2005 MGCN Landmark Rally, june 17-20

I just love motorcycle riding. I grasp every opportunity to get on a bike. This year's holiday planning did not seem to leave much room for motorcycle trips, so the announcement of a landmarkrally by the Dutch Moto Guzzi club (MGCN) came as a gift from heaven. (If you are not familiar with landmark rallies check the RBR (round Britain rally) website to get the idea). It involves both riding and planning, so there's something to do in times of good and of bad weather.
My major leg was planned for the june 17-20 weekend. Most points could be scored at the gate of the Moto Guzzi factory in Mandello on Lake Como, so that was to be the destination. I wanted to avoid riding boring foreign motorways, so with the help of Mapsource minor roads were selected. The next step was locating additional landmarks not too far away from the planned roads. The result of many hours of planning was loaded into the gps; clean underwear and a toothbrush were loaded onto the bike and I was ready to go.

Shortly after leaving an unpaved road this meant progress!
Eager to go I woke up friday at 04.30 and was on the road half an hour later. Motorways first to get a head start: Utrecht, Breda, Antwerpen, Mechelen, Leuven. From there on it would be minor roads for the rest of the day. Following the little arrow on the gps to the first waypoint I rode from village to village, sometimes on unpaved roads, many times on little roads that needed maintenance badly.
I saw the 'average speed' number on the gps decreasing quickly, but the fun was increasing at the same time. The roads along the rivers Maas and Semois had nice sweepers and even some hairpin turns, the sun was showing itself on occasion (it was mainly cloudy) and the first great views of the trip unfolded.
View over village along the Semois river.

Those are the roads and views in the Vosges, great territory! Click picture to enlarge.
Finding the first landmark in Givet France was easy, by this time it was 11.00. After a very short break I was on my way again, now to Verdun for the 2nd landmark. The weather improved a bit more, the roads became a bit boring. A few kilometers before Verdun I had the 'plat du jour', fish and rice, and a beer. The landmark at Verdun was reached at 14.45, a picture quickly taken and hot Verdun left to the south. The small roads around Nancy were nice but complicated, I'm sure I covered more distance than necessary. However at 18.00 the 3rd and last landmark of the day, a crystal factory in Baccarat, was found. Three quarters of an hour later my little coach had lead me to the youth hostel where I had booked a bed for the night. 14 hours and 769km on the road, time for a shower, a meal and a beer in town (St.Die en Vosges).

Saturday morning 07.30, sunny and hot. A steep climb from the garage to the road and ready to go. Into the hills/mountains of the Vosges, to the first landmark of the day, the Col du Bonhomme. This part was a piece of cake, ever nicer roads and views and shade from the trees to cool down. I stopped for the occasional pee and picture and reached the top of the Col du Bonhomme at 09.30. Two hours for such a short distance, but in this area the myriad of twisty roads made it hard to interpret the gps output, and the map I brought was useless showing not enough detail. The same problem persisted on my way to landmark two, the chateau de Ferrette. More than 3 hours and 155km later I finally took the required picture. The plans I had for the day were less and less likely to be executed, time was running out. It was running out even more on my way to the Glaubenberg pass in Switzerland, the 3rd landmark of the day. By now I was feeling tired. Not having had any food didn't help either. (No wonder I had lost 4 pounds by the end of this 4 day ride!). Anyway, the pass was reached at 16.45. The next stretch would bring me to the San Gottardo pass, the roads to it were amazing. I took a picture of the Steingletscher near the Sustenpass, obviously global heating hadn't done it any good. After the heat earlier that day I was glad I brought the winter gloves along. At this altitude the temperatures were refreshing indeed. The summit of San Gottardo was found at 19.30, and I had to re-plan the rest of the day.

The Steingletscher near the Sustenpass.

Originally I wanted to take the ferry across Lake Como to get to Mandello, but I guessed the ferry would no longer be operational by the time I could arrive. And I wanted to make up some lost time anyway. So the decision was made to take the autostrada to Lugano, then minor roads to Lecco and then north along the east bank of Lake Como to Mandello. A great plan, but the heat, dense Italian traffic, darkness, and bad roads drained the last energy out of my poor old body. By the time I arrived in Mandello it was pitchdark and still very hot. I made a feable attempt to locate my most southern landmark, the Moto Guzzi factory, but I soon gave up and instead tried to find a hotel in which I finally succeeded. At 22.45 I finally found a hotelroom in Mandello where I went into a state of coma for the night. 15 hours and 749km on the road today.

