Urs and I buzzed on down to Bologna from Ciona and Lugano in three hours including lunch using the autostrada. Traffic was very heavy and we were nose to tail at about 185 KPH. It must have been 105 degrees in the shade. Our place to stay was the Sheraton Hotel near the airport and minutes away from the Ducati factory. I was low on gas and asked the front desk where to refuel. Naturally, the directions were impossible to follow out on the road. I went back and reconfirmed which way was up on the hand drawn map. The first station was one that only took local debit cards and no cash because it was unmanned. The second one, also unmanned, actually would take Euros. This begins the game of how much to enter into the machine because if you can’t use the money entered you have lost the wager with the gas pump. It was good that I had done some homework on what kind of kilometers I could get per liter of gas. Unfortunately, absolutely no one at the hotel knew what the program was or where to check in for the event. There was considerable confusion and we felt we were the only English speaking couple. We missed the check-in that day as it was at the factory, so there was the worry that we had screwed up to sleep on.
Through word of mouth, mostly hand signals and a young couple from England, we learned that we could check in at 8:00 AM at the factory and there was a required meeting for everybody at 9:00 AM. What a zoo that was in the heat, which was stifling. Urs had brought her oriental fan along in the top box along with the curling iron and hair dryer. This was a Godsend. Of course most of what was said was in Italian, which was of great help to us who don’t know the language. Eventually we connected with Carlo Cianforoni who was to be our group leader. It turned out that the Iron Biker group we had been assigned to was by far the faster of the other groups. When we left the factory we were escorted by the Carabiniere on BMWs. They would stay with us for the entire trip. They were great. They would rush ahead to stop traffic at the intersections within the populated areas so we could speed by without interruption. As our Centopassi group must have numbered a several hundred all told, this was almost a requirement. The mix of bikes within our smaller group led by Carlo included Multistradas, a hot Guzzi, 948s, 916s, a Yamaha, a brand new KTM, a Honda, and Willie and Urs on the ST-4s ABS. We were about the only two up couple on the scene. The testerone level was very high with all the young bucks. I decided to hang low and back. This is the ‘old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill’ philosophy. Next was a long grind up the A-13 Autostrada to Monselice. We finally hit some curly terrain from Asiago to our destination of Laverone. Along this stretch everyone was attempting to show their riding prowess. A Multistrada went down on a deceasing radius turn into the Armco barrier with enough damage to the rider that a helicopter was called in for evacuation. The Centopassi organizers had prepared a huge reception in Laverone complete with a narrow autocross course for everyone to test their turning abilities against the Multistradas. Wine, champagne and antipasti of all sorts was spread out on tables for us. We then went to our assigned housing locations, in our case the Club 21 which was a small hotel up the hill a mile from the reception. Each person was allowed two luggage tags at the start which you could attach to the stuff like your pannier bags and the luggage was then delivered to your residence each night. In our case we were able to send four bags because we were two up. Prior to the start each contestant/tourer was given a gift of a fancy backpack from the Centopassi organization. This was nice to be able to ride unladed of all the weight. The drawback came later when the luggage went one way and we another. The tour included the housing, dinner and breakfast meals. We met Ton Maas who was very helpful, as he has run the Moto Giro for many years, winning one, and knew all the Ducati people. When we had bike problems he introduced us to the head mechanic and assisted the repairs. He was on an eleven hundred Kawasaki, which was a dog in the corners, but would accelerate well on the straights. He was riding by himself, but generally aligned himself with our group. We and Carlo would have to pass him in the corners so we could get out in front, as our riding styles were opposite Ton’s.
Everyone met at the reception area each morning ready to ride. Our guide, Carlo, would gather his group together and we would head out. Our group started out with about fourteen bikes. Several people decided to go their own way after the long and slow first day and signed releases to the organization to do so. This cut our group to ten, which was more manageable. By the end of the trip our group was down to six plus Carlo because of crashes and mechanical problems. We lost the KTM when the rider misjudged a corner and pulled in his clutch. He slid into a guardrail and totaled the bike. One of the Carabiniere crashed on a corner, but except for his ego, was unhurt. We headed to Trento then west and north over Passo di Sommo, Passo Monte Bondone, Passo Tonale, Passo di Campo Carlo Magno, and Passo di Gavia to Santa Caterina Valfurva, our destination, for a 247 kilometer day. Because Gavia is such a narrow roadway the Carabiniere closed the pass at the top to allow the Centopassi group to proceed up without traffic. This was quite the sight with several hundred mostly Ducati motorcycles climbing the steep pass together. After the daily reception in S. Caterina we went to Residence Roda for the night. The food was truly exceptional with numerous antipasta choices to start with followed with a veal and wild mushroom main course and a bottle of local rosa wine as all part of the deal. We got to keep our bikes in their garage.
