Friday, June 8
Overnight, in the quiet darkness of the fir and conifers at the Passo Brocon, it began to rain - a steady, continuous rain. It rained as we had breakfast, rained as we gathered up our room, rained as we quickly packed the car. The kind of rain that felt determined to go on for a while.
That meant driving in the rain - not my favorite thing to do, since it means being more cautious and not being able to push in the turns.
We continued east from the Basso Brocon, descending along the Strada Provincial 79 into the bottom of a steep little valley. Then back up and across to another steep-sided valley. The forested terrain was shrouded in mist and clouds and rain, and we really only got to focus on the road ahead of us. It was, I have to say - a very good road. Lots of interesting turns and curves and wide and well-paved, and very, very little traffic. The only problem was, of course the rain.
In a way, it was good to get a feel for the M2 in the rain (on technical roads, not just on a straight highway). We kept all traction aids off, trying to get a feel for just how much of a handful the car would be. And as it turned out, not that much of a handful at all. Paying careful attention to the butt dyno, we didn't really have any major moments. Perhaps Luke and I are just naturally cautious in the rain. Certainly the Michelin Super Sports seemed to have plenty of grip in the rain.
The rainy ride across the southern foothills of the Dolomites took all morning. The highways we followed continued to be quiet and very twisty. With the lack of far-ranging views to establish context, it all seemed to go on forever: twisties upon twisties, endless forest, down steeply into a valley; climb up steeply and across and down into the next valley. The occasional tiny town. Then the next little town. Then more twisties. Almost not a straight road in sight.
[on rainy Italian forest twisties]
Leisurely breakfast (at 6:30) before getting on the road towards the Dolomites. Pouring rain though, so no hard driving. Nevertheless, the switchbacks up and down each small pass are fun and we resist the temptation to turn the traction control back on. The car is planted and the Pilot Super Sports are exactly like the S2000 so there's a familiarity there. They sound just the same, especially when they start to slide in the wet. A tiny bit of understeer as a I go in a bit too hot and apply lots of steering lock (I have to coz the corner is sooooo tight!). Neither of us have gotten into the ABS yet, even in the wet. I've said it before, this car has an impressive amount of grip. A combination of amazing tires and excellent suspension geometry, plus near 50/50 weight distribution.
We had worked our way almost all the way to Austria by the time the weather finally broke, and the roads began to dry out. We stopped in a slightly larger town that had a grocery store, picking up some snacks for a lunch we could hopefully have at a future scenic picnicing spot.
Next, we headed up the next of the potential "good roads" on this section of my twisty road map: a small twisting route up a middling mountain known as Monte Zoncolan. It may look and seem modest to us, as casual observers, but anyone in the road cycling and racing community knows the name Monte Zoncolan: it - and the road we were now climbing up in the M2 - are often part of professional road cycle race circuits, including one of the most famous events of them all - the Giro D'Italia. The route is apparently one of the the most demanding climbs in professional road bicycle racing.
Clearing on M. Zoncolan
We did see a few brave and hardy souls attempting the very steep grade (averaging 15+% over the entire climb), but overall, the road was fairly quite on this Friday afternoon - probably owing to the fact that most of the day had been thus far rainy. Now, though, it was definitely clearing up, and as we climbed up above the 5,000 foot level, we began to emerge, above the clouds, into sunny skies.
Several bicycle-related memorials were passed as we climbed (somewhat guiltily in our fancy gasoline-powered chariot) to the summit area, where a large parking lot and an adjacent cycling memorial mark the end of the climb. There were a few nice grassy hillocks nearby, and we perched ourselves on top of one and had our lunch picnic. The view of the clouds clearing out over the south-eastern dolomites was impressive.
Luke befriended a couple of Dutch cyclists who had just completed their climb, and I set up the M2 atop the grassy hillock for a series of... I guess you could call them "car modelling" shots. But hey - the M2 is only going to be doing this European tour once, and we needed -- it needed -- to get some good memories.
