(by James) The only worry we’d had on the weather front before leaving the UK was that no matter how nice the weather was forecasted to be (vital for Em to get as much practice and confidence!) the Alps can be unpredictable so to say we were relieved to awake to a perfect alpine morning with not a cloud in the sky is an understatement! We spent the morning heading south-east and getting ever closer to the first alpine passes… something that Em was getting increasingly nervous about, although she was slightly distracted by the fact that we were passing through Gruyere country (her cheese obsession knows no bounds!!) At lunchtime, we finally turned up towards the Juan Pass and via the intercom (bought at the last minute following generous wedding gift from my dad and clear instructions for what it should go towards!!) I was able to talk a very nervous Em through her first tight alpine hairpins. It wasn’t long before she was executing perfect lines out of every corner and looked for all the world like someone who had been doing it all her life (although her true thoughts were coming through loud and clear on my earpiece!!) Matthew, meanwhile, was loving putting his ‘bus’ through its paces, something that became clear when we stopped at the top with snow on the side of the road when, wide-eyed and grinning, his first words were, “You could ride your entire life and not come across roads like that!”
After dropping off the other side of the pass, we headed east towards Interlaken along the shores of Lakes Thuner and Brienzer (the latter the result of a slight navigational mishap by Matthew,(aka ‘the bloodhound’!) As we got to southern Switzerland, we discovered that sadly the vast majority of the high alpine passes were still closed for winter… a sadness that was not shared by Emily! This meant that our route to Italy (and country number four) would be via the 11 mile long Gotthard Tunnel. At our last petrol stop before the tunnel at around 5pm, we contacted Jack (Em’s brother) who informed us that we were booked for dinner with friends for 8.30 pm in Lisanza (the village he lives in) on the shore of Lake Maggiore) so we had to hit the road. Our joy at reaching the Gotthard tunnel was short lived as it quickly became apparent that no matter how much effort is put into ventilation you simply cannot aerate an 16 km tunnel sufficiently, something you can only really vouch for on a motorbike – as the temperature quickly rose to what a car river later told us was 37 degrees of fume-filled road! Suffice to say we were very happy to reach the south end of the tunnel after a seemingly endless, but in reality 20 sweaty minutes of real discomfort, our only consolation being that we were just 30 kms from the Locarno and the northern shores of Lake Maggiore. Although the northern shores of Lake Maggiore are technically in Switzerland, culturally you are to all intents and purposes in Italy, and we all felt a great sense of relief and satisfaction as we ambled through the stunning villages and villas that hug the shores of the Italian lakes breathing in a warm evening air and an unmistakeable smell of Bourgainvilla that told us all that we had arrived in southern Europe. We arrived at Jack’s at 7:45 having covered 909 miles (it’s worth bearing in mind Em had ridden for less than 100 miles before we left!) in 4 brilliant days – just in time for a much needed shower before dinner – and then straight to Jack’s local (and very good!) restaurant where we met up with our friends Alessandro and Massimo from the local KTM garage (Moto Varese) who had brought along their mechanic Ivan and Russell – the team racer who is currently competing (very successfully) in the Italian superstock racing series in order to get himself back into the world championship series (ie. he’s very fast!) and Jack’s old flat mate, Chris. Anyway, to cut a long story short – a great time was had by all and we all woke the next morning feeling a little delicate!