So we went the long way round, following the shore with the water on our left. Misty lumps of mountain across the lake like sleeping cats, and a nun all in white stepping out of her Fiat Punto.
The Italian for 'hairpin bend' is 'tornante'. Helpful signs tell you how many are coming up, then count them off one by one.
The roads were pleasant despite the damp surface. Bundled up in my waterproof gear, with my heated grips and waistcoat firing, I was enjoying myself when we stopped in a village of Alpine-looking wooden buildings to see about some lunch.
The first place we tried didn't seem to be serving. I enquired about open restaurants, and the woman behind the bar told me that the Alpini at the end of the village was open, or she could knock up some soup or spaghetti.
We went for the latter option. She turned up the stove and went through the menu with us in a mixture of Italian, German and English while we warmed ourselves and dried our gear.
"There's snow on the pass," she said before we left. I was too pleased to have understood the sentence to grasp the significance of this remark.
Soon after the village we began to climb up the Passo Tonale, which I remembered from 2008's tour as a pleasant place set among green, rolling hills. Today the sky was grey and the world beyond hidden by mist.
It was cold even with my heated gear, now: 4° by the dashboard gauge. I started to see snow at the side of the road, which was exciting. Then snow in the road, which was a bit worrying. Then it was actually snowing and I was scared. I wondered if the road would get any worse, and, if it did, if I could possibly manage to turn the bike round and go back.
Howard was far in the lead, seeming to take the wet, narrow path with its patches of icy slush as easily as a chamois. How long would it take him to notice if I went over the side of the mountain?
When we finally stopped I went over to give Howard a hug and clung to him for a while, shaking and giggling. I took my glasses off to clean them and gasped. Because the photoreactive lenses had darkened, I hadn't realised how white and bright everything was.
I took some photos, my cold fingers clumsy on the shutter. We'd paused in the same layby as on our previous trip; compare and contrast:
|July 2008||September 2010|
Soon afterwards the road turned downhill, thank goodness, into fog, past men herding little dove-coloured cows with the help of two hairy dogs.
At four o'clock the rain stopped, and minutes later the sun was out and the roads dry. We stopped for coffee at a petrol station, where an American tourist spotted the Iron Butt plate on my bike and came over to tell me about the Saddlesore he'd done in New Mexico.
We hadn't booked a hotel in Como, and in the town we discovered that even a two-star hotel was pricy, so we headed into the hills in search of one we had loaded into the sat-nav.
Up steep and twisting bends in the dark. The road narrowed, went one-way, changed from tarmac to cobbles and ended in a car park with a view of lights far below, whose only other exits were hiking trails. We ventured a little way up one of these darkened paths in the hope that it was concealing our hotel, but it seemed increasingly unlikely.
We turned back and stopped at a hotel in the village halfway up the hill. The rooms cost slightly less than in Como, but at this point I didn't really care. I went to sleep with tornanti playing on the insides of my eyelids.