[on a post-rain, sunny afternoon]
Stopped for snacks at noon, looks like rain is stopping. The sun is out and the roads are steaming. Promise for the afternoons twisties. At the top of the pass we met up with a couple of cyclists from the Netherlands. Very friendly guys out doing a bucket list thing. This pass is one that the Giro d'Italia crosses on this route. Hugely steep and very technical. A hell of a bike climb and a scary descent too! The view was so good Andrew decided to drive the M2 up to a grassy knoll overlooking the entire valley and get some amazing drone footage. Back on the road for more good stuff. Gassed up with a Ferrari F12, 2 more M2s, Corvette, Bentley Mulsanne, and an F-type S. cool! They were from the Czech Republic. Late night driving back to the flat. Adaptive headlights impressive though high beam on/off can get confused. How does it know we are in a tunnel? No time to stop for dinner. Low calorie day that's for sure. In bed at 11:00 with no tomorrow plans yet. Phew.
We then descended down the eastern slopes of Monte Zoncolan, on an equally twisty but less narrow and less steep highway. Once at the bottom, we charted a route (again, excellently twisty) across the Italian-Austrian frontier at Passo Monte Croce Carnico.
Once in Austria, we descended into the Lesach Valley (Lesachtal) - a long east-west valley that runs parallel to the Austrian-Italian border. We followed it west, driving along the B111 highway that runs along a bench on the northern slopes of the valley, above the narrow gorge that contains the Gail River. It's a pretty curvy route, although it does go through all of the major towns in the valley. It also served as a nice relatively direct way to head back west towards Switzerland and the flat, which we were aiming to reach before sundown.
Continuing on the most direct way to get back to the Swiss Flat, we crossed back into the Sudtirol region of Italy (but not before tanking up at an Austrian gas station - they had been proving to be the cheapest places to fuel up so far on our trip). We headed west on a fairly benign and curve-less route through the north of the Dolomites (essentially we were circling the high dolomites on our drive today).
Trying to cut west across the central mass of the alps is not going to remain benign and curve-less for too long, and eventually we had to choose a place to cross a major sub-range of the alps. We chose an especially sports car-friendly route over the 2094m / 6870 ft Passo Monte Giovo (JaufenPass). The road is wide and well-paved and has a few sections of excellent curves on both sides of the height of land. The southern side has some nice, exciting airy sections.
After the Jaufenpass, we descended into a more populated part of the Italian alps - the area around Merano. Where much of the regions near the Swiss and Austrian borders had been distinctly more Germanic in character, here in and around Merano, it definitely felt Italian again. Merano itself is fairly built-up area and feels like the small city that it is.
We drove west up the broad Val Venosta, one of the major tributary valleys of the main Adige valley that drains much of the southern Alps. The architecture and culture soon became visibly Germanic again, and we droved past and through several medieval-looking castles and towns, including the town of Glurns, where the highway goes straight through old medieval gates and city walls.
By the time we crossed back into Switzerland, it was after 8pm, and we still had 150km of mountainous driving to go. It was turning out to be a longer day than we'd intended. Our comfy beds back at the Roemer's Swiss flat were going to have a wait a little longer.
We soon drove bast the lower end of the Via Umbrail, where we had branched off two days before to head up to the Stelvio. This meant we had closed the large loop of driving we had initiated 2 days before. Back we drove through the Swiss National Park. We then climbed up to the final major road pass of our long day: the Albula Pass. At 2,315 m (7,595 ft) high, it was today's highest pass. Dusk was falling as we drove through the high alpine along the top. All of the day's traffic had melted away, and it had a very remote feel.
Back through Swiss National Park
It was fully dark as we wearily pulled into the small parking lot at the flat in Waltensburg. In fact, it was quite late - past 11pm. That had been a long day of driving - nearly 700 kilometres' worth over the course of fourteen hours.