We get under way after a delicious breakfast and a fruitless search for postcards of the Wankbahn. The morning starts with a delightful potter along a winding country road dappled by shady trees and running alongside a shallow turquoise stream. We pay €3 for the privilege of using this stretch, the money going towards preserving the area, and we don't grudge it one bit.
Just before the motorway, Roy pulls in at a petrol station and we lose him. We have many miles to travel today and much of the riding is joyless get-you-there slog in the midday heat, all dual carriageways and towns and a hasty petrol station sandwich for lunch. We stop at a wonderfully cool hypermarket for coffee and chocolate before tackling the Großglockner.
Another toll, another sticker. Wide, sweeping roads with tarmac smooth as a racetrack and a backdrop of perfect, pointed Alps. Although the pass is popular, it's so vast that it's not crowded; I pass a couple of cars, a couple of bikes pass me. Near the top I meet Howard coming back down for another go. Later, he observes thoughtfully that one could spend all day riding to and fro between the tolls at either end and only pay the fee once...
A sign points upwards to the 'Bikers Nest' and we climb a steep path laid with small paving-stones that winds tightly around the narrowing summit of the Edelweißspitze. At the top there's no barrier between the motorcycle parking spaces and the empty space beyond, and I apply the sidestand gingerly.
Grey cloud lowers and hides the surrounding peaks, and it starts to rain. Going down is much less fun, with slippery flagstones and a fading back brake - I'm not convinced I can manage it without a friendly Chinook to airlift the bike down for me, but after an ice age of glacier-slow tiptoeing I reach civilisation.
The rain becomes a downpour and I completely miss Howard waiting for me in a village square, so that he has to chase after me. We catch up to the others - minus Roy who's still AWOL - and it's decided that John and Sandie will press on to the hotel in Cortina to make sure our reservations are kept, while Roger, Howard and I stop for dinner. So the three of us sit in the conservatory of a restaurant and stuff ourselves, while rain lashes the roof and trickles in at the windows and the lovely Swiss proprietor tucks cushions behind our backs.
Another group of bikers has come in, and I ask them where they're staying. "Here!" they reply over pints of beer. I tell them we're off to Cortina and they smugly wish us luck. We don our waterproofs and set off.
It's still a long way, and it's getting dark. We leave dual carriageway for an unlit country road. I thumbs-up wildly for the benefit of Roger behind as we cross the Italian border. The rain is heavy enough to be blinding and the road surface is crumbling. I see frogs hopping across the road and wonder if I'm suffering a flashback to 2005's journey into the Auvergne.
At last we see lights below and descend into the town. There are welcoming neon signs on both sides of the road, but none for the Hotel Europa. Then John appears in the road, arms waving, and guides us down to the car park. Between John, Sandie and the solicitous hotel staff, who are entirely unfazed by dripping bikers bursting into their elegant lobby at 10:30PM, we get our luggage up to our rooms and go gratefully to bed.
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