Krystall Rally

1977 - Part 4

Oslo has a reputation as being not only one of the most expensive cities in the world but also in winter a dreary and dull city with no charm and little personality. So, perhaps we'd better not dwell on that?

A 'mild' 29 degrees below zero at night

Anyway, we'd no time to waste since we still had a last stage to cover on ice and fresh snow before finally reaching our goal, local conditions we could not possibly have foreseen. In Norway, it seems, bad weather can arrive when you least expect it.

Before hitting the road north to Hamar, we brimmed the tanks and added that primordial gas additive, 'Kondens-Fjerner' to prevent the carburettors from freezing.

Mind you, the coldest temperature ever measured in Norway was recorded on 1 January 1886 in Finnmark county with the thermometer reading -51.4C. Our experience of the coldest temperature at night in Savalen in 1977 was merely a 'mild' -29C.

Five layers of clothing against the cold

It is said that the more insulation you can get around your body, the better protected you'll be from the cold. In the mid-70s, the clothes available to protect the rider from extreme cold were far less technologically sophisticated than today's apparel. Electrically heated clothing and visors simply didn't exist.

The rule of thumb back then was to wear at least three layers. Personally, as sensitive to the cold as I was, I preferred to be cautious and put on five layers! The first comprised good old Damart vest and underpants; second a warm woolly jumper; third my Lewis Leathers racing suit, (a gift from Michel 'Pim' Thuiliere, one of my best friends and clubmate); fourth my MC Dragons club cut-off denim jacket and finally my Belstaff Trialmaster jacket and pants.

To complete the ensemble: long woolly warm socks, a pair of waterproof 'Chamoto' boots, warm gloves, a balaclava, and my 'Aviakit' pudding basin helmet with 'Climax' goggles.

I really thought all this would be enough to protect me from the cold. That was, until the very moment we landed in Oslo. However, after just a few kilometers in Norway I quickly realised that despite my many layers I would still have to suffer the cold until we arrived at the rally. At the time I was as skinny as a rake, (those were the days), so with no extra body fat to keep me warm, I felt the cold even more.

I would have been better off if I could have stayed in my original warm passenger place in the sidecar rather than riding pillion behind Marc.

Marc was pretty well protected behind his fairing and his legs were shielded behind a thick leather apron with a warm lining which staved off the worst effects of the biting wind. Riding pillion my legs were constantly being blasted by the deflected freezing wind; especially my right leg positioned as it was between the motorcycle and sidecar.

Each time we stopped, either for a cigarette, to take a leak, (a challenge in itself), or to rest for a while, it took me at least fifteen minutes to regain any feeling in my leg and thus be able to walk normally. My legs were completely numb and initially, upon stopping, I was unable to stand up. To add insult to injury, there were some small leaks in my balaclava and around my goggles so little areas of skin of my face would temporarily freeze, forming a thin layer of ice on my eyebrows. Nice!

There was nothing much I could do, except 'bite the bullet', try to be positive and endure the best I could for the entire 300 km ride.

I was so absorbed by the road and the wintry landscape around me that I lost track of time. We passed Hamar, then Lillehammer and were then very close to our goal, the frozen eighteen square kilometers Savalen lake, located in Fjellregionen,('The Mountain Region'), in Hedmark county.

The frozen Savalen lake. You can spot, bottom right, the resort where the rally was held.

At the northern end of the lake is the 'Savalen fjellstue', a resort with facilities for winter sport where this weekend the 'holy grail' of winter motorcycle gatherings was held: the 6th meeting of the Krystall Rally.

The 'Savalen fjellstue' resort

Finally, we arrived and in front of us was a large portico made of wood and stone marking the entrance to the resort. Inside the colour of the motorcycles and their clothing contrast vividly with the thick white carpet of snow all around.

The resort's landmark portico made of stone and wood

We only spent two days and nights in the warmth of the 'Savalen Fjellstue', surrounded by fellow enthusiasts, who, like us, had the motivation and courage in the depths of a cold February to make the trip. A trip that would take them far from home to seek a wild destination in the middle of Norway. No beach, no disco, not even a decent restaurant, just a test of stamina and courage, braving the elements, to physically stretch themselves in the pursuit of something perhaps only a true rallyist can understand.

Happiness: a real good bed and a sauna!

