Rides We Like: Up on Elephant Road
(2016) I’ve often joked that one is not definitely lost when riding across the back roads of Bucks County. I say this because is it is entirely possible the "lost" cyclist to be riding on one of the many Creamery Roads. Think you’re lost? For the time being, assume the peaceful stretch of road is aptly named after a dairy farmer’s former lot. Not surprisingly today’s adventure would actually take a Creamery Road, and I didn't even try to do that.
In these parts road names give hints of former roles: There’s the homely Applebutter Road. There’s the beer label-invoking Log Cabin Road. I’ve mentioned Gallows Hill Road. Militia Hill Road has supposedly an equally sinister past, but that's down in Doylestown Township. Yet throughout all of these colonial roads, one in particular has always caused me to raise an eyebrow.
It’s a longish road that starts in the tiny town of Dublin, PA. It breaks off quickly and heads in a northwesterly direction toward Lake Nockamixon. I wouldn't be surprised that the road once crossed into the town at the bottom of the lake. The road’s name comes as out of place: Elephant Road. The bit of tarmac’s name doesn’t seem to fit for this area. Naturally I put to finding out its background.
Of course I found myself on Creamery Road. I took to where I would pedal with one eye over my shoulder on the recently repaved Route 113 during rush hour. Everyone was nice tonight. A quick right on Woodside, a connector road with a sedentary miniature combine, and one more right put me on the enjoyable portion of Elephant. It is expansive farms, large front yards, and preserved land. Horses at one end on the left, emus at the other end on the right. At the midpoint I should point out tonight showcased a curiously placed beagle staring off into the sunset, meters from the house. Perhaps it was collecting its thoughts before turning in for the evening.
I’ve passed over this road scores of times. It has yet to get old. From where I linked up the road is fairly flat, if not slightly downhill. In my memory this portion is often the blue tint of a summer sunset. Enjoyably this is where the road becomes more than a slight downhill. Predictably trees grow thickest around the lowest point where it coincides with the location of the Perkiomen Creek. It marks the lowest point. From here on out it’s up a hill.
To the right is a turf farm. It’s also where Sweetbriar Road intersects, one of my standby roads. On the left is a farmhouse with a white barn. I've always wanted to rumble over their yard of cobbles in the driveway. Down farther Elephant Road passes a remarkable farm that I’d like to focus on for one minute. Please bear with the digression.
Many years ago I knew AGA Farms because of the oddly parked Mig fighter jet next to Elephant Road. In the background was what appeared to be a runway of sorts. How such an aircraft got there, I never found out. Today I know the farm as a place with a corn maze in the fall that may still have people looking for its exit and as a Christmas tree farm that takes you out to chop down one yourself or you can simply pick out any of the other cut trees leaning against their rack. Regarding the chop-it-yourself: they require them to be over twelve feet, or as is my understanding.
But back to that runway. It apparently has some remarkable history, yet it has nothing to do with air travel. According to AGA Farms’ website, this line of asphalt was a drag strip, and a proper one at that. Despite the last race having taken place in 1969, the Vargo Dragway still hosts an annual benefit car show. It even gives preferential treatment to any of the cars that lit up the blacktop. Perhaps the winner got to chop down his own Christmas tree. Regrettably I had to be moving on.
After passing this noteworthy bit of acreage a rider is dealt a punchy climb. I normally try to cold-cock it Cancellara style, meaning I try to put the power down while staying seated. Lately though I find myself standing by the time I reach the old farmhouse driveway. It’s strangely zapping for how short it is. It doesn’t help that the road is in terrible condition.
Finally arriving at Elephant Road’s zenith, a building greets cyclists and motorists alike in the form of a nearly-renovated mason building. It is the Elephant Hotel. Opened around 1858, this building served as a hotel, post office, phone booth, and restaurant. It has been closed for several decades and efforts to revive it seemed to have stalled recently. It is this two-horse town called Elephant that gives the road that name. Despite researching why the hotel was called the Elephant, all of the avenues turned up dead ends. Perhaps it’s as simple as Mr. Nicholas, the original owner of the Elephant Hotel, really liked pachyderms and decided to name his business after them.
The original sign for the hotel hangs in Doylestown’s Mercer Museum. The site looked as if it were making progress for a spell before operations shut down. Luckily the structure appears to have been solidified and new windows have been installed before restoration came to a standstill. It looks as though it could open sooner than later once the restoration is complete.
Despite peeling off northeast up North Ridge Road I find enjoyment on Elephant Road any time of year. In the mid-day summer heat one can hearing the buzzing of insects amongst the tall neighboring grasses and feel the hot breeze while feeling like the whole road is for the cyclist. In the changing seasons the sunsets make the freewheeling down Elephant a spectacular show. While being lost on Creamery Road can reset the compass, finding oneself on Elephant Road can reset time.