This is the report of 2 rally rookies taking part in the Alpenbutt Rally 2017, promoted by the Iron Butt Association Germany as Europe’s toughest multi day rally. We, my buddy Andy and myself rode on our travel bikes (BMW R1200GS and KTM 1190 Adv.) for 6 days to predefined bonus point locations in the Alps. The goal: to be a finisher in this rally, whatever it takes. But it is a tough job. The sheer mass of over 300 bonus points require good planning skills from the riders and forces them to pick their route carefully in order to collect as many points as possible. Also a bit confusing for a rookie, there are many rules regarding all aspects of the rally, which requires a lot of discipline. And last but not least it is physically and mentally exhausting to ride for such long hours day after day.
Both of us had no experience with IBA rally’s nor had we ever done an IBA certification, so the main question was how would we be able to cope with all of this.
On Saturday the 30th we were finally on the way to the rally check-in in Miesbach, a small town in the south of Munich. After the checkin procedure and the mandatory rookie briefing we had dinner together which the other riders, got the rally book, a rally flag and the waypoints in an electronic format for the first leg. Our plan for this first leg would take us for 36 hours through the eastern Alps and end in a checkpoint hotel in Trento, Italy. The minimum requirement to pass through leg 1 had been determined to be the completion of at least one combo. A combo is a set of bonus points with a common motto, scattered all over the map. In order to complete the combo, all of these bonus points have to be visited and claimed. As a reward the rider then gets an add-on bonus for that combo.
By the hand out of the documents it was already 8pm and we had to quickly make a realistic plan. But at the end it took us until 1am. After a very short night, we had to get up on Day 1 at 5am as the rally started 1 hour later. Heading into the Austrian Alps we earned our first bonus points around the Grossglockner. Continuing thru South Tyrol with it’s awesome mountain passes we then went to Trento, our first rest place. Due to security reasons the rally rules required every rider to provide evidence of a minimal rest time of 5 h over night. A receipt at check-in and check-out time afterwards had to be presented to the rally organisation at the checkpoint. Those who would not be able to prove their rest times would be DNF (did not finish). A review at the end of the first day showed us that we had missed an important combo bonus point due to sunset. Therefore we decided to re-plan our route and go for a “safety combo” the next day in order to avoid DNF.
Alpenbutt 2017: Interactive map of our route including the most important events
On Day 2 we rode again into the heart of South Tyrol. After climbing the “Passo di Rolle”, we then turned southwards direction Monte Grappa and collected as many bonus points as we could. Still not used to the procedure at the bonus point locations we lost a lot of time. There are so many things that you have to keep in your mind at the bonus points: document the name of the bonus point and mileage in a claim sheet, then search the rally flag because it has to be in the picture, take the photo, check the rally book if there are more tasks, and so on…
As a result of our loitering we had to realise that it would be impossible to be on time at the checkpoint in Trento if we stayed on our original plan. So we decided to go for a shortcut through the mountains. We dumped some bonus points locations and instead of going deeper into the South we were heading again to the West. Despite some crazy Italian bikers (we had to overtake them which they seemingly took as an offense) there was barely any traffic on the road so that we reached a rolling average speed of 70 km/h which is pretty damn good on these small roads.
But even if you have a perfect flow some bad things can happen at any time as we realised a little bit later. A bee had flown into my mates helmet and stung him in the eyebrow. Fortunately he had his medics with him (he is allergic on bees) but it brought us a compulsory break. Soon after we were riding again and passed one of these magic places that can turn your mood to the positive in a split second. The valley of the Posina is a really magic place. High mountains painted in dark green seaming the lonely road. We could not resist this view and reduced our speed for some sightseeing.
But already at our next bonus point location the shit hit back. When coming back from the bonus point, I found my KTM on the ground. Due to the hot temperatures the kickstand of my KTM had sunken into the tarmac. Fortunately nothing was seriously damaged and we could ride on. At 4pm we reached the checkpoint in Trento and prepared the claiming sheet for the first leg. We had achieved 24660 points which was not bad but also not very good. The leading rider had presented over 50000 points at the checkpoint and we knew that we would have to improve our bonus point procedure in order to catch up and get a decent place in the end.
Day 3 started with the rider briefing for Leg 2. We got the rally book and waypoints at 5h30 in the morning so that our first activity was to create a plan for the upcoming days. Again we were not very efficient with our planning and wasted a considerable amount of time checking the different options. The minimal requirement for the second leg was to achieve at least 10000 points with one or more combos. At 10am we were finally ready to leave the checkpoint again.