One of the first things to do upon arrival was to register with the organisers and receive our commemorative rally badge and sticker, since at the time there was no embroidered rally patch.

That first night spent in a real bed, without having to get up early for the first time since leaving, was a real joy after so many days of accumulated fatigue.

Another moment of joy was the sauna experience. Although sauna is technically a Finnish invention, all Scandinavians have embraced sauna culture and indeed there was one at the resort. None of us had ever experienced a sauna session before, so it was a first for us that we all enjoyed.

Patrick Gilbert and Albert 'Tonton' Turminel and their outfit at the resort

Despite the obvious enjoyment and comfort of the resort and all its various amenities after such a tough journey, we ventured out a few times to inspect the motorcycles ridden by our fellow rallyists gathered here.

There was a wide diversity of machines. All ages and styles; some of which depending on one's personal taste, merited closer inspection than others.

The only vintage outfit seen at the rally

The vast majority were obviously made up of outfits, but there were also a few rare solos, such as this old Honda customised with skis. It was the first motorcycle with skis that I'd ever seen, so of course I had to photograph it.

What do I see? Do my eyes deceive me? I can't believe it. But no, it's not an hallucination. There she is, right in front of me. A Triumph Trident solo at the Krystall. I give its owner, who was gently warming the engine, a vigorous thumbs up which seems to please him, offering me the same gesture accompanied by a broad grin.

The thermometer's mercury dropped so low during Saturday night, -29C, that in the morning it took ages to start the engines. First one needed to warm the crankcase using a small alcohol stove, or perhaps a blowtorch. Mind you, the technologically advanced among the entrants warmed their engines overnight with a resistance system plugged directly into the chalet's supply, like the owner of this Guzzi V7 below.

The special and moving awards ceremony

On Saturday evening all the participants gathered in the large reception hall for the awards ceremony. The organisers awarded prizes to the most deserving rallyists who each came up on stage to collect their trophies, everyone receiving a noisy yet warm ovation from the crowd. I must say that I've attended many award ceremonies, but the atmosphere of this one was particularly special and moving.

Marc's name and mine were called last. It was our turn to be honoured. We were rewarded for having accomplished the furthest distance to the Krystall rally 1977.

The furthest distance award I received at the Krystall Rally 1977

After the ceremony, yours truly and the two trophies.

We receive our respective trophies to thunderous applause. Both are pewter ashtrays decorated around the edge with Viking motifs and the inscription 'Krystall Rally' engraved inside as you can see. The only difference being Marc's trophy as the outfit rider is a little bigger than mine as the passenger.

Needless to say, it was certainly one of the highlights of this Nordic expedition for Marc and me since we absolutely didn't expect it. Besides which, we didn't come for that. It was a pleasant surprise and the unexpected cherry on the cake; an unforgettable moment among the many cold and icy memories of that Krystall Rally.

What has become of them?

Marc Pfeiffer again took part in the Krystall in 1980 with a small group of French and Belgian side-car rallyists, all well-known enthusiasts on the French rally scene. He went for the hat-trick by trying to participate for the third time at the Krystall in 1982, but had to give up in Germany due to a back problem and was forced to turn round and return home. He is still active to this day although he only attends rallies very occasionally.

Personally, I assiduously continued to take part in a multitude of rallies until the mid-80s, as well as organising some too. At the same time I also produced a monthly motorcycle magazine available through subscription entitled 'Gueux d'Route' exclusively about rallies.

Fate and destiny eventually took me to Southeast Asia where I've been living for almost 35 years. Despite my expatriation, I have remained in close contact with a number of rallying friends from my time and have had the pleasure of participating in several rallies during return visits to France in the past three decades.

Alain Barrault aka 'the Minister' lives in Brittany and is no longer into rallying, although he was still riding a motorcycle until very recently but has just recently sold his machine.

Patrick Gilbert sadly passed away a few years ago.

I recently tried to get news about our good old buddies Glabasnia and Albert Turminel aka 'Tonton' via a former member of the 'Trappus' but both seem to have disappeared from the rally scene.

The Savalen resort held the Krystall rally in 1976, 1977 and 1978; then again in 1980, 1981 and 1982; and finally in 1985 and 1986. Since then the rally has moved to another location in Norway.

The Krystall rally should have celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021 but with the current pandemic it is unlikely that this meeting will go ahead.

- Jean-Francois Helias