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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 slugged 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 on direction.

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 was over, 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


Dal Is Running
for Re-election

Dal Smilie is Running
for Re-election to the
AMA board of Directors.


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