We had planned to do 3 different combos where the main points were sitting in Southern France. Therefore we took the fastest way to France, the Italian Highway A4 which brought us to Briançon, a little town in the department “Hautes-Alpes”. It served us as a base for the following day and we could leave the panniers in the hotel.
On Day 4 we had to get up at 4am as we wanted to collect at sunrise our first bonus points in Villard-Notre-Dame. After a spooky night ride through the French Alps we reached the base of the mountain. At departure we had no premonition of the breathtaking road that would bring us to that village. It is only reachable through a small single track road that is chiseled into a cliff. Missing a corner would mean 400m of free falling. The tunnels are unlighted and there is a lot of traffic. The village is still inhabited by over 200 persons. We were wondering what these guys are doing during winter time!
After passing Grenoble we reached the massif of the Vercors where we earned some more bonus points in the “Gorges de la Bourne”. The roads are alike the ones that lead to Villard-Notre-Dame and we really enjoyed the ride through the canyon in a way, that we missed out the targeted bonus point location and had to ride back about 5 kms.
While leaving the Vercors we were heading South on the Highway A7 which brought us straight to our next region in the French Alps, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. The landscape has already a Mediterranean look and feel, but there are still some mountains that belong to the Alps. But unlike the mountains of the alpine main chain they are not very high because already heavily eroded. Our goal was to ride the Mont Ventoux, a very well known mountain in the cycling community. The top of the mountain resembles rather a lunar landscape and thousands of cyclists are mounting to the top on the narrow roads. It is really a challenge to overtake those cyclists that are on the ascent and avoid at the same time those that are descending at insane speeds of up to 100 km/h. But it brought us a whopping 4070 points.
This Southern part of France turned out to be a real surprise. I used to be a couple of times in this region, but never considered to ride the smaller canyons. Now as we were chasing the bonus points we were simply following our navigation systems and all of a sudden we found ourselves in this breathtaking environment. The first one was the “Gorges de la Nesque”, maybe not as spectacular as the canyon of the Verdon, but still impressive and even better, not as crowded as the Verdon and therefore with much less traffic on the roads. A bit further on our route we then came through the the Gorges de la Méouge. The lime colored gorge has wild shapes, small sandy beaches, huge polished pebbles, water holes and waterfalls. It is famous for swimming. At that point the temperature was around 35 degrees C and we were tempted to have a break and take a chilling.
But we were in a rush, because we still had some very important combo points ahead of us. One of them would then give our journey a dramatic twist. We had already collected all points of the “tunnel combo” except one. By collecting this last one, the “Tunnel du Parpaillon” we would earn additional 24000 points. It is a gravel mountain pass which has a tunnel on top. It dates from WWI and was built for military purposes. The biggest issue is that most of the year the tunnel surface is covered with a 30cm thick layer of ice, sometimes even late into the summer months as it is on an altitude of 2700m. So we were not sure if we could pass the tunnel. Mounting up to the tunnel over the gravel roads is a peace of cake, but when I approached the northern entrance, something on the dashboard caught my attention. The rear tire pressure warning was blinking and I was asking Andy through our intercom whether he could see something abnormal on my rear wheel. He replied with a short “no – everything ok” but corrected a couple of seconds his opinion to “oh – now it is flat”. My motorcycle came to a stand just 10m in front of the tunnel and I was devastated. As we had left the luggage in the hotel in order to be a little bit faster, we also left the tyre repair kit and the compressor in the hotel…
Exactly when I thought by myself that we would be stuck in the middle of nowhere, a quad with a German number plate was rolling out of the tunnel. I approached them waving my arms and asked if they had a tyre repair kit and a compressor aboard. No one can image my relief when the answer was yes. We were back in the game!!! Quickly we took the photo’s of the tunnel entrances on both sides and had earned another 24000 points. How much luck can one have? The damage, a massive puncture, was fixed in 15 mins. We did not dare to move on as scheduled. It was to risky to go deeper into the mountains as we were not absolutely sure wether the fix would withstand the torture of another heavy gravel road. So we turned around and took the fastest way towards our hotel in Briançon, where we would have at least a chance to get another tyre. On the way I checked a couple of motorcycle garages and one of them confirmed that they had a tyre on stock with the proper dimensions. They would open next morning at 8h30.
