Don’t call us Elephants
Elefantentreffen was a goal long desired. Two years ago we met and we faced this trip as strangers. The experience has made us a group of fearless friends, able to face any difficulties. For this without hesitation last year we experienced the nights of Solla in a tent with enthusiasm and organisation. Yet something was still not how we expected.
I wanted to make a nice video, and to this end I went round interviewing and making friends with everyone. The so-called Elephants, these huge bearded and drunk Huns, dressed in furs, the real bikers, as they told us before we left, are pranksters, harassing, mostly drunk. Seated around their fires, they do not speak English, only German. With a Dutch couple in a funny language I managed to exchange a few words and I found that their bizarre motorcycle prototypes are made specifically for the rally, with huge files of documentation to demonstrate their ability to run on the road.
The next morning I wake up at dawn to do some shooting with the best light. Walking around the pit with the camera in hand and the looks of the Huns survivors, drunk around bonfires, are like arrows that pierce me. It would be impossible for me to become familiar with them. I couldn’t hold the amount of alcohol that they are capable of ingesting and would lose the ability to return home. Also, my “technical” clothing, including the yellow BMW branded rain cover is profoundly anti-social in this context, and helps distance me from those who are the soul of this rally. I feel like a tourist, but travelling and camping with friends created a festive atmosphere that made this experience unforgettable.
We dismantle the tents and make a stop in Austria, where we got caught in a heavy snowfall that prompted us to seek shelter in a ski resort in the Tauern Mountains. 20 metres of icy descent lead to the hotel that will accommodate us for the night. Those fateful metres, where everyone was tumbling down, will change us profoundly.
The heat of the fireplace in the hotel restaurant is comforting, as the snow continues to fall on our bikes to cover them all. The plough tries hard to keep clean the main road that appears increasingly blurred as they sunset gives way to the moon. The night falls and the temperature drops. The decision is unanimous, the next year no Elephants.
I really meant to say no winter experiences, but my friends were intent on organising something different, and so it was.
And on January 29, 2015, it snows on the Brenner, the motorway in Austria is closed and with the two surviving companions from last year we are going through the pass to reach Innsbruck. The fourth, after having punctures on two consecutive days, was defeated by fate, decided to give up the attempt.
Travelling by motorcycle in these conditions raises two key issues: the cold and visibility.
The temperature is around -3 ° and we know that at our goal it will be far lower. The speed heightens the icy feeling. It is important to have no draft. We each have adopted different solutions. Caronte, on GS1200, the organiser of the tour, confirming the reputation of BMW spendthrifts, shows off his klan heated underwear, with which he claims to have no problems. Uaz, hard and pure KTM, is prepared with black garbage bags. Shameful to take him with us, but his method was effective. I, trusting in the advice of friends and forums, have kitted myself out very well between Spidi and Decathlon, except for the feet that feel like they are resting on a pincushion: a real torture.
The Brenner is behind us, and the valley of Innsbruck gives us unexpected warmth. Too bad it will not last long. Unexpected events in the morning made us a few hours late and we are forced to hurry up if we do not want the night with its frost to surprise us halfway.
The journey in these climates demonstrates the effectiveness of the aerodynamic windscreen. Deflecting snow from the visor becomes crucial to maintaining an acceptable average speed. A low windshield forces you to constantly use your left hand to clean up the helmet. In addition, a revision to the pin-lock before leaving saves you from exhausting stops to eliminate the mist on the visor. Obviously, I had not done any of these things. Parks and cold did not try the patience of my mates, watching my futile attempts to gain the upper hand against the thermodynamics.
The national road 171 runs along the river Inn that we followed up to Zillertal when the climb begins to Gerlos. Snow-covered firs parade behind as the road becomes more and more dirty. The bike climbs without slipping but feet on the ground help to maintain balance. Caronte on GS approaches and I follow him. The steering, which abruptly closes on me, tells us that it’s time to put on the chains and see what happens.
I had purchased the chains for the first elephant trip, whereas the other two had used nails. None of us had ever had the need to use them, so we were tense and excited as if it was a first date.
This action raises the curiosity of passers-by who want to meet us and have their picture taken with us. The driver of the bus that takes skiers to the slopes from the hotels enjoys all stages of the ascent never failing to support each step. Meanwhile our fans increase. It takes us about 15 minutes to stick 200 nails on two tires with the screwdriver, a little less for the chains.
I’m ahead, I finished first and I want to check that I have done my job properly.
The sense of security that the chains transmit on groomed snow is notable. Although the machines with heating continue to whiz close to me, I proceed safely along the frozen road. My companions reach me and overtake me, a sign of greater security afforded by the nails. In fact, I was slowed down mainly by the deafening and unbearable noise of the chains on the fender. I had the impression that at any moment it could crack and I could not tolerate this acoustic drill that at 40km / h made my head explode. A short stop to find the cause provides the opportunity to two little girls have their photo taken with me. Of course I do not pull back but I do my best to strut with them. Apparently not even for the Austrians is it so normal to go skiing on two wheels. The female interruption made my noise disturbance lose all credibility and when my mates came back to look for me I had to endure the noise to the bitter end.
The icy road leads down into the valley. The descent is steep and very snowy. Nails and chains do their duty. I cannot keep at a safe speed with the engine brake only; I am forced to use the brakes for help and sometimes turn off the bike and use the inertia of the clutch. The chains however never left me the feeling of not having control.
Down to the valley and the snow is gone. Only 20km of clean asphalt to Uttendorf then we started to rise again. I decided to keep on the chains, and while the friends with nails proceeded decently at 50 km / h this speed was prohibitive for me. The front swerves and the sound is deafening. I slow down causing further unnecessary delay.
We reach Mittersill when the sun is going down and take the road which goes into the valley and follow the course of a river to Enzingerboden. We see the thermometer go down rapidly to -16, we are nervous but do not sense any feelings except those the forks send us.
Eleven icy turns separate us from our final destination. The headlights begin to be reflected on the road, and the first stars twinkle in the trees around us.
I heard in the days following that it was fun to get on that road. That’s not true. We went slowly and the curves on the ice were met with caution. I think it was more the view that was enchanting not the driving. The snow muffles the sounds in the valley, and now with the dark we come to the hotel in time for dinner.
A day of rest, tumbles on the ski slope and an epicurean dinner we prepare the return trip, which will consecrate our friendship.
The promise for next year is to get organised in Italy, and my thoughts immediately turn to Abruzzo.