juni, 29, 2020

Text and Photos: Vincent Lamille


The French importer of Touratech was able to confirm it this summer in the Alps as he and his family rode on a motorbike with sidecar to the 50th edition of the Stella Alpina, before they climbed one of the highest traffic tracks of Europe. Over the years, you got used to discover in this catalogue accounts of extraordinary travels to the world’s end. These accounts invite even more to dream that only a few of you will ever be able to make such a travel. The other ones just will have no time, no money or just no motivation to go on these journeys. But the accounts will still reach their objective: to set off in you an irrepressible wish to travel on a bike. But there is no need to travel thousands of miles to get a change of surroundings and experience adventure! We observed it once again last summer during a long weekend in the Alps. For an European, there is at first sight nothing really exotic in it. However…

To leave, you often only need a trigger, an pretext of any sort. Like hearing fortuitously of the 50th edition of the Stella Alpina, a meeting that should be held in the Italian Piedmont on the second weekend of July. Fifty years. The immediately attracted curiosity is soon increased by another observation : today, every single trip is prepared on the web by searching for as much information as possible in the Internet, so, how can it be that the keyword “Stella Alpina” does not refer to any official website!? When searching for a longer time, it becomes clear that only the word of mouth assures that this meeting still takes place.

The temptation of join in becomes too strong. Especially for Yvon and Dominique Bodelot who are the French importers of Touratech for 15 years and nearly never took any vacation since then. And as the weekend of the Stella is just before the national holiday (the 14th of July), they even dare something they never did before: close the store to take a long weekend. There remains a last pitfall that some would find insurmountable: what shall they do with their three children, of which the youngest one, Zoé-Lee, is only 20 months old? Take them with in the family sidecar, of course!

No need to get lost in a desert to get a heat stroke: you only need to go on the road while France issued heat alert. For the mum on her G 650 GS Sertão and the dad on his R 1200 GS with sidecar, the ventilation of the Compañero outfit makes the riding across the Provence at a temperature of 38°C bearable. But for their kids, even if they frequently get something to drink, it is a severe trial. Lee-Lou, the oldest child (9 years old), even feels faint. No need to say that after Briançon, the relative coolness at the col de l’Échelle is a relief. After a few well deserved ice cones in Bardonecchia, a small town in the high Susa Valley, it is time to get down to business: the family must reach the mountain pasture at 2,160 m elevation where the main camp of the meeting lies. And after kilometer 7 on the Rochemolles valley, it is well-known that the track becomes really dusty when the weather is dry.

Free admission, no organizer, no business: the Stella Alpina is exactly as described. Here, there are only what any of the more or less 1,500 participants wanted to take with them: their bike, their tent, their provisions and nice stories to tell. Like the one of this Torinese, Mario Artusio, and of this English, Harry W. Louis, who wanted to organize an international meeting on the highest place one can reach on a bike. They called it Stella Alpina and the first edition took place in July 1966 at the 2,758 meter high Stelvio Pass. But both friends did not yet know that a unsurfaced track leaded to 2,993 m and the Sommeiller pass. From the next year on, the meeting was moved there and continues to be carried on informal every summer. 1980, the Carabinieri made a futile attempt to put an end to it. 2008, the town forbid the track to motor vehicles during the weekends but had finally to make an exception to this rule for the weekend of the Stella.

Traditionally, on the Sunday morning, the boldest bikers break camp and try to climb to the pass itself. In the 1970’s, there was much more snow and only a few of the heavy touring motorcycles of that time were able to reach it. Meanwhile, two factors occurred, the one delighting and the other one much less: the invention of dual-sport motorcycle and the global warming. It makes the ascent easier, but you always need a good steering feeling, even more when you’re driving a three-wheeler so big that it can crash into a névé : I experienced it!
« I don’t like it when you come so close to the side » Léo-Paul, 7 years old, admits.

But you must vanquish 16 spectacular hairpin bends in a row if you want to finally reach the Pian dei Morti. After this steep rock bar, the 19 km long track winds through a rocky landscape like the one in the Andes. Then it climbs once again continuously until a last plateau that marks its end and lies just before the French frontier. Now we can finally switch the motors off and relish in the rustling wind a clear view on the highest summits of the Oisans. Then, we have no other choice than to make a U-turn and to confront on the even more frightening downward slope these innumerable rolling stones and hairpin bends near to the void, knowing that the weekend is not over yet and that the region still has dozens of tracks like this one.