Day 5 started by checking the tyre pressure immediately after getting up. The evening before I had decided to keep the tyre if it would hold the pressure over night. This would give us the opportunity for an early start and we would be able to collect another combo on our way to the finish in Miesbach. Luckily the pressure was ok. The manual in the repair kit was emphasising that with a fix you should drive no longer than 10 kms, in a very low speed. Well, I had already checked on the way to the hotel higher speeds and I found no issue so far. It would be interesting to see how long the fix would last.
Our route led us over the Col de Mont Cenis, a fast mountain pass between France and Italy. At some times it resembles more a race track when the Italian riders go out for a ride with their Ducati’s. But given the time early in the morning and as it was a working day we were nearly the only ones on the road. Meanwhile I had increased my speed up to 150 km/h and the gummy worm in the tyre still did a good job. So we continued our journey at the usual pace, passing over the “Col de l’Iseran” and the little St. Bernhard, where we bought a little plush Bernhardiner for our Rally Master Robert. This brought us 1000 extra points, a very welcome opportunity to improve our balance sheet.
The next stop on the “Colle San Carlo” sounded pretty easy, take a picture of the Mt. Blanc. But when arriving at the bonus point location we realised that we would have to hike up a mountain for 1 km in order to get the picture. The gravel road was closed for traffic so we reluctantly started our climb. The whole thing took us 45mins and at the end we were completely covered in sweat. It would not be the last occasion to earn some blisters on top of the points. Later we heard from another rider that he went up the mountain with his bike despite the ban. Maybe someone could consider us stupid, but more and more regions are closing the remaining gravel roads due to rowdies on motorcycles. Think about it!
Soon after we arrived at the Swiss border in Martigny. After a boring ride through the Rhone valley we left Switzerland again over the Simplon pass, and continued our journey into the Centovalli, a splendid valley where we had to visit an old roman bridge over the river “Melezzo Orientale”. Temperatures were over 35 deg. C and the roadbook said it would be a 500m walk. What the roadbook didn’t tell us was that the path was old Roman stairs made from quarry stones, twisted and tilted over the course of time. Needless to explain how we re-appeared at our bikes… Zombies would be even a to nice expression. Luckily our Rallymaster was not present, we would have drowned him on the spot.
During the whole day I was checking constantly my tyre pressure and it seemed to be fine, but the closer we came to our next hotel in Andermatt, the more I was worried as the pressure had diminished a little bit. It would be key to check the pressure on the next morning.
Day 6, our last day on the rally started again with checking the tyre pressure. And this time the tyre had lost it’s pressure. This meant that we would have to re-assess our plan. Originally we wanted to take a route through Switzerland and Austria collecting as many bonus points as we could. But due the leaking tyre we changed our plan and just collected a last bonus point wich was missing for our third combo. Then we took the Swiss highway to Zürich where I would get a new set of tyres in my preferred tyre shop. Vladan, the owner of the shop had confirmed that I would get a preferred treatment and 20mins after arrival I already left his garage with new tyres. At that point we were really exhausted and we decided to take the fastest route over the Swiss and German highway to Miesbach without collecting any further bonus points. Instead we took a short nap in a service area and arrived somewhere around 3pm in Miesbach which is 1h before the official finish time.
At the end we reached as the best team the 6th place in the rally, which was a real surprise for us. We collected 110480 bonus points and made approx. 3700kms in these 6 days. This would not have been possible without the help of the German couple on the Parpaillon and the help of Vladan with the fastest pit-stop ever. Thank you for your help and friendship. It was a great experience and we would definitely do it again. Also many thanks to all the other riders we met in Miesbach and at the checkpoint in Trento and some of them even during the rally. It was a pleasure riding with (against) you. Although we were (and still are) absolute rookies we never felt as outsiders.
Big thank’s and a hug to the Rally Team. It was a perfectly organised event, everything worked flawlessly, at no point there was a chaos. Our special thank goes to Robert, the Rallymaster. Due to his preliminary work we had a vast number of bonus points which leaded us to unknown and magical places in the Alps. This was the real fun part, experiencing these amazing roads, passes, landscapes. Sometimes even more fun than collecting points, especially when we had to hike somewhere up the mountain in order to get some lousy points ;-). But nevertheless, we hope this event will be repeated in the future. Anyways I believe we will somehow somewhere meet again, sometime in the future. Take care all of you!
Andy & Ralf