The Lago di Como as seen in the direction of Mandello.
Sunday, food at last! A nice breakfast and advice on how to find the Moto Guzzi factory. Advice I could understand: just 1 minute of riding from the hotel! The second landmark, a spot on the lakeside, proved harder to find. It was a pedestrian area, but I needed my bike to be in the picture. No problem normally on a sunday morning at 9.30, but I had to pass a police station and met several officers on motorbikes on my way there. At 08.55 I took the picture, left Mandello and joined the hundreds of mad Italian bikers on their way north, apparently all heading to my third landmark of the day, the Maloja pass. Very tight hairpins led to the top, I was overtaken all the time by GSXR's and R1's and made a good attempt to pass groups of Goldwing riders. A very nice ride in the Italian sunshine indeed. Left the top again at 11.00, first descending then ascending again up to the Julier pass. The harbour of Lindau was the target. The roads to Lindau were busy at first, but the more I switched to narrow minor roads the quieter it became. The road surface here (south of Chur) was treacherous though, I felt the rear breaking out from time to time for apparently no reason at all. Between Chur and Lindau the roads got busier again, and getting to the harbour almost felt 'Italian'. At 14.30 the picture of the Lighthouse and Lion was taken; Schaffhausen here I come!
Not. It turned out the bloody #$% had blocked most of the road along the Bodensee. I made several attempts to get on it again, but was sent back every time. Having lost much time again I decided to switch to plan B and take the motorway to the Rheinfall in Schaffhausen Switzerland. Boring but efficient. Landmark #5 reached at 17.00. It was forbidden to ride to the view, but I thought what the heck and did it anyway. Strange to see a river which is wide and flat in Holland make a huge drop here.

Two more landmarks to go today. The next part of the trip was easy, I had loaded a route from Schaffhausen to Glottertal in the Etrex, so I lazily followed the arrow. Sheer luck made me spot the St.Peter Abtei shortly before reaching Glottertal, so at 18.45 the Transalp was photographed in front of the abbey. I had booked a hostel in Belgium, north of Luxembourg, but by now it was obvious I wouldn't make it today. So I phoned them to cancel my reservation; the guy courteously accepted my apologies. On the bike again, now back to France. Near Obernai was supposed to be a castle by the name of Truttenhausen, I was sure I could get those LM points today.

The Rheinfall at Schaffhausen.
The Pizza joint.
I crossed the river Rhein by ferry, quite surprising really, a bonus from Mapsource so to speak. I spotted a van where a guy made take-away pizza's and ordered one with Roquefort, I love fungus... It took him quite a while to prepare it, fast food would definitely not be the correct word. Then the search for the castle began, to no avail. It's real funny to look back at the track the gps recorded, I was all over the place between Heiligenstein and Obernai. Finally I gave up and got to Obernai where I booked a room at a Gites de France hotel at 21.30. The bike could be parked in a garage: 8.50 euro for the service! 13 hours and 586km today.
Monday, another good breakfast. I ate a lot, realizing I wouldn't be eating for a while. The local tourist office wouldn't open until 09.00 and I didn't want to waste time. The hotel manager had a detailed map of the area on which I was finally able to locate the castle. A rather steep unpaved road from Heiligenstein led up to the entrance, where two men told me it was private property and not to be visited. After explaining my quest I was allowed to walk in and shoot the ruins. Took some more pictures of the bike at the entrance just to prove I was there, then went downhill to find the motorway from Strasbourg to Luxembourg. It felt like cheating, but I had promised SWMBO to be home at a reasonable time. The ride to Luxembourg was BORING with capital letters, but after that the ride improved again. The scenery was friendly, the traffic light, and at 13.00 I noticed the next target, the chateau Oranje Nassau. Ancestors of our Royal family once lived there (I think). Next part was preplanned so yet another relaxed ride to Burg Reuland in Belgium. Again I ignored some traffic rules to get close enough for the picture. An attractive young lady was shaving her legs in the sunshine, a nice change of view.
A view at the Luxembourg scenery.

The one but last leg lay ahead of me. It turned out to be demanding. Minor roads thru Germany, zillions of traffic lights, village after village; not the best part of the trip. I was suffering from pain in the butt, caused by improper underpants (and heat). After a while I undressed beside the road and put my painful butt directly into my jeans. A relief indeed.

At 17.45 I reached the last landmark, probably one quite shocking for my American friends. Here people from nearby countries come to shop for marihuana. A big parking lot provided just enough space for the customers, it was big business indeed. Coordinates available ;-)

This was the end of my 4 day ride, the leg home on motorways was uneventful.

The whole ride had been more tiring than I had expected. Part of that was due to the hot weather, another part can be contributed to the fact that I had planned this ride with my VFR in mind. However the VFR was not available, so I had to take the much slower Transalp.

Trip summary:

I've been riding 54 hours to clock 2864 kilometres. The ride was a real challenge but fun to do. For the first time this LMR felt like a real 'rally'.

Things to improve:

  • Bring better maps.
  • Get better underwear.
  • Bring more muesli and chocolate bars.
  • Not book accomodation in advance (as this is bad for flexibility).
  • Avoid minor roads in the western parts of Germany (or skip it altogether).

    Things that worked out:

  • The decision to ride alone. I'm sure doing this with more riders would lead to irritation when tiredness sets in and would prevent the necessary following of ones own rhythm and needs.
  • The use of a Garmin etrex gps, even though it proved more difficult to use in the mountainous areas in the Vosges than elsewhere. Minor roads there look much the same and lead in all directions, making decisions based on just an arrow and distance to the next waypoint hard to make. I would never again ride without one.
  • The care I'd taken to bring enough water in order not to dehydrate.

    Should you wish to read more about my landmark quest (and if you got to this point you probably will...) follow the link below.