The Elephant 1968 (Part One)

Wednesday night we began to get excited because tomorrow we were off to the Elephant Rally. As the clubroom filled up with Phoenix members we were swarmed with questions. "What time are you going?", "What time is the boat?", "How many miles is it to the Nurburg Ring?"

Originally there were five of us interested and we only had a few weeks left to prepare for the journey. Ben and Shep were to try their luck on a pair of 500cc Matchless singles, Eddie bought a chair for his Ariel Square Four and Dave and myself were using a 600cc Matchless which was bought specially for this Rally.

Each member was left to prepare his machine. We burnt the midnight oil preparing our Matchless and we set our deadline for December 12th. Everything went smoothly and Dave took the outfit out on a couple of club runs to check that all was well. We were getting along fine but Shep was having big end trouble with the Matchless and Eddie's Square Four wasn't behaving itself. By the time the Wednesday night ended we knew there would only be three of us leaving on Thursday, the other two having to make their own way there if possible.

I awoke on Thursday morning with the sun streaming through the window, a great day for the start I thought and started to get my gear together ready to load into the sidecar when Dave arrived. By the time I had had dinner the sky was overcast and all signs of the sun had gone. Ben arrived and then Dave. We had to be at Dover by 11.30pm at the latest and as we passed the Clock Tower it was 2.55pm. It started to drizzle as we went through town and on the M1 and at last away. The drizzle turned into rain and it grew colder. We stopped for a cup of tea in the last cafe on the M1 before the turn off for the M10.

It wasn't long before we had the first spot of bother when Ben's bike was missing. We stopped and dried the HT lead and waterproofed the cap and magneto and then off again. Another hour's riding brought us off the M10 and nearly down to the centre of London. The next stop was trouble with our Matchless. The two bar bolts holding the petrol tank had dropped out. Again we were prepared, we had spares. Off again we were running late and we had to keep going if we were to make the ferry. The next stop was the M2 cafe. We were getting trouble with the goggles being wet and misting up. Dave and I were wearing wellingtons and our feet were dry but Ben's boots were wet before we had come off the M1. Time was getting on and we had 30 miles to go to reach Dover. Ben had been driving all the time and was getting tired and it was only that we were so near the ferry that pushed us on.

The rain was drying as we approached the quay and we were able to see a line of motorcyclists slowly moving through the customs sheds. After about 3/4 of an hour we were finally on the ferry. This was my first time on a ferry and I was surprised that we would be so comfortable. We made our way from the car deck up to the saloon.

It was just like being in the lounge of a good pub. On the table was the price list of the food and drinks and also the duty free goods. The trip took about four hours and although none of us were seasick Ben and I felt a bit ill and we were glad to get on firm ground again.

At the Belgium customs we just showed our passports and green cards and we were through. A lot of the chaps that had come over with us were getting their insurance at the docks and although it was cheaper it meant quite a wait. We drove through the car park and onto the main street. Within a few minutes we were on the autobahn. There were not many outfits in front of us and we settled down to a steady ride, heading for Brussels. It seemed queer driving on the right side of the road and when a lorry passed it seemed to be coming head on. Dave was driving and after about one and a half hours we stopped for petrol. By this time we were somewhere between Ghent and Brussels.

Since landing the rain had kept off although it was still very cold. The roads were damp and bumpy but otherwise reasonable. Dawn was breaking as we approached Brussels and we soon had to stop again with trouble with Ben's lights. We messed about for half an hour and by that time it was light enough to drive without them. We saw some bikes parked and pulled up with them. The place seemed to be a public house and looked very dirty - proper Victoriana - they served coffee as well as beer. Quite a few motorcyclists were in there drying out or warming clothes on a combustion stove.

We were making good time as it was only about 10 o'clock. The autobahn had finished at Brussels and the part we were on was terrible. It was full of potholes and the camber on some bends was reversed. The motorway didn't start again until Liege but before getting onto it we decided to take a break and have a meal. We pulled into the car park of a supermarket and restaurant. This place seemed very similar to England. The restaurant was in the same style as the ones on the motorway and there was also a self service. The menu was above the food counter and was in Belgium but a lot of the word could easily be understood. Steak was spelled the same and one of the locals had chips. We pointed to them and also any other food we wanted.

After a good tuck in we headed for Aachen along the motorway but I turned off too soon and put about 20 miles of back roads on our route instead of autobahn. It didn't make much difference to the overall mileage but I wouldn't recommend straying off the autobahn.

From leaving Liege we had had rain but this was giving out and the countryside seemed to be getting prettier. The road was higher now and every bend we turned seemed to be a slight incline. I thought this must be the beginning of the mountains. The ground began to have a white powdery look and it wasn't many miles before the snow was quite thick upon the ground. I was riding Ben's bike when we came into a long straight snow covered road lined on both sides with fir trees. Dave and Ben were going quite well and I was having trouble trying to keep the wheels of the Matchless on the road. We had been in the thick snow for about three miles when we saw the German frontier post ahead.

Two or three machines were parked outside and their drivers were waiting for insurance and also having a warm. We showed them our passports and were allowed through. I was concerned with the snow on the roads and Ben having to drive on them, but he said that he would keep on for a bit. He had already dropped it once and I could see him in front slipping about all over the place.

We came into Germany on a minor road from Belgium and this road had branched into a much more used one and was not quite so bad as the first bit. I had nodded off for a bit and the next thing I knew we were nearing the Ring.

By this time it was quite dark and we had Ben following at the rear because he had no lights and we wanted to make the Ring by Friday night. We turned into the main entrance and then left in front of the Hotel. There were quite a few camping between the trees. On finding a suitable place to pitch the tent we rolled the snow away and unloaded the gear. Dave had brought a pressure lantern and we hung it from the branch of a tree. The lantern was a boon; it was just like daylight.

When the tent was pitched and the bedding stored we started making a meal. It was great to relax after such a long while on the road. We had been travelling for nearly all the previous day with only four hours rest on the ferry. The time was about 7.30 after the meal. We unpacked the sleeping gear and went to bed.

Fourteen hours later we awoke to the sound of activity outside. There were now a lot more tents and combos around us and loads of motorcyclists on the road in front of the hotel.

Read the next of our three Elephanteers adventures in the next Megaphone.

Derek Foster.