We headed through Bormio to Passo di Stelvio, which is the big grand daddy of all Italian passes. Last year Urs and I hit this without much traffic and made it from bottom to top in seven and one half minutes. This year it was jammed with Ducatis making the trip considerably slower, perhaps twenty minutes. Urs and I began to express ourselves in the pecking order of the bikers within our group. Using the superior power of the ST-4s and our better riding technique for mountain roads we proceeded to the front leaving the sport bikers somewhat in awe. Carlo pulled us aside and commented at how smooth our style was. At the top it is like a festival. There is a ski area that operates year round plus shops and hotels. The best thing there, though, are the wurst stands where you can get a truly unsurpassed sandwich of home made charcoal grilled sausage, sauerkraut, mustard and fresh wheat buns. After Stelvio we headed through Merano north past the luxury hotel we stayed at last year in Tirolo through some great wiggly roads to Passo di Giovo. We then circled around through Passo di Pennes and south through Campolasta and Sarentino to Bolzano for a 222 kilometer day. We all gathered at the Piazza Walther Walther, which is the center of town. Bolzano is an old, large, rich city and we made quite the splash when we roared into this conservative town. Many of the locals came to view the impressive gathering of Italian machinery. Our place to stay was the Luna Park Hotel. The weather changed and it started to rain. By this time our little riding group had bonded pretty well and we were exchanging drinks and wine with each other. Each morning we would place our labeled luggage in the hotel lobby and cross our fingers that it would show up at the destination. The announcement to us was to show up the next morning in full rain gear.
It was hot and humid between mixed sprinkles of rain. Everyone was reluctant to suit up in their hot rain clothing, so we started out a little under dressed. First, the route we planned to depart from Bolzano was closed with a concrete barrier, then it started to rain in a serious fashion, so it was time to seal up. Because of the road closure we ended up running some of the passes backwards from the original plan. They included Passo Bordoi out of Arabba and we added some others. The rain really got serious by the point we were heading east towards our planned destination of Kranska Gora in Slovenia. This was supposed to be our big day of 340 kilometers. At this point our leaders were improvising the route to stay out of the high country. We came around a corner into a small town, which had a gas station, and decided to fill up. As Urs and I pulled into the petrol station it started to hail big time. I managed to take an inordinate period of time to do this as the pumps were covered with a roof. By the time I pulled away from the pumps there was several inches of large sized hail piled in the gutters with more on the way. The rain was coming down in torrents. We hid under whatever cover, which could be found to keep from being beaten to death. Shortly thereafter Carlo decided a stop for a cappuccino would be in order. Little did we know that the time to do this saved us from being involved with a major rockslide, which covered and closed our route to Slovenia. This landslide caught some of the bikers and buried a fellow on an Aprilia RSV breaking his leg and totaling the bike. We gathered under a covered common area within a shopping center trying to wait out the incredible rain torrent, which was not abating. I have never seen anything like this in Seattle. Carlo and the Carabiniere were lost. We went up and down the same highway several times and then came to a roadblock. The river alongside had risen to record heights and swept out a bridge ahead. The landslide closed the pass. Our luggage was in Kraniska Gora and we were wet and miserable. Carlo found us a motel large enough for several of the groups, plus all the Ducati brass. We had a ship wreck party. Here we were in the middle of nowhere near Carnia in a motel with a nice restaurant and no gear. What Urs and I did was order the chateaubriand plus a nice bottle of wine. We were fortunate to have a table for two and completed our meal by eleven PM before the larger table was served their main courses. Ur had the foresight to ask for a hairdryer at the desk. We spent a considerable time drying our clothing with the machine helped with a second bottle of wine.
