is that they respond in kind :). Nevertheless, we got sorted out, and the next morning the excited owner came to our breakfast table to proclaim in good English that we were the first English speaking tourists ever in her hotel, and the first ever from Canada, and she had us sign her incredible guestbook full of notes, watercolours and scrapbook articles. She explained that she had not spoken English since she had learned a bit in London, a three month trip she had taken 25 years ago. We were astonished and impressed. Such lovely people, and a lovely hotel.

Getting sorted out in the courtyard:

This is the place. It's German first up here.

What an incredible day. We are definitely winning. We fall asleep to and are awoken the next day by the town's bell tower.
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Old 09-30-2012, 12:51 PM   #3
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I don愒 like mondays...

...and winter
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Old 09-30-2012, 12:59 PM   #4
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Nice ride pics esp with the weather co-operating. Thanks for sharing.
Been there done it with my wife in 2010 & I can sense how it feels for you

Waiting for more.
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Old 09-30-2012, 01:14 PM   #5
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Amazing journey! Thank you for sharing.
Two Questions: How did you like the Garmin Montana for Europe? Do you have to purchase separate maps for it?
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Old 09-30-2012, 01:24 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by copter105 View Post
Amazing journey! Thank you for sharing.
Two Questions: How did you like the Garmin Montana for Europe? Do you have to purchase separate maps for it?
Here is a post where I summarized my impressions:

I bought city nav Europe, and, once I learned the ropes, the Montana was an excellent tool to help us run our trip the way we wanted to do it.
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Old 09-30-2012, 03:15 PM   #7
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Grazie, bellissima........

Everbody's preachin' at me that we all wanna git to heaven, trouble is, nobody wants to die to git there.-BB King
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Old 09-30-2012, 05:48 PM   #8
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looks like we all went to Europe this year

Europe 2013 Europe 2012 Europe 2011 England 2010 Gaspe PQ 2008 Nova Scotia 2007

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Old 09-30-2012, 08:33 PM   #9
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The drill for each morning is to spread out the fantastic Touring Club Italiano map during breakfast, gauge the general idea of our plan, decide, and then program the Montana to Make It So. My entire pre-trip planning consisted of scratching some notes onto the paper map from various recommendations online and the ADAC-UEM map pdfs that you can find. But, you needn't bother doing this. Most of the recommended ADAC-UEM routes are already highlighted with green scenic status on the TCI maps.

I thought I would be smart and make notes on the plasticized TCI maps with a green wet-erase marker. The maps are so nice that I wanted to undo my scribbings later on. This move, friends, was a mistake. You can imagine that the map case in the tank bag was not entirely watertight. Enough said.

Today's plan not entirely according to plan: Thursday, Aug 30th

From San Pancrazio we can keep heading south on SP86, but GPS and paper maps do not agree on the road status as it goes further south. I'm sure it would have been just fine, but we opt to take the next pass over in a bid to head south towards Madonna di Campiglio, a ski area that seems to have a lot of opportunities for side trips and exploration. There is a storm parked off of the west coast, moving slow, and it is about to dump rain on the entire northern region for the next several days, so we're looking for somewhere civilized to hunker down and make the occasional sortie. We have five more days in the region, so for now we'd like to stay west of the Bolzano/Trento valley and then head over to Arabba for a few days before tracking south to Venice.

What actually happened:

At some point we are having so much fun on Mendelpass that we decide to head closer to Bolzano for a pee break, and then double back up it before heading south.

Great views all the way down:

Sometimes you get into a tight intersection and the GPS just doesn't update fast enough. I got into the wrong lane and soon enough we were on a GPS adventure on the outskirts of Bolzano, down a dead-end road that took us straight to a closed track motorcycle driver training facility. I joked that it might not be a bad plan for us to try and get some track time in.

At a gas stop, I cajole the GPS into taking us back up, blow the turn, and end up on the autostrada in totally the wrong direction :(. At the next exit we're evaluating our options and opt to head east towards Arabba after all. There's going to be plenty to see no matter what.

I find in these situations it's just easier to get super-pissed at a dumb routing mistake, run with it for a short while, and then just let it go. To me there is no sense in pretending you're not angry. You just can't let it own you, or interfere with the ride. Of course, in hindsight, everything becomes silly, unimportant. At the time I was mad about going the wrong way, the hassle of paying the toll, having to double back, etc etc. But after I let it run its course for a few minutes, I can walk away; we made a new plan, and soon enough the road looks like this:

And the black cloud has vanished as quickly as it appeared. It is hard to be mad when you're having so much fun.

Truly terrible.

