Steve and Heidi Gish of Shingle Springs are motorcycle enthusiasts who love to ride and who have traveled the world to do it. Heidi Gish, who has ridden dirt bikes off-road and has her own Honda XR200, only rides as a passenger on the street with husband Steve.
Last spring Steve, a program manager at Intel, received an e-mail from Motorcyclist magazine (America’s oldest publication of its type and which just celebrated its 100th year of publishing) that in conjunction with Edelweiss Bike Travel, an Austrian-based motorcycle touring company, which is also the largest of its type in the world, asking its readers to apply for a trip of a lifetime for 10 people who would travel to Europe to tour the Alps on motorcycles.
Edelweiss classifies its trips as easy, moderate and tough. This was to be a tough trip for experienced riders only. The idea was to test eight different adventure motorcycles riding the Alps along with two editors from the Motorcyclist staff, Aaron Frank and Ari Henning. The result would be a feature story in the October 2013 issue of Motorcyclist magazine. And a feature story it was, covering 22 pages and over 40 pictures, including several quotes from the Gishes.
The Gishes have basically lived their whole lives (from ages 10 and 12) in El Dorado County, both graduating from Ponderosa High in 1978, building and living in the same house since about 1984 with all three of their sons graduating from Ponderosa High School as well.
Although it was a contest of sorts and over 200 people applied, each person who was selected to make the ride did have to pay their own way. The trip started in Seefeld, Austria, a ski town located 25 miles from Innsbruck. It was led by Edelweiss’s Christian Preining and his assistant, Ed Buelsing, who usually followed the group in a van checking for stragglers. The chase van also moved the riders’ luggage to the next overnight stop on the tour. Although the bikes came with saddle bags, they were for personal items such as cameras, and extra clothing if it got cold and rain suits.
From Seefeld the tour covered about 150-200 miles a day with their first overnight stop in Warth, Austria. The ride from Seefeld took the riders through the Bavarian countryside through picturesque Garmisch-Partenkirchen then back into Austria to that first stop in Warth. The tour planned many stops during the day not just for lunch but at scenic vistas and other places appropriate for a break, including a mid-morning coffee and strudel break. The Gishes said they loved the strudel breaks.
From Warth the motorcyclists crossed several Alpine passes, including often-photographed 9,000-foot Stelvio Pass twice (sometimes known as Stilfserjoch) on the way to the next overnight at the City/State of Livigno, a once walled city that was first settled in the Middle Ages. At 6,000 feet Livigno lies about five miles from the Swiss border.
“Most of the riding we did was on two-lane rural country roads, not unlike many of the roads here in the foothills and Sierra. The big difference was that they were a bit narrower, but they were so much cleaner. It was like they swept the roads every night of dirt and gravel which can act like marbles. And they were always in such good repair,” said Gish.
The tour did take the Gishes through over two dozen high mountain passes, most 8,000-9,000 feet high. “The most difficult or scariest pass was Passo di Gavia as it was very narrow, like a lane or a lane and a half, there were steep drop offs with no guard rails,” said Gish.
Gish said Stelvio Pass was also difficult in that it consisted of 48 180-degree hairpin turns and with the retaining walls used in the corners and on the steep straight sections of the roads you could not see any oncoming traffic when going through turns up the pass. Most of the turns were done at 5-10 mph. There was only one minor mishap during the tour when one of the riders on Stelvio Pass got so close to the mountainside in a turn that he scraped a saddle bag off his Triumph Explorer motorcycle which they had to retrieve.
In another slight mishap, the two Motorcyclist editors were shooting some photos of the bikes with the great scenery in the background when they had a bike or two suffer tipovers.
“Most everyone rode at their own pace. Sometimes we got strung out a mile or so between the front and last rider, but we always regrouped at the next stop or intersection where our ride guide Preining was waiting,” said Gish.
During each day’s ride the riders would switch bikes to evaluate them in real riding conditions. The Gishs’ favorite bike among the group was the new BMW liquid-cooled GS1200. In fact, it was just about everyone’s favorite, including the two editors from Motorcyclist, although the new KTM 1190 Adventure also got high marks as did some of the riders who rode the Ducati Multistrada.
“It was a trip of a lifetime,” said Heidi Gish, “simply amazing and breathtaking. At times, though, I had to activate the speed governor with a poke into Steve’s ribs every now and then.”
“It was a lot of fun meeting new motorcycle enthusiasts and making new friends and hoping to keep in contact,” said Heidi Gish. “It was fun to switch off bikes, riding three different bikes every day. The only bike that wasn’t good for a passenger was the Ducati Multistrada. I couldn’t wait to get off.”
One rider in the group, Jeremy Piner from Napa, after his return, bought a new Ducati Multistrada. Another rider, Augusto Philadelpho from Rio de Janeiro, had a new BMW GS1200 waiting for him at home.
The ride from Livigno to Bolzano encountered the Passo di Gavia, Passo di Tonale and Mendelpass. The stay in Bolzano was a two-nighter. The weather in Bolzano was hot and humid compared to the crisp springtime weather everywhere else in the Alps. The extra day was spent riding a picturesque circuit through the Dolomites that had no less than 14 mountain passes to navigate. The last day was the ride back to Seefeld.
Coincidentally, this is the second European tour for the Gishes. Last year the Gishes went to Europe and did a 15-day motorcycle trip on their own, riding to a new city every second or third night and then doing day rides from there. Steve Gish spent many days planning the trip, including the European bike rentals. The cost was not much different from the Edelweiss trip.