The weather broke and when we proceeded to our machines for our run to Cortina various electrical glitches became evident. Ducati wiring is suspect even at the best of times, but when put under the waterfall we drove through the day prior, didn’t stand a chance. The infamous Spyball alarm system took a 916 out of play. It just locked up and squealed every time the key was turned on. The bike ended up in one of the support vans. Our ST-4s suffered from a water filled high/low beam switch. It would turn the high beam on all by itself. The clutch lever was filled with sand and would not function smoothly. The prior day had the starter button not working if the bike stalled in traffic which was easy to do when two up and tangled with large busses in small towns. I got to know the nice Ducati mechanic quite well along the way. He had to adjust the ECU yellow screws to stop some portion of the electric system from not allowing the button to function. It was a tussle working around the fairings without totally removing them, naturally dropping the wrench in the process requiring an interesting extraction. They also added quite a bit of oil to the crankcase by putting the bike on the side stand and tilting the bike over and pouring it in from the side without touching the fairings. Someone had not tightened the right chain adjuster properly and I caught it right before the bolt fell out. The restraining tab had bent and made a swing around the aluminum swing arm leaving a scar. The Ducati guy used a make shift hammer to bend it back. We rendezvoused in a plaza in Venzone with the other shipwreck parties and then proceeded back along the route used to get there. A problem occurred by Carlo allowing the other groups to proceed ahead of ours. They were slug slow making this westerly route boring as hell. At one point Carlo pulled us aside and asked if we wanted to do a little side trip which was enthusiastically accepted by all. Here we found that the ST-4s was considerably quicker through the switchbacks then the sports bikes even though we were two up. Apparently, track time does not provide the same tools as mountain time. These guys were slug slow compared to our rear brake use to settle the suspension while cranking on the throttle. Urs has become quite adept at hanging off which worked well in conjunction with the trailing brake technique. We ended up having lunch in Misurina next to a nice little lake where it started to rain again. It was back into the rain gear for us. We arranged to take off for Cortina ahead of the rest because we wanted to check into our hotel as soon as possible. The rain was becoming an old experience. As we went around the corner the rain stopped and the sun blazed out with the temperature changing upwards at least twenty degrees. We were cooking by the time we rolled into Cortina and entered the reception at the Ice Palace parking area. It was back to the Ducati mechanic for work on the shorted out high/low beam switch, chain oil, clutch lever oiling, etc. We then proceeded part way up Passo di Falzarego to our hotel, the Argentina, which was located on the outside of this beautiful sweeper with an outside bar located to enjoy the biker’s technique. After a beer, or two, our Guzzi guy mounted up and we got the cameras out. He could be heard a mile away winding that sports model Guzzi up. He hung it all out past the hotel so many times that the management threatened to call the police. We enjoyed some beer time there with a beautiful single gal, Anna Maria, who rides a Yamaha Fazer and has fifteen years of experience. She won the award that night at the ‘banquet’ party at the disco about a half a kilometer up the hill. We figured she was approximately thirty years old. Banquet was a misnomer as the food was served from a Congo line into small plastic bowls. Our little table was located next to where Rossi was holding court and I snapped a great photo of him doing his duties. Huge trophies were given out for many different categories within the competition class, but absolutely nothing for the Iron Biker groups except the award for prettiest rider. All the Ducati brass was there, including those who recently were fired. The Centopassi was now over, but not our adventure returning home to Ciona.
We arose and got organized for our departure and studied the map for an interesting route to follow. As we packed the bike in front of the hotel all these old racing sports cars came past, none with any semblance of a top. What glorious sounds they made. All came apart as we proceeded up the Passo di Falzarego. The rain returned with vengeance. By the time we crested the pass it had turned to driving snow with wind gusts so strong they were moving the bike all over the road. Urs and I quickly decided to abandon the route plan and make a run for Arabba to the Evaldo Hotel where we had stayed years previously. They have this nice huge underground garage next to it. We went in and had a cappuccino and inquired about a room, as I was pretty discouraged about the road conditions. After a little rest we decided to proceed anyway and mounted up. The route out of there took us back up Passo Pordoi where we found the snow was freezing on the roadway. The bike slipped several times on the ice but we were able to make the appropriate recoveries that got us over the top. As we tippy toed down the other side The sun came out and everything cleared. We went over Passo Costalunga and down into Bolzano. Here we hit the autostrada to Merano and turned west towards the turn off to Stelvio. Instead of doing that again we decided to head towards Mals and then cut west over Ofenpass to Zernez and then down to Zuos where we stayed last year. The hotel was filled but the gal at the desk arranged for us at another hotel, the Crush Alva, down the street. The room was, of course, at the very top of the non-elevator served building. Five stories up and down made for careful planning prior to doing anything. We had cheese fondue for dinner and a nice bottle of Margeaux.
We awoke to semi-clear skies and freezing temperatures. After starting towards St Moritz it became evident just how cold it was. We stopped and put on all our warmest gear. The next pass is really a descent down from St. Moritz, Malojapass. It drops off the end of the valley straight down winding under itself in tight loops. We then went to Chiavenna and headed south to Lake Como rather then going north over Splugenpass, as we wanted to get home. The temperatures suddenly turned quite warm accompanied with rain showers. We dropped down to Menaggio and turned west to Lugano then to Ciona and a hot shower.