Dal and Stan at Elephant Rally in Colorado (Guanella
Pass -11,669 feet) in Feb
Elephant Rally in Germany
Rides, Rallies & Clubs
From Rider September 1992 page 63-65
As I stood gasping for breath atop 11,669-foot
Guanella pass in the middle of the Colorado Rockies in a February snowstorm,
the mercury at 20 below, I took stock of myself. What in the heck had
led me to this precarious pinnacle in the dead of winter? Any history
of insanity? Have I, for example, ever barked at cars? No. Ever
spat at Mike Tyson? Never. Ever challenged Kenny Roberts to a race?
Nope. Ever invited Jane Fonda to a VFW meeting? No.
Well then, why spin out now at this stage of life and toss my butt into
the freezer of the Rockies? Not a clue other than that it sounded like
fun. The invitation was ominous, warning of participants still buried
in glaciers and copious crashes per mile: But the tone of the ride had
...how would a wine taster say it...an ambiance, a cachet of mischief,
not overpowering, but far from subtle with a promise of boastable accomplishment.
The term Elephant Ride originates with the legendary Carthaginian general
Hannibal who, 2,000 years ago, rumbled over the Alps astride a herd of
pluckish pachyderms in the dead of winter and stole the Romans' lunch.
It was a brilliant military move, although Hannibal's army suffered over
50 percent casualties.
The history of the modern annual winter ride in Colorado is a bit more
esoteric. Creator Greg Frazier tells of the Elephant genesis. "I
was talking to this guy one cold winter's eve in a bar. We both rode
BMWs but we were sitting in a Harley
biker bar. Well, the Harley guys were giving us a lot of noise about
how Beemer guys are wimps and we're not tough guys and our moms wear
combat boots. So I said, "Well, if you guys are so damn tough let's
go for a ride in the blizzard tomorrow:" So we were supposed to
meet outside the restaurant the next morning but they never showed up
and we did. We've been waiting for them to show up every year since."
This was the fourth year of the ride and the number of spear carriers
who rode up into the snow totaled 47, including Jessie Lockfeld of Denver,
the lone female, on a Yamaha XT550. The jumping-off point was the Platte
River Inn on Highway 285 in Grant, Colorado. Everyone gathered and
down mucho coffee and hot chocolate. The Baddest of the Bad were there
early, having camped out overnight on the slopes. Now, this writer likes
to delve into a story as much as any reporter. But not even Woodward
and Bernstein would have camped out in that untrod tundra for this story.
Only madmen and Texans. I don't camp out even in the best weather, not
since I woke up shivering uncontrollably in Wyoming with a flash-flooding
stream washing over the lower half of my sleeping bag and an adolescent
buffalo bull snuffling my ear, staring me in the eye and about to step
on my head.
When it couldn't be put off any longer, we reluctantly left the wood-
burning stove of the Platte River Inn, saddled up and pointed the bikes
skyward. The climb up Guanella Pass is so steep that although it
was snowing and snowpacked on top four miles away, the ground at the
Platte River Inn was barren and brown.
Because I was the only rider aboard a quasi-chopper I decided to ride
at the rear of the group to diminish the chances of being laughed at.
No laughter, however. The low and lean
Honda Shadow 1100 was surprisingly stable in the climb. The bike is so
low that should it have fallen over I wouldn't have had far to fall.
All brands of motorcycles were represented in the Elephant romp,
including Brit bikes that were superb and lovely as ever in their simplicity.
The Nortons and Triumphs burbled and barked their way up into the clouds
with proper anglo aplomb. No matter what the situation, old Brit bikes
always end up being the center of attention.
The higher the elevation, the more treacherous the road. Ice is most
unpredictable, gravel a little less so with pavement the most stable
of all. But mix them together and things become rapidly treacherous.
I quickly discovered that in pure ice the best way to climb was to idle
up the mountain in first gear with the throttle off. Although the
rear tire spun in fits, it didn't spin very fast and I was free to concentrate
Dirt bike riders had the definite advantage in experience. Their dirt
riding translates directly to snow and gravel, but none had the security
of the Rat Hack sidecar ridden by Dal Smilie from Montana. Dal is vice
chairman of the American Motorcyclist -Association's board of trustees.
Reaching, the summit was good news/bad news. Good news that the climb
with much hooting, hollering, back slapping and continuous
falling down. The bad news was that we had to go down the other side.
Again, there was a certain... uh...cachet to descending. A little simpler
down than up. Engine off and in first gear, both feet down as outriggers,
forget about the brakes. For the first two miles down from the top, all
was fluid and sliding. With no traction, the best constant was the
locked rear wheel. In this ridiculous fourpoint configuration, me
and my Shadow slewed around until the Honda and I were pointing the wrong
way on the hill. Too slippery to stand, couldn't motor, couldn't get
off to turn it around. Thankfully, a fellow rider came to my aid and
yanked the fork around until the Shadow and I were pointed downhill.
That's the closest I came to catastrophe.
We descended the mountain until the snow ran out and the ride became
just another bit of masochism in the cold. Was it fun? Absolutely. Like
all the magazine geeks, I do a plethora of rides, and this is as fun
a ride as I've done in years. Everybody
laughs on the Elephant. They fall down and they laugh and then somebody
helps them up and they laugh and then they fall down and laugh some more.
Camaraderie is high here.
Ride organizer Greg Frazier welcomes other fools who wish to attack
the Elephant. Contact him at 3575 South Fox, Englewood, Colorado 80110.
Beau Allen Pacheco