This seems like a good place to clamp the GoPro, until I actually put my foot on the peg and realize I can't shift. Back to the drawing board:

The Dolomites officially appear, but the clouds are rolling in:

FInally we get some rain up the Pordoi.

The eastern slope of Pordoi into Arabba is really something, just snaking along down the hill which is all pasturelands and ski slopes. Cows are lazing about, inches from the road, chewing cud, basically unfazed as their cowbells donkle away and hundreds of cyclists and bikers go whizzing by a few feet away. Here is Arabba, our home base for the next two days, and just in a nick of time:

This place is not the cheapest, and has no bike garage, but is recommended simply because it has an amazing spa in the basement complete with jacuzzi, dry and wet saunas, multi-jet showers, eucalyptus sprays, the whole deal. In other words, the perfect place to be stuck for a day or so waiting for foul weather to abate:

We attempted one sortie up to Corvara, but it rained most of the way and was 3.5 degrees. We are in no way averse to rain, but it seems hardly worth it when the mountains are invisible and I take little pleasure in riding the tornanti except for the views they afford. We have nothing to prove and, a little disappointed, we stay put for a short while.

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Old 10-01-2012, 07:07 AM   #10
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As requested by g容g, some infos about our GoPro rig for this trip. I made a post over in Gear explaining our GoPro setup and my general thoughts about it:

Here it is shown with a different camera, on a different ride:

TL;DR: Get the clamp with the smaller lever and the arm with the variable friction wheel instead. CMOS sensor jello can be bad in video footage depending on RPMs and where you mount it. Bumpy roads can really stress the rig when you're hanging it out there. But, once you know where you are 'allowed' to mount it on the bike, moving it around to change up the shots is quick and simple.

I also mounted the camera, upside-down, to the center stand with the handlebar kit, and consequently the case is now missing a bit of plastic . I will have a short video later in the RR. cheers
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Old 10-01-2012, 07:46 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by shaweetz View Post
As requested by g容g, some infos about our GoPro rig for this trip. I made a post over in Gear explaining our GoPro setup and my general thoughts about it:

Europe 2013 Europe 2012 Europe 2011 England 2010 Gaspe PQ 2008 Nova Scotia 2007

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Old 10-01-2012, 08:24 PM   #12
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That is a high compliment indeed coming from iDave. Thank you! Hope to continue on in a day or so...
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Old 10-01-2012, 09:26 PM   #13
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Ahhhhhh, the Dolomites

Great report and photos. Your route from Bormio to Arabba looks identical to the one my wife and I took last year riding two up. We're more than ready to head back there again when time and money permits. We stayed in Bolzano and enjoyed their sights and culinary delights. Impatiently waiting for your next addition to your RR. Cheers!!
"A man's got to do what a man's got to do."
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Old 10-02-2012, 08:57 PM   #14
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The foul weather parked off the coast is just not letting up, which means it looks like more rain is on the way for us. We always knew there was going to be a chance of rain, but really, ALL of Italy is ALWAYS hot, dry and sunny this time of year, right?


So after two nights in Arabba I'm all like a kid who has to pee. We need to get out of here, we came here to ride, not sit in a gorgeous and relaxing spa. If the weather is going to stay foul, we should at least go somewhere with stuff to do, more places to eat, etc. The committee meets and the votes are tallied, and by decree that place shall be Cortina d'Ampezzo, destination of jet-setting euro-fashionistas, according to Some Website. It sounds expensive, but the people-watching ought to be good.

The Kappa side cases, empty, have taken on a lot of water after sitting outside for one day in the rain. Unimpressed.

The weather, though, is not so bad, with breaks in the low clouds making for some interesting drama in the sky:

But on the other side of Falzarego Pass is real rain and mist, and *&^%#$#^&* my next helmet is going to have a pinlock shield!! I swear into my radio, blind with a fogged visor and general annoyance, suddenly recalling that I swore the exact same thing two years ago, with the same helmet, when we were driving up Mount St. Helens:

At some point, it's no longer the helmet's fault. What's that expression about that thing between your ears? The radios are quiet for a bit.

Since I like taking pictures, I appreciate that sometimes non-ideal weather makes for much more interesting scenery. Looking down into Cortina d'Ampezzo is a beatiful scene indeed:

The skiing here must be fantastic.

Yeah, I'm glad we're not in a cage:

So, say: things are looking not too bad today... we gas up and I convince the missus (making it my fault later on, a risk I am well accustomed to) that we should attempt a short loop to Misurina and Tre Cime. It's only noon.


Any photogs in the audience with tips on how to make buckets of rain actually look like buckets of rain, please chime in. Pictured above: heavy rain.

This is a bar we dove into like drowned rats to use the washroom, take shelter and get a quick coffee. Unsatisfied with looking totally foolish already, I point at the brioche which is labelled 'panini', ignore my spidey senses, and sheepishly ask for a panini, while pointing at the unusual but appetizing panini that looks like brioche. Much confusion ensues with the staff who are now desperate to make me a sandwich; I give up and buy a croissant instead, and return, tail between my legs, to the puddle I have left on the floor.

There are too many animal metaphors in that paragraph. Also, rats that have drowned do not dive, AFAIK. But I remind the reader that the rain is my fault, and it is my fault we are on this stupid ride.

We head back to Cortina.

Hunting for a place to sleep, you know you are defeated, that there will be no haggling nor shopping around for the best rates, because things are miserable, you are tired, and you're going take the first place that doesn't smell funny and doesn't seem like you're going to get mugged or your stuff jacked.

This is the place. It was expensive for what it was:

But the bathroom had a bidet; in Italy that is a coded message that means you are in a Hotel, for real. The bidet, I think, was bigger than the shower, which was a bathtub about 1ft x 2ft with a handheld shower head. Showering was a tricky operation not unlike (I imagine) trying to get changed in a phone booth.

The hotel had underground parking and a deserted ski gear room where we were invited to hang up all our soggy stuff. They were very nice there.

Actually, this was the second place we stopped. The first one we found on Some Website looked great, and as I pulled up right on the sidewalk in front of it, a guy shouted at us from inside that it was closed until October. At least that's what we inferred he was shouting, since the shouting was in Italian and there was renovation junk all over the lobby. So much for Careful Internet Research.

Our other research proves more accurate. Cortina d'Ampezzo is precisely as advertised: well-dressed people with small dogs.

After a short nap I convince the missus (making it my fault later on, a risk I am well accustomed to) that we should attempt a ride to the south, since the weather is looking more promising now.

This time, we win. Purple track:

Passo di Giau is kind to us:


More proof that Karen is looking through the turns:

Ducking so Karen can get a nicer view:

It was nice to get some rewarding riding in, since we were really starting to worry that we'd never get to actually see the Dolomites for all the cloud cover. Tomorrow's weather is predicted to be much the same, so we'll just have to see what happens.
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Old 10-04-2012, 02:46 PM   #15
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The best part of travelling is often the completely unplanned stuff, sometimes even good stuff, that you happen upon by random chance. A series of events and choices starting with a storm off of the coast leads to our landing in Cortina d'Ampezzo on the weekend of the Coppa d'Oro delle Dolomiti, which is to say, a car rally whose first edition was in 1947, and today includes entrants from all over Europe (and as far as Japan), all driving beatiful machines no newer than 1961.

Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti has its origins in a tradition of agonistic race on mountain’s track, as “"Corsa delle Alpi del Tirolo Meridionale", "Trofeo del Tirolo" and "Rally des Alpes". Although, its most immediate antecedent is “Coppa delle Venezie”, organized first by the Automobile Club of Veneto during the 20s and then by the Automobile Club of Venice. The yearbook R.A.C.I. and the Council’s Verbals of Automobile Club Belluno keep its memory alive.

Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti was born in 1947 as an idea of Ferruccio Gidoni, President of Automobile Club Belluno at that time, who wanted to organize after the II World War an international competition on Dolomites.
It was a velocity race and it wanted to exalt the equilibrium of vehicles and the courage of pilots. Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti became one of the most important appointments in the scenery of Italian regularity races, thanks to an article of Giovanni Canestrini and the participation of Tazio Nuvolari. The event had 10 editions from 1947 to 1956, till the accident in Guidizzolo, which marked the end of velocity races on road in Italy.
Now, they take these 1961-and-older beauties (134 of them this year) and bomb around prescribed mountain routes, which is awesome and also a bit terrifying given the state of 50-year-old braking technology. I think the modern pilots have more courage than the original ones.

We happen to take a stroll at the exact moment they are all lining up to check in for an inspection or prizing ceremony; we could not figure it quite out. They would park the car, an assistant would wedge a 2x4 under the wheel to keep the car from rolling, both pilot and co-pilot would press a button on a machine, run and jump back into the car and kind-of accelerate about 50ft to a time trigger, brake, and do it again. This scene repeated itself until I exhausted my photo ideas and the autos exhausted their combined vintage fumes until we felt light-headed and decided to leave.

Without further comment, moto pr0n:

Some very sexy machines indeed.

Fingers crossed that our route plans didn't intersect today's leg of the rally, we set off in search of fun and sun.

shaweetz screwed with this post 10-06-2012 at 07:56 PM
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