Stella Alpina and Assietta mountain ridge
During this yearly motorbike meeting in July, there are more than 2,000 motorcyclists gathered in Bardonecchia in the Italian Alps. The common goal of everyone is climbing the highest unpaved mountain road of Europe, the Col de Sommeiller. There is no organisation for this meeting and everyone is free to do whatever he or she wants. No commercial activities or strict rules, but there is a real sense of community where everyone helps each other and enjoy the rugged Alps with his/her beautiful unpaved gravel roads.
After a dozen beautiful paved mountain passes, including the highest paved mountain pass in Europe (Col de l'Iseran), we arrive at the foot of the Col de Sommeiller and begin our unpaved adventure. We reduce the tire pressure, put the suspension softer and start the climb to Base Camp at 2165 meters altitude. Base Camp is on Sunday the actual starting point for the ascent to the summit at 3009 meters and is this weekend the meeting point for all motorcyclists. It is no more than a bare pasture without any amenities, but the location is so idyllic that everybody is impressed. Here the mobile phone is not working and on all sides we are looking up to massive high peaks. Two large waterfalls provide the next few days our pure drinking water and we can wash in a small stream with ice-cold glacier water. Overall a great place to build up the tents and to make a large campfire for some warmth.
Since we arrived a day to early, we decide to ride today a fine old military gravel road. We choose the Strada dell Assietta, which is near to basecamp and once was build for the defence against the French alliance. A wonderful trip of 60 km unpaved road, where you often feel alone on the world. The road begins with 30 short sharp hairpins within 3 miles(!) and runs through the beautiful Grand Bosco and Orsiera national park, along five high ridges all well over 2500 meters. Almost at the end of the ride we come to a wet mud pole, not really suitable for our heavy R1200GS motorbikes. After exploring the mud pool on foot we take our motorbikes and ride gently slipping and sliding to our destination without any crashes. Beauty of these old military gravel roads is that they can be ridden legally and that they continue all the way along the Italian / French border to the sea at Monaco. A beautiful experience for any all-road / off-road rider.
Despite the thick sleeping bag, thermal clothing, hat and socks, staying overnight in a tent with frosts at this altitude is very cold. We are very happy on Sunday when the first warm rays of the sun emerge behind the mountain peaks. With a nice hot cup of tea in our hand, we see the first riders starting to climb early around 7:00 am and around 10:00 am there is almost a queue of motorbikes struggling to the top. The route from base camp is only 23 km long, but with 40 hairpins and a gradient of +25% it is often a real challenge. The narrow path is strewn with rocks and the precipices and canyons are steep and deep. During a short photo moment I park my bike tightly along a ravine and feel my rear-end slipping away into a 20 meter deep ravine. Fortunately one of my mates is alert and pulls my rear wheel just in time back on the path, saving me for a small disaster.
I am not so lucky during the descent, where in the last hairpin bend my front wheel slides away resulting in a small crash. It seems an innocent crash but when we lift up the motorbike the motor oil is gushes out through a big hole. During the Stella Alpina rally you're never alone and soon a Dutch Africa Twin rider is stopping. He is helping us with his tools and is making some coffee, while we are closing the hole with malleable iron and a can sausage(!). This crash is typical for this event, everyone helps each other, the atmosphere is relaxed and with some luck a BMW motorbike repaired with a can of sausage, can easily drive from Italy back to the Netherlands. The Stella Alpina Rally is without any doubt